HC Deb 30 June 1954 vol 529 cc1415-25
Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I beg to move, in page 4, line 3, to leave out "twenty-five," and to insert "twenty-six."

This Clause deals with the age of colliery managers. The effect of this

Amendment, and of a similar Amendment in line 20, is to increase the statutory minimum age from 25 to 26 for managers of mines employing more than 30 persons underground, or, of course, for managers in smaller mines which an inspector certifies must be run by managers with first-class certificates.

6.30 p.m.

The House will recall that when the Bill was originally introduced, the minimum age for managers was put at 25. We considered that that was a reasonable age in all the circumstances. It had stood for the last 40 years or so, and there had been no complaints. However, it was represented to us on Second Reading, and also very strongly in Committee, that owing to the increase in mechanisation, and the increase in the responsibility and the difficulty of mining, it would be desirable to have a higher age. We considered that point and we consulted with great care. Some people wanted more and some wanted less, but it is true to say that, with a greater or lesser degree of reluctance, there has been general agreement now upon the age of 26 as being in all the circumstances the most appropriate. I hope very much that the House will adopt the view which has been taken, because we could have very long arguments about it, though I suggest that all the arguments have already been considered.

Mr. D. Griffiths

I appreciate the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that some had said that the age should be less and others had said that it should be more. I want more. I want to tell the Minister and his advisers that I am still not satisfied. In Committee I offered to compromise in a moderate and temperate way. I suggest that I was more than reasonable when I reduced my figure from 30 to 28. I have always contended that with the difficulties, natural and human, which managers have to meet, especially in large collieries, a man cannot have had the necessary experience at an early age. I suggest that those who have agreed to the Minister's suggestion are wrong. They have erred on the wrong side.

Under modern methods of mining the men who ultimately fill these posts are studying up to the age of 22. This is a salient consideration. I have seen many managers, and how in the name of goodness some of them got certificates I do not know. I have seen some men with first-class certificates to whom I would not give a certificate for a county minor educational examination. These men could not test for gas. It has been my experience as an ordinary man to challenge men who have been certificated on how to handle a lamp when testing for gas. Of course, I would not say that that is general throughout the industry. A lot has been done under the examining board, and more must be done. I do not speak of the ordinary shotfirer, or the deputy, and so on, but of one who holds the key position governing the life and well-being of thousands of men.

I am most disappointed that some of our friends on the other side of the industry have succumbed to the wishes or to the dictates of the Minister and his advisers. The Amendment is unfair. Many of these young men will have had no practical experience. Before the men in the coalfields can appoint a man to be their representative and to inspect the workings, he must have had five years' practical experience. Under the Amendment a man can get a first-class certificate and then be permitted to have control of the life and well-being, socially, administratively, industrially, and so on, of many men, at the age of 26. A man can be certificated and have that responsibility without having had any practical experience.

There was a weakness in the 1911 Act, and I contend that there is also one here. There is no other industry like mining. There is no industry so difficult or dangerous. It is unfair and unfitting that while a man on the workman's side must have had five years' experience, quite apart from his schooling, a man can have merely a theoretical knowledge of the industry without any practical experience and can then take a post like this at the age of 26. In many cases the man will not be capable of fulfilling the duties involved. I oppose the Amendment. I am very sorry that the Minister did not accept the age of 28.

Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the matter was discussed on Second Reading and at some length in Committee. I took the view in Committee that on the whole, the age of 25 was not sufficient, and to that extent I am glad that it has been suggested that the figure should be raised to 26. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths). I am not completely happy about 26, although I accept the Amendment.

What has a certificated man done by the age of 25 or 26? With the raising of the age at which he can go underground, he will not go underground until he is 18. After a year or so underground he will be selected to go to a vocational training school, where he will spend another 18 months or so learning the theory and, in a small way, the practical side of the business. If he does well he will be selected to have a scholarship to a mining university, where he will do a theoretical course from which he will emerge at about the age of 23. He then has two years' practical experience—now three years—before being selected as a colliery manager. That is a very short time.

His counterpart, the university student, probably emerges from his university at about the age of 23 also. He requires somewhat more practical experience than the boy who has risen from working in the pit. In that case also he is really not very well fitted at the age of 26 to take charge of a large colliery or indeed of any colliery. We must remember the psychological aspect. Thinking of their safety, men will be bound to ask how much practical experience the young man has if he is to look after their lives, apart from looking after the pit in general.

