HC Deb 02 December 1965 vol 721 cc1744-70
Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil)

On a point of order. In view of the fact that what is contained in Amendment No. 15 aroused the strongest protest from this side of the House during the Second Reading, may we be told why the Amendment has been rejected?

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Janner)

I am told that it is in order. The hon. Member must be content with the decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means on this matter.

Mr. Davies

Further to that point of order. With every respect to you, Sir Barnett, I would point out that we have heard that said on many occasions. May we therefore assume that the Chairman of Ways and Means knew nothing of the strong debate that took place on this part of the Clause?

The Temporary Chairman

I am afraid that the hon. Member must not cast that kind of aspersion on the Chairman of Ways and Means. I am sure that he knew exactly what happened.

Mr. Davies

The aspersion has been cast on the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil.

The Temporary Chairman

With the greatest respect to the hon. Member, I cannot accept that contention.

Mr. Box

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 4, line 20, after "section", to insert: and subject to the condition that each colliery proposed to be closed, should, before closure, be advertised for disposal or lease, by tender, on royalty terms on an agreed basis. I do not wish to cross swords with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies), but although I mentioned this subject in the Second Reading debate he will recall that it was not dealt with by the Minister when he wound up.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I intend to be brief. There is no doubt about what the Amendment seeks to do. It is not intended as a measure of denationalisation. That would obviously be impractical at the present time, when we are discussing rather large losses in the coal industry. What I suggest is that before a final decision is taken to close a colliery, especially one on the B List of the schedule of collieries that have a doubtful future, that colliery should be offered a reprieve by giving outside interests an opportunity of making it a successful venture and keeping it open. About 81 collieries are on the B List, and I suggest that even if we were able to rescue a handful it would be beneficial both to the mining industry and the mining communities concerned.

The National Coal Board already engages in this sort of enterprise by putting out to tender small mines and opencast mining in various parts of the country. It does so by granting a licence, and drawing a royalty on the coal that is produced and sold. In support of this Amendment, I draw attention to the table in page 100 of the last published Report of the National Coal Board, which records that in the year to 27th March, 1965, 7 million tons were produced from opencast sources and just under 2 million tons from the small mines.

I believe that if this reprieve were accepted, it would not only help to provide jobs for miners who might be threatened with loss of employment at present but would help to keep the mining communities together. I believe that it was the Parliamentary Secretary himself who last week remarked that one of the extra impacts of these mine closures is that many tradespeople in the area are likely to be badly affected by them.

It would also help the Board by raising its royalty revenue. Royalty revenue is a guaranteed profit, and never a loss. I also suggest, although I daresay that this is less acceptable to hon. Members opposite, that it would provide a healthy measure of competition in certain of the Board's areas. If the idea were considered practicable, quite obviously the maximum limit of 30 men employed in a private mine would have to be raised. It would be hard to visualise a deep mine of any size being operated with such a small labour force.

This suggestion is not quite as fantastic as some hon. Members opposite might think. Since I made it as a possible alternative, I have already had one approach, from someone well experienced in coal production, asking whether there was any chance of the National Coal Board accepting such an offer. If the National Coal Board and the Minister of Power were willing to consider whether this might be a feasible proposition as offering some solution towards the prevention of closure of even, as I say, a handful of those pits on the B list, perhaps other people would put their names forward and see whether they could make a viable proposition of the mines in question.

Mr. Probert

Would the hon. Gentleman suggest that if any of the people to whom he has referred were to accept one of these pits they would undertake the same liabilities that the Board has at the present time towards those who are disabled by either injury or dust in the pit?

Mr. Box

Quite obviously, the pit would have to be offered at tender on a commercial basis and, if there were such commitments, they would have to be taken into account when the tender terms were decided.

Mr. John Morris

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) puts his finger on the issue when he speaks of a maximum of 30 men being permitted to be employed in these pits. We all know that under the 1946 Nationalisation Act the National Coal Board has exclusive powers of both working and getting coal. It has a discretion to do that which the hon. Member seeks to make mandatory, but it can only exercise that discretion in respect of small mines; that is to say, where the number of men employed below ground is not likely to exceed 30, or where the getting of coal is ancillary to the working of other minerals. The Board, as the hon. Gentleman knows, grants licences in that respect.

8.45 p.m.

One thing is apparent. From the list of collieries involved it is apparent that very few of the pits to be closed could be worked with such a small number of men. It is not the Board's policy at present to encourage fresh applications for the operation of licensed mines, but if any private operator was of the opinion that a mine to be closed could be operated economically with not more than 30 employees the Board would no doubt consider the application on its merits. For the bulk of the pits, advertisement as the hon. Gentleman wishes would serve no purpose, since those tendering could not legally work the pits.

