HC Deb 19 November 1954 vol 533 cc715-9

Lords Amendment: In page 58, line 28, at end, insert new Clause "C": (1) It shall be the duty of the owner of every mine to take such steps as are necessary to secure that all parts of the mine below ground are kept free from rats and mice, and provision may be made by regulations for requiring owners of mines to take steps for the destruction below ground therein of insects or any prescribed class of insects or otherwise for keeping parts of mines below ground free from insects or any prescribed class of insects. (2) Nothing in this section shall be construed as excluding the application to parts of mines below ground of any of the provisions of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act, 1949.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

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

The question of vermin is an important one, and it is even a topical one. I should like to recall the history of this matter. Hon. Members opposite asked us to include some definite provisions in the Bill for dealing with the proper extermination of vermin below ground. In our discussions we thought that we would avail ourselves particularly of the assistance of another place in dealing with this matter, because, for various reasons, we thought that would be appropriate. That was a view shared on all sides here, because of the technical difficulty of the subject, and the amount of experience that could be brought to bear.

This subject falls largely into two classes, first vermin below ground, and second vermin above ground. There are provisions in this new Clause for dealing with both those kinds of vermin. While some vermin are relatively harmless—indeed, some people would say they fulfil a useful purpose in the general order of nature and in the balance of life—there are other classes of vermin that are a deadly menace to health. I would stress that, and express my gratitude for the suggestion made by this Lords Amendment, because virus disease is an extremely serious thing.

I am glad to say that, although it is such a pernicious and deadly disease, it has been, generally speaking, declining, and I am also glad that the vermin population underground is declining as well. Still I think that it is vital that we should have the strongest possible provisions for reducing the problem still further, and I hope that we shall exterminate both the vermin which carry this disease and the disease itself. If I remember rightly, it is particularly bad in some of the northern coalfields.

What we have done now is to put a definite obligation upon the owner to deal with the matter, quite irrespective of the obligations that rest upon local authorities under the Act of 1949. We are now placing an additional and direct obligation on the owner, which means, of course, the National Coal Board, and we have taken steps to apprise them of the importance of the matter, and they were, indeed, already well aware of it.

With regard to the species rattus rattus, as it is called in the scientific works, which is the carrier of this disease, everything should be done to deal with it under this new Clause. As to the other species of vermin found above ground, what I may describe as rattus Bevanis, there has been rather an increase in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, and it is probably going to spread throughout the country.

Mr. R. Williams

Apart from vermin, what consideration has the Minister given to insects, which are also to be dealt with under this new Clause, and are here mentioned for the first time in the Bill? I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has spent quite a lot of time on this matter and will be able to give the House the benefit of his observations, in terms as full of erudition and charm as those in which he has talked about vermin. I am sure the House would not like to part with the new Clause without hearing what the Minister has to say about insects.

Mr. T. Brown

One feels grateful to the Minister for focusing his mind on the problem of vermin. We who are miners know that mines are subject to visitations by mice, which come as provender for the ponies in the deep mines, and we all know that there are visitations from time to time by rats, mostly in drift mines.

I wonder what steps the Minister is going to take to deal with the wood hornet. It is a little insect, but is a very terrible insect. Nobody can sec it, even above ground, because it bores into timber. It comes from abroad, mostly in the pit props from Finland and northern Russia. Nobody can tell that it is in the timber. How is the right hon. Gentleman going to deal with this insect when it reveals itself underground? The wood hornet is embedded in the timber; it is latent there; it comes out when it gets into the pit atmosphere.

Some may say that it is only a trivial thing; but is it? I have known wood hornets in the pits make severe attacks on miners who did not know anything about them until the damage was done. I recall a case in which a wood hornet, rather about the normal size, descended on the back of a miner who thought it was only a little bit of dirt of the sort we get in the pit. Eventually that hornet, accustomed to boring into timber, bored into the man's back, and set up septic poisoning, and that man was a cripple.

What steps is the Minister going to take for examination of imported props? What steps is he going to take to see to it that as far as possible and wherever practicable—I have to use that expression of which we heard so much in Committee—the wood hornet in timber shall not go into the pits? I know that there are processes that may be applied.

We are delighted to know that the Minister is focusing his mind upon what to some people may appear to be a trivial matter but is in reality a very important one. The trouble should be put right at the beginning, by the preven- tion of wood hornets from descending into the pits and infesting them. There are several little matters under this heading that can be dealt with by the Minister in the quiet of his office. He ought to consider how and to what extent these insects can be prevented from doing damage underground.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I think that in this issue the Minister has gone a long way to meet the desires of this side of the House and has imposed an obligation on mine managers that was not in the 1911 Act. There may be difficulties about some insects, but this is a statutory obligation on the manager to keep down such things as rats in the drifts and mice in deep shafts. Whatever may be the difficulties about insects, I think the three difficult things in a pit are what we call midges around the choppy block for ponies, rats and mice, and beetles that crawl about the stables in the pit. We are getting a good concession in having an obligation placed upon the managers to abolish these vermin from the mines of our country to the best of their ability.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

I want to join in welcoming this new Clause. It is very welcome to us on this side of the House. As has already been stated, we did not have a similar Clause in the old Act and we know from many years of experience that quite a number of men have been disabled by Weil's disease, which is due to contamination from rats.

In the last five or six years we have had quite a number of deaths—particularly in Scotland and South Wales—of men suffering from this horrible disease. Thirty per cent. of those who suffered from it have passed away as a result. Therefore, this new Clause, which now places an obligation upon the Coal Board to take the necessary precautions, will—as has already been stated—be very welcome indeed. I realise that the National Board Board has already taken many steps in this matter.

11.45 a.m.

We are informed that rats which ate the food for horses and their manure now feed on edible oils as well, and it is necessary to transfer wherever possible to inedible oils. This position reveals that miners not only have to grapple with the forces of nature—the falls of earth and rock—but with this disease spread by rats. That shows the risk a miner runs in so many spheres in trying to get coal from mother earth.

I want again to extend my thanks to the Minister for having inserted this Clause in the Bill. If we can save one human life and help to eradicate this disease from the industry, this Clause will be welcomed by the miners and we look forward with optimism to its effect in the mining industry.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

By leave of the House, I would like to add a word, particularly to what has been said by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). We ought to be particularly grateful for the work that was done in another place in dealing with insects as well as with rats and mice, because in our original consideration of this we got as far as rats and mice, but we did not so much direct our minds to the insects.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ince that the question of insects coming in pitprops ought to be properly dealt with. Of course, the use of wooden pitprops is declining and, I expect, it will go on declining. But, as I expect he would like to know, it is the intention to deal with this matter by treating timber either with creosote, or silicates, which, I understand, are effective against these particular pests.

It is a good feature that the Minister will have power by regulation to deal with this matter in detail so that we shall be able, supposing some other menace arises, to deal with it. We are particularly anxious that we should make progress in dealing with the small amount of Weil's disease, treating its seriousness not in proportion to the number of cases, but to the dangerous nature of the disease when it manifests itself.

Question put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments, to the Amendment in page 69, line 33, agreed to.