HC Deb 19 November 1954 vol 533 cc719-21

Lords Amendment: In page 69, line 33, leave out Clause 119 and insert new Clause "E": Where there occurs at a mine or quarry an accident or other occurrence (being in either case one of which notice is required by this Act to be given), no person shall disturb the place where it occurred or tamper with anything thereat before—

  1. (a) the expiration of three clear days after notification of the accident or other occurrence in accordance with this Act; or
  2. (b) that place has been both visited by an inspector and inspected in exercise of the powers in that behalf conferred by the provisions of this Act relating to workmen's inspections;
whichever first occurs: Provided that—
  1. (i) nothing in this section shall prohibit the doing of anything by or with the consent of an inspector; and
  2. (ii) in any proceedings taken in respect of a contravention of this section consisting of the doing of any act, it shall be a defence to prove that the doing of that act was necessary for securing the safety of the mine or quarry or persons thereat."

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I beg to move. "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is very largely a rewriting of the previous Clause, but it also introduces certain new points of significance, though not of very fundamental importance. It particularly provides that the site of an accident shall be left undisturbed for three clear days so the workmen's inspectors as well as Her Majesty's inspectors may have an opportunity of visiting the place. The principal additional change is that the disturbance of such a site of an accident shall be permitted, subject to the consent of an inspector, if leaving it undisturbed would impede the working of the mine. In both cases I think the slight variations meet the wishes of the House.

Mr. Neal

I do not mind admitting—and I think it is an admission which is shared by my hon. Friends—that my lay mind is incapable of appreciating the obscure value of some of the finer legal points of the Amendments which the House has previously approved.

But I can readily see the advantages of this Amendment. During the Committee stage we pointed out our desires concerning what should be done following an accident. When an accident has taken place underground, it is necessary that the scene of the accident shall be left undisturbed for a period in which inspections by both Her Majesty's inspector and by inspectors representing the workers can take place. It is not always possible to do this. Sometimes, the exigencies of safety and production render it impossible. But without this Amendment there would be unexampled confusion and doubt regarding the rights of workers' representatives after an accident underground.

The owners of the mine would have a decided advantage over the employees in any possible litigation that might take place. That advantage is now removed by this Amendment. A subsequent decision of a coroner's court, or of the High Court, or the findings of an inquiry that had been set up by the Minister, might depend on the views of those who view the scene of the accident in these circumstances. The information obtained might not always be of great value in any subsequent decision in any of these courts or inquiries that might take place. But it will give great satisfaction to the workmen that these facilities are available. Besides justice being done, we must make it appear to be done.

Paragraph (ii) in this new Clause is a very fair provision. It reads: In any proceedings taken in respect of a contravention of this Section consisting of the doing of any act, it shall be a defence to prove that the doing of that act was necessary for securing the safety of the mine … We are heartily in agreement with that insertion, because in this Amendment safety is paramount over production. It does not say that coal shall be taken regardless of this intention. It does not say expenses shall be considered. It gives safety priority over everything else. This Amendment has our full agreement and we are sure the trade unions concerned with workmen's representation will be satisfied with its content.

Question put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments, to the Amendment in page 74, line 9, agreed to.