§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question—[2lst January]—"That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
We have come to the second day of our debate on this Bill and I hope that those who speak in the course of the day will be able to maintain the high standard of yesterday's debate, when many helpful speeches were made from both sides of the House. The Minister moved the Second Reading with a very acceptable speech, and I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made an equally acceptable speech when opening from this side of the House. That high standard was maintained throughout the day.
Yesterday, there was an evident willingness to appreciate the difficulties under which miners worked and the arduous and hazardous nature of their employment. It is a pity that that same appreciation is not more evident on other occasions. I think of the occasions when very hard things have been said in this House, and perhaps even harder things said in the Press and in the country, when absenteeism figures have been published. It is a great pity that these figures have to be published at all and that this industry should have to be picked out in this way. None of us would like it if similar figures were published for the House of Commons. If they were, they would make a very odious comparison with the figures for the miners.
If only one could go down the mines and appreciate how these men work and live and how easy it is for them to find themselves in a position where it is only with great effort that they can continue in employment without losing a day's work, even if they do not have an accident or suffer from an industrial disease, it would be a little easier to appreciate why there is an absentee rate in this industry.
I was glad to see in yesterday's wage offer a further recognition of the contri- 1333 bution of our miners to the national well-being. I do not pretend that miners will be satisfied with that offer, but whoever is? I do not think that any section of workers in the country are satisfied with their present remuneration. I do not think that professional workers, managers and technicians, are satisfied; and company directors, investors, and the like are always anxious to have rather more remuneration for the services that they render than they receive at the present time. So the miners are not in any way different from any other section of the community.
We tend to exaggerate, however, the importance of legislation. I gathered yesterday, in the course of the debate, an impression that Members on both sides of the House saw in this Bill a piece of legislation which would make the mines safer. The Bill will not reduce accidents. It can only help by causing management and workmen to do certain things in the interests of safety. But if one has had a little experience in the mines, as I have—I was underground for about 17 years before I came here; I was probably the first ever to come to this House straight from the coalface—one appreciates that these things can be done without legislation. And, as was said yesterday, the Act of Parliament which has contributed most to making the mines a safer place to work in was the Act of nationalisation in 1946. Any miner will tell one that. Any man associated with the mining industry will concede that the greatest safety in mines Bill ever passed in this House was the nationalisation Act of 1946.
We also tend to ignore that this Bill is, to a considerable extent, a consolidation of existing statutes. Much of it is not new. Those of us who are more interested in coal think that we should have a new safety in mines Bill, but, of course, only if it is better than the existing law. We think, and here I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), said yesterday, that the coalmining industry is so big, so important and so different, particularly since nationalisation, as to warrant separate legislation.
We do not accept that it is necessary or even good in a legislative sense to deal with the nationalised coalmining industry, employing about 700,000 men, 1334 in the same Bill and in the same way as a privately-owned quarry employing perhaps 15 to 20 workmen. I must say that we did not find the Parliamentary Secretary convincing on this point last night.
We should be glad if the Minister would say, in his reply today, that he is willing to consider further our proposition that we should have separate legislation dealing with safety, health and welfare provisions for our nationalised coalmining industry; and in such legislation let us recognise the fact of the National Coal Board instead of referring to it as an owner in the same way as we refer to the owner of a small quarry or a small metalliferous mine or any other undertaking that comes within the provisions, of the Bill.
If that would mean withdrawing the Bill, because I know it would mean considerable amendment if not complete withdrawal, what of it? The Minister said yesterday that we may well be laying down the code for 100 years. In the circumstances, let us take time and do the job in the best possible way. Let us not skimp in the matter of time; let us not rush this matter because of considerations of pressure on Parliamentary time.
If we can best serve the best interests of this industry by a special Bill for the industry let us do that even if it means withdrawing the Bill and introducing one for the mining industry. Those of us more particularly interested in coal will have no objection, indeed no strong opinions, about how the Minister proposes to deal with the other industries provided for within the Bill.
This is, of course, a machinery Bill. That is what we expected. The new law will really be provided mainly by regulations but the interest of the House in these days is such that the regulations must be brought within Parliamentary control. I heard what the Parliamentary Secretary said yesterday evening about responding to the wishes of the House, and I do not want to labour that point. I think that by this time he knows the wishes of the House in this matter. May I just say that if we gave all the power to the Minister as provided in the Bill at present we could almost have done without the Bill, so far as the coalmining industry is concerned. The job 1335 could have been done by the Minister giving directions to the Coal Board.
I know that is over-simplifying the matter and that the right hon. Gentleman will say the suggestion is absurd. But that would not be far from the position, if we give power to the Minister to make regulations without bringing them before this House at all. He is to consult both sides of the industry and consider objections. But those objections can come only from the two sides of the industry with whom he has had discussions. He could do that, in effect, without the Bill at all so far as the coalmining industry is concerned, but we think that that would be a mistake. We should not give such tremendous powers to a Minister. Parliament would not wish to do so in these days. We must have Parliamentary control.
As the Minister said, the 1911 Act was drawn to suit the conditions of the single owner pit, and the company developments and amalgamations in the 1920s and 1930s made the application of the Act difficult. The nationalisation Act of 1946 made the 1911 Act quite obsolete in several respects. Court proceedings, following some recent disasters, showed that with painful clarity.
Responsibility must be firmly fixed upon individuals, and we appreciate that the Bill makes an attempt to do that. But we on this side of the House consider it should be more specific. We think the manager must be made fully responsible for safety in the pit and that the only instructions in these matters which he should take are those contained in a statute and the regulations made under statute. In these matters he ought not to be subject to instructions from any other authority in the employment of the Coal Board.
I do not wish to waste the time of the House, but I would repeat what I said yesterday in an intervention, when the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) was speaking, that there is a vast difference between responsibility for safety in the mines and responsibility for colliery development, and for coal getting, coal production, and the financial control of the processes of coal getting. The responsibility is different and distinct, 1336 and in these matters there must be a place for the area organisation, the divisional coal board and the N.C.B
In the last Parliament we were threatened by the party opposite with a kind of decentralisation in the coalmining industry. We did not like it and they have not given effect to what they said they would do. We do not wish to go back to district agreements. We do not wish to see financial control decentralised too much—putting back to division, and from division to area and from area to pit. We must treat this great industry as one in many respects. Financing the process of coal-getting will not rest on the managers at all in the ultimate, but on his seniors in control of this great industry.
We must at this time have clearly in mind the right of the miner to claim damages in respect of accidents which may be due to negligence on the part of the management. We all appreciate that the final form of this Bill will greatly influence the extent of his rights in the future. Some of my friends who are still in the industry, and who advise me on these matters, think that his rights are diminished under this Bill. As yet, I am not certain that they are, but hon. Members on this side of the House will study this aspect with great care. Our principal concern, however, is to prevent accidents and the spread of industrial disease.
It is agreed that mechanisation has increased the risks of accidents and the spread of industrial disease. Scotland have an early lead in mechanisation and it has often been said that Lanarkshire is the home of the coal-cutter. I spent all my working life in Lanarkshire pits. Last night we heard the Parliamentary Secretary say that great improvements were made in that area before the war, even during the time of the private owners. I worked in four different pits during that period and I was never conscious of the improvements which it is said were made. Lanarkshire may be the home of the coal cutter, it is still the home of the coalminer, but, unfortunately, it is rapidly ceasing to be the place of his employment. To a very considerable extent the closure of pits has resulted in the miners being transferred to other parts of the Scottish coalfield.
1337 I remember looking, in 1948, at the divisional coal board's list of closures planned for the next two or three years. At that time the divisional coal board in Scotland was making quite a substantial profit. Since then some 50 closures of mines and pits and collieries—that is collieries and surface mines—has taken place. They were closed because they were hopelessly uneconomic. But having closed those pits we find that the output of coal has not been increased and the operations of the industry have not been rendered more economic. On the contrary, they have shown a substantial loss, and account for almost 50 per cent. of the loss shown by the Coal Board last year. I would ask the Minister and Coal Board to ponder this and to consider whether we have hurried a little too much with the closing of uneconomic collieries in some parts of the country.
We all appreciate there must be transfers and concentration. Every colliery has to close at some time. But we in Scotland have made greater progress with the concentration scheme than any other division of the Coal Board. In the process of so doing we have built up a heavier loss than is shown in any other division of the Board. Let us think about that, and see whether the policy pursued up to now is, in all respects, the best policy in the interests of the industry.
Lanarkshire has yielded many reformers who have helped to make the mines safer and conditions less unjust. There was Keir Hardie, and also Bob Smillie, who lived all his life in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. One thinks of the safety, health and welfare improvements which flowed from the Sankey Commission's Report, much of that being due to the work of the late Bob Smillie. And it was from that report that we got the Miners' Welfare Commission. The first working-man M.P. was a miner from Lanarkshire, Alexander McDonald. Unfortunately, he was not elected by Lanarkshire people, but was sent to Parliament to represent the Borough of Stafford. He started work in the mines in Lanarkshire at the age of eight years, when he worked from 12 to 17 hours a day. Ultimately, he became an agitator and was found to be leading a strike at 21 years of age.
As an M.P. he is given credit for bringing about the first statutory limitation on 1338 hours of work underground, by limiting the hours of work for boys to ten hours a day. He also is given credit for the statutory provision for the appointment of checkweighers. We in Lanarkshire are proud of the fact that not only have we contributed to coal production, but have produced men of courage and foresight whose work has made life easier for succeeding generations of miners. Alexander McDonald continued to live in Scotland and died in my constituency in 1881.
May I turn to the matter of pneumoconiosis. We had a good discussion about pneumoconiosis yesterday and some comparisons were made which I consider misleading. Comparisons always are when they are made with other countries, and even with other periods in our own country. I discovered that in Scotland, as recently as 1940, only two miners were certified as suffering from silicosis. I know that the definition was narrower then than it is now for pneumoconiosis. It was thought for a good many years that the disease was largely confined to the Welsh coalfield, and hardly affected other coalfields. I have been looking at the Scottish figures given to me by the Scottish area N.U.M., which saved me considerable time and research, and I find that in Scotland, from 1939 to 1943, the medical panel issued 28 certificates. From 1944 to 1949 they issued 1,315 certificates. In 1950, the figure was 212; in 1951, 468; 1952, 545; and in 1953, although no final figures are available, a further increase will be disclosed. Deaths certified after post-mortem examination are, for 1950, 78; 1951, 92; 1952, 130, and 1953, although the final figures are not available, has yielded 149. Yet we have to look back only 13 or 14 years to find that only two people were certified as suffering from this lung disease as a consequence of working in the industry.
I quote those figures to show how difficult it is to make a comparison which will stand examination and to show that this disease is now known to be much more widespread than it was believed to be a few years ago. They also show that we in Scotland, perhaps because of the great degree of mechanisation, which we have had earlier than other parts of the country, are yielding some frightening figures today. We are trying to deal with the disease and one of the most important means of seeking to prevent it is by dust suppression. Last year, in Scotland, 1339 we had over 11,000 yards of coalface being treated for dust suppression.
However, the union representatives are firmly convinced that not enough progress was made last year and that not enough progress is contemplated today on this important aspect of the prevention of pneumoconiosis. I should add that we are appreciative of the great work done by the Coal Board in this respect, especially when one compares it with what was alleged to have been done by their predecessors. More research is necessary. I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that there would be no stinting about finding money for this purpose.
Another figure which is of some value is that which shows that we have 1,000 coal cutters working in Scotland, but only 270 are equipped with dust suppression mechanism. There are 212 pneumatic picks in use and only two have dust suppression mechanism. Such a state of affairs would have been tolerated in the past, but it will not be tolerated in future. We ask that considerable progress should be made by the Coal Board in the near future in fitting dust suppression mechanism to these machines which throw up dust when they are in operation. A heavy duty is upon the Board to take all possible steps to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Minister said that he was most anxious to get coal cutting machines which were dust free, and he seemed to issue a challenge to the makers. I would also say that there is much too much noise in the modern pit. Any steps that can be taken to minimise noise to enable the miner at his work to hear roof movement at the coalface will be gratefully appreciated by the miners.
Clause 112 of the Bill gives power to the Minister to name the day after which no person under 16 years of age will be allowed to work underground. Before we pass the Bill we must name the day in this House. There is no reason why we should not say in the Bill that as from 1st January, 1955, no young person under 16 years of age shall go underground.
I wish to make a few comments about workmen's inspectors. There was much discussion about this yesterday and I do not want to repeat what was said then. 1340 Many of us have had experience as workmen's inspectors. There is no case at all for limiting the number of inspections and there is no need to give prior notice to the management. If the management is observing the safety code there is nothing to hide. There is no need to fear that workmen's inspectors will make unnecessary inspections in the collieries. If they did so the people with whom they would be most unpopular would be the workmen themselves. They would not tolerate it, but in any case the job is not so attractive that the workmen's inspectors are likely to make unnecessary inspections.
I would also say that the workmen's inspectors should at all times be supplied with a copy of any report sent by Her Majesty's inspector to the manager following an inspection. If the workmen's inspector is to do his job properly he must know what Her Majesty's inspector reports back to the colliery manager after he has made an examination at a colliery. Similarly, the workmen's inspector should have a copy of any report made by the manager to Her Majesty's inspector. This should be a two-way traffic. The reports of the workmen's inspector are available to the others, as they should be, but equally the reports of the others should be available to the workmen's inspector.
Before the Bill becomes law I hope that we shall be able to make amendments to put into force the suggestions which I have made. The private owners resented workmen's inspectors. Do not make any mistake about that. Many of us have done the work. I was on the work and I know how the workmen's inspectors were resented. But I hope that that has changed now. I think that there has been a change. The Coal Board should welcome their co-operation. After all, we are all endeavouring to serve the same end.
The Bill is not revolutionary. In some respects it is an improvement on existing law. In many respects, however, it is much too vague. If the Minister will not withdraw it, as I suggested earlier, and give us a separate Bill for the nationalised coal mining industry, we must do our utmost during the Committee stage to improve the Measure considerably and to make it one worthy of a great industry.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be well satisfied with the reception that the Bill has had from the House. We have every reason to be satisfied with the care and clarity with which both he and his hon. Friend addressed us yesterday. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has spoken of the length and complication of the Bill. It certainly is both long and complicated. It is most difficult for anybody in the House, especially for those of us who have not got an intimate knowledge of coalmining, or who have little knowledge, to know just how much is new and just how much is consolidation in this very long Measure.
The hon. Member for Hamilton said that he has worked in the coal pit for 17 years. I have no knowledge at all about coal, but I have a little knowledge about metalliferous mining. I have a small pit—we call it a mine in Derbyshire—which I have worked for about 30 years. Whenever I am at home I spend a good many hours every week and almost every day down that pit in which I take a very keen personal interest. In parenthesis, it might be of some interest to say that the Leader of the House, who at one time was Secretary for Mines, first went underground down my little mine in Derbyshire 20 or more years ago.
I mention that to show both that I have some knowledge and to declare my interest in this Measure, but all of us have a direct interest in any Bill designed for the safety and betterment of mining of all sorts. Just outside my constituency is one of the largest granite quarries in the country, the Mountsorrel Quarry, and in a comparatively small area in Derbyshire there are limestone quarries, gritstone quarries, lead mines, small calcitespar and fluor spar mines, barytes and gypsum mines. All are in a comparatively small area and all are worked under completely different conditions and circumstances.
Therefore, it is with very great relief that I heard the assurance of the Parliamentary Secretary last night that there was no intention of forcing any general scheme of management upon this widely diversified field of mining. I think that he made out a sufficient case for including all in one Bill. I appreciate that it would have been extremely difficult to have more 1342 than one Bill. However, I hope he will implement the assurance that he gave us about a maximum of diversification of regulations for management. One of his right hon. colleagues looks after both agriculture and fisheries but he would not be likely to want to put trawler owners or fishermen under the county agricultural executive committees and farmers would not welcome being put under the White Fish Authority. I am sure we can rely upon our being given the wide choice of management for which we ask.
There is also the extremely important matter of delegated legislation. The Minister and his inspectors have tremendous powers to issue regulations, orders, rules and notices, all of which have the force of law upon the people to whom they apply. It is true that none of them applies to everyone in the country, but many of them apply to many people and all of them are the law to those to whom they specifically apply.
