§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [1st July], "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has just said to me that this is the last shift of an arduous and exacting task on which very many people have worked very hard from first to last. I do not think anyone has worked harder at any stage than you did yesterday, Mr. Speaker, on the Report stage, when you were helping to give final effect to hundreds of Amendments and to nearly a score of new Clauses which had been agreed between the two sides of the Committee and the House.
It is a fact which reflects the sovereign merit of our British Parliamentary method that in debates in which opinions were sometimes very sharply divided, so many understandings and agreements were reached in the end. It epitomises and illustrates the value of government by debate. No dictator could have drawn up so good a Bill as this Bill has become. It is now the product of the pooling of years of experience and ideas and, in particular, of the meeting of the minds of many experts at different levels in the coal pits, which no dictator could ever have achieved.
I join with all my heart in the congratulations which have already been offered by my hon. and right hon. Friends to the Minister on having introduced the Bill, on having accepted much of the advice which was so freely given to him, on the spirit which he has shown and 1664 on having carried the Bill successfully through the Committee and the House. We cannot know whether, like the Act which it replaces, the Bill will be the principal statute on the subject for half a century, but we can be sure that the Minister's connection with the Bill will be remembered to his lasting credit for the rest of his political career, which—unless the Boundary Commission removes his seat—will probably be long.
I want to join the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) in the words which he used last night about my hon. and right hon. Friends and I thank him for the generous way in which he spoke. My hon. and right hon. Friends have brought to this subject a wealth of knowledge and experience which only long years down the pit could give. They have brought more than knowledge and experience; they have brought a passionate desire to make things better for those who follow them in our British pits. They have done splendid work, of which the miners for whom they speak and the nation as a whole can well be proud. I know it will be a matter of lasting satisfaction to them to know that they had a chance to help in drawing up this new charter of health and safety in our British mines.
I have one other personal word. We deeply regret the absence of our legal expert, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). He has been kept away by an accident resulting in bodily injury due, like so many accidents in the pit, to overstrain, and to the devoted and unremitting labour which he expended in the service of the nation on this Bill. His great share in its transformation will be remembered here and in the pits, and in the borough which he represents.
The Bill has been prepared on the basis of consultation with the two sides of the industry, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. The Minister could start his preparations for it with the findings of the Royal Commission which reported in 1938 and of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was a member. We all rejoice that my right hon. Friend, who is now the Father of the House, has played a distinguished and active part in the preparation of the Bill.
1665 Everybody agrees that the Bill was urgently required. In the First Annual Report of the National Coal Board. for 1947, these words occur:The coal industry's yearly bill for compensation to the victims of accidents and industrial disease is about £10 million. That is only part of the whole cost in terms of money and is as nothing to the annual toll of human suffering.Ten million pounds a year is 1s. a ton on the cost of coal. I think that shows the vast evil with which we have been striving to deal.
On our side, we have pressed very strongly for the improvement of the Bill, for the raising of minimum standards, for the clarification and the firm establishment of responsibility, for the removal of a multitude of escape Clauses and for the adoption of technical devices and equipment which will reduce the risks of winning coal. I must say with all the emphasis at my command that we have not done so because we have not full confidence in the National Coal Board, or because we think that its approach to the safety problem has been wrong, or that it has shown any inclination to put production before safety, or to risk men's lives to reduce the adverse balance in its accounts which, in the early years, was so keenly, and I think so unjustly, criticised.
I think that the Coal Board's attitude, its policy, its action, has been all that we hoped for when the Board was set up. Almost the first thing it did was to create a national system of safety officers—a chief safety officer at headquarters, divisional safety officers, area safety officers, a safety officer for every considerable pit or group of smaller pits—600 of them in all; to promote accident prevention, to promote safety-mindedness in management and men, to disseminate the knowledge of good practice, to encourage the use of safe techniques and methods and to give a great drive on scientific research.
The Coal Board has done a lot of practical things. Creswell was a grave disaster. It came after 64 fires, caused by conveyer belts, had happened in four years. Today, non-inflammable conveyer belts are being installed to the very limit of manufacturing capacity. The Coal Board is installing stone dust barriers against fire, at great cost. It has gone 1666 in for strata control, appointing strata control officers, knowing that half the accidents in the pits come from falls of ground. The Coal Board is working very hard at improving signalling, transport rules, and so on, because another quarter of the accidents are on haulage and in transport. It has carried out a great safety propaganda and. I think, has achieved a great result.
The number of deaths in 1938 was 858, lower than it had been, for the trend was down. In 1947, the figures were 618, in 1950 they were 476, in 1952 they were 409 and in 1953 they were 364. I touch wood; a great disaster may happen at any minute. But that downward trend, I believe, results from action taken on a large scale and at large expense by the Coal Board. The number of deaths and serious injuries taken together is the truest index of the safety risks. In 1938, there were 3,157 deaths and serious injuries; in 1949, 2,701; in 1952, 2,482; and in 1953, 2,271. The rate per 100,000 man-shifts fell from 1.56 in 1950 to 1.31 in 1953.
The Board has recognised, as we all do, that the rate is still much too high. That is why, in its last annual Report—the Report for 1953—it welcomed the Bill and said it would co-operate wholeheartedly in bringing up to date the technical safety requirements which the Bill lays down. The Board agrees, as we all do, with the view which the Minister expressed on Second Reading—that the Bill has come at the right time. As the Minister said, the lay-out of the pit and the engineering, the organisation, the equipment, are all vital factors, perhaps the greatest factors, in securing safety. The whole of the coal industry is being reorganised, many new mines are being sunk and major changes are taking place in most of the older mines. The Bill will give invaluable guidance to the planning specialists of the Coal Board in this great national task.
May I make a few brief comments on some of the provisions of the Bill? Much of your work yesterday, Mr. Speaker, was in helping to get rid of the words "reasonably practicable" from many Clauses. In Committee, we had prolonged and sometimes heated debates upon that phrase. Our contention in Committee provoked the comment in some quarters that we were trying to 1667 make criminals of the managers. That was utterly foreign to our purpose and to all our ideas. We thought that a multiplicity of escape Clauses might imperil the legitimate and established rights of the workers.
In the end, the Attorney-General helped us to get rid of them by means of a formula which I think gives full satisfaction to all concerned. He said in Committee that he had something which he thought was legally effective and—this is the important phrase—would have the confidence of those who are protected by its provisions. He has. He explained. I believe to everybody's satisfaction, yesterday afternoon, that it also gives the managers and the owners a right of escape which is wholly adequate to their needs.
It was on this issue in Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, who had many contests with the Attorney-General, said that the Attorney-General had made himself "Our right hon. and learned Friend"—and so he has. He told us that he had learned much from miners with whom he served in the First World War. He certainly did, and he has certainly done a good job for the miners now; and we are very grateful.
On other matters, we did not get everything we wanted. On the minimum height of 6 feet for roads, our proposal was defeated by the most reluctant vote of the Chairman of the Committee. That was a technical defeat for 6 feet, but it was a moral defeat for the Minister's proposal of 5 feet, so the Minister wisely compromised on 5 feet 6 inches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) said last night, that is a very real advance.
We had a prolonged debate about the salaries of Her Majesty's inspectors, which are dealt with in Clause 135 (4). Both sides of the Committee combined to knock out the wordswith the approval of the Treasuryand we hope that the Minister will use the liberty and the authority which Parliament has given him to fix the salaries for inspectors which are now required. There are too few inspectors today—only 149 out of an establishment of 186. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) complained that in 1668 Notts and Derby the inspectorate is understaffed, and, what is even more important, that the quality of the inspectorate is imperilled by what is happening now. We cannot get the right men if, like Members of Parliament, just because they are working for the nation, we give them less money than they can get elsewhere. The last news I had was that no adequate offer has yet been made to the inspectors in the negotiations which are going on. I hope the Minister will very soon put that right.
We believe that the gravest blot upon the Bill is Clause 116 which permits the continued employment of women on the surface of the mine. As the Minister told us, this Bill continues the work begun by Lord Shaftesbury in 1842. We regret that in respect of women it does not finish the job. We hope that the National Coal Board, in spite of what appears in the Bill, will rectify the error which, in our view, the Government and the House have made.
May I say a word or two about surface accidents? These are far too high. One only has to look at the relevant appendix in each Annual Report to see that they are far too high compared with accidents in surface work in other industries. On the surface, men are not up against the forces of nature as they are underground, any more than they are in a factory or a railway yard. The layout of the surface, the provision of foot bridges over railway lines, the adoption of safety gadgets of different kinds, the mechanical marshalling of wagons, and so forth, would reduce the surface accident rate, and I urge on the Minister that this problem needs urgent attention by all concerned.
I should like to say a final word on the contents of the Bill. Only one in 10 of the fatal accidents in the pits is due to a big disaster. Last year there was no accident in any pit in which more than three men lost their lives. It is the small accidents, as on the roads, that build up the great toll every year. We must make the miners understand this new law which we have passed. We must give them adequate safety training and we must secure their full cooperation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) said in Committee that once a miner is down the pit 1669 he has seven hours of unbroken concentration. If he relaxes for a minute he may be in danger. I am sure the miners will help to make this Bill fully effective. It gives them a protection which they have never had before. They can show their gratitude and do their duty to themselves, their comrades and their families by giving their full co-operation in every way.
In the same speech in Committee my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth said that while he was working down the pit he had seen three young men killed within 10 yards of the spot where he stood. While I held the Minister's office there happened the three disasters at Creswell, Easington and Knockshinnoch. On the law of averages, it is probable that since we began our debates on Wednesday afternoon three miners have been killed, and 16 seriously injured, brought up in grievous pain on stretchers from the bowels of the earth.
Anyone who has waited at the pithead after an accident, or who has talked with survivors or with the wives and mothers of those who did not escape, does not forget the experience. We hope and believe that this Bill will reduce the cost of human suffering in the industry on which the greatness of Britain still depends.
