HL Deb 15 July 1954 vol 188 cc1093-119

2.45 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, moves the Second Reading of this Bill, I desire to make a protest regarding the timing of the Second Reading. We were given to understand that this Bill would appear on the Order Paper on Monday next, and those of us interested in the Bill made arrangements accordingly. Quite unexpectedly, and without consultation with any member of my Party, we find the Second Reading down for to-day, when the discussion must be interrupted or substantially curtailed. This is no minor Bill, as one might imagine from the way it is being treated; this is one of the major coal industry Bills of this century. We are anxious, without wasting any time, to enter a protest that the date should have been fixed without consultation with anybody on this side of the House. We realise that there are difficulties. We appreciate that it is only two weeks ago since it left another place, and that a great many undertakings were given on the Report stage in another place necessitating insertions in the Bill before it came to your Lordships' House. We also appreciate that the amount of time left this Session after the Recess hardly allows for a Second Reading debate and the many Amendments—at least 200—which have been put down for discussion in your Lordships' House. Despite all that, we feel that this is rather shabby treatment of the Opposition on so major a Bill.


My Lords, I should like to say, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, how deeply sorry I ant that this date should be inconvenient to the noble Lord in any way whatever. It certainly was not the intention that any alteration should be made which might be inconvenient to him. The only thing I can say is that this is a difficult time of the year; the next fortnight is a most difficult fortnight to work in. I can assure the noble Lord that I am at his disposal until midnight if he should want to go on; and as long as he desires to discuss the Bill on Second Reading I will do my utmost to meet any point he may raise. I would add that, important as the Second. Reading debate is, there are something like 200 Government Amendments to be moved on the Committee stage, many of them drafting or to meet assurances given in another place, and there will be ample opportunity to discuss them. I entirely agree with the noble Lord as to the importance of this measure; indeed, I would go further and say that it is probably the most important measure of this Session, and certainly much more important than the one we have been discussing for the last three days. I do not know whether the noble Lord can accept that from me, or whether I should say anything further.

I can give two reasons why this Bill is so important, in case there should be any doubt about it. First of all, the mining industry is unquestionably the most important industry in this country. A 10 per cent. increase in the production of coal would completely revolutionise the economic outlook of the country. This Bill deals not only with the welfare but with the life and death of 750,000 of those engaged in the various branches of the industry. It is against that background that I want to emphasise the importance of the Bill. It consists of some 189 clauses, and it is clear that we could talk on it for a considerable time without ever repeating ourselves. But I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if, as succinctly as I can, I give the general framework of the Bill, and mention shortly the major new provisions included in it.

I would remind your Lordships that legislation of this character goes back over a century, starting with Lord Ashley's Act of 1842, which prohibited the employment of women and girls underground, and also regulated the employment of boys. Lord Ashley played a considerable part in subsequent legislation, which included, eight years later, provision for the employment of inspectors in coal mines, from which has been gradually built up the fine traditions of the present Mines Inspectorate. Rules covering ventilation, shafts and plans of working were made under an Act of 1855; and by the 1860 Act these rules were extended to cover the use of safety lamps, underground haulage and precautions against inrushes of water from old workings. Then there came the Act of 1862, passed as a result of experience derived from the accidents which, regrettably, have taken place in the history of the mines. That Act prohibited single shafts for all coal mines and established the vital principle of two means of ingress and egress from places in a mine. There was also the important Act of 1872, which laid down that managers must be certificated, and which gave power to those employed to appoint two of their number to inspect the mine once a month on behalf of their fellow-workers. This was followed by the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which is still the governing Statute in regard to coal mines.