If it were to be otherwise, if the figure of 30 were to be altered significantly or substantially, that would be, quite contrary to what the hon. Gentleman suggested, a measure of denationalisation. It could have quite substantial repercussions on the whole of the Board's finances. The greater the extent to which this were done, obviously the greater the effect of the impact on the whole of the Board's calculations; and the whole of the finances of the industry, which we are now seeking to protect and to put on to a healthy and proper basis, could be put in jeopardy if there were a substantial change of policy in this respect.

I would certainly be against any kind of measure of denationalisation of the coal industry. We have to look at it as a whole. While in the past the Board has exercised its discretion as to small pits, if there were to be a major change of policy and if a substantial change were to be carried out to the 1946 Act, that, in my view, would be quite contrary to the proper interests of both the coal industry and of the nation.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) has suggested that this is a magic way of saving some of the villages whose lives now turn on the closure of the pits. I believe the hon. Gentleman is completely deluding the grocers and other tradesmen who live on the mining industry by suggesting that this is an alternative method of doing this. If a small mine of this kind were handed back to private enterprise, they would want to make a profit out of it. The first thing they would do would be to cut down upon the safety regulations for the men in the pit. The result might be that there would be many accidents and the lives of the miners would be sacrificed again. If the hon. Gentleman wants to do a service to communities now affected by pit closures, he would do far better to concentrate his attention on providing them with alternative industries which would employ those who are now losing their jobs on pit closures.

Mr. Box

I was encouraged at the beginning of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech because I thought it was a reasonable approach to my suggestion. However, he seemed to say, on the one hand, that this was a not unreasonable suggestion, but then he damned it by saying that in no circumstances would more than 30 employees be allowed to work a deep pit. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that this is quite an impracticable proposition. As I said in my opening remarks, I am not suggesting this as a method of denationalisation of the industry, but I would suggest that, as some 80 mines are threatened with closure, this is a reasonable way of providing some alternative to the closures. If the hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend have any other suggestions to make as to how those pits may be reprieved, obviously we would be very glad to hear them.

It was deplorable of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to suggest that, because someone operating a mine under licence from the Board wanted to make a profitable venture of it—I see no earthly reason why he should undertake it, unless he makes it a profitable venture—he would sacrifice safety regulations. The Board could be relied upon to ensure that safety regulations were not reduced, although it has some difficulty in ensuing that its own safety regulations are carried out at present.

Obviously a suggestion of this sort could be made a practical proposition if the Minister of Power would consider increasing the number. I would have been the first to have been agreeably surprised if my Amendment had been accepted. Having now ventilated my point of view, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hence

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 5, line 15, at the end to insert: such payments to cover completely the costs of removal and a resettlement grant of not less than £200". I move the Amendment in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) who unfortunately cannot be in the Chamber now although he is in the Palace. The Amendment is a modest one. When miners are displaced as a result of the closure of pits, it is not easy for the family to move to another mining village which may be 50 miles or 100 miles away. In Scotland it is a difficult disturbance to a family to move from Scottish coalfields, for instance in Dunbartonshire, or in Fife. The mining communities are small and close, and the disturbance felt in moving is much more serious than that which would be felt by those of us who have spent most of our lives in the urban conurbations.

In resettling a miner we should, therefore, consider a very high figure by way of resettlement grant. Many of the miners who will be made redundant by pit closures will be aged between 40 and 50, and it will be difficult for them to find alternative employment if the Board is unable to absorb them in other pits. In Dunbartonshire I have had the greatest difficulty in obtaining through the Ministry of Labour or the local authorities new employment for miners in this age group. They are often handicapped because of superannuation schemes, especially those established by local authorities. We should, therefore, feel very compassionate towards these people who have become unemployed through no fault of their own or of the Board.

Unfortunately, many of these people were born and reared in a part of the country where coal seams were thin or where there were faults or a great deal of rock or where it was very wet. This is where these miners happened to have been pitched and this is where they sought employment. They have spent their lives at this work and have acquired skills which cannot be used in any other industry. I am an engineer and I have always felt that when a miner is denied the use of his skills as a miner and is pushed right down the ladder from the career which he has followed he has the right to demand from the rest of us in society the highest possible compensation. No other skilled man deprived of his livelihood, especially between 40 and 55 years of age, deserves so much compensation and consideration as the displaced miner.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West has the miners' cause very much at heart. I think that he was bred in the Durham Coalfield and is not a Scot, but I know that he feels very deeply on this matter and will, as I do, wish my right hon. Friend to consider this Amendment most sympathetically.

Mr. Frederick Lee

I have no doubt of the importance of the issue enshrined in the Amendment. Its effect would be that payments by the Board in respect of removal costs and resettlement grant would now be required at a specified level. We must consider what the Coal Board does in this kind of situation. At present, there is a wide range of benefits offered under the heading of transfer allowances. Whereas the Amendment refers to costs of removal and resettlement grant to an amount not less than £200, the present grants include a wide range of benefits other than these. For instance, they include fares for the man and his family, including visits by dependants. They include subsistence allowances, which are of great importance to the miner put in this position. They include excess rent allowances and lodging allowances. This kind of allowance is at present within the ambit of the work which the National Coal Board does.

