§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is with special pleasure that I introduce the Bill because, as hon. Members may know, I went to the Mines Department in 1939 to introduce a Safety in Mines Bill. I found there that the Royal Commission, which had been appointed on the recommendation of my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House, had reported and that my right hon. Friend had begun a great deal of preparatory work. Then the war came, and everything had to be put off. Towards the end of the war, my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Food started the work again. I must admit that after the 1945 General Election I never thought I should have a chance of having anything to do with this Bill again, but, in the revolution of time, I found myself in 1951 back at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and one of my first acts was to start work on the preparation of the Bill.
On reflection, I do not regret the delay that has taken place. After all, we and the coal industry have got along under the famous Measure introduced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in 1911. We know, if my right hon. Friend will allow me to say so, that he sometimes does unusual things, but they always turn out to be extremely useful. In that Measure my right hon. Friend took power for the Minister to amend the Act itself, and that has been the secret of the vitality of that great Measure.
As mining Members know, under the protection of that Act there has been a great fall in the number of accidents in mines compared with those old days. As I shall show later on, we have a special opportunity for safety legislation at the present time. It is nearly 50 years since we had a major Safety Bill, so the House will probably allow me to remind them of some of the main features of this type of legislation and how the Bill relates to them.
This is a subject of enormous interest not only to the coal industry but to the 1208 country as a whole. This Bill is the tenth major Measure in the direct line of succession from Lord Shaftesbury's famous Act of 1842. That Act was passed amid extraordinary scenes in this House. I do not believe that there were ever such emotional scenes in the House of Commons in the whole of the 19th Century. We have all seen exciting scenes in this House, but we have not often seen hon. Members reduced to tears. On that day Members in all parts of the House were actually weeping. Anybody who reads Lord Shaftesbury's speech will realise why that was so. It was not false emotion.
That marked a real crisis, and actually a turning point, in the history of the mining industry in this country. Coal had been the basis of the Industrial Revolution. Coal had called forth the steam engine, which begot the railways. The whole world wanted coal, and in order to get increased output the mines went deeper and deeper from the shallow depths of the18th Century. Conditions, which were already bad, became much worse and much more dangerous. This was the time of the Protestant Evangelical movement, linked with Wesleyan Methodism, and the movement of public opinion in a humanitarian direction. I would remind the House that a number of Tory reformers, including Lord Shaftesbury himself, were Evangelicals.
A social historian of the times has said that this Act was the strongest interference in industry by Parliament in the whole of the 19th Century. From the principle of State action that it started, the gradual development of social reform later in the century and, indirectly through it, the development of the Welfare State, have been traced. It is therefore true to say that Lord Shaftesbury's Act began a sustained process of legislative action by Parliament which first of all recognised, then controlled and, I believe, finally mastered, one of the greatest industrial and social evils that ever threatened our country.
During the next 30 years there was a series of great Acts which laid down the fundamental principles of safety in the mines. They are all re-enacted in the present Bill. Lord Shaftesbury's regulation of the employment of women and young persons is, in its latest form, to be found in Part VI. His provisions for the inspection of the collieries, reinforced by 1209 the powerful Acts of 1850 and 1855, are in Part IX. Part II prohibits single shafts and provides for two methods of egress or ingress, and that comes from the Act of 1862. Part I, again, provides for the compulsory certification of colliery managers, and Part V provides for workmen's inspectors. Those both come from the Act of 1872.
Those Acts, after all, were mostly directed to bringing the regulations into line with the then modern mining practice, but I believe that in the present Bill we have an opportunity of unusual importance, not only because it is nearly half a century since the last major Act but, much more important, because the coal industry at the present time is in the early stages of a complete reorganisation and fundamental re-equipment upon the line of the Reid Report.
Here, because of my experience in helping the Factories Act through this House before the war, I am rather struck by the difference between mining and factory safety legislation. The Factories Acts, it seems to me, deal more with man-made dangers—the dangers arising from machinery and so forth. Those dangers exist also in the mines, of course, but in the mines there is the greatest danger of all—the enormous forces of nature that are challenged by man when he fights to win the coal. Therefore, mining safety legislation has a more powerful impact, as I see it, upon the mining industry than factory legislation has upon the factories, because it not only deals with the fencing of machinery and so on, but influences the actual construction and layout of mines themselves.
What an opportunity we have in this Bill when we remember that, when the reorganisation of the mines is completed, four-fifths of the coal will be coming either from entirely new mines or from mines which have had such major reconstruction that they will, indeed, be virtually new. Therefore, this Bill will inevitably be the safety charter for the mines, not only for a generation to come but during the vital formative period in which the actual layout of the collieries may be settled for perhaps a hundred years to come. I would myself like to concentrate mostly upon health and safety in coal mines, leaving my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with some other aspects of the Bill.
1210 In all legislation that deals with safety of life, whether on the sea, in the air or in the mines, the question of legal responsibility is obviously one of the very first importance. This Bill confirms the legal status and responsibility of the colliery manager. He has a position which is broadly analogous to that of the captain of a ship.
We deal, however, in an entirely new way with the responsibilities of owners and agents. The old system really was based upon the 19th Century idea of a colliery owned by one person and managed by one manager. The old provisions were becoming rather out of date when the colliery amalgamations began after the end of the First World War and are certainly completely unsuitable for the organisation of the National Coal Board.
In this Bill, therefore, we place a firm obligation on the owners to see that the law is carried out, but give them complete freedom as to the best ways in which that duty is to be discharged—with one vital proviso. The duties of everyone acting between the owner and the colliery manager must be defined in writing and communicated to the mines inspector. By that means we hope to secure flexibility of organisation combined with definite personal responsibility and thus we hope to avoid the dangerous uncertainties that came to light after the Knockshinnoch disaster.
We maintain in full the power and position of Her Majesty's inspectors of mines. Everyone—the Government, the National Coal Board and the Union—agrees with this. This is one of the finest of our Crown services which, during the last hundred years, has built up a magnificent tradition. The National Coal Board is a good employer, but this House does need to be able torely upon the single-mindedness and complete impartiality of the mines inspector. I think the mining Members would agree that the function of the mines inspector is not only a policing, but very much an advisory and collaborating function, because the mines inspectors themselves are skilled mining engineers, and, in the last resort, production and safety form part of the same, single, working activity. I think it is very important that I should mention this because it is the basis of some of the differences between this Bill and earlier legislation.
1211 Earlier mining legislation entered into a great deal of technical detail, whereas in this Bill we avoid that and confine ourselves to the broad principles of mining safety. That has two advantages. First, it enables the regulations to be changed without delay and kept up to date with changing techniques in the mines. Secondly, it provides clear, general guidance to the engineers who are planning the new mines and new major reconstructions. Since, therefore, safety and production are conceived as being part of the same process, forethought and careful preparatory work are just as necessary for the one as for the other, and the Bill states the principles with the object of encouraging, not only the industry as a whole, but every pit to frame a combined production and safety policy.
I will proceed, if I may, to describe some of the main departments of practical mining safety which are dealt with in new ways in this Bill, but before I do so I should like, quite shortly, to say two things. First of all, before drawing up this Bill there has been extensive consultation with the owners and workmen in the industry.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
What has the right hon. Gentleman in mind when he talks about the owners in the industry?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have in mind, of course, the National Coal Board and the owners of the smaller free mines.
I should like to express appreciation of the work of the Royal Commission, and in particular I hope we shall hear during the debate from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) who is the only Member of the House who served on the Commission.
At this stage I must ask for the indulgence of the mining Members of this House, because I am now going to attempt to describe, as I have said, some of the practical questions of mining safety and I want to make it quite clear to those hon. Members—and I know that they will not be surprised—that I am not trying to teach them about mining, but trying to explain some of the problems of mining safety in a way which other people, who have no connection 1212 with mines, will be able to understand, and enabled to appreciate some of the problems of the industry.
I should like first to deal with what I will describe as the underground tunnels or roadways in the mines, which lead from the shaft to the coalface where the coal is won. I am doing this not because these are the greatest source of accidents in the mines; they are not, although they are a considerable source. I am doing it primarily because, owing to the parallel with surface roadways' and transport, it is a particularly easy example by which people unconnected with mines can understand some of the mining problems and the way in which we are trying to go to work in this field. Chesterton said that:…the rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.Although not for the same reason, it is a fact that the underground roads also twist, turn, rise and fall in a most bewildering and unsafe way in many of our older mines. We know just how dangerous the sharp turnings and so forth can be on surface roads. They are even more so underground, as I am sure any mining Member will agree. The dangers are so much multiplied.
We also know how difficult and expensive it is to put the surface roads right once they have been made wrongly. That is even more the case with roads which are between 500 and 1,000 yards underneath the surface of the earth. Therefore, we have in this Bill an important new requirement, which says:…every…road made after the commencement of this Act shall be so made and maintained as to avoid sudden changes of direction, height, width and gradient…What we seek to encourage in our new mines is what I may describe as a kind of arterial road system, namely, roads which, in their actual construction, have been made as safe as they can be made.
In Clause 39 we seek to encourage the safe use of the roads by providing that a manager shall make transport rules, which I might describe as a kind of underground Highway Code, except that in this case a code has to be made specially to suit the circumstances of each mine, and when the code is made it has the force of law.
1213 I now pass to what is really a much more important and fundamental question of mining safety, which is dealt with in a series of seven Clauses, starting at Clause 48, under the heading of "Support." Some time ago, the greatest cause of death in our mines was explosions. We still have explosions, but, as the House knows, they are rare compared to what they used to be. At the present time, terrible though they are when they do occur, on an average only one out of every 10 lives lost in the mines is due to explosions. That is due to our safety code.
At one time there were also many shaft accidents. Those, too, have almost gone, for the same reason. That has left the fall of roof and sides as the greatest single cause of death and serious injury in our mines. This is not realised by the public outside the coalmining districts. No great headlines are involved. Just a simple paragraph appears in one of the newspapers in a mining area. I have changed the names for obvious reasons, but a typical report reads as follows:A verdict of 'Misadventure' was returned at an inquest at Topside on Saturday on John Smith (40), Khartoum Road, Topside, who was killed by a fall of roof in the Brixton seam at Frognall Colliery on Thursday. Richard Brown, packer, said that he was working with Smith when the fall occurred. He was knocked against a pack, and Smith was pinned against it with his legs. A few seconds later, a second fall buried Smith.Those are the individual tragedies in our mines which are responsible for more deaths than any other single cause and which take place, on the average, nearly once every working day.
My right hon. Friend, in his Act, sought to deal with this problem by providing that there must be systematic support of the roof and sides. That was the limit of the mining knowledge of those days. Since then, I am glad to say that very great progress has been made in the knowledge of the forces that produce these accidents. It began some 20 years ago, when a young mines inspector set out to measure the actual streses in the pitprops in the Lady Victoria mine of the Lothian Coal Company. He made careful observations of those stresses and also of the movements of the rock strata around the coalface, and he was able to evolve a new and more precise conception of the play of forces going on in the mine as a result of the taking out of the coal.
1214 Those forces are very great. The weight of the rock strata, or overburden, in an average mine 500 yards deep is about 100 tons per square foot. Since a prop may be asked to support several square feet, the potential weight on one prop may rise to the region of 1,000 tons, whereas the load-bearing capacity of the prop is only between 20 and 30 tons. Therefore, it can be seen that if the full weight of the overburden does fall on a prop nothing can stand against it, and a fall of roof is bound to occur.
Fortunately, by applying the principles of strata control, these forces can be transmitted partly to the unworked coal and partly on to relatively harmless places in the waste area, and the props in the working places have to resist only a small part of those forces and are thus able to prevent serious damage to the roof and falls in the working places. At first this knowledge was treated with the usual scepticism which everything new encounters, but it is now accepted by mining engineers throughout our pits.
Its originator, Dr. Winstanley, is now a Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines, and he has the great satisfaction of knowing that, as a result of this work, there has been a great reduction in accidents from falls of roof. I think hon. Members would agree that, when one went into a colliery in the old days it was usual to hear that some district or road was closed as a result of a fall, but, on the whole, that is now relatively infrequent.
Therefore, we have been able to incorporate in this Bill an entirely new requirement, on these lines:It shall be the duty of the manager…to take…such steps by way of controlling movement of the strata in the mine…as may be necessary for keeping the road or working place secure…This, as hon. Members will see, needs an entirely new approach by the colliery manager. It is no longer good enough for him to rely merely on good props and chocks; he has, so to speak, to make a kind of staff appreciation of the position in the whole of a district in a mine and to frame a policy for controlling the movement of the strata in the whole area. Once again, the House will see that this is a requirement which will be met most easily if it is taken into account by the mining engineers when they are laying out the new mine, or mining district, as the case may be.
1215 Now I turn to the immensely important question of ventilation and dust control. This matter is dealt with in a series of Clauses from Clause 55 to 60, and again in Clause 73. Although explosions occur more rarely, we know that, unfortunately, they do still occur, and when they occur I am informed that the cause is usually an accumulation of fire damp that has taken place in old workings, old roads or disused parts of the mine. Then either by reason of a fall of barometric pressure which, so to speak, sucks the fire damp out, or by a fall and crush of rock in the old workings which pushes the fire damp out, it encounters a spark and an explosion takes place. Therefore, we have made a new requirement in Clause 55 which says that unless areas are dealt with otherwise, that is, they may be stopped off or solid packed, those areas must be properly ventilated. I hope the House will think that is an important new provision from the point of view of safety against explosions.
Now I come to the immensely important issue of pneumoconiosis. I do not believe this is a new disease, because I have observed when I have read the Report of the Royal Commission of 1840 frequent references to what was called in those days miners' asthma. [An Hon. Member: "Black spittle."] I think the old miner had the root of the matter who is reported by one of the Commissioners as saying that the chief cause of it is "the want of proper ventilation." Of course, although I do not believe that either the doctors or the mining engineers of those days properly understood these matters, nevertheless, the fact is that for other reasons, namely, for the fire damp danger, the ventilation in the mines in subsequent years improved enormously, and I am sure that had an ameliorative effect on the incidence of what we now call pneumoconiosis; but more recently the dusty coal cutting machines of the modern age have made this problem more serious.
I remember well that when I was working on the Bill in 1939 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and Arthur Jenkins, a much-respected and well-loved Member of this House, the father of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), very kindly took me to South Wales, particularly to the anthracite district and the Ammanford Pit, and there 1216 they arranged for me to meet two old miners who were suffering from silicosis, as it was called in those days. I have never forgotten that.
In those days it was thought that only silica rock was the cause of the disease. Now we know better. Of course, there has been in the last 10 to 15 years an enormous effort with regard to this problem by the last three Governments, by both sides of the industry, by the Medical Research Council and by several universities. In 1942 came the crucial evidence of Dr. d'Arcy Hart of the Medical Research Council which, at any rate as far as this country is concerned, incriminated coal dust as well as silica rock.
The compensation arrangements were changed; the Defence Regulation for dust suppression in South Wales was passed in 1945; the present Minister of Food, the Minister of Fuel then, took the initiative in the formation of the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit which did, and is still doing, such fine work upon this problem; in 1946 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) held the Cardiff Conference out of which came the National Joint Pneumoconiosis Committee, of which the Parliamentary Secretary is the present chairman; committees for the suppression of dust were formed in every coalfield; specialist dust inspectors were appointed, and the National Coal Board laid literally thousands of miles of water pipes in the mines to help lay the dust. Therefore, it is true that at the present time this country leads the world in dust suppression in coal mines.
It is this that has made possible the stringent new requirements in Clause 73 on these general lines: that as far as possible dust is to be prevented from forming; if it forms it is to be prevented from entering the air or accumulating; and, if it does succeed in entering the air, it is to be trapped or dispersed. Of course, this applies not only to inflammable dust but also to dust which is injurious to health.
I would not want to weary the House with too much detail at this stage, but I know that the mining Members of the House will appreciate that these stringent requirements carry far-reaching implications with regard to the future construction of collieries and of new mining districts, and for my part I hope they will 1217 also influence the future design of coal-getting machinery. I think I can say this because I am supported by a great mass of technical evidence that I consulted: I think that in the past in the design of coal-cutting machines not enough attention has been paid to the amount of dust they form in the process of getting coal; and I should like to say here, where every-one in Britain can hear us, all our engineers, scientists and technicians who can help with this job, that the country badly needs a dust-free method of coal-getting, and that if we can be given coal-getting machinery that will do it in a relatively dust-free way, that would be of great service to the health of the mining community.
I am glad to be able to say that the National Coal Board have decided, with the approval of the Government, to set up a Central Engineering Establishment which will be devoted to the development—I mean between the research and the practical stage—of the prototypes, and so on, of new forms of coal-cutting machinery, and I hope myself that one of its early tasks will be to consider this problem.
After the Easington disaster the Chief Inspector of Mines, Sir Harold Roberts, suggested that there should be experiments on this problem, and I can tell the House that already there have been some rather promising experiments carried out by the mines inspectors, the Safety in Mines Research Establishment, the National Coal Board and Imperial Chemical Industries, working in co-operation. They have devised in the experimental stage several new methods—of course, water infusion is one of them—which have the effect not only of laying the dust but also in certain respects, where the coal is of a hard nature and not suitable to be otherwise acted upon by wedging, ploughing or planing mechanism, of softening the coal sufficiently to enable that kind of mechanism to be used on that kind of coal. Also there is a relatively new principle of shock infusion whereby shots are actually fired in water, which has the advantage not only of making the shot firing safer, but also of dealing with dust as well.
There are, of course, many other new requirements in this Bill. I have described a certain number of the most important ones, and mining Members will 1218 know far better than I do that all these requirements acting and interacting on one another will inevitably influence the design of new mines and reconstructions.
One further observation. In the course of working on this Bill, I have consulted many of the old Parliamentary records and authorities on this problem, the tremendous series of Select Committees of this House and commissions of inquiry, and so forth, that have taken part in this immense effort on mining safety, especially the Royal Commission of 1840. I should like to take this opportunity, even at this stage, to record the admiration which I feel for the work which was done by those Commissioners, because although their language is quaint and in many ways old-fashioned in terms of the present day, what is so impressive is the determination and the enormous energy which they put into their job. They did not just sit in London. They sent delegations to all the coalfields to take evidence from everyone—mining engineers, doctors, even some of the little girls who were employed in the pits in those days.
I have found that I am not the only one who has admired this work because I find, in consulting that authority Karl Marx, that he himself expressed a very keen appreciation of the competence of these men and of the powers with which they were invested by this House to do their job. Indeed, I think it would be true to say that he constructed his Communist analysis from the facts that came from what I might call the old unreformed coal industry. But what he forgot was that this House not only inquired but also acted and started a great series of remedial Measures which transformed the industry.
Therefore, I should like to say today that just as our action in the past confounded him, let us also do a job and confound his followers by taking this Bill into Committee and there making it a Bill which is worthy of the needs and aspirations of a reborn coal industry in the second half of the 20th Century.
§ Captain M. Hewitson (Hull, Central)
Can the Minister give the House some idea when we are to know the mind of the Government on the Clauses in the Bill covering the quarrying industries, the iron mining industry, gypsum mining and salt mining, and all the other sections of which no mention has been made?
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Perhaps the House will permit me at the outset to make a short personal reference. I cannot expect to speak on this subject with the same authority as some of my hon. Friends who have had more recent experience of mining work. Nevertheless, I have had some experience of it. I went down into the pit, at the coalface, the day I was 13 years of age, and I worked at the coalface until I was 21.
Indeed, I had in the course of the 1914–18 war the distinction of being a principal coalminer at the age of 18. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that this was entirely illegal. I shall emphasise this later. It is an odd fact that in the coalmining industry there has always been a curious disparity between the intentions of the House and the practice of coalmining. Therefore, I had my mark when I was 18 years of age.
Though I know that very great changes have taken place in coalmining since then, some of the central features still remain. For example, if the House will pardon another personal reference, I was particularly interested in what the Minister said about roadways, because it recalled to my mind one or two vivid experiences when I was a boy. When I was 13 years of age, electric lamps were not used in the pits; oil lamps were used, and many hon. Members who have no experience of mining will not be able to appreciate the experience of a boy aged 13 when stumbling back in the dark to get his lamp relit.
In our mine we had what was called a mane and tail, that is to say, a steel rope attached to the journey of tubs or trams. This journey, usually of 16 trams, had to be let down a steep incline very quickly indeed in order to carry over the swamps down below, and the steel rope at the end used to flog the roof and sides like a monster in the darkness. If it hit one, one was either mutilated or killed, and to hear the thuds of that rope in a narrow dark roadway was a very frightening experience.
1220 Also there was never any room between the rail and the sides. I remember one occasion, when I listened anxiously to the approach of a journey of trams, finding that my foot had got caught in a roller in the centre of the roadway, and I could not free it until eventually I wrenched my foot away, tearing the skin from my foot, and managed to get into a manhole. The manholes were not always free of impediment; they were not always at the intervals they should have been. So when the right hon. Gentleman spoke about roadways and the necessity for sufficient distance between the rail and the sides of the roadways I could recall many vivid experiences which still sometimes give me nightmares.
At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred to Lord Shaftesbury. That also gave me certain consolation, because it reminded me that it may be that if one quarrels with one's party it may be counted to one a virtue in future years. It is a characteristic feature of Tory propaganda that it always claims today the virtue of what it opposed yesterday. I am really astonished that the right hon. Gentleman should have seen fit to have quoted Lord Shaftesbury, because the Tory Party pretty well broke his heart. I see that an hon. Member shakes his head. I ask him to read Lord Shaftesbury's letters on the subject of his treatment by the Conservatives of his own day.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Gentleman should not twist history. It is on record that it was his own spiritual predecessors, the Radicals and doctrinaires of that day, who opposed that particular part of Lord Shaftesbury's work, not the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Bevan
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to approach history in that fashion; he should join the Cominform.