It is of some interest that that Act was introduced by the present Prime Minister, when he was Home Secretary in Mr. Asquith's Government, and I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, another member of that Cabinet, is not present to-day. In speaking of coal mining, the present Prime Minister then said this: That spectacle"— that is, the whole operation of coal mining— as has been said, is one of the most remarkable specimens of human activity in its struggle with and triumph over matter. It is worth noting that the improvements in the casualty rate arising from that Act have been very striking. In 1935, there was a Royal Commission on Safety in Coal Mines—and this is the point from which this Bill really starts. By 1939 my right honourable friend the present Minister of Fuel and Power, who was then Secretary of Mines, was planning to introduce a safety measure in mines on the basis of that Commission's Report. These plans were, of course, disrupted the war, but shortly after my right honourable friend became Minister of Fuel and Power he announced his intention of preparing a Safety in Mines Bill on the basis of the work which he had initiated before the war. It is fair to say that although subsequent regulations have done much to prevent the Act of 1911 from becoming entirely out of line with modern requirements, there are, none the less, a hard core of provisions which required substantial alteration in the light of modern mining methods. That is the basis on which I present this Bill to your Lordships.

It is fair to say that this Bill has had a thorough examination in another place. I think I am correct in saying that for the first time a Bill attempts to deal with coal mines, metalliferous mines and quarries at one and the same time. Now we fully recognise that these different processes demand different requirements. There are, none the less, basic points at which common ground can be established and we think it is a good thing that that common ground should be used. But we have not for a moment lost sight of the need to make essentially different provisions when it is necessary in this Bill.

Before dealing with the Bill, may make one general remark? Safety in mines is a very different thing from safety in factories. When we are dealing with safety in factories, on the railways or on the roads, we are dealing with essentially a man-made problem. But when we deal with safety in the mines, safety in the air or safety at sea, we are dealing with something of an entirely different nature. We are dealing with man's struggle with nature, and that is really one of the major problems of this whole matter. For that reason, I think it is worth mentioning to your Lordships Clause 48, which lays a new duty on managers in respect of the control of the movement of strata. I suggest to your Lordships that that is an important development which is in line with modern knowledge on the subject, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that that is the right approach. When we come to the Bill itself, we have endeavoured, so far as possible, to restrict it to establishing the basic principles of safety, health and welfare. We have not taken in this Bill, as in the 1911 Act, power to amend the Act itself. The details will, under the principles of safety, be filled in by orders, rules and regulations, which the Minister has taken power to make, and which, with minor exceptions, are subject to annulment in pursuance of Resolutions in both Houses of Parliament.

Part I of the Bill sets out the general duties of mine and quarry owners. These detailed duties have to be carried out necessarily by others on their behalf, and in such cases these duties and responsibilities must be clearly defined in writing. The extreme importance of that was, of course, brought out in the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery accident. In Part II of the Bill every possible effort has been made, I think with the approval of all sections of the House of Commons, to make unassailable in law the position and authority of the mine manager, and, in doing this, to ensure that the duties of that position carry with them the necessary rights to enable them to be fulfilled. In other words, the powers correspond with the nature of the tasks which he has to fulfil. I will give an example, if I may. Under Clause 2, every mine must have a sole manager, and Clause 5 limits the conditions under which a person may be manager of more than one mine. As a complement, Clause 3 defines the rights of a manager. Instructions given to a manager which in any way affect his duties must be confirmed in writing. Where the manager is required to have statutory qualifications, he can also demand, if he so wishes, that the instructions be confirmed in writing by someone holding qualifications similar to those which are required of him.

Now may I pass to Part III which comprises seventy-four clauses which contain the chief provisions with regard to safety, health and welfare in mines. Many of these principal requirements are continued from former enactments, with amendments which will bring them up to date. There are a large number of new provisions, and I should like to mention some of them. I have already mentioned scientific strata control, as distinct from the provision of merely artificial support for the roof and sides of the workings. This, I hope, is a fundamental attack on the major causes of accidents underground from falls from the roof, which account, I am told, for nearly half of the deaths and serious injuries in mines. The Bill also strikes at haulage accidents, which is the next most prolific cause, by requiring substantial improvements in the conditions under which transport and travelling are carried out, and tries to prevent accidents instead of only mitigating their results.

Again, the ventilation provisions include a new requirement. Clause 56 is designed to prevent the emission of fire damp from the waste which is the main source of danger of explosions—now, it is true, infrequent, but very terrible when they do occur. The inspectors are given general powers, which they did not possess previously, to require improvements in the system of ventilation. Very important new provisions are included in order to deal adequately with dust, not only because it may greatly extend the devastation of an initial gas explosion, but also because of is importance in the matter of pneumoconiosis. In the latter respect, this applies also to noxious dust, produced in quarry processes. The disastrous fire at Creswell Colliery has resulted in certain important additions to the existing precautions against fire, and I should like to mention some of these.