To adopt the Amendment and the figure of not less than £200 for two specific objects might well drive the Coal Board to reduce the very considerable amount it now donates for the other kind of work which I have itemised, in order to comply with the figure in the Amendment. The Coal Board has an extremely good record in the way it has handled this enormously difficult problem over many years. I think that all my hon. Friends from the mining areas have always been rightly proud of the Board's record in this connection. To force the Board to adopt a minimum of £200, for what are admittedly vital matters, would mean that it might have no alternative but to cut down considerably the wider range of services which it now renders to the displaced miner.

I fully understand the purpose of the Amendment. I do not want to argue technicalities, but I have put what I hope will be seen by my hon. Friends to be an obvious point to be taken very largely into account in this question. None of them would wish the Board to minimise the other services which it gives. I am under no illusion as to what is behind a proposal of this kind. My hon. Friends want to ensure that miners who are displaced are not skimped or made to feel that they are being done down to the last halfpenny on a purely legalistic argument by the Coal Board. This is why I say to my hon. Friends that the Board's record is such a very good one in this respect.

9.0 p.m.

The Board has a vast amount of experience. Let us keep in mind that, at the end of the day, the Board's objective is to persuade as many miners as possible to accept transfer to other coalfields. If it were bent on a cheapjack operation in this respect, it would defeat its own objective. In that alone we have the guarantee that the Board, which is under no illusions about the need for getting highly-skilled miners to areas where they can be of use, is very conscious of the fact that it must offer them every possible facility. Indeed, that is the objective of this Bill and of the Government.

My hon. Friends will realise why, therefore, I cannot accept the Amendment. I ask them to appreciate, remembering the past record of the Board, the fact that this will be a joint Government-N.C.B. operation in which the views of the unions will, of course, be taken very much into account. I do not want to hide behind technicalities when I say that it would be better to leave the N.C.B. to continue its record in this respect, on the assurance that we, too, will do everything we can to ensure not only justice but generosity to the men accepting these terms. I hope my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Swain

Will my right hon. Friend deal with the case of hardship to men whose pit is closed and who are transferred to a pit which is claimed at the moment to be within reasonable travelling distance but which is 20 miles away, entailing almost three hours travelling a day? Will he look at this sort of case and deal with it sympathetically?

Mr. Lee

I appreciate the point, but it is not for me to determine what is within reasonable daily travelling distance. I would think that, in some areas where there was first-class transport, there would be an allowance for subsidising transport in circumstances of this kind. But I can think of areas where a distance of 10 miles would be beyond reasonable daily travelling distance because of the nature of the terrain and the fact that there is no direct access. In other areas, reasonable travelling distance could well be more than 10 miles because of a direct rail link, for instance.

We have this aspect very much in mind and it will be the subject of deliberations between the N.C.B. and the men themselves. Given the line of thought I have described, I am sure that the Board will not be unreasonable over travelling distance. I cannot give a direct answer to my hon. Friend about whether "X" miles is the right distance in any particular case.

Mr. Swain

My right hon. Friend says that he cannot give us a reasonable idea on this point. In my constituency there are men who have been transferred to pits 20 miles away. They are having to change buses twice, which means that they have to ride on three buses each way. This is because of the demarcation lines drawn by the Traffic Commissioners. Will my right hon. Friend mention this to the Minister of Transport, pointing out that such a situation causes serious hardship in mining constituencies? Will my right hon. Friend assist us in getting direct transport between districts where the pits have closed and the receiving pits?

Mr. Lee

That is a good point. I want to be as helpful as I can and if I am given illustrations of that kind, I shall try to take them up with the appropriate authorities, the Ministry of Transport, or whoever it may be.

Mr. Bence

In view of the very competent and what I regarded as the explicit——

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

Perhaps what I am about to say would have been as well not said, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dun bartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has risen, but I want to ask him to withdraw the Amendment.

Like my hon. Friend, I have an admiration for the way in which the Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have already dealt with this problem when collieries have been closed, and I know that the Board and the union are negotiating the whole matter. The Amendment is very narrow and does not deal with other facets which are already covered by the present agreement—for instance, settling-in allowances, lodging allowances and the storage of furniture when a man cannot get rid of his old house, and so on. The agreement is being revised with a view to getting better standards and that is why I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Bence

That is what I was about to do, because my right hon. Friend has dealt with the Amendment very competently. We are very grateful to him and we have complete confidence in him, the Chairman of the Board and the N.U.M. to safeguard the interests of some of the finest people in this country.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bence

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 5, line 25, at the end to insert: such supplementation to continue for a minimum period of six months and a maximum period of two years". This Amendment, too, deals with miners moving from one area to another, perhaps to a pit a long way away. It may be some time before a transferred miner gets back into the earning capacity which he enjoyed in his old pit.