§ 11.24 a.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
As one who was present throughout nearly all the meetings of the Committee upstairs and the other proceedings on this Bill, and who, having no real firsthand knowledge, contributed little to the deliberations but listened to the greater part of them, I congratulate my colleagues on both sides of the House on the success that they have achieved. I want particularly to congratulate the Minister on the tolerance and patience that he displayed throughout, and also his tireless application to problems behind the scenes as well as in Committee. An immense amount of work was done behind the scenes. In addition, the Parliamentary Secretary loyally supported my right hon. Friend throughout.
I believe, too, that we are very indebted to right hon. and hon. Members opposite who, with their first-hand experience, contributed throughout practical knowledge to our councils. There were, of course, anxious moments. It will be a long time before I hear the words 1670 "reasonably practicable", without some small feeling of nausea. Very often our deliberations were somewhat bedevilled by the legal side which kept intruding itself on the more practical and human question of safety in mines, and we should be very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General who so often came to our help and led us out of these legal jungles.
I am particularly interested in this Bill because I was present on 21st March, 1939, when the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) initiated a debate following the Report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines. At that time, I think we all anticipated legislation in the next Session. We have had to wait a long time for it, but now we have got it we can say that it is' a good Bill, and I hope it will soon be a good Act. I think we have got as high a standard of safety and convenience as can be achieved in the pits without prejudicing the legitimate interests of the consumers who, of course, are today the owners. We should like to get absolute safety, but I think that is an ideal which is impossible to achieve.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) referred to women working on the screens. I have talked to some ladies about that, and the opinion I formed was that they were not so concerned about the continuance of the employment of women on the screens, which they believed would cease before very long anyhow. What they were concerned about was men telling them what they ought to do or ought not to do. I congratulate the Minister, particularly as he is a bachelor, on his perspicacity in avoiding that pitfall.
In conclusion, may I say that in the last 18 years in this House,, except during the time when I was away at the war, I think I have attended every debate On coal on the Floor of the House and upstairs. I have spoken in a number of those debates, and I think I have often been in severe controversy with hon Members opposite. That great struggle for the ownership of the mines, which went on from the end of the first war until 1946, is now over. The side that I was on has lost. We have to be reconciled to that fact, and I think one is becoming so.
But, though that fight is over and has passed into history, the coal industry goes 1671 on. It is a much greater thing than the question of who owns it. We have got to carry it on now in the service of the nation, and look forward and not backwards. After all, there are other great difficulties to face today. In the near view there is the question of output, but ahead I see problems of competition from oil and the like which will make it absolutely vital for the industry to continue to be efficient and economic if it is to maintain its position.
I am very glad that in the proceedings on this Bill which may be the last big Coal Bill in which I shall take part, both sides—though at times we have differed, and, I think, rightly differed and gained by our arguments—have acted as a council of Members, many of great experience, who have been out to achieve the best possible Act which will, for many years to come, enhance the safety and amenity of those who work in the pits. I consider myself privileged to have been allowed to take some small part in it.
§ 11.31 a.m.
§ Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)
I remember that on the first and second days of the Second Reading the Bill had a rather mixed reception, but the one thing that stands out in my mind is the Minister's opening speech. He laid very great emphasis on certain sections of the Bill, and even in the draft there were the makings of something worth while for this great industry. I was very much impressed by the emphasis laid on the big section on safety, health and welfare. After the many weeks in Committee and all the work that has taken place, I imagine that the Minister feels that the ideals he expressed that day are much nearer fruition than might have appeared possible at certain stages of the Second Reading.
We must all regard safety, health and welfare as very important factors in such an industry as mining. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) stressed this morning the problems that arise from accidents and deaths. I think that we have taken a big stride forward in this Bill in the improvement of safety and health provisions. If the Bill works as it is intended, those safety, health and welfare provisions can prove to be one of the 1672 greatest investments in the industry—an investment in accident prevention and in the improvement of health and welfare generally. In industry as a whole we know that at the present time the loss caused by industrial hazards, injury and bad health is terrific in terms of £s. d. alone. It is even greater in terms of human suffering and family dislocation and disruption.
One or two points on the subject of industrial hazards are worth re-emphasising—and there is no doubt that this Bill can help very considerably to reduce them. In this connection, we on this side think first and foremost of the hazards of dust and the diseases created by working in the pits. We are only just beginning to understand what the dust diseases really mean. There must be thousands of men walking about today suffering from diseases created by the conditions in which, over the years, they worked in the mining industry. The number suffering from pneumoconiosis, silicosis and the other dust diseases is so great that today we have to pay special attention to that aspect. I am certain that the Minister is aware of this fact, but we must go a step further.
The effect of the industry on the health of the workers is a real challenge to the medical profession. Often enough we find people suffering from these dust diseases but unable to get a proper definition of the complaint. There are cases where, first of all, it is said to be bronchitis, then asthma—all manner of things except pneumoconiosis. Often enough it is only when the man is at the point of death that he is found to have been suffering from this dread disease for so many years. That is why I say that the industry offers a challenge to the medical profession—a challenge which I hope will be accepted. I hope that it will be accepted with regard to the whole of industry, but if it were accepted wholeheartedly the results in the mining industry particularly could be staggeringly good.
The Bill certainly gives a new look to the industry. I am certain that, having now acquired a new look, it will receive acclamation from all connected with mining. Resulting from that there should be good effects on the industry in other directions, such as mentioned by one of 1673 my colleagues last night. Too often has the industry been regarded as one which people would not enter. Miners over the years have said, "My son is not going into that industry." If this Bill is made real and effective it should prove vital in the field of output which is so necessary today, but prove even more vital in regard to recruitment. It is not a question of attracting recruits just in the mining villages. The industry, with the help of this Bill, must attract recruits from the towns and cities as well, so as to build up the industry to the standard we seek.
To achieve most of these important steps an Act was required—an Act which would give the industry maximum protection on the one hand and managerial efficiency on the other. Those two points have been almost paramount throughout the discussions in Committee. The endeavour has been to try to get that maximum cover for everyone in regard to safety and health and also to deal with the subject of managerial efficiency without all the words and escape Clauses that appeared in the first print. I am happy to have been associated with getting rid of words which I am certain worried the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary very much.
I think that we are all agreed that the Minister was very wise and farseeing in accepting, after hearing the discussions, very many of the Amendments and suggestions put forward by the Committee. Having done so much, he must be feeling rather proud now that the Bill has reached this stage. As he said during the Committee stage, this is a Bill of general principles. That being so, many regulations will be required to put it into effective operation. On many occasions there have been discussions about giving effective cover to the provisions of the Bill.
One or two Clauses require special mention in this connection. The point was made to me by someone outside the industry that, in the Clause which lays down safeguards with regard to machinery and apparatus, three short paragraphs cover what needed two or three pages in the Factories Acts in respect of other industries. There is also a Clause dealing with industries allied to mining. That gave some of us rather a shock at first, and we still feel that there is room for further consideration of this matter. We 1674 are not afraid of certain industries being allied to the mining industry, but we are concerned to see that the' safety provisions are not thereby affected. In addition, we must have an assurance that the regulations will give full and complete cover, and not merely cover which is comparable with that given in other industries.
If that assurance can be given we need have no fears about other industries being allied to mining. A number of draft regulations will be required, and all I ask is that those drafts are placed before the House as speedily as possible. Having been placed before the House, I hope that they will have a different fate from that of certain engineering regulations, which have been in draft since 1951 but have not yet been implemented. The Regulations necessary to put this Bill into operation must be implemented as soon as possible.
If these assurances can be given—as I am sure they can—we can accept the Bill as a very great step forward. The Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Attorney-General deserve very great credit for the work they have put into the Bill and the energy they have shown in trying to achieve, during the Committee stage, the very best Bill they could get, especially with regard to safety, health and welfare.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
For many years I have had the very great privilege of listening to people who have taken part in mining debates in this House. I have learnt a very great deal from them, including much of the practical side of mining. I have had the privilege of seeing, hearing and knowing people who are thoroughly practical in every way. I should like to pay them a tribute—because they have made a great contribution to the Bill—and say that I infinitely prefer to listen to a miner or a cotton worker than to any professor from either side of the House. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) on his excellent speech, which recalled a generous and very successful athlete rather than a remote professor. I do not think I can pay him a greater tribute than that.
I should like to mention one small point in connection with Clause 135. 1675 I come from the West Country, which has some kinship with Wales, and my family have had some contact with Wales. One of the first friends I made when I came here was a very old miner who obtained a guinea as a prize from a member of my family. I am delighted to see that Clause 135 provides that in the appointment of inspectors a knowledge of the Welsh language shall be considered. Some of the best miners come from Wales—although they are not so good as the English, and I shall not say anything about the Scots—and it is essential that inspectors have a knowledge of the language.
I want to see our people adopt a totally new outlook towards mines. When I, was a somewhat younger Member it was always very difficult to know who Were the most stiff-necked—the miners or the mine owners. I do not say that in any disrespectful way; by "stiff-necked" I mean that they were very firm in their opinions. I have always believed that we have the best miners in the world. But that is not nearly enough. We must remember that, since the nationalisation of the mines, we Members of Parliament speak as representatives of the owners of the mines. What should be the outlook of the nation towards the property which it owns? This Bill exemplifies the outlook which is now needed, namely, that the mines should be made the safest in the world, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having made a great step towards the achievement of that aim.
We also want to see that our mines are the best run in the world, and that must depend entirely upon those who work in them. If I learnt anything from my long association with miners—going right back to the First World War—it was that they can never be driven, but they can very often be persuaded. The best thing that I, as the representative of my constituents, the best thing that any Member of Parliament, the best thing the Press and everyone else can do today to help forward this great industry, this great property the nation owns now, is to aim at making it the best run and, above all, the safest run industry in the world. That should be the aim of every Government of this country, from whichever side of the House the Government 1676 may be formed. I hope that everyone, inside and outside the House, will do his best to bring a really good feeling into and towards the industry and everyone connected with the mines.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
It is common form in this House for an hon. Member to start his speech by saying that he hopes that the hon. Member who preceded him will forgive him if he does not follow him, but I do not say that today to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), for having in mind what has been appearing in the Press in the last two or three weeks, I hope that the Press will have noted the harmony there is on this subject between all the parties and between Members in all parts of the House.
