§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, it will probably be for the convenience of your Lordships that I should make a few remarks on this and the next Bill which stands in my name, neither of which need delay your Lordships more than a few minutes. The purpose of this Bill is to continue the levy on coal output at a penny per ton until the year 1951. The Act which was passed at the beginning of the war expires unless it is extended at the end of this year. I think the story of the levy on the output of coal is familiar to most noble Lords. It can be traced back to 1920, when a fund was constituted under the Mining Industry Act of that year for the purpose of improving the social conditions of colliery workers. The provision of pit-head baths and provision for drying working clothes have been two of the major advantages which the miner has derived from the fund and they both have in fact been universally acclaimed. At present the provision of baths covers about 60 per cent. of the miners and, although further building had naturally to be suspended at the beginning of the war, it is intended to complete the work as soon as circumstances permit. The Miners' Welfare Commission have prepared a plan on a ten-year basis which is now under the consideration of my noble friend Lord Portal. Of course it is not possible to say when the work can be begun or when the work will be concluded, but the Commissioners do nevertheless contemplate a substantial increase in the rate of construction over the pre-war period. The Commissioners who are responsible for the building naturally wish to be assured of the necessary funds to complete the work and that really is the main and principal object of the Bill which I ask the House to read a second time.
The funds which would have normally accumulated from this levy have been applied under Defence Regulations to the provision of other welfare objects such as canteens and rehabilitation centres, and the Commissioners are committed to an expenditure of about £2,250,000 on these projects. The House will therefore see that this sum has been diverted from 103 the object originally in view, and it is necessary for the money to be restored to the purpose for which Parliament originally intended it. By introducing legislation now rather than later the Miners' Welfare Commission will be able to proceed with their schemes with the full knowledge that they will not be hampered by lack of funds. The measure, as the House will know, will continue in operation until 1951 when the future of miners' welfare work will be a matter for consideration again. I might mention that this Bill has the full support of the representatives of both sides of the industry. Finally, I would say this, that subject to your Lordships' concurrence I intend to put this Bill and the next one which stands in my name through their remaining stages at the last sitting day of the present series of sittings, in order that they may be received in another place and passed into law at the earliest possible moment.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble Earl who has introduced this Bill has given us a short history of the measure and has very properly said that there is no opposition to the Bill itself. As your Lordships are aware, the halfpenny contribution was increased in 1939 for the special purpose of pit-head baths, but Regulation 60BA, made under the Defence of the Realm Act, which was enacted in October, 1941, permitted the moneys which were allocated to baths under existing legislation to be used for other welfare purposes during the war. Very large sums have been applied to the building of canteens and also, as the noble Earl has told us, for rehabilitation purposes. Following this legislation the levy would have reverted to a halfpenny per ton, but it has been decided with the concurrence of both sides that the penny levy should be continued until the welfare enactment comes to an end, which it normally does in 1951.
The Minister of Fuel and Power expressed sympathy with the objective but said the question depended upon financial provisions which would require consideration, because it would mean that a very large fund would be established and probably the development of building after the 104 war would make certain difficulties of which your Lordships are aware. At the same time that does not seem to me to be a very important consideration. There was the further point that the Minister of Fuel and Power was anxious that this legislation should be non-controversial. I am glad to say that it is entirely non-controversial. The industry has represented to the Government that the taking of money from the fund for what may be called extraneous purposes, requires a certain amount of consideration. A large sum has been used for canteens, and the provision of canteens may certainly be regarded as a form of welfare. But in addition money has been used for rehabilitation. I am sure your Lordships are well aware of the advantages derived from work done in that direction, but as rehabilitation is a charge which will fall on public funds, it is expected that the money taken for that purpose will be repaid to the welfare fund. That is a matter on which I have no doubt the Minister of Fuel and Power will have something to say later. In the meantime, the Mining Association, which I represent here to-day, gives full concurrence in the measure brought forward.
My Lords, I should like to be allowed to congratulate my noble friend Lord Templemore on bringing forward these two Bills in your Lordships' House early in the Session. It is a welcome departure from a very bad habit the Government have got into of introducing everything—whether important and controversial or not—in the other place and then crowding your Lordships with a mass of legislation which we are supposed to supervise and correct, if necessary, at the fag end of the Session. I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Templemore.
I imagine it is the responsibility of Lord Templemore. I was going on to congratulate my noble friend the Earl of Munster on the lucid way in which he explained the Bill now before your Lordships. It is an agreed Bill and I have only one observation to make upon it. I understand that part of the money goes to rehabilitation centres, rest homes, and I have knowledge of one or two of these. They have been established in 105 beautiful country surroundings, they are extremely well managed, and they are of undoubted benefit to men in need of rest when recovering from accidents or illness. But the criticism I have heard is that there is a tendency to establish them in remote rural districts, with the result that the men feel rather lonely. If others are to be established I hope the noble Earl will suggest that, where possible, they should be nearer centres of population. These men are not sick in the sense of being bedridden. They need rest, but they also need recreation. If they are right away in the heart of the country life begins to pall. They might be happier nearer a town. That proposal has been made to me by men I have met quite casually and talked to, and I think there is something in it.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I will certainly convey my noble friend's observations to the Minister of Fuel and Power.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.