Clause 70 requires either that the principal air intake must be fire-proofed or. alternatively, that there is a second air intake. The Minister has taken power to fix the date from which conveyor belting and brattice cloth must be non-inflammable. From the Knockshinnoch disaster arise a group of clauses dealing much more fully than at present with inrushes of water and other liquid matter. Finally, the increasing dangers of mechanical plant—which, of course, is being used more and more—are provided for. Parts IV and V deal specifically with quarries which are, it is true, also covered by some other clauses of the Bill. Those clauses, along with those affecting metalliferous mines, have been discussed extensively by a joint committee composed of representatives of the British Employers Confederation and the Federation of British Industries. As a result of these discussions, amendments have been made to meet the requirements both of modern managerial methods and technical requirements which vary from the general requirements of coal mines. How important these developments are can, I think, be shown by the fact that from the beginning of the century the total output of quarries has increased by four times with the employment of half the number of men.

But there had necessarily to be a number of variations compared with mines. For instance, a quarry may have more than one manager provided. However, the jurisdiction must be very carefully laid down and defined in writing and, of course, agreed by the inspector of the district. A quarry owner may reserve to himself any matters, responsibility for which would otherwise be that of a quarry manager, subject to an instrument in writing and, of course, to agreement by the district inspector. I understand that these changes have been accepted by the joint committee which I mentioned above and they should be adequate to introduce the necessary flexibility to meet both the structure and methods of modern quarry producers. There have also been extensive discussions with those interested in metalliferous mines, and I hope that the arrangements will be regarded as fair and reasonable. Included amongst those powers is the power to make regulations affecting the care of ponies.

Part VIII of the Bill makes special provision for the protection of women and young persons and applies to coal mines, metalliferous mines and quarries. Improved standards have been introduced with regard to hours and conditions of work. Women, of course, cannot be employed underground, and it is likely that in a short time the number employed on surface on the dirty work will be very few, except in Lancashire. Under the Bill, boys will not be allowed to be employed below ground at all before the age of sixteen, and that condition for boys will eventually be extended to all those under eighteen. Young persons will not be able to be employed at night, either above or below ground, subject, however, to a temporary exemption of five years in the cases of Durham, Northumberland and Warwickshire. These are organisational changes. I should also add that the rights for boys include a statutory right to a week-end—which will normally be Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

The Bill now before the House presents a very considerable endeavour in another place to compile a modern measure which will be worthy of the mining and quarrying industries to-day and for many years to come. I think it is fair to say that from the comparatively qualified welcome in discussions on Second Reading, it has progressed through the Committee stage and has now what I think may be described as almost universal approval. I consider that it reflects great credit on my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. Before I sit down—and I have endeavoured to be as brief as I can—I think I should warn the House that a considerable number of Amend ments will be moved by the Government in Committee stage. These will be almost entirely redrafting, for one reason and another, or in fulfilment of assurances given in another place. It is hoped that the Committee stage will be the second Tuesday after we return from the Summer Recess. That will enable noble Lords who are interested to get these Amendments as soon as possible. I am arranging for them to be sent out by the Printed Paper Office for any noble Lords who wish to receive them.




They will come out as they are ready. I will not wait until all 200 or so Amendments are ready; they will come out stage by stage, so that noble Lords will have as much opportunity as possible of seeing them, well in advance of the Committee stage. I think it is fair to say that nothing in this Bill is meant to be the slightest reflection on the National Coal Board, who welcome the general tenor of this measure as it stands. With these few—and they are few—remarks, I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

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

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, in the first place, let me express my appreciation of the noble Earl's explanation as to why the debate was fixed for to-day. Although it by no means removes our discontent, we understand the position a little better. Let me also explain to him our appreciation of the very clear and concise, if brief, manner in which he has introduced the Bill. There are a few of us on this side who have spent quite a while in the coal industry, and this century so far has been spent by three of us in very close contact with the coal industry, either in the industry or dealing with the problems arising out of the industry. I thought the quotation from the present Prime Minister's introductory speech in 1911 was most appropriate. It was typical Churchillian oratory which to-day is world-famous. I look upon this Bill as an attempt to carry on the struggle he referred to by the human race to conquer and triumph over nature. This Bill, I take it, is an attempt to deal with the natural difficulties of mining and quarrying in a manner that will safeguard the life and limb of those engaged in the industry.