A gigantic task has been accomplished by the House and the Standing Committee in working on the Bill. A few weeks ago I was presented with a Bill that, I was told emphatically, was an agreed Bill, and on Second Reading the Minister said that running through the Bill was one simple theme, the theme of safety. One would, indeed, have supposed that it was an agreed Bill, but when I read it I could not see how it could be. I do not want to weary the House with statistics, but there are one or two that seem interesting, since this was an agreed Bill. In Committee more than 500 Amendments were put down to the agreed Bill, and on Report more than 300 Amendments were put down to the agreed Bill, and there were 12 new Clauses.
I pay tribute to all the Members who have worked so hard to make what was evidently not an agreed Bill into what is now, I believe, an agreed Bill. Tributes have been paid to the Minister and his officials and to Members of the Committee from both sides of the House, and I would join in them. I would particularly pay tribute to those of my colleagues who have shared in the work and who have spent the greater part of their lives working in the mining industry. One of them charged me last night with walking about bent. I said that I had been with the Bill so long and had been hearing so much mining phraseology that I had come to suppose I was working in a mine again. I pay my tribute to those 1677 Members of the Committee who have spent the greater part of their working life, as I have, in the mining industry. That group of Members have no opportunity whatever of a spare-time job.
I would at this stage mention one name especially, a name which may have been in the minds of others, too. I am thinking of Sir Richard Redmayne, who is now nearly 90 years of age. He played such a great part in the mining industry after the passing of the 1911 Act, and he must have been watching our proceedings on this Bill with great interest.
Like other Members of the House, I was working in the mines when the 1911 Act was passed. I was 23 years of age at the time, at the beginning of active life. I thought a new era was dawning for the mining industry, and, indeed, for the nation as a whole. However, putting a Bill on the Statute Book accomplishes nothing. It is the implementation of the Measure that can make a change in the mining industry. Some of the greatest happenings in the mining industry have occurred since the passing of the 1911 Act, but within two years of the passing of that Act, within two years of the passing of that safety Measure, within two years of the dawn of the new era, 424 lives were lost in one explosion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is still a trustee of that disaster fund of 1913.
We all want to see the Bill implemented, and I should like to see the Minister and the National Coal Board and the N.U.M. and all the interested parties meet at least once a year round the table to consider how to implement the Measure and to reckon progress, because nothing will be accomplished unless there is constant and careful attention to the implementation of the Measure. We all want to see the industry enjoy this better way of life.
I have already recalled that when the Minister moved the Second Reading he said that there was a simple theme running through the Bill, the theme of safety in the mining industry. It is well known that the greatest symphonies have the simplest themes. The simpler the theme the greater the possibilities of the composition. All the various moods, the various tones, the various expressions in a great symphony can be traced to a simple theme. The Minister made a 1678 mistake when he sat down to create his composition. He was playing or trying to play three or four themes, and one cannot have a great composition, a great symphony, with more than one theme.
I hope that in the implementation of the Bill the simple theme will be uppermost in the minds of everyone concerned with it. We can look back now 43 years to the passing of the 1911 Act. Perhaps, if that simple theme is kept in the forefront of the minds of everyone concerned with this Measure, we shall 43 years hence be able to look back upon this Measure and say of the day of its passing that that was the day when the great change took place in the mining industry.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes) as one of the beneficiaries of the labours that hon. Members on both sides of the House have accomplished in turning what was a Bill with good intentions into the better Bill we have before us. As in my Second Reading speech, I cannot talk about the coal mining industry of which so many hon. Members on the other side of the House have so much knowledge and experience, but I have been concerned about some of the other extractive industries which are, as it were, cousins of the coal mining industry and, as such, have fallen within the purview of the Bill as it was originally drafted.
One of the things that has struck me about the tremendous labours put in on the Bill is the tolerance with which those concerned with the major industry, the large member of the family, have accepted alterations to the Bill which are favourable to other extractive industries. They have not taken a parochial view by opposing changes which suit those other industries. I wish to pay tribute to their tolerance in doing so.
I must add to the praise of my right hon. Friend the Minister which has been extended to him by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend has listened sympathetically and has accepted the proposals not only of hon. Members from the coalmining areas, but also those which some of us concerned with the other extractive industries have put before him. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) recalled only yesterday that my 1679 right hon. Friend had at the very beginning made a notable improvement in the Bill when he accepted the view that the quarrying industry should be provided for in a different way from the coal-mining industry.
There is another cousin, as it were, whose claim I wish to put before the Minister in view of the fact that he was so receptive concerning the claims of the quarrying industry. It is the case of the metalliferous mines, which not only operate in entirely different geological conditions from those with which hon. Gentlemen opposite are so familiar, but are also enormously less dangerous. In practically none of them is there any hazard from fire or explosion, and, owing to the difference in geology, their working is entirely differently affected by earth pressure as in the case of coalmines.
The metalliferous mines will be affected in one very important respect by Clause 56 which applies to them the same regulations as apply to coal mines, because, in both, safety lamps are used. The reason why safety lamps are used in metalliferous mines is merely one of convenience. The makers of safety lamps supply them to anyone who wants them, whether for coal or metalliferous mines. They are the most convenient lamps to buy. Metalliferous mine operators use them, as I say, and, in so doing, they come under all the regulations imposed, no doubt quite rightly, in respect to dangerous coal mines.
The exemption from the regulations which they are given is given at the discretion of the inspectors. As we have heard today, there are all too few inspectors, and, by and large, they are men who have been brought up with a detailed knowledge and experience of coal mines, but much less of metalliferous mines. As the Bill stands at present, these exemptions can be withdrawn or changed solely on the decision of one inspector.
I would like my right hon. Friend to have a look at this point when the Bill goes to another place to see whether he can find some way of supervising any revocations or changes in the exemptions which the inspectors may grant to the metalliferous mines from the provisions of Clause 56 and of a few subsequent Clauses. I would also ask him to consider allowing an appeal from the in 1680 spectors' decision to a higher tribunal, or, on the other hand, he may like to consider the alternative of altering the Bill slightly at this point so as to be able to impose separate regulations for metalliferous mines instead of having inspectors granting exemptions from the provisions of Clause 56 and the few subsequent clauses.
I now come to my last point. Two hon. Members opposite, and particularly the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), referred to the implementation of the Bill by regulation imposed by Statutory Instruments. Again, I wish to ask my right hon. Friend to consider the issuing of entirely separate Statutory Instruments for metalliferous mines as distinct from coal mines, wherever these are called for in the Act, because, as I say, their problems are entirely different.
I put this point before the House because points in regard to quarries which I mentioned in my Second Reading speech were treated with such tolerance. I hope that my right hon. Friend will treat my suggestions today with a similar tolerance. If he does, then all of us, with whatever extractive industry we are connected, will be able to send this Measure forth as one of which we can not only be proud, but as one about which we can be quite sure that it will do much to improve the conditions and the safety of working in whatever kind of mines we are interested.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you had a very hard task, but I think you enjoyed it, because at one time in your career you, too, were a miner like ourselves. Therefore, you will appreciate the technicalities that have arisen in this Bill.
On Second Reading, I stated in a very critical speech that we on this side of the House would lend our labours in an effort to make the Bill as good as we possibly could. I think we have fulfilled that promise. The Bill is now quite different from the one which went to Committee upstairs. It is fair to say that at one time I despaired about the Bill, and came out in total opposition to it because of the escape Clauses which it provided for managers.
Indeed, at that time, there were more escapes for managers than Houdini made when he was alive. But the Attorney 1681 General helped us to overcome that problem with the assistance of the Minister and of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) who, unfortunately, is ill. We all, I am sure, wish him a speedy recovery so that he may soon he back with us again. I wish to thank the Minister and the Attorney-General for their efforts in the matter, because, from the very beginning, these escape Clauses were a great source of irritation, and undoubtedly spoilt the Bill.
We have now created a Bill in which there are higher standards than there have ever been before. There will be many regulations to bring in, and this. I expect, will be done in consultation with both sides of the industry. We have. I believe, fashioned a charter of safety, which is something that gives much credit to this House. We have placed on owners, management and men alike very onerous duties in relation to safety.
The common law rights of all the men have been safeguarded, and a higher standard of safety and conduct on the part of all concerned has now been increased. We have also given great powers to Her Majesty's inspectors, whom we regard as being the custodians of this Bill when implemented in relation to safety. We have given greater powers and more responsibility to them, and I would say to the Minister that it is most essential that the inspectorate should be brought up to full establishment. I do not believe that that can be done until the Minister faces the reality that the shortage of inspectors lies in the fact that the remuneration offered to them is insufficient to make the work attractive as a career to first-class mining engineers. They will go to the N.C.B., where their prospects are greater and their wages are higher. This is bound to lead to a diminution of our inspectorate and we shall not get the best men.
Therefore, I implore the Minister to pester the Treasury to get this salary problem settled for Her Majesty's inspectors. The negotiations have taken a long time, and the longer this problem of the salaries of Her Majesty's inspectors remains unsettled, the fewer inspectors we shall get, the poorer the quality, and we shall not be able to get the implementation of this great charter of safety embodied in this Bill, because the 1682 inspector is the custodian of the safety provisions of the Bill.
Clause 64, in relation to fire—to which there was an Amendment which Mr. Speaker did not call yesterday—deals with the fact that 100 men may be in the pit. While we have had to accept this figure, I would ask the Minister to give us an assurance that he will, by regulation, where there is a two-shift filling system in the pits, provide that there shall not arise the position of 200 men converging on one point as they are changing their shifts, thereby having 200 instead of 100 men within the meaning of the Clause.