I say at once that I am not a miner. I have worked on the surface of a colliery, but, thank heaven, I was never compelled to go underground to earn my living. But working on the surface was sufficient for me to see in what conditions miners worked. I have been underground and I have seen a few pit accidents in my time. I remember Sengenydd very well. The Committee will understand that those who have not worked in the pits but who were reared in the coalfields may feel more concern about the miners than the miners themselves, for the miners often become hardened to their hard conditions.

When miners are uprooted from their villages and transferred, they have to adapt themselves to a new community and sometimes to new attitudes, for mining villages are often very close communities, and in the period of adaptation there should be some supplementation for the man whose earnings drop considerably. In my industry, when a man is made redundant more often than not he can go to other engineering employment and get an even greater remuneration than before. I understand from my contacts with miners in my constituency that when miners are moved from one pit to another, perhaps only 20 miles away, it is some time before they can reach the earnings which they were enjoying at the pit they had left. Therefore I hope that when my right hon. Friend has discussions with the Coal Board he will again give consideration to the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. William Hamilton). I feel sure that, here again, he will be content to give the same assurance on this Amendment as was so competently and generously given by my right hon. Friend on the previous one.

Mr. Swain

Having had a great deal of experience as a branch secretary of a fairly large colliery in Derbyshire, I can speak with some authority on this matter. We were a receiving pit for three years, and when a number of small collieries were closed in our area men were transferred to our pit. Coal-face men who had moved from the not so modern pits to the pit that had been fully mechanised, up to the highest standard at time, had to be trained to us the machinery there. As a consequence, a long time expired before they were in a position, because they had not been trained to use the machinery which enabled them to earn high wages.

That is one example. There is another, and that is that every pit carries a number of what we term market men. They are to cover the very slight percentage, not the high percentage as was claimed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box), of absenteeism on the coal face. When we get 40 or 50 face men transferred from a pit to a receiving pit there are inevitably some face men transferred for whom there are not regular jobs available. Therefore the majority of the men become the market men. On one or two days of the week they are allowed to earn the higher wages, but on other days their wages are depressed because the face room is not available for them.

I support this Amendment, and I ask my right hon. Friend to look very sympathetically at it, because it is a very serious question in the coalfields. It is going to be even more serious in the not too distant future, because this Bill is designed to accelerate the closure of the pits. As a result we shall have a larger number of men transferred from a pit which is not so modern to an ultramodern pit, which means that they will need six or perhaps nine months, comprehensive training before they can use the highly technical machinery.

One could give dozens of illustrations, but these two are very good examples of how these men will suffer through transfer. This period should be between six months and two years, not only so that the men can be absorbed gradually into the face room as it becomes available, but so that they can be adequately trained in the use of the machinery in operation at the receiving pit.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I want to intervene very briefly in supporting this Amendment. We are all very well aware of the very reasonable, fair and generous way in which the Coal Board has always treated these transfers. I remember my boyhood in a mining community when numbers of miners were moved, for one reason or another, for political activity, trade union activity and so on, without any of this kind of help. When I think of this I realise how much we are trying to help those who are transferred.

It is very difficult to get a broad view of what is happening in the coal industry. I come from West Durham where if the young men who were persuaded by propaganda over the last ten or fifteen years to enter the coal industry are to continue a mining career, they have to go away. When my predecessor came to the House in 1955, there were 23 collieries working in my constituency. In the next three or four years, if the present plan is carried out, there is one doubtful left on the list. These young men have married and have settled down. They are skilled in this vital industry. If they leave the industry, the shortage of coal in ten or 15 years' time will be catastrophic for the economy. We have to be more than fair and reasonable if we want miners to transfer.

In West Durham—and I can speak only for West Durham—the miners have lost confidence in the future of the coal industry. Therefore, all these measures are important. I support the Amendment because I feel that we have to go even further than the very reasonable distance which the Coal Board has gone in dealing with transfers. Miners have been uprooting their families and transferring to other parts of the country for generations. We do not have to preach to miners about the need for change. But they live in a very closely knit and friendly community, particularly in West Durham, where everybody knows everybody else and everybody cares about everybody else. That is the great thing. I am always grateful to the mining community and for the fact that I live in a mining village. Going to a grammar school has not separated me from my friends in mining. We care for each other and visit each other.

In wishing to uproot families and to take them to the East Midlands or some other more prosperous coalfield—I know nothing about a growing coal industry, because the industry in the area where I live has been declining all my life—we need not only to be fair but to give incentives. That was why I sympathised with the previous Amendment and why I sympathise with this Amendment. If in five years we are not again to be begging people to go into the mines, it is essential that we should make sure that those who have had their apprenticeship in the industry and have become very skilled have every incentive to remain in the industry and, indeed, every assurance of security.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

I, too, would support the Amendment were I not in possession of knowledge and information to the effect that the Board and the union are already dealing with this problem and that suggestions have been made which go a very long way, if not all the way, to fulfilling the purpose of the Amendment. I would therefore suggest that the Amendment be withdrawn.