The range over which orders can be made seems almost limitless. The hon. Member for Hamilton said that we could almost have done without a Bill at all. If my right hon. Friend had produced a Bill containing the four lines of the Preamble and some of the first and last words of Clause 127 (1) he would have had everything to his entire satisfaction, for the provision would then have read:The Minister may make regulations for any purpose for carrying this Act into effect.The Minister would have had complete power to do just as he liked and there would have been no need for the other 167 Clauses. After all, we have been told that the Bill is no more than a skeleton which the Minister will clothe with live flesh.
The Minister is taking tremendous power and he has compared it with the power granted by the 1911 Act. The words which I have quoted did not appear in the Act. Under that Act wide powers were taken to make orders in respect of safety, welfare, animals and so on, but there were no general powers allowing the Minister to make orders on any subject which appealed to him at any time.
The 42 years' experience since 1911 ought, if anything, to have reduced the necessity for power to make regulations. 1343 The Ministry ought by now to know in what direction it needs legislation or is likely to need legislation, and the powers might well have been limited because of that knowledge.
I was delighted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say last night that the Government would consider the advisability of bringing many of the regulations before the House under the negative Resolution procedure. I am sure that is advisable, not only constitutionally but for reasons of real practical advantage. I was once a junior Minister at the Board of Trade during war-time when there was a spate of orders. Goodness knows what would have been the height of that spate had we not had to submit the orders to the House. The mere fact that the orders had to come to the House and were under a Minister's eye limited the spate, and that is a strong reason for making the alteration.
Orders which are to be laid before the House have not only the advantage of some degree of Ministerial consideration but, in this case, also the advantage of the immense amount of informed opinion on the subject of the orders which hon. Members on both sides of the House can contribute. Because they are orders of the House they also get very desirable publicity, and, instead of being hole-and-corner Ministerial directions, they become orders with the force of our legislative assembly behind them.
I shall be glad if the Minister will say a word or two about Clause 134, the penalty Clause. It has been represented to me that under this provision a manager, owner or anyone else accused of contravening a regulation has to prove his innocence and that it is not the duty of the Minister or the inspectors to prove his guilt. I shall be glad if the Minister can assure us that the cardinal principle of British law that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty will not be violated under the Bill.
I repeat that we appreciate the way in which the Bill has been introduced. All of us wish it well and hope that it will achieve the objects for which it is designed. I am sure that during the Committee stage it will be given the expert and careful consideration which the House alone can give.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
I do not welcome the Bill with the degree of pleasure which has been expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Water-house) and some of my hon. Friends. We all welcome the improvement of the 1911 Act to meet present circumstances, but I warn the Minister and the House that, because of the vagueness of this huge Bill of 168 Clauses and four Schedules, the time factor which will be involved is likely to give the Minister and the Standing Committee a headache and we shall not get the results that we all desire.
The Bill is, as it were, full of emptiness. It is far too vague. There are far too many words and there is far too little clarity. We all have a duty to try to make the Bill much better than it is at present, and the Minister can be assured that the Opposition will do everything it can to make the Bill what we all want it to be and to expedite its passage.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am glad to hear the voice of the hon. Member supporting what I have said.
With regard to Clause 3, which deals with the rights of managers, I appreciate that managers occupy very onerous positions and have huge responsibilities, but I consider that they ought to be able to carry out their duties without so much undue interference. That always has been the case, and I would say that, even under the auspices of the National Coal Board today, it is still the case that the agent comes along to the deputy production manager—and I accept the fact that we must have this higher level and a plan—but, immediately that plan is submitted to the management, regardless of the cost, because the manager has already been warned as to the ceiling cost, if it is found that he is carrying out the work within that ceiling cost, he should not be interfered with in carrying out what are his proper duties. I hope that will be plainly stated in the Bill, because it is not there now.
On the question of delegated powers, I consider that if any action is taken for a contravention of the Act, those who have given the instructions which led to the contravention should also be liable 1345 to either criminal or civil penalties in exactly the same manner as in the case of the manager, because some attempt will be made to implicate him. These instructions will have been handed down from somebody else, and, therefore, I think there is both an obligation and a moral right to provide that those persons should answer for the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the instructions they have given.
Another point which I should like to make has been a sore point with me for a number of years. I want to warn the Minister that there is no analogy between quarries and sandpits and coal mines, and I would say that whoever has been responsible for drafting this Bill knows very little about the matter. On the surface, we have to take into account climatic conditions, and the fact that there may be too much ventilation in sandpits and quarries, when there is so little in deep mines, although I accept the fact that conditions there are much better than they used to be. When I hear some of my hon. Friends on this side quoting their experiences, I am tempted to say that I could quote a lot more, but I do not intend to weary the House.
I must say that I am very much perturbed about the age limit for managers. I do not agree that youth should be prevented from having opportunities of promotion, and I accept the qualifications of the examining board. I cannot accept the view that a man is competent to be a colliery manager at the age of 25, and my reason for saying that arises out of bitter experience. We cannot govern ability by age, neither in regard to youth nor in the later sphere where retirement is concerned. The question has to be governed by capability and experience.
We cannot just bring in young men and place them in control of others who have been doing the job for 20 or 30 years. They must, in addition to mining experience, show some capability for handling men, and this is a very important factor in the coal industry. It requires a very good man indeed to handle the workers at a colliery, particularly at a very large colliery employing between 3,000 and 4,000 men and boys. It is not the same as the case of a little family mine or quarry.
1346 Under the 1911 Act, it was provided that these men should have had two years' experience "in and about a mine." I was never very happy about that phrase, because, actually, an individual who had only been making tea in the colliery office, provided that he could get a certificate at the whim and wish of the examining board, could be appointed a colliery manager. I do not accept that, and I hope that I shall have an Amendment down for the Committee stage, if no other is submitted, to make an alteration in that respect.
I regard 28 as the minimum age for a colliery manager at a pit where over 30 men are employed. I am prepared to accept the age of 25 for an under-manager, but the minimum in the case of a manager should be 28. I think he should also have had a minimum of two years' practical experience in a pit, and I do not mean walking about with a surveyor. I mean that he should be able to use the pneumatic machinery and do some ripping and packing.
There is a psychological factor here, and we have to consider it in regard to the welfare and wellbeing of our people. We have to consider the feelings of a man who has done 10, 20 or perhaps 30 years' work in a pit when he finds a young man coming along and giving him instructions such as "do not do it that way; do it my way." I would urge upon the Minister to remember that that sort of thing has a great psychological effect, and to remember that our people are very conservative in their outlook, and I do not mean conservative in the political sense. I feel very strongly about this.
I come now to Clause 111, dealing with the question of inspectors, and I do not minimise the importance of the competence of these men. They should know what they are doing, and it is not solely a question of fatal accidents or accidents involving serious injury, because we never had any trouble in the colliery with which I was concerned. We had a sufficiently good relationship with the management and sufficient strength in the union branch to enable us to demand the services of these inspectors when we thought they were necessary. When we asked for them, we were never refused, and this was the position at that colliery for many years and there was no complaint at any time. If we went to work in the morning and 1347 decided that we required an inspection, our management was very responsive, and the same thing applied to almost all the South Yorkshire coalfields. We had no qualms about it.
The anxiety which I feel about Clause 111 of this Bill is this. Before a man can be appointed and be accepted by the management as an inspector, he must have had five years' practical experience. I want to know where is the logic of that provision. In contrast with the provisions in other cases to which I have referred, it seems strange that a man who is looking after the working conditions and the welfare of the workers, because he is on the side of the workers, has to have five years' experience. Let us be consistent in this. I hope that, on the Committee stage, we shall go into this matter in order to obtain some more satisfactory provision.
The other Clause to which I wish to refer is Clause 43, which I am sure is giving us very grave concern. I do not know that I would object to a medical examination for winding engine men. particularly in the case of a deep mine, where there is a great mental and physical strain on the individual responsible. I am speaking only for myself, but I feel that the responsible nature of this work warrants a periodical examination of those engaged in it, but what I do object to is the implication in the provision for the five-year term. I think this is a shocking piece of business. He may be one of the most honest and conscientious men who ever sat on a stool, winding, but because he happens to have an affliction or some slight disease he only has five years, and then he is thrown to the winds. I hope he is to have some safeguard of occupation and not be upon a five-year basis. If we cannot get any reasonable Amendment from the Minister, I shall urge all my friends on this side of the House to attempt to get the Clause deleted.
I sincerely hope that we can do a useful job with the Bill. It is badly needed and is very belated. I am not putting blame on either side. It has been a question of priority and of opportunities which were presented and not taken full advantage of, such as the Bill introduced under the 10 Minutes Rule 'by the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest 1348 (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). It could have been better. I wish the Bill well in Committee. I am sure that it is the desire of all of us to make it a much better Bill than it is at the moment.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths), who has just spoken, has had as much practical experience of the coal industry as anybody in the House and I found myself in very general agreement with almost everything he said.
We have now reached the stage in our discussions where the sense of the House can be fairly accurately assessed. We had the advantage of an excellent speech from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power in introducing the Bill. He gave us a most interesting historical survey, which led up to the position we have now attained, and he described the Bill with great clarity; indeed, with a degree of clarity which is not equalled by the contents of the Bill.
We also listened to an important speech by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I thought that the first 10 or 15 minutes of his speech were going to be a rather shallow and unimportant contribution to the debate. He gave us a graphic description of main and rail haulage in the Rhondda Valley. Suddenly, as I have seen him do before, he turned to the important aspects of the Bill and, with almost unerring ability, put his finger on practically every weak spot in it.
There are some weak spots, and we shall serve no good purpose if we ignore them. I hope that those weak spots will be strengthened in Committee in such a manner that we shall find, in due course, that the Bill is worth while. At this stage, it is for each one of us who speaks in the debate to press his points to bring about some alteration. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has not contributed to this debate so far. He occupies almost a unique position in Parliament. I think I am right in saying that he is the only certificated manager among us and the only man who can really speak with authority on these matters. We all know that he took a very important part in the Royal Commission from the recommendations of which the Bill has emerged.
1349 I should like to make one personal reference. I made my maiden speech almost exactly 15 years ago on the recommendations of that Royal Commission and in a debate which was opened by the right hon. Member for Gower. I chose that occasion because it happened that Lord Rockley had paid me the compliment of making his first underground inspection in one of the pits with which I was connected, and before he had completed his survey he saw every one of the pits with which I was associated. Moreover, 85 years ago my grandfather, who was the Member for Wigan then, and the President of the Mining Association, made his maiden speech on the Royal Commission recommendations of 1879, out of which arose the Act of 1887 which gave status to colliery managers and under managers.
One's reaction to the Bill is, "Here is a framework and an opportunity of doing something which will be of benefit to the industry." Before we can do that we must look very closely at some of the obvious defects of the Bill. I have had correspondents from every division of the N.C.B. and a great many of the areas, and the consensus of opinion among them is very close. One and all seem to think, and I believe rightly, that the phraseology of the Bill is bad. It is by no means as clear as that of the 1911 Act. Many hon. Members who are not connected with the coalmining industry may not be aware how intimate a part the Act of 1911 has played in the day-to-day conduct of the industry. It was not only managers, under managers and deputies who read the Act but a great many colliers, who were familiar with a great many of the Sections and could quote them. They welcomed that Act because it was set out in simple terms which were understandable to all classes of men whose lives and safety were so much affected by the Act under which their industry was being conducted.
The reason for this opinion about the present Bill is clear. We have tried to produce a Bill which deals not only with coalmining but other ancillary matters such as opencast, quarries and the like. It is something of an impracticable proposition to attempt to do that. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has this point very much in mind and that he will try to bring about real improvement both in 1350 the phraseology and in the simplicity of the Bill which will eventually come on to the Statute Book.
The next matter to which I would refer has been referred to in many parts of the House, and particularly on the Opposition side. It is in relation to the position of managers. We must be jealous about the manager's position because of the great responsibility he carries. In the last resort, he is the man upon whom safety depends. Unless we give him every chance of carrying out his duties satisfactorily we shall not get the best results. The manager cannot carry out those duties with complete satisfaction if he is to be subject to instructions in so many directions as are proposed in the Bill. We have to canalise these into one or two simple directions which are understandable, so that within the orbit of his pit the manager may be completely in control.
No one has objection to divisional experts going to a pit and discussing improvements and developments with their technical counterparts, but I do not think that the colliery manager needs, or should be concerned about, the divisional experts. In due course if anybody in the pit does what is recommended to him by the divisional expert, it must be the statutory duty of that person to get permission from the colliery manager. That will indicate clearly that the colliery manager is subject only to one or two people higher in the scale than himself and beyond that is completely in authority in his own pit.
A number of views have been expressed to me about the Mines Inspectorate. No one wishes to detract from their position or their prestige. Indeed, I think the whole industry has looked for a great many years on the Mines Inspectorate as a most admirable body of men. There is some fear that some of the more junior members of the inspectorate should have quite the authority which would appear possible from the Bill. Unless they have qualifications at least equal to that of a colliery manager, it would be unreasonable if they should give directions to a colliery manager which affected the health and safety of the men for whom he is responsible.
My last point has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not think that it will be possible to 1351 withdraw that part of the Bill which deals specifically with quarries and the like. I think that we have left that too late. I hope and I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will have been seized with the opinion of the House that there must be a very clear cut differentiation between quarries and the like and mining and that he will bring in such Amendments as will make that possible.
I do not want to take up for long the time of the House because I know that a great many hon. Members on both sides want to speak. I shall, therefore, conclude by saying that safety in mines is a matter which should be approached from three possible angles. They are not necessarily conflicting. In that sense I join issue with those hon. Members who say that high productionis against the general sense of safety. I do not think so at all. To take a very broad analogy, we might think about crossing a street against traffic. The safe thing would be never to cross it at all. The next safest thing would be to say that all traffic must be halted 50 yards on either side of a pedestrian crossing. To keep abreast of modern developments, however, we introduce zebra crossings with the give and take that system ensures.
The same applies in the pit. Of course, we could avoid or attempt to avoid accidents by never introducing modernisation machinery, or we could so hedge above all that development or hedge about our managers and our methods that in fact very little of that development would be of value. Or we could recognise, as I believe we should recognise, that, by and large, modernisation and mechanisation have, in fact, brought in their trend a degree of safety greater than that which used to exist in the coal industry.
I know that it can be argued that machines are dangerous things and bring about all sorts of risks for the men using them, but I think statistics are against that argument. I think it will be seen that modernisation generally has brought about improvements in safety. In the same way, I think that statistics show that a pit which had a high output per man shift was not necessarily a dangerous pit. The dangerous pit was where pit discipline was bad. More O.M.S. was possible in the well-disciplined pit. The 1352 siting, props and the like were so carefully controlled that we did not get falls of roof and those hazards which occur in a pit managed with less authority.
I think it would be wrong if the House and country gained the impression that in our desire to improve production and to cut costs we do so at the expense of safety. We must improve production and cut costs even under the present system of nationalisation. This, I believe, can be done hand in hand with an improvement in safety. I believe that good pit discipline is the foundation of safety in mining.
That is all I have to say other than to join with those right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish this Bill well. I think it will give us a great opportunity to put on the Statute Book something which, for the next 25 years or so, will be the guide and mentor of all those in. the industry. It will be a challenge to us. The work in Committee will be long and arduous, but if we do our work conscientiously and in the spirit in which this debate has been so clearly conducted, I feel that out of our labours will come something well worth while.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
In my constituency there is the largest underground slate quarry in Britain and probably in the whole of Europe. I am therefore very glad, Mr. Speaker, to have caught your eye, and I am going to follow the good example set by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) and be brief.
The Bill, we have been told, is unique because of the fact that for the first time it deals with both quarries and coalmines within the same Bill. When I first read the Bill, I was glad to see that. Having listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) yesterday, I am not convinced that this innovation has been a good one.