I agree entirely that this Bill naturally arises from circumstances of to-day in the industry. We could have continued the 1911 Act as we have done for forty odd years; we could have continued making regulations under that Bill, but major changes that have taken place in this industry demanded legislative action. I am glad that this Bill has been introduced. I also want to explain my personal appreciation of the Minister of Fuel and Power. He and I are good personal friends. We have disagreed on many occasions in another place but I think that in his handling of this Bill he has shown great wisdom and conciliation; and to him we all owe a great debt that the Bill has changed so much between Second and Third Readings in another place. It was helped by men who can speak with authority and experience.

Most of the members of that Committee in another place had been actual coal miners, they could speak from personal experience, and the Minister, being a wise man, was willing to profit from their experience. I have calculated that they spent in another place a hundred hours on this Bill. That is a long time to spend on a Bill, but I could not find where they had wasted any time. There was no filibustering. There were twenty-six separate Committee meetings, and each Committee meeting used the time to the best advantage. Here we get the result of the activities of our colleagues in another place. I do not think we can improve upon their work very much. We may from this side put forward some Amendments which I suggest might be accepted, and we know that many Amendments will be forthcoming as a result of the assurances given by the Minister in another place.

I agree with the noble Earl that the 1911 Act is one of the Acts of Parliament that has justified its existence. Forty-three years of working have shown how wise they were in 1911. The principles laid down then for the safety, welfare and health of the miner are still the principles that we apply to this industry: we have not varied them. The accident rate, both fatal and non-fatal, has also been affected by that legislation. We ought to feel indebted to those who were responsible for planning this, especially as regards explosions. Those of us who spent much of our time in the early years in the industry experienced explosions, but fortunately there were very few. Explosions have been reduced almost—one does not want to speak too freely—to a minimum in the coal industry, largely as a result of the 1911 Act.

There are changes—the Title, for instance, is different. The 1911 Act had the Title "Coal Mines"; this has the Title, "Mines and Quarries." There were those in another place who were a little disturbed. The right honourable gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale wondered on Second Reading whether it was wise to try to legislate for both those industries in the same Bill, or whether two separate Bills would not have been better. My knowledge of the coal industry is much closer and much more intimate than is my knowledge of the quarrying industry, though for forty years, as a result of marriage, I have been brought very close to the slate industry in Merionethshire in North Wales. My wife was from a quarrying family. Her father and six brothers together spent more than 300 years in the slate quarrying industry at Blaenau Festiniog. I have heard a lot about that industry. I have visited those quarries and seen the differences between quarrying and mining. There are differences, but I never felt that those differences were of such a character that one Bill, properly drafted, could not deal with both industries together. Two of by brothers-in-law had their lives shortened by silicosis contracted in the slate industry, and one can understand how people affected in that way have a vital interest in the provisions with regard to the laying of dust.

This Bill approaches the whole of the safety problem in the same way as it was approached in 1911, but there are differences. For instance in 1911 it was not thought necessary to bring the owner within the scope of legislation. That is easily understood. I knew the mines in Lancashire when there were owner managers. They were only small mines; the owners were not brought in. But the big amalgamation which has taken place in the intervening period has made that much difference, and I am glad that this Bill brings in the owners to the extent it does. The reasons were given exceptionally well by the Minister himself, in a passage symptomatic of his wisdom. He states in column 9 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Standing Committee A on this Bill, We do this"— that is, bring the owners into this legislation, unlike the 1911 legislation— because we felt that it was wrong to continue what really was a fiction, that owners never interfered with the actual conduct of the mine—because obviously it was the fact that they could give instructions to the managers and so on. In our view, it was a weakness of the old Act that it proceeded upon the assumption that such a thing never happened. We know that it happened. Therefore, we feel that it is wiser to recognise realities and to provide for them. I am very pleased that he has done that.

