HC Deb 01 July 1954 vol 529 cc1641-50

Amendment made: In page 114, line 31, column 3, at beginning, insert: In section one hundred and fifty-one, subsection (5)."—[Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]

Motion for Third Reading—(Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.)

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time." The House has heard enough from me today and I do not want to detain it for any length of time now. We have often been told that it is a long road that has no turning. I believe that during the course of our deliberations on this Bill we have proceeded down a long road. From time to time I seem to have hit my head upon a projection, and we seem to have negotiated some pretty stringent gradients, doubtless when making our way through faults, but we have now nearly come to the end of the road.

My view is that the hope expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House in the Second Reading debate has been achieved, namely, that we have succeeded, by the immense amount of work we have put in during the various stages of the Bill, in improving it very considerably and making it a really worthy successor to the 1911 Act by taking this further step forward in the progress of making safety and welfare in the mines a reality and an assurance, so far as it is possible to give any assurance, to those who are employed in the mines. I do not propose, at this stage, to go into the details of the Bill, but I hope that those hon. Members who have not done so much talking as I have will have an opportunity of expressing their views upon it.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Pryde

I suppose it is only right that a voice from Midlothian should utter a welcome to the Third Reading of the Bill. It may interest the House to know that the first charter in regard to coal mines regulations was written by John Chisholm, of Eskbank, who was secretary of the Lothians Coal Owners' Association and lived one mile from where I live at present. I pay a tribute to the Committee for the work it did on the Bill, because it is a tremendous Bill with wide ramifications.

The law in Scotland is interpreted in the sheriffs' courts of Scotland. I hope and trust that the Bill will, when it becomes operative, confer on the mining community all the benefits the Committee intended that it should as it arduously worked on it. I strike this note because I come for a cautious strain. I speak with heartfelt sympathy with all who have suffered in the mining industry because I come from a mining family that has made sacrifice of life and limb in the industry.

10.0 p.m.

Sir T. Moore

The whole mining industry owes a great debt of gratitude to the Minister, the Attorney-General and the Parliamentary Secretary. I have never seen a group of Ministers who have so fairly represented common humanity and tolerance as well as receptiveness to the feelings of the House as those three have on this Bill. The Minister has shown a receptive quality, a wise tolerance and a humanity of which he will be proud when the Bill becomes an Act. The Attorney-General's lucidity of explanation in unravelling all our difficulties has been a source of constant wonder, and all the way through the work on the Bill the Parliamentary Secretary has been a tower of strength.

I would also pay tribute to the Standing Committee that toiled and moiled over this Bill for three months, and that made a very good job of it, I think. I would also pay a tribute to the Opposition, especially those Members who represented the party opposite in the Standing Committee. Their wide experience and knowledge of the industry, their deep humanity, and their personal contact with the industry were of tremendous value to those of us who did not enjoy so wide a knowledge and experience of it. They deserve a large meed of credit with the industry for the contributions they made to the completion of the Bill.

On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), with his somewhat exaggerated language, described the Bill as … a rotten Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 21st January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1223.] I could not possibly agree with that description, but I think there were certain defects in the Bill that are obvious to all of us. The main one was the imposition on the quarrying side of the industry of the rather heavy managerial structure that was so much more suitable to coal-mining. It was made clear from both sides of the House, and immediately my right hon. Friend readily accepted the view of the House and set about reconstructing the Bill in a way that, I think, was quite unique and met with general acceptance on both sides of the House.

There are one or two points that need, perhaps, a little more clarification. Possibly that can be attended to in another place. They are points that my right hon. Friend has not had time or opportunity to deal with on Report. I am quite satisfied to leave it in his hands to see that those matters that are still in dispute, if there are any, receive full consideration. I would again congratulate the Minister, the Attorney-General and the Parliamentary Secretary, and the Members of the Committee, one and all, for the contributions and the help they have given to making this a jolly good Bill.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

As one who played a small part in the deliberations on this Bill, I should like to open by paying tribute to my hon. Friends who have done such splendid work in digging and delving and making it possible for the Bill to reach its present stage. I find it difficult to decide the priorities among them, for they have all done a tremendous job—those who have been on what we call the working party of this side of the House—over the months during which we have been busy with the Bill.

Again I am a little doubtful about the order of priority, but I want also to pay tribute to right hon. Gentlemen opposite. From the Minister we have had consideration and patience. The Parliamentary Secretary has been most gracious and tolerant in endeavouring to meet the intricate points we have raised. The Attorney-General has been most helpful on legal matters. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who has been our legal consultant on this side of the House, is not here, because he has given us a great deal of help on legal matters. We are sorry that as a result of his accident he is unable to be here, and we hope that he will be speedily restored to health.