The story of the slate quarries at the present time is in many respects a sad one. Year by year the number of workers engaged in these quarries is growing less and less. The quarry towns and villages of North Wales are presenting us with the problem of depopulation as grim as that which was discussed in this House some weeks ago concerning 1353 the rural parts of central Wales. This is obviously not only due to the fact that there has been a decline in the demand for slate. Another reason in connection with this industry is that dreadful disease which was referred to so often here yesterday and this morning of silicosis. It was said yesterday that this is not a new disease. Decidedly not; it is as old as the oldest quarry in this land.
Whoever is engaged in this industry incurs a tremendous risk of being affected by it at a very early age. Parents, quite naturally, are loath to allow their boys to enter this particular industry because of this disease. In addition the wages paid to the workers in the slate quarries are not comparable with those paid to workers in similar heavy industry. I am, therefore, particularly interested in Clauses 93 to 96 of the Bill. These relate to the safety, health and welfare of the quarry workers.
I saw it stated in a leading article of "The Times" of 26th November that it is known that in some quarries young boys are engaged for 60 hours per week and often for seven days per week. I am quite certain that is not true in my constituency of Merioneth. We in Wales not only close our public houses for one day a week but also the quarries. I would, however, draw the attention of the Minister to this particular statement of fact. If it appears in a Conservative newspaper, it must be a fact. I will give the date again—26th November; and it is stated that boys are engaged for 60 hours a week.
I am in a somewhat different position from that of my colleagues beside me who represent the coalminers. They are dealing with an industry which has been nationalised and has come under public ownership. I am not trying to score a party point here, but as a result of action taken by the previous Government, that industry can boast of its large canteens, its fully-staffed ambulance centres and its pithead baths. Moreover, in every mining area there is a full-time welfare officer to look after the welfare of the miners both in and out of the mines.
This is in striking contrast to the quarries. They are deprived of such canteen facilities and have no bathing facilities. They have no welfare officers nor have the quarry workers the welfare halls and recreation grounds which are regarded as 1354 essential for the mining community. No health and welfare measures can be regarded as complete without these things. Thanks to the previous Government, this Bill takes these things for granted.
As an advocate for the slate quarry workers in the House, however, I am placed in this very invidious position: if we press for these amenities, the industry today, under private enterprise—I am concerned with the slate quarry industry in particular—could not stand the cost. I shall be quite frank in that. Indeed, I would rather see welfare being developed for quarry workers in other directions. For instance, I should like to see a more sympathetic and generous attitude adopted to those who show the first signs of silicosis. I am sure that would be welcomed by those whom I represent. I should like, too, to see a reduction in the working hours without such a reduction affecting the wage packet.
If the Minister will look at page 60 of the Bill—Part III, which has special reference to quarries—he will see the heading, "Safety, Health and Welfare (Quarries)."The curious thing is this: in all the paragraphs which follow to explain that heading, there is not a single reference to welfare as such, nor, indeed, is there much reference to health. Why have we this curious omission? I think I know the answer, but it is not for me to provide it.
When dealing with coalmines, in the previous paragraph and under the same heading, we read—and it is good to read—of the provisions for training, first aid, medical examination, sanitary conveniences, washing facilities, canteens and the prohibition of heavy work. As one who worked for a while in the coal pit, I must say that no one welcomes those things more than I do. I am very conversant with all that my coalmining friends have been discussing yesterday and this morning. I have seen those low roads which they have mentioned. I remember, as a boy, seeing one of these roads and drawing the attention of an older man to the fact that it was low. "Low, my boy," he said, "even the mice in that road have developed bow legs."
I am therefore glad that these improvements and amenities are available for coalmines and I should be extremely proud if they were also available for 1355 quarry workers. This is the dilemma which I leave to the Minister and which he must follow out: he has included "Welfare" in the title to Part III of the Bill, yet in the subsequent paragraphs explaining the heading the word "welfare" does not appear at all.
May I appeal to him and the Government, before this Bill reaches the Committee stage, to think of some scheme whereby the quarry workers may enjoy some of these amenities? I appreciate that this may involve capital expenditure which the industry possibly cannot sustain, but when human health and human happiness are involved, there devolves upon the Government, I maintain, a duty to examine what can be done to meet the difficulties of these men engaged in a most arduous, dangerous and responsible occupation.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) has many constituents engaged in slate quarries. I have many engaged in quarrying whinstone and some engaged in winning coal. If I understood the hon. Member correctly, he suggested that it would be as difficult to buy slate in Wales on a Sunday as it would be to buy alcohol. I must say that I find that somewhat difficult to believe.
I am very glad that this debate has taken place and that two days have been given to it, because there has been a tendency to become apathetic about accidents and about safety in mines since the establishment of the National Coal Board. There has been a feeling that, as the State has taken over control of the mines, we need no longer worry about the accident rate. Although it was pointed out yesterday that for many years past the accident rate has been steadily falling, the fact remains that it is still extremely high. On an average, I believe, throughout the year every miner spends no fewer than eight days away from the pits as a result of accidents.
As has been pointed out, these modern inventions, this so-called progress, has led to new problems, new hazards and new diseases, and it is in the larger mechanised mines that we find most of the accidents are taking place. I was 1356 very glad, therefore, to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) say that there is no reason at all why production should be the enemy of safety, which was the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).
Certainly, if we asked the public which they want to predominate—safety or production—they would vote whole heartedly in favour of safety, because they are horrified when these pit disasters take place. Nevertheless, we must also face the fact that a large number of the public are becoming critical of the high cost of coal. I am entitled to say that, I think, because I am one of those who, often enough in the past, have said that the pitman who does his job properly is fully deserving of the better conditions and the higher pay which he now receives.
Unfortunately, we are sometimes apt to forget that there is a long and a bitter history attached to mining problems. I am very glad that yesterday and today it has been demonstrated that much of the bitterness is now leaving the coalmining industry, at any rate so far as this House is concerned. The French have a wise saying—"to understand everything is to forgive everything"; to a certain extent—but only to a certain extent—we are paying today for some of the misdeeds and the past neglect of the mining industry.
Today I wish to draw attention not so much to the mining aspects of the Bill as to those which affect the working of quarries, Here, I must disclose a slight interest as I am connected with a public company which operates a small whinstone quarry, but my real interest is derived from the fact that a large number of my constituents get their livelihood from working in whinstone quarries. I myself, last June, had the pleasure of pressing a plunger in a whinstone quarry in my constituency which, I was told, caused the largest explosion in peacetime in this country.
The mass of regulations, orders and Acts dealing with quarrying are certainly very complex. Therefore, consolidating legislation is most welcome, but, as hon. Members have already pointed out, such legislation would have been even more welcome if it had appeared in a separate 1357 Quarry Bill. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary was too happy yesterday in defending the omnibus character of this Measure. He seemed to me to have relied mainly on historical connections to justify the inclusion of quarries and metalliferous mines in this predominatingly coalmining Bill.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will make it abundantly clear that it is not the intention to impose the ponderous control of management, which appears in Part I of the Bill, on the quarry industry. As has been pointed out, there are a large number of small quarries operating in this country. Over 2,000 of the 5,000 now operating employ fewer than 20 men, and these small units with their varying conditions are not suitable for a ponderous system of management.
Another point is that the working of quarries in this country is now undergoing a kind of revolution. It is undesirable that their methods of working should be necessarily restricted under regulations which cannot easily be altered. Again, as I think has been pointed out already, the safety record in quarries is good. That contention is borne out and supported by the fact that, although the Ministry have at their disposal a large number of inspectors, throughout the country they only designate eight inspectors as inspectors of quarries.
I should like to emphasise that the quarry industry is not seeking in any way to escape its obligations. It has no desire at all to be exempt from safety regulations. It has no quarrel with the obligations which would be placed upon it by this Bill, but it suggests it should be allowed a little more discretion as to how those responsibilities are to be carried out. I do not believe that we would increase safety for those who work in these quarries by interfering with them unduly, and, certainly, it would not be economically sound. Other hon. Members have already drawn attention to the desirability of seeing that regulations made under this Bill are controlled in some manner by Parliament, and I should like to emphasise the importance of that control.
There is only one other aspect to which I should like to draw attention and that is in regard to the inspectors. Under the 1358 Bill very wide powers are given to inspectors to examine the quarries and to give instructions. Not only are they given power to issue instructions, but they can relax the regulations if they think it is desirable and also, if they think it necessary, make those regulations more stringent. In the Bill those very wide and comprehensive powers, which, after all, can be a matter of life or death to a quarry, can be exercised by all inspectors no matter how junior or inexperienced they may be.
I believe that in the past it has been the practice for instructions of that character to be given only by senior inspectors, someone of the rank of chief inspector or at least a divisional inspector. Also in this Bill, in some instances there is at present no appeal to an independent tribunal if the quarry undertaker does not agree with the instructions given by the inspector. I urge that in every case there should be a right of appeal to a responsible tribunal.
I am quite sure that if sympathetic consideration is given to these points and to others which have been raised by those representing constituencies which have large numbers of quarries in them, then the quarry industry will give a warm welcome to this Bill when it becomes law and that the country will have the full co-operation of the quarry industry in carrying out the provisions of this Bill.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. lorwerth Thomas (Rhondda, West)
I have no desire to speak very long, because I am conscious that hon. Members on both sides want to make their contribution to the debate. My first point, which I consider to be a constitutional point, concerns the dualism of the Minister of Fuel and Power; and when I refer to the Minister I do not refer to him as a person but merely as the political executive of a Department.
I want to pose the problem in this manner. We have this constitutional dualism because the Minister of Fuel and Power is a political representative in this House of the National Coal Board. He speaks here on behalf of the Board and occasionally he is called upon to defend the Board. Therefore, one can place the Minister in the category of representing the owners.
1359 On the other hand, he is also the political executive responsible for the inspectorate. He is responsible constitutionally for appointing, controlling, supervising, and influencing through his Department the inspection of his own mines. I can easily visualise the reaction in the country and in this House if, before nationalisation, when the Coal Owners' Association owned the mines, that association was entitled to appoint its own inspectors to examine its own mines.
There are many possibilities that can develop out of this relation. Yesterday, I noted that the Minister spoke feelingly and firmly about the desirability of maintaining the independence and freedom of the inspectorate. Also, several speakers mentioned the relationship of costs and safety. Anybody acquainted with the mining industry knows that costs and safety have always been in conflict, and while I am prepared to concede that the nationalisation of the industry has modified that conflict and minimised the dangers that may arise from it, I still say that because working coal is an economic and commercial proposition even today, a conflict between costs and safety can arise.
Let me give one or two examples to show where the prerogative of the Minister as the Minister of Fuel and Power representing the Coal Board can come into conflict with the Minister of Fuel and Power representing the inspectorate. There is a provision in this Bill by which the Minister has the right to exempt from its provisions certain parts of collieries or certain collieries as a whole. His considerations in determining whether or not he will exempt certain pits or parts of pits from the provisions of this Bill can be determined by his having regard to the number of years or the unexpired period which is the life of the pit.
Here we can have a conflict of the Coal Board having no desire to be involved in capital expenditure on a colliery where the lease of life is only five years and on a colliery where the lease of life is10 years and where the loss in that colliery is equivalent to 10s., 15s. or £1 a ton as it is today. I do not say that there was any malicious intent, but there seems to have been some degree of unconscious influence brought to bear upon the 1360 decision in regard to the exemption or otherwise of certain parts of pits or of entire pits.
The Minister also has power, as representing the Coal Board and inspectorate at one and the same time, to grant exemption from the provisions of this Bill governing the regulation of new machinery in our pits. I know of collieries in some parts of the country where the loss per ton is equivalent to £2 or more. If it can be shown by some enterprising engineer that a new machine introduced into X pit can increase the O.M.S. from one ton to three tons per man, it is an attractive proposition, because it can take that colliery out of the "red," wipe out its deficiency, and make it an economical one.
Let me give another example, which can arise every day. The miners' examiner represents the interests of the men and we will assume that there is a certain condition existing in a pit which he thinks is dangerous as regards ventilation. As a result of his representations an appointment is arranged between the manager of the colliery, the divisional inspector and himself to meet on the spot. My point is that when the miners' examiner meets the inspector of the division and the colliery manager on the double parting in this district, the miners' examiner is facing two persons who are common agents of a common employer. I think I have said sufficient at least to agitate the minds of hon. Members present about the grave constitutional implications in this position.
In his dual position the Minister of Fuel and Power is comparable to the Boko twins: he either walks into himself or away from himself. Now is the opportunity and time to consider a serious major administrative operation by making a separation of his position that will give to the inspectorate the independence and the freedom which is enjoyed by the judiciary.
In its report the 1938 Commission stated quite firmly that safety in the mines does not depend so much upon perfecting the existing regulations but that is what we are attempting to do by this Bill. Whereas the secret of safety in the mines lies only in the enforcement of the regulations. At present, having regard to the fact that the inspectorate and the Coal Board are part of, and housed 1361 in, the same administration and responsible to the same Minister, we are faced with a major problem which the House should consider. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will say something about this when he replies to the debate.
All the regulations in this Bill pivot on one Clause, namely, Clause 10, which deals with the manager. Without wishing to over-simplify it, Clause 10 says that the manager, because of his multifarious duties, can be excused from reading the reports himself, that he can appoint a reader to look at all the reports on the condition of the colliery, and then the reader can, if he is satisfied in his own mind that some part of the report requires the attention of the manager, on his own discretion present it to the manager.
Further, Clause 10 is related to Clauses 48 and 76, which means that the problem of damages arises continually in this debate. I do not want to be so offensive as to suggest that there was a motive behind the drafting of this Clause, but it leads me to suspect that there was a certain intention to provide the manager with an escape from his responsibilities.
Referring to the Clauses I have mentioned we find that if it can be proved by the manager that, having regard to the information at his disposal he has taken such steps as are necessary to deal with the situation, no action for damages is possible. Although the duties of a colliery manager may be innumerable, it is very dangerous for him to delegate the responsibilities of reading, examining and acting upon reports to someone else. The only other duties with which the manager can be concerned are those concerned with output or other operational matters in the colliery.
If the manager has so many duties I say that this Clause should be completely eliminated, or it should include such specific duties as we determine. One duty must be that all other preoccupations about the pit shall be secondary to those of safety. He is responsible and should give a high priority to the reading of reports about safety conditions in the pit and not delegate them to a second or third party.
I trust that on these few points the Minister will be able to give us satisfaction, either now or in the Committee stage.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grin stead)
I hope that the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of his later remarks, I, however, should like to take up one question he raised, and that is in regard to the relation between costs and safety in which he said there was always conflict. I am more hopeful about that. I do not believe that they need be always in conflict. After all one of the effects of accidents is loss of output. In the case of a fatal accident the day is lost, and quite rightly. In a report of the East Midlands Division No. 1 Area two years ago, it was stated that in one year no less than 250,000 tons of coal were not raised owing to accidents. If we had had that coal it would have gone a long way towards paying for safety measures. I am, therefore, more hopeful than a number of hon. Members who have spoken on that subject.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to add to the tribute paid to him by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). As the Minister said yesterday, this Bill had its roots in the Report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines, which reported in 1939. I was present during the debate in March, 1939, following the presentation of that Report and remember the very admirable and valuable speech of the right hon. Member in opening that debate.
Reading the speeches in that debate, one is most struck by the fact that speaker after speaker considered that legislation was not only immediately necessary, but was actually impending. I shall not quote the speeches, although I have notes of them. The right hon. Member for Gower said that nothing but the re-casting of the Act of 1911 would satisfy the requirements of the industry and the Commission. Fourteen years have passed since then, and we are only just beginning to consider the Bill.
I appreciate, of course, that the war was one of the reasons for delay, as it was obviously impossible during the war and for some little time after to introduce legislation. But, listening yesterday to criticism of the Bill now presented—par- 1363 ticularly criticism by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who said that it was a rotten Bill—I could not help wondering why, in the six years that the Opposition were in power, they did not present what they thought would have been a better Bill. I shall not pursue that line, because I do not want to be unnecessarily controversial. I think that today the duty of all parties is to combine and to make what is, I believe, a good Bill an even better one.