Then there is Clause 83. Its acceptance by the Minister was one of the greatest tragedies. It was moved by the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) and as a result a man may be given two months' hard labour and fined £20 if, through negligence, he injures himself for life, but his negligence does not affect the health or well-being of anyone else in the mine. I think that the emphasis put on this point ought to be rejected, and I ask the Minister to say that, in another place, he will endeavour to get this Clause altered in relation to putting a man in gaol because, owing to his own negligence, he injures himself without injuring anyone else in the pit. This position was not in the 1911 Act, or in the first Bill submitted to the House.
The Minister has made reference to Lord Shaftesbury's work for women and children. He has a glorious opportunity in this Bill of becoming a second Lord Shaftesbury. Why this Bill does not take away women from the dirty, filthy and obnoxious jobs at the pitheads, I do not know. In Committee, it was argued that there must be freedom of employment. If there is freedom of employment why must it be at the pits? Why not down the pit? Is there freedom of employment for the hangman's job?
The freedom of employment argument does not meet our case at all. There are 1,000 women working on the screens in the coalfields. Is it not our duty to take these women away from these jobs? The Miners' unions want to do so. There is no opposition from Scotland, Lancashire, or Cumberland. But because some women's organisation want freedom of employment for women, these women have to work eight hours 1683 a day in filthy dust, with all the risk of pneumoconiosis arising from it. In the sacred name of freedom of employment, we have to keep 1,000 women working on the screens. We are fiercely opposed to it.
We are not seeking in this Bill to create an economic problem. We are asking that no more women should be employed at the pits. This is a relic of private enterprise getting cheap labour, and we want to see it abolished. We hope that the Minister will become a second Lord Shaftesbury and take away Clause 116 and the women from the pitheads.
The Minister will remember that in Committee we dealt with the question of the extermination of rats and mice in the mines, which create a disease known as Weils disease. He promised to introduce a new Clause on this issue. Therefore, I ask if it is his intention to carry out that promise which he gave by putting into the Bill an obligation on the management to exterminate rats and mice in the pits.
There are two other subjects on which I want to speak. By this Bill, the workmen's inspectors will by statute get better conditions and more powers than they have enjoyed since the 1911 Act. We are highly satisfied, and we thank the Minister very much for the way in which he met us on this question of the duties of workmen's inspectors. I should like particularly to thank the Minister on this point, because, for the first time in history, there will be laid down by statute a Clause relating to dust suppression. This is a remarkable step forward.
The Clause is as near to imposing an absolute duty as we can get it. We cannot place an absolute duty in this Clause, because it is impossible to put an absolute duty on a manager to ensure that there is no dust at all in the air. But the Minister has put in words to ensure that his job is to minimise the dust in the air, and he has stated that he will bring in regulations making it obligatory upon the management, by all scientific means, to suppress dust in the air by chemical applications in the roadways, bringing the airborne dust down to the floor, by treating the dust at the coal face, which causes pneumoconiosis and silicosis, and also by vacuum at gate end loaders.
1684 If there is anything in this Bill which may be forgotten, I can assure the Minister that we shall never forget the handsome way in which he met us on this particular Clause for dealing with dust suppression. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that he will consider again Clauses 64 and 83 and the new Clause dealing with rats and mice.
We hope that the House of Lords will hasten its work on this Bill, so that it may speedily become an Act of Parliament and establish a great charter of safety for the miners.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) because, in my considerable experience of many Bills, I have never known a back bencher on either side of the Committee play a more powerful part than he did in the course of the Committee debates. Like him, I at one time held the view that the Bill was unsatisfactory.
I am bound to say to the Minister—and I think everyone will agree—that no one could have shown more patience, good humour and determination to get this Bill on the Statute Book than he has done.
On the question of escape Clauses, I think that it is far better to have a general Clause dealing with this matter than to have a number of escape Clauses throughout the Bill. It is only fair, however, to remind the House that when the Bill was first introduced the Government were in the difficulty that there was no sign of general agreement amongst the interests involved that they would accept a general Clause rather than a number of limitations. We on this side were delighted when we found it possible to revert to what many of us would have liked to do at the start and what, I believe, my right hon. Friend himself would have liked to do.
Oddly enough, I support the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring in the point he has made on Clause 83. I said in Committee that it was rather absurd that a man who, by his own negligence, injured himself but nobody else should be sent to prison. If this defect can be altered, it would be all to the good.
1685 As far as inspectors are concerned, my right hon. Friend will remember—this demonstrates the free and easy spirit of the Committee—that on one occasion we defeated him on an Amendment moved from this side by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). The object of the Amendment which deleted "with the consent of the Treasury" was not that by omitting those words it would necessarily be possible to get more money from the Treasury, but was a strong hint, of which, I think, the Minister in his heart approves, to the Treasury that the Committee felt strongly that inspectors must be properly paid if we were to get their numbers up to strength and have the job properly done.
It is, perhaps, sometimes assumed too lightly that we need precisely the same qualities in a mines inspector as in a good manager. Although that is not the case, we need to have a sufficiently decent standard of salary and employment to attract the type of men who can do the job effectively. The whole advantage of the Bill would be lost if we did not have sufficient good inspectors who were able to make it work.
It is almost always said by cynics that any Bill which has the approval of both Front Benches is bound to be a bad Bill. In this case, however, in spite of the fact that in its final stages the Bill has the support of both Front Benches, it is a good Bill. I hope that apart from improving safety and health, it will still further sweeten feelings among the men in mining. If it does that, it may play a part in the increased production of coal, which is vitally necessary and which—we are bound to face it—has lagged over the last three years at a time when home consumption has greatly increased.
Although we had a long and rather tiring Committee stage, I was happy to serve on the Committee and, on the one hand, to admire the Parliamentary skill, not only of my right hon. Friend the Minister but of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, and, on the other hand, to draw rather closer to some of my friends on the benches opposite, to whose views on mining matters I always listen with deep interest.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
As an old miner of 35 years' experience underground, I had better be careful. I was always trained to be cautious when dealing with dangerous situations, but I had better be ultra-cautious today in case anything I say may be taken down and used in evidence against me subsequently. Nevertheless, I must pay a tribute to the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary and to the Attorney-General for what they have done throughout the Committee stage. I regard them as the three wise men. I do not know whether they come from the east or the west, but they have evidenced a great deal of wisdom as we proceeded with the Bill through its very protracted Committee stage. We cannot disguise the fact that throughout all the stages of the Bill the Minister has shown real feeling for the miners.
I do not recall any mining legislation which has occupied so much time, talent and thought as has been applied to the Bill. We have had the legal mind manifested by the Attorney-General. I had one or two brushes with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in Committee, particularly on the Lancashire word "barter," to which he did not refer again after I pulled him up but whatever differences I had with him they are forgotten and he is forgiven. The legal mind has played an important part in bringing the Bill to its present stage. Then we had the academic and the technical minds, and, most important of all, the practical miner's point of view.
Had it not been for the persistence and doggedness of the practical miner, I do not think the Bill would have been what it is today. I do not make the claim boastfully, but the practical miner's point of view has been applied to the Bill not only in Committee but in what we call the "back room"—and who is better than the man who has seen and experienced the varied changes which have taken place?
In the last quarter of a century there have been changes that we never dreamed of, changes that have thrown up things beyond our wildest dreams. We never dreamed in days gone by that mechanisation would be responsible for 70 to 80 per cent. of coal production, but circumstances have forced that upon us. We 1687 cannot run away from the fact, and we have faced it with practical minds.
When we started on the Bill, on 21st January, we had grave doubts as to whether we should accept it. I said on Second Reading that if the Minister desired it to be a good Bill, he would have to take notice of the old collier. He has done so. I know that on occasion he has been advised to take a totally different course from that which he intended, but on the whole the practical mind that was applied during the Committee, assisted by the Minister's desire to be accommodating, has led to the Bill now being presented for Third Reading.
Today, we are like the artist who has tried to depict upon a canvas the scene that was before his eyes. When he has completed the picture he stands back from the canvas to see how it looks to the human eye. We are looking at this Bill to see what we have accomplished and how the picture looks. We are wondering how it will be examined by the men working in the pits, and I think we can say that we have done a first-class job with the assistance of the Minister.
But I have my regrets. I was anxious for the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Clause concerning the employment of female labour on the pit bank. He was advised that he could not accept that Amendment. I was longing for the time when he would say that he was prepared to accept it, but, unfortunately, there are other judgments which have prevailed. Here we are passing into law a Bill which still allows the employment of female labour on the screens. I wish the Minister had gone along with us on that matter. We tried by every means to put forward forceful arguments with the idea of persuading him. Many of those arguments were based on practical experience, and we were also eye-witnesses of what we described.
Let me say here and now that the stand which I have taken up all along has been unpopular in my own area. I happen to represent a mining constituency in a county that employs most of the female labour in coalmining today. But that does not alter my convictions. After witnessing what I have witnessed as a practical miner, as one who has been called upon to investigate many accidents. as a miner's agent and as a lodge secre 1688 tary, I must say that I could never bring my mind to think that employment on the screens for women was suitable work.
We have failed to get the Minister to agree with us, but I am consoled by the thought that as the years go by the employment of female labour will disappear. I have been reading the reports since 1911 and I have discovered that in 1909 there were as many as 6,168 females employed on the screens. Among that number there were 24 between the ages of 12 and 14 who were working on the pit bank. No fewer than 751 of them were between the ages of 14 and 16, and 5,153 were above the age of 16 years. Imagine that in a so-called Christian country in the year 1909.
Since then—and this is the consoling thought—the numbers have gradually been reduced. In 1910, there were 6,404; in 1938, 2,300: and in 1953—the last available figure that I have been able to obtain—there were 956.
