HL Deb 29 April 1937 vol 105 cc69-72

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is, I believe, practically non-controversial, and it passed its Third Reading in another place without a Division. It is designed to remove an anomaly. Under the existing law boys—that is, lads under the age of sixteen—are prohibited from working at night on the surface at coal mines, but there is no corresponding provision in regard to night work underground. At present boys may work at night underground if an interval, ordinarily of fifteen hours and in no case less than thirteen hours, separates two periods of work. In effect, they can be employed on night shifts underground in coal mines, but not in other mines, nor at the surface at coal mines. The Bill, which is quite short, provides simply that boys shall not be employed below ground in coal mines between the hours of ten o'clock at night and six in the morning. In the original Bill the latter hour was five in the morning, but the Standing Committee in another place substituted the hour of six. The Bill was promoted by honourable friends of mine in another place. It there had the blessing of His Majesty's Government, and I am confident that it will receive the blessing of His Majesty's Government in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, was good enough to give me some notes of what he proposes in connection with this Bill. I understand that the coal owners desire a little elasticity, but from my researches I am sorry to say that really is not necessary—it may be desirable from their point of view, but it is not necessary. I am told by my honourable friend Mr. Tom Smith, who represents the Yorkshire miners in another place, that he has been in touch with the Yorkshire coal owners, and they say there is no difficulty in regard to winding times. That was one of the matters, I understand, Lord Gainford might have raised, and in advance I assure him that I am advised there is no technical difficulty. Furthermore, I am informed that throughout the mining industry there is a tendency to start work later. That is, as your Lordships are aware, the tendency in all industries to-day. The old five o'clock or six o'clock in the morning starting time is looked upon as barbarous.

When I hear the complaints of people regarding the early hour at which they will have to rise on May 12 for His Majesty's Coronation, I would remind them of the experience of the British working man who always used to get up in darkness and be at work at six o'clock in the morning. Those ideas are now passing. Whatever we may think of full-grown men having to turn out at that time in the morning, there is a general consensus of opinion that growing lads should not do night work. When I was serving a very happy period at sea I had a great many boys in my charge, and we always used to arrange that they did not keep night watch. To that extent they were looked upon as day men. We gave them a night in their hammocks, which meant six hours, for that very reason, and what applies to them might equally apply to colliery lads. I am sure your Lordships will approve the principle of this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, does, and I hope it will pass without opposition or delay.

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


My Lords, it is quite true that the Mining Association of Great Britain whole-heartedly accept the principle of the Bill. This Bill, if it is passed into law, will undoubtedly remove an anomaly. Boys of sixteen are not allowed to work at night at the surface of the colliery, and it is quite logical that they should not be allowed to work underground. The Bill, as originally introduced before it was amended in another place by some honourable friends of the noble Lord who has just spoken, really did not appreciate the practice which operates throughout the whole country. The practice varies, and as some shifts end at ten o'clock at night and some at half-past ten, it is necessary to amend this Bill if it is going to secure the economic production of coal and adapt itself to varying practices in the various coalfields of Great Britain. Having regard to the safety of the boys themselves, it is essential that there should be some elasticity so that we should not enact by law that at the end of a shift boys should come up whilst coal is still being drawn. Similarly, at the beginning of a shift in the morning, the boys should not be delayed in going down until coal drawing has begun through the operations underground, when the boys would have to be rushed into the pit in the danger of moving traffic and when the miners are at work.

This Bill will prevent boys underground working during seven hours of the night. The intention of the Amendment which I shall put down is that at every colliery a period of seven hours should be fixed between the limits of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. during which boys shall not be employed. This should make it possible for a colliery to specify the period as from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., or 10.30 p.m. to 5.30 a.m., or 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Your Lordships are acquainted with the motto "Early to bed, etc." Early to bed is an advantage. I believe it is an advantage to boys, and I am strongly in favour of boys going to bed early, but I do not think it will help very much if they are not allowed to go down with their fellow workmen say at 5.30 in the morning. Accordingly, while the Mining Association whole-heartedly accept the principle of the Bill, they want a little elasticity in connection with the boys going down the pit along with the men and coming up together.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Government only to congratulate the noble Lord on moving the Second Reading of a Bill which is acceptable to the Government. It is, as has been pointed out, designed to remove an existing anomaly in the industry, and it is one to which we, on this Bench, hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading.

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