From the owners we come to a rather important body of people in the industry, the managers. Again, the position of a manager is that he has to-day a very heavy responsibility. Many managers are responsible for anything from 3,000 to 4,000 people working underground. That is a big responsibility, not only where safety is concerned but also where production is concerned. Let me say, in passing, that I have never separated the two things. I think the safety of a miner is a big element in the question of production. I have never been able to calculate, nor have I heard assessed, the loss in terms of production arising from accidents. I should suggest that there is a very heavy loss in production when men are laid off for three days or more. I think that the more we reduce accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, the more attractive will the industry become for recruitment. Recruitment is going to be vital in this industry in the years to come. Mothers and wives of miners in the past have seen to it that their boys were not sent into the industry. The wives of non-mining people never thought of sending their boys into the industry. Therefore, by some means or other, this industry has got to be made more attractive, and I think one way of doing that is to save life and limb and to reduce accidents. From that aspect of the matter, the manager, in his capacity in regard to production and safety, combines two very responsible duties.

I come next to the question of what is the right age for a man to have under his charge two, three or four thousand miners. That is not an easy question to decide. I have known young men of twenty-four and twenty-five of exceptional qualifications technically—they could teach their elders a lot in the way of modern mining methods. At the same time, they never seemed to have the wisdom that is necessary for handling, the miners—and if there is anywhere where wisdom is necessary for the handling of men it is in the coal industry. I hope that I do not embarrass any past coal owner who may be present, but I think that in the past owners have failed miserably in this regard. The history of the mines reveals how bad has been this aspect of the matter in past years. Twenty-five was felt to be a young age. Of course, there are men of twenty-five who carry old heads on their shoulders. I have had to negotiate with young managers of twenty-five and have not found them wanting; I found them very wise and experienced, and most willing to learn. But I have found that, whilst they may be better qualified technically for managerial responsibility, older men less qualified seem to hold down the position better. We felt that the age ought to be increased. Although the Minister could not go to twenty-eight he did go to twenty-six, and it may be that that extra year may help to make a good man that much more proficient. I am pleased that the Minister has left the under-manager's age at twenty-three. I think that is very wise, because it gives an additional year within which a man can act as an under-manager before becoming a manager. That helps immensely. I shall not refer to the under-manager to any great extent, because his position is not altered very much under this Bill.

I am dealing with the human agencies in this Bill, and I know that your Lordships will understand that, whatever regulations are made as a result of this legislation, if the human agencies in the industry fail, then the legislation fails. I do not know of any human agency that is more important in connection with safety than the deputy, the fireman. He is closest to the men; he sees them twice a day; he tours the district twice a day, and sees the conditions there. There has been a tendency, not quite so pronounced to-day as it was in my younger days, to put productive responsibility on to the deputy. I entirely agree with this, provided that he can discharge his responsibility in regard to safety. If he can do that, it is quite reasonable to expect him to keep an eye on production in his district. But it must not be at the expense of his statutory responsibility for safety. I hope that duty will remain paramount in the activities of the deputy.

I come now briefly to the inspectors—I do not say "briefly" because I think they are not important; in fact, I think the inspectors are very important in this industry, and their responsibilities are heavy. But there is something wrong somewhere. In my young days I did not learn that there was a difficulty in getting inspectors, although there was a shortage. The reason was that promotion to inspector, rather than to colliery manager, was such that there was an attraction towards the job of inspector. To-day, however, the colliery manager is a much better paid man than the average inspector. Under the present régime the work of a colliery manager is much more pleasant than that of an inspector. But whatever the reason, we find ourselves today under-staffed in this vital occupation of inspector. I am told that we are at least thirty-two below requirement. I wonder why. I am told that of the people we asked, the response from qualified men was less than 5 per cent. I cannot think of any reason for this except the difference in salary.

I expect that most people interested in this Bill have received a long document from the Institution of Professional Civil Servants. They have sent a covering letter and a memorandum in which they inform us as to the position; and they say that they are most concerned. The memorandum tells us that for about a year or more pay negotiations have been going on regarding the salary of mines inspectors, with no result as yet. They also say (and here I give the figures) that the approximate rate of pay for a chief inspector