The right hon. Gentleman referred in the course of his speech to the significance of the fact that this is the first time since 1911 that we have had a Bill of this kind dealing with safety in mines. Why is that? Is it because we are less humane? Is it because we have not more knowledge about safety in mines than we had in 1911? How does it come about that it is only now, in 1954, that we have a new Bill dealing with safety in mines? It is not because the mining members of the House of Commons have no influence. 1221 They are the most influential group in the Labour Party, and the Labour Party has been a very powerful element inside the House of Commons all that time.
How does it come about that we have not had a Bill? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. It is because of the fact that legislation in this House is useless if it runs counter to long-term economic tendencies. It is well known to my hon. Friends that even the provisions of the existing enactments were not carried out in the pits. I will also tell the right hon. Gentleman that miners quite often connived in not having them carried out. One cannot protect any individual worker by legislation unless the circumstances in which he works are harmonious with the character of the legislation itself.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman another thing. Whenever we were too weak to strike—and this quite often happened—we used to invoke the Coal Mines Regulation Act against the colliery management. I personally have on many occasions called men out on strike because the pit was in violation of the Act. But then the pit was always in violation of the Act. It is almost impossible to fit the physical circumstances of the colliery into the four corners of a statutory framework.
The physical conditions change from day to day, from month to month and from year to year, whereas the statute remains rigid and arid. Therefore, whenever we desired to bring pressure to bear upon the manager, we used to make him carry out the law. Of course, if that were done regularly, we would have no coal, and that is why I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he proposed in his legislation to bring together safety and production as a joint operation.
No one who understands mining would ever make such a statement, for production and safety in mining are mutually opposed; they are not harmonious at all. In 1930, Vernon Hartshorn, whose name is revered by hon. Members on this side and myself, conducted an investigation into the incidence of accidents among miners and the time of day when they most frequently occurred. To our astonishment we discovered—we ought to have known it—that the incidence of accidents in coalmines differed entirely from that in every other industry. The right 1222 hon. Gentleman was good enough, after a conversation I had with him the day before yesterday, to give me some up-to-date statistics on the same point.
We discovered that, whereas in other industries most accidents occurred at the beginning of the shift, before the worker was warmed up, or at the end of the shift when he was fatigued, in the mining industry the accidents occurred in the middle of the shift. The right hon. Gentleman referred to falls. Here are the figures which he gave me. As he said, falls are the most fertile cause of fatal and other accidents in the pits. In the first hour of the shift there is one accident, in the second there were 11, in the third 15, in the fourth 17, in the fifth 14, and in the sixth 23.
Why is that? Why is it that in the middle of a shift more miners are killed by falls than at the beginning and at the end of a shift? Every practical miner knows the answer. It is because, in order to look after his safety, the miner has to stop producing coal. He has to put up a prop or something of that sort. He has actually to stop the process of production in order to look after his safety. In the course of a shift, the noise of the machinery or of his own working prevents him from hearing the trickle of dust that warns him of an impending fall. Therefore, it is a fact that in mining production and safety are mutually opposed. That is a very significant and important fact to be kept in mind all the time.
It is because of this that many miners and miners' leaders have been opposed to systems of bonus payments and piecework. We always knew that piecework meant more deaths, because the same stimuli that drove the miner to increase his output exposed him to greater danger. In the case of factories, which are entirely prefabricated and where all the conditions are artificially assembled, it is possible to predict what is going to happen and also to take safety precautions which are universal and which recur repetitively. But in the course of coalmining, where the physical conditions are very often unpredictable, and where individual physical circumstances fit into no pattern at all, it is perfectly obvious that too avid a preoccupation with output will expose the miner to greater danger of accident or death.
1223 Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman tells the House that he is hoping, with his advisers, to assemble a set of circumstances in which production and safety are going to be mutually combined, I should like to see the scheme. It is not possible. All we can hope for is to try to get the best possible safety measures in the circumstances that we have to face.
As this is a Second Reading debate, I do not propose to go into very much detail, except to illustrate one or two central points. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is an extremely charming and agreeable person who commends what he has to say to the House with all the attractiveness of his personality. Nevertheless, I am bound to tell him that this is a rotten Bill. It lacks ingenuity, originality and daring. Something better than this ought to have been produced after all this time.
We shall not oppose its Second Reading because we hope to make it a good Bill in Committee, but the fact is—and here I speak on my own responsibility alone—it would have been far better had this Bill dealt only with coalmining. It would have been much easier to have taken quarrying and the metalliferous industries separately, because then we would not have had all this tedious terminology which complicates every Clause in the Bill.
This is not a party point, but one of great practical application. If we could have referred only to coalmines, we need not have bothered all the time about introducing the owner. The owner comes in repeatedly because we have quarries and metalliferous mines. It is a stupid formulation which shows no originality or freshness of approach. It does not consider the coalmining industry in its present relationship to society and to the miners. It merely looks at coalmining as a conventional industry, and the result is that we have all these complications of terminology which could quite easily have been disposed of simply by saying that we would have a Bill dealing with safety in coalmines and another Bill dealing with quarries and metalliferous mines. Furthermore, why does not the Bill take account of the structure of the industry? Why does it talk all the time as if the industry had not been nationalised?
1224 There is one other great advantage about dealing separately with coalmining. The miner goes every morning into a hole in the ground, and he is lucky if he comes out of that same hole in the afternoon. Consequently, the whole profit of the miner in his working days lies underground and in the immediate environment of the pit. Fortunately, over that limited domain there is one person who can be identified, and that is the manager. It is not necessary in the Bill to talk about anybody except the manager, the inspector and the men.
The right hon. Gentleman has got us into the most perplexing set of circumstances by trying to bring in some other responsible body than the manager. Therefore, he has to talk all the time about the manager having written instructions from somebody. Why does not the Bill simplify the whole business merely by saying that the manager has to have certain qualifications and responsibilities, and is identified as the person responsible for the safety of the men in and around the pit? Why not? Why go through all this?
I know very well that the mine managers have a double mind about this matter. Some of them think that it is better for them if the responsibility is not so austere and if somebody else can be made responsible too. But there is always a danger in this field of a dispersal of responsibility or an ambiguity of responsibility, and the Bill both disperses responsibility and makes it ambiguous.
We have, for example, this difficulty of the manager having written instructions from the owner. Who is the owner? Is it the divisional executive, or the district executive, or is it the Coal Board? Why bother about it? The instructions that the manager receives from the Coal Board should be an internal domestic matter. They are little or nothing to do with us. What we are concerned about is that whoever is responsible shall carry out the statutes in respect of the safety of the miners. What domestic internal arrangements the Coal Board makes to enable this to be done is a matter of practical administration. It is not a legislative necessity. What is legislatively necessary is to fix responsibility, and this the Bill does not do in a fashion that satisfies us.
1225 If we have any criticism at all to make of the Coal Industry Act which nationalised the industry, it is that the authority of the manager has been unnecessarily undermined. We know very well that the status of the miner in this field—I am speaking now of the field of safety only—can only be safeguarded if the authority of the mine manager is clear. But the authority of the mine manager is not clear. It is extremely unclear.
For instance, we have these words in the Bill, in one of those long sentences that Parliamentary draftsmen love so much:…and, in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing words…Fancy miners reading this—and this is not legislation by reference. We need not have had any of these complications at all.
The sentence goes on to say:to give, to any person appointed by him for the purpose of securing the fulfilment of responsibilities of his with respect to any matters, being responsibilities under this Act, orders made there under and regulations which he does not fulfil in person, written instructions defining the matters with respect to which that person is charged with securing the fulfilment of the owner's responsibilities.What a rodomontade to write into a simple Bill which is supposed to be understood by miners. I think they will understand it almost as well as the Minister, but it is hardly necessary to add to their difficulties.
Then take Clause 3 which says:Any instructions given to the manager of a mine or quarry by or on behalf of the owner thereof"—We come back to the quarry again. We are all owners of these pits, but one would not imagine it from reading these words—being instructions affecting the fulfilment by the manager of his responsibilities under this Act, orders made there under and regulations, shall, so far as they are not written, be confirmed in writing by the person by whom they were given forthwith after the making of a request in that behalf by the manager.What is that all about? All we need do is to say "Here is an Act of Parliament which places certain responsibilities upon the manager." He is the fellow concerned.
At I said earlier, the winning of coal is a local operation. The dispersal of coal 1226 is a different matter. This Bill deals only with the winning of coal. We are not dealing with the sale of coal in the streets. We are dealing with the getting of the coal from the pit to the top and then getting it away from the surface. After that, the Bill is not bothered with anybody. The only man who bothers with that process is the manager. How the manager's duties are to be performed is a matter of internal arrangement.
But look at the next subsection of Clause 3. Look at the frightful complications. Apparently not only is the mine manager to have written instructions, if he asks for them; he is to be told in some clandestine fashion what he is supposed to be doing, and if he is sufficiently aware he will ask for the instructions to be put in writing for his own protection. Not only is he to be treated in this clandestine way, but apparently he is to be snooped on. He is to be got at behind his back, because subsection 2 of Clause 3 says:Where the owner of a mine or quarry or a person acting on his behalf (not being either an under-manager of the mine or quarry or a person appointed by the manager thereof in pursuance of this Act or regulations) gives, otherwise than through the manager, any instructions to a person employed at the mine or quarry who is subordinate to the manager, being instructions knowledge whereof by the manager is requisite for the purpose of, or in connection with, the exercise or performance of any power or duty conferred or imposed on him by or by virtue of this Act, the person giving the instructions shall, as soon as practicable after he has given them, inform the manager of the substance thereof and, if requested so to do by the manager, confirm them in writing forthwith after the making of the request.Somebody, apparently behind the back of the manager, will have given some instructions to the under-manager, foreman or deputy in the pit on matters relating to the safety of the miners in the pit. The manager, apparently, will not be told about it, but the obligation is to be placed on the person receiving such instructions to tell the manager that he has had them.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)
It says:…the person giving the instructions" shall inform the manager.
§ Mr. Bevan
But it might be the foreman or the deputy or the office boy. This whole thing contemplates that somebody 1227 in the pit will have received an instruction from somebody outside the pit about the duties for which the manager has legislative responsibility. That is the whole point. But why? If the Minister simply made the manager responsible in the first instance, and not in some clandestine way of getting at him or in some subterranean way of getting under him, then the manager would be responsible all the time. Why this? Simply because the Minister has hesitated between the simple decision of identifying the local person who should be responsible and has tried to bring in the hierarchy of the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head, but what does it mean? Perhaps he will tell me. We are now dealing with the safety of the miners. We are not dealing with output. We are not dealing with the cost of coal or the statutory getting of coal. Here I must safeguard myself; the statutory getting of coal is quite different from the tactics of coal getting.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
It means chiefly where an outside expert is brought in. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that, in one of the disasters that happened recently, it was impossible to prove complicity by the agent concerned because there were no legal powers to do it. Under the provisions which we are discussing now, the agent has equal responsibility with the mine manager.
§ Mr. Bevan
But if he is equally responsible, the responsibility is at once dispersed. We ought not to tell anybody in the pit without telling the mine manager. This Bill puts the responsibility on the person who is informed to tell the mine manager. Surely, if we are to have this at all, there should be a statutory responsibility to inform the mine manager directly. The responsibility should not be upon somebody else to tell him. This is where I think the hon. and gallant Member has it wrong. If an expert is brought in from outside, that is first-class; but the expert naturally consults the mine manager, because we cannot make the expert responsible for the safety of the pit. Will the hon. and 1228 gallant Member tell me where the expert is made responsible?
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at subsection (2), which he is quoting, he will see that where the agent is called in he is made equal partner in responsibility with the manager.
§ Mr. Bevan
I will deal with that separately; at the moment I am on a different point. I am on the point where somebody has been given an order by somebody from outside. That is the point with which I am dealing, and what I am saying—and I think hon. Members will agree with me, on reflection—is that if the mine manager has any responsibility at all, he himself should be told by the person from outside and should not be told by the person inside after the latter has received the outside order. The second point is that there is a dispersal of responsibility between the agent and the manager. Why?
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I am sorry to interrupt, but the right hon. Gentleman asked me to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at subsection (2), he will see that wherever an agent gives an order, it is his responsibility to tell the manager, and the manager still has the full responsibility not only for what he does but for whatever the agent does.
§ Mr. Bevan
But he is not liable. The point I am making is different. That is subsidiary to my central point, which I hope the House will have seized—that all through this Bill it would have been much better to have identified the manager as the responsible body. The other matter is one for internal organisation between the Coal Board and the manager. I know that there are hon. Members opposite, with experience of this matter, who agree with me, because it is folly to have this division of responsibility.
Once we have this division of responsibility, first of all we do not know whom subsequently we have to sue. We have to find somebody to sue. The mine manager will say, "I am only partly responsible," and the other person will also say, "I am only partly responsible." I know that legally we can fix the responsibility on some entity from which we can get damages, but that is not good enough for the prevention of accidents. 1229 It is all right in order to try to secure damages after the accidents have occurred, but what we are trying to do is to create in the coal mines a psychology whereby everybody knows what are his particular responsibilities. That is why I hope that when we consider this matter in Committee we shall simplify it by making the mine manager directly responsible for the safety of the men in the pit.
There is another aspect which frightens us, too. There are too many escape phrases, such as "wherever it is practicable." We are afraid that a coach and four could be driven through that. I am not saying—I should be contradicting myself if I did—that it is always possible to put a clear statutory responsibility upon everybody for what he should do or what he should not do. That is obviously not the case. But I invite the Attorney-General's attention to this matter, which frightens us stiff. We know it is not possible, especially in connection with the control of the movement of roof—about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke; and I am bound to tell him that in our experience it is a very inexact science so far—for a mine manager to know in every particular set of circumstances what is going to happen. That is absolutely impossible. Therefore, in some respects he must have escape Clauses.
But we are worried that "wherever it is practicable" will be construed by the courts as being not only where it is physically practicable but where prevention would be too costly. Lord Atkin said in the case of Coltness Iron Co. versus Sharp:The time of non-protection is so short, and the time, trouble and expense of any other form of protection is so disproportionate, that I think the defence is proved.Lord Justice Tucker subsequently said:This shows that in every case it is the risk that has to be weighed against the measures necessary to eliminate the risk. The greater the risk, no doubt, the less will be the weight to be given to the factor of cost.We are worried that in assessing practicability it will not be only physical circumstances which will be taken into account but also the cost of preventing the accidents or taking the precautions. We do not want that construction to be placed upon "wherever it is practicable," 1230 because once more there would be this conflict between the cost of coal and the safety of the miner. We know it is there; it is always there, of course. One could make the mines so safe that one would get no coal at all. But in the individual cases we do not want it to be pleaded in aid that the mine manager did not, or the agent did not, or the two between them did not, take the precautions which might have been taken because the cost of taking them would have been too high. We think that in individual cases that is a plea which ought not to be permitted, and we would like the Minister to have a look at that point.
I apologise to the House for having taken so long, but I have one more substantial point to make. We are worried by the proposals concerning workmen's inspections. Why 24 hours' notice? I do not understand that at all. There seems in the Bill to be such a lack of confidence in the men. If there is one thing which is necessary today it is that we should allow the men in the pits to have every facility for proving to themselves that the pit is safe. I have caused many examinations in the pits and held them the same morning. That is the right way. Somebody comes along and says, "There is something happening here which ought not to be happening," and one replies "All right; let us have an examination"; and one goes to the colliery office and says, "We are going in now—at once." Why the 24 hours'notice—in 1954? That is a retrograde step. Moreover, I do not think there should be a statutory limitation on the number of examinations.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Perhaps the Minister will also tell us why he puts this limit on the men and not on the Government inspectors. Is not the fair thing to treat them both equally?
§ Mr. Bevan
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding me of that, for it is a very good point; the limitation should be on neither. It is entirely wrong. I do not believe there should be a limitation. Miners will not hold frivolous examinations, for they are very expensive operations, very vexatious and not easy things to carry out. The examination of the district of a pit in a morning in the way in which we used to 1231 conduct it is a very arduous undertaking, and no one is inclined to undertake it frivolously. Why this limitation? It is too conventional; it does not take into account the relationship between the men and the Coal Board and it does not create in the mining industry the sense of self-government which we are anxious to get in the pits.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
There is also the reference in Clause 111 to "two days in one month."
§ Mr. Bevan
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I am anxious not to lengthen my speech. My mind is teeming with criticisms about some of these things. Furthermore, I know that my hon. Friends will themselves make the points when they speak.
As I said earlier, we are fortunate that a set of conditions has now been assembled in the pits more favourable to safety than ever before. The element of private profit has gone. In our experience private profit-making in coalmining sacrificed many lives. There were colliery owners who were humanitarians and paid regard to the safety of their men, and there were others who did not do so.
It is a fact that very many people died not only because ignorance of circumstances—my own father died of pneumoconiosis—but because of greed. That element has gone, thank heaven. But there is still a conflict between the sectional and the general interest. The general interest is to dig as much coal as cheaply as possible. The particular sectional interest of the miners is to get the coal without undue sacrifices to themselves and loss of life or mutilation. So there is an essential conflict, as there always is in society, between the communal and the sectional interest.
The duty of Parliament is to try to hold the balance between the two. We do not wish to press the claims of miners to the point of violating the general welfare, but we do ask, now that we have this opportunity after a lapse of so many years, that the House of Commons should permit us to try to create for the miners humane and safe conditions in the pits which are consistent with the national interest. Therefore, I hope that in the Committee stage the whole Bill will be considered in that spirit.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
It may seem both impertinent and too ambitious possibly for those of us who have no personal experience of coalmining to take part in this debate. But I remember well when I first went down a coal mine in my constituency and spent three hours there, coming back from that "hole in the ground," which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has described, with one conviction in my mind—that whatever could be done to make the life of the coal miner easier should be done by anyone in the House of Commons.
Apart from that, it is very rare, if ever, that I have agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, but I think that he has expressed views which will find favour on both sides of the House today. He has approached this problem with humanity as well as with personal experience, and both of those are very necessary in dealing with the mining industry. I particularly agree with him on the advisability of separating the subject of quarries completely from the coalmining section of the Bill. They are in no way comparable and they can in no way be treated in the same way or manner or by the same authority or control, and from that point of view I think that the Minister would have been wiser, while the actual policy of the Bill is sound, to have handled the two industries separately. I have no quarrel with what is in the Bill in connection with the industries, but I think that it would have simplified matters tremendously if there had been two separate Bills.
At the same time I cannot agree with some of the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman. I think myself that the Minister gave us a very sympathetic, understanding and helpful speech. Personally, I should like to congratulate him—knowing, as he explained himself, about as little of the mining industry as I do—on the skill with which he handled what is obviously a very technical Bill.
Again I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman who said at the beginning of his speech, "I think this is a rotten Bill." I do not think that it is a rotten Bill; I think it is a good Bill. For one thing it reduces within the scope of a single Measure all the conglomeration of Acts, Regulations and Orders which 1233 have been formulated over the last half century or more in regard to the welfare, health and safety of miners and quarry workers.
When the Bill goes beyond that admirable purpose then obvious defects appear. I do not blame the officials, the draftsmen, or the Minister. They cannot possibly know and cannot be expected to know the details of every industry with which they are called upon to deal. That, in my opinion, reveals the tremendous value of debate in this House where, from the oddest sources, one can get a vast fund of experience and knowledge and information on practically every possible subject. Indeed, I remember, to give a personal experience, learning more of the ways of fishes and foxes from the late Colonel Bowles who used to adorn this House than I had ever known before, although I was brought up in the countryside.
I have to declare an interest in that I happen personally to be associated with a company which, among many other activities, is concerned with mines and quarries. I have also a constituency and county interest. Therefore, I have some concern lest this Bill should be passed into law without substantial amendment. I propose, in the few minutes which I have at my disposal, to deal with the broad aspects of the Bill and the principles and implications of the Bill, rather than the details which can be referred to in Committee. As I see it, the Bill gives the regrettable impression that the Executive is still seeking to strengthen its control over Parliament, or perhaps it is truer to say that the Executive is seeking to develop its detachment from the control of Parliament.
The late Government—and many hon. Members here will recall cases in which the truth of my remarks have been evident—were experts in this device, and indeed the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Lewis ham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), once unwittingly exposed their whole philosophy by stating in a debate on Private Members' time that the Government had decided to grant Private Members certain privileges. So I think that it is as well to reiterate here that all the power which the Executive possess today is derived from Parliament, and I cannot believe that the present Government will ever follow that uncon- 1234 stitutional example set by their predecessors. To prove my argument, may I refer to one or two Clauses which were dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, starting with Clause 32 and continuing in Clauses 47, 50, 83 and others.
In those Clauses there is deliberate provision for the extended use of delegated legislation and for the widest use of Statutory Instruments. The right hon. Gentleman referred to this point. Many of these, as the Bill now reveals, need not even be laid before Parliament. As I said at the beginning, these are features which distinguished the late Government and provided a constant challenge and attack from Conservative Members. I ask, therefore, that we be consistent now that we are in Government. If we are, how can we concur with the omnibus powers given to the Minister in Clause 127 to make Regulations on practically any matter that pleases him so long as they are not entirely inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill?
