HL Deb 04 May 1937 vol 105 cc112-20

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSI.OW in the Chair].

Clause 1:

Hours of employment in coal mines for boys.

1.—(1) No boy shall be employed in, or allowed to be for the purpose of employment in, any coal mine below ground between the hours of ten at night and six on the following morning. Nothing in this section shall apply to any boy who has been lawfully employed in any coal mine below ground before the passing of this Act.

LORD GAINFORD moved, at the beginning of the clause, to insert "There shall be a period of at least seven consecutive hours between the hours of ten at night and six on the following morning during which." The noble Lord said: Lord Strabolgi, in moving the second Reading of this Bill, did not appear to me to accept so heartily the intention which I then expressed to amend the Bill. I hope, however, that after what I said about the safety of the boys on the Second Reading and what I now say, the noble Lord will not think it necessary to oppose the Amendments which I have on the Paper. The noble Lord suggested that it would be easy to arrange different winding times so as to enable the boys to remain above ground for the whole time between ten at night and six in the morning, and he quoted some information which he had received, I think, from Yorkshire. Having regard to that information which he gave your Lordships, I approached the South Yorkshire Mining Association and the West Yorkshire Mining Association to ascertain exactly what the facts were.

The Secretary of the South Yorkshire Coal Trading Association writes to me to say: In reply to the statement made by Lord Strabolgi during the debate in the House of Lords yesterday, it is not correct to say that there is no difficulty in regard to winding times in Yorkshire. I have consulted the chairman, and can definitely say that Mr. Tom Smith"— who was quoted by Lord Strabolgi— has not been in touch with the chairman or with me as secretary of the South Yorkshire Association, and as far as I know no South Yorkshire coalowner has expressed any view to Mr. Tom Smith. … At 80 per cent, of the collieries the boys descend the pit on the morning shift between 5.15 and 6 a.m., and as work at these collieries has to be commenced promptly at 6 o'clock it is usual for the boys to descend the pit during the early part of the winding time and it is; not possible to arrange, for instance, for them to descend during the last five minutes. He then goes on to say: With few exceptions the whole of the collieries in South Yorkshire work double shift, and at these collieries, if coal winding was to commence later than 6 o'clock so as to allow sufficient time for the men to be wound down after 6 o'clock, it would not be possible to finish the afternoon shift so as to wind the boys up the shaft before 10 o'clock at night. The boys as well as the men have a great voice in the hours which they work. It is, of course, natural that they like the evening, so far as they can get it, for recreation, sometimes to attend cinemas, sometimes to attend education classes, and if they were compelled to remain on the surface until six o'clock many of their evenings would be destroyed and the whole arrangements in connection with colliery operation dislocated.

I have a letter also from the West Yorkshire Coalowners' Association. The secretary writes to me: It is not correct to say that there is no difficulty in regard to winding times in Yorkshire; … It is considered in this district inadvisable, apart from the serious dislocation caused, for lads to go down the pit at a different time from the rest of the shift, as they are not then under the necessary supervision of the men … the information given to Lord Strabolgi is officially contradicted as not being the true position in many cases in this district. Of course, I know that Lord Strabolgi has no intention whatsoever—it is the last thing he would do—to mislead the House, but apparently the facts in Yorkshire, which are just the same as in Durham and other places, are that the boys go down with the men after five o'clock and it would dislocate the arrangements for working collieries if the boys could not go down with the men and were; detained on the surface until six o'clock.

Apart from that, however, as I stated on the Second Reading, safety is a very important matter. This whole question has been very carefully considered by the miners' as well as by the owners' representatives, and the miners' representatives, including all the principal leaders in the mining industry who are members of the Joint Committee, have agreed that this Bill, in the form in which I suggest it should pass into law, has their entire approval. I therefore submit to your Lordships that my Amendments are reasonable. They are approved by the men's representatives as well as by those of the owners. For the safety of the boys it is essential that these Amendments which I have on the Paper should be passed into law. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 6, at the beginning insert: ("There shall be a period of at least seven consecutive hours between the hours of ten at night and six on the following morning during which").—(Lord Gainford.)


I am very sorry, speaking for myself and for those who are interested in the Bill, that we could not possibly accept this Amendment, and I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has heard the reasons, he will see fit to withdraw it. I am sure that the Government are not prepared to accept it after what was said in another place by the Minister of Mines on this very point. With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, said about Mr. Tom Smith having apparently—un-intentionally, of course—misled me and I therefore having misled the House, I will find out the facts and refer to the matter, if I may, on a subsequent stage. But he never said that he had seen the chairman of the association. What my friend Mr. Tom Smith said was that he had spoken to a number of mine-owners who are actually working their mines in the district. So much for Yorkshire: we can leave that for the present. I have, however, a letter here from another honourable friend of mine, Mr. Tinker, the honourable member for Leigh in another place. He speaks for Lancashire, and perhaps on the next occasion the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, will have something to say about this information. Here I can only give it, and I know that these two honourable members, who are friends of mine, are incapable of misleading me and your Lordships. Whatever I may be capable of doing, they are certainty incapable of doing that. Mr. Tinker is a man who started work at the coal face at the age of ten and worked many years at the face, and noble Lords who sat with him in another place will bear me out when I say that he has a very fine reputation for integrity and veracity and is one of the finest members we have in the other House.