Mr. Frederick Lee

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. G. Elfed Davies) has anticipated what I was about to say. The purpose of the Amendment is that payment by the Board to supplement earnings of men temporarily downgraded on transfer to another pit would be eligible for grant only if they covered the minimum period of six months, whereas at present it is six weeks. Under the Amendment, the maximum period would be two years instead of the present six months. We should therefore he very careful that we do not make worse the position of men who, by existing arrangements, could perhaps obtain better remuneration if the Amendment were not carried.

As ray hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East said, with his intimate knowledge of what is going on, the Board has already told the unions that it is prepared to improve the present arrangements for supplementing earnings. There is no question of considering representations; the Board is already in discussions on this matter.

I understand the point my hon. Friend made about transfers perhaps meaning that men who before transfer are getting higher levels of earnings at the pit face may not be accommodated easily after transfer. It is a very important issue, but it is amongst the provisions which the Board is prepared to make.

I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend, having heard that this subject is very much in the mind of the Board, and that the Board has told the union that it is prepared to improve on the present arrangements, may see his way to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Bence

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is a schoolteacher, but he is like all of us on this side of the Committee who are not miners but belong to other professions and industries in that we are always very conscious, especially when matters like this Bill come before us, of the part which the miners have played and are playing in our country, and we like to express, through Amendments and otherwise, that consciousness, and to make certain that those people upon whom this country depends—and has for a hundred years or more depended—are getting a square deal. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and my other hon. Friends, too, feel, as I do, satisfied with the words of my right hon. Friend, and I am sure we are confident that in the long period in which he will occupy his office, in co-operation with the Chairman of the Board and the N.U.M., the pledges which he has given will be fulfilled, and that the miners will get that to which they are entitled by the contribution which they have made and are making to our society. I, therefore, beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Bence

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 5, line 32, at the end to insert: (ix) payments to appropriate local authorities for the clearing of sites made derelict, directly or indirectly, by coal mining activities. This, again, is an issue on which all of us on this side are deeply concerned. No industry has so scarred our countryside as has the mining industry. That may be seen almost wherever one goes in the valleys of Wales. I have often wondered how the eastern valley of Monmouthshire looked before the pits were sunk. It must have been a beautiful valley indeed. I do not know whether this applies equally to the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and to Newport, but it must have been beautiful before the pits were sunk.

Mr. Michael Foot

It is now.

Mr. Bence

My hon. Friend says it is now. I hope that they never make the mess at Ebbw Vale which they made at Landore and Morriston.

However, our countryside in the mining areas is really disgraceful. In my view, nothing near enough has been done to clear up the mess which was made in the nineteenth century. I do not want to indulge in condemnation of anybody. The last century was an age when we went wild with industrialisation. and when considerations of amenity and beauty were cast aside by all sorts of people, and standards became deplorably low. It was then that we had put up what became slums, the back-to-back houses, with the packing and herding of people together, the miners' rows, and the piling up of the frightful slag heaps and tips spread all over the country.

Such areas as these are now areas of development in which we want to create other and more employment, and to which we want to attract people. It must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world to attract people from an industrial conurbation, from Birmingham, from the South or the South-East, to an area which has been a mining area, where, no matter where one looks out from one's house, one sees the inevitable tip. In my own constituency we have tips still burning. I do not know how many years it will be before they are burnt out. These pit heaps burn and smoke, There is one which, not far from where I live, at Twechar, one can see burning at night, with smoke belching out from it. Thank goodness, the progressive Labour county council is getting rid of old houses but, nevertheless, the scars are still there. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could make a grant to the Coal Board to assist local authorities to remove them.

I understand that local authorities get an 85 per cent. grant for the clearing up of these nineteenth-century scars. They get it under the Local Employment Act or under another Measure passed by the previous Administration. When that was introduced, we were all grateful. It is a desirable thing to clean up the countryside, to attract new industries and to get people from other places to come and work in those industries. We can do with an increase in our population in Scotland. We would like more people to come to Scotland, which is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom, with plenty of open space. We need to clear up some of our old coalfields and to get rid of these dumps and plant them.

I was always impressed by Luxembourg. The Duchy of Luxembourg has had steelworks for 100 years or more, yet one cannot see any waste dumps there. They are planted over with trees. This has been done progressively for a century right from the beginning. Consequently, there is a modern steelworks but no scars on the countryside.

I have not been down to the area of Swansea for many years, but to go through Morriston and the surrounding area on the train makes one feel sick at what was done in the nineteenth century. Here is one thing that the present generation should do in those areas of Wales, Scotland and the North-East, where our countryside has been desecrated. [Interruption.] And Lancashire, yes, and the Midlands. We have these scars all over the country. Surrey, I think, has escaped a certain measure of them. Eton and Slough and Windsor have escaped. Harrow has escaped. But the areas from which some of us come are a very sorry picture.