§ Mr. Brown
As my hon. Friend says, 956 too many. Unfortunately, they are only in three coal regions. There are 150 in Cumberland, 150 in Scotland and I am sorry to say in my own county there are 691. So it will be seen why it is that the stand I am making is unpopular. But I have felt convinced from 1909 that female labour on the screens ought to be prohibited, and I will tell the House why in a few words.
Screening plants are very primitive indeed, and there is a high percentage of dust. That dust is gradually being intensified. It was in the early part of this year that I had an unpleasant experience. I found that one of our pit brow lassies—as we call them in Lancashire—was certified to be suffering from pnuemoconiosis. That dreaded disease has a devastating effect on manpower, but when it begins to make inroads into our women folk, then I say it is about time that female labour was prohibited on the pit bank.
I have one other matter to which I wish to refer, and it has already been mentioned by other hon. Members. I want to say something about the inspectorate. To me it is crazy to pass a voluminous Bill of this character and 1689 then fail to appoint the requisite number of inspectors to see that its provisions are carried out. It matters not to me whether it is the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer who stands in the way of us recruiting suitably highly skilled and highly qualified men. Whoever it is that stands in the way should be removed. It is the duty of this House, whatever may be the political philosophies of hon. Members, to remove the obstacle to greater health and greater safety in the mines.
The mines inspectorate is now understaffed. We are 35 short of establishment. The inspectorate is responsible for the safety of those in one of the greatest industries in this country, and the numbers should be brought up to the recognised total. Conditions should be provided second to none and a salary should be offered which will command the very best men endowed with technical and engineering skill. As it is, we are allowing the personnel of the inspectorate to run down to a level from which it will be hard to rise again. We should be building up the strength of the inspectorate for the new tasks thrust upon it by the Bill instead of allowing the numbers to be reduced.
I understand that recently there was an advertisement for personnel for the inspectorate, and that in response to it 70 men applied. It was found that only three out of the 70 were suitable candidates for the position of inspector of mines. That reveals that there is something wrong. There is something radically wrong when we cannot command the best men to look after the legislation of this House, and so I beg the Minister to try to improve the salaries and conditions of the inspectorate.
I shall conclude by a quotation from a great legal figure. In 1912, not long after the passing of the 1911 Act, Lord Shaw said:The commanding principle in the construction of the statute passed to remedy the evils and to protect against the dangers which confront or threaten persons or classes of Her Majesty's subjects is that, consistent with actual language employed, the Act shall he interpreted in the sense favourable to make the remedy effective and the protection secure.The principle expressed by that great legal mind is sound and undeniable.
1690 In his speech on Second Reading, on 21st January, the Minister said that by this Bill we had an opportunity of creating a charter of safety for the mining industry which would go down in history. The Minister has seized that opportunity, assisted by Members of the Committee, particularly my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will speed the day when the Bill will become an Act of Parliament, and when the regulations under the Act will tend to greater safety and greater benefits for a body of men who have given of their best to the nation in the past.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
As one of those who sat for so many weeks in the Committee upstairs on this Bill, I want to add a few words to what has been said this morning. Both sides of the House, I think, listened with complete approval to everything said by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). Indeed, during the Committee stage we listened with much pleasure to many of the speeches made by the hon. Member and by his colleagues who had been engaged formerly in the mining industry. I recall how, just after the conclusion of the Committee stage, one of the colleagues of the hon. Member said to me, "Well. I think we have got a good Bill, kiddie, a Bill that will last as long as its predecessor, and a Bill that will do an equal amount of good for these great industries." I think that is the feeling of all hon. Members.
Although we are in a mood of approbation and calm this morning, we had our minor differences during the Committee stage, and we were all pleased that, through the exertions of the Minister and of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in close co-operation with hon. Gentlemen opposite, nearly all of those difficulties were ironed out. We are glad to pay tribute to hon. Members who represent the northern constituencies who were especially active, and I, as a Welsh Member, was especially happy that so many of my colleagues from South Wales were equally active throughout the Committee stage I see the right hon Gentleman the Father of the House in his seat. He was one who was active, as indeed were the hon. Members for 1691 Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who is a native of my own native town.
In praising this Measure we must not forget the praise given by the hon. Member for Ince this morning to the exertions of the Attorney-General, because we can remember the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) saying with heart-felt appeal in his voice at one stage, "Let us get away from the lawyers' wigs." The hon. Gentleman did not take so good a view of the interference of the legal profession as did the hon. Member for Ince today, but, on balance, I think all hon. Members appreciate the usefulness of lawyers in clarifying some of the wording of Bills of this kind.
The hon. Member referred to women working in the coal mining industry, and I too do not like the idea. Women do many jobs today which, perhaps for natural reasons, I view with considerable distaste. Sometimes we see women doing jobs in other industries which we would rather see done by men. The jobs which women undertook during the last war were amazing—
§ Mr. Gower
As the hon. Gentleman says, it was wartime, but what happened in wartime has tended to persist in many industries and in some phases of our civil life. I am sure that if we told women not to do these things they would be up in arms, because apparently they would like to take a place in the community which some of us would prefer they did not take. As a friend of mine put it rather vividly the other day, quoting Burke, "The age of chivalry is gone." For example, when women attained equality, they threw away the right to have a man stand up in a bus or train for them. In attaining equality they sacrificed a lot.
Certainly I have grave doubts about the rightness of women working in the coal mining industry, and I am glad that the Bill prohibits them being employed underground. We know that in other countries women do this. I am also glad that women no longer work in many of our coalfields. I think that is the position in South Wales, and I believe that it is only in one or two coalfields that this 1692 kind of labour is still employed. Although the reasons given by the Minister were fairly convincing. I hope sincerely that this labour will be a failing asset. I think I am right in saying that no new entrants will be permitted—
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
It is possible that some of the women now employed there will work with more pleasure after this Bill is passed, because they will think of the Minister in the terms of that delightful lullaby "Mammy's little coal black rose."
§ Mr. Jones
In reply to that interjection, the Bill will not make the slightest difference to the lumps of stone which these women handle and the conditions under which they work—not the slightest difference. The sooner women do no more work of that kind, the sooner I shall be satisfied that Britain is what we say it is, a Christian, decent country.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Unfortunately, the Clause does not say that new women entrants shall not he allowed, and that is what we want.
§ Mr. Gower
It is my conviction that what has happened in so many coalfields will inevitably happen in the others, and I think that the hon. Member for Rotherham agrees with me in this assessment of the position.
The other point to which I particularly wish to refer was lightly touched upon by the last speaker. The Bill prescribes that the inspectorate shall remain, under the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and it would be out of order for me to pursue any alternative to that arrangement. That is the way in which the system will continue to operate, although, in passing. I would say that it is my view that ultimately it will be necessary to transfer these functions to the Home Office. Perhaps we have not reached that stage yet. I realise that there are differences of opinion on both sides of the House. But there may conceivably be a conflict of interests.
It may be the interest of the Ministry of Fuel and Power to emphasise produc 1693 tion, while it may be in the interest of the Home Office and also of the employees in the industry—as indeed now applies in other industries—to sacrifice production in the interests of safety. Ultimately, some day, some Government will have to come to this decision, but, at present, I am satisfied that my right hon. Friend will see that his inspectorate apply stringently the rules laid down in this Bill.
So much of this Bill will depend upon the way in which it is applied. It will depend upon the quality of future entrants recruited into the industry, and particularly those in positions of authority, such as the managers and so many others who have been referred to. It will depend on the quality of the inspectors and upon the regulations which will be made, and I am quite sure, from the discussions which we have had in Committee, that the regulations to be proposed by my right hon. Friend will be in keeping with the spirit of the Bill and with the standards laid down in it, and I hope that the inspectorate will apply them in the same spirit.
This Bill may be described quite properly as one of the most important pieces of social legislation since the war, and I do not think that is an over-statement of the position. But this Bill is not one which so easily catches public notice and approval as do those Measures which confer a financial benefit on some section of the population. Those are the Bills which everyone notices and which catch the headlines in the Press, but, in the tale of our country, this Bill is far more important than many of those which have conferred such financial benefits.
Side by side with the social legislation of recent years, for much of which hon. Gentlemen opposite were largely responsible, and for much of which we on this side have been responsible, and particularly the social legislation of the last year or two, such as that which extended benefits to partially disabled as well as totally disabled people and sufferers from industrial diseases, I believe that this Bill will give confidence to the new entrants into the industry in feeling that they are entering an industry in which their interests will be properly safeguarded and their health and safety properly looked after, where the conditions under which they work will be strictly prescribed by the State, and in which, if they are dis 1694 abled, they will be cared for to a substantially greater degree than is represented by the benefits received by any other persons who sustain accidents in civil life.
These are good things. Certainly, in the immediate future, coal must be one of our vital sources of power, and coal still remains one of the vital products of this country. On the success or failure of the industry a lot may depend. Side by side with this, we know how vital also is the work of our quarries, and how closely related it is to so much that is going on today in reconstruction and building. Here, again, the standards laid down in the Bill are a great advance on those of any previous legislation.
All of us here today are glad to see this Bill passing through its final stage in this House, and we hope it may soon reach the Statute Book, so that, in the near future, there may be higher and still better standards in one of our greatest industries.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
After many trials and tribulations, this Bill has at long last reached its Third Reading, and, judging from the many favourable expressions of opinion on it which have been made in the House today, the Minister must feel a very happy man indeed. We, on this side of the House, share his feeling of happiness.
When the Bill was introduced, I took the trouble to look up the records of what happened in 1910 and 1911, when the present Prime Minister was Home Secretary and was responsible for the 1911 mining legislation. I discovered to my great pleasure that one of my predecessors, the late Sir Arthur Markham, played a very prominent part in the debates on the mining legislation of that time.
For that reason, and there are many others, I am pleased to have the opportunity today of taking part in the debate on a Bill which, in my view, will be regarded as the safety code for the mining industry for a great many years. A feeling has been expressed that, possibly, this will be the last piece of mining legislation in the form of an Act of Parliament that we shall see, in view of the possibility of the introduction of atomic power, and that may well prove to be the case.