This has been a miners' Bill. In most Bills which come into the House we have a cross-section, and the legal men on both sides of the House are able to bandy legal phrases across the Floor. In this Bill we have been speaking from practical experience lasting over many years. As a result of what we have done, comparing the Bill in its present state with the Bill which was introduced to us on First and Second Reading, we can say that we have a charter for health and safety in the mines of this country which will last for many years.

In these friendly remarks I should not like to strike a note of discord, but in one respect I am very disappointed in the Bill. Perhaps that can be put right in another place. I am thoroughly ashamed that we have not put a stop to the recruitment of women on the surface of the mines. We had down an Amendment to prevent the recruitment of women on the surface, but it was ruled that it could not be called. There are only about 300 of these women—a relic of the old days when girls and women worked in the pits. It is the last reminder of that state of affairs which once existed in this country and of which everybody is heartily ashamed. I am sorry that the Minister was unable to accept our Amendment and place a bar on the recruitment of women on the surface of the mines of this country.

The last Bill endured for 43 years, since 1911. I feel confident in prophesying that this Bill will probably go the half-century.

10.10 p.m.

Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)

I should like to add a word to the very generous tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) and the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) to the Minister, the Attorney-General and the Parliamentary Secretary for the part which they have played in guiding this Bill through Committee, and bringing it to the stage which we are now considering.

I should also like to say how much we owe to right hon. and hon. Members opposite who gave of their ripe experience and practical knowledge to bring about the real improvements which, I think, we have made in this Bill. Those of us who studied the Bill when it was first presented to the House, formed, I think, the opinion that its success would depend in great measure on the work which inevitably would have to be carried out in Committee. We had a great many sittings and spent long hours in giving exhaustive and detailed consideration to their very wide knowledge of matters which arose in this long and important Measure.

We were fortunate in having on the Opposition benches men who had devoted a great part of their lives to this industry and who, from their great detailed knowledge of the various matters which were under discussion, were able to give invaluable help. It would have been unreasonable to expect that we were agreed on every point that was discussed. Indeed, on a great many points there was a wide variety of opinion. Nevertheless, as a result of these discussions I believe that a great deal of good has been done.

I therefore join with those who have already said that here is a Bill which, when it becomes an Act, we may look on with confidence as being a charter which will serve this industry in good stead. I think that it is a definite improvement on the 1911 Act, and has gone a stage further along the road to health and safety within this industry. I should like to give my best wishes to a Measure which will in due course serve, I feel certain, the industry in which we are all interested, and bring about those things which we all require for the health and safety of the men who spend their lives digging coal and producing the requirements of this nation.

10.13 p.m.

Miss Herbison

I am very glad indeed to have this opportunity of speaking at this stage of the Bill. I was not one of the Members of the Committee—a Committee which did so much work and gave of its time so generously and so willingly. I did, however, throughout the Committee stage, follow the work of that Committee and studied the debates and the Amendments which were made to the Bill.

There is no doubt that the Bill as it appears today is very different from the Bill which we discussed on Second Reading. I think that perhaps there are two reasons for that. In the first instance, I am sure that never before has there been a Committee of this House which had on it so many experts dealing with the subject which was before them. We had on our side of the Committee, almost without exception, men who had worked for a long time in the industry, and who were able to give of their own practical experience a fund of knowledge which was of use to the Committee.

We had also, on the other side, if we may talk about the back benchers of the other side of the Committee, the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), who has just spoken, a Member to whom, in mining debates during my time in the House, I have always listened with the greatest interest. In the field of health, welfare and safety, the hon. and gallant Member has always shown during these years that he has the greatest interest—indeed, an interest as great as that of Members on this side. That was the first reason —that we had so many experts on the Committee.

The second reason was that we had on the Government Front Bench a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary and an Attorney-General who were willing to listen to the experts and to see whether what the experts put forward could possibly be incorporated in the Bill. Although it was a Committee that took a long time over this big Bill, it went through its work harmoniously from beginning to end.

I cannot help thinking, however, that no matter how considerate were the Ministers, many of the propositions put forward from this side would never have found their way eventually into the Bill had the mines still been under private ownership. I have thought all along, when reading the reports of the proceedings in Committee, that the Ministers were helped considerably because they had to consult, not private owners, as was the case in 1911, but a National Coal Board.

