HL Deb 10 June 1931 vol 81 cc77-89

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill provides for the continuation of an Act that was passed by a previous Administration and is being continued by the present Government. After ten years of the operation of the Miners' Welfare Fund I feel certain that your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes if I briefly explain the work of the Fund during the last ten years. I make no apology for that explanation, in that this work affects some ten per cent. of our population, a group of workers among the most important in the country from the point of view of that which they produce, and whose toil is exceedingly arduous. I cannot, of course, emulate the brevity of the noble Earl. Lord Peel, who introduced a similar Bill in 1925 from this box, but at that time, as only five years had elapsed during the operation of the Act, it was not necessary to give a fuller explanation.

As your Lordships know, this Act arose from Section 20 of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, which provided for the establishment of a fund— to be applied for such purposes connected with the social well-being, recreation and conditions of living of workers in or about coal mines and with mining, education and research as the Board of Trade, after consultation with any Government Department concerned, may approve. That Fund was provided from a levy of one penny per ton on the output of coal from all coal mines. It was continued for five years in 1925 by a renewal Act up to December 31, 1930, and the time has now arrived when we have to come to a decision as to whether the Act shall again be continued. The allocation of this Fund is made by a Committee appointed by the Secretary for Mines. That Committee at present consists of three members appointed by the Secretary for Mines, with the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, as Chairman, of two members appointed by the Mining Association, one of whom, Mr. McCosh, has just resigned and has not yet been replaced, of one representing the royalty owners and three representing the Miners' Federation. Lord Chelmsford has stated that he is shortly resigning his post as Chairman of this Committee, and his successor has not yet been decided upon.

I think your Lordships will agree with me as to the great social and industrial value of this scheme during the past ten years, and I hope I may persuade you to continue the Act for a further five years, up to 1935. In passing I should like—and I am sure your Lordships will support me—to pay a tribute to the work of the Committee which has administered the Fund. The work of the Fund is reported on annually in a booklet entitled "The Miners' Welfare Fund," and those of your Lordships who are interested in this subject will find it a wealth of illustration and human interest which provides intensely fascinating reading. The total receipts from this output levy during the past ten years have amounted to somewhere in the neighbourhood of £9,500,000. In other words we get, at one penny per ton, about £1,000,000 a year when the amount of coal raised is 240,000,000 tons. Of this £200,000, or 20 per cent., is allocated to what is called the General Fund, and 80 per cent., or £800,000 to the District Fund, which is divided among twenty-five districts and administered by those districts.

The General Fund, including interest up to 1926, had a total of just over £2,000,000 to divide, and the whole of that sum, with the exception of £190,000, has already been allocated. In the same way the District Fund reached a total of somewhere about £8,250,000, and of that there is still £1,250,000 to be allocated. In that connection most of the money has already been provisionally assigned by the district welfare committees, who spend this money in their own districts—that is to say, they advise the miners' welfare committee as to the schemes on which they desire the money to be spent, and most of this money is already earmarked for schemes. I might also remind your Lordships that some districts save up their allowance year by year, so that if they want some specially large scheme they save up for two or three years until they have enough money to carry out schemes which could not be carried out from the annual grant.

There is one point I should like to raise in passing. In 1926 another Act of Parliament was passed allowing for a levy on royalties of 1s. in each £ of value—that is 5 per cent.—and the whole of that levy was used as the basis for a fund to provide pit-head baths. These baths are extremely interesting and I am quite certain that some of your Lordships who do not know about them would find interest in visiting them. Your Lordships well know that conditions in mines had been for many years extremely bad. It was a noble Earl who led the Opposition who, about one hundred years ago, told us some of the worst features in a popular novel which was nevertheless a true picture. Most of the bad conditions have now been done away with, but there is one condition that has never been done away with, and that is the condition of dirt. It is impossible to work in coal mines without getting exceedingly dirty, and that dirt is carried into the homes of hundreds of thousands unless it can be removed at the pit-head. The great difficulty in washing is to get at one's hack, and in olden days, as of course your Lordships know, the miner used to go home and he got his wife to scrub his back. There was an old superstitution that, if any water got on a miner's back, it might sap his strength, and for a long time many miners never washed their hacks. Perhaps it was their wives who objected, but now the miner usually scrubs his back when he gets home but he continued to carry dirt into his house. It is interesting in this connection to note that a coroner in South Wales, reporting on the cases of the death of infants, said that one of the chief causes was the small children falling into the basins of scalding water prepared for miners when they came home to wash.