1695 Since 1911, there have been many changes in mining practice and mining technique, and, as the years have passed by, there has been a growing volume of opinion among all sections in the industry and on both sides of the House that there was need for a new code of safety legislation in the mining industry, and new methods of promoting health and welfare measures in that industry.
On these particular points, there has been general unanimity on how to accomplish this object and secure the best safety, health and welfare measures in the mines, and, judging from the Committee proceedings and from the formidable Order Paper with which we were faced on Report stage, an indication of the state of opinion on how to approach the best possible safety measures has certainly been revealed.
We can all share the view expressed during this debate that Members on all sides during the Committee stage made a united effort. They asked. "What can we do to get the best possible safety measures within the Bill?" As a result of the many Amendments that the Minister has made and his many concessions to the representations and pleas put forward, I am pleased and proud to say that we have a much better Bill than the one originally introduced in the latter part of 1953. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary—and I must not leave out the Attorney-General in this connection—have been most amenable in accepting suggestions. I take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude and pleasure at the way in which they have done so.
The Bill contains many important provisions dealing with matters vital to the industry, like ventilation, the accumulation of gas, the prevention of fire and the height of roads. I mention only a few things. There are many more in the Bill, but those are some of the biggest items necessary for the safety of our mining folk.
In regard to the height of roads I regret that the Minister was unable to accept an Amendment that roads should not be less than 6 ft. high. On the other hand. I compliment him on coming 50 per cent. in advance of what he suggested when the Bill was introduced. The height of 1696 5 ft. 6 ins. is the minimum laid down in the Bill, but I hope that mining practice will follow a much greater height. All these matters are of great concern to the industry and to hon. Members on this side of the House who have spent much of their lives in the industry and among the miners.
I do not propose to labour Clauses which have already been referred to by hon. Members, but I would make one or two observations on the question of actions at common law. I had very grave apprehensions about the implications of the original proposals in respect of actions for damages at common law. Members of the Committee have not simply interested themselves in how much damages a person might get at common law. Our main preoccupation was to get the best possible safety measures into the Bill. Nevertheless, I took the view, and expressed it in Committee, that the escape routes provided in the original Bill for owners anal managers were likely to be as detrimental to a claim for damages at common law as the old, pre-1948 doctrine of common employment. I am very happy to be reassured on that point now.
The question of dual certification applies not only to those who have had the misfortune to lose their lives and leave dependants, but to the living. I know of men in my own area who were told by their medical practitioners that they were suffering from pneumoconiosis. That built them up with hopes of receiving industrial injury benefit, but later they were not certified by the Pneumoconiosis Board as having that dreaded disease. I was very pleased to hear the observations of the Minister on ibis matter of duality.
As to the inspectorate, I come from the Nottinghamshire coalfield, where there is a dearth of inspectors. The staff is not up to the standard we would like or even that ought to be. I hope that the Minister will not relax his efforts to attract men into the inspectorate. These inspectors carry a great responsibility and are the watchdogs of the safety regulations.
We have now come to the end of the road. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee. While this has been a long road it has been very interesting. I have enjoyed every moment of it and 1697 it will be one of my treasured memories that I was one of the number who made a contribution to this new mining safety legislation. The House will give its sanction today to these provisions, but the co-operation of all engaged in the industry—the National Coal Board, the National Union of Mineworkers and the individual workmen—will be needed.
I have great optimism that this cooperation will be forthcoming from those three sources. I hope that what we have done during the past few months for the safety, health and welfare of the industry will be reflected in reduction of tile accident and industrial disease figures and in better health and greater happiness for the 700,000 men—and a few women—in the industry. Upon them depends our economic prosperity and survival.
I wish the Bill the greatest success, and I repeat my hope that it will reflect itself in a reduction of fatal and non-fatal accidents and in the number of victims of industrial disease.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I think it appropriate, as one who was not a Member of the Committee upstairs which considered this Bill, and who has not been closely associated with it, that I should express the appreciation which we all have for the tremendous efforts made by those who dealt with it in Committee. They were not only tremendous efforts, but, in the main, united efforts of Parliament at its best. Therefore, I wish to pay tribute to them, and, at the same time, I think that tribute should be paid to the Ministry—the backroom boys—who prepared the Bill, and to the draftsmen who undertook the formidable job of preparing a Measure of this size.
I was very impressed yesterday by the speed with which so much business was got through, which showed that the work had been suitably and properly done in Committee. Especially do I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, and to the Parliamentary Secretary. In the years before the war, I was privileged to sit all one summer with my right hon. Friend in Committee upstairs on the great Factories Act which brought up to date the safety provisions for ensuring the health and safety of those engaged in industry. As Under-Secretary to the 1698 Home Office at that time, my right hon. Friend had the largest part to play in piloting that great Measure through the House, and now, 15 years later, he has piloted another equally great and important Measure through the House, a Measure which will, I hope, be a charter for many years to come of the health and safety of those who work in the mines.
I think that one can say without fear of contradiction that when the historians of the future come to write about the progress made in social and industrial legislation in this century, the name of Lloyd will stand very high indeed in their books. I wish most sincerely to offer my congratulations and those of my hon. Friends to my right hon. Friend for his great efforts.
It does a great deal of good to turn away from the violent controversies of party business, and to see Members of the House of Commons working together for the betterment of their fellow men in the way that they have done in connection with this Bill. I hope that under the shelter and protection of this Measure, the great coal industry may not only prosper in itself, but may bring prosperity to the country which depends on it so much.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I am very happy indeed to have been privileged to listen to so many good speeches on this very urgent and important national question which has received the attention of this House and of the Committee upstairs over the last few months. It is one of the most important industrial subjects that this House will ever be called upon to deal.
I have been in the House for many years, and am old enough to qualify to be the senior Member of the House. I am also the senior Member of the mining industry in this House. I have been here for more than 30 years. I began my. work underground over 60 years ago, and I was very soon initiated into the problems of the mines as they existed at that time. The majority of the mines were small, but I was working in what was then regarded as a very deep mine. It was over 1,000 feet deep, and the only mine for many miles around which had reached that depth.
1699 The majority of the mines in those days were shallow mines, wet mines and cool mines. The mining experts, such as they were, were very marvellous people, and I would be disloyal to my profession if I. did not take this opportunity to pay a tremendous tribute to the old-time managers and inspectors in the industry. They were very able people, who, with their geological knowledge and their knowledge of mines generally, foresaw that at some time or other the depth of mines would be increased. Indeed, the depth was even then beginning to increase. Concommitant with such physical changes were the calamities which caused the deaths of hundreds and sometimes of over 1,000 men.
About that time, there arose the new fear of dust. The dust menace made its appearance in my early days, and I well remember the warnings given by the then scientific and technical leaders of the industry. They, too, were marvellous men. I recall many of their personalities. There were mine inspectors of great character and of great knowledge who went round not only observing and checking upon the practices of the mines, but as technical advisers to the industry. They wielded a tremendous influence in the industry at the time.
I remember only too vividly the explosions which frequently caused the deaths, on average, of 1,000 men every year. Explosions made an awful contribution to the total casualties. But there was also the great danger of flooding. With the best intentions in the world, the surveyors of those days drove into great bodies of water which caused the loss of thousands of lives.
Those problems were not the same as those which confront us today. But the mines have always had their problems, and mining has always been a very hazardous occupation. I pay my tribute to many men whose names must henceforth remain unknown. But they were famous in their time, and, though they have passed out of the memory and the knowledge of this generation, I pay my tribute to all of them for the tremendous headway which they made.
I was induced to become a mining student. I left school at the age of 11, but I knew that one needed more educa 1700 tion if one was to play a worthy part as a citizen of this great country and as a member of a profession of which this country should be very proud. I attended mining and geology classes, and with the help and encouragement of my tutors, I was successful enough in the examinations. I do not say this in any boastful way, but merely to show how much could be done with a little encouragement and help. At the age of 25, I held three certificates for mine management.
I obtained one of those certificates in Nova Scotia when I was 22 years old, and the other two in this country at the age of 24 and 25 years, respectively. I was also an ardent trade unionist and called myself a Socialist. I found it possible to reconcile all these things in my own personality. Throughout, I have never ceased to desire to make a contribution to the great mining industry, to which I belong in a special way, and which belongs to this country in a very special way.
The coalmining industry has been the mainstay of our modern industrial system. It has been the main foundation of our overseas trade. British coal—largely Welsh coal—has enabled us to get from overseas the food and timber and other things we cannot grow at home. The coal industry occupies not only a prominent but a leading place, and the contribution of those brilliant people who used to work in the industry must never be overlooked.
When I passed my examinations I readily accepted the idea that coal dust was likely to be a far greater menace even than the flooding which had too often taken a large toll of lives. Better surveying could be arranged, but one could not interfere with underground temperatures. As the mines went deeper there was more dust and the dust in the air current was more inflammable than the gas itself. The dust danger is with us still, and if I do nothing more I must emphasise its importance. We in South Wales are possibly more alive than are others to that danger. I remember explosions by which 300 or 400 lives were lost, but it was found that the bulk of the casualties were caused not by the coal gas which pervaded large areas but 1701 by dust. The dust killed our people by the hundred.
Before I go any further I should like to, pay my tribute to the Minister and to the Attorney-General. I have known the Minister in this House for many years. He not only showed himself anxious to understand the point of view of our people on the Committee, but sought the assistance of the Attorney-General, and that right hon. and learned Gentleman has been very good indeed. When I first saw the Bill I confess to showing my impatience. I thought it was not good enough. Now I stand here and say that It is a very good Bill indeed. I thank the two right hon. Gentlemen for what they have done. I thank also their advisers, the men who do the work in the. Department—as one who has been in the Department I know how much is owed to those men—for the attempt made this time to produce a working and workable Bill to serve the desires of each and every one of us.