We have before us tonight a Bill that will do much to make the welfare and health of those who work in the industry very much better than it could be before the Bill is on the Statute Book. I am, however, very sory indeed that one of our Amendments was not incorporated in the Bill. We may not think that this is a perfect Bill; it is a very good Bill indeed, but I am desperately sorry that the Minister did not accept and include in the Bill our point of view that when it becomes law no women should be allowed to work on the screens or in the filthy work of the pithead. There was a long discussion in Committee on this point, and I was amazed at the speeches that were made by the only two women Members of the Committee.

I live in a mining village where in my young days quite a number of women worked on the screens. I think that only two women do that work today. One of the hon. Ladies who spoke in Committee, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), for whom I have the greatest respect, said: If women do not want to work in coal mines at all, they are strong-minded enough not to do so, and I think that this is not a case 'for eliminating them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 6th Max, 1954; c. 1035.] That shows very clearly that the hon. Lady simply does not know the history of women working on the screens. They no longer follow this practice in my area, because there is alternative employment.

In areas where women still work at this filthy job on the screens, it is mainly because there is no alternative industry. Had the Minister been courageous and said that when the Bill went on to the Statute Book he would stop this practice, it would have been the job of a wise Government to provide the alternative employment for the women in the areas where they have to depend upon the screens.

The hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) took a different line. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) had spoken about the dangers of pneumoconiosis. Those of us who have watched these women working on the screens know what a filthy, dusty job it is. It is a job where the coal dust can enter the lungs and cause this dreaded disease. The hon. Lady the Member for Down. North, said: The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) mentioned pneumoconiosis, but surely women are no more subject to that disease than men are? If the risk is not too great for men, why is it too great for women?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 11th May, 1954; c. 1049.] I do not accuse the hon. Lady of callousness; I accuse her of ignorance in this instance. She just does not know. I am certain that she has never seen a man suffering from pneumoconiosis, as I have. If she had, she would have done everything she could in the Committee to prevent the risk of any woman ever having this dread disease.

I am sorry that this matter had to be brought up on the Third Reading, but I would have been doing much less than what I consider to be my duty if I had not raised it. I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to look at this matter again. The number concerned at the present time, is, I understand, 250. In 92 per cent. of the coalfields there is not one woman employed. In 1911 we said that no women should be employed underground. Let us, 43 years later, say that no woman shall be employed above ground.

I realise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are about to call me to order, and I should like to thank you for being so generous and letting me make these few remarks. Quite frankly, I knew there was danger in raising this issue. I was very sorry not to have been on the Standing Committee. It was not my fault. I urge the Minister, when this Bill goes to another place, to carry out the suggestion I have made. I ant sure that such hon. Members as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) would not want to see women doing this job. I think this is an excellent Measure, but let us make it more excellent still in another place by putting in a Clause which will stop women working on the screens.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. A. Roberts

This is a memorable occasion. This is the first Measure since 1911 concerning the welfare and safety of mineworkers. To me, it is the most important piece of legislation to go through the House this Session. We do not always hit the headlines as is the case with Foreign Affairs, but we are here dealing with the welfare and well being of over 700,000 workers. Personally, I want to congratulate all the Members of the Standing Committee for dealing with this Measure in the way that they did. At one time we thought it was going to be thrown overboard. We have had our anxieties, but I am pleased to think that we can now see the end of the lane, as was said by the Parliamentary Secretary. We have not got all we wanted, but we have got to realise that the Bill which was read a First time in this House has been torn to shreds. That has been brought about largely through the efforts of men who have had experience of mining and by those who have shown tolerance. Possibly some hon. Members cannot understand why some of us should speak with heat and feeling on these matters. It is because we have endured the hazards of mining. We have been through them all. We have suffered, and we realise that it is now our duty in this place to try and make things better for those who are following us in this great industry. It may well be that this will be the last mining legislation to go through this House.

I want to make a brief reference to the roadways. Although some of my, colleagues may not agree, I feel that we have made great strides in this respect. The height and width of roadways was not mentioned in the old Acts, but now we have specified a minimum standard of 5 ft. 6 ins. Only those who were members of the Committee will realise the heated discussions we had and the stories that were unfolded to get this concession. I feel, therefore, that our work has been well rewarded. My hon. Friend referred to female labour, and I hope that it may be possible for those dear girls and women to find more salubrious occupations than working at the pit head. I do not think any members of the Committee liked it.

I shall not make any criticisms tonight because I feel proud that I have taken part in this legislation, which I hope will assist in increasing output and in attracting to our industry more people than it has done in the past. It is not our duty to rake up the sordid past, but to look forward to a bright future in the mining industry, and it is incumbent upon all hon. Members of this House to put the industry on a high pedestal and to see that it remains there.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Redmayne.]

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.