In the debate yesterday the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said:It is most noticeable, and it struck me most forcibly, that there is a great lack of intimate knowledge on the other side of the House of the working of this nation's most basic industry…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1261–2.]He was referring, of course, to coal. I am the first to admit that that is so in my case and, I think, in the case of a number of my hon. Friends with a few exceptions, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), who owns a quarry. I admit that although I have been connected with the coal industry all my life, and my family for several generations before me, I have not that intimate knowledge. In anything that I say I will bear that well in mind. But I wish to utter a word of warning to those who have intimate knowledge and many years experience of the mines.
I have found when I have tried to stage a comeback on some subject which I knew very well in the old days that I was rather out-of-date and there had been great progress since the last time I tried to do anything practical in the matter. With due deference to some hon. Members who have had great experience in the mines in the past, I feel that they may find they are in the same position. Perhaps, therefore, we do not start with so much disparity between the two sides in further discussion of this Bill than might have been the case.
When I have gone to the pits it has been simply in the capacity of a visitor, and my feelings when doing so were not altogether those of the Liberal Prime Minister referred to yesterday. I enjoyed those visits and was very interested in what I saw. I say this too with a great 1364 deal of deference; I feel sometimes that whilst we all ought to—and I think do—appreciate the difficulties, the toils and the dangers to which the miner is subject, we are sometimes apt to broadcast them rather too widely to the detriment of the industry as a whole. As a result, we are apt to put young men off from going into the industry and to make it unpopular. That we should avoid. We are all intent on alleviating those dangers and difficulties, but we do not want to exaggerate them. I am certain that the miners themselves to whom I have spoken do not do so.
I remember in the First World War having my troop in a section of the line rather near the enemy, and in that section there was a mining company from one of the Lancashire divisions at work. They had galleries running from our front trench towards the Turkish trenches, some of them with mines ready laid to be blown when the occasion came. At the end of each gallery a man sat listening constantly to the working of the Turkish miners who were counter-mining on the other side. He was waiting to give the word when they were getting too near our front line, and we had to blow up our galleries to frustrate their purpose. My men were engaged in hauling out sandbags to bring up the spoil, and I used to go down the galleries and sit at the end with the miners and talk to them. On several occasions I sympathised and said how very unpleasant I thought it must be to have to sit at the end of a very narrow and ill-timbered sap or gallery and not be under the sky. But on all occasions I was told that they were much happier underground than they would have been in the trenches with a certain amount of stuff flying about. It has given me the feeling since that sometimes miners themselves are not so worried about these things as we are.
The nearest practical approach to the science of mining that I have had has been through geology. I took a degree in geology a good many years ago. I was delighted, therefore, to hear the Minister say that greater use would be made in future of geological knowledge in the matter of roof control. I congratulate Dr. Winstanley, Deputy-Chief Inspector of Mines, upon his research and practical application of that knowledge to fractures which are the immediate cause of falls and broken roofs. To forestall those 1365 fractures and prevent the falls is a strategic approach rather than the tactical approach which was the only one adopted in the past. It seems to me a highly progressive line of thought.
It is not only a hopeful conception but rather an inspiring one that we are learning to master these great natural forces which become unleashed in mining operations. I believe that in a pit 500 yards deep there is a pressure of 100 tons per square foot over the whole of the roof. This method of taking advantage of the fact that rock is to some extent elastic if one does not try to subject it to too sudden distortion is really an inspiring conception. We are harnessing these great forces and preventing their becoming dangerous.
I am told that since this new strategic approach to roof control has been adopted there has been a steady reduction in the number of accidents from falls. In the three years, 1940–1942, there were 406 fatal accidents at the face. In the three years 1950–52, that number had been reduced to 157 and there had been a similar reduction in the number of accidents on the pit roads. That is a very striking testimony to the value of this new approach. There seem to be other advantages also in this method of controlling the roof. It prevents those cavities being formed in the strata further up, which may become filled with gas and thus be liable to spontaneous combustion, and I cannot help feeling that it must have some effect also on the surface and must avoid some of the evils of subsidence.
I have heard on all sides of the House criticism of this Bill on the ground that it is almost impossible to legislate for both mines and quarries in the same Measure. There is much in that argument but, from what the Parliamentary Secretary said last night, I also appreciate that legislation of this kind has gone on so long now for both mines and quarries that to seek to divorce one from the other today might be very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, we shall probably have to make the best of it.
But, in considering the further stages of this Bill, we must be very careful that in legislating for the mines and for the larger quarries we do not impose undue burdens and obligations on the smaller quarry. After all, all mines, from the 1366 largest down to the small drifts, have much in common and much the same dangers, but there is an immense difference between the clay works at Peterborough, the Fletton brick works, the large opencast sites, and a small stone pit on a farm which, as I read the definition in the Bill, will be still controlled under it.
The Bill states that a'quarry' means an excavation made for the purpose of obtaining there from stone or minerals, not being an underground excavation;That seems to apply to such small places as are found behind a farm on the Downs, in the chalk country, which are only worked two or three times a year. On a day when one cannot work on the land, because it is too wet or it is frozen, the farmer says to his workers, Take a cart and go up and get some road metal. It appears to me that when the Bill becomes an Act such a farmer might be breaking the law in a number of respects.
He will not have complied with Clause 8 (1), because he should not have sent the men up there unless he had already personally supervised the place. The Clause says:No mine or quarry shall be worked unless daily personal supervision there over is exercised by the manager thereof.…I presume that the farmer is the manager, and unless he has been up there that day before the men start work he will have broken the law. Clause 26 (a) refers to the resumption of working after a period of two months. If he starts the work again after two months he must advise the inspector within two weeks. What farmer will do that? But if he fails to do so he will be infringing the law.
Clause 98 states that in two years from the passing of the Bill it will be illegal to use a horse to transport persons employed at the quarry…except in such cases and in accordance with such conditions, if any, as may be prescribed,…These are only small points and probably they will not arise, but I think that it is a pity to put things into legislation when one knows that those things cannot possibly be carried out. I hope that at some stage in the Bill these smaller quarries will be excluded so that we do not place upon them obligations which they cannot possibly be expected to perform.
1367 I believe that everyone in the House welcomes the Bill in principle. It deals, of course, principally with the major causes of accidents. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who opened the debate today, remarked that we could exaggerate the importance of legislation. I agree with him very much about that. After all, as well as the major accidents, due to falls of roof, explosions and so on, there are innumerable minor injuries caused to personnel both above and below ground which are continually the cause of the attrition of valuable workers, accidents in the handling of tubs and tools, in filling, and even in travelling to and fro on the roads to and from the face.
I believe that many are avoidable. Last night the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) rather criticised the Parliamentary Secretary for having mentioned in some speech that there was carelessness and that a certain proportion of accidents were really caused by carelessness. I am afraid that is the case. Quite a lot of accidents are really due to carelessness that comes from doing a thing every day and, therefore, becoming careless about the risk.
If that is not so I do not know why the East Midlands Division took the trouble to publish this excellent book on safety which I hold in my hand. It gives pictures of the various accidents that may happen and the way in which they may be avoided, in nearly all cases pointing the moral that if only a little more trouble was taken they could be avoided. It is an excellent book, and I suggest that, apart from this Bill, more and more of this sort of work through illustrated booklets of this kind should be undertaken. It will, I believe, reduce very considerably the number of minor accidents.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. George Deer (Newark)
I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on the Second Reading of this Bill, first, because I represent the constituency of Newark, which has eight fairly highly mechanised pits with a very good production record. I am sure that those of my constituents who are working in them will watch the passage of this Bill with considerable interest during its Committee stage, because of all the people I 1368 meet in my daily life I find that the miner is more accident conscious than anyone else I know. In other words, his very livelihood makes him very much aware of the difficulties which he is facing every day.
I wish for a few moments to pursue another line. During my life as a trade union official, before I became a Member of the House, I frequently dealt with quarries and, consequently, have some knowledge of the problems arising in respect of welfare and safety in the quarrying industry. Also, my union is associated with a large section of very responsible mining personnel, dealing with power workers and mining engineers, and they, too, have considerable interests in this Bill, particularly in connection with Clause 43, to which I shall refer in a few moments.
It is apparent there has been a mixed reception for some portions of the Bill. I suppose that that arises mainly from the fact that in talks such as must have taken place since the time of the introduction of the last Act more than 40 years ago and in the consultations with every section of the industry which are always a preliminary to Bills of this kind a compromise is frequently arrived at which, in the end, pleases nobody. That is the state which we may reach in connection with some of the Clauses of the Bill.
On the other hand, the rapid and constant changes in the course of development, particularly in our mechanised mines, mean that we have frequently to change very rapidly our ideas in respect of what may have been dangerous or safe yesterday and which may be quite the reverse tomorrow, due to changed circumstances.
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) on the question of complacency arising out of being in constant touch with danger, particularly among the miners. I should like to tell him a personal experience. Some time ago I was engaged in organising what started as a quarry and became a drift mine. It was in connection with ironstone. We had to drift into the hillside to get the ironstone. When it was being dealt with purely by the quarrying workmen there was a much less favourable record for safety than there was later 1369 when we had to bring miners from some of the depressed areas to help to get the ironstone out of the hillside by mining.
I particularly remember that whereas the chief emphasis of the management of the undertaking had been on production regardless of circumstances, the moment we got the miners in a different idea altogether was instantly apparent, and the emphasis became on safety rather than on production without regard to safety. I mention that as a case whereby the introduction of miners into this quarrying section where miners were needed completely revolutionised the attitude not only of the other workmen, but also of the management. I think that that example rather justifies the statement made last night by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) that the miners pay considerably more attention to safety than many other sections of the community very often do.
I turn to Clause 43, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths). While I agree that when men's lives are dependent on the physical well-being and good health of the men in charge of machinery it is absolutely necessary for there to be complete confidence that the men doing that job are fit and capable of doing it. On the other hand, many of my winding engineering friends consider that Clause 43 goes much too far and introduces certain things which they regard as being completely out of touch with realities.
First, they say that the language in the provisions of Clause 43 gives ground for objection in many ways. It will cut across the procedure, custom and practice now operating in many areas, particularly in respect of the age limit. That is one example. In connection with the compulsory medical examination provided for in subsection (3), they object to the five-yearly medical examination. They think it gives far too much power to the management in dealing with this matter. They also suggest that the manager himself will be in a very difficult position the moment he has to make a decision as to what satisfies him when he has conflicting medical evidence about the condition of the man. In this case, the winding engineers have carried with them their colleagues in the National Union 1370 of Mineworkers on this Clause, and I feel that the Minister will be wise to have another look at it.
It should be pointed out that since 1938 the development of what is known as the slow banker device has improved safety and there is not now the danger from purely mechanical mishaps which existed before this system was put into operation. What is more important is that as the industry develops there is bound to be all sorts of jobs where all kinds of colliery apparatus may be necessary. My colleagues think that the Clause in its present form will prevent many disabled and crippled men, who could do so with absolute safety, from carrying out jobs of this kind. They may find themselves ruled out under the five-year medical examination.
I suggest, therefore, that the Minister will be well advised to look again at the whole of Clause 43, and to consult the interests concerned. I am sure that he will find it must either be completely withdrawn, or amended in such a fashion as to take account of points put forward by the winding engineers in that section of the power industry contained in the mining industry, so that they may feel that no wrong is being done to them in this desire to secure extra safety.
There may be many alterations made to the Bill in Committee. We shall assist the Minister to make this a better Bill. The great changes in the industry which have occurred in the last 40 years must be faced. Those who spend their lives labouring in this industry must be convinced that they are securing a square deal.
Like many of my hon. Friends, I have walked in May Day demonstrations and in Miners' Day rallies behind our banners. Those banners usually bore the picture of a trade union official going to the house of bereaved persons whose bread-winner had been killed, with the slogan, "Succour and help for the bereaved." We have come to the conclusion that safety is much better than sympathy. If we can alleviate the anxiety not only of the miner but of his family I am convinced despite minor differences we may have about the details, that this Bill will mark a step forward to making mines and quarries secure, and will give to our workers the chance of living much fuller and easier lives.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), who represents a constituency in the Midlands I remember so well as a small boy, when my father emigated from our home country down to the warm and gentle climate of England. I remember the company of colliers in the Midlands, and what gentle, kindly, friendly, gracious people they were. I have a certain nostalgia for the Midlands to which, as a repatriated Scotsman, I pay my salute.
Among so many hon. Members representing mining constituencies, and with so many experts present, it is with deference that I speak. For my only claim to take part in this debate is that my constituency forms part of the great Lanarkshire coalfield. I owe an obligation to my constituents to express such feelings about this Bill as I have been able to gather from them. In any case, such a Bill as this must be a matter of concern to anyone who has the honour to represent the constituency of Lanark, particularly when one has the privilege of following the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who is a neighbour and a distinguished constituent of mine, and the hon. Lady who represents Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), another neighbour of mine. The borders of their constituencies march with mine, and with them I share many problems. Such expertise as I bring to this matter is that of my training as a newspaperman. So many of my remarks are necessarily those of an outsider who adopts the newspaperman's interrogative approach.
I was greatly interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Hamilton, and others, suggesting that legislation as such cannot of itself bring safety. The point was made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) that so often in the coal industry the men themselves wink at breaches of the law. They may even collaborate in breaking the law in one way or another, either because of indiscipline or from an eagerness to get coal.
Speaking as a layman, it strikes me that this Bill contains in Clause 134 (3) an important provision which places a 1372 liability upon the individual. Any person who connives at a breach of the provisions of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be guilty of an offence. That is an important feature which will, no doubt, be probed further on Committee stage.
One is impressed by the position in which the manager, under-manager and surveyor are placed by this Bill, in that there is a chain of written command. My inquiries lead me to suppose that the right to get directions put in writing will be welcome to managers, and is extremely important. But, again speaking as an outsider, I am alarmed at the point, made by an hon. Gentleman opposite, that the manager may have reports read for him. I visualise an accumulation of paper work growing up. Such things have brought armies to a standstill before now, and it is alarming to contemplate that the coal industry may be in danger of being swamped by paper. If one spends a morning at a divisional headquarters one is confronted by a formidable array of statistics and reports which are admirable in themselves. But someone has to read and digest them. So while welcoming arrangements which provide for instructions to be put in writing, one is also a little anxious lest officialdom be drowned in a sea of paper.
This is an enabling as well as a consolidation Bill, and great powers are put into the hands of the Minister. I want to take this opportunity of saying to the Parliamentary Secretary that I, and I am sure others, were relieved to hear his words last night about submitting his regulations under this Bill to the negative procedure. Those who have studied the Bill at all must have been struck by the enormous weight of regulatory power placed on the shoulders of the Minister. So it is no surprise to me that he is glad to come back to this House to seek authority as a safeguard to himself and his Department.
We are bringing this Bill forward at a time when the industry is becoming more and more mechanised. We in Scotland have a special personal interest in the Reid Report which urged more mechanisation, in that the son of the Dr. Reid who was chairman of that committee is chairman of the Scottish division of the Coal Board today. We are very conscious of the impact of mechanisation 1373 which is progressing at an increasing tempo. It has been rightly said that in the pit we see machines behaving like men, and men behaving like machines.
This brings varied problems in its train. One is the new obligation to apply the science of roof control. The provisions of the Bill for applying what we might call a strategic approach are certainly of great interest and significance to the industry. Anyone, whether layman or collier, who has experience of the terrible cracking noise that may be heard in a pit as the ground is settling, will feel greatly relieved that there is to be a provision in that respect.
I am interested in looking back at some of the accident figures. I notice that it is generally conceded that about 40 per cent. of accidents are due to falls of roof. What strikes one, looking over the figures, is the change in the proportions. For example, in 1910 there were 408 accidents at the face due to falls of roof and 216 along the roads. In other words, in 1910 the proportion of roof fall accidents at the face was about double the number on the roads. But the figures for 1952 show a quite different proportion. There were 159 accidents at the face due to falls of roof as against 28 on the roads. So roof fall accidents at the face are now five times those on the roads. That seems to be a significant change in proportion.
No doubt this is attributable to the advance of mechanisation, in that we get longer and more frequent long-wall workings. It may be that the more common cyclical operation which increased mechanisation brings with it also brings certain hazards at the face if, for example, operations are interrupted. It is certainly true that there are proportionately more men at the face and, therefore, a proportionately greater hazard.