May I say a word about the mines in which we now employ about 700,000 men. It used to be a million men, but is now at a steady level of 700,000. The output per person per week or per annum has remained at almost the same level throughout my life, in spite of the fact that the men have progressively had to go far deeper to win the coal. As the mines go deeper one has to build up resistance to the pressure of twice or three times the cover, but in spite of that the output has been maintained.
In the 43 years since the passage of the previous Bill we have worked a tremendous quantity of coal. A total of 10,000 million tons of coal has been worked since 1911. One cannot take that quantity out of the coalfields—the best coalfields in the world—without digging lower and lower. They are now working far deeper than when I started as a boy. There are many mines now between 3,000 and 4,000 ft. deep. Before I pass out there will be some mines exceeding the 4,000 ft. level.
For every 60 ft. of descent the temperature of the earth increases by one degree. At 3,600 ft. one has 60 degrees of additional temperature, making an average temperature of about 120–130 degrees. That imposes a physical disadvantage. A man cannot perform as 1702 much laborious work at that temperature as at temperatures of 40, 50 or 60 degrees. That is why I have been so determined that we should make the travelling ways and ventilating ways in the modern mine as large and commodious as possible. The additional volume of air we wish to circulate in the mines today could not have passed through the poky little airways we knew in the old days.
It is a matter of choice. If one wishes to ventilate mines and send round the necessary quantity of air one can either have airways large enough or a velocity which is too high. A dangerous thing it is to have a high velocity in a mine. There may be spontaneous fires, or fires arising from electrical machinery or other things, and too high a ventilation current may fan the incipient fire. To counteract the greater heat at greater depths one must have not only as much room as possible but must also slow down the rate at which the air travels, lest it should blow dust and ignite flames—but perhaps this is all rather too technical.
South Wales will bless this House for the attention which has been paid in this Act to the problem of dust, but the attention does not end with this debate. Voluntary services have been established. The workmen themselves are interested and can be still more interested in these problems of organisation for greater safety in the mines. I believe they have a good send off in this Bill. I thank the Minister, the Attorney-General, the people in the Department and my colleagues here who did far more than I did upstairs. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) has been stricken. I hope that he will soon be restored to health. He laboured unceasingly and showed a great deal of courage and understanding, and we should. I think, pay a special tribute to him for his work.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
I am very glad that the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), as one who did not serve on the Standing Committee, paid his tribute to the Ministers and others who have been responsible for producing possibly one of the greatest Measures for ensuring safety in mines and quarries. I should like to extend 1703 my tribute also to the officers and officials concerned, and especially to some of my hon. Friends, including the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who have done as much for miners as any other Member of this House.
I feel sure that without this enthusiasm, determination and inspiration, many other people would never have been able to make the contributions they have made to this Bill. I should also like to associate with those remarks my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). I often travel with him I was lucky not to be travelling with him when he met with his accident. I know that the responsibility of making this Bill something which will be of great value and benefit to people employed in mines and quarries has weighed heavily with him.
I spent a number of my early years with the miners of North Wales, and I know exactly what tragedies have come into their lives, in Gresford and other places, where these major explosions have taken such a heavy toll of life. I must, however, leave that matter because quite a good deal has been said about it.
My only excuse for taking part in this debate is that I feel that somebody ought to say how pleased we are that something has been done for the safety of the workers in the slate quarries of my native land. I was brought up among them and while we cannot say that big explosions have occurred with heavy loss of life, as we can say, unfortunately, in respect of the mines, death has taken its toll steadily and persistently among the quarrymen of my area. I hope it will not be thought out of place if I say that it has taken a toll in my own family, including my father. Therefore, I speak with a good deal of personal emotion because, as I say, my father lost his life in a quarry and another member of my family was also killed.
Although we have not lost hundreds of quarrymen together, we have lost thousands of them individually while working in the slate quarries of North 1704 Wales. Not only have lives been lost in fatal accidents, but a great number of men have been disabled by tuberculosis and silicosis. Some people think that because quarrymen work in open places, many of them in the large quarries in Bleanau Ffestiniog and the Penrhyn quarries of Caernarvonshire, it must be a very healthy life, but I can assure the House that there is no part of Wales that has suffered more from tuberculosis and silicosis than some of these quarry areas. There have been great tragedies in these areas of Snowdonia through tuberculosis.
Some of the older Members of the House will remember very well the inquiry that was presided over by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who had to tell the House that they had come to the conclusion that tuberculosis was more rampant in some of these areas in North Wales than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Having regard to those facts, I hope that a great deal of emphasis will be placed on the application of Clause 104 which deals with dust precautions. I am glad that the terms of this provision are so precise and definite, and I hope that every effort will be made to make sure that they are applied in detail in these quarries.
It has been emphasised, and not too strongly, that the success of this and similar legislation depends not upon sentiment and emotion in this House, but on the day-to-day application of the regulations by the officials whose duty it is to see that they are carried out. The Minister must consider the position of the inspectorate. It is no use having good regulations unless there are men of knowledge, character, determination and courage to see that they are carried out.
This new charter should save thousands of lives which would, perhaps, otherwise be lost had we not had this very careful consideration which the Committee has given to the Bill. In paying tribute, therefore, to all that has been done by the Ministers and by our own people, I hope that the Minister will now see that the officials concerned will enter into their new task with great determination, because no greater work can be done than to save the workers in this most important industry of ours.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
This Bill is nearing the end of its somewhat chequered career, and my difficulty this afternoon is one that is shared, I think, by hon. Members on both sides of the House—the difficulty of finding something new to say about this voluminous Bill. I hope that I never have to make so many speeches on technical matters in the same length of time ever again. But one can say with sincerity that this Bill is an important milestone in the history of mining. I believe that not only in the immediate years to come but 25 years hence this Measure will be hailed as one of the most valiant attempts that Parliament has ever made to increase safety in mines and reduce the number of accidents which take place in the extractive industries.
I am a miner, with a miner's outlook. Five generations of my family have been miners. I have a son working in the pit at the present time. Pits and pitmen have made up my whole existence, so that perhaps I can be said to have what might be regarded as a vested interest in this Bill. I want it to be clear that whatever the critics may say about this Bill, it is calculated to meet with the general approbation of the entire mining industry. I am proud to have taken a share in assisting its passage through the House.
On Second Reading, we on this side afforded the Bill a qualified welcome. We declared that without any feelings of acrimony we would try to make the Bill better in Committee, and no one will doubt that it has emerged from the previous stage in a manner calculated to win the approval of the miners and of the managements in the industry. But without the reshaping which the Bill has undergone in Committee, it would have been rejected and unwanted by the mining and quarrying industries. Without the co-operation of both sides of the House and the readiness of the Minister to seek compromise, the success that the Government are achieving today would never have been possible.
Only those who have been intimately associated with the Bill during its passage through Committee realise how much effort has been devoted to achieving agreement upon what at first seemed to be deep and controversial issues. I am only too acutely conscious of my own 1706 shortcomings as a Parliamentarian, and I fully appreciated the tremendous responsibility which devolved upon me during the enforced absence of my senior colleague during the Committee stage. It must have been much more arduous for the Minister, but I am sure that he will now feel that his exertions have been worth while. He will always be recognised as the author of the charter of safety for the mining industry.
During the Second Reading debate hon. Members on this side of the House complained about the lack of minimum standards in the Bill. That defect has now very largely been remedied. It would have been a fatal mistake to leave to regulations some of the vital features of safety which were generally accepted as needing to be dealt with by this revising Measure. I am pleased to refer to some of these minimum standards, which have been included in the Bill as a result of representations made by hon. Members on this side of the House.
The Bill shows an appreciation of the lessons which were learnt from recent disasters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) referred to the disaster at Creswell, which is in my constituency. I recall that, when he was Minister of Fuel and Power, he came to Creswell a few hours after the disaster occurred, and we saw there together the distressing scenes which followed the underground fire. The report of the inquiry into that disaster emphasised the necessity for the development of fireproof belting on the conveyors, and we now express our appreciation that the Minister has seen fit to provide for such fireproof belting. No less than 3,500 miles of conveyor belting is used daily in our mines, and that, together with brattice cloth, represents a serious fire hazard. We are glad that in a few years' time the inflammable material in these two articles will be eliminated.
Another lesson which was learned from that disaster relates to water supply. I referred to the absence of any reference to this subject during the Second Reading debate. One of the disturbing features about the Creswell disaster was that when the fire broke out underground and the fire hoses were made ready for use, no water was available for them. Provision is now made for adequate water supplies 1707 to be provided at all mines for the purpose of fire fighting.
Reference was made yesterday to the height of travelling roads. I dissent from the opinion of those who believe that this Bill makes no substantial advance in that respect. It is true that hon. Members on this side of the House aimed at securing a minimum height of 6 feet, but critics must recognise the compromise of 5 ft. 6 ins. as a tremendous advance. When I look at 6 inches on the span of my hand it does not seem much, but an increase of 6 inches in the height of every travelling road in every one of our pits represents a tremendous improvement, and it will entail considerable work and expense. I invite those who criticise this compromise to visit some of our collieries. If they do so they may appreciate how much this extra 6 inches will mean.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) in lamenting the fact that women are still to be employed in the coal mining industry. Arguments against the further recruitment of women were put forward with great cogency during the Committee stage, and I do not intend to repeat them now. I would, however, ask the Minister to consider the question again, even at this late stage, and to see if he cannot carry out our wishes. In this enlightened age, when we pay so much lip service to the emancipation of women, they ought not to be recruited for work on the screens. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln, who said:You cannot escape the responsibility for tomorrow by evading it today.The provisions dealing with precautions against dust will be hailed—particularly in South Wales, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has said—as representing one of the most remarkable advances in mining legislation. In recent years the heavy toll which pneumoconiosis has taken of the cream of our manhood in the mining industry has ben a disgrace. We always looked upon dust in mines as being a bad thing because of the possibility of it creating explosions, but owing to the emergence of pneumoconiosis attention has recently been called to the fact that dust is not only a cause of explosion, but is a danger to life itself.