Hear, hear.


This is what Mr. Tinker writes: I hope you will oppose Lord Gainford's Amendment. From conversations I have had with coalowners they can readily adapt themselves to the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Lord Gainford mentioned interfering with coal winding; ask him how many pits wind coal up to 10 o'clock at night. Also I don't think many collieries start winding coal at 6 a.m., and if they do they could quite easily let down one winding of boys at 6 o'clock if there are any under 16 years of age. That is Lancashire. With regard to South Wales, I am advised that the growing practice is that the general time of beginning is seven o'clock for men and boys, so it does not affect South Wales either way.

The noble Lord quotes all the miners' representatives on the Joint Consultative Committee. I do not think that is quite the case. I have in front of me the proceedings in another place when this matter was very fully discussed and a similar Amendment to this was negatived without a Division. This Bill was brought in by a member of the Party of the noble Lords opposite, not by a Labour member. This Bill was introduced in another place by a Conservative member sitting, incidentally, for one of the Conservative strongholds on the South Coast of England—one of the seaside towns which are so faithful to the Party opposite—so that this cannot be described as a Socialist measure. Captain Crookshank, Minister of Mines, then said that he had referred it to the Joint Consultative Committee, and that they had approved a similar Amendment to the same effect as that of Lord Gainford. He was then challenged, and Captain Crookshank said: I do not want to put the Committee in a false position. I asked them what they thought of the Bill, and what they thought of the two different hours which had already been considered, namely, 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., and this was a suggestion to make it workable. Then there was a further interruption, and the Minister of Mines said: There is no mystery about it. Knowing the interest taken by the House in the Bill and knowing the change between the Second Reading and the Committee stage, I asked for the views of the Consultative Committee on the Bill"— that is the Consultative Committee, which is a non-Parliamentary body— and in reply I received information to the effect that from the practical point of view, as they saw it, it would be desirable, in order to achieve the object that the boys should not be employed on night shifts at all, to have some words of this kind within the Bill in order to give the elasticity to which I have referred. Then Mr. Griffiths, who certainly speaks for the miners' representatives in another place, said this: I am very sceptical as to whether they— the miners' representatives on the Consultative Committee— have agreed to these words. I can only think that the matter was probably discussed in a rush in a few minutes. Your Lordships are aware that the mining industry has many troubles, and no doubt the Joint Consultative Committee had its hands full. Your Lordships know how, when there is a long agenda, things do sometimes go through without proper discussion, and not in the sort of way in which important matters are discussed in this House and in another place. Matters are rushed through when there is a packed agenda and it is necessary to get through the business. They have not our careful methods, and it seems to me quite obvious from this, and from the attitude of all those who speak for the miners, that the workmen's representatives on the Committee could hardly have agreed to this Amendment.

What does it all boil down to? If Lord Gainford's Amendment were accepted—and as I have said, I am afraid I cannot possibly accept it—.the boys would have to be ready at the pit-head, to go down into the mines, at five o'clock in the morning. The old pits are closing down, and new modern pits are being opened up and giving employment. These modern pits are sometimes twenty miles or so from the boys' homes, and therefore in order to be at the pit-head in time they would have to get up at three o'clock in the morning. I think that six o'clock is early enough for boys to commence work, and I think the effect of this Amendment would be to rob them of an hour's sleep—these growing lads It is all very well for the noble Lord to say: "Early to bed and early to rise," but I think there is, some limit as to the hour at which a growing lad should be required to rise. For what? The noble Lord says "so that they can go to the cinemas in the evenings." He speaks also of the night classes. I ask your Lordships to consider the facts as I have endeavoured to put them. The matter was fully discussed in another place, and this particular project contained in Lord Gainford's Amendment was negatived without a Division. With great respect to Lord Gainford, against whom I have no complaint, he is "trying it on" with your Lordships. It has failed in the Commons, but he is making an attempt to persuade your Lordships, and with his great influence and knowledge of the mining industry he may succeed, but I ask your Lordships not to accept the Amendment.


I would like to answer one or two of the points which the noble Lord mentioned. He suggests that the other place did not consider this Amendment.


I said that the Amendment, or a similar Amendment, was considered in another place.