We must, therefore, look at the provisions of the Bill, and we shall look at the regulations, to make sure that there is sufficient provision for safety precautions in roof support at the face. There is a great deal in the Bill about roof support on the roads. I see little about it at the face. When we turn to the roads we find that the figures are not without interest. The total number of accidents per year—these I take to be fatalities—has come down from 1.700 in 1910 to 420 in 1952.
1374 I would say in parenthesis that the argument that there is a natural and inevitable antithesis between safety on the one hand and production on the other can be answered in strict economic terms like this: if we lose 420 men to the industry in one year through death, that is a loss to working power and man power. In that sense, at the very least, safety and production must necessarily go hand in hand.
To return to my point, the proportion of fatal accidents due to haulage and transport defects appears to have risen from 286 in 1910–286 out of 1,700–to 110 in 1952 out of 420. Here we have a change from 16 per cent. in 1910 up to 25per cent. in 1952. One is bound, therefore, to ask whether the roadway safety provisions in Clauses 43 onwards and in Clause 39 are sufficient.
I said earlier that my approach to this matter must necessarily be interrogative. Not being a collier I cannot say whether the provisions are adequate, but I raise that question in the light of a layman's approach to the figures available. Again, we have before us the lesson of the Cresswell disaster. Any one who tramps down a colliery and observes the great stretches of conveyor belt and any one who, for example, has ever seen a jammed roller getting hot, will be acutely aware of the dangers that belong specifically to the extensive use of conveyor belt. Whereas in 1909 there was 180 conveyors in all our coalfields, today there are about 18,000 which carry 85 per cent. of our coal production. Are the proposals for conveyors adequate? Shall we not need, when the time comes, to look carefully at the regulations that will relate to conveyor belt safety provisions?
Then there is the question of dust. I must say that I was greatly surprised, and indeed staggered, to hear the hon. Member for Hamilton quote the figures, which naturally we must accept, showing the small number of cutters and drillers in the Scottish Division which are fitted with dust suppressors. I was quite shocked. When we consider the dust suppression provisions in Committee, I am sure we shall have to consider the desirability of imposing obligations to have dust suppressors wherever possible, especially in Lanarkshire where 1375 pneumoconiosis is such a "poison disease," as the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North said.
We in Lanarkshire are especially interested in this dust problem, also, because two pits there bordering my own constituency and that of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North have been chosen by the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mine-workers for the special study of dust problems—Kingshill No. 1and No. 3. One is specially relieved that the Bill at least takes cognisance of the fact— long after the event was known, of course— that dust is a hazard for health as well as to safety in terms of explosion. I think that we will welcome the general duty laid upon managers in Clause 73 to take precautions about dust, and we shall want to be quite satisfied that they are sufficient.
I was much interested in a remark made yesterday by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who referred to experience in Russia. He did not go into any great detail. I was hoping that he would because my attention was attracted some time ago to a report brought back by a delegation of, I think, members of the National Union of Mineworkers who had been to Russia where they had investigated various safety devices. They mentioned a suction apparatus whereby dust could be removed. I have taken the trouble to make some private inquiries about that, and I am assured that, while this method is under investigation here, one serious difficulty has been shown to arise. It is that the suction activity tends to generate static electricity, which is, in turn, a hazard.
But be that as it may, one cannot help being struck, as a layman, by the enormous advance of electric power and the harnessing of electricity to the winning of coal. Something like 3,500,000 electric motor horse power are used in the collieries here, in one form or another, as against a few hundred thousand when the 1911 Act was brought in. Does not this suggest that there is an increasing need on the part of the Inspectorate for expertise in the matter of electrical instruments and motors, wiring, circuits and so on?
1376 When one studies the Bill one cannot help being impressed by the very important part Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines are bound to take in matters of safety. So I was sad to hear confirmed last night by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest what I had already believed to be the case, that there is a great shortage of inspectors, the present strength being only about 140 instead of about 180. I am also told that half a dozen of those at present in the service are more than 65 years old. This is not simply the case of a 40-year-old gibing at the bald heads; it is a matter for concern that the Inspectorate should be below strength and that some of its members should be of an advanced age. This is particularly strange in view of the recommendations of the Royal Commission which, on page 130, devoted a considerable amount of space to the Inspectorate's shortage of strength even at that time.
The Inspectorate, as such, comes into the Bill in a sense only incidentally, but ought we not, in considering safety, to ascertain whether the Inspectorate is sufficiently staffed, whether it is getting the men it needs, whether it has the status it deserves and whether the terms of service are appropriate to the responsibilities?
In common with all other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill in principle. I have listened to the arguments about separating the quarrying and coal sides of the industry and am impressed by them. We shall see whether the Minister can do anything about it. We have certainly had a most generous earnest of his intentions in his most forthcoming reply about Parliamentary control over the making of regulations, for which we are very grateful.
I am often moved with pride when I go about Lanarkshire and meet many of my mining friends for whom I have such deep and increasing regard and affection. Often it is said, when one man pays tribute to another, "Och, he wrought alongside me." That is a Scottish phrase, pregnant with pride. It is the comradeship at the face and on the road, the comradeship of working alongside one's friends, that we hope will continue to grow and fructify, in safety and in pride of labour.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) paid the miners a well-deserved tribute, but it is not many moons since he voted for increased rents which are bound to affect some of the miners in his own constituency.
It is clear from the debate that by the time the Bill gets through Committee it will be substantially an N.U.M. Measure. It was painfully obvious from the Minister's speech yesterday that he was aware that by far the greater amount of practical experience was on this side of the House, and he will be well advised to ensure that that practical experience is reflected in the Bill.
Clause 112 (1), which says:No female shall be employed below ground at a mine.is superfluous, for that state of affairs already exists. What we all desire is that no woman should be employed in coal production or processing at all. I understand from the National Coal Board that in Britain as a whole 690 women were employed on the screens in September, 1953, and, in Scotland, 148. In Scotland, in 1948, just after nationalisation, the figure was 239, so it is being reduced, and I believe that is the tendency throughout the country. I should like to see it specifically stated in the Bill that as from the passing of the Act no more women shall be employed on the screens. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) yesterday made the shocking disclosure that one of these women had contracted pneumoconiosis, which is a disgusting state of affairs.
I understand that in the Soviet Union one mine worker in every five is a woman. We are well in advance of that sort of thing, but we are still far from satisfied. It is true that the conditions under which the women work have improved during the last few years, for they are now provided with overalls, have adequate female supervision and are provided with separate rest rooms and toilet facilities, but it is not congenial work for a woman and we should dispense with it at the earliest opportunity.
The Bill is not as progressive as it might be in regard to the employment of young persons. It says that no one under 16 years of age shall go underground 1378 unless it is in the course of training. That merely legalises the present practice. In Scotland, at the moment, there are no boys under 16 at the face and only 46 elsewhere. I understand from the figures given yesterday that, in Britain as a whole, there are about 3,000 boys under 16 working underground, and I feel that this is not a very progressive provision in this Bill. I think that 18 would be a much better minimum age for boys to go underground, because a boy of 18 is much more developed physically, and possibly mentally, than he is at 16.
The Reid Report of 1945, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Lanark, said that, at that time, the United Kingdom was almost the only country in West Europe with comparable conditions in which youths under 18 were employed underground. For example, in Poland, the minimum age pre-war for employment underground was 18. The Minister shakes his head, but that is what the Reid Report says, and Poland was hardly regarded by anyone as being a progressive country before the war. Only in Germany, in the Ruhr, according to the Reid Report, were boys allowed underground under the age of 18.
As far as working hours are concerned, Clause 113 (1, a) lays down that these boys shall work a maximum of nine hours a day and of 48 hours a week. It seems strange to me that the maximum hours agreed upon for juveniles should be greater than the hours to be worked by adults, and I should like to see incorporated in the Bill a provision that these juveniles should work a seven-hour day, whether underground or on the surface. Indeed, the 1919 Act, which followed the Report of the Sankey Commission provided for a seven hour day for all miners, and it was only after the defeat of 1926 that that was lost. It seems to me that, if we want to give this Measure really progressive characteristics, we ought to aim at something better than was provided for by the 1919 Act and the Sankey Commission.
Now let me turn to the question of medical examinations. Clause 91 calls for a medical examination on entry into the industry, but that is not enough. We have heard considerable talk about the scourge of pneumoconiosis, and I believe I am right in saying that this disease, like so many others, if taken in the early 1379 stages, can be dealt with much more effectively than if it is allowed to go on until later. I should like to see incorporated in the Bill a provision for periodical examination, and I am fortified in that view by again examining the position in some of the European countries. In Belgium, for instance, there is a medical examination every two years for underground workers. In France, there is a periodical examination, and, very often, an extra one specially for youths.
If we look at the 1949 Report of the International Labour Office Coal Mines Committee, dealing with its third session, in which it devoted its attention to the protection of young men employed underground in coal mines, we find that it has this to say:An initial examination"—such as is provided for in this Bill—is not considered to be sufficient.That is the considered opinion of a committee of the International Labour Office. The Report goes on— and this excludes the United Kingdom:In many cases, repeated examinations are made and records are kept to show the effect of mine work upon the young workers concerned.I would appeal to the Minister to try to incorporate more progressive provisions in this Bill. The mining industry is increasing its mechanisation enormously, and it is becoming increasingly a young man's industry. We cannot do without the experienced miner, but the pace and tempo of the mining industry are such that it is becoming a young man's industry and must attract increasing numbers of young miners. It is just that kind of provision for medical examination on entry and periodically throughout his career, together with the reduction of hours until such time as he has gained the experience necessary in a highly mechanised job, which would stamp this Measure as a really progressive Measure, which would attract the necessary labour into the industry that we all desire to see, and which would give to the workers the prestige and dignity which have been so long denied them.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitch am)
I cannot claim either personal experience of the mining industry or any particular constituency interest in mining, and, therefore, I do not feel competent to express 1380 judgment on some of the technical matters which arise in this Bill; but, equally, I do not feel that this lack of detailed knowledge of the industry is or should be a disqualification for taking part in the debate.
It has always seemed to me, particularly in relation to the mining industry, that we ought to create the impression that this important subject of industrial welfare is a matter of general interest to the House and to the public at large, and it is, therefore, a good thing that hon. Members in this House and members of the public outside who do not live in mining areas should show their interest in and try to understand some of the problems, difficulties and dangers involved. I speak largely because I have always had a particular interest in the subject of industrial welfare, health and safety conditions generally. I believe that it is a most important function of Parliament to control conditions and protect individual workers in industry generally, from the danger of accident and ill-health
In the last century, to introduce a Mines or Factories Bill was a novel and controversial thing to do, and we know the controversy that surrounded the early attempts to control and improve industrial working conditions. Now, to introduce a Bill of this character is no longer novel or controversial, but there is, in that very lack of novelty, some danger of complacency. Because it is no longer controversial, it does not mean that it is no longer necessary for this House to debate and legislate on the subject of factory welfare, health and safety at repeated intervals.
I welcome this Bill for that general reason, and particularly because the mining industry, it has always seemed to me, as someone who has lived and worked outside a mining area, is perhaps the most dangerous of the industrial occupations in which any of our people have to engage.
This Bill makes a great step forward in this field. I think it is a good Bill, and I am glad to hear the tone of most of the speeches from both sides of the House supporting that view, particularly in view of some of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) yesterday in opening the debate for the Opposition. I thought it was a great pity that the right hon. 1381 Gentleman called this a rotten Bill, though I agree that, later in his speech, he himself drew attention to a number of points which need very careful consideration.
This Bill needs amendment in Committee, and perhaps serious amendment. I have been rather worried by what I have heard from both sides of the House today in regard to the inclusion of quarries with mines, and I am also worried about the question of placing responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual mine manager. These are important points, and there are others as well. But these are all points which can be dealt with by Amendment. The Bill as a whole, in structure and purpose is good, and I am glad to welcome it. The points of outstanding difficulty need to be thrashed out by all of us, for the one purpose of making this Bill right, in detail as well as in principle.
One of the characteristics of the Bill which has been remarked upon by many hon. Members on both sides of the House is that it does not attempt to lay down detailed, particular conditions. On the contrary, it lays down general principles, leaving them to be worked out by Regulations as may be advisable. This may lead to the vagueness about which we have heard complaints, but I believe it is a right and essential provision in this type of Bill. It is impossible to have legislation of this sort at frequent intervals, and if we are to keep pace with constantly advancing knowledge and practice in mining or in any other industry we must give the Minister responsible a particularly wide latitude in the making of safety and health regulations to bring new ideas and knowledge into practice. Therefore I have no objection to the scope that is left to the Minister to deal with problems by means of regulation.
However, like some other hon. Members, and particularly some of my hon. Friends, I feel most strongly that there ought to be Parliamentary control of the regulations and I would add my plea to the others that have been made that the Minister should consider making the regulations which he introduces under the Bill subject to the negative procedure of this House.
There are two sections of the Bill which I particularly welcome. I am glad to see 1382 the importance given to the health aspect as against the purely safety aspect of the work in mines and quarries. Accidents and sudden death by accident in mines are dramatic events which rightly receive great public attention and great sympathy from everybody in the country, but over the years there have probably been more unhappiness and misery from industrial diseases associated with the industry than from terrible accidents causing sudden loss of life. I am very glad that this aspect of the matter should be given so much attention. Dust control, for example, receives prominence, and there is also the matter of medical examination which was mentioned by the Hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton).
I agree with the views that he put forward. Initial medical examination is not sufficient. Examination should be recurrent in the life of those who work in this industry. I am not sure that the hon. Member interpreted the Bill correctly in saying that it only makes allowance for initial medical examination. Clause 91 says:provision may be made by Regulations for requiring persons employed or seeking employment at minesto be medically examined. I should like my right hon. Friend to clear up that point. I am under the impression that it would be possible for Regulations to be made at some future date for recurrent medical examination for those employed in the industry.
I hope that, parallel with the Bill, there will be continued pressure for research into all health matters. I have one or two examples in mind. I believe work is going on upon the development of automatic machines for dust recording in mines. That would be a most important adjunct to the control we can exercise, from the point of view both of explosion and ill-health. There is a further point. As our mines become worked out and we therefore have to dig deeper into the earth in order to win more coal, the effects of humidity and high temperatures upon the workers will become more important. This is another subject into which research is necessary. I believe it is going on, but it should be pressed forward and we ought to keep our attention on that matter.
I was rather shocked and surprised— perhaps I ought not to have been, be- 1383 cause I ought to have known about it—when I looked at the statistics the other day of the occurrence of beat diseases. I was disturbed to see the incidence of beat knee. That is another matter upon which research and investigation are going forward.
Like the hon. Member for Fife, West I am glad to see provisions in the Bill regarding the employment of women and younger workers. It is a long road from the first Act of Parliament of the last century, limiting the hours and days of work of women and children or preventing them from doing certain industrial employment. I suppose it is a road of which we shall one day reach the end, but I do not believe we are there yet.
I welcome this further limitation on the employment of women and young workers, but I rather feel that the hon. Member for Fife, West may be going too far in wanting no women at all to be employed. Of course I agree with him in relation to the sort of work to which he was referring, but in other branches of industry I have seen how mechanisation and new invention can convert heavy, dirty and unpleasant jobs into operations which can well be carried out by women. It would be a mistake to put in any Act of Parliament a Section to prevent absolutely the employment of women in this industry.
The hon. Member also expressed concern about boys being allowed to work underground before the age of 18. We have heard references to training being used as an excuse for making boys do what really amounts to underground jobs, but that can be prevented under the Bill. If we refer to the Bill we find that boys are only allowed to go undergroundfor the purpose of receiving instruction of such description as may be prescribed.There is adequate power in the Bill for regulating the sort of instruction which boys under the age of 18 can receive underground, and I therefore feel that the fears of the hon. Member for Fife, West are groundless.
One or two hon. Members have mentioned the Mines Inspectorate. This seems one of the most important aspects of safety. On the inspectors is placed very great responsibility not only for the enforcement of the Bill, but for allowing 1384 relaxations of regulations or making them more stringent in any particular case. That is a very great responsibility to place on that body of men. As we look into the future, we hope for increased technical development and production in the mines, and therefore I believe that this great responsibility, which at present rests on the Mines Inspectorate, will increase still further in the years ahead. I join in paying tribute to the great work done by the Inspectorate in the past. I would also ask my right hon. Friend to keep this question of the Inspectorate very closely in mind.