We on this side of the House may have and, generally speaking, do have perfect confidence and faith in the integrity and capacity of our Ministers. We are confident that they will not depart in any way, as far as they can avoid it, from the principles on which our Tory faith is set. But one day, another set of Ministers may appear who will find in this Act, if the Bill becomes law unamended, a weapon to their hands for controlling and interfering with practically every type of mine and quarry in the country. That is wrong, and that is where we should make our protest felt.
Again, how can we possibly impose on the quarrying industry, consisting, as it does, of something like 4,000 or 5,000 smaller or larger quarries spread about the country, the heavy overhead structure which may or may not be suitable for the National Coal Board and the mining industry, but which is certainly not suitable for the quarrying industry?
Again, Clause 130 confers—or, indeed, even seeks to impose—the widest possible powers on inspectors. Not only that, but it allows the inspectors—and to this the right hon. Gentleman referred in passing—to delegate their authority to comparatively junior officials. When we were in opposition, we constantly protested against uncontrolled powers of inspection and the number and type of such inspectors. 1235 Again, therefore, I say that we should be consistent.
If we study the various Clauses of the Bill and compare those that refer to the quarrying industry and those referring to mining, there is a strange similarity between the proposed administration of our quarries and tie administration conferred on the mining industry by the 1948 Act. This, I believe, is wrong. The structure of the National Coal Board is completely unsuitable for the quarrying industry. In fact, many protests have already been made about the inefficiency of the present set-up in the coal industry, and many demands have been made for the decentralisation of its powers and the simplification of the whole organisation.
I have dealt with only the broad principles of the Bill, but I must refer to Clause 134, which deals with prosecutions. As I see it, we are here up against the fundamental tradition of our common law that a person charged with an offence is deemed innocent until he is proved guilty. In the Bill, however—at any rate as I read it—the tendency is in the opposite direction, and in my opinion this should be checked.
In short, the Bill, first, gives to the Minister undue powers to make Regulations without the subsequent approval of Parliament. Second, it gives excessive powers to inspectors without right of appeal. Third, it imposes a totally unwieldy and expensive administrative structure on many categories of our extractive industries. Fourth, it puts the onus of proof of innocence on the accused rather than proof of guilt on the prosecution. However, we believe that the intentions of the Bill are good. We believe that the Bill itself is good, but we are all convinced that it will be a much better Bill when it comes back to the Floor of the House.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Hall (Gateshead, West)
The Minister has produced an extensive Bill dealing with operations in the coal mines and metalliferous mines and also the quarries. Such a Bill has been long wanted to clarify existing legislation, but as far as I can see this is not a very satisfactory Bill. In many ways it is not as good for the workers as some of the Acts of Parliament which are to be repealed.
1236 I want to say a few words on behalf of the quarry workers. My union is also interested in the ironstone mines, where we have a considerable membership. Some people may feel that the quarries are not so important, but since the advent of mechanisation there are just as many accidents pro rata as in the mines. The quarries, therefore, came within the category of a dangerous occupation.
I should like to put one or two points which will be critical of the Bill, and I hope that they will be taken note of for the Committee stage. There is one serious point to which I draw attention. Among the Acts that are to be repealed are the Coal Mines Act, 1911, the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Acts, 1872 and 1875, and the Mining Industry Act, 1920. The Coal Mines Act, 1911 is to be repealed, but not the Factories Act, 1937. The Quarries General Regulations, 1938, which lay down standards for quarries, were pursuant to powers contained in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and the Factories Act, 1937.
What is to be the position of the Quarries General Regulations, after the passing of the Bill? The Coal Mines Act, 1911, goes out, but the Factories Act remains. The new Bill is silent on the Quarries General Regulations. If these Regulations received their sanction through an Act of Parliament which is to be repealed and they are not included in the Bill, it seems doubtful whether the Regulations will have any binding force once the Bill is passed. What the validity of the Quarries General Regulations will be once the Bill is passed, is not at all clear. I make the point because those Regulations of 1938 are much stronger on points of safety than are the provisions in the Bill.
While I do not doubt the good intentions of the Minister, there is nothing in the Bill to indicate that the 1938 Regulations in regard to quarries will still be in force after the Bill becomes law. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance on this when he replies. If these matters are not clear in an Act of Parliament, they get decided in a court of law; and a judge might decide on the words of the new Measure unless it is specifically made clear that the Quarries General Regulations are still in force.
I might mention one or two points to illustrate the argument that the Quarries General Regulations should be brought 1237 into the Bill because they are much stronger than the present provisions in the Bill. Take the question of avoiding danger from falls. Clause 96 (1) states that it is to be a duty to prevent fallsso far as is reasonably practicable.Regulation 2 of the Quarries General Regulations provides that it shall be an absolute duty to prevent dangerous falls. Bearing in mind that many accidents arise from this danger, we say that it is wrong that the Bill should substitute a qualified duty in place of an absolute duty which has been in operation for 15 years, that is since 1938. Likewise Clause 99 is very weak. There is already in Section 5 of the Factories Act something which is much stronger. Paragraph 8 of the General Regulations dealing with lighting is far stronger than this proposed Clause.
In Clause 100 (1, c) there is the obnoxious escape phrase:…so far as is reasonably practicable…This deals with dust precautions, and we all know the horrors of pneumoconiosis. Regulations should be so framed that there is no get out on this point. There is no justification for an employer being allowed to plead that he has carried out the provisions of the Act "so far as is reasonably practicable." I hope in Committee that these words will be deleted wherever they appear.
There is another point I should like to refer to about quarries. In some quarries it is common to have places or buildings where manufacturing processes are carried on. These are really factories where the safety code of the Factories Act is more applicable. It has never been too clear which category these places come into, because Section 151 of the Factories Act makes it dear that they are not factories unless they are claimed as such.
The definition of the word "quarry" in Clause 158 should be so amended as to state that the provisions of this Bill should not apply to any places where manufacturing processes are carried on, and that such places should come within the definition of a factory as contained in Section 151 of the Factories Act. This would have the effect of removing any ambiguity by putting that into the factories' category.
There are some useful additions to the Bill. Paragraphs 15, 16 and 18, regarding safety, and paragraph 10, which deals 1238 with welfare, of the Quarries General Regulations lay down standards upon which the Bill is silent. When it comes to the strength of a rope, a chain or lifting tackle, or steam boilers and so on, surely the Bill should lay down standards.
Clause 101 of the Bill deals with the withdrawal of workmen in cases of danger. I am fully in agreement with the withdrawal of men in such circumstances, but there is no provision at all for inspections before the men start their work. I had personal experience one weekend where, due to the inclement weather, the overburden of the quarries was in such a state that when the men went to work on Monday morning three of them were severely injured because of a fall which happened as soon as the machinery started working. I think this matter should be dealt with in the Bill as it is in the General Regulations. I claim that these provisions for the safety of the men are very important indeed.
There is a notable omission in Clause 93 (1) and Clause 94 (8) dealing with sanitary conveniences and washing facilities. The Regulations applicable to this matter should be applied both underground and on the surface. Surely the men on the surface should have the same facilities as the men underground.
'I do not like the escape Clauses in the Bill. We all want the Bill to be efficient. Clause 1 states that it is the duty of the owner to comply with the Act, and then it proceeds to water this duty down. This is a fundamental point. The word "reasonable" has always given rise to an enormous amount of legal discussion and decisions. By its very nature the word "reasonable" does not give a precise impression. Clearly different people's views on what is reasonable will vary widely. It is essential that the duty to comply with the Act should be mandatory so that everyone should know where he is.
If it is felt that certain particular provisions should be watered down by the use of the word "reasonable," then it can be inserted in the particular Clause. To make the whole duty to comply with the Act only a qualifying one is absurd. In certain parts of the Bill there appears to be superfluous words, such as in Clause 6 (4) and Clause 14 (1), where we find the words "to the best of his ability." Surely these words can be 1239 deleted. It has never been accepted in an English court as a defence to a crime that a man has done his best. On the same grounds, the proposal in Clause 48 (2) could be deleted. I do not know of any other safety code giving a person a defence merely because he said he did not know or did not think that certain steps were necessary. It is his job to find out and take the necessary action.
In conclusion, may I say that I trust my observations will point the way for corrections in the Committee stage. It is a fact that in the quarries control in the trade union sense is much less complete than it is in the mines. Therefore, if we are to avoid accidents and also costly legal actions later, it would be better to strengthen the Bill.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
Before I make a few remarks on this Bill, I must declare an interest. First of all I have a constituency interest, because Clitheroe has been famous for many centuries for "lime, law and Latin," as the local saying goes. We have the only ridge of limestone in East Lancashire just outside Clitheroe. We have also a grammar school which is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its foundation. Then I have a second interest, because all my working life I have been connected, as I still am, with a company which is one of the largest quarry operators in this country, and, indeed, in Europe. Nonetheless, I hope that this House will not feel that such interests as I have will prejudice suggestions which I want to put forward.
I particularly want to turn to a different part of the Bill to that discussed by the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. J. T. Hall), and that is the part which deals with quarries, because there is a marked difference between the quarry industry and the great coalmining industry. The hon. Member referred to the fact that trade union control in the quarries was less complete than in the mines, and there was, therefore, a greater difficulty in preventing accidents in quarries. I think perhaps he was drawing more on his experiences in coalmining when talking in that way, because the accident record in the quarry industry is of an entirely different order to that in the coalmining. Thank heavens that is so.
1240 I want to mention one or two figures to bring home this point of difference between the two industries. In 1950 there were 45 people killed in the quarry industry, of whom 10 were on opencast coal workings. That is 45 too many, but mercifully a different order to that which prevails in the coalmining industry. In 1951 the number was slightly higher, 65, but again of an entirely different order.
§ Mr. J. T. Hall
Does the hon. Member not agree that pro rata the accident rate is just as high in the quarries as it is in the mines?
§ Mr. Fort
To answer that point, could I now give some figures about the accident rate per million tons of stone? [Hon. Members: "No, the number of men."] Very well, I will give it that way. For three years it was 3.33 per thousand employees, and in 1951 it was just over 35, which again is a considerably lower rate than in the coalmining industry.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
Can the hon. Gentleman distinguish in those figures between slate quarries and other quarries?
§ Mr. Fort
I have not got the breakdown, but those figures include slate, limestone and all forms of quarries other than coalmining.
The other difference between the two industries is the entirely different scale of operation in many quarries. There are about 4,800 quarries in this country, of which probably nearly half employ less than 5 people. Again that is an entirely different kind of industrial operation from that in the coalmining industry, even if the small coalmines outside the N.C.B. are included. It is for that reason that a management structure which may well be suited to the problems, traditions and experience of the coalmining industry is not necessarily the one best suited to the quarry industry.
There are a few points on which I can perhaps add something to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). The first is the problem presented by the demand in Clause 2 for a sole manager coupled with the strict obligation laid on the manager in Clause 8 about daily supervision. This problem is complicated by the one judicial decision on this point, that of Plant v. The Cheadle Valley Coal and 1241 Iron Company in 1882, in which the judge laid it down that daily supervision meant supervision every day regardless of whether the place was being worked or not. In handing down his decision the judge rightly pointed out, as this was a coalmine, that it was possible that unless a mine was supervised every day there would be accumulations of inflammable gas or other conditions underground which, unless they were found and dealt with immediately, would make the place extremely dangerous when the men returned to it, a condition which was certainly contrary to the Act under which the mines were being operated at that time.
However, it would be a very onerous burden in a small quarry, such as the ones in my constituency, where the owner and the manager are one. If he is away selling his production or making arrangements in connection with his business, the place has to be operated by the foreman for a day or two. Consequently I should like to hear from the Minister, when he replies, that more flexible arrangements will be considered in connection with quarries.
Similarly this obligation under Clauses 2 and 8 would produce great complications in large quarries where there is modern equipment and functional management inside the quarry. The equipment being used there is of such a size and of such an engineering complexity that a manager has not the specialised knowledge to say whether or not the equipment is in a fit condition to be used. He has the general knowledge needed for getting the stone.
Recently I heard of one piece of quarrying equipment which cost £500,000, which incorporates 14 motors of 250 h.p. each and is fed by high tension cables carrying 60,000 volts through them. The operator of this machine said that the only persons who could keep control of this Leviathan were the electricians who can manage 60,000 volt equipment and the engineers who can supervise the machine. The mine manager can say he would like the machine to work on a certain face because he thinks the conditions there are right for it, and then it is for the specialised staff to make sure that it is in the right condition for working. Similarly with the modern methods of inspection 1242 which have to be carried out under the relative Acts in connection with lifting gear and pressure vessels. I know of one quarry where there are no fewer than 1,500 of these which have to be examined periodically and their condition reported on. That is the job of one specialist concerned with this work.
If we put the responsibilities as low down in the managerial hierarchy as is proposed in this Bill, obviously a manager will find his time taken up, not in attending to his job which is getting stone, but in being directly responsible for carrying out duties such as I have outlined. I want to hear the Minister say that he would be prepared to discuss these management problems with the quarry industry and, if necessary, to consider Amendments put forward during the Committee stage to make effective the principle which should be the one in this Bill as far as quarries are concerned, namely, that laid down by the Royal Commission on Safety in Coal Mines in 1938, of which the following is the relevant quotation:In mines as in factories…the fundamental principle should be that the owner is primarily culpable and liable to penalty for any breach of the law…With that principle in mind, I hope that it will be possible for the Government to accept Amendments to this Bill in order to carry out that principle without fixing on the quarry industry the inflexibilities which the arrangements in the Bill would present to it.
One proposal which might be acceptable to the Government is that they would allow the arrangements such as are set down in the Metalliferous Mines General Regulations, 1938, which are those under which we are now operating in the quarry industry, and about which there has never been any criticism from the Inspectorate nor from the trades unions. If necessary, we could bring out even more clearly than in those regulations what the Royal Commission said in its 1938 Report.
I hope that we can take advantage of this Bill in another respect, and that is to clear up some of the legal uncertainties which at present bedevil the industry. I know that the hon. Member for Gateshead, West raised similar points with regard to coal mining but I want to raise them in connection with quarrying.
1243 One of the problems which has long confronted the industry is the definition of what is a quarry. Clause 158 of the Bill defines a quarry first of all and then in subsection (4), on page 93, and on the following page tries to fill up that definition by defining—what is the real problem in this field—whether such installations, such as stone crushing plants or lime kilns or workshops, are part of the quarry or separate industrial installations which, therefore, come under the Factories Acts and their requirements.
In practice, this lack of definition of what is a quarry has not been serious from the point of view of the Inspectorate. By and large, the mines and factory inspectorates have worked out a modus vivendi but from time to time this lack of definition has presented a very real problem in common law actions. I hope that it will be possible to obtain a drafting which is rather clearer than that contained in this Bill.
I mentioned workshops which stand in the quarries and asked whether they came under the Factories Act or the Quarries Act. What is even more uncertain is whether the electrical substations and the cables from them which feed both workshops and quarries and for which there are special regulations are part of quarry equipment or factory equipment. The same applies to the crushers. I suggest that if, when he replies to the debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power finds it too difficult to define this difference he might turn his mind, first of all, to the second Report of the Royal Commission on Metalliferous Mines and Quarries, 1914, which said:We recommend…that the application of the Factory Act to quarries should be repealed. If this is done it will be necessary to provide in the Quarries Act for the regulation of the employment of protected persons, for sanitary accommodation, for the fencing of machinery, for protection of the workers from the inhalation of dust, and for other matters which are now regulated by the Factory Act…That recommendation has never been fully carried out. This Bill might be the opportunity to do it.
The Parliamentary Secretary might give us if he can, with the help of his experts and draftsmen, a full definition of what constitutes a quarry. If not, he might be prepared to turn his mind to the provision 1244 in the Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872, which left it to the Secretary of State to give a decision on each case as it arose whether it came inside the definition "quarry" or "factory."
These seem to me to be two important matters—the problem of greater flexibility of management and the problem of a better definition of what constitutes a quarry. They are two points on which I should like to hear the Minister's views. There are a great many other points with which other hon. Members may deal on Second reading, and there are still others which probably can be more satisfactorily discussed in Committee on this Bill. There is no doubt at all that for the industry of which I know something the Bill already has advantages If we take this opportunity to discuss all the regulations and the growth of law on this field while we are putting this Bill through the House we shall have a much better legislative framework in which the quarry industry can operate, as no doubt we shall also have for the coal mining industry.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
As has been said, this Bill is long overdue. I was very interested when the Minister was giving his historical references. It must have been very moving in this House in those days when Lord Shaftesbury was making his appeal that boys and girls should be taken out of the mines. One is left wondering why it took him so long to secure legislation for that purpose, when his story was so harrowing and moving.
After I came to this House in 1935, I had a look at one of the reports referring to those days, and I found an account of a boy who was found in one of the collieries. He was 13 years of age when the Commission interviewed him, and up to that time he had been seven years in the mine, so that he went there when he was six. When one looks at boys and girls of today, such as my own grandchildren at six and seven years old, it is very moving to think that boys and girls of that age were working in the pits in those days. Can we wonder that this House was moved to tears when the story was told about them?
I should like to add a little to that story, however, because it is not complete. The story of what has been done 1245 in the Mining Acts in the way of raising the status of the miners and in saving life and avoiding injury in the industry has been left out of the account. One of the main reasons why we had boys of six and seven years of age working in the mines was that there were no unions in the coalfields to look after the men. If the Minister wants a little more enlightenment, so that he may add to the eloquent manner in which he told his story, I would ask him to read Dicky Fynes's "History of the Northumberland and Durham Miners." He would find there why the boys and girls were working in the pit, why the miners were thrown out of their cottages, and a description of the fearful conditions under which they lived. We have moved a long way since then, but not because of the coal owners.
In a discussion it was asked whether the owners were Tories or Liberals. It may be news to hon. Members opposite that in those days in the mining industry we never recognised any difference between a Liberal owner or a Tory owner. In the treatment we miners received we found that they were just as ruthless whether they were Liberals or Tories. What we noticed most was that if the owner was a Liberal the manager was a Liberal and that if the owner was a Tory the manager was usually a Tory, because they were dependent upon that ownership for their livelihood.
I give no thanks to coal owners for the progress we have made in the industry. If they had been allowed to continue in the industry a little longer there would have been no industry at all. It would have gone. It was sinking into decay so rapidly and the confidence of the men was evaporating so quickly that there would have been no one left to work in it. I say this because of the great interest I have in the safety of the men in the pit. The Parliamentary Secretary has taken a great interest in the industry. He recognises, I am sure, that if we could appreciably reduce, not only fatal accidents but other accidents, which keep men idle for more than three days—accidents are not recorded in the industry if men are off for less than three days—we should appreciably increase not only production but manpower in the pits.
When we consider that one in five in the coalmining industry even now is either 1246 injured and off work or suffers a fatal accident, we find that is 20 per cent. If the percentage could be reduced by 10 per cent. we would increase the manpower of the industry and the productive capacity by something like 10 per cent. Men are leaving as a result of old age, accident and disability, but we should recoup those losses if we could reduce the accident rate.
I agree very substantially with the Minister that when there is an explosion or a dramatic inrush of water and a number of lives are lost, tragically and savagely, we get publicity in the newspapers. But, as the Minister said, only one in 10 of the fatal accidents is as a result of those tragic catastrophes in the coalfields. We all have to work hard, management, men, the Coal Board and the Government, to reduce the number of single fatalities for which there is scarcely any publicity or notice taken other than that the people in the street know that Bob Jones was brought home dead yesterday. That is not to say that we should not concentrate on preventive measures against gas and dust which affect the chest and brings about slow death to men who contract dust diseases: we have to do that also.
Although I have not the figures in my mind now, when listening to a report by the mines inspector for the north, he seemed to attribute a number of accidents to carelessness, and I have heard of this before. I would not say too much about carelessness, because what sometimes may appear to an inspector as carelessness is actually familiarity with the job. If miners were not familiar with their work we should not have any miners. I have personal experience of this. I well remember that when I was "putting"—North Country hon. Members will know that term which is used to describe going to the coal at the face—we were waiting for the empty tubs to come along. An urgent message came, "You are wanted. Come at once with your pony, the place is working, it is on the creep and we want a tub out." A tub was worth £5. In I went and got the pony attached to the tub. It did not take me long to do it, because the props were cracking and smashing, but in the short time that it took me to attach the pony to the tub the pony could not straighten his legs to pull the tub out as the roof was coming 1247 down so rapidly. We got him off, and all the time the props were cracking. I can remember it now; there was such a noise. I had to get familiar with my pit for that sort of thing.
I have had at least three young men killed within 10 yards of me and have seen it happen. In that way one gets familiar with a job. I do not want to decry what the inspector said, because I want men to be careful. The other day there was an accident in one of our pits. A man was going into his working place and died of natural causes. The man helping him was delayed in getting to his working place. He was killed. At the inquest it was said he had attempted to make up for time lost by being delayed. From that, hon. Members will understand the care which must be taken. From the time a miner goes down the shaft it is seven hours of absolute concentration. A lack of concentration for a minute or two may result in an accident.
I wish now to say a word about the Bill. I would suggest to the Minister, who spoke so eloquently about the Earl of Shaftesbury, that if he wants the accompanying picture, he should read Dickie Fyne's history of the Northumberland miner.