The new system of pit-head baths consists of a building in which the baths are between two large sheds containing lockers, one known as the pit locker shed and the other as the clean locker shed. The miner comes into a lobby, where there is a boot-cleaning machine, gets a drink of water and then goes into the locker shed, takes his clothes off, hangs them up in a locker in which the clothes are dried by warm air, and goes into the warm shower baths which are between the two sheds. Very often you will see two miners in one cubicle scrubbing one another because of this difficulty of the back, which is so awkward—we are not as capable as cats in this matter. Then he goes clean into the clean locker shed, where he finds the clothes he left there in the morning, puts them on and goes home to his wife. It is credibly reported that the result of this method of being able to wash is that there has been a decrease of absenteeism, amounting in some cases to 7 or 8 per cent. That is a definite industrial gain to the country. There is also a saving of labour and expense in the homes, an increase of content and an increase of health, because the pit-head baths are provided with first-aid rooms. Moreover, one of the reasons why there is a decrease in absenteeism is that a man who is going to do something in the afternoon requiring clean clothes does not keep away from the pit merely because he has something to do in the afternoon. For instance, in one place the cricket team arrives in flannels, does its morning work in the mine and goes off in the afternoon to cricket.

It is true that the pit-head baths were not universally approved in the first place. We have the case of one miner's wife who is reputed to have said: "How do I know he will ever come home at all if he doesn't have to wash?" And the other wife said: "He might keep away once, but he never would again." That settled that. Of course the miners pay a certain amount towards the cost, averaging 3d. or 6d. per week. Perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships that the pit-head baths now provided are only sufficient for about 10 per cent. of the miner population in this country. In France, Germany and Belgium they are compulsory, and so your Lordships will realise that we are a long way behind those countries in this matter. The erection of the pit-head baths is paid for partly by the royalty levy in the 1926 Act. That provides about £200,000 a year, and in addition the General Fund from the penny levy provides an amount which, with the interest from the unexpended balance, comes to £150,000 a year. This gives us £350,000 a year towards building these baths. The Samuel Committee stated that £400,000 a year was necessary in order that within ten years the more urgent necessities in the matter of pithead baths might be provided, and the original royalty levy was calculated to bring in £250,000. So we have had a deficit on this Fund for many years, and that is the reason why it is hoped that your Lordships will pass this Bill, to provide for the levy for another five years, in order that the programme may be continued and not be interfered with by any stopping of the payments from the General Fund.

The General Fund is also used for education, new buildings, technical education scholarships, and so on, and for research work, especially the grant to the Safety in Mines Research Board, which has been £50,000 a year for the last nine years, but is going to be £60,000 a year because of special research in investigating the reduction of accidents from falls of roof and from haulage dangers. There is also a series of books published by the Board which instructs miners in simple language as to the dangers which may be incurred from failure to follow the regulations. The administrative expenses for the whole levy, paid from the General Fund, are about £8,000, which is .8 per cent. Over the ten years. For the future of this Fund we are going, if your Lordships Will grant this extension, to continue the grant to the education and administrative costs. We have to increase the grant to £60,000 for the Safety in Mines Research Board, and we expect there may come to be an increase in the pit-head baths fund because of the drop in interest from unexpended balances, which will decrease as the schemes get through. The General Fund is practically exhausted as regards actual payments and promises.