Like my hon. Friend who spoke a short time ago, I am disturbed when I hear that the Inspectorate is not at this moment up to strength. It is quite a considerable proportion below strength. In view of the extra responsibilities which I believe are likely to fall on the Inspectorate in the years ahead, I would query whether the strength of 180 would be sufficient. I ask my right hon. Friend, from month to month and year to year, to watch this matter very closely. The number of inspectors must be adequate and the conditions and pay of the service must also be kept up to date and competitive with other callings. We make a mistake in this country, or perhaps it is not always a mistake, of depending on the good will of people who take on important work, and sometimes I feel that we do not pay enough regard to the material conditions, pay, promotion and status which go with it. I do not think that we are entitled always to rely on people coming forward merely because of the responsibility of the work.
Their training must also come under review. I mentioned earlier the importance which I attach to health aspects. There are tremendous advances being made year by year in all these matters, and it is vital, as I see it, that the Inspectorates' training should also be reviewed at regular intervals. There is the question of refresher courses in this and allied subjects. I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will give the attention to that matter which it deserves because it is by attention to that matter that we are going to give this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, the flesh and blood which will have a practical effect on the lives of those who work in these industries.
1385 Finally, I wish to say a word or two about what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale said yesterday on safety and production being mutual enemies. I was glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) touched on this earlier today. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was far too depressed and far too gloomy and, indeed, perhaps too alarmist about this subject yesterday. Of course, whether it be in ordinary manufacturing industry or in the mines, to press for great production without proper preparation and care can produce danger. That may be particularly true of mining, but I do not believe that they are necessarily mutual enemies, as the right hon. Gentleman described them.
For one thing, safety is very largely, I believe, a result of good management in every sense of the word. My experience in manufacturing industry is that the highly-productive factory is usually the factory where there is a high calibre of management in every respect. I think that in these factories we also find good conditions and safety. There is the factor that high productivity in this, as in any other industry, leads to prosperity in the industry, and it is prosperity in an industry which attracts to that industry the best resources of men, materials and capital. Therefore, in that very indirect aspect, an increase in production in this industry will raise its status, the money coming into it and perhaps, most important of all, will raise the calibre of the men who seek to come into this industry and join in its management at every level. I believe that safety and production, therefore, are not mutual enemies.
When I began to speak I said that I had no personal experience of working in this industry, but I have had some considerable experience of working in factories and in particular in a foundry, and I know from this experience the tremendous importance of good working conditions and proper measures of safety and welfare. I know that work in a foundry is somewhat different from that in a coalmine, and I am not afraid to say from my own experience that I would not relish having to spend my days working in a coalmine where the work seems to be more arduous and dangerous than 1386 in any other industry. The only conclusion which I draw from this is that I am all the more anxious that we in this House shall do everything we can to promote the safety and welfare and general working conditions of those who have to work in the vital industry of mining and quarrying.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
In the interests of brevity, I shall not make the speech which I intended making yesterday. There is only one point on which I wish to join issue with the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr). That is his reference to women working at the pit. I do not know whether it would be wise to put in a Bill a Clause to prohibit women working at the pit, but I think that they ought to be prohibited as far as possible.
The hon. Member made mention of the fact that there are certain types of work that women can do. While I concede that point, it must also be accepted that there are many miners who cannot do heavy work and who are classified for light work, but who cannot get jobs. I think that it is in the interests of the miners and those partially disabled persons that these men should be given jobs in preference to the women. Whether this should be in the Bill I do not know; maybe it can be done by regulation.
So far as the debate has gone there is one factor which has emerged out of it on which we are practically unanimous. It is that it is rather a pity that this is a Mines and Quarries Bill rather than just a Mines Bill with a separate Quarries Bill to come later. The two industries are very important but they are quite distinct, and the dangers in one industry are not the same as the dangers in another industry. Therefore, I think it would be better for the House to concentrate on one particular industry so that we might be able to get rid of the vagueness surrounding the matter. We regret that the Bill deals with mines and quarries, and we hope that even now the Minister will change his mind and decide to go in for a Mines Bill only and a separate Quarries Bill later.
The test always applied to an industry is the test of production. If I asked hon. Members opposite when the mining industry reached its peak, with one unanimous voice they would say that it was 1387 in 1913. They would say that because, in 1913, we raised 287 million tons of coal. But they never make any referance to the social conditions of the miners, nor to the safety conditions of the miners at that time; and, of course, only two years before 1913 we had to have the Act of Parliament which is still in operation. All through the years after 1913 the test was always the test of production when the question arose of whether a pit was efficient or whether it should be equipped with all modern amenities.
In later years, and particularly since nationalisation—and I am not making a political point, because I do not wish to make a political speech—more facilities have been given to the miners, which I am sure even hon. Members opposite will agree they ought to have. Social improvements and many safety measures have been introduced into the mines by virtue of regulations which have been made necessary by the revolutionary change which has taken place in the industry. Mechanical power has, to a great extent, replaced manpower.
It is only because of nationalisation that we have this Bill. I do not mean that in a political sense, but in this sense: with all due respect to private owners, they could not have carried out the reforms which have been necessary in the mining industry, they could not have invested the capital and introduced the equipment, they could not have introduced all the mechanical power needed in the mining industry. I am not saying that in a political sense; it is simply that they could not have done it. As a result of nationalisation and the introduction of machine power into the industry, the risk has become greater and men have become more exposed to danger.
Yesterday, the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) said:Actually, if one looks at the accident figures for the period between 1925 and 1938, one finds that they went down by more than 33⅓per cent. In the period since the war, which includes nationalisation, they have only gone down by 10 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1289.]The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) joined issue with him, and I made an interjection in column 1298 1388 The figures of the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest may be correct; the reduction in the accident rate may have been greater in those years than in the period from 1945 to the present time, but it is the introduction of mechanisation which has made the mines more dangerous than ever they were before. It is because of these factors that we have this Bill. Despite what we think about hon. Members opposite politically, we can always give them this credit— that they will always share a philosophic thought with us that it is far better to have a fence at the top of the pit than an ambulance at the bottom. I believe that that view is shared by all of us.
In the introduction of this Bill the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have done their best— although it is a poor best— with all the information they have for such a Bill. It would, of course, be unwise for any hon. Member to go into the detail of a Bill of this description, with so many Clauses, on Second Reading, when the Committee stage is to follow.
This Bill comes on top of the 1911 Act, which was followed by regulation after regulation. We must pay tribute to the Coal Board and also to the Department, the Ministry, who, throughout the years, have done a lot of good work in connection with safety in the mining industry. In addition, quite useful things have been done even by the private owners.
I hope the Minister will add his blessing to the kind of committee which used to be set up in the past and which, I believe, was more prevalent in the County of Durham than elsewhere— and I refer to our local safety committees, which did a useful job. They had no power to say, "This shall be done," or "This shall not be done," for they were there in an advisory capacity and not all their recommendations were carried out.
After all, the manager is the manager, and I hope he will continue to be the manager after this Bill has been passed; he is the person in charge. But when there are various elements in an industry, it is a good thing for representatives of all these elements to meet around the table and talk with the manager about safety measures. I hope that the Minister will recognise the value of these committees.
1389 I turn, next, to Clauses 2 and 3, which refer to the manager. A great deal has been said about the position of the owner and the position of the manager, but even yet we do not know where the manager will stand in all these cases. Only two persons have been mentioned— the owner and the manager. If we say that the manager should have responsibility for safety in the working of a pit, that is well and good; but what is the position of the area manager? He is the person who has been omitted from the Bill, and it might be interpreted that the area manager is in charge of the manager. I object to the owner dictating to the manager and I also object to the area manager dictating to the manager about conduct concerning safety in the pits. The manager ought to be in a position to refuse any dictates from above if, in his opinion, it would be unsafe to carry them out.
Perhaps I may give an example of where there might be a conflict. Consider the length of face on the conveyor system. I have heard the view that on a long wall face these faces should be only a certain length. In the interests of production an area manager might say that they should be lengthened and that the manager must carry that instruction out, and we want to know what the manager's position would be if he said it was not in the interests of safety to do so. This position might be clarified in Committee. We on this side of the House are determined that the manager shall be responsible for the working in his pit and that in the interests of safety he shall see to it that his pit is run with a minimum of risk.
The question of the number of inspectors was raised and I hope the Minister will give some attention to this. If we are to have the mines properly inspected, then there must be an essential number of men for the job. Any encouragements which can be given to inspectors to come into the industry will be welcomed, and the men will be received with open arms in the industry itself.
This is a Second Reading speech and not a speech in Committee, so I shall not make any further reference to what is in the Bill. I will only say, in conclusion, that there are many things in the Bill that we do not like. There is a cloud 1390 of vagueness about some things in the Bill, and there are too many phrases like "as far as practicable," and "as far as can be reasonably expected." Many of these things will have to be eliminated from the Bill because we must be more definite in these matters.
While I agree that this Bill should deal in broad principles rather than in detail, nevertheless there are some things which have to be considered in detail. I can assure the Minister that we on this side of the House do not intend to hold up the Measure. There is a need for it and we will help it along whether it goes upstairs or whether it is taken on the Floor of the House. While there will be a considerable number of Amendments to be put down that will not be with the intention of filibustering but with the intention of making this Bill better than it is now. This Bill will get its Second Reading in about an hour and a half from now, not for what it is but for what it can be.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I shall be very brief because there are others who want to follow me. I think we all welcome the principles behind this Bill, but there is no doubt about it that the Minister has been advised to try and include in an omnibus Bill industries which do not naturally go together. I want to concentrate my remarks this afternoon on the inclusion of the quarrying industry in this Bill. I have no doubt that the Minister's advisers have tried to be tidy minded and collect together a lot of loose ends under one heading. It is a most admirable intention, but such an intention very often leads to over-simplification, and we all know the pitfalls which can follow from that.
I would very strongly urge the Minister— and I am glad to see my right hon. Friend back in the Chamber— to look at this Bill again to see if it is not possible to take out of it all reference to quarries, and then, in separate parts, or, if possible, one separate part at the end, to cover quarries under one heading. I cannot express my opinion too strongly that the two industries cannot go hand in hand and be governed by the same regulations. There are similarities between them, but this over-simplification will lead in the long run to undue complications.
1391 We in this House have got to remember that it is not only our duty to legislate, but that legislation must be clear, easily understood and simply interpreted in the country. I am quite convinced that to include quarrying in this Measure is going to produce an Act of Parliament which will not be clear, will be very difficult to interpret, and hard to put into practice.
Following from that, the language of the Bill makes for complication and is unnecessarily unwieldy. The drafters of the Bill have been faced with what is an impossible problem in trying to place these two industries under one heading. In consequence, the wording is not clear and in some cases is even ambiguous.
There are a number of minor criticisms which I have to make. I am sorry that my speech should be criticism, but it has to be brief, and so I only want to mention those things of which I disapprove. There is large scope for delegated legislation in this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary last night gave us certain reassurances on that subject, and I shall await with interest to see in what way those reassurances can be framed in the future.
There is the system of management from the point of view of the quarry owner. If the quarries are kept in this Bill as it stands now, the system of management will be top heavy, difficult to interpret, and very difficult to put into practice. There are also very wide powers, quite rightly given to inspectors. I suspect that those powers are given to them largely from the point of view of the mining industry. I have no quarrel with that. It is necessary that inspectors in the quarry industry should have not quite the same wide powers, but powers with a fairly wide scope. What I do object to is that there is no provision for a right of appeal if the manager of a mine or quarry does not agree with the decision of the inspectors.
Lastly—and this is one of my main criticisms—where there are offences against this Bill, it seems to me that from the way that it is drafted at present the burden of proof will lie upon the accused. He must prove his innocence in order to avoid any action which might follow. That seems to me to be going against the whole principles of British justice. If those five points can be recon- 1392 side red between the Second Reading and the Committee stage or even before the Third Reading, and some effort can be made to separate the quarrying industry from the mining industry, I shall be well satisfied with this Measure.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
One compensation for listening for many hours to such a debate as this is to hear the varying views that have been expressed, and to gather how contradictory they may be, how much unnecessary importance is given to some things and how important matters are missed. Have the accidents that have burdened this industry been because of the absence of safety proposals? Is that why we are having this Bill?
Again and again in this debate it has been suggested that accidents in the mines are on the decline. They are not. In 1952 they caused at least three days' absence from work for each miner and totalled nearly 250,000. There are just over 700,000 miners. What would a marshal of the British Army think if he lost one-third of his army every year? That does not indicate an improved safety condition in the mines. The greatest contribution which can be made to safety is for someone to provide a means of compelling observance of the safeguards already devised.
Does anybody here want to read a thriller this week-end? I have in my hand the report of the Ministry of Fuel and Power upon the explosion as Bed was Colliery in Monmouthshire on 10th October, 1952, when, most fortunately, there was one death only. The report is a thriller according to the description of the actual explosion given by the Chief Inspector. The assistant surveyor, who was not a skilled, experienced miner, went into a gas filled section of the mine with an electric lamp in his hat but with a flame lamp in his hand. As he went in, the flame lamp was extinguished. Did he know why? No. He just picked it up and tried to relight it but failed. He attempted to go on with his work, setting up his tripod, but finding himself in difficulty he walked out again, went to his chief surveyor, borrowed his lamp and once more walked in and once again the lamp was extinguished. He then 1393 endeavoured to set up his tripod in darkness and, when that was done, tried to relight the second lamp. There were onlookers present. As he did so, the lamp and everything else went up in flames.
Did that happen because there were no safeguards devised? Did it happen because there was no Mines Act dealing with safety? No that happened, like all the other explosions, because the safety conditions were not observed. The same thing will apply to this Bill when it becomes an Act. There will be the same disregard of elementary conditions of safety and once more probably, as has happened in the past, large bodies of men will be caught in a given place, and there will be an accident within an accident. Hon. Members should read this report of the evidence given— not by the manager.
It has been said here that the manager may be responsible to someone behind him. Yes, but under the manager there is a host of officials. To whom are they responsible? This report repeats scores of other reports of explosions in this country when men have made false reports of what obtained in the mines. In a court of law and under a simple prosecution they would have been committed for perjury, but they perjure themselves every time an explosion occurs. Hon. Members have only to read this report to know it.
How can we compel men to be honest? One great advantage now is that the element of private property has been eliminated from the industry, but there may be still a desire on the part of a lower official to find favour by failing to disclose the facts. The kernel of safety in the mines is to provide some means of compelling the application of the means that have been and will be devised to ensure safety. Until that is done, we shall be repeating occasions like the one I have mentioned, which are inquests upon the tragedy of our mines.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
I feel privileged to follow the many hon. Members who have spoken from long practical experience in the mines. As far as I am concerned, this is not a party Bill and I believe that when it reaches its culmination it will be one which will enjoy the co-operation of every thinking Member on both sides of the House.
1394 The Committee stage will see all kinds of Amendments, but on this Second Reading I want to pay tribute to the Minister and to his advisers for having laid down basic principles for safety in the mines which will be enduring for many years to come. I hope that before this debate is over we shall be able to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who is unique in his position in this House, both in his experience of it and of the mining industry. There is no other like the right hon. Gentleman, whom we respect and revere.
Yesterday, I was attracted by the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), who referred to this Bill as one which should be a charter of safety. That should be our objective in the Committee stage. But not only should this Bill be a charter of safety, it should also be a textbook of safety. I am not impressed by its phraseology and, as we go forward, we should change, simplify, and make it much clearer to the men in the industry who have to interpret it. The expression used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was in direct contradiction to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who said that this was a bad Bill. I can only presume that it was one of his innocent incursions into headline hunting. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is a first-class Bill, but it can be considerably improved as we go on.
I set myself utterly against the proposition of delegated authority. If there was ever a phase of Parliamentary legislation to which that should not apply, it is this Bill. Delegated authority is a bad thing in all circumstances, but it is doubly bad in relation to the mines. During the Committee stage we shall be expected to apply our minds to creating a charter of safety in the mines by strengthening this Bill, and I cannot see it being effective if there is so much delegated authority through so many regulations.