§ Mr. Taylor
Yes, and the Durham miner. Much has been said about the escape Clauses, and I do not wish to add a great deal on that matter. The word "owner" is included in the Bill and I suggest that, in inserting that word, hon. Members opposite are looking into the future, to the time when they denationalise the industry. It reminds me of Samson. They have denationalised steel and road transport and now, when they see the ruins falling round their heads, they may well say, "Let us complete the job and denationalise coal"—just as Samson put his arms round the pillars and brought down the whole building.
In Clause 1 there is a reference to "written instructions" and "reasonably calculated." I started to count the number of times the term "reasonably calculated" appears in the Bill, but I became tired of counting, and in fact I lost count.
I do not think a manager should have to ask for instructions. It is difficult to 1248 discuss the matter now because there is a new set-up under the National Coal Board; but, under the old system of coal-owners, if a manager had asked for written instructions he would have been sacked. I do not think he should have to ask for written instructions. They should be given to him without the necessity for his asking.
The manager is a very important person. I recall one manager who was a very able and successful man. He had an agent above him, although it did not necessarily follow that the agent was more qualified or was a better man than the manager. The manager considered that the ground he was working was fit only for one unit, one conveyor. The agent thought there should be two, and two were put in. The two units brought the roof in and we lost an output of 200 tons. That meant that the manager got the sack, because the output of the mine had gone down by 200 tons. If that man had had written insrtuctions, he could have appealed to his owners, although in those days managers would not have dared to ask for written instructions.
I wish to say a word about deputies. Section 14 of the 1911 Act specified the duties of deputies, but I cannot find those duties specified anywhere in this Bill. I think they should be specified, because the deputy is a very important man. I am pleased to know that the status of the deputy has been raised and is beginning to be recognised. Even under the 1911 Act, when the duties were specified there was great controversy about where the duties of a deputy began and where they ended. If there was a great stress of work, if things had gone wrong or there had been a stoppage which it was desired to make up, there were occasions when deputies were found right away from their district altogether, attending to some breakdown or something that might be handicapping coal production. A deputy has plenty to do if he looks after his men.
It is stated in the Bill that a deputy shall not have charge of more than one district, which shall be of a certain size. Who determines the size of the district if there is any dispute between the deputies and the managers? Is it the mines inspector or does the union have to negotiate to get it settled? I can imagine that 1249 a deputy might have charge of a much bigger district than would be wise.
Then there is the question of closing an egress. That has always been a very live question. I recall reading the Hartley disaster, years ago, when a beam went down into the shaft and some 200 boys and men were lost. There is a limit to the time one can work. Let us be careful about this, and, even though some men working in the pits might agree, I think the union should have a say in this and should be consulted, because anything might happen and a serious disaster might result.
I conclude with a reference to the inspector's report. I had a good bit to do with this although it is a few years ago. But after all, I worked for 32 years in the pit, and I know a little about it. The Minister knows it is not long since I was in a mine. He will recall that I took him down a mine not very long ago. I have a high regard for the Minister. I hope that it will increase as we carry on with our consideration of the Bill. The Minister was most interested in the miners in 1939 when he saw the conditions in which they worked.
In Northumberland and Durham, and I suppose in other parts of the country, one of the great factors which has helped to reduce accidents has been the appointment of workmen's inspectors. They have had a most beneficial effect. At first the managers did not want them. Indeed, it is remarkable that nearly everything that the men wanted in the past and which the managers or owners resisted has proved to be beneficial, and it has been said that it should have been done years ago. The only reason the management did not do it was that they had not thought of it and, when it was suggested, they would not put it into force because the idea had not come from them.
When the Government inspector examines some place as a result of a complaint passed on by the workmen's inspector, why cannot the local inspector be present? When the Government inspector makes his report to the manager, why cannot a copy go to the men as well? When the manager informs the inspector that he has carried out the suggestions in the report, why cannot a copy be sent to the workmen's inspector? Why 1250 is there the provision about two days? It is no fun being a workmen's inspector. These people do tremendously fine work.
If there is a report about something suggesting that conditions in a certain district ought to be examined and that is received after the inspector has done his two days, can he not carry on for a further day in the same month? It seems to be foolish if he cannot. The inspectors do not go into the mines to stop work but to get more work. I hope that that provision will be altered.
There are many other comments that I should have liked to make. I congratulate the authorities on introducing the three airways without waiting for the Bill. That arrangement can be a substantial means of saving life. We shall have a lot of work to do with the Bill and we shall be lucky if we get it through by Whitsuntide. However, I do not expect the opposition that we should have had if the Bill had been brought in when the mines were under private ownership. The argument that "we cannot afford it" that we used to hear so often in the old days will not be used as much now. Therefore, I think that we shall get assistance where before we got opposition.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
Like the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), I think that we shall have a fairly long Committee stage, but I would say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that he has taken a great step forward by introducing this Measure, which was presented to the House in a manner which caused pleasure on both sides. There was one statement by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) which I regretted a little and there was one matter in which, for once, I agreed with him. It would have been an advantage if we could have dealt with the mines and quarries separately in different Measures. I do not hold the view that it is impossible to weld the two into one Bill, and I shall say something about that later, but they are very different industries. It is obvious that if they are welded into one Bill and if we are to have sufficient elasticity, we shall probably have an even larger number of Amendments in Committee than we should otherwise have had.
1251 There was one phrase which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale used which I regret, only because I think that it could create misapprehension. He said that prosperity and safety are opposed to each other. I know that he qualified it afterwards—
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
My right hon. Friend did not say that prosperity and safety are opposed.
§ Sir V. Raikes
Production and safety is what I meant. He said that we could have safety measures to such an extent that no coal could be produced, but it is equally true that if the Minister introduced a Bill to wipe out all the safety measures that we have under the 1911 Act, the result would be a further fall in production because nobody would go down the pits. It is our task at this stage to try to improve safety and production at the same time, and I believe that that can be done.
Having paid a tribute to my right hon. Friend for introducing the Measure—and perhaps one reason for its introduction was the fact that he had experience at the Mines Department in 1939—I think that I am entitled to pay a small tribute to a back-bench colleague of mine, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). When my hon. and gallant Friend in the last Socialist Parliament asked leave under the Ten Minutes Rule to introduce a Bill dealing with safety in mines, he got the backing and support of the present Minister and other leading Members of the then Conservative Opposition. That support pledged a Bill dealing with safety to have high priority when a Conservative Government were returned to office. It is only right that the work of a back-bencher should be referred to in view of what has happened.
I do not pretend to be able to discuss technicalities, which hon. Members opposite, being miners, know far better than I do, but there are one or two points I wish to mention. One is the very definite step forward on the question of penalties in the event of accidents in the pits due to regulations having been broken. I know that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale rather made play with the suggestion that not sufficient stress was laid upon the word "manager," but the Bill 1252 goes on a great deal further from the point of view that I have in mind than does the existing law. Without specifying details, because hon. Members opposite will know what I have in mind, I will say that there have been accidents in the last few years where it has been possible to get damages against the National Coal Board, but it has not been possible to bring the case home to individuals whose own mistakes may have contributed to the damage.
As I read the Bill, I think it will be easier in the event of disaster taking place, not only for the owners, in this case the National Coal Board, but for individuals who have great responsibility to be brought to book if that be necessary. If that is so, it is an advance which we should all welcome.
The Minister himself has dealt with the main advances made on the coal side compared with the 1911 Act. On the transport aspect, there is no need for me to say more than that the 1911 Act was a most valuable one but rather deficient in dealing with transport and roadways in the pit, and the fact that the Minister has taken the opportunity of haying a new look at that aspect in the Bill will be appreciated by both sides of the House. He has improved on the previous Act.
We must also watch very closely the question of fire danger, which the Minister deals with by means of additional powers for inspectors. Under mechanisation, conveyor belts sometimes lead to dangers which did not exist in the old days, and in that respect also a certain strengthening of the 1911 Act is required. There are a number of other matters, but they are really Committee points.
I have two main criticisms to level against the Bill. When a Bill contains 166 Clauses one cannot expect it to be perfect, and it will be the duty of both sides of the House to improve it as much as possible in Committee if it is felt, as I feel, that the principle is good and the Bill represents a real advance.
One of my comments concerns the inclusion of quarries within the Bill. The other relates to the absence of provision for praying under the Statutory Instrument procedure, unlike practically every other Bill produced in recent years, for 1253 we have had a large amount of delegated legislation.
It would have seemed better to have a separate quarries Bill. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us why the two subjects have been married in the Bill. This action raises difficulties, but I am inclined to think that the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) are rather exaggerated. I appreciate that the fear exists that quarries will be tied up in the same structure as the National Coal Board, for which they are obviously not suited, because quarries and sand pits are very different from large coal mines. But I do not believe it is the intention of the Government to put a straight-jacket on quarries and sand pits by putting them into precisely the same organisation as the N.C.B., and I believe that we shall avoid difficulties if we are able to introduce some degree of elasticity in Committee.
With regard to managers, I do not believe the proposal is that, wherever there is a group of quarries, extra statutory managers are to be provided at extra expense. It is far more a matter of managers having certain qualifications which they do not all possess under the existing law. It appears to me that additional managers are not likely to be brought in except where existing managers do not possess the required qualifications.
I am aware that there is a fear in extracting industries outside the N.C.B. that there will be a large number of junior inspectors making decisions upon matters about which they have little knowledge. That fear is based on the fact that in the Bill reference is made to inspectors generally, whereas in the 1911 Act the reference was almost always to the chief inspector or the divisional inspector. I am convinced from the inquiries that I have made—we shall hear more about this in Committee—that, where powers of responsibility have to be exercised, the intention is that, where it is not the chief inspector or the divisional inspector, it is the district inspectors who will deal with matters, and they are, after all, fairly high up in the inspectorate world. Consequently, I believe that some of the anxieties which have been expressed have been a little exaggerated, and I am sure that during the course of the Committee stage we shall be able 1254 to protect the interests of the extracting industries and prevent them from being strait-jacketed with coalmines with which they have little in common.
I suppose that, first and foremost, the reason the Bill contains no power to pray against regulations under the Statutory Instruments procedure is that that procedure did not exist under the 1911 Act. Secondly, it may have been felt by the Government that the regulations will be so technical in character that there will not be the same opportunity to pray against them as there would be in the case of something of a less technical nature.
Those reasons are not really good enough. I very strongly opposed the Socialist Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, but whatever criticisms may have been raised against it, it permitted the negative procedure in connection with regulations throughout. There is the same provision in the Factories Act. Although a factory is not analogous to a coalmine, the safety regulations for factories are not so very different from the safety regulations for certain small quarries and sand pits.
The Bill has more delegated legislation in it than any Bill I have ever known. I am not complaining about that, for I believe that the Minister was bound to have it, but in these circumstances both sides of the House would appreciate it if the Minister would favourably consider the introduction of an Amendment in Committee to permit Parliamentary control under the negative Resolution procedure, which has been the case with practically every Measure of this type. This is a matter on which many of us feel strongly from the point of view of precedent, apart from anything else, and I am sure the Minister will consider my suggestion very carefully. The negative Resolution procedure makes people, including civil servants, a little more careful over the preparation of regulations, even if comparatively few Prayers are likely to be raised.
To conclude what is probably one of the most non-controversial speeches that I have made for a considerable time, I believe that we can enter the Committee stage with a New Year's resolution to make the Bill as good as we can, to keep as far away from party strife as we can, 1255 for it is a non-party matter, and to produce an Act which will be a credit to the great Parliament to which we are all proud to belong.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
I rise with reasonable justification to make a contribution in this debate, because I have spent the whole of my working life prior to entering this House in working underground in a coal mine, and this is the first time I have had an oppportunity of speaking in a mining debate, although I hasten to add that I have been a Member of this House for only nine months.
I am more than pleased because I have had the experience of seeing the great changes that have taken place in the mining industry. I was working in the industry in the pre-war period under private ownership, during the subsidised war period, and finally when vesting day arrived in January, 1947. I have also had the pleasure of enjoying six years of nationalisation of the industry before coming to this House, and, I would add, six glorious years of nationalisation. The older Members from the mining industry who have seen these great changes that have taken place will no doubt agree with what I have said.
Tremendous changes have taken place in regard to the health, safety and security of the miners, but, of course, the first and greatest change was nationalisation itself, and that has been followed by many Measures which have proved of great benefit. We have had the supplementary legislation on industrial injuries and diseases and also on pensions, which has represented a great step forward. I am sure that these changes have been welcomed by both sides of the House, but particularly by hon. Members of the Opposition, because we on this side have a wealth of knowledge and practical experience of the working conditions of miners and therefore fully realise the importance of this Bill.
I am sure that the Bill is not perfect, but we hope to amend it a great deal during the Committee stage, particularly with a view to removing many of its vague terms, especially "reasonable time," "as far as practicable" and so on. It is most noticeable, and it struck me most forcibly, that there is a great lack 1256 of intimate knowledge on the other side of the House of the working of this nation's most basic industry, and I wonder whether any hon. Members opposite have ever undergone those experiences in the industry which make us realise how important this Bill is.
Have they at any time in their lives endured that terrible, wearisome wait at the pithead after an explosion has taken place, when there might have been relatives or friends lying entombed? Have they ever had the experience of fully realising what the impact of a mining disaster is upon the people who are continually working daily at the coalface? Do they realise the constant fight with nature underground, which was referred to by my right hon. Friend earlier in the debate? Do they realise how men have to be tense and alert, watching for a crack in the roof or the splintering of timber while working underground on hands and knees, covered in sweat and probably also with coaldust, and feeling, at the end of an arduous shift, completely exhausted both mentally and physically?
In view of these memories—and bitter memories they are, because I remember how safety used to be disregarded—I am personally the more than glad to welcome this Bill as an attempt to bring safety measures up-to-date, because I do not doubt for a moment that, had nationalisation come earlier, many lives would have been saved and fewer miners would have been stricken with the deadly industrial diseases of silicosis and pneumoconiosis.
I want to be most respectful in what I say next, but the people who have been responsible for delaying nationalisation of this industry, consequently delaying the safety measures that have been taken since 1947, have been directly guilty of murder of many of these people whose lives could have been saved had nationalisation come 20 years earlier. No doubt we have learned many lessons from the recent disasters, and we can fully understand now how it is possible for the workers in the British coalfields to benefit from the lessons learned in these experiences and disasters, in view of the fact that it is now possible to circularise all collieries from some central authority, which did not happen under private ownership. It is a great joy to notice how the National Union of 1257 Mineworkers is working with the National Coal Board towards the common goal of promoting greater safety in this industry.
This Bill is not by any means the first safety Measure introduced since1947. The National Coal Board has been responsible for promoting many safety measures, and I think that this House and the nation should be made fully aware of what it has done. The Board has carried out its responsibilities to care for the safety and health of its employees, as is shown by the figures of fatal accidents and accidents involving serious injury, the provisional figures for 1953 being the lowest ever recorded. While there have been slight variations from year to year, the trend has been downwards since vesting day.
§ Mr. Mason
I should like to quote some figures of those killed and seriously injured in accidents in the industry. The last available figures for a pre-war year in normal conditions are for 1938, when 858 men were killed and 3,157 seriously injured. The National Coal Board has been responsible for compiling figures in respect of the mines under its own administration, and 1949 was the first year it did so. In that year, 432 men were killed and 2,269 injured. The provisional figures for 1953 show a decline to 363 killed and 1,889 seriously injured. That is a great step forward.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Surely my hon. Friend will agree that the figures to be accepted are those from the Chief Inspector of Mines and not those of the National Coal Board?
§ Mr. Mason
These are National Coal Board figures. If my hon. Friend is referring to the figures for all mines, they would be slightly higher. The figures for 1949 for all mines were 460 killed and 2,180 injured. In 1952, the figures were 420 killed and 2,105 seriously injured.
It has been the Board's policy to appoint special safety officers at all except the smaller pits, in the case of which one man may be responsible for quite a number of smallpits. There are now over 500 colliery safety officers in the mining industry. In addition, there are the more senior safety engineers at area, division and headquarters levels.
1258 Another example of progress is that, whereas in May, 1949, when the first complete survey was made of dust suppression arrangements in the coalfields, dust suppression methods were in operation on just over 75 miles of coalface, by June, 1953, that mileage had been increased by over 150 per cent. and dust suppression was in force on just over 192 miles; that is, concerning the coalface only. In regard to the roadways, of 1,146 miles of roadway underground, 56 per cent. are already being treated—that is, 640 miles—with the aim of combating dust and also installing fire hydrants along the roadways as a means of protection against fire.
Further, between 1950 and 1953 the number of samples of air to ascertain the amount of dust which were taken by the scientific staff more than trebled. In the nine months ended 30th June, 1953. over 1,200,000 such samples were taken, in addition to those taken as a precaution against coal dust, and certainly that is a great credit to the Board, which is attempting to do far more than the regulations demand. These are only examples from a very wide field which covers such matters as roof control, ventilation, lighting and rescue work, in all of which matters research and experiment are going on with a view to introducing greater safety and more efficient methods and equipment.
I want to be as precise as possible when giving factual information of what the Board has already done to promote greater safety in the industry. Before nationalisation, only a handful of full-time medical officers were employed by the colliery companies. The Ministry of Fuel and Power started an imaginative scheme for the provision of nurse-staffed medical centres at pits. At the beginning of 1947, some 22 State-registered nurses were employed in the industry under this scheme. Soon after the vesting date the Board decided to establish a comprehensive industrial health service throughout the industry and, as a first step, a chief medical officer was appointed at national headquarters.
Soon afterwards, a divisional medical officer was appointed in each division. In the ensuing years the Board gradually built up its medical staff until now it employs 54 full-time doctors. Every area, except the very smallest, has its own 1259 medical officer, and there are 44 of them. It has continued to develop medical centres, and towards the end of last year there were 188 of them, each staffed by an S.R.N. So the work goes on of building up the area colliery medical centres. The services provided by these centres now cover about one-third of the whole mining population. New centres are rapidly coming into commission and it is expected that the scheme will cover two-thirds of the mining population by the end of this year.
During recent years the Board has gradually increased its research efforts in the field of medical and human problems. The greater part of this effort was devoted to curing the dust problem. Research has already been carried out by or sponsored by the Board on many matters, mostly affecting the health of miners, rescue work in hot and humid conditions, nystagmus, skindisease and, last but not least, accident problems. This House should be fully conversant with what has already been done in building up an atmosphere of safety in the mining industry.
Now I want to deal specifically with the Bill, which not only brings up to date many antiquated Acts and regulations but goes further and states more emphatically and defines more clearly such things as managerial responsibility. It should state more precisely the main conditions of safety, and in Committee that is one of the aspects that we shall have to watch very closely. The Bill regulates more strictly the hours of work, and it contains a very important Clause on dust precautions. In view of the fact that my Welsh mining colleagues have greater experience in this field than we have in Yorkshire, this side of the subject should be left entirely to them. Many details are omitted from the Bill but, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, they will be dealt with by regulation.
I want to draw the Minister's attention to the Clauses relating to mine supervision. It has been my pleasure and my honour not only to have the area offices of Yorkshire of the National Union of Mineworkers in my constituency but also the area officer of the National Association of Colliery Officials, Deputies and Shot Firers. The question of supervision perturbs them very much indeed. I should like the Minister to tell us more about 1260 the over man. The term "over man" has been omitted from the Bill. In the 1911 Act he was referred to as an official superior to a deputy but inferior to an under-manager or manager. Those organisations would like to know more precisely how the over man fits into the industry now.
There seems to be a tendency in the Bill to say that a mine cannot be run except by a person at the colliery with a second-class certificate. It is common practice for managers or under-managers to arrive at the pit between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in the morning, and to leave before 6 in the evening, depending of course upon the time at which they arrived. From 6 in the evening until 6 next morning—12 hours, or 50 per cent. of the working day—the mine is under the supervision of over men, who at the present time may not necessarily have more than a deputy's certificate.
Is it the intention of the Minister to say at some future date that all over men, that is, officials superior to deputies but inferior to under-managers, must have a second-class certificate and that during the 12 hours from 6 in the evening until 6 next morning, the pits, now run by people who are certificated only by a deputy's certificate, shall be in the charge of people regarded as under-managers, who consequently must have a second-class certificate?
The next Clause in which I am interested deals with a subject on which I have a great deal of experience, workmen's inspections. The Clause is very vague, being full of vague terms and sentences such as:giving reasonable noticewhen the inspector wants to go round the mine, andat any reasonable time after the happening of an accident.The language should be clearer and the Minister should inform the House what it means. Does reasonable notice mean 12 hours, 18 hours, or 24 hours? If there is an accident, it is the duty of the manager to inform the workmen's inspector immediately so that the inspector can go to the place of the accident.
In Clause 111 (2) there is the sentence:Provided that the powers conferred by this subsection shall not be exercisable on more than two days in one month.1261 This is the most abominable sentence in the Bill. We have enjoyed the right under the 1911 Act of going once per month into every part of the pit. Let me quote from Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which deals with inspections on behalf of workmen. It says:Persons so appointed shall be allowed once at least in every month…to go to every part of the mine, and to inspect the shafts, roads, levels, workings, air-ways, ventilating apparatus,and so ontogether with any person acting as legal adviser to the workmen…and to make such inspection as may be necessary.I assume that Clause 111 of the Bill deals only with workmen's inspections and not with safety board inspections. It certainly states that the men's inspectors are to be allowed in future to go to the pit on only two days per month. That is a sheer abrogation of rights to which we have been entitled for 40 years. We have been able to inspect the whole pit every month. Now we are to be entitled to inspect it only on two days each month. What will happen if the two days have been used up and there is a serious accident? Will the inspectors have the right to investigate the place of the accident? The Minister should make us very conversant with this matter when he winds up the debate.