It must be obvious from the discussions which have taken place that the age of 26 must be the very youngest at which anyone can be considered as a colliery manager. This will not mean that we shall lose the valuable services of a particularly brilliant young man, for there are plenty of other jobs that he can do as a certificated manager before he takes on a post as colliery manager. There is work in the planning department, where he can gain a great deal of experience and can be most usefully employed in the meantime.

It may interest hon. Members opposite to know that, since taking this attitude, I have discussed the matter with a number of young men whom I appointed to be managers. I had always taken the view that the desirable age for that post was 28. Most of those young men have since risen to very giddy heights within the National Coal Board. They all agree that it was wise to delay their promotion to colliery managers until about the age of 28. They were bright young men. If I had to live my life over again, I should still take the view that I did then. After all, a man of 28 is not really very old.

Although for the purposes of the Bill the statutory minimum of 26 will, I believe, be practically sound, I hope that the National Coal Board in its wisdom will see to it that men are 27 or 28 before they are appointed colliery managers.

Mr. T. Brown

The hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has been courageous enough both during the Committee stage and on Report to speak against the proposed minimum age for mine managers.

The reason why I am opposed to the proposed minimum age is the changing circumstances which have manifested themselves at many pits within the past 25 years. Years ago, it was a very big pit which employed 300 or 400 men, but we now have pits employing up to 3,000 men. From the point of view of mechanisation and of handling men, the situation has changed considerably.

One fact which was brought out during the Committee stage in our discussions on this aspect of the Bill was that we have raised the school-leaving age by a year and are raising the age limit in respect of young men going underground. The latter change is a step in the right direction, but it prevents the young man from getting his experience as early as young men used to get their experience in days gone by.

6.45 p.m.

There is another aspect which the Opposition, and particularly hon. Members from coalfields, must bear in mind. A man of 26 cannot understand the psychology of the miner. Any man who is to be successful in the mining industry, as a mine manager, as an under-manager or even as a checkweighman, must have a profound understanding of the psychology of the miner. No matter how academically qualified a young man may be, it is impossible for him, in the short period suggested, to appreciate human relationships with the men in the pits as they should be.

I remember a young man with very brilliant academic qualifications—none greater—entering the coal industry. He went to a large colliery and, like a new broom, began to sweep clean. He did his best in every conceivable way. Within a few months it was found that he had caused more loss of production than any mine manager who had preceded him. This was not because he did not possess engineering and other qualifications. It was because he did not understand the psychology of the miner. It was my painful duty to meet him on many occasions and sometimes to put him in his place, for the colliery might otherwise have stopped for all time. Because this young man, with his brilliant academic qualifications, did not understand the men in the pits, he upset the colliery more than any man who had ever been employed there.

As a result of our intervention and our kindly talks with him, he took the road which led to success. It may surprise hon. Members to learn that today that young man is the National Production Officer for the Coal Board. There we have an example to show that a young man who is moulded in the right way and gains an understanding of human relationships, proves to be much more successful than he would otherwise be.

I will not suggest what the age should be. That is a matter for the Minister and the Coal Board. If we do not put a specific age in the Bill, I think that the Board will see the wisdom of appointing as managers men who have more experience than they are likely to have obtained at 26. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde and my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) that 28 should be the minimum age. If the Minister would agree with us about the age of 28 before the Bill goes to another place, that would give us a greater degree of contentment, if not satisfaction.

Mr. T. Fraser

I wonder whether the Minister can tell us anything about the practice of the National Coal Board which would help us to appreciate the Amendment and to accept the age limit which is suggested.

I am sure that the Minister will appreciate the anxieties of some of my hon. Friends lest a young man of 26 should be given the job of manager in a large colliery employing 3,000 or 4,000 men. None of us would consider that a man of 26 would have the experience to fit him for the job. I do not think that the Board would dream of appointing a man of 26 to take charge of a colliery employing 3,000 or 4,000 men.

I should think it is the exception rather than the rule, even today, for young men to be appointed colliery managers at the age of 26, but I do not know. It does not happen in my own area, and I wonder whether the Minister has any statistics about it, particularly as concerning the practice of the Board. Here, we are simply laying down a minimum age at which a person can be employed as a colliery manager.