The task will be much more easy if the Minister accepts what I feel is the general opinion of the House, that the quarry side of the Bill should be dealt with separately. I believe that this should be a coal mines safety Bill, dealing specifically, positively and absolutely with that 1395 subject. The circumstances, conditions and technicalities of the quarries are absolutely different, separate and distinct from those operating in coal mining. I believe that we will get a much readier response from the miners if they find, feel and sense that the Bill is in their interests, for their safety and welfare. The emphasis on ownership can be misunderstood.
A question with which I wish to deal briefly was raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) which raised a difficulty in his mind though it does not raise a difficulty in my mind. That is the question of safety and productivity. I believe that safety and productivity can march side by side; we can get increased productivity and increased safety at one and the same time. If any slogan is to be attached to the Bill, it should be that safety must march with productivity and never lag behind.
If we examine the records of other industries in which productivity has greatly increased we find that safety is in direct proportion. We should find out what figures are available in relation to the Bolsover area, where in many pits men are paid on a day rate and not on a production rate. We should see if there is any relation between that and the number of accidents in those pits as against comparable figures for the whole country.
In dealing with quarries, the Parliamentary Secretary relieved our minds to a very considerable extent. I believe that quarries should be a separate part of the Bill, or that a separate Bill should be introduced. I do not want to weary the House with arguments which have been already advanced in regard to collective responsibility for a series of mines, but I have a personal interest in metalliferous mines where a number are controlled from a central spot.
In some cases the mines or quarries are very small and, as this Bill stands, we may be faced with considerable expense in appointing men with high qualifications to deal with the task when it is totally unnecessary in the circumstances. I believe that the Minister is well seized of that point and will take note of it.
I wish to make an observation or two about mines managers. In particular, I make reference to the remark of the 1396 hon. Member for Bolsover, to which I gave hearty accord last night. He said: "None of us ought purposely to exacerbate the feelings of any section of the industry by apportioning blame for the accidents which occur."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1306.]
If that spirit operates fairly and with dignity and common sense it will be well for the industry. We have to accept that we have nationalisation of the mines today and that there is an entirely new set of circumstances and new responsibilities associated with that fact. We have the pyramid of responsibility from Hobart House down to the mines. I have the greatest sympathy with the mines manager on the spot; we must protect him. He is the captain of the ship; his orders must be carried out and his judgment observed.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale questioned the point about the variations and instructions in writing. I have a feeling that in the drafting of this Bill it was thought that some protection should be given to the mines manager from outside interference. In the Committee stage it will be well to look closely at this question. The responsibility of the mines manager has increased in proportion to the degree of mechanisation and the degree of national sense of responsibility to the mines, and all that happens in the mines. Today, the manager's responsibility is greater than ever before.
A point on which I wish to lay emphasis has not been mentioned during the debate. It concerns the use of explosives. I believe that improvement is possible in this respect. We cannot be satisfied nor rest easy on the figures in regard to accidents arising from the use of explosives. I refer to the Report of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines for 1951, page 22, in which it is said:Fatal accidents arising from the use of explosives fell from ten in 1950 to five in 1951, and reportable injuries from 315 in 1950 to 287 in 1951.…This is a point which is very germane—but the comparison with 1939 referred to in last year's Report is still a most unfavourable one. Once again, a very high proportion of these accidents would not have happened if the legal requirements designed to protect the workmen had been observed and if a reasonable degree of care and common sense had been exercised. In one division, the inspectors concluded that all but one of the 32 accidents due to the use of explosives during the year occurred through failure to observe the regulations…1397 There was great play, and, I think, justifiable quotation of statistics by hon. Members opposite in relation to the incidence of accidents and fatalities since nationalisation, but there is one black spot which still stands out and that is related to accidents due to explosions. It may be seen that in 1920 there were 273, and in 1952 there were 323. I therefore draw the attention of the House to this matter and I hope that in the Committee stage it may be given closer attention.
There is no question whatever that every hon. Member opposite who has experience of mining knows that all the regulations and legislation that ever could be made in this House of Commons will fall, fail and be defeated in their object unless there is absolute co-operation between the management and men in the pit and on the face itself. Let us have no illusions about it, there is a degree of responsibility very frequently on both sides and it should be emphasised.
I wish to pay tribute to the mines inspectors of Great Britain—a noble band of men who have carried out great work. I think their handwriting can be traced in various aspects of this Bill. In particular, I wish to refer to the new thinking with regard to strata control. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who is not in his place now, said that it was not precise, technical or absolute, or words to that effect. Of course it was not and it never will be, but there has been a great advance on the position of 20 to 25 years ago and that can be seen by the statistics before us.
Strata control is not absolutely in the control of the management but partly the concern of the men doing the packing and the day to day work and the way in which they do it and their sense of responsibility in this task. Every hon. Member opposite knows precisely what I mean and I hope that arising from this debate this sense of responsibility among the management and the men will be more clear, positive and absolute.
In this connection, the mines manager has a tremendous responsibility. No section of men in any other industry carries such great responsibility with regard to production, to cost and to safety. I think it is time we recognised the special position that these mines 1398 managers hold in the coal mining industry of Great Britain. There has been a tendency in the past to look upon them as the representatives of the owners. They are not the representatives of the owners any more. They are the men who hold responsibilities in the pit itself for the whole operation and safety work of the pit and for the men who lie in it. I want to pay my tribute to them today.
It may have been that in the days of the Earl of Shaftesbury tears were shed in this House. They should have been tears of shame for the conditions in the mines at the time, but some might well have been crocodile tears, because it took 100 years to achieve the standards of today. I hope profoundly, with all the conviction of my heart, that through this Bill we shall persevere to ensure the safety of our mines, with vigour, force and determination beyond anything that was seen in the days of the Earl of Shaftesbury. There may be only a distinguished handful of men in the House who can speak with positive experience of mining, but though the technicalities may be beyond the House the humanities are not. We are determined to make this Bill an outstanding example to the rest of the world of legislation to ensure safety in the mines.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I apologise for not following up immediately the remarks of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), but I shall try to deal with the various points raised in the debate. Two years after the passing of the 1911 Act I went to the pit as a boy of 14 from a non-mining family, and I came out of the pit to Parliament in 1945. So I have considerable experience of working underground. I am pleased that it is my privilege to close the debate for the Opposition on the Second Reading of this Bill. I intend to be critical, but I hope that the House will view my criticism as constructive and that, as a result, we may be able to produce a much better Bill, because we regard this Bill as entirely inadequate. The Minister should not be surprised if he is faced with about 500 Amendments in Committee.
We recognise that the main purpose of the Bill is to state broad principles while 1399 leaving matters of detail for regulations. But in far too many instances there are many principles which ought to be embodied in the Bill which have been relegated to regulations. In many instances a qualified duty is put in the Bill, when there should have been the absolute duty, for something which has been in operation for many years. In many respects we shall be worse off under this Bill than we now are under the 1911 Act.
In the Bill, there are escape words like "so far as is reasonably practicable and as may be reasonably calculated". These words leave the door wide open to the owners and management to escape responsibilities which ought to be an absolute duty. One escape Clause, dealing with the duty of under-managers of quarries and mines to enforce the provisions of the Bill and regulations made under it, includes the words "to the best of his ability." Those words ought to be deleted in Clauses 1, 2 and 6 and a statutory obligation should be placed upon those concerned.
We welcome the provision in Clause 3 to prevent an unqualified person directing a manager against his better judgment, and we welcome the power given to the manager to require that instructions to him should be in writing. This, no doubt, will act as a deterrent to those above him. But it does not go far enough. There should be provision in the statute still to leave the manager in the position of being able to refuse to carry out the written direction if he has no doubt that it would be prejudicial to the safety of his men; and his position as manager should be in no way jeopardised because of that refusal. If his position is jeopardised he ought to have a right of appeal to the tribunal under Clause 149, and there should also be a right of appeal to the tribunal by the writer of instructions so that any deadlock can be resolved.
Secondly, if the manager acts on the written instructions and there are legal proceedings, either civil or criminal, the person giving the instructions and the manager should be liable. Thirdly, where an offence has been committed, and it is proved that it was done with the consent, connivance or facilitated by any neglect on the part of any officer of the owner or 1400 an official of the mine, that person should also be guilty of an offence.
There appear again in Clause 10 the words "without unreasonable delay" and "as soon as practicable." Those words can be the subject of widely different interpretations, and the result could be the frustration of the intention of the Clause. If the manager is not supplied with the information he can get out of his responsibilities. Therefore, it is essential that the obligation should rest squarely on him.
In relation to the paragraph of the Clause dealing with a person appointed by the manager to read the reports, I suggest that such a person should at least have a second-class certificate and that he should report "forthwith." As the Clause stands, it could be anyone whom the manager thought was competent. He must read reports such as deputies' reports, overmen's reports and engineers' reports, and his competency should be made clear beyond doubt in the Clause. It is absolutely essential that he should be someone who knows from practical experience both mining and quarry work, and he should report "forthwith." We regard that as vital to the Clause.
To give an example of how important this question is, one has only to refer to a disaster in Cumberland. At that pit one deputy was reporting the presence of gas every day for weeks. His mates in the opposite shift were reporting none. Here was a case where any intelligent person in mining would have sought an inquiry as to why one deputy was always reporting gas and his mates were reporting none. An investigation arising from those reports at that pit might have prevented a terrible explosion in which a large number of men lost their lives.
Then there is the important question of Clause 12. Could the Minister tell me why the deputy's statutory conditions, embodied in Section 14 of the 1911 Act, are not being put into the Bill but left to be prescribed by regulations? That is a very important point. Just as it is important to lay an obligation for safety on the manager, it is also very important that the safety duties of the deputy should be defined in the statute.
The first essential duty of a deputy is to see to the safety of life and limb of the men in his district. The 1911 Act 1401 laid down that the first duty of the deputy in all parts of mining was not coal production but safety duties known as his statutory duties. It is laid down in Section 14 of the 1911 Act that the deputy must make inspections of every place in his area; he must carry out duties as to the presence of gas, see to the ventilation of his district, see that roof and sides are safe, that there is a plentiful supply of suitable supports within 10 yards of the working places and to the general safety of the men under him.
Also, under the 1911 Act, if a deputy considers that his district is too big for him to carry out his statutory duties, he has the right of appeal to the inspector. The 1911 Act placed a responsibility on the manager to see that he did not make the district too big for the proper carrying out of the duties laid down, and it is important that that condition should be put back in this Bill. It gives the deputy some standing in law against the pressure for coal production of which we are all aware. We must see to it that the deputy acts as the safety man in his district and that output is a secondary consideration. This can be assured only if he is covered by statute, and we suggest that Clause 12 should be so drafted as to ensure that his duties will be no less comprehensive than under the 1911 Act.
Part II of the Bill deals with the safety and welfare in mines. Clause 28 refers to a situation where there is only one way out after an accident. It is noted that under certain conditions men may be allowed to carry on working for 24 hours. I would make it clear that this can operate only with the agreement of the men. I cannot visualise a situation where men would work for that period with only one means of egress. I believe that the maximum time the Minister could get is to the end of the shift in which the accident occurred.
No matter how well intentioned may be their views, no one can guarantee that the remaining outlet will not be affected by another accident within 24 hours, which means that men may have to face hazards because of a decision which others have made. In such a case it should be no defence by the owners that the men were consulted and agreed to stay in the pit. There should be an 1402 absolute duty on the owners. It should be a rigid condition by the men that they will work so long as damages for risk is not endangered by the owners pleading in court that the men were consulted and agreed. Otherwise the union must advise men to stay out of the pit until the ingress or egress is clear. This Clause leaves us in a worse position than was the case under the1911 Act.
I wish to ask the Minister why it is that while under the terms of the 1911 Act only 20 men were allowed to stay in the pit under conditions where there was only one egress, under Clause 28 (4) of this Bill the number has been increased to 30. Surely in this matter the safety factor is still the same as in 1911.
I wish now to refer to the travelling roads and rules which are referred to in Clauses 37 to 42. The escape phraseology in this Bill is tremendous, and in these Clauses it appears again. Here we deal with the height, width and gradient of the roads, and there appear words such as:…in so far as the system of working the mine or the natural conditions of the strata therein render it inadvisable to do so.…And, again, we have the words:…so far as is reasonably practicable.…These words will have the effect of crippling or restricting the provision, especially when they appear in Clause 37 (1, a and b). This Clause should lay a duty on the manager except where exemption is granted by the inspector. I may be told that the inspector can serve notice, but that can be counter-noticed by the manager. The system is too elaborate, and I shall say something about it when I come to Clause 149.
The question of transport rules and travel times will have to be arranged between the men and the manager. It is important that the clearance between the conveyor or the rails should be adequate to allow for the men to travel comfortably. The height of the travelling roads should be six feet and the width should not be less than six feet, up to 50 yards from the coalface. In transport roads, where travel takes place, or in travelling roads with conveyors or rails, there should be a clearance of three feet at each side, and there should be a clearance of three feet between the parallel rail roads that may run along the transport roads. Lower figures than these 1403 ought to be permitted by the inspector only in exceptional cases.
It is also essential that persons ought to be prohibited from working while transport is in operation, or where they are exposed to injury if a truck or a tub should run away, unless effective protection, such as runaway switches on gradients, chocks on rails and all the other appliances, are provided for them. What if there are less than 10 men travelling on the transport roads to long-wall face work; does the provision of stopping the mechanical power not operate for them? The Clause says that times will be fixed only where there are over 10 men.
I come to the important question of ventilation and supports. Clause 48 (1) places a duty on the manager to have roof control, and to support the roof and sides of the road to make them secure. Having done that, the Minister in Clause 48 (2, a) gives the manager a complete defence, and also the Coal Board. If Clause 10, which deals with the reading of reports, is amended, then the manager should have the information. Again the words "reasonably practicable" appear. The imposition of the duty in the Clause is of significance only if it is accompanied by the highest level of vigilance in management. The wider the defence allowed under Clause 48 (2, a), then the less exacting will be the nature of the duty imposed. The words:…reasonably practicable for him to obtain…amendment of all the uncertainties which are bound to arise from conflicting interpretations. In its present form the provision is not acceptable. In Committee we shall seek to amend it. The present statutory position is that a plentiful supply of supports shall always be provided within 10 yards of the working place. There, again, we have the words about it being "reasonably calculated." An obligation must be put on the manager. The Clause would be better if it read that a plentiful supply of timber of suitable lengths should always be available within 10 yards of the working place.
Clause 55 deals with the duty of a manager to provide adequate ventilation. There again, a duty is specified and then an escape is afforded. Subsection (4, a) is far too widely drawn. An accident 1404 could be caused by, or attributed to, a manager not carrying out the duties imposed on him under subsection (1). For instance, a return which had been neglected for months might collapse, causing a man to meet with an accident, and it could be argued that the ventilation was interrupted by a breakdown. In these circumstances it would be held in the legal proceedings that there was no breach of the statutory duty imposed upon the manager in subsection (1).
The Minister should reconsider the subsection and seek advice about the indirect effect of such a provision on the claim for damages against owners in a case arising from the interruption or reduction of ventilation as the result of the employers failing to provide a reasonably safe system of working or a reasonably safe place in which to work.
I should like to know why the minimum limit of 19 per cent. oxygen and the maximum figure of 1¼ per cent. carbon dioxide which were embodied in Section 29 of the 1911 Act have been omitted from the Bill. We may be told that it is the intention to lay down these limits in the regulations, but we are of opinion that they should be stated in the statute.
In connection with temperatures in the pit we again encounter the words "so far as is reasonably practicable." Those words should be deleted. Matters of reasonable working conditions of temperature, humidity of atmosphere and the amount of dust in the atmosphere should now be governed either by regulations or statute. No standard has ever been laid down, and we have now reached the stage when this should definitely be done.
Men can work fairly comfortably in a high temperature if the atmosphere is dry and a good current of air is provided for them, but in a saturated atmosphere, which is oppressive, a wet-bulb temperature of 75 Fahrenheit is high. I suggest that the following should be stated in a regulation or in the statute: "The wet-bulb temperature in any working place shall not exceed 80F. unless it is exempted by the Divisional Inspector of Mines. If, however, the inspector is of the opinion that a lower temperature is excessive in any working place, he shall give notice that the ventilation shall be improved."