As to the District Fund, 90 per cent. is spent on recreation and health, and some on education, administrative expenses and pit welfare. I do not propose to detail this more than just to mention that of course there are great variations in the proportion of the Fund spent on recreation in one district and health in another. For instance, Lancashire spent little or nothing on recreation but a great deal on health, in building and instituting convalescent homes. In South Wales particularly they have instituted a group of expenditure on boys' clubs—I believe they are five in number—and also upon a boys' summer camp. I am quite certain that your Lordships would desire to see those carried on and extended, because they are peculiarly valuable in that district. The total South Wales needs are estimated by the district committee at £326,000, which is half the total income of the scheme for five years. As regards health, there are convalescent homes, hospitals, hospital ticket funds, nursing services, and other matters. Out of twenty-five districts, only twelve have convalescent homes, and it has been calculated that if £800,000 was spent an convalescent homes, it would still allow each miner only one fortnight in a convalescent home during his whole lifetime—quite an inadequate provision in an arduous occupation. The last item in expenditure is pit welfare, which includes laundry and repair shops, can teens, and cycle accommodation. One interesting experiment has been the provision of drinking water below ground.

It is quite possible that the House may consider that these schemes might not unreasonably be investigated, to see to what extent they are being adequately used, and whether there is any waste. To deal with that the Secretary for Mines has agreed in another place to appoint an Investigation Committee to "examine as to the extent to which the objects of Section 20 of the Mining Industry Act have been met and what remains to be done whether the scope of the Fund as defined in that section and its administration for the future are satisfactory," and to recommend "with particular reference to the question of the amount and duration of the levy in the future." Because of that promise, such small questioning as there was in another place was withdrawn and the Pill has come up to your Lordships.

Finally, let me summarise the financial position. The General Fund, with a balance of about £192,000, has the commitments I have outlined, and therefore the Fund may be considered to be exhausted as regards payments, promises and proposals. The District Fund, including this year's collection—that is, not the collection due for 1931 but the collection due from 1930, but not yet paid owing to the fact that payment is made in arrear by the various mines—the District Fund has nominally just over £1,250,000 still to be allocated. But many of the district schemes have not yet been completed, and are only partially carried through. Many have not yet been submitted, because, as I have reminded your Lordships, some of the districts are saving up their money; and many definite schemes are actually being worked out at the present moment as part of a long-term policy for the districts. There is not the slightest doubt that these schemes will very much more than exhaust the whole of that balance. I trust that, in view of the social value of the Miners' Welfare Fund, in view of the comfort it has brought to an extremely important section of the community, in view of the good feeling it has engendered in that industry, and in view of what I believe is the proved need, your Lordships will feel that this five-year extension is fully justified, and will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Marley.)


My Lords, I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of the noble Lord, and he has given you information in connection with the expenditure of the Welfare Fund to which I shall take very little exception. I have not risen to oppose the Second Reading, but to point out a matter which, I think, ought to be remedied on the Committee stage. The Welfare Fund has been of enormous value in connection with mining village communities. It has established recreation grounds, which have been greatly appreciated, it has helped the cleanliness of the homes, it has done something for education, it has done something for research work; and the only exception I am going to take to the noble Lord's statement is in regard to the fact that pit baths have in themselves not done as much as he thinks they have to increase regular attendance of the miners. I will not say that they have not done something, but it is the depression in the industry which, since the establishment of pit baths, has done more to influence the men to try to secure what they regard as a living wage by regular attendance, and it is also, I think, attributable to the increased sobriety which has prevailed among the mining community in recent months and almost years.