It was considered, but was not accepted. The reason, as I understand, why it was not accepted was that it was in a form which was not satisfactory, and perhaps Lord Munster will be able to explain to your Lordships why the point was not pressed in another place. I understand it was not pressed because it was not what we might call watertight, and it was left for the insertion of another Amendment in this House. The Bill was therefore allowed to pass through in a form which was not really acceptable to the industry, and not acceptable to the representatives of the miners themselves, as expressed in the Joint Committee. Why I say that the leaders of the Mine Workers' Federation agreed to it is because I have a letter from one of the individuals who was present at that meeting and he says that the Amendment was unanimously approved by the Joint Standing Consultative Committee of the coal industry, which includes in its membership the President, Vice-President, and Secretary of the Mine Workers' Federation of Great Britain.

To suggest that these men did not know what they were about when they agreed to the Amendment of the Bill in this form is to cast a slur upon their intelligence which I do not for a moment think was justified. Mr. Jones and Mr. Edwards, and other leaders of the Miners' Federation, are competent men, and quite able to grasp a point. When they realised that coal has to be wound by five o'clock in most collieries of the country, and that it is essential in the interests of the boys that they should go down with the workmen, I can understand why it was that they agreed to the Bill in the form which I propose. I have here sixty firms from Yorkshire, all of whom begin allowing their men to go down at a quarter past five in the morning. They vary from five in the morning to a quarter to six, and the boys go down with the men. I say that in that way the boys travel down much more safely than if they went down after the winding had begun, and get more leisure at night. In the interests of the boys themselves, both in regard to relaxation and hours of work, I think there is the strongest case for the acceptance of this Amendment, and I hope your Lordships will accept it.


I think all need do is to state briefly the reasons why the Government think it would be advisable the House should accept the Amendment. In the first place it does not in any way affect the principle of the Bill, which is, quite shortly, to remove a wholly unwarrantable anomaly in the existing law, and to prohibit the employment of boys under sixteen underground at coal mines on the night shift. Secondly, while this prohibition is desirable and acceptable from every point of view, it is not intended that it should operate in such a manner as to cause unnecessary dislocation in working arrangements—which the Bill as it stands would do in certain parts of the country by reason of the variation in the times of commencing and ending the night shifts. It is to meet this minor, but very practical, difficulty that the Amendment is designed.

Thirdly—and this the Government regard as a most important argument in favour of the Amendment—it gives effect to the considered and unanimous recommendation of employers and employed in the industry itself, as voiced by the Joint Consultative Committee of the Mining Association and the Mineworkers' Federation, who were invited by the Government to furnish their views on this specific issue. This joint Committee, which was set up only comparatively recently, provides a most invaluable medium for conveying the considered opinion of the industry as a whole. They are the people with intimate knowledge of the day-to-day practical working of that industry, from the standpoint both of employers and of employed; and they are the people who will be personally affected by this legislation. For these reasons, I think the noble Lord would be well advised to accept the Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, asked me a question as to why this Amendment was not pressed in another place. I can only tell him that I understand the promoter of the Bill moved the Amendment, but I am afraid I have no knowledge of his reasons for not pressing it. I hope the noble Lord opposite will see his way to accept the Amendment, which I think does certainly improve the measure.


I am very sorry not to be able to yield even to the appeal of the noble Earl. He is very persuasive, but on this occasion I am afraid I shall have to stand firm. In fact, as he was speaking I almost called across to him "Et tu, Brute." I did not expect the

Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment agreed to accordingly.


The next Amendment is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 8, leave out from ("ground") to ("nothing") in line 9.—(Lord Gainford.)

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Mines Department to turn round on this particular point. This is whittling away the Bill. I of course accept what the noble Earl said but I am going to make it my business to communicate with Mr. Edwards and find out exactly what happened, without of course questioning what the noble Earl said about his having been consulted. But I have this afternoon had a word with my honourable friends who are in favour of this Bill as it stands, and they are very insistent on the point that this Amendment is unnecessary and would do away with much of the good that the Bill intends to do. The arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, are arguments that have been advanced for generations against every sort of change in the direction of improving the lot of the workers. Whether it is the factories, the mines, the fields, or anywhere else, we are always told, "You cannot do it, it would dislocate the industry"; and yet we move forward. I hope your Lordships will not accept the onus of condemning young lads to do this arduous work, starting at such an unearthly and unhealthy hour of the morning.

On Question, Whether the proposed words shall be there inserted?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not-Contents, 2.

Hailsham, V. (L. Chancellor.) Bridport, V. Hutchison of Montrose, L.
Halifax, V. (L. Privy Seal.) Elibank, V. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)
Mersey, V. Mancroft, L.
Ancaster, E. Marks, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Bayford, L. Mowbray, L.
Cautley, L. Phillimore, L.
Feversham, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Saltoun, L.
Lindsay, E. [Teller.] Sinclair, L.
Lucan, E. Clwyd, L. Stonehaven, L.
Munster, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Templemore, L.
Onslow, E. Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.) Wardington, L.
Gainford, L. [Teller.] Windlesham, L.
Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.] Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]

On Question, Amendment agreed to.