HL Deb 07 April 1952 vol 176 cc8-14

3.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I think I can claim that in many ways this is an historic Bill, because it is terminating a unique experiment in social welfare, one which has been universally accepted as successful, and because at the same time it is starting a new system of social welfare which in its shape is also unique and which everyone hopes will be as successful as, and indeed even more successful than, the one that is being terminated. As this Bill dissolves the Miners' Welfare Commission and winds up the welfare fund, I think it is appropriate to pay some tribute, both to what the Commission have achieved and to those who have been engaged in this scheme. Indeed, the high measure of agreement which has been expressed about its success is a testimony of the measure in which it has succeeded in doing its work. The setting up of the Miners' Welfare Commission, as your Lordships will recall, arose from a recommendation of the Sankey Commission, and a number of noble Lords who are members of your Lordships' House have given voluntary service as Chairmen of that organisation—at the start, Lord Gorell, Lord Chelmsford and Lord Noel-Buxton and, more recently, Lord Citrine and Lord Hyndley. I should also mention Sir Frederick Sykes, who served as Chairman for a number of years, and Professor E. L. Collis, who will be remembered for a long time.

During the thirty-one years for which this fund has existed, it has spent nearly £30,000,000, and although it will be chiefly remembered for the provision of pithead baths and miners' welfare institutes, its work has extended over a fairly wide field, including canteens, recreation grounds, rehabilitation centres, convalescent homes, educational assistance and research. If I may mention a purely personal matter, the Department inform me that my father opened the first welfare pithead baths in Scotland in 1928. It is perhaps worth noting that at the present time practically all the large and medium-sized mines are equipped with pithead baths, and something like 80 per cent. of those engaged in the mining industry are able to avail themselves of this facility. With the passing of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act in 1946, it was inevitable that the scheme should be modified in some measure. It is true it might have been done at once, but I think the Government at that time were wise to let the new scheme settle down before starting on an organisation on a more permanent basis. It was for that reason that an interim arrangement was made and on January 1, 1948, there came into existence the National Miners' Welfare Joint Council. This council had the duty of co-ordinating the work of the Miners' Welfare Commission and the National Coal Board. I understand that it has worked very well during the years of its existence. Of course, it will now be dissolved.

In July of last year an agreement was reached, between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. This agreement, and not the Bill, is in fact the Charter on which the future welfare organisation will work. This Bill does nothing more than clear away the brushwood to enable the agreement to have full effect in the way in which it is expected to do. There are one or two matters which require legal sanction, and these are included in the Bill. Read together, the agreement and this Bill divide welfare into two parts—colliery welfare and social welfare. Colliery welfare is defined as that part which is considered the proper responsibility of employers in industry, and it will be undertaken by the National Coal Board. This is no more than what would be expected of an employer at the present time. It includes pithead baths, canteens, medical centres and vocational education.

On the other hand, social welfare has a much wider meaning, and includes all activities concerned with the well-being of all persons employed by the National Coal Board and their families, considered as citizens and members of the community. It is obviously undesirable that this work should be undertaken by the National Coal Board, and it will be undertaken by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. This is a new organisation which takes the form of a company registered under the Companies Act. This arrangement is necessary to avoid any suggestion of paternalism in the provision of welfare facilities, and prevents the miners from being segregated from the community in which they live. I should add that local trusts and agreements not included in colliery welfare will remain entirely under local administration and control, as heretofore.

This social welfare organisation is entirely independent of the National Coal Board. It will be controlled by a Council of twelve persons. Six will be nominated by the National Coal Board, including one from the managerial grade, and six from the National Union of Mineworkers, including one from the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers. The majority of these directors have already been appointed. The Bill makes special provision for the decentralisation of the organisation down to district level. This arrangement is the desire of all concerned and is the only effective way of running this type of social welfare. The National Coal Board are going to make an additional grant of £1,000,000 to the organisation.

I now come to the Bill itself. The purposes are clear, though I am bound to say that, read by itself, the Bill is not particularly easy to understand. Clause 1 terminates the royalties welfare levy; the output levy, on the other hand, has already come to an end as from December of last year. This clause also dissolves the Miners' Welfare Commission. Clause 2 makes provision for winding up the welfare fund and lays down the principle on which any moneys available will be divided between the National Coal Board and the organisation. Clause 3 defines colliery welfare property. Clauses 4 to 6 lay down the manner in which property in the colliery welfare trusts will be disposed of. Very broadly, it is this: real property, furniture and fittings go to the National Coal Board; cash and securities, and the value of consumable stores, will be available for local expenditure, as may be decided to be appropriate. Clause 7 provides for the disposal of educational trusts. Clause 8 transfers a special fund to the organisation and puts the organisation in place of the Commission in all respects, except, of course, in regard to matters of colliery welfare.