I should like to take the House upon an imaginary tour by workmen's inspectors, in order to clear up some other points. The first thing that may happen is that, in view of an unforeseen mishap, an inspector who has been elected by the majority of the persons employed in the pit may not be able to attend the inspection on a particular day. We ought to have the right to appoint or elect a deputy inspector.
Secondly, when the workmen's inspector has gone round the colliery with the manager, the statutory report which goes to Her Majesty's inspector may be so serious as to provoke him to visit the unit. Surely if the colliery inspector's report has had that result he should have the right to go round with Her Majesty's inspector to see what action should be taken. That is only to be expected and should be a right of the workmen. Furthermore, I fully appreciate that when Her Majesty's inspector has been round the unit or district the report which he 1262 ultimately submits to the Minister is a confidential document, but again, in view of the workmen's inspector having been responsible for Her Majesty's inspector coming to the unit, he should be entitled to have a copy of that document. I think that the Bill's main theme should be "safety before production." My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) mentioned that those two things are incompatible, or at least that they compete against each other. I have known the days, when I first started in the industry, when the slogan I have just put forward was in reverse. That was fully understood. Although it was not said, all miners were aware of it.
We have entered not only into a transitional period of ownership but a transitional period of intensely increasing mechanisation of mines, and we should have more safety precautions now in view of the types of machinery going into the mines—the Meco-Moore power motor, the Samson stripper, the Huwood power loader, etc. Safety must not be discarded for speed, but that is the tendency.
I have worked behind some of these machines and have been responsible at some time for their maintenance. When a machine is working it is easy for the men responsible for doing their allotted tasks following the machine not to give sufficient attention to other things happening on the unit—because of machine speed and the tendency there is to keep up with it. The live electric cable may be brushing some sharp projection and not noticed because the men are concentrating on keeping up with the machine. There may be a rip at the electric joint or anywhere on the cable itself and, although safety precautions are such that it may not be dangerous, we cannot take those particular risks. The operators may have a tendency to think more of the consistent speed of the machine than of these other important things.
There is a further danger. The machines create dust, but they also make more noise at the face. One machine in particular has two cutting jibs and one shearing jib and the whir of the chains going round them, plus the noise of the motor, is sufficient to drown those sounds which the miner has been previously used to noticing—the cracking of the roof, splintering timber, bits falling from the 1263 roof; they are all warnings in a very rough calling. All these matters tend to make machine-mining more dangerous. The men are not having the time, or the silence, to take notice of these warnings which they have always received.
A most dangerous point arising out of machine-mining is that, once a new machine is introduced, the official in whose unit the machine is placed is apt to keep the machine going. "It is my job," he thinks, "to prove that the machine is increasing the output of the men," and he will be constantly at the face seeing that the machine is kept at high speed. That may mean more danger. I want to warn the House, and in particular the Minister, that the speed of the machines may be responsible, because of the tenseness and alertness of the men behind them, for more accidents.
Intense mechanisation will bring more problems in its train which we must watch very closely, and no doubt, after further experience, more regulations will have to be introduced. I agree with the Bill in general, but the Minster must know that many amendments must be introduced, and at the conclusion of the Committee stage, I want the golden theme of the Bill itself to be "safety before production."
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
The Bill which the Minister has commended for Second Reading is described in the Long Title asA Bill to make fresh provision with respect to the management and control of mines and quarries.…I cannot think of any Member, on either side of the House, who would not find such a subject very close to his heart. I was greatly impressed by the way in which the Minister commended the Bill to the House and by the moving references that he made to the early history of the mining industry.
Although the Minister has been chided a little in the debate since then, I feel that we are perhaps a little unwise, in our condemnation of the conduct and practices of 150 years ago, to compare them with the model practices and new understanding of the problems today. We should take it a little harshly if a generation 100 years hence were to condemn us as being immoral and unscrupulous people, because by that time we hope we 1264 shall have advanced to a way of life which is an improvement on the present.
I think it would be good if all of us were to exercise a little restraint in our condemnation. By all means let us draw attention to the history of coalmining and the tragedies which have occurred in it, but let us congratulate ourselves upon the progress since made, while seeking all the time to make further improvements. I think the Bill is an honest and sincere attempt, with the co-operation of Members on both sides of the House, to try to bring about a greater standard of safety and greater provision for the health of those engaged in the industry.
Having said that in favour of the Bill, may I now say that there are aspects of it which worry me? Indeed, it was a little disconcerting to find myself agreeing with some of the observations made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), although upon such a subject as this one would expect to find a measure of agreement in quite unexpected quarters. I share some of his doubts about the wisdom of legislation combining provisions of this nature for coalmines, metalliferous mines and quarries. It may well be argued, as I am sure some hon. Members will argue, that unity is strength, but I am not sure that uniformity is strength or that it is strength when it combines industries so different in nature.
Some people might think it a little odd that a Member for Southend should intervene in such a debate because Southend, though noted for many things, is not noted for coalmining. Quarrying, however, is extensively done within my constituency. A great deal of brick earth is extracted from Essex generally, as it is from Kent, and stock bricks are largely made from brick earth extracted from my constituency. So I have an interest in the problem, apart from having spent the greater part of my political life in the coalfields of South Lancashire—although not in the coalmines—and I am not unnaturally acquainted with the problems of those areas.
The structure of the businesses and the hazards run are so dissimilar, as between coalmining and quarrying, as to make any attempt to impose upon the one a structure which may be suitable for the other somewhat dangerous. The fact that quarries are often operated by a very small number of people makes them 1265 completely unsuited to the kind of structure which might be considered suitable in the case of the activities of the National Coal Board. Nor have I heard any evidence which would lead me to believe that the accident rate in quarries is of so pressing and dangerous a kind as in the coalmining industry. Any accident rate is to be deplored, but it can be exaggerated in regard to quarrying.
I have the Report of the Chief Inspector of Quarries for 1951, which is the latest available document which I have been able to find. The Inspector deals with accidents in quarries, and if one excludes opencast coalmining one finds that there are something like 4,700 quarries in this country, 2,000 of which employ fewer than 20 men. When thinking about this Bill, I wonder whether the idea of including quarries is due to a feeling that it is desirable to have one form of legislation to cover both deep coalmining and opencast coalmining? I wonder whether that is why they have been lumped together? I do not think that we ought to do things which may be administratively tidy if they are going to impose an undue hardship upon other extractive industries.
If one looks at the accident figures, one finds that in 1951,in quarrying, there were only 49 fatal accidents and 128 notifiable accidents. Even that figure is reduced if one remembers that not all the fatal or the notifiable accidents were of the kind peculiar to quarrying. Some are the type of accident which one would find in a factory, or in the use of transport of various kinds. They are not particular hazards of the industry itself. Indeed, there were only 20 fatal accidents and 47 notifiable accidents which were directly attributable to quarrying.
Anyone who knows something about quarrying and realises what a small number of men are engaged in a particular quarry will agree that to impose upon these quarries the kind of management structure which may be suitable for a large organisation such as the National Coal Board will make the whole thing uneconomic and, in any case, will not improve the safety measures which are at present adopted. I should be the first to support any Measure which could guarantee that the lives of the men in the industry concerned were going to be better safeguarded, and that their health 1266 conditions were going to be improved, but when we seek to impose upon a small quarry a management structure which will merely result in a top heavy organisation without any corresponding benefit to the safety and health of the people concerned, I think we are going a little too far.
I hope that this Bill will be a non-contentious one. It will undoubtedly be criticised, because people are entitled to criticise from their experience of the industry, and nobody denies the wealth of experience to be found on the benches opposite. During the passage of the Bill I hope that my right hon. Friend will give particular thought to the problem of improving health and safety measures in the quarries without imposing the superstructure which, so far as I can see, is envisaged in it. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, perhaps we may be given some indication of the Minister's intentions on this particular aspect which, I believe, receives sympathy on both sides of the House.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
It seems quite clear from the speeches which have already been made from both sides of the House that when this Bill reaches the Committee stage there will be many Amendments to it. We all desire to make it the best Bill, and from the speech of the Minister, I am sure that he will give the greatest consideration to points put forward from this side.
This is a very complex Bill, with 168 Clauses, but tonight I propose to make a few remarks upon only two of those Clauses. It has been evident that many of my hon. Friends, with their great experience of actual work in mines, can deal much more easily and in a much better way with the technical matters that arise, but on the two Clauses upon which I intend to speak, I also have a little background that may help me to deal with them. My experience comes from being a daughter of a miner, from representing many miners in this House, and from having, almost every weekend, some of those miners—particularly the old ones—coming to my home in connection with their compensation claims for pneumoconiosis.
First, I want to speak on Clause 73. To some extent the Minister dealt with 1267 this Clause and the few Clauses which go before it—Clauses which deal with dust suppression. He said that as far as dust suppression is concerned we lead the world today. But we must not rest on that. The adverse effects of dust are still far too great, and we must make absolutely certain that nothing is left undone which will help to prevent the ill-effects of dust, whether it is the dust that collects and causes explosions, or that which enters the lungs of miners.
The Minister also said that this was not a new disease. My hon. Friends have always realised that. It is not a new disease, although it is one which was scheduled for compensation only fairly recently. I have here a document called "Pneumoconiosis of Coal Miners in Scotland," which was written by Mr. John Black, whom the Minister may possibly know, and who is a member of a pneumoconiosis panel. I read it with interest, and I find in it something which shows that this is not a new disease.
Mr. Black says that until about 1930, machine cutting was much more general in Lanarkshire, and in the early years the disc cutter was in common use. It is said that about 30 years ago it used to be asked by miners in Muirkirk, Ayrshire, "Who is going to go to Shotts to be poisoned?" That apparently referred to the fact that the men returning from Shotts—and this was 30 years ago—where the disc cutter was used, were noticed to be short of breath when they got back to Muirkirk. Shotts, which is my home town, is the area in Scotland where the incidence of pneumoconiosis is greatest.
If we look at the figures for Scotland—I do not want to weary the House with all of them—we find that there has been a great increase in the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis. I am not saying an increase in the incidence of pneumoconiosis, but an increase in the diagnosis of this disease. We find that from 1939 to 1943 only 28 certificates were given, and we find that from 1944 to 1949 that figure had gone up to 1,315. Each year in Scotland the figures have increased. In 1951 the figure was 468. I know that there are reasons for so many cases being diagnosed. We have not the figure for 1953, but I understand that it is expected 1268 that it will be higher than the 1952 figure of 454. The deaths also from this dread disease in Scotland are a source of great worry to us. Between 1950 and 1953 there was a considerable increase each year, and it is because of that that I feel that I ought to examine particularly Clause 73.
The Minister said that it provided stringent precautions. I am not at all sure that the precautions in Clause 73 are as strong as I should like them to be. From all the study I have given to this subject I know that the difficulties of obtaining effective means of dust suppression are very great indeed. I know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has said, that much research has gone into this matter and that in the last few years application of that research has been carried to the mines. In spite of that there are the figures I have given, and I know the great suffering that is experienced by thousands of miners and their families because of this disease, and I know the fear of those who are not suffering from it now that in a few years they will be among the sufferers also.
Most of this disease has been due to ineffective dust suppression. The Minister said we lead the world in this matter, but I still insist that even we in Britain have a great deal to do about it. I again insist that I do not think this Clause is sufficiently strong, because I find repeated four times the words "so far as is reasonably practicable." I think that, perhaps, in the light of our present knowledge of dust suppression these words may be inevitable—I would say only, may be inevitable—but I make this plea to the Minister tonight, and I am sure it is backed by everyone in this House, that research into dust suppression and the application of that research ought to be prosecuted with untiring energy and zeal.
Often when I have been thinking of this matter I have thought also that the Government, when they are seized with the need to prosecute some form of research, always find the money and talent for it. I give just two examples that occurred to me, the amount of research into atomic power and research also into aircraft production. We have made great strides in this country in these 1269 two fields, and I am absolutely convinced that if we were to give to dust suppression the same attention, the same financial help, and the same energy and zeal that we have as a nation put into research into atomic power and into aircraft we might see the end of this dreadful disease, pneumoconiosis. To me, and to thousands of my miners and their families, research into dust suppression is paramount. The need for research in this field is above the need for research into atomic power and aircraft production.
There is only one other point I want to make, and it is on Clause 112. That is a Clause that deals with the employment of young male persons and women in the industry. It points out that no women will be employed underground. That has obtained for a long time, and all of us agree with it. It points out that no boy should be employed underground until he attains the age of 16. Although it makes certain reservations on that matter, that is a provision that all of us should support. Members of my own family were working underground long before they were 16 years of age, with very ill effects indeed.
So far so good, but again I hope that there will be pressed in Committee the addition of a further provision in this Clause, and the provision I want is, that after the passing of this Bill no new recruits of women will be employed on the surface. I am not asking that the women who are already employed should lose their jobs, but what I am asking is that no women after the passing of the Bill will be asked to do mining work on the surface of our mines. I do not mean nursing, or work of that kind, but work at the screens, the sorting and cleaning of coal.
In the old days it used to be that women were glad to have that work. In my own area many women worked on the surface, but, thanks to the Labour Government, in many areas that has been changed. There is now alternative employment for the daughters of miners. Instead of having to go to the pithead or into domestic service they can go to factories in the areas round about. If there are not sufficient factories in some areas, it is the duty of the Government to ensure that alternative work is there for our womenfolk in the mining areas.
1270 I hope I shall have the support of all my hon. Friends on this side of the House and of hon. Members on the other side of the House, too, to ensure that this surface work, which is most uncongenial, is no longer left for the women to do.
There are people who could do this job of work. In my own constituency young men who, because of the medical examination—I am glad they have the medical examination—have been proved unfit for underground work could do the job the women are doing, and there are other sources from where we could get the labour. I hope these two points I have mentioned will be fully discussed in Committee, and an Amendment about the women workers, I hope, will be one that will have the support of both sides of the House.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is still in his place. We come from the same county, and he may agree with me when I say that it is probable that not quite all the miners whom I have had the honour to represent in this House for so long have invariably voted for the Conservative Party at General Elections. But I am sure that without exception the miners and the quarrymen, not only of Barkston Ash but throughout the whole of the country, will welcome this Bill and will be grateful to the Government for having introduced it.
This Bill is the first major legislative Measure dealing with safety and health in the mines since the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and it is a welcome fact, which has already been referred to in this debate, that since 1911 the accident rate in coal-mines has greatly improved, an improvement which, perhaps I may add in passing, commenced long before the mines became nationalised. One set of figures will illustrate what I have just said. In 1911 the number of fatal accidents was 1,265, but in recent years the annual rate has been below 500 and, in one or two years, not many more than 400.
That is a considerable improvement, but the accident rate and the incidence of industrial diseases in mining and quarrying are still too high, and I am sure it is the view of all Members of the House that these figures must be im- 1271 proved. Over the years, mining legislation, combined with a host of Regulations which have been made, has become a somewhat confused hotch-potch, giving rise on occasions to misunderstandings and indecision. It is an undoubted fact—I think that this point has also been mentioned previously during the debate—that technical progress in the winning of coal has led to new dangers to life and health and has accentuated many of the old hazards.
For these reasons, there is an urgent need for a new and comprehensive Bill to deal with the many still outstanding problems presented by the mining and quarrying industries. I venture to suggest that not one minute of the time of this House will be wasted if we make the closest possible examination of all the Clauses of this Bill with a full appreciation of the fact that it is not only a highly technical Bill but one which touches on many human problems affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in the country.
There is, in my view, so much which is good in this Bill that it is not easy, within the compass of a short speech, to pick out Clauses on which to comment, but I particularly welcome Part VI of the Bill which the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) referred to for the first time in this debate, and which is a real step forward, a true advance, in the statutory position of women and young workers employed in the industry. There are nearly 3,000 boys under 16 years of age at present employed below ground, and I hope that the enabling powers conferred on the Minister by this Bill will be used speedily and will stop forever the employment in this way in this country of boys under 16 years of age.
On the last occasion on which I was down a pit in my division, the ground was being let down by controlled falls on both sides of a narrow road. Nowadays that is a very ordinary occurrence in a mine, but I found it rather terrifying, and for anyone suffering to even a small extent from claustrophobia it is difficult to imagine a greater horror than being trapped hundreds or even thousands of feet below ground.
1272 This is a very real danger, and, as has already been mentioned, falls of ground still account for about 40 per cent. of those killed or injured in the mines. The pressures are enormous. Many of us have seen the steel props and frames twisted and bent by the relentless pressure exercised by the roof and sides of the roads and at the face. I am sure that increased mechanisation has made roof control more difficult. I cannot claim full or even extensive knowledge of the science which has now become known as strategic strata control, but the provisions of Part II of this Bill which deal with this and other kindred matters must, I think, be universally welcomed as a most carefully considered plan for reducing the number of accidents in the pits.
I also welcome the provisions of the Bill which attempt to deal with the new problems and increased risks occasioned by the greater use of electricity and increased mechanisation, as a result of which there has been a greater speeding up of transport which has, in turn, led to greater dangers underground.
Finally, I must utter a word of criticism, or at least of doubt. It seems to me that the Bill goes too far in the delegation of powers. As far as I can make out from reading the Bill, the Statutory Instruments which will be made under it will not be subject to either the negative or affirmative procedure which we in this House know so well. This is, perhaps, a Committee point, but it is one which arises so frequently in connection with so many Clauses of the Bill that I thought it advisable to make that criticism now.
I think that in many Clauses the Bill gives excessive powers to the Minister and that too little control of the Regulations which will be made remains with this House. That, no doubt, is a matter which can be amended in Committee if the majority of the Committee agree with the doubt which I have expressed.
I do not wish to finish my speech on a critical note, and, therefore, I reiterate my congratulations to the Government on their introduction of this Bill. I believe, and I am sure that every hon. and right hon. Member hopes, that this Bill will go a long way in many directions towards improving the working conditions of the miners and quarrymen of this country.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
When the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) concluded his speech, he said that he had no doubt at all that in the mind of the Government there were good intentions. May I inform the Minister and his Department that the intention of hon. Members on this side of the House is to make this a better Bill than it is, provided he takes a little notice of the advice of a few practical colliers on these benches.
I am not now speaking disparagingly about the technical knowledge of the mining engineers, but there are times when the practical mind applied to pit problems can solve many of the difficulties that mining engineers cannot solve. I have seen that so often during my 35 years in the pits. So often the practical miner has been called upon, after all else has failed, and has found a solution to a problem that has baffled the mining engineers. That may appear strange, but it is nevertheless true.
The right hon. Gentleman, when he opened the debate, expressed some wise thoughts. The first one that I noted was, "We have a special opportunity for the promotion of greater safety in mines and quarries." He accepts that responsibility, having made that statement, and we shall hold him to it. The opportunity is here, and he must not miss it. Then he said, "This is a charter for greater safety for the next 50 years." I hope it is not going to be 50 years before we shall have another Mines Bill.
§ Mr. Brown
We have waited for this Bill for 43 years. I hope that we shall not have to wait even 25 years for further consideration or review of the safety measures which are contained in this Bill. I want to remind the Minister that things happen in the pits with dramatic speed, and while he and his Department have attempted to cover a large number of the considerations and have included safety precautions dealing with certain danger factors, by the time this Bill gets on to the Statute Book, however quickly, other danger factors will have arisen. Therefore, I hope that further consideration will be given to the problem of safety in the mines within a few years' time.
1274 I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that there will be more direct roads to the coalface. As a practical miner, I can tell him why there are crooked roads in the pits. I do not want to strike a note of discord, but those crooked roads which entail great expense, which impeded output and increased the danger factors, would not have been there if a little notice had been taken of the colliers. I can give the right hon. Gentleman instance after instance from my own experience when there was a fall of roof in a roadway and the mine management would not clear that fall of roof but insisted on working round it, with the result that they made a hairpin bend which could have been avoided if the money involved had been spent on the removal of the fall. I am therefore delighted beyond measure, as an old collier, to know that he has found a code to create direct roads to the coalface. That will be a paying proposition in the long run.
In his historical review the right hon. Gentleman then referred to Press reports. I recall reading some history on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt knows that it was the practice in years gone by—and I am not attacking the Press: God forbid that I should—for them to prevent reports of serious accidents from appearing in the Press. That is on record. One or two books have been recommended to the Minister for his reading and digestion. If he wants to find evidence to sustain what I am saying, I recommend him to read Nelson Boyd's "Coal Pits and Pitmen," beause he will find in that book chapter after chapter recording how the Press tried to stifle the news and prevent it from getting abroad, not only in the mining community but also in the non-mining community, that a serious accident had taken place.
As has already been said, this Bill is the first major legislative Measure since 1911 dealing with the safety and health of the men employed in the mines of this country. I do no want to be unfair, but it is true to say that within the period from 1911 to the present time there have been a large number of regulations. Regulations have been pouring out—regulations which have never been submitted to this House in the strict sense of the term. That is one of my complaints 1275 and criticisms. When regulations are issued to be operated in the minefields of this country, the representatives of the mines and the Ministry ought to have an opportunity of discussing them.
The Bill covers approximately 700,000 miners. It also covers the men employed in the quarries, a number adding up to about 60,000. The Bill is concerned with the physical, economic and social welfare of approximately 5 million people. It has for one of its objectives the destiny and well-being of over a thousand women who are primarily engaged on the screening and cleaning of coal. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) made a mistake when he said that 3,000 boys were employed, for there are over 30,000boys in the mining industry.