We give inducements to industrialists to build their factories and plants in these areas, and I support that. We give inducements for all sorts of things. We give inducements to farmers to fertilise the soil, to keep it in good heart to produce food. I see no reason why we should not give inducements to ordinary people, from managers down to artisans, labourers and office boys, to resuscitate the countryside, to add to it a bit of beauty and remove the scars of the old industrial areas, so that we may re-create conditions to make them attractive to people, apart from the other fiscal inducements that we give them in our policy for the redeployment of labour.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Swain

I approach the Amendment from a different angle. I have been a Member of the House for six years and I have been trying to bring tears to the eyes of every Minister I have addressed during those six years, but if my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has not succeeded in bringing tears to the eyes of my right hon. Friend the Minister tonight, I am surprised.

This is a practical Amendment and I approach it from a practical angle. In my constituency, where we have just closed three pits and where the seams are thick and shallow, we have suffered considerably over the years from mining subsidence. It will probably be 20 years before the land has settled sufficiently to build to any extent. Admittedly, the local authority gets compensation for damage caused by mining subsidence, but mining subsidence isolates a piece of ground for years and prevents anything new being built on it. The assistance that I should like to see given to local authorities in my area, which I have no doubt is representative of most areas in the mining industry, is that the old pitheads—the area covered by the actual surface workings of the pit—should be used as sites for factory building and so serve a very useful purpose.

The land round the shaft of a pit is very often the only suitable piece of ground in the area because, by regulation, when they sank a pit they always left a shaft pillar of some considerable size to protect the actual shaft itself.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I have a pit where a shaft collapsed. Surely we are not going to build a factory there?

Mr. Swain

I am not surprised at anything that happens in Ayrshire!

I put forward the idea as a practical suggestion and I would ask my right hon. Friend to have a word with the President of the Board of Trade so that when local authorities suffering from this malady in mining areas make their representations, some assistance should be given to them to rehabilitate their pit sites. I might add in passing that there is always a large hole in the centre of the site in which the rubbish can be tipped. My own local authority, the Chesterfield Rural District Council, has had the deuce of a job to get a site, and I have had a spate of correspondence recently from people who have had to leave their villages and move to others. The site of the Norton colliery, which has very modern buildings on it, could be used, providing some assistance could be given from the Ministry to the local authority to adapt those buildings for factory purposes.

I offer that practical suggestion to the Minister because I consider it to be a very serious problem. If he could accept the principle of the Amendment, I am convinced that it would be a godsend to the people living in the type of area which has been mentioned.

Mr. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I must say that this is a very practical Amendment. I lived for 10 years on the edge of a mining area in the Derwent Valley, where there were the pits of the Wombwell and Brampton Burlow collieries. The tips there were an eyesore, and I am sure they still are. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) spoke of tips burning. Not only was that the case but in summer one only had to have a light wind to get a cloud of dust right over the valley. I do not agree that they can be cleared, because they are too big. But at least they could be planted or possibly bulldozed and covered over with some kind of cement which would keep them under.

I have always been conscious of the fact that those of us who are lucky enough to live in the South do not have the disadvantages of those who live in the mining areas of Yorkshire, Durham and so on. It is one of the things which in some ways have made the mining fraternity turn against the rest of the country, such are the horrible conditions that have to surround our mining areas.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House today that he will accept the Amendment, which is certainly a very beneficial one for the whole of the North Country. If he will not accept it, I think that we ought to vote on it.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I only wish to intervene briefly, because this is something of a constituency problem for me. May I say to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) that as much as I appreciate an hon. Member representing a southern constituency talking about the problems of the North, as the son of a former miner I could not accept the view that miners have turned against the rest of the community.

There is something about life in a coal-mining area which may make us introspective, but to put it in the sense of turning against the rest of the community, I find odd.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly. I think that the hon. Gentleman's phrase is right. They are introspective and self-contained and, for that reason, look on the rest of the community slightly as foreigners.

Mr. Rees

I will resist the temptation to take that further.

One of the most important problems of the older industrial areas is the problem of derelict land, which goes back over the past 150 or 200 years. This is a relic of the days when the motto was, "Where there's muck, there's money". This matter cannot be held to be the financial responsibility of the Coal Board. It must be the responsibility of the community as a whole.

Although I welcome the Amendment, I hope that it will not be pressed, because its wording would put on the Coal Board a direct responsibility which should be that of the community. Just over a year ago, the Civic Trust issued an invaluable document called "Derelict Land". The present Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and Lord Robens himself spoke at the introduction of this pamphlet, which makes many valuable suggestions. I hope that the Minister of Housing has had his Department look at it.

There is a problem in the City of Leeds, in my constituency. The Yorkshire area of the Coal Board and the city are discussing the problem of an area which could be used for building if attention were given to grading and other problems. Nevertheless, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed. This should not be for the Coal Board: it must be for the community. The responsibility does not lie with my right hon. Friend: it rests, in my view, with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. That is the correct Department for dealing with this responsibility.

Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)

If we do not have a very satisfactory reply from my right hon. Friend, I hope that the Amendment will be pressed. It puts the responsibility not simply on the Coal Board but on the Coal Board and the Minister of Power. The Minister of Power must act on behalf of the community interest to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) referred.

The Amendment is somewhat narrowly drafted, but it calls attention to the problems with which local authorities will be confronted as a result of the proposed transfer of mining activities from one area to another—the transfer not only of colliery activities in the mechanical sense, but also of labour, which will mean the transfer of housing.

The phrase "directly or indirectly" might be extended—I hope it will—to include the possible problems of local authorities who, as a result of the curtailing of mining activities in their area are left not only with derelict collieries, but with derelict miners' houses. I had such a case in the Stanton Hill part of my constituency two or three years ago. The deterioration of Coal Board houses left the local authority with an uncleared derelict site, and it took a long time for the authority to arrange satisfactory negotiations with the Coal Board for the approaches to the site, so that they could use it in order to provide housing for the local community.

I have received from the Chairman of the East Midlands Division—as other hon. Members in the area have—a circular letter calling out attention to the campaign of the Coal Board in that division to encourage men to transfer from one area to another. The circular in my case calls attention to the fact that the campaign is designed to encourage men to transfer from the Eastwood area to the Mansfield area. I am aware that the Eastwood area of the East Midlands Division of the Coal Board extends over a wider area than that of the Eastwood Urban District Council, but serious problems are likely to be created for the Eastwood Urban District Council and neighbouring local authorities as a result of this campaign.

A leaflet which is being issued to the working miners in this area was sent to me by the Chairman of the East Midlands Division. It is headed "Five to Three". It says Your colliery is nearing the end of its life and you may be thinking about your future in the mining industry. It goes on to say that No. 5 Area, which is the Eastwood area, has a record second to none. It was the first Area to achieve an output (per man shift) of three tons for every man employed. Nevertheless, because the collieries in this area are nearing the end of their lives, although they are not even listed as due for closure, the Coal Board is already seeking to persuade men to shift from the area into other parts of the Nottinghamshire coalfield where the more modern and longer-life collieries are—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Member is getting very far from the Amendment.

Mr. Warbey

I was seeking to impress upon my right hon. Friend the fact that local authorities will be faced with very severe problems as a result of the proposals of the Coal Board and his Ministry. I do not think that either has yet fully considered all the repercussions there will be upon the life of local communities, and all the burdens that will be placed upon local authorities. The Eastwood Urban District Council has an extraordinary good record for its size in providing houses for miners.

The Chairman

Order. We are dealing with the clearing of sites.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

It will probably be could be interpreted as including the clearing of housing sites in coal mining areas, since they are indirectly associated with the activities of the coalmines. I am interpreting the wording of the Amendment in that sense. I am merely pointing out that some local authorities, even in what are regarded as the prosperous areas of the East Midlands, may be faced with severe difficulties and burdens. They may even find themselves in a situation in which local authorities in Durham and elsewhere find themselves, in that having built houses for miners, they now find them unoccupied, and are not able to let them to anybody, especially if no arrangements have been made by my right hon. Friend at the Board of Trade to bring new industries into these areas.

I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of the fact that even in the so-called prosperous coal-mining areas there are severe problems for the local authorities and local communities, to which he and his Ministry will have to pay some attention.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies

It will probably be generally agreed that the scars from which most mining areas suffer have been caused by past mining practice, and the Rhondda is probably one of the worst sufferers. I would remind the Committee, however, that in 1962 we passed the Local Government Act which gave the Government powers to deal with this problem. That there are still areas where no clearance effort has been made is an indictment of the party opposite while that Act has been in operation.

That is not to suggest that the Board, in the parlous situation in which it now finds itself, should have to take on this tremendous additional burden, and I hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn or that we shall defeat it. There is need for these jobs to be done, but they ought to be done by the community. Many of these scars result from coal mining practices long before the Board took over, and it is unfair to suggest that the National Coal Board, which is now trying to grapple with a terribly serious situation, should be asked to take up this burden.

Mr. Frederick Lee

Subsidence and scars having been mentioned, perhaps I should declare an interest. When I open my front door I see a slag heap. Upstairs, I have cracked walls due to subsidence. I therefore know what we are discussing.

The effect of this Amendment would be to put the National Coal Board to additional expenditure on the clearance of derelict sites eligible for grant by the Minister. I would point out to my hon. Friends that powers are already available under the Local Employment Acts by which local authorities in development districts can apply for grants. By Section 5 of the Local Employment Act of 1960, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales may make grants towards the cost of clearing derelict sites in development districts when that clearance is, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, likely to lead to he provision of employment. The grant is currently fixed by administrative decision at 85 per cent. In 1964–65 the Departments concerned gave preliminary or final approval to clearance schemes covering about 1,500 acres and costing about £2 million, so a lot of work is being done.