The point that I want to make on the Committee stage is that this Bill should only be permitted to pass for one year at the present time, having regard to the fact that a Committee of investigation has been, or is in course of being, appointed to report upon the administration of the Welfare Fund and to carry out the points to which the noble Lord has referred. It seems to me preposterous, when you are appointing a Committee to go into the question of whether the Fund is too big, or what should be the duration of the Fund, that you should by Statute law prejudice the findings of that Committee, and deny to Parliament the opportunity of considering the evidence placed before it and the recommendations made in its Report. I suggest, therefore, that on the Committee stage we should have sufficient confidence in the Committee which is going to be appointed to allow them to proceed without prejudicing their position beforehand, and to permit this Bill to pass into law for one year only; because it is quite well known that within six months this investigating Committee can report, and all the facts in connection with the Fund will be before the public and Parliament. It will then be for Parliament, unfettered, to deal with the continuation of the Welfare Fund and to fix such an amount as may be desirable.

The noble Lord has quoted a certain number of figures as to the amount of money which has been taken out of the industry. I am not going to dispute them. The industry has found already about £10,000,000. So far as my knowledge goes, having regard to the contribution which is now due, there will be something like £2,000,000 at the moment unexpended, and when I read to your Lordships an extract from Lord Hartington's speech in another place, I think you will realise that there are good grounds for believing that it is unnecessary for five years to commit the industry to finding as much as £1,000,000 in present conditions. This is the quotation I wish to make from the speech by Lord Hartington: He gave it as his carefully considered opinion, as a member of the Central Welfare Committee, that if £5,000,000 were provided for the next five years the Committee would find it difficult to spend the whole of the money wisely and prudently and economically; and that if the income were reduced to a half for the first year and to a quarter for the remaining four years, the work of the Committee could be carried on unimpaired, in its full usefulness, with adequate provision for pit-head baths, which he regarded as far and away the most important of the activities of the Fund. It is in regard to the amount of money which is to be spent, with the industry in its present depressed condition, that I am most concerned.

I do not know what my own firm has contributed to the Welfare Fund, but I was informed by a Durham coal owner not very long ago—and he and his forbears have for a long time past done a good deal for their own workmen—that he had in the last ten years spent £56,000 on the Welfare Fund and he was called on to continue to pay that contribution when it was no longer required. The industry in the County of Durham, according to the latest figures, is losing at the rate, for the month of April, of 1.81d. per ton, according to the accountant's certificate; the other items which, of course, are not included in the accountant's certificate, amount to 3d. per ton. Therefore you may say that at the present time the industry in the County of Durham—and it is not an isolated case—is losing 5d. per ton on every ton of coal drawn. To place upon it so grave an obligation for five years as a further charge of a penny per ton, when the industry is suffering as it is, and at the same time to prejudice the Report of the Committee seems to me grossly unfair, and really a thing which your Lordships should not permit.

When the Fund was originally established in 1920 the selling price of coal was over 39s. per ton, on the average over the whole country. To-day it is only 14s. And therefore if the industry could afford to pay a penny per ton in 1920 it is quite impossible for it to afford that when coal is reduced to 14s. per ton. In addition to that, as is well known, it was intended that the men should, out of their own funds, subscribe something like 17 per cent. of the total expenditure. As a matter of fact, 97 per cent. has been paid for by the shareholders, who are now getting no dividends at all out of their property in collieries. When you have facts of this kind to face it seems to me impossible to expect the industry to be able to go on paying contributions which, in the nature of the case, will only create a balance and be carried forward and which are really unnecessary at the present time.

So far as I know, the evidence which will be produced before the investigating Committee will disclose a condition of affairs which is quite satisfactory up to the present time, and that the money has been well spent. I desire to pay a tribute to the work of the Central Committee, who voluntarily have worked very hard in seeing that this money has been well spent in the various districts in accordance chiefly with the schemes and wishes of the miners in those districts. Whether it has been in baths or in connection with convalescent homes has been very much a matter for the decision of the district, and the money has been well spent. But the capital has been spent. It is one of the principles which have governed the work of this Welfare Fund that the maintenance should be borne from other resources than the Fund itself where the capital has been spent in connection with welfare matters. Your Lordships will recognise, I think, that it is a good thing to promote recreation grounds in mining communities for miners and their children and tennis courts and other things of that kind for the girls and young men. But it is also a good thing when you have once established them out of the funds raised by this penny levy that the cost of maintaining those recreation grounds and playing fields should be largely borne by those who enjoy the recreation and from other resources than those of the shareholders of companies which are now losing money. Nearly all of these points, I believe, will come before the investigating Committee. All I desire at present is to inform the House that on the Committee stage I shall propose an Amendment to limit the Bill to one year, so that the Committee shall be able to report and Parliament shall then have a free and unfettered opportunity, without being prejudiced by Statute law, of dealing with the recommendations of the Committee in connection with the evidence and the facts produced before the Committee.