1405 There ought now to be another formula to guarantee the cleanliness of the air throughout a mine. A formula has been devised as a result of a great deal of research, and during the Committee stage we shall argue that it should be incorporated in the Bill.
It has been the practice for years to withdraw men from the coalface when conditions of 2½ per cent. of gas in the atmosphere obtain. The Royal Commission recommended that the figure should be reduced to 2 per cent. and we consider that effect should be given to that as soon as possible, but in the Bill the Minister has adhered to the old formula of 2½ per cent. in spite of the Royal Commission's recommendation.
Clause 107 relates to inquests in the case of death by accident. The trade unions are very disturbed about the Clause. It is most objectionable that in Clause 107, dealing with inquests in cases of death by accident, the inspector is recognised and the trade unions are entirely ignored. Under Clause 104, the unions will receive notification of an accident, but, under Clause 107, they have no power to obtain notification of the inquest on a man who has been killed, to obtain copies of the plans, to see the statements that have been made before the inquest, and no right to be represented when our own members are giving evidence at the inquest. We shall ask the Minister that, just as the inspector is entitled to all these things in regard to the inquest, the same facilities should be provided for the association which is looking after the interests of the man concerned.
Much has been said by other hon. Members on Clause 111, and I will only endorse what they have already said, except that I want to add a comment on one of its provisions. What does the Minister mean by "reasonable notice." Is the manager to determine what reasonable notice is? Is it to be 24 hours, 48 hours or a week? Everyone knows from experience that, when a man makes a complaint, it is essential that the inspector should go at short notice to the pit and have a look, but, under this provision, the manager can say, "You have not given me reasonable notice," and some considerable time might elapse before the complaint is actually investigated. This Clause must be revised, and more power 1406 given to the inspectors in this respect. Two days a week is absolutely no use for inspection in large collieries, because they could not cover the ground in 24 days a year, and I therefore ask the Minister for this provision to be deleted.
We have now reached the stage when no more women ought to be employed on the screens or in the preparation of coal. I do not refer to canteen workers, office workers and nurses, but I do say that it is just about time that we put an end to the employment of women in the dirty, dusty job on the coal screens. We ask that, from the passing of this Bill, no more women should be employed in this capacity, but that those who are there now should remain, and, in the course of time, they should be entirely eliminated from this kind of work.
On the question of the employment of young workers, I should like to say that the Parliamentary Secretary has been very ungenerous to the previous Labour Government because, when we tried in 1944 to raise the age of young workers to 15, it was the present Lord Waverley, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who opposed it, and we take some credit for having raised the age to 15.
I want to deal now with Clause 149, concerning the settlement of disputes. This machinery is far too elaborate. Notice is given to the manager by the inspector, the manager can give a counter-notice, and then the matter goes to a referee. Failing agreement on the choice of referee, the appointment is made by the Lord Chancellor, but what is to happen in the meantime I cannot tell. The 1938 Commission pointed out in their Report that the provision which is now incorporated in this Bill, which was also included in the 1911 Act, was absolutely ineffective. Therefore, we suggest that the Minister should take up the recommendations of that Commission and set up divisional tribunals with trade unionists and mining engineers as assessors. Then, all these matters that are referred to in the Bill can be decided at the district level and an immediate decision given, without all the elaborate machinery which has been provided in this Clause.
I have been critical of the Bill, and in particular of the phrase "reasonably practicable." There is a High Court decision, which was made in the case of 1407 of Edwards versus the National Coal Board. It is to be found in the 1949 All England Law Reports, Volume 1, page 743. In the course of his judgment on what was "reasonably practicable," Lord Justice Tucker of the Court of Appeal said:I do not hold the view that cost must necessarily always be excluded as an element to be weighed in the balance.In these safety measures, financial considerations in a court of law can play havoc with the Bill because of terminology such as "reasonably practicable."
There are other points I would have liked to raise, but I shall conclude by saying that we shall give the Bill a Second Reading, shall seek to amend it in Committee, and shall seek assurances from the Minister in regard to many of its Clauses. We shall endeavour to make the Bill a shield to protect the health and lives of the men who work in the mines. Their jobs will always be hazardous, but it is our duty to reduce those hazards if we can. To that end we shall lend our labours.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I think it will be useful if I reply straight away to one very important question which was put to me by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who has just sat down, if I may have the leave of the House to do so. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
The hon. Member said that there were far too many escape clauses in the Bill and that the words "so far as practicable" and other phrases of that kind appeared too frequently in it. The impression was derived by some hon. Members that the Bill marks a retrograde step on the present practice under the Act of 1911. The explanation is that the Act of 1911 had a general escape clause which is not contained in this Bill. It said:The owner of a mine shall not be liable to an action for damages as for breach of statutory duty in respect of any contravention of or non-compliance with any of the provisions of this Act if it is shown that it was not reasonably practicable to avoid or prevent the breach.In the course of our consultations before we drew the present Bill and presented it to the House, it was clear to all 1408 of us that that general escape clause went much too far. On the other hand, the view that it is necessary to make some qualification in any absolute provision when dealing with natural forces is common to both sides of the House. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), for example, put forward the idea that if we pushed our safety too far there would not be any coal at all. Thus, while not wanting to make improper use of that escape clause, we all know that the line has to be drawn somewhere.
It is an advance in the Bill that we can consider with regard to each of its important provisions how that line should be drawn. We have put forward in the Bill the basis that we propose, and it will, naturally, be a question for careful consideration in Committee. I am sure that hon. Members who will be on the Standing Committee will want to examine each of these cases very carefully.
I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) that I ought to be gratified on the whole at the way in which the Bill has been received. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale himself described it as a "rotten Bill." Considering the capacity of his vocabulary and the free use that he makes of it on occasions that seem fit to him, I took that as qualified praise.
I was very interested to hear the speeches of the mining Members of the House in dealing with a great many of the practical questions in the Bill. I do not like to single out anybody, but the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) made very interesting points to which I will refer, as well as to some other questions put by many hon. Members. I hope, also, to deal with some of the general questions that were raised in the debate.
First, may I assure my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East that I am advised that the onus of proof that the Act or regulations have been contravened does lie clearly upon the prosecution. I should like to deal with what the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) said about the welfare Clauses in the Bill. They are, in fact, applied to quarries under 1409 Clause 103. I should also like to tell the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) that periodical medical examination of young entrants is, in principle, agreed, but we are, in fact, awaiting the improvement of the medical facilities before we bring that forward.
I think I should make special reference to Scotland, or I may be misunderstood. I should like particularly to refer to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), and also by another hon. Member, particularly in regard to silicosis. It is true, unfortunately, that pneumoconiosis in Scotland is bad, and in particular in that district, even though the mines are wet mines. The trouble is that although there is a film of wetness on the coal the moment the drill gets to work and penetrates inside, it reaches the dry coal and this begins to produce the dust. I can assure those hon. Members and the hon. Member for Ince with regard to Clause 73, concerning dust suppression, that it is definitely intended to proceed to a general Regulation following the Bill, in order to make the requirements more precise.
We are, unfortunately, not yet in the best technical position to make prescriptions about measurement of dust. A good deal of research is going on with regard to the measurement of dust. As hon. Members know, there are some methods of measuring dust which are by no means satisfactory. I was discussing with the doctor in charge of the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit last week, the work going on to provide a method of continual measurement of the dust that is present, which will produce a record rather like a continuous automatic barometer produces a record of atmospheric pressure. That is a conception to which we attach great importance because of the idea, which is not accepted by all but which is put forward strongly by some experts, that it is not the peak of dust at any one time that matters so much as the average level of dust in the workings of the mine today to which the men are exposed.
The hon. Member for Ince asked me about the possible silicotic content of 1410 stone dust. I made Regulations on that in 1939 when I was Secretary for Mines, and the position is that only gypsum and limestone are allowed, which are free from silicotic content, and in any case a periodical analysis of the dust is made to make sure that that is the case.
The hon. Member for Ince questioned whether I was right in saying that this country led the world in dust suppression measures and in dealing with dust. What he may have overlooked was that we have a much higher standard with regard to the notification of the disease than in any other country. What passes for pneumoconiosis in other countries is nearly always an advanced, genuine case of massive fibrosis or true silicosis whereas, as hon. Members know, we have now a much more refined method of diagnosing the early onset of the disease, and a very great part of those who are receiving benefit are receiving benefit only in respect of 10 per cent. disability, which indicates the mild nature of the stage at which the disease has been caught.
I want to refer to the question which has been raised of whether it is wise to include quarries in the Bill or whether it would have been better to confine the Bill entirely to coal or, as some hon. Members suggested, the National Coal Board. I do not think it would be wise to have an Act which dealt with one great employer alone—the Coal Board—when there are a certain number of licensed mines which obviously ought to be treated, in general, as within the industry. The fact which a number of hon. Members have overlooked is that the 1911 Act does not apply only to coal mines. Of course, those are much the most important mines with which it is concerned, but it also deals with mines of stratified ironstone, shale and fireclay.
It will be seen that the Act is much wider than people think and I, for my part, wish to maintain the position that, far from this Bill lacking in daring and being too small in its approach to the matter, we were right to come to the logical conclusion that all extractive industries ought to be brought within the sphere of one general statute provided, of course, that we can see that in that statute each of these different industries and their needs are dealt with in a satisfactory way.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The great difficulty then arises that in order that we may deal with the particular circumstances of the pits, as against the quarries, we have to leave far too much for the regulations. It is not broad or wide or daring to talk about the extractive industries, because we are told by our advisers that the technical differences between the winning of stones from quarries and the winning of coal from the pits have very much diverged in the course of the last 40 years.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think it is a good one. When I was engaged in taking the Factories Act through the House, exactly the same point arose. In fact, Parliament decided that quite small factories dealing with small, knitted activities, for example, and great ship repair yards and an enormous mass of industries of an entirely different character, could be satisfactorily dealt with under the main, wide Measure of the Factories Act; and although there may have been some apprehensions, in practice the regulations have been made in an appropriate way and, as far as I have found, there have been no serious complaints.
§ Mr. Lloyd
It is not evidence, but not were the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman evidence. We are both putting forward our points of view. He put his forward and I am now putting mine forward.
I think the scheme is perfectly sound. There are a large number of sections of the Bill where this is clear. For instance, mines and quarries are at present all inspected by the same body of inspectors; all that is common form. The inspectorate sections of the Bill, therefore, are appropriate to both these industries. So it is with many other matters, such as penalties and notification of accidents. But, of course, the real point is—and I think the right hon. Gentleman rather misunderstood me, though perhaps I did not make myself sufficiently clear yesterday—that it is the idea of this Bill that we should only state broad principles in it, and we should leave a great deal 1412 to the regulations that are made under it. I am going to deal with that question a little later, from a different point of view.
I want to make it clear that the existing Quarries General Regulations will remain under Clause 164 of the Bill, and that when there is an opportunity or need for changing these regulations, then, of course, they will be dealt with as completely separate from anything for the coal mines.
I should like to turn now to a very important and interesting question that the right hon. Gentleman raised at the beginning of the debate about the position of the colliery manager. First of all, although I am much interested in what he said, I am not quite sure that there is so much difference between us as would appear on the surface. I have, naturally, proceeded in this matter with very great care, because it is an important, legal matter. It was considered very carefully by the Royal Commission, and they did say that they took an absolutely different view from the right hon. Gentleman, who kept on saying "Why should we have the owner in the Bill? We only need the colliery manager." I think the right hon. Gentleman is being unduly conservative on that particular point.
The Royal Commission says that the owner should beprimarily culpable and liable to penalty for any breach of the law,and if the right hon. Gentleman wonders why they said that I think he could be answered by one sentence which I would like to read to the House. It is:It is imperative that responsibility for the safe working of the mines should be fixed on the shoulders of those with whom the power lies. This does not mean that powers and duties cannot be delegated under a well-organised system of control. Indeed, that ought to be"—this is the essential point—but the fiction embodied in Section 2 (1) of the Act that the manager always has the 'control, management and direction of the mine' in the case of these big amalgamations must go, and statutory provisions made to correspond with the actual situation.The House will see that that was a provision before nationalisation. It merely leads to the point which I mentioned yesterday, that the Act was already becoming rather out of date even 1413 when the big colliery amalgamations took place, and, of course, it is really more out of date at the present time when the Coal Board has come in, and has extended this form of hierarchy of supreme officialdom, if I may use that word, not merely to some parts of the coalfields, but now over the whole country.
If I may bring the matter down to striking point, I should like to show the House what happened at the Knockshinnoch inquiry and mention the line which the trade union representative took. He said:In this inquiry we know of other persons involved in the management and direction of this colliery"—other than the colliery manager, that is. He then mentioned certain names, and went on:I could even go further and mention other persons at divisional level. All these persons seem to be exonerated of all responsibility under the Coal Mines Act and the regulations. I am sure that many of these people have more say and power in the direction of Knockshinnoch Colliery, or any other colliery, than the management and agent… Every one of these persons is acting, in my opinion, as an agent on behalf of the Coal Board, and, in my opinion, should have the same responsibilities under the Act and regulations.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry to interrupt because I know that the right hon. Gentleman has not much more time, but surely that is a reason for the more specific identification of the responsibility of the colliery managers? As I said yesterday, once everybody is in, there is a dispersal and ambiguity of responsibility which we deplore. I am quite frank about it. The right hon. Gentleman has not agreed with the Royal Commission in some respects and I do not agree with it in this respect.
§ Mr. Lloyd
If I may take up the point of the right hon. Gentleman, I thought we might be more in agreement than would appear when he said that above the colliery manager it should be a matter of internal organisation within the Coal Board. I agree with that. If that is the case, however, I think the Bill is right 1414 in specifying that the Coal Board must tell the inspector exactly what are the duties of these people within the organisation, so that it is possible to fix the legal responsibility upon the people who have effective power.
That is the position which I take up, and for which I think there is a great deal to be said. In actual practice, if the Coal Board could do as they liked, if, so to speak, they were relieved of all legal responsibility, and all responsibility was focused upon the colliery manager, what an unfair position it would be for the colliery manager to be in.
We must realise that one endeavour of this Bill has been to give the colliery manager protection. Indeed, some hon. Members do not think we have gone far enough. If the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman were adopted he would need 10 times more protection than we have been able to afford in the Bill.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The obligation is put upon these people for the fundamental purpose of protecting the men.
Now may I deal with the regulations. The House has always taken the view that factory and mine legislation comes into a rather special category from the point of view of delegated legislation. That has been a general view which has been adopted partly because of the changing nature of the technical substratum upon which the Acts have to work. Safety Acts for mines have long existed upon the basis of the regulations being made by the Minister after consultation with both sides of industry, and if a complaint is made, there is provision for a reference to the referee appointed by the Lord Chancellor. If such a referee upholds the complaint, the Minister has a duty to give effect to the substance of it.
Broadly speaking, that was the basis of the provision in the older Acts, in the Act of 1911 and in the present Bill. The complaint against it that has been made would have been immensely stronger if it could have been shown that this procedure had given rise to considerable abuses during the many years in which the Act existed, but it has not, it has worked smoothly and well. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it has worked smoothly and well, I quite understand the point about the overriding responsibility of this House and that is certainly 1415 a matter which we ought to examine in Committee.
There are two types of regulations, however. There is the general regulation which covers all the industry and there is the special regulation which deals with, say, the amount of explosive that shall be allowed to go into a certain pit and the circumstances of its use there. I hardly think that Parliament would want to be bothered with that type of regulation.
Lastly, may I deal generally but definitely with the question of workmen's inspection? Many points have been raised about that today and, although I have not time to go into all the detail of it now, may I say that we believe in the system of workmen's inspection. We want it to be put on a satisfactory basis, and we have done our best to bring forward arrangements which have not been suggested without discussion with various parties. If, however, the view is taken in Committee that we can improve the provisions for workmen's inspection, we shall be ready to take part in discussions in order to get a thoroughly satisfactory basis. That applies not only to that particular detail but to all the Clauses of the Bill, which I hope all of us—particularly mining hon. Members—will help to make a really great statute.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.