HL Deb 02 March 1939 vol 111 cc1065-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Miners' Welfare Fund is a purely domestic concern of the coal industry and no public money is involved. The Fund was constituted under Section 20 of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, and the money is derived from an annual levy on every ton of coal produced. This levy is collected by the Mines Department, and the duty of allocating the money is vested by the Act in the Miners' Welfare Committee. In 1934, following upon an inquiry into the position of the Fund by a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Chelmsford, the output levy was reduced from one penny to one halfpenny, but its life was extended by sixteen years to 1951. In the meantime, under Part III of the Mining Industry Act, 1926, a new levy had been imposed—upon coal royalty owners—of one shilling in the pound on the value of mineral rentals. The money produced is specifically earmarked for the provision of pit-head baths. This formed the nucleus of what has by custom come to be known as the Baths Fund.

When the output levy was reduced by the Act of 1934, it was calculated that the annual sum would be sufficient to provide for the completion of the baths programme in eighteen years, the remaining period of the output levy as extended by the Act of 1934, that is, at a total cost of £6,750,000. The contemplated provision of baths was limited to collieries which employ a substantial number of men, and have a reasonably long expectation of life—limitations which would result in an appreciable fringe of mines and miners being left unprovided for. In view of the great and insistent demand from the industry for more rapid provision of baths, the Miners' Welfare Committee decided in 1936 that they would be justified in accelerating the building programme to the extent of providing for expenditure at the rate of £625,000 a year. They estimated that expenditure at this rate for a period of eight years would break the back of the programme within that much shorter period. The Committee were enabled to embark on this higher rate of expenditure by taking advantage of an accumulated balance and of the time lags between the placing of contracts and the actual payments. It is estimated that if the fund continues in its present position the accumulated balance will be exhausted by about the end of March. The Baths Fund will then begin to require additional finance, over and above its statutory annual income of £375,000, and in respect of the period 1939–46 inclusive, a total additional sum of about £2,000,000 will be needed if the accelerated programme is to be maintained and carried through.

The Government therefore decided to increase the levy to one penny for five years and to devote the whole amount produced by the additional halfpenny during that period to pit-head baths. This will provide the £2,000,000 required for the completion of the main programme and about £375,000 towards the subsidiary programme. At the end of five years, unless Parliament otherwise decides, the levy will drop again to a halfpenny and the income of the Pit-head Bath Fund will drop to £375,000 per annum unless some other distribution of the total moneys available from the two levies is authorised. Clause 1 provides that the period of five years during which the additional halfpenny will be payable will begin with the 1939 output, but in order to secure, during this and succeeding years, the funds necessary to continue the accelerated baths programme, it was also agreed that the additional halfpenny and the original halfpenny will both be paid quarterly during that period. Clause 2 provides for the incorporation of a Miners' Welfare Commission to take over the powers and duties of the existing Miners' Welfare Committee, which is not a body corporate. The only new point, I think, is that the representation of the Mining Association and Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain on the Miners' Welfare Commission will be equal—namely, three persons each. The reasons for incorporation of the Committee are purely technical. The Bill is a measure which is agreed by both sides of the industry, and I hope your Lordships will give it a unanimous Second Reading. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, this is an agreed Bill. It has the full approval of the Party for which I speak.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships long, but as Chairman of the Royal Commission which sat for three years and incidentally took some evidence on this subject, I should like to say that I cordially welcome the Bill. I think it is very desirable that it should be passed. It will accelerate the work on pit-head baths, which is very desirable and which is not going on so fast as could be wished. The general public attitude towards the provision of pit-head baths has considerably changed. When the matter was first raised there was, I think I may say, considerable prejudice against them. A good many women were not keen, and the men did not want to use them. I have heard from a Liberal colleague in another place, who is no longer alive but who was very keen about these pit-head baths, that at first they were used for other purposes—for potato growing, for instance, and breeding rabbits for coursing. They did not at once gain much popularity.

The evidence before us, however, showed that opinion has very much changed and the Commission were anxious that means should be devised by which the provision of finance could be accelerated. That is what this Bill will do. We had ample evidence of the utility and value of these baths. As one inspector put it: The dust was left in the mines instead of being taken to the miners' homes as a result of the provision of pit-head baths. After his bath a man can respectably travel by tram, or 'bus, with his clothes clean and tidy, and not be shunned by his neighbours. It was also shown by the evidence that the comfort made the men more contented, and that they remained longer in mining employment. That is quite useful and helpful all round. Again, there are attached to nearly all the baths ambulance rooms, and a very large percentage of minor accidents—cuts and small injuries—were prevented from becoming septic by prompt treatment. There are now pit-head baths completed or under construction for about 400,000 workers—about half the total number of miners employed. One matter mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, which I think is worth watching, is the order of selecting the mines for building pit baths. That should be determined, I think, by two factors—namely, the number of miners employed, and the probable life of the colliery. Those are both matters which require attention. Looking at the Bill as a whole the practical work of the Mining Industry Welfare Fund will, I hope, encourage co-operation, good will and understanding. Those things are most important in the mining industry, and encouragement of them is one of the aims and objects of the Royal Commission.


My Lords, perhaps as the noble Lord has expressed the views of the Chairman of one Royal Commission I, as Chairman of another Royal Commission some years ago, may be allowed to say with what gratification I heard what he said and how cordially I welcome this Bill. When the Royal Commission over which I presided sat in 1925 and 1926 this proposal for the provision of pit-head baths was, as the noble Lord just said, regarded rather as a fad. There was no great enthusiasm for it even among the rank and file of the miners in many cases. It was generally considered that to suggest the universal establishment of pit baths was to propose rather absurd luxury expenditure. However, the Royal Commission of that date, having heard a great deal of evidence, formed the very definite opinion that pit baths were an absolute necessity and that their universal provision would do more than any other one thing to promote the domestic welfare of the mining community. We consequently made an emphatic recommendation in that sense and suggested financial provisions. After this interval of time it is a great satisfaction to those concerned with the matter then to see the results which have followed the judgment they then formed and to know that His Majesty's Government are taking active steps to speed up the provision of baths. I have no doubt your Lordships will speedily and gladly pass the Bill.

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