My Lords, I think that my noble friends on these Benches are perfectly prepared to give this Bill a Second Reading, but they reserve, of course, full liberty to raise further points on the later stages of the Bill.


My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment or two. I had intended to ask a good many questions of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill but he has answered most of them. My noble friend Lord Gainford has also covered a good deal of other ground and suggested something of the sort that I had intended to suggest. My object really is that of economy. Economy is spoken of by all but practised by nobody. I think this is a great opportunity for your Lordships' House to give a lead in the practice of economy and to go into the question, before you pass this measure, of whether the money has been really well spent, and whether in these days of great depression it would not be possible to quiet down a bit and not to spend quite so much. When this Bill reaches the Committee stage I should like to move Amendments either in the sense suggested by my noble friend Lord Gainford, that the Bill should be operative for one year, or that the contribution should be halved at least.


My Lords, from a Second Reading point of view I do not think there is very much that I can reply to. I believe this Bill is an economy in itself. Any Bill which, if carried through, produces a better feeling, makes for better production, does away with reasons for discontent, and therefore makes an industry more productive with less overhead charges, must, in itself, be an economy. I believe, therefore, that there can be hardly anything more economical than Bills of this type, the effect of which is to produce more content in a difficult industry.

With regard to the limitation to one year, the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, has definitely stated that he does not consider it possible to produce a Report in twelve months and that it may take eighteen months or longer to produce it. If your Lordships limit the Bill to one year we shall simply find ourselves in the position of either not having had a Report or of having just received it without any chance of giving it adequate consideration—a state of affairs which exists, as your Lordships know, in other matters than coal mining at the present moment. Furthermore, such a limitation will and must prevent any long-term scheme, and must produce a feeling of irritation amongst those who have counted on the almost universal desire which has been evinced, certainly in another place, for a continuance of this Act for a further five years. I cannot help feeling that any such Motion may be construed into an attack on the mining community.

With regard to Lord Hartington's observations, while I am perfectly certain that he is absolutely convinced of the accuracy of what he says, I would remind your Lordships that he only attended three out of eleven meetings of the Committee of which he is a member. One of those attendances was a very late attendance in that he arrived just before the Committee closed. In connection with what Lord Gainford said, I would like to point out that the colliery owners have been very generous in connection with many of these schemes. There is no doubt that many colliery owners have given a very great deal, as Lord Gainford rightly said, to help schemes. In the case of one colliery I visited the owners were paying rather more than one-third of the total cost of the pit-head baths, the miners paying the remaining two-thirds in their weekly contributions. In another case the colliery was actually making a very good profit out of the running of the pit-head baths. The charge paid by the miners more than covered the cost of running the baths. As to Amendments, I need hardly say that they can be freely moved in Committee, and that, of course, is not prejudiced by your Lordships giving a Second Reading to the Bill.


My Lords, I am glad to hear that the noble Lord has some agreement with economy though I do not agree with his definition of what economy is. But I observed that he said that if you practised economy it might cause some irritation, and it seems to me that he would rather avoid irritation than have economy. Let me point out to him that if you are going to reduce the wages of workmen or miners anywhere you will cause a certain amount of irritation. I hope the noble Lord will reconsider that part of his speech and have courage enough, if he really is in favour of economy, to carry it out without any regard to whether it produces irritation or not.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.