May I add that, when the 1911 Act was going through this House, it was desirable for Parliament to determine a minimum age. In those days, most of our collieries in this country were comparatively small and had a single owner. They were collieries owned either by very small companies or by private persons, many of them being one-owner collieries. It was understandable that, in many cases, the owner's son was trained to be the colliery manager, and, when he attained the age of 25, very often he became the manager of the colliery. If we had not had a minimum age of 25, it might well have been that we should have had young men of 20 being appointed to the management of a colliery.

Things have changed altogether, and I do not think there should be any danger today of young men who are too immature being given a responsible job in the mining industry. The Minister should tell us something about the practice of the National Coal Board, because that might allay the fears of some of my hon. Friends. If he cannot do that, no doubt, my hon. Friends will continue to feel very concerned lest a man who, at the age of 26 is still inexperienced, should be given the responsibility of managing a colliery at which 3,000 workers are employed.

Mr. John Timmons (Bothwell)

This is a matter on which I feel very strongly. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has asked the Minister about the methods of appointment, but I have had some experience of this matter, and I want to point out to the Minister that the people who are colliery managers today are men who came from the coal face, at which they spent most of their previous working lives. and had received their training at technical colleges in the evenings.

I had one experience concerning a man who got a job as manager at a colliery where I was checkweighman, and I remember that, on one occasion, about 30 miners were entombed. I received a telephone message, and I rushed off to the colliery, where I found that this young fellow of 26 or 27 did not know the way to start the job of extricating these men from the place in which they were trapped. Had it not been for the wiser and more experienced men at the colliery, it is very doubtful whether those men would ever have been got out of the pit.

The point that I want to make is that, from my own experience and knowledge, it is not a question of a man having the capacity for the job or being the right age; it depends on the number of friends one has on the executive of the National Coal Board. That is the danger, and there are many people employed by the Board not because of their capacity to do the job, but because they were the friends of private enterprise in the mining industry when the Board took it over. It has become more or less a family concern, into which people are being brought, not because of their capacity or ability to do the job, but simply because they have uncles, friends or relatives who have big jobs on the Board. That is the danger that I see.

Personally, I would not agree to the appointment of colliery manager being given to young men unless they had had at least five years' experience as under-manager. I therefore hope that the Minister will give further consideration to the matter.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

If I may have the leave of the House to reply to the debate, may I remind hon. Members that I indicated in my opening remarks that I was quite certain that, if the debate should continue, we would hear a great many interesting arguments from both sides of the House and in many directions, and that has been the case.

I want to emphasise to the House that this age of 26 is a statutory minimum. It is the fact that no person below the age of 26 can be made a colliery manager, and that represents an advance of one year on what has been the statutory minimum for the last 40-odd years. With regard to what the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons) said, I do not think he need have any anxieties as far as the coal mines are concerned, on the score of nepotism. I do not think cases can arise in which the owners' sons will be appointed to positions for which they do not possess the necessary qualifications.

In reply to the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Col. Lancaster), it is not to be expected—and I can tell the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) that it is not the practice—of the National Coal Board to appoint young men to manage big collieries. It is recognised that it is a part of their essential training, if they are to become managers of big collieries, that they must start as managers of small collieries.

Moreover they cannot become colliery managers or be certificated without having had practical training. Just as in the Merchant Navy a man can get his qualifications and his "ticket" at the age, I think, of 21 or 22, at which age no one would dream of placing him in command of the "Queen Elizabeth," although, strictly speaking, one would be entitled to do it, so in the coal industry no one would dream of putting a person with the bare minimum statutory qualifications in command of a big colliery.

I hope the House will accept that point of view, and will accept the age of 26, to which we have given very great consideration and on which we have had discussions with all the people who we thought could help in the matter. From all these discussions, we believe that it is the right age to insert in the Bill.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think the debate has shown that there is a very strong case in principle for what we said in Committee, although, from my personal experience, I must say that one of the ablest managers of a colliery whom I have known was only 25 years of age. He was appointed by the National Coal Board, and he had started work as a pit boy and had studied at evening classes and later at a university. The miners in the pit were extremely proud of him and had great confidence in him, but that was an exceptional case.

In principle, it ought not to happen, and we think that it is wrong. No doubt, it will very rarely happen that the Board will appoint such men, but this is only a statutory minimum, and, since the Government have given us one year, for that reason we will not vote against the Amendment, though we hope that the Minister will again reconsider the matter, if he can.

Amendment agreed to.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Redmayne]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered Tomorrow.