Clauses 9 and 10 facilitate the transfer of property. Clause 11 allows greater flexibility in the application of local trusts and enables them to be combined where necessary. Clause 12 links the Bill with the newly formed social welfare organisation and ensures that the organisation has proper power to delegate its functions. Clause 13 places a statutory obligation on the Board to provide the organisation with funds, as arranged in the agreement. Clause 14 provides for Parliamentary control for certain clauses. The remaining clauses deal with interpretation, application to Scotland and the title of the Bill. The First Schedule distinguishes between colliery welfare purposes and other purposes. I might add that we propose on the Committee stage to put down an Amendment enabling employees of the organisation to be admitted as members of the pension scheme of the National Coal Board, so that they will be in exactly the same position as if they were employees in the ordinary way.

This is an experiment in welfare. We have taken this Bill over from the late Government, and there are only small changes in the structure of the Bill as drafted before this Government came into office. The purpose of the Bill has been received with wide agreement on all sides, and I can only trust that it will be as successful as those who support it hope it will be. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to extend a very warm welcome to this Bill. It has been my pleasure and privilege on a number of occasions in the present Parliament to follow the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and also to agree with him on the Bills which he has brought forward, the reason being, as he suggested in his closing words, that Her Majesty's Government have been wise enough to follow the example set by the late Government. Practically every Bill they have introduced this Session has been largely a continuation of the work done by their predecessors. When they have deviated it has not been quite so good; deviation is damaging to many things. It is because this Bill coincides with the policy pursued by the late Government that I am so pleased to extend to it a warm welcome.

Miners' welfare is essential. The mining industry was in existence long before welfare was thought of, but there was in that industry—and it needs to be said from time to time—a body of farsighted coal owners. The coal owners as a body have not been treated too kindly on all occasions, either in another place or in your Lordships' House. There was a body of far-sighted coal owners who, more than a quarter of a century ago, saw the need for welfare in the industry, and saw that something should be done to reduce and, if possible, remove altogether many of the unpleasant aspects of coal mining in an effort to make coal mining into a less objectionable industry. As nationalisation came into being certain features of welfare work had to be changed, and this Bill carries out the agreement. I am pleased to notice in his place to-day one of the signatories to that agreement in the person of my noble friend Viscount Hyndley. He has given many years of service to the industry and worked very hard, not only on the welfare side but in the industry generally. I am pleased not only to see the noble Viscount here, but also to see him looking so well after he has had so hard a time. I do not know whether it is his intention to intervene to-day, but I am sure your Lordships will be pleased to hear from him if he feels disposed to speak.

It would be difficult to assess what the industry owes to the miners' welfare work. I have tried to visualise what the industry would have been like had there not been any miners' welfare work. Further, I do not think one could assess the effect of miners' welfare work on output, although I am certain that it has been a good effect. If we are to maintain the labour force in this industry—and how vital that labour force is to the country need not be emphasised—we must have great regard to the welfare side. It brightens the life not only of the miner himself, but of another individual no less important—namely, the miner's wife. There is no harder-worked person in this country than a miner's wife. Those of us who worked in the industry before miners' welfare was introduced, and who know the conditions that obtained, realise what a benefit miners' welfare has been to the wife of the miner, as well as to the miner himself. I hope that the new organisation, when commencing their work, will be as good—I do not ask for more—as their predecessors. This Bill, following out the scheme referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, makes it possible for miners' welfare to be continued in future. If there is a body of men entitled to all the amenities that can be secured, it is the miners. Mining is a hard and dangerous life, and the miners' job is one which means much to the people of this country. I am very pleased to extend a warm welcome to this Bill, which, in my opinion, meets all that is required. Therefore I accept it in its entirety.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite sure that we have all enjoyed listening to the history of the Miners' Welfare Commission given by the two noble Lords who have spoken. I want to add only that I remember very well both the noble Lord, Lord Chelmsford, and Professor Collis saying how difficult it was to bring the baths to the men, and how for many years this proposition was not acceptable to them. I would add to what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that, in its way, it is further unique in the field of social welfare in that it was forced on the men who were to receive the benefits of that welfare. In the interests of history, I felt that it would be as well that record should be made of that curious trait among the miners of those times.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, for the reception he has given to the Bill. The emphasis he has put on our not deviating is curious, because there are eight Acts dealing with this matter, six passed by a Coalition Government and two by a Conservative Government. Therefore we have had a long interest in this matter. I am glad that the noble Lord has been able to express appreciation of what has been done in the past, and I am sure it is his wish that this should continue in the future.

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