Again, by Section 2 of that Act, the Board of Trade may clear derelict sites which it acquires for the purpose of providing new factories, and a number of such sites have already been cleared.

Most of these pit closures will occur in the development districts. On 22nd October, as my hon. Friends will remember, the Board of Trade expanded the development districts to cover further coal mining areas. As one or two hon. Members have said, the National Coal Board does not necessarily own all former colliery and ancillary sites. Indeed, some have reverted to their former owners during the years since nationalisation. It is therefore not the case that the N.C.B. is responsible for all the horrible scams we see up and down the country. For tips started since the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, came into operation, planning permission is required and conditions are usually attached to the permission requiring restoration and landscaping.

Despite what I have said about the provisions in the various Acts, it is also the case that in the past few years the Board has spent £660,000 on tidying up and improving the appearance of its pits. This, again, is quite an on-cost for the Board. Indeed, the Board works with the local planning authorities and there is no doubt that it will continue to operate with local authorities on this very important matter. The very important question of special Exchequer assistance for the reclamation and clearance of derelict land is now being actively considered by the Government in the present review of local government finances.

One of my hon. Friends, referring to subsidence, rightly told us that the safest part is round the pit shafts. This is very true. A great deal of new factory development has already taken place in those areas. In coal areas such as mine which are liable to subsidence about the only parts which are pretty sound for building are those round the old pit areas. Therefore, we have this problem to deal with.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) made the practical point that this is not a problem which we can leave entirely to the Board. It would be quite wrong to imagine that this industry, with all the problems now facing it and with the exceptional amount of expenditure it must meet, should now be saddled with this expenditure, which would have to be on a very massive scale.

I have tried to show that various Ministries are concerned with this problem. They have done a good deal of work on it. I have also shown that the Board has spent a great deal of money on cleaning up pit heaps. I therefore suggest that, with the extension of the development districts which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced only recently and the fact that the 1960 Act covers those development districts, there will now be far greater provision for what I thoroughly agree is the most desirable objective of clearing areas, especially our northern areas, of the horrible eyesores which we are compelled to live with because of the old scars of industry.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), after hearing this very comprehensive and wide debate, will recognise that this is not a burden with which we should saddle the Board. The Board is facing up to its own responsibilities very well indeed by spending the amounts of money to which I have referred. Other aspects are covered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Board of Trade is increasing the facilities by which we can hope to clear the countryside of these scars. These facts having been elicited, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Bence

I feel certain that, notwithstanding the remarks which have been made, my hon. Friends are aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) was probably of the opinion that it was doubtful whether we could have a debate on the clearance of sites arising on an Amendment to a Bill concerning the coal industry without in some way referring to the Coal Board. I suspect that that was my hon. Friend's purpose. If it was his purpose to have a discussion on these scars on our countryside, we should be grateful to him. If it were suggested that I should cast my vote in favour of burdening the Board with the responsibility of putting right scars caused by the ruthless and unscrupulous industrialists of the nineteenth century, I am afraid I should have to go into the other Lobby. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cowardice."] No, it is no cowardice at all. We can only have a discussion on these scars in our community by tabling an Amendment in these terms. This sort of thing is always done by backbenchers in Committee.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply. I note that an 85 per cent. grant is given to local authorities for this purpose under the Local Employment Act. I have not checked it but I believe that the Schedule to that Act expires in 1966 or 1967. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consult the President of the Board of Trade and that when we come to an affirmative Order to renew the powers of the local authorities or the Board of Trade to give grants for the clearance of sites the new Order will make tie percentage not 85 but 100. If as a result of this debate that message goes home I shall be satisfied. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Stones

I do not intend to detain the Committee for a minute longer than is necessary to make my points and consequently I will not deal with arguments adduced by hon. Members in the debate. I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Clause in so far as it provides for redundancy payments, contributions to superannuation funds for the benefit of men retiring before the normal age of retirement, and removal and resettlement payments for those who are moved from one area to another in response to the appeals of the National Coal Board that such transfers should take place.

It is generously accepted that if the nation's manpower is to be fully utilised for the benefit of the nation it is obvious that it will be necessary to redeploy men who are no longer needed either in the industry or in one area of production. If that is right then it is equally right that the nation should make it possible by financial aid for such displaced people to make the transfer, brought about as a result of Government policy, without financial loss or difficulty for themselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) referred to acquired skills in mining and spoke of the difficulty of applying those skills elsewhere. I do not suggest that any redundant miner could be set at once to work on a bench in an engineering works or in some other occupation but I would not want anyone in the country at large to think for a moment that because a miner has spent 30 to 40 years in acquiring skills in mining he is not adaptable to some other occupation. In my own area, there is a ball-bearing firm employing 2,700 people many of whom are ex-miners, and I understand from the employers that they are very good and adaptable workers, thoroughly suitable for employment other than mining.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.