1708 Nowhere in the world can regulations for the prevention and treatment of dust be as stringent as those provided by this Bill. It is calculated drastically to reduce the number of men afflicted through the inhalation of dust, and to attract more young men to the industry, because they will no longer fear this dreaded disease. If the fortunes and misfortunes of life had not led me from pit to Parliament: if I still had to earn my livelihood at the coal face, I should indulge in that arduous work with much greater reassurance, knowing that the dangers to miners will be materially lessened by the operation of this Bill.
I commend it to the managers. Although it imposes greater responsibility upon them they can feel assured that it preserves their status as no other legislation has done. I commend it to the inspectors, to whom I pay a tribute for the excellent job they have done over the years, with an entire lack of bias and under very difficult circumstances. I commend it to the National Coal Board. The Board may feel some perturbation about the heavy financial responsibilities which it imposes, but a socialised industry ought to be the ideal employer and ought to have the best safety regulations.
Finally, I commend it to my comrades in the pits. They can feel assured that it presents to them a charter of safety which has the unanimous approval of the National Union of Mineworkers, and they should recognise it as such in their daily work. I conclude with a repetition of what I said on Second Reading. Legislation of itself will not ensure safety. It is the spirit in which legislation is implemented that matters, and I hope that throughout the industry the correct spirit will prevail.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I think it would be convenient if I were first of all to give certain assurances that have been asked for by hon. Members today. I can say to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) with regard to Clause 64 that we can give an assurance that the regulations will deal with those cases where the numbers inbye are temporarily doubled by the fact that the men in those mines have to change shifts 1709 at the face. As to Clause 83, we will take steps to see that the word "himself or other" are removed. We shall suggest that in another place.
With regard to the important question of the abolition of vermin, we feel that another place is the appropriate legislative body for that. Although it may have its humorous aspects, nevertheless, as the hon. Member said, Weil's disease is extremely serious, involving infection, by spirochaete, and it is important to eradicate the cause. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) that there will always be appeal in cases of safety lamps in the metalliferous mines to the Chief Inspector and the Minister, and in almost all cases there will be separate regulations for the metalliferous mines, which involve special and separate problems.
I should like, shortly but sincerely, on behalf of myself and my colleagues to acknowledge the very generous remarks that have been made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, both yesterday and today, about the work we have done on the Bill. I admit that it does give me a great deal of satisfaction, as some hon. Members have suggested, and, moreover, for a reason also that, perhaps, is not in their minds.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) knows this is for me an important stage in the completion of a job to which I first set my hand 15 years ago, when I was hoping to introduce a Safety in Mines Bill. It was, of course, stopped by the war. In those days the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) took me on my first visits to the pits, when I was Secretary for Mines, an office the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower has himself held.
I would also say how much I appreciate what has been said about the Attorney-General and the help he has given us. We all had our little bit of fun in Committee about lawyers. I would say again what I said on one occasion in Committee when I thought the joke had gone rather too far, that it ill behoves Members of this House to speak disrespectfully of the legal profession having 1710 regard to the fundamental part lawyers took in building up the powers of this House in the past and to the useful help they give to Members in the present. Apart from that, it would have been quite possible for my right hon. and learned Friend to have devolved his work on the Bill to somebody else because of the immense labours involved in his high office at the Bar and in the Government. It was because of the contact he had formed during the war with miners that he was so anxious to help us with the Bill, and, in spite of his many other duties, he was present in Committee practically all the time and played a key part in resolving difficulties, and a critical difficulty with which we were faced and which we resolved, and of which matter I shall say no more now because it is not necessary at this stage.
I would also say how grateful I am for the almost incredible and automatic mastery of the facts of every Amendment possessed by the Parliamentary Secretary. Moreover, as hon. Members have referred to this they will, perhaps, allow me to take the unusual course of saying that we do very much appreciate and much depended on the immense body of information and also the loyalty and proficiency of the inspectorate and of the Safety and Health Division of the Ministry. After all, there is a relationship between legislation and administration, and here was more evidence of it. I would add that I am very sorry, as other hon. Members are, that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who played such a large part in our debates, is unfortunately not here.
I would remind the House that what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) said is perfectly true, that when the Bill came up on Second Reading the Opposition gave it qualified approval. When that was clear I made it clear also that, so far as I was concerned, I wanted to seek the co-operation of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said, I genuinely wanted to listen to the wisdom of the old colliers. Hon. Gentlemen have said I have done that, and of course I have. I think that our work on the Bill has been a very fine example, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) said, of the working of our Parliamentary institutions, because there has been real give and 1711 take in the constructive deliberations of the House and of the Committee.
Although there are a great many very important provisions in the Bill, there is something else that is also extremely important—one may say even more important than any particular provision in the Bill—as has been made manifest today and in the deliberations in Committee, and that is that this is now not merely a Government Bill but a Bill which the House of Commons is united in presenting for the benefit of the mining industry. It has given me very great encouragement that that is so, and that the Bill has been held up on all sides as a miners' charter for safety. After hearing what has been said, the men in the coalfields will know now that their leaders in Parliament, and, no doubt, also in the country and in the coalfields, are hailing this as something Parliament is doing to help the industry in future.
That brings me to a point that has been stressed, that in addition to passing the Bill there is the great importance of its proper enforcement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South very properly emphasised the good safety record of the National Coal Board. What he said about that was perfectly correct, but it is also a fact that a number of the things he mentioned as having been done by the Coal Board were suggested to it by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. Although we recognize, all of us, that the Board is a good employer that does not mean that there is to be in the future any lessening of the importance of the unbiassed function—as it has been described in the debate—performed by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. That is a principle we all in this House accept.
That reminds me of an episode, if I may so describe it, in Committee, when the Government were defeated and when the words "with the consent of the Treasury" were taken out of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South went rather far, I should say, in view of his Ministerial experience, in exploiting that event, because, of course, whether the words are in or out of the Bill, under the British system of Parliamentary and Cabinet Government there can be no doubt at all that a Minister, if he is to incur expenditure, has to get the agreement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I quite agree, but I think the House and the Committee have made it quite plain that in this important matter they do not want the will of the Treasury to prevail.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope it will be noted everywhere. We must agree with the hon. Member for Ince who said that when we cannot get more than three good inspectors out of 70 applicants there is something wrong. I do not disguise the fact that there is something wrong when the inspectorate is below establishment. All I can say is that I am in discussion with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this very important matter.
The right hon. Member for Gower, the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) and other hon. Members today stressed the fact that not only is the Bill important from the safety point of view, but it will also, they hope, have beneficial effects on production and also on recruitment and therefore, indirectly, on production again. I have no doubt that the public will have noted with interest that only last week, in a different part of our proceedings, we discussed the acute shortage of coal at the present time, and that this week the House has been engaged in giving the Third Reading to this great safety Bill.
I very much hope that the view of the hon. Member for Normanton and others will be borne out. We have to remember that production and safety can never be far divorced. They must remain together and react on each other all the time. I remind the House of what I said on Second Reading—that two great influences are coming to bear on the coal mining industry at present. One is that our mines are undergoing a fundamental reconstruction. It is difficult for the public outside the coal mining districts to appreciate what that means and, particularly, what it means in time. The sinking of a new mine takes about 10 years—or rather, it is 10 years before it comes into full production.
In this reconstruction of the industry, in many cases we are not sinking new mines but are making major reconstructions underground. It is very difficult for the public to appreciate the full importance of that. May I put it simply like 1713 this: it is making a new pit underground but using the old shaft. Those away from the coal mining districts often find it difficult to appreciate that even this reconstruction takes up to seven years before it produces its effect.
In view of the fact that these plans were not produced with very great speed in the years immediately after nationalisation, partly because of a shortage of technicians, we have to recognise that there are still some years before anybody can reasonably expect the major reconstruction of the British coalfields to be giving its proper yield in extra production—that is, extra production which proceeds from a technical reconstruction and does not involve or depend upon extra physical effort on the part of the men.
It is a fact that before this process begins to produce its results there will be a period of two or three years, and it is in that period that we depend upon everybody in the industry, particularly the miners, to give us that extra spurt which can carry the country through to the time when the reconstruction is yielding its results. Of course, the miners' leaders, as well as the National Coal Board, are doing everything possible at present to urge the men to that course.
In the same way, the great safety proposals involved in the Bill must be linked with the improvement and the physical reconstruction of the pits under the great plan which I have mentioned, and a great many will, therefore, take a certain time to come into effect. We shall, however, lose no time in making such regulations as we possibly can make, and, as hon. Members know, our first task will be to re-enact the existing regulations straight away.
The hon. Member for Ince pleased me very much when he said, speaking with all due caution, that I had shown a proper feeling for the British miners. I took that as a very great compliment. I always wish to show that proper feeling. I have always wished to do so ever since I had the opportunity of visiting a great many of the pits.
I do not think the British miner, in literature and in his general fame in the world, has received his due meed of appreciation. The miner is one of the most skilled and virile of British workers. 1714 In my view he falls into the same class as the seaman and the flyer, for he is engaged in fighting the enormous forces of nature and he is doing it in an occupation which is vital to the survival of the country.
Why has he not received this due meed when the fame of British seamen has been told in story and fable across all our literature? I have often reflected on this, and I think the reason for it is that writers and men of genius in writing have on their lawful occasions to go in ships—or even, if they do not go in a ship, they can often see a ship sailing from the land and can even see sea battles from the land from time to time. But in appreciating the miner they have to be in a mine, and perhaps it is only when a miner himself happens to be a writer that the fame of the miner and the achievements and heroism of the miner will be properly recorded. The fame of our seamen would not be what it is today if it had depended on the writing of the silent Service itself.
I hope it is a fact, as hon. Members opposite have said, that in the Bill we are helping to create a new future and a new outlook for the British mining industry.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.