§ Sir L. Ropner
I do not want to be accused of saying something which I did not say. I said there were about 3,000 boys under 16 employed underground.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes. If the hon. Member goes through the statistical digest, he will discover that.
Both these categories will have their conditions improved by the Bill. I want here to support my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) who is seeking the abolition of female labour at the pits. I share her view. I think Lancashire and one or two adjoining counties are the only counties which employ female labour in this way, and I should like to see it abolished altogether.
Some of the boys who will be helped by this Bill to enjoy a higher standard of social life have been working for seven days a week and up to 60 hours a week, and that is a great hardship, particularly for those who work underground. Under the Bill those conditions will no longer be permitted. The position of these boys is adequately covered by Clauses 112 to 116, provided—and again it is subject to this—the regulations under these five Clauses are what we think they should be and profoundly hope they will be. If the regulations dovetail into the sections of the Act as we suggest, then I can assure the Minister that this is a remark able step forward in the mining industry.
1276 On this point, the Minister of Fuel and Power is afforded, as he said in his speech, an opportunity of doing what should have been done many years ago. May I express the hope that he will not let the opportunity slip through his hands; that he will tackle this matter with determination and zeal, plus the enthusiasm of which we know he is capable, although he indicates it so very quietly; and if he will put into it 50 per cent. of the determination and enthusiasm that the miners have put into increasing the output of coal of this country during the past few years, then I have no fear of the result.
On this matter and at this juncture I want to make a suggestion which may appear on the surface as unorthodox but which, I think, will be worth a trial in order to get the maximum results in improved safety in mines and quarries. My suggestion is that when the proposed regulations are ready for consideration by the House, they should be submitted to this House in draft form and subjected to the scrutiny of practical and technical minds before they reach the final stage. That may be considered a departure from the orthodox method, because we know very well from our own experience that when regulations are presented to this House we have either to accept them or reject them; we cannot amend them.
It is true to say that we can pray against them, but we should not be put to that trouble if regulations, particularly on the health and safety of the men in the pits, were brought before this House in draft form. Let us examine them and apply our practical and theoretical knowledge to them, and as a result of the application of those two things we can amend the regulations, the Department can take them back and finalise them, and then it will be an easy matter for them to be accepted in this House. I think that will prove to be very essential.
I have tried to find something to sustain the suggestion which I am putting forward, and I discovered that a well-known man in another place, when he had to decide a very controversial case interpreting the regulations under a statute, the Coal Mines Act, said in 1912:The commanding principle in the construction of a statute passed to remedy the evils and to protect against the dangers which 1277 confront or threaten persons or classes of Her Majesty's subjects is that, consistent with the actual language employed, the Act shall be interpreted in the sense favourable to making the remedy effective and the protection secure. That principle is sound and undeniable.That is the desire of this Bill. It is intended that we should make that protection effective and secure. That means that this House should be afforded the opportunity of making a close examination of the regulations in draft form before final settlement and acceptance of them.
Another suggestion I want to make—and the Minister may not like this but I am not making it out of any disrespect for him or his Department—is that the responsibility for the administration of this Bill should be the responsibility of the Home Office or some other Department. The Minister is charged with the responsibility of producing coal and also with responsibility for the safety of the men. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that the two things do not go together; and if a mines engineer or somebody in the regions violates the Bill when it becomes an Act, it would be extremely difficult for the right hon. Gentleman's Department to take any action against that official. I want the Minister to consider that.
Since the passing of the 1911 Act forty-three years ago, many important and far-reaching changes have taken place, the greatest of which is that the mines have been nationalised. This has put great responsibility on the Minister responsible for the mines. His Department ought to be relieved of this great responsibility and it should be transferred to the Home Office or some other Department. This suggestion may not meet with 100 per cent. approval, but in the light of changed circumstances and inevitable potential changes, it is worthy of serious consideration.
As Home Secretary, the Prime Minister was responsible for introducing the Bill of 1911. It was a great wave of public opinion that stirred the Home Office in that period to promote the Bill. It followed a great number of explosions from one end of the country to another, and the wave of public opinion against the dangers of the mines compelled the Prime Minister, who was then Home Secretary, to bring forward the Bill.
1278 From a little research I have discovered that the time taken for the Second Reading of the 1911 Bill was an hour and a half. Today, it has been agreed that the Second Reading of the present Bill should take one and a half days. That is a vast change, and it is due entirely to the changed conditions now prevailing in the mines and to the desire of both the Government and the Opposition to make a proper job of the Bill. The 1911 Bill contained 127 Clauses and four Schedules. The present Bill has 168 Clauses and four Schedules. The magnitude and importance of this Bill may have been a factor in determining the length of time to be given to its Second Reading, and we on this side of the House welcome this change.
The Prime Minister has a happy gift of choosing words which demonstrate what is in his mind, and when on 17th March, 1911, he introduced the Bill which eventually became the Coal Mines Act of that year, he began by saying:A large modern colliery, with its extensive and carefully elaborated equipment, including its various appliances for getting the coal and bringing it to the surface of the ground, or transmitting power through long distances underground, or causing great volumes of air to flow through confined passages many miles in length, or draining wide areas underground and raising water to the surface, or sorting the coal into various sizes, separating it from the intermingled dirt; that spectacle, as has been said, is one of the most remarkable specimens of human activity in its struggle with and triumph over matter."—[Official Report, 17th March, 1911; Vol. 22, c. 2646.]A wonderful expression, and that was a time of activity by 1,049,000 men in the industry. That was the activity he visualised in his mind when he gave expression to it.
I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would say if he visited one of our modern collieries today where vast changes have taken place and are continually taking place, and where he would see machines behaving like men and men behaving like machines. That is what is happening in the industry today. Increased mechanisation which is daily—and almost hourly—being intensified has increased the tempo at which our men in the pits are called upon to work to produce the coal which is so essential for the economic and commercial life of this country.
I come to another Prime Minister who expressed his feelings in this matter in 1279 different words, not viewed from the surface of the pit but viewed from the underground conditions which he visited in 1909, to be precise, on 30th July, 1909. When he came to the surface he gave expression to these words:Have you been down a coal mine? I went down one the other day. We sank down in the bowels of the pit, half a mile deep, and then walked underneath the mountain. We had about three-quarters of a mile of rock and shale above us. The earth seemed to be straining above us, around us, to crush us in. You could see the pitprops, bent and twisted, sundered until you saw fibres, frail in resisting the pressure, and when these give way there is mutilation and death. Often a spark ignites, and the whole pit is deluged in fire, and the breath of life is scorched out of hundreds of breasts by the violent consuming flame.These were the words uttered by Lloyd George, and they fell from him after he had spent only one day in a pit. What would he have to say if he had to earn his living in the mines, working six days a week for 50 weeks in the year, facing danger every working day? One of the differences between the soldier and the miner is that the miner can never ask for an armistice. He cannot even treat for surrender. He has to go forward facing these dangers, and his life and limb ought to be protected by the best legislation that this House can pass.
Just a word about one or two Clauses in the Bill. I said that I was speaking from experience. I am going to apply the benefit of my experience to the Bill not only on Second Reading but when it comes to the Committee stage, if I am fortunate enough to be on the Standing Committee. For many years I occupied the position of a dust inspector. I was responsible for looking after and supervising the distribution of dust for the diluting of inflammable mixtures in four pits. I know there are weaknesses on that side of the mining industry, and I think the Minister would be well advised to apply his mind to Clause 73. I have not the time to deal with Clauses 55 and 56, but Clause 73 is very important.
All of us know of the great inroads that are being made upon the manpower in this industry because men and women have to work in a dust-laden atmosphere. In 1952 more than 3,305persons in the British coalfields were certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis. Five weeks ago a strange happening occurred in the 1280 Lancashire coalfield, the first of its kind, when one of our pit-brow lasses were certified to be suffering from that disease. That is a serious matter. Men are tougher and harder, but when it comes to dust conditions being so bad in our screening plants as to cause pneumoconiosis in a female, it is time we sat up and took notice—
§ Mr. Brown
Because if I compare the number of certifications of men in the industry suffering from mild, medium and acute pneumoconiosis in an underground personnel of over 700,000 with the number of men certified in the Dombas coalfield where there are between 25,000 and 30,000 men, I find that last year only two were certified there as suffering from a mild attack of pneumoconiosis and the standard of dust suppression there is much higher than it is in this country. Therefore there is a high standard in Russia and, although it might cost a little, it might be advisable if some examination were made by our experts to see how that standard of dust suppression has been achieved in the Dombas coalfield.
Clause 73 imposes upon the manager statutory duties in relation to dust precautions. I presume there will be regulations on particular measures to be taken, first to prevent and secondly, to suppress, collect and remove inflammable and noxious dust, also to prevent explosions being caused by inflammable gas. I presume also that there will be a systematic measurement of quantities of inflammable and noxious dust present at relevant points in the pits. Again speaking from experience, I know that there are points where dust accumulates which are never examined. I wonder how many times dust accumulated in the fan drift of an up cast shaft has been examined? It has been my painful privilege to visit a fan drift and there I have seen an accumulation of coal dust like a heap of gunpowder. So there again there ought to be examination.
1281 May I ask the Minister this question: Will the Precautions Against Coal Dust Regulations, 1939, which apply to coal mines other than anthracite, continue to be effective? The Minister knows that those precautions are in existence today but, in the light of what this Bill contains, will they continue to apply? I should like an answer to that question later. Also I ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Clause will be supplemented by regulations. Will the Minister assure us on this side of the House that the Clause will be amended to make that clear?
There is no definition in the Bill of what constitutes noxious dust. It is important that there should be a definition. Clause 73 (2) states:…dust of such character and in such quantities to be likely to be injurious to the persons employed,…Surely any substantial quantity of dust of any kind is injurious or offensive to those working in it or passing through it, and the passage to which I have referred requires further consideration.
In reading through subsections of this Clause, I discovered, as many of my hon. Friends have discovered, that very unsatisfactory phrase,…so far as is reasonably practicable,…It occurs four times in this Clause. Who are the people who are to determine what is reasonably practicable? We have always had a difficulty in the mines in interpreting that phrase. Who will determine it? Will it be the mine manager, the workmen, Her Majesty's inspectors? Who will it be? I hope that the Minister will elaborate on the Clause when he replies.
There is another suggestion with regard to dust affecting men working in the pit which I should like to make to the Minister for his consideration, not necessarily between now and the Committee stage or the Report stage but in his quieter moments. At present, to contain or to eliminate highly combustible coal dust quantities of stone dust are imported into the pits or brought up for distribution in the pits. Will the Minister institute an inquiry into this matter or have an analysis of the dust used? Speaking from experience, I am afraid that some of the dust which is imported into the mines contains free silica compound. If it does, 1282 we are importing an added danger to the danger which is already in the mines.
There ought to be a more systematic distribution of stone dust to reduce inflammable coal dust. As I have said, at one time I was charged with the responsibility of supervising the distribution of stone dust. I have seen a tub of dust being tipped over in the return roadway and the men spread the dust by tramping through it. That should not take place, particularly in the return air-way. When 200 or 300 men tramped through dust in that way, it created conditions which were like that of a sandstorm in the Sahara desert.
I was for a number of years a workmen's inspector. I know the trouble that was often experienced when we as practical miners, in a kindly way and with the best desire in the world, made recommendations to the inspectorate or management for improving conditions. More notice should be taken in the pits of practical men. I know of a case where a danger factor which had existed for many months and had been worrying the manager and engineer was eliminated by an Irish workman in half a shift. The danger factor was removed by the application of what we call common pit sense, and sometimes common pit sense is worth a ton of theory.
Surely the Clause which lays down that there should be only two visits a month is obnoxious. Supposing that there are two fatal accidents following each other at the beginning of the month, as has sometimes happened. If the inspector makes a visit to the scene of those two fatal accidents, he will have finished for a month. I appeal to the Minister and suggest that the two days prescribed in the Clause should be eliminated altogether. Things happen with dramatic suddenness in the pit and one may be called upon to make an inspection five or six times in the mine. If it is limited to two days a month, that destroys the purpose of having inspectors to increase safety factors.
We know that this Bill does not go so far as we should like. We know it is not perfect, but its imperfections can be remedied. George Bernard Shaw said that when we found a perfect man we would find a perfect nuisance. When we find a perfect Bill it will be a perfect nuisance. Having regard to all the 1283 imperfections and shortcomings of the Bill, I appeal to the Minister that when we reach Committee stage on this Bill he will at least take a bit of notice of men who have spent a lifetime in the industry and have the objective in view of giving the best safety measures we can to the men who have given so much to the nation.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Colonel O. E. Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)
It has been welcome to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). If I try to correct him on a few points. I am certain that he will not mind.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
Also in my view it was most constructive to have a speech of that nature, particularly in view of some of the remarks which have come from hon. Members opposite. For instance, I very much resented the remarks of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who more or less said that those who stood against nationalisation of the coalmines were guilty of murder. That was very strong language. If an hon. Member is to use language of that nature in future, he should have a few facts to support it. Actually, if one looks at the accident figures for the period between 1925 and 1938, one finds that they went down by more than 33⅓ per cent. In the period since the war, which includes nationalisation, they have only gone down by 10 per cent. I am certain that no one in this House wishes to try to make political capital out of the accident rate in the mining industry. On the other hand, we should realise that we are all determined to get the accident rate down. It ill becomes any hon. Member to try to suggest that crime rests on the shoulders of hon. Members because of political reasons and not because of what they have done to help safety in mines. I would remind hon. Members opposite when they make such remarks that only three years ago, under the Ten Minute Rule, I introduced a Measure which would have anticipated this Bill by two years. Hon. Members opposite said that Bill would be of no assistance whatever. Therefore, when they now say, "Why have we waited so long for this Bill?," it would be fair to 1284 say to them, "Why did you stop that Measure, which would have given us a similar Bill earlier?" I leave it at that.
I return to the hon. Member for Ince. I have had it checked and the fact is that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) was correct and the number of people under 16 working underground is 2,876. I think the hon. Member for Ince was confusing the question with the number of people working underground under the age of 18.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
May I come to the next point. I suggest it is dangerous to make comparisons with mines in other countries unless the working of the mines is comparable. I think the hon. Member would agree that the figures he quoted should be considered with that reservation.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
That was the only point I wished to make.
Hon. Members opposite have severely criticised the use of the word "reasonable" which appears so often in the Bill. I must admit that I remember doing exactly the same thing in respect of a large number of Bills when I was on the Opposition benches. I could not help watching hon. Gentlemen opposite on the Front Bench when they heard their back benchers making those criticisms. Each one was searching his own guilty conscience and trying to recall how many times he had offended in the same way. The truth is that we must use this word in order to give sufficient scope to the regulations, particularly when one is dealing with a great variety of extractive industries.
One other point made by the hon. Member for Barnsley in very irate terms, and also by the hon. Member for Ince in more measured, and, if I may say so, sonorous periods, related to the question of workmen's inspectors. I think the hon. Member has read the Clause wrongly. If he will look at it again he will see that under the 1911 Act workmen's inspectors were allowed to carry out routine inspections once every month—
§ Mr. Holmes
If I may interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, I have been connected with this work for 40 years, and the fact is that the inspector cannot visit one place in the pit more than once a month. He could go down the pit every day in the week, but he must not visit one place more than once a month.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
The hon. Gentleman is probably correct, and I would not argue with him. But, as I read this subsection, I think the point is that what is called the inspection that the workmen's inspector may wish to carry out has nothing to do with the occurrences which the hon. Member for Ince was talking about, namely inspections after accidents. If the hon. Member will look again he will see that the proviso of not more than two days a month refers only to the subsection which it covers. It does not cover occurrences where an accident has happened. I think therefore, to take the example quoted by the hon. Member for Ince, that if an accident occurred on the third day a workmen's inspector could go down the mine and would not be covered by the proviso.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I think it should be clearly stated in the Clause what are the intentions of the Ministry, whether it is two days per month or whether the inspector is permitted to go if there is a fatal accident beyond the two days.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I am open to correction by my right hon. Friend, but I think that the proviso of two days merely refers to the inspections carried out at the request of the workmen's inspector. If there is an accident the inspector is outside the proviso.
§ Mr. Holmes
I should like to have this quite clear, because I am of the same opinion as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince. Fatal accidents are altogether separate, distinct and apart from Section 16 of the 1911 Act. There is no relationship whatever. For 25 years I examined a pit at every fatal accident, and that did not come under the section which this did. Now the system will be completely changed.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I think that if the hon. Member will look at the Clause he will see that the subsection referring to two days is specifically limited to the subsection of that Clause to which it 1286 refers. The next subsection deals with accidents. I am quite certain in my own mind that the two are completely divorced.
Apart from the few points I have mentioned, the Bill has been welcomed in all parts of the House. That is right, because one must remember that the 1911 Act is supported by over 1,000 regulations. It is impossible to believe that safety in a great industry such as coalmining can depend upon a basic Act 50 years old with 1,000 regulations, many of which can be honoured only by breaking them. It is high time that we had a new code.
It has also been said that never have such wide powers been given under a Bill. I must admit that I was shocked when I saw it, but when we consider all the matters covered I do not think that we can do less than grant the powers especially, as has been said by the Minister, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and others, when in mining, conditions change so quickly and changed technique may necessitate the introduction very rapidly by way of regulation of powers that nobody would have thought necessary a few months previously. As my hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) said, if we give the powers and recognise the right of the industry to have this flexibility, and of the Minister personally to be able to guard the interests of those working in our collieries, it is essential that this House should keep control of the powers granted. We have not got that control under the Bill. The Minister, by regulation, can affect the welfare and the management, and indeed the future prosperity, of every single colliery and every single extractive industry in the country.
I have no doubt that the powers he uses will be used wisely, but it is necessary that we in the House should have the opportunity, through the negative procedure, to comment on the way that he uses them. That cannot cost him anything. A regulation made subject to the negative procedure is law from the moment it is made. Any action taken under it, even if the House subsequently sees the need to rescind it, cannot be challenged. I cannot see what the Minister can lose by granting that to us.
1287 I would remind the House that every other major Measure of this nature has had in it provision for control by the House. This is the first time that such a Measure has been proposed without that safeguard. I do not think it is relevant to say that the 1911 Act did not have this safeguard. After all, that Act dealt only with a very limited number of subjects affecting safety in mines. This Bill covers the whole lot. If we extend the power of the Minister it is even more necessary to make him responsible to the House for his final authority.
If hon. Members look at Clause 68, which deals with electricity and electrical apparatus—a vital factor governing safety in mines—they will observe that the whole Clause comprises only 27 lines and its implementation is to be done entirely by regulation. The next Clause deals with blasting materials and devices. A mistake, an error of judgment, in the selection of blasting materials and devices could cause the loss of a great number of lives. That Clause comprises 40 lines and action is to be fully implemented by regulation. I do not think there is anyone in the House who would regret giving the powers to the Minister, but there is not one hon. Member who would not feel happier if regulations made under them were subject to his own inspection and comment if necessary.
Also, I think we should note that the widest possible powers for making regulations have been taken under Clause 127, in which it is stated, in subsection (1):The Minister may make regulations for any purpose for which regulations may be made under this Act and for prescribing anything which by this Act is required or authorised to be prescribed and generally for making provision with respect to any matter or thing with respect to which it appears to the Minister requisite or expedient to make provision.…It would be very hard to find words wider than that if it were not for the next subsection, which says:No enactment contained in this Act making provision with respect to any matter or thing shall be taken as operating to preclude the making by regulations…of provision with respect to that matter or thing.With these powers, the Minister should see that this House has the right to ensure that its own part in framing these matters is mentioned.
1288 One consideration I should like my right hon. Friend to bear in mind is that under the provisions for the serving of notices and for the promulgation and confirmation of regulations there is not very great scope for anyone to make objections, and even if they do there is no reason for the Minister, in the last resort, to accept them. At the moment, whereas either the court of referees or the independent bodies set up by the Lord Chancellor, or the equivalent Scottish authority, might say that the notices or regulations should be modified it would be possible for the Minister—I do not for a moment say that he would—to disregard the advice and promulgate the regulations as he saw fit.
I pass to another point of the greatest importance. Much has been said in the House today of the work done by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. I should like to pay my tribute to that body of people who have so selflessly served not only the industry but the community as a whole. They are people not only of great experience and wisdom but of the highest integrity and ability. But it is just because of those qualities, which I am certain everyone in the House wishes to maintain, that I should like to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that sufficient numbers of people to carry out this Bill in its entirety can be found.
At the moment the establishment for the mines inspectorate is 186, but there are only 149 employed which, if my mathematics are correct, means that the inspectorate is 30 per cent. under strength. Under this Bill we are to give them many more duties. We shall want more inspectors. Before we embark on this we should be quite certain that we have the men of the calibre and the quality to maintain the inspectorate and all that it means both to the industry and the country as a whole.
I shall finish with one or two points on the question of the duties and responsibilities of the manager. Listening to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, I understood him to say that what he really wanted was a tripartite responsibility between the owner, whether it be a private owner in the case of a quarry or the National Coal Board in the case of a colliery, the manager concerned and the men employed. He stated there would be no point in introducing an extra 1289 stratum of responsibility, which was the technical agent who might be brought in. I was glad of his arguments because they could only mean one thing—that he, if no one else on that side of the House, realises that we must bring back responsibility firmly to the manager and that we cannot have a functional chain of command.
The functional chain of command, with all its agents, must break down. I do not wish to repeat what we on this side said for a great many years, but I think it is the fact that from this side of the House the argument has been raised year after year that, unless we place responsibility firmly on the shoulders of the management, we shall never get anywhere at all, and I am very glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale is now converted to that view.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that my right hon. Friend or any of my hon. Friends ever expressed any other view?
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
Certainly. If I may give one example, during consideration of the 1949 Coal Industry Bill, on which the whole structure and composition of the National Coal Board was discussed, right hon. Gentlemen opposite insisted from the beginning to the end that the functional chain of command from the pit up to the National Coal Board and down again must be maintained.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
On that occasion, we were dealing with quite a different matter—coal production. There is a vast difference between coal production and safety in mines, and, in any case, I am not prepared to accept altogether the hon. and gallant Gentleman's construction of what my colleagues on this side of the House said in 1949. I ask him to appreciate that those of us with some knowledge of this industry, gained from long experience in it, recognise a world of difference between the functions of production and safety in the pits.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I do not think my remarks could possibly be construed to show that I do not appreciate exactly what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The functional chain of command does not deal with production 1290 only, but with mine management, finance, safety, progress, planning and everything else—the whole thing. I was not trying to pretend for a moment that the argument I was using dealt with production only; it deals with the whole structure of the coal industry, and if the hon. Gentleman looks in HANSARD tomorrow he will see that I made that quite clear. He will recognise that we on this side said that this functional chain of command was bound to fail, and that it was hon. Members opposite who insisted on the retention of that functional chain of command, instead of putting the responsibility squarely on the people at the right level.
If I may go further, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend this question. Under the 1911 Act, the Mines Qualification Board was composed of parties nominated by various interests. There were six persons nominated by the employers, six by the employees, three by the mines inspectorate and two persons eminent in mining and scientific knowledge. Under Clause 18 of this Bill, the Minister appoints everyone concerned from persons whom he may think fit. There are no standards laid down concerning who shall be on this board. It is purely a question of what regulations and terms the Minister may consider necessary. I should be very grateful if the Minister could find it possible to say a few words as to how he proposes to erect this new board, and what qualifications and terms of reference he will give to them. Everyone in the House will agree that, unless that board operates well, the urge for the rigid safety precautions which we wish to see will have been taken away.
Next, I would ask my right hon. Friend this question. It is true that, under the 1911 Act, no one can be a manager until he has attained the age of 25 years. Are we satisfied that this is still the right age in modern conditions? With all this increased technical and scientific knowledge, and with two years National Service, is it really fair to say that a man can be a mine manager, with all these responsibilities for life and safety, production and all the rest, at the age of 25? I should like to see that age raised, and I think it would be wise and for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
There is one other point while I am on this question. We should not allow 1291 the subsection of this Clause to go through which deals with the qualifications for managers, and under which it is possible for the Minister, through the board, to modify any qualification which may be demanded from a manager, except the one that he should be of good character. We should be quite clear in the Bill about what is expected of a manager before appointment, when the position carries all the responsibilities that are laid down, and there should be no exceptions except those which are framed in the regulations which can be discussed by this House.
We have set up in the Bill a new standard covering not only coal but the extractive industries. If we can do it in one Bill, well and good, although I rather feel that it would have been better to do it in two halves. I hope that we can work together during the Committee stage so that, in the words of the hon. Member for Ince, what is produced in the end will be a worthy tribute to the greatest industry in this country.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
The hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) began by taking up some of the remarks made by some of my hon. Friends, but I wonder whether one or two of the things he said will stand further scrutiny. Did I get his figures aright about the improvement in fatal accidents in the coalfields? I believe he drew a comparison between the fall of 30 per cent. between 1925 and 1945, and the fall of 10 per cent. since vesting day. Having regard to the two periods involved, the proportionate drop in the incidence is just about what one might expect, and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at the figures again.
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that the data I actually gave related to the periods 1925 to 1938, and 1945 to 1952.
§ Mr. Roberts
There is not much difference in the proportionate improvement. The hon. and gallant Gentleman would probably agree that there were more miners in the period 1925–38 than there were in the period 1945–52.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
Surely my hon. Friend will accept that since 1945 there has been increased mechanisation in the pits, which has resulted in more miners being incapable of work. That fact has a bearing upon the figures.
§ Mr. Roberts
I fully agree with my hon. Friend that a comparison between the two periods, without reference to the wide variety of technical and other circumstances governing those periods, can be very misleading.
I now hasten to agree with the hon. and gallant Member in what he said towards the end of his speech about the form of the Bill. I do not think any of us quarrel with its purpose or with the spirit in which the Minister moved the Second Reading, but it is clear that there is remarkably little enthusiasm for the form in which the Bill has been cast. The consensus of opinion in the House is clearly that it is a mistake to legislate in the same Bill for the coal industry and the quarrying industries. There are, of course, similarities between the various types of mining, but there are also very great differences, particularly today, in the field of industrial organisation, upon which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) touched so expertly earlier in the debate.
I wonder whether even at this late—the mood of the House being what it is—the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary might not consider that these Siamese twins might be severed? I really cannot see that appropriate attention can be paid to both the coalmining industry and to the group of quarrying industries through the medium of one and the same statute. I should say that in each case the job would be much more effectively done if there were a clear, consolidated statute of this type relating first to the coalmining industry, and secondly, and quite separately, to the other extractive industries.
I am particularly concerned about this because in my constituency in Caernarvonshire, I have one of the two largest slate quarries in the world. I refer to the Dinorwic slate quarry in Snowdonia. The other—the Penrhyn quarry—lies on the very border of my constituency. The slate quarrying industry is largely concentrated in North Wales and can fairly be described as a Welsh industry, not only in location but in language, so many of its 1293 technical terms actually being in Welsh. For generations these quarries have produced some of the finest roofing material and also some of the finest personal types and social communities. It is one of the tragedies of the Welsh industrial scene today that this industry to which our small nation owes so much has suffered so great a decline.
Before the war this group of slate quarries in North-West Wales employed between 8,000 and 9,000 men; today I doubt if the number is as high as 5,000. Not only is that a serious loss to the Welsh social structure and a grave blow to a small nation which must make the best of everything it has in the industrial and social sense, but it is also a danger to the country as a whole, because the potentiality of slate with regard to the use of a very wide range of by-products is something which I would like to see examined much more carefully and thoroughly than has been the case up to now.
There are, of course, definable reasons for the decline of a heavy industry of this kind, and to some extent the Bill seeks to put right some of the circumstances which have contributed to that decline. Slate quarrying is one of the most dangerous and arduous of the industries we know in this country. My hon. Friends from the colliery areas will appreciate the perils that confront the underground slate quarryman—the deadly dust, the avalanche and the flooding.
I wonder how many hon. Members have seen the other type of slate quarryman at work? I refer to the rock man, who hangs by a rope far up the sheer mountain side under the glare of the summer sun or in the icy gale of January. It is an impressive, a noble and a frightening sight. Many a time have I gazed upon that spectacle. Always my heart has moved with the slight figure swinging on a rope on the bare rock. These rock men are the commandos of industry. Their enemies are not simply the sharp, pervasive dusts, but the very elements and, indeed, the law of gravity at its most pitiless. I could wish that Clauses 93 to 103 of the Bill were more specific and less provisional in what they offer to these intrepid and cheerful men.
While I congratulate the coal miners on the far-reaching, detailed and compre- 1294 hensive provisions consolidated in this Measure under the headings of safety, welfare and health, I am rather disappointed that the quarryman lags so far behind. Why is this? It certainly is not the fault of the quarrymen's union. As so many of my hon. Friends know, that union has a very fine record. They have done their best for the men. I am not going to say that it is the fault of the quarry owner of today. In my experience he is a man who is as keen as managers and workers to see that the maximum provision is made for the health and safety of the slate quarrier. What, then, is the reason for the quarrymen lagging behind in these provisions?—and one need only read this Bill to see that it is so.
I say that the reason is that this is a comparatively small industry, organised in small units. As an hon. Member opposite said, a slate quarry can be operated by as few as 20 men, or even 12 or seven men. Nevertheless, these quarries are important contributions, locally, to the social and industrial life of our Welsh villages. We depend upon our villages for valuable aspects of our national character. Nevertheless, the fact that this industry is organised in such small units throws up considerable practical difficulties in the way of reforms of this nature.
I thought I detected, in the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden)—I hope I do him no injustice—a feeling that we should not press forward with these regulations for health and safety, and that to insist upon them to any positive extent might hinder the economic viability of the quarrying units concerned.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent, me. That was not my intention. I said that we should, by all means, have the regulations which the House considers necessary with regard to safety and the welfare in the quarries, but I think we should leave the carrying out of the will of the House—the precise way in which this should be done—to the flexibility of the quarrying industry rather than by imposing on it a structure to which it is not suited.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am extremely glad to agree with the hon. Member. That, I feel, is what we all would wish to happen in the quarrying industry, because that is 1295 the feeling of both the management and the union concerned. If there is that kind of approach, through the application of these provisions by inspectors of the type we already have—an excellent type of man operates in the inspectorial field among the quarriers—this Bill will mark an important step forward.
Of course, I should like something of a more definite and permanent nature to be considered as well, and in conclusion I want to make this point. The difference between the provision of amenities and for safety in the coal mines and the same provision in the slate quarries is that by now we are unanimously agreed in this country that coalmining is a public utility. The entire country, the whole of society, guarantees what is necessary for the safety and welfare of the men who man the pits and get the coal. That is the guarantee. There is nothing for which the coalminer cannot ask in the way of these provisions, because the whole country is ready to guarantee what is necessary to keep him there and to maximise his efficiency as a producer. The quarriers are not in that position.
This small industry is fighting in a highly competitive field and can be fairly regarded as marginal. I would say that heavy industry of this character, whether it is coalmining or not, ought to be assisted, not simply by regulations, but even in a more positive and financial way by the State to achieve the degree of safety and welfare which is the due of the workers occupied in it. I put that suggestion forward, though it may be one which may not be considered in connection with this Bill, as one we certainly must think about in the future.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
The debate has been distinguished by unanimity upon a subject which is all too infrequently debated in this House. There have been some excellent speeches from both sides, many of them full of technical detail, and the result of very intensive study and long practical experience of mining and quarrying. If their speeches do not receive the prominent mention in the Press that they expect, hon. Members on both sides of the House can be consoled by the fact that their utterances today will be studied for a long time to come by those who have 1296 safety in the mines at heart. I hope to assimilate some of the arguments as I proceed.
Speaking as a miner and as one who has now had a long association with the coal industry, I would say that if I could choose a place in Parliamentary history it would be one in which I should have the honour to introduce a mines and quarries Bill which would be the charter of safety for the next quarter of a century, a Bill that would be calculated to reduce the accident rate, a Bill that would dignify the miner by its concern with the sacredness of life and limb. Regretfully and reluctantly I have to declare that the Bill before us in its present form does not measure up to that standard.
Let me hasten heartily to congratulate the Minister upon a skilful and sincere introduction of a Bill which is full of highly specialised technical detail. It is not an easy task for one who is not completely familiar with the varied and exclusive nomenclature of mining. Much of the content of the Bill is doubtless the concept of the minds of the right hon. Gentleman's advisers. They are undoubtedly the best in the world. That is why the inadequacies of the Bill are so striking and cause such serious perturbation in the minds of certain organisations whose members are affected by its provisions. In many respects, as we have heard time and time again, in the debate, the Bill is inferior to the Coal Mines Act, 1911. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) emphasised that in clarity the language of the 1911 Act is infinitely superior to that of this Bill.
No community has left its mark upon the legislation of the country as the mining community has done. Parliament has taken meticulous care in devising laws to govern the daily operations of mining mainly because of the apprehensions of miners and their families. There is not a large audience here today, but outside there is a much larger audience which will be watching every word spoken on the Bill and will be vitally concerned about the Bill and the regulations which emanate from it.
The miners have always shown a keen vigilance in matters of safety. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), in one of his all-too-rare speeches in the House, recommended 1297 hon. Members to read Richard Fine's "History of Durham and Northumberland Miners." I support that recommendation and also recommend hon. Members to read R. Page-Arnott's "The Miners," Volumes I and II, for in doing so they will realise how continuous the pressure of the miners has been for more than a century on the subject of safety.
In the past, safety legislation was conceded by successive Governments only with grudging reluctance in the face of pressure from the miners' union. If further evidence in support of that contention is wanted, one has only to look at the recorded decisions of the miners' conferences from year to year, for they have always been concerned with the question of safety. That is one of the reasons there are on these benches 36 miners' representatives with 1,250,000 votes behind them. The political consciousness of the miners has evolved from the hardships and dangers of their calling more than from anything else
The Bill is long overdue. I shall not attempt to apportion blame for that. Occasions for controversy are frequent enough in the House, and I do not wish to provoke such a controversy today, but when I hear hon. Members opposite boasting that their party has always been the guardian of miners' safety, I am tempted to join issue with them.
I content myself with one claim on behalf of the Opposition. The greatest advance in safety in mines was made when the Labour Government nationalised the mines and took the profit-making motive out of coal-getting. The subsequent diminution in the accident rate bears out that contention. The Inspector's Report for 1951 shows that there were 3,306 fatalities in the five years preceding nationalisation and only 2,526 in the five years following nationalisation.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
It should be appreciated that the five years before nationalisation were war years and that during that time the mines were being run not by the owners but by the Government.
§ Mr. Neal
I can only meet the hon. and gallant Gentleman's challenge by asking him to tell me of any other five years in the history of the industry, in peace or war, when the fatality rate was 1298 reduced by 23 per cent. Hon. Members opposite quarrel with my right hon. Friend when he says that production is incompatible with safety. Hon. Members on this side of the House could tell of numbers of instances where managers desired to drive an overcast or an airway and had to ask their superiors whether or not they could do it. The matter was invariably submitted to a meeting of the shareholders or to the boards of directors, and in many cases the manager was thanked for his suggestion, but refused the money to carry it out.
The 1911 Act, under which the mines are now operated, was designed to meet conditions which have almost completely disappeared from our coalmines today. At the time that Act was passed, most of our coal was hand-cut and men often worked two or three weeks at a time under one piece of roof. There were none of the fast-moving faces which we experience today. Intensive mechanisation has changed all that. There is not now the leisurely swing of the pick and shovel, and today the biting of the coal-cutter and the grinding roar of the power-loader dominate the underground atmosphere. The cycle must be completed every day. In the first shift the coal is undercut, in the second shift it is filled off, and in the third shift the roof is packed and supported. Cut, fill off and pack is the rule of the day.
These conditions were unknown in 1911. The advent of the machine has clearly shown good results in increased production, but it has brought with it increased dangers of roof exposure and dust inhalation. But it must never be said that the miners are Luddites. They have shown a willingness to accept the new conditions and to adapt themselves to the new technique of mining.
For a long time the miners have felt that they were working under obsolete legislation, under an Act passed 43 years ago, and time and again they have pressed for a new Mines Act with new Regulations. I sincerely hope that they will not be too pessimistic about the provisions and the intentions of this Bill. We were always ready to believe, from the scanty information that percolated from the Ministry at Millbank, that this new Bill was going to be a consolidation Measure, a tidying-up Measure. But hon. Members who have read the Bill feel that 1299 instead of a tidying up there is a cluttering up of the regulations and provisions contained in it.
That brings me to one of our main objections to the Bill. This Bill will release a bigger flood of delegated legislation than any Measure since the Defence of the Realm Acts. All parties in the House are perturbed about the growing amount of delegated legislation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale said on a recent occasion, everyone believes in the necessity for delegated legislation, but the difficulty is how to reconcile it with the democratic processes of consultation, scrutiny and control.
We do not need to be converted to the idea that we should dot every "i" and cross every "t," but we are certain that many of the provisions about serious aspects of mining which have been left to regulations ought to have been contained in this Bill. These are matters concerning which Parliament should have a voice in devising legislation. The legality of an Act of Parliament cannot be challenged, but subordinate legislation can be and is challenged in and by the courts of law. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we would rather be able to say in the conduct of our mines "This is the Act," than have perforce to say, "This is the regulation." There is a world of difference between the two.
It is 43 years since the predecessor to this Bill was before the House, but the conception of safety in this Bill does not represent the advance that this long interval should have revealed as a result of the constructive thinking which should have taken place on this subject. Neither does it disclose the concern which the human losses over this period should have evoked. We on this side of the House believe that this Bill should at least define minimum standards of safety, instead of dismissing the elementary duty and saying, as is so often said in this Bill, "Regulations will be made," "Regulations will provide for so and so in certain circumstances." I hope to refer in more detail to minimum standards later on.
Whenever safety in mines has been debated in this House, within my recollection, it has always been the habit to quote long columns of statistics about accidents in mines. I am not going to 1300 fall into that error tonight. Happily there has been a marked decline over the past few years, which everybody welcomes. There is a mutual responsibility on both sides of the House to promote its continuance. None of us ought purposely to exacerbate the feelings of any section of the industry by apportioning blame for the accidents which occur.
§ Mr. Neal
I am glad to get the hon. Gentleman's agreement. We are as anxious to preserve the status and the interests of the colliery manager as we are to preserve those of the worker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth mentioned the allegations that had been made about the carelessness of miners. The name of the Parliamentary Secretary is appended to the list of sponsors of this Bill. He puts the blame on the miners for half the accidents that occur. I quote from the Official Report of 7th July, 1952, when he said:…there is one thing we cannot get away from…and that is the report which has been made year after year by H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines that half of the serious accidents in the coalmines result from carelessness by the men themselves."—[Official Report, 7th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 1018.]In what report did the Chief Inspector of Mines say that half the accidents occurred through the men's carelessness? There are no statistics to support this contention. In my opinion, it is a gross slander upon courageous and hard-working men, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is duly repentant for having uttered it.
In the three major disasters that have taken place during the last three years, at Knockshinnoch, Cresswell and Easington, the dependants have been awarded damages at common law because of the negligence of the management. I have never yet heard it said of casualties on the battlefield that a soldier has lost his life through his carelessness and that he ought to have got out of the way of a bullet. We believe that it is right to warn miners to take all necessary precautions against danger, but generally to indict them with carelessness is unworthy of a responsible Minister of the Crown.
Coalmining is still the world's worst job. When we are getting coal we are fighting with nature, and every time we strike at nature she strikes back. Sometimes it is in the form of a fall of roof, 1301 or an inrush of water, or the emission of gas with disastrous consequences. Added to these are the mechanical defects and the failure of the human element.
The Knockshinnoch, Cresswell and Easington disasters are fresh in our memory. Our main complaint about the Bill is that the lessons of these disasters are not reflected in it. Here is what I mean by minimum standards. Clause 38, for instance, deals with the duties of a manager in the prohibition on the use of vehicles and conveyors run underground. It says that a manager shall not permit a road to be usedtherein unless neither the vehicles nor their loads, nor the ropes…rub against the roof or sides of the road or anything supporting the roof and sides of the road or either of them.There are 3,500 miles of conveyor belting used every year in British coalmines, and there is not a word in this Clause about conveyor belting. Let us bear in mind the lives lost at Cresswell as a result of the fire caused by a burning conveyor belt. There have been subsequent fires of a minor nature. According to the Chief Inspector's Report, there were 18 fires in pits in 1950 and 15 in 1951.
There is now in manufacture, as most hon. Members are aware, non-inflammable belting. If that non-inflammable belting had been in use in 1950, those 80 men's lives would have been saved at Cresswell, but there is no provision in the Bill to insist on the use of non-inflammable belting at all. Doubtless the N.C.B. are doing what they can, but we think that, two years after the passing of the Bill, it should be provided that no inflammable belting should be put into use. If there is some difficulty with the rubber corporations in manufacturing non-inflammable belting, it is the duty of the Minister to step in and clear the way for maximising its production.
Let us look at Clause 55. Here is an elaborate Clause dealing with ventilation. Much of its contents are doubtless very desirable. To assist in the ventilation of our mines, as most of my hon. Friends with experience of mining know, four million yards of brattice cloth are used every year. It represents a serious fire hazard in our mines. A non-inflammable brattice cloth is now being manufactured. Why should not this Bill make its use compulsory so that safety precautions could be increased?
1302 Clause 71 deals with fire fighting and rescue operations, and here again one of the obvious minimum standards is missing. It says that "suitable and sufficient apparatus" should be provided to combat fires, but no mention is made of an adequate supply of water. All the "suitable and sufficient apparatus" was available at Cresswell, but at the fatal moment of the fire there was no water in the pipes with which to fight the fire. In the East Midlands and elsewhere there is a thermostatic device in use so that when the water pressure falls the electricity supply is cut off until the pressure is restored. The Minister should look at this and see whether this Clause cannot be altered and that omission remedied.
Several hon. Members have referred to Clause 111, dealing with workmen's inspections. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), in what I thought was an admirable speech, pressed this point in a very cogent manner. Here is one of the instances where the Bill falls far short of the 1911 Act. Why should there be only two days in a month devoted to the inspection of any mine? My hon. Friends know that one cannot inspect many of our mines in a whole week. There was no such limitation in the 1911 Act.
The point has been raised by several hon. Members about reasonable notice being given to the management. I cannot imagine why a manager should want any reasonable notice at all. Why should he not be ready and willing to co-operate with the workmen and get the confidence of the workmen in inspections? I think they ought to require no notice when an inspection is to take place.
Clause 112 was mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). This is a Clause upon which, I think, the Minister should be complimented for its inclusion in the Bill. In view of our economic position and manpower trends, I think it is a very bold statement. It is a good and thoughtful provision, we think, to keep boys from working underground until they are 16 years of age. I should like to reinforce the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North when she asked that after the passing of the Bill there should be no female recruitment to the mines for work on the surface. I am glad that suggestion came 1303 from an hon. Member domiciled in Scotland, which is one of the two offending areas, and I hope that matter will be considered during the Committee stage.
So far as the boys are concerned, with the advance of mechanisation it has become increasingly difficult to provide work for all the juveniles underground. Indeed, some of the so-called light shifts in the pit require to be operated by men of experience and maturity because of their importance. Although I compliment the Minister on the Clause to raise the age of entry of boys into mines, it must not be thought that this is a revolutionary proposal because Mr. Ebby Edwards, who was then the general secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and who was a member of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines in 1938, added a memorandum to that report saying that his organisation believed that the age of entry should be raised to 16 at that time. We hope that the appointed day which the Minister must fix will not be long delayed and that boys will then no longer go underground at 16.
I am afraid that I have detained the House for as long as I ought to do. In the course of tomorrow's debate, my colleagues will continue to put the case for the Opposition and examine the Bill in greater detail. We afford it a qualified welcome. We believe that it is a step forward, but not forward enough. The Committee stage of the Bill will doubtless be of a protracted nature, and to that extent the Minister has our profound sympathy. We shall try, without any feeling of acrimony, to make it into a better Bill. We hope that when it returns to the House it will be a Bill of which the Minister can be justly proud—a safety Measure which will be an example to the world.
Legislation of itself does not ensure safety. I have very vivid recollections that in my early life, two years after the passing of the 1911 Coal Mines Act, the biggest disaster in our mining industry took place at Senghenydd. It is the mutual spirit in which the legislation is implemented that matters most. There is still blood on the coal, and we believe there always will be. It is our urgent duty to reduce it to the smallest possible proportions.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)
I hope the House will not mind if I intervene at this stage, but we thought it would be of help to hon. Members if today, as opposed to tomorrow, when the debate continues, I endeavoured to complete the picture that my right hon. Friend gave this afternoon regarding the general circumstances of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend said, he was specialising upon safety and health in the coalmines and was leaving it to me to deal with the question of quarries and the other parts of the Bill. It may, therefore, be of help if I say something about that now, particularly as so much of the debate has turned upon the provisions dealing with quarries and mines other than those supplying coal.
I shall reply first to one or two of the specific problems which have been put from both sides of the House, and I should like to answer the question as to how we on this side approach the safety and health aspects in the Bill. Various attitudes of mind have been expressed, but so far as we are concerned our approach is made in the firm belief that good safety leads to increased production. That largely is the view represented by the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) in an exceedingly sincere, very helpful, realistic and good humoured contribution to the debate.
To a great extent the right hon. Member for Morpeth answered the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) on that aspect, and he showed that the contention of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that safety and health were the enemy to production is by no means necessarily the case. Any element to that effect would be an exceedingly short term view to take.
As far as his other statements and questions are concerned, I hope that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will allow a reply to be left over for my right hon. Friend tomorrow, if he should succeed in obtaining the leave of the House to speak a second time in order to reply to the debate. I was exceedingly disappointed to be out of the Chamber when the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was speaking, and so I did not hear what he said. I hope that the hon. Member will be able to wait for a reply to his 1305 questions until my right hon. Friend speaks tomorrow.
There is one other thing that I should like to say in which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will still be interested. It will not detain him for more than a moment.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I appreciate that. It was because the right hon. Member was on the move that I mentioned it at this stage. He said—for the purpose of the record it should be corrected—that on their normal inspections, workmen's inspectors had to give 24 hours' notice. That is not so under the Bill which provides that they should give reasonable notice.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
The question was asked by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). The answer is that it depends entirely on the circumstances as to what is reasonable. If the inspectors have a report that a situation of danger requires immediate attention and they proceed straight to the manager's office, it would be reasonable for the manager to admit them to the pit straightaway. If, on the other hand, the visit is a normal routine inspection, it would not affect the issue or cause any anxiety or worry if for the convenience of the manager they gave 24 hours' notice.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am very glad the hon. Member made that statement while I was here. I just do not understand it. Is the manager therefore going to decide whether the notice is reasonable? We place upon the manager the obligation of looking after the safety of the workmen, and he naturally will think that he has done that. The men may agree or they may disagree. Is the manager, therefore, to decide whether the inspection should take place, and why the manager? Why go back such a retrogressive step?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
There has been no difficulty hitherto upon this question 1306 of inspection and, in fact, as the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware, in a great many cases agreements have existed on this particular point which go far beyond the statutory liability of the managers. I will say this, that we are by no means bound or tied to any particular terms which exist in the Bill. We are quite open to consider the matter further, and we would be glad to take into account any reasonable representations which we receive from either hon. Member opposite or from my hon. Friends.
I should like now to turn to the speeches which have been made from both sides of the House on the question of quarries. I appreciate that there is considerable apprehension, which has been expressed in this debate, at the basic fact that quarries have been included in this Bill. That is a new conception which the Government have introduced into the safety and health legislative picture. There is one point I want to make clear—and this is in reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal)—and that is that the whole of this Bill deals with principles only. That is one reason why we do not want the Bill to include matters such as minimum standards, which in a couple of years might be entirely out of date so that an amending Bill would be necessary to change the minimum standards, if we thought fit to include them in the Bill.
There is no question whatsoever—and this is a very definite assurance which I can give—of imposing what has been described as the Coal Board structure of management upon the quarries; neither is there any intention, nor do I think that that could be properly carried out under the provisions of the Bill. The Bill should set forth the principles of safety and health which are involved and which are applicable to all these industries; but the application or the implementation of these principles in the special circumstances which apply, whether in the coal-mines, in the lead mines, in the quarries or elsewhere, will be by regulation so that they can relate specifically to the needs of the particular service.
I hope I have made that clear, and that I can dispose of these suggestions that the quarries have been dragged into this Bill under the all-embracing coal industry. That is not so at all, because it is worth recognising the extent to which 1307 the Bill, as safety and health legislation, deals with undertakings other than coal-mines. There are, in fact, under the Coal Mines Act, 158 other mines employing some 7,000 people; under the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act there are 156 mines at work employing about 8,000 people; there are also about 60 or 70 mines which come under that Act and which are not working but are not abandoned; and under the Quarries Act there are somewhere approaching 4,800 quarries employing no less than 61,000 people. That means about 10 per cent. of the labour force of the whole of the industries with which we are dealing.
It is a very important subject, and I can assure my hon. Friends that we have not treated the matter lightly, nor without consideration, in coming to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of everyone and the best method of proceeding to have a single Bill of principle to cover the whole of the industries contained within the Bill.
§ Mr. Blyton
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us the reason why, while in many Clauses there is a qualified duty on the owners, in many of the regulations there was an absolute duty on the owners?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
That is a rather different point. I certainly do not say that future regulations, after a lapse of time, will be in identical form with existing regulations. We want to make progress and improve the safety and health provisions for all the industries involved.
§ Mr. Blyton
If there is a qualified duty in the statute the regulations are not of much use if an absolute duty is imposed by them, because it has always been ruled that the Act precedes any regulation and we shall be putting a qualified duty in the place of an absolute duty.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I do not think the hon. Member has quite followed the provisions of the Bill. The object of the Bill is to define specifically and to focus the responsibility upon the management. I shall refer in greater detail to the point raised when I come to that part of the Bill.
I am dealing at the moment with the inclusion of quarries in this Bill. We are 1308 all sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) is not able to be with us this evening, because he was speaking under considerable difficulties and, being unwell, he has gone home. My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), raised this question with some force, and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) raised it with some very helpful criticism. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden), whom I hope we shall all welcome as a new recruit to our debates on safety and health in mines as well as quarries, spoke of it and as well as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) and the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts).
They were all in unholy alliance with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in saying, "Let us take the quarries out of this Bill; there should be two separate Bills." I want to try to explain the reason why it is not only logical, but also desirable, to have these provisions relating to all the different industries in one Bill. If one approaches the matter from an historical point of view we can see the thread running through which naturally brings these interests together at present. With regard to safety, the first Act which began to deal specifically with the matter in mines other than coalmines was the Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872.
Then we had the Quarries Act of 1894, and that applied the appropriate provisions of the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act of 1872 to quarries more than 20 feet deep. So we begin to get the junction of interest in the two different industries. The shallower quarries remained under the Factories Act. My right hon. Friend will remember the Factories Act, of 1937, because he was primarily instrumental in piloting it through the House. It revealed his earlier interest in these matters. By applying the Quarries Act of 1894 and Section 19 of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, to all quarries, at whatever depth they might be, it brought us to the point already where all safety legislation, in metalliferous mines, in quarries and in coal mines, has become exceedingly interlocked. To unlock them at the present stage would mean separate legislation for the different industries.
1309 My hon. Friends have regarded this matter as if it could be covered by two Bills. I fail to see how that could be possible, because the line of demarcation between the different mines and quarries is exceedingly difficult to draw. I think it would be necessary, were one proposing to split them, to have anything up to half a dozen Bills. Each of these Bills would duplicate provisions to a very large extent, and would each contain the same principles, if they were kept purely to the question of principle. There seems to be no good reason whatever for splitting them up into two or more Bills.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary is not attempting to tell the House that in proceeding to frame regulations there would be any difficulty in drawing a line of demarcation between types and kinds of mines? The line must be clear to the Government. All he is saying is that it is a matter of great convenience to have the legislation for making regulations contained within one statute.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
No. The hon. Gentleman has not grasped my point. If the course he has suggested were followed and we had the same number of Bills as there will be classes of regulations, the number would be almost infinite, because regulations may apply to an exceedingly limited class of one particular industry. It would be possible to split not only the industries but each separate industry into different categories, sizes and classes for the purpose of regulations, which cannot be done for the purposes of a Bill.
In fact, one can make an interesting comparison between the state of the quarrying industry now and at the beginning of the century. At the beginning of the century the output was 42 million tons and the number of employees was 130,000. Now the output is 158 million tons and there are only 60,000 employees. That indicates the tremendous progress in mechanisation which has already taken place in that industry. Consequently, it is essential that for the quarries alone we should have a safety code which is sufficiently flexible to be able to cover those which are already highly mechanised, those which are becoming highly mechanised, and those which have no mechanisation at all. We believe that, by this system of setting the principles 1310 down in the Bill and applying them as may be necessary to the individual sections of the industry, we can achieve that flexibility and yet maintain and improve our standards of safety.
I should like to try to show the House how, on the health side, the same principle is followed through. Again, the threads are drawn towards the inclusion of the necessary health principles in one single Bill. I will illustrate that through the history of the respiratory diseases which, I think, hon. Members on both sides will agree are the most serious of all the diseases. We have already heard mention of the situation in 1842, when medical opinion was already veering to the conclusion that asthma and black spittle were in part related to coal dust. It is true that, later on, that opinion was somewhat reversed although, again, in the course of time it came back to the view that coal dust was detrimental to the lungs.
In 1862 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the serious mortality in metalliferous mines. That Commission reported that the excessive mortality in the Cornish tin mines was due to respiratory diseases. In 1892 there was a Departmental Committee to investigate the health of workers in the Merionethshire slate mines. It was found by that Committee that the ill-effects on the lungs were probably caused by slate dust. In 1901 there was another report on ganister dust, and that indicated the danger to health from breathing ganister dust. As a result, special dust rules were passed for the ganister mines.
In 1904 there was a further investigation into the situation in the Cornish tin mines, apparently because the miners' health had not improved as much as was expected, and that resulted in new dust rules for tin miners. Then we had the Royal Commission from 1906 to 1911, which resulted in the 1911 Act, the provisions of which I think we all know. But, so far as this summary is concerned, the provision in which we are interested is that for the suppression of silica dust.
In 1920 those rules were extended by the general regulations for dust suppression issued in that year. We have now arrived at the point where the progress in scientific and medical knowledge enables us to recognise that there is this other disease which they were beginning 1311 to feel their way towards in 1842—pneumoconiosis—which is caused from the finest coal dust.
There is one other feature that we have realised to the full, and that is that prevention is better than cure. What we have in the Bill is the result of the modern knowledge and research which is taking place into these subjects. I assure the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) that we entirely share her enthusiasm about the need for research into the whole question. Very big advances have been made, and are continuing to be made, and she need have no anxiety at all that research is in any way being held up for lack of money, facilities or goodwill.
The stage that we have now reached is to include in the Bill provisions whereby we recognise the principles for achieving the prevention of respiratory diseases which all the reports have shown arise from one form of dust or another. The principle is laid down that injurious dust must not be created so far as that can possibly be achieved.
Here we have one of the saving provisions to which hon. Members have referred. It is not practical or possible in the modern state of knowledge of coalmining or any other sort of mining to win the mineral without the creation of dust—we may one day achieve that, and that is why we do not want to put minimum standards into the Bill at present. Therefore at present we provide for the elimination of dust creation as far as possible. If in spite of that dust is created, we provide for the trapping of the dust as soon as it is created. If despite that some dust cannot be trapped, we provide that it shall be carried away immediately in an air stream so that it does not enter the general atmosphere which is being breathed.
Those principles are applicable to all dust creating mines and quarries, and we believe that that is a very good reason indeed why, in matters of health, mines and quarries should be dealt with in one Bill. I would add, in passing, that, as Chairman of the National Joint Pneumoconiosis Committee, I took the step of calling the Committee together for a special meeting to consider the principles which were to be included in the Bill, and I know hon. Members will be grati- 1312 fied to learn that the principles met with the approval of the Committee.
Great advances have been made in dust suppression in various parts of the country and by various organisations, and I join in the tribute which was paid by the hon. Member for Barnsley to what has already been achieved by the National Coal Board. I do not want to create contention, but it is only fair to say that, in the light of the knowledge of the times, the pre-war owners achieved a remarkable degree of pioneer dust suppression having regard to the facilities available in those days.
We consider that the basic principles for safety and health are the same for mines and quarries. The Bill refers to principles only and is intended to be a permanent structure for safety and health. The application of minimum standards and special arrangements could be by separate regulations for the different classes of the industries concerned. We recognise the necessity for flexibility, and we believe that the Measure is sufficiently flexible to apply to large mines and to small mines, to large organisations and to small organisations and to quarries and metalliferous mines as well as to coalmines.
Having said that, may I also say, particularly in reply to my hon. Friends who spoke upon this subject, that we do recognise the problems of management in quarries. They are different in some respects to the problems of management in coalmines, and I think my hon. Friends made out an exceedingly reasoned case for further consideration of this point. So long as we can maintain the principle that responsibility remains at managerial level, and that it is clear and absolute—because that is essential—so long as we can recognise that there must be one person who is there to reconcile the claims of production and safety throughout the quarries, so long as we can ensure that there is no dual control and ensure that each ship has but one captain, then I think we can meet my hon. Friends' question one way or another. It may be possible, perhaps by enlarging the area over which the quarry manager may operate, perhaps by a revision of the definition of supervision by a quarry manager, to make it more flexible than it is at present, but perhaps we can consider these things in greater detail in Committee.
1313 There is another matter to which I particularly want to refer, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Ayr and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest, and that is the question of delegated legislation. It is a very difficult point, and I think the House would perhaps desire me to put before it rather more of the facts leading up to the provisions in the Bill than are known to it at present in order that the House can decide. For what it is worth, the Bill follows precedent. I do not attach much importance to that, but it is a fact we must recognise.
The statutes of the last century empowered Ministers to make the equivalent of regulations without the assent of Parliament. It is not a new precedent we are setting. The 1911 Act contained provisions which have been exercised without abuse, and, in fact, the 1911 Act went very much further. In it, Parliament gave the Minister power to amend the Act by regulations without reference to Parliament, a point which the hon. Member for Bolsover should bear in mind in regard to what he was saying on this matter.
What is the basis for this delegation of power to the Minister? Surely, it is that the powers delegated for making regulations are for technical purposes for the protection of individuals and they are applicable only to limited classes? They are not regulations affecting the whole population or body politic of the country, and there is no question of their general application to the population as a whole.
§ Sir V. Raikes
Arising out of that, might it not be that, if certain of these regulations, for one reason or another, were to lead to certain increases in cost, that might affect the generality of the country and not merely a certain number of individuals?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I appreciate the point my hon. Friend has made, but it must be remembered that the Minister is not only a party to the regulations, but is responsible to Parliament for them, and I think that is a matter which, being within the scope of his responsibilities, he would have to bear in mind.
A procedure has grown up with regard to these regulations, and will continue in the future, whereby all proposals 1314 for them are subject to consultation with the representatives of the interested parties before they are made. Whether the parties agree or not, the Minister then proceeds to publish the draft regulations, and any person affected may object to the Minister, who may refer the draft regulations to an impartial person appointed by the Lord Chancellor for inquiry and report. He must refer them in such a way if he receives a general objection; that is, an objection on behalf of owners of one-third of the mines or quarries affected or on behalf of representatives of not less than one-third of the employees. There is an additional provision, which is included in the Third Schedule, to safeguard the rights of minorities. Any minority, such as a small coalmine which would not have a one-third interest in the industry as a whole, will have the right to make a special objection which will be referred in the same way as a general objection.
In the light of all that consultation, which almost invariably results in agreement between the parties before a regulation is made, the House will understand that the industry as a whole is not enthusiastic about having Parliamentary supervision of regulations. On the other hand, we recognise entirely that Parliament wishes generally and as a matter of principle to have supervision of delegated legislation. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] We are quite prepared, if the House desires it, to consider further whether it would not be not only feasible but desirable and proper that general regulations should be made subject to the negative procedure of Parliament. That is another matter which we might consider further when we come to the Committee stage.
I am anxious to say something about Part VI of the Bill relating to the employment of women and young persons, a subject referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner). There are numerous aspects of the matter to be taken into account, including the humanitarian and economic aspects which spring to one's mind. It is not without a great many consultations that we have arrived at the position which we have included in the Bill. It has been a very difficult matter to assess, but we hope and believe that we have struck the right balance.
1315 There are two criteria that one can think of straight away by which the matter can be judged. First of all is comparison with other countries. I have studied, and I dare say other hon. Members have, what is done in the mining industries of other countries in regard to the employment of women and young children. The result of the studies is to realise the infinite variety of principles and details in the different countries, some better and some worse. I do not think it would be profitable to go into this matter in any detail now but, by and large, and regarding the matter as a whole, I say that if I were a youngster starting in the mines at the present time I would sooner start off in British mines with the expectation of the provisions of the Bill than in any other.
It will be recalled that the Measure to which reference was made at the start of the debate was Lord Shaftesbury's Act of 1842, relating to the employment of women and of children below the age of 10 and to keep them out of the mines. It is a horrible thought that in those days there were children down to the age of four working in the mines, who were so small that they had to be carried down there. In 1860, the Mines Regulation and Inspection Act raised the age of boys to 12, but there was an important qualification, that it did not apply if they had a certificate of competency in reading and writing.
In 1887 the age of boys in the coalmines was finally raised to 12 years, although the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act had raised the age of boys in the metalliferous mines to that age in 1872. By the turn of the century the minimum age was 13, and by the 1911 Act my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the minimum age to 14. With his beneficent intervention in the interest of the young, it is not surprising to the House, I feel sure, that the next step was also carried out by one who is a Member of the Front Bench at the present time, for it was in 1944 that my right hon. Friend, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was responsible for the passing of the Education Act from which resulted the final raising of the age to its present minimum limit of 15 years.
With regard to these principles in general, the Bill follows very largely the 1316 report of Sir Ernest Gowers' Committee on Hours of Employment of Juveniles and, as has already been stated, it empowers the Minister to raise the minimum age once more, to 16. The objects of the provisions are to consolidate the existing legislation, and to bring the reforms on these questions of the employment of women and young people, both in mines and quarries, up to the highest possible standard, and they will now, in fact, bear comparison with the Factories Acts and with the Shops Act.
The principles upon which the provisions rest are that youths under 18 years shall have maximum daily and weekly hours of work fixed for them, freedom from night work, proper meal intervals, and freedom from work at weekends.
There are certain exceptions. Youths working underground do not get either the fixed meal intervals or the maximum daily and weekly hours because, underground, those are fixed by the 1908 Act, which we are not touching at all. There is also an exception with regard to the prohibition of night work in the coalfields of Northumberland, Durham and Warwickshire, because there are night shift provisions there which are a local custom and the subject matter for industrial negotiation. Women surface workers will also get shorter working hours and shorter work spells. We believe—although some would wish us to go further and others that we should not go so far—that in the provisions of the Bill we have struck a reasonable, fair and proper balance and that the provisions certainly do represent a very substantial measure of reform.
I am afraid that I have detained the House a very long time, but may I conclude by trying to stress two things that the Bill does seek to do? First of all, it does replace the tangled jungle of amended legislation by one single code, and we believe that all people working in all these industries are anxious to achieve that. Secondly, may I say one word about the results of the past efforts in safety in these industries, because they have met with very great success? Some figures have been quoted, but may I quote one further lot—the total fatal and reportable injuries per 1,000 people employed. That, I believe, is the fairest and best basis one can get. In 1908 in the quarries it was 19.13; in the coalmines, 7.26; and in 1317 the metalliferous mines 9.89. In 1953 those figures had dropped to 2.51, 3.16, and 3.96, respectively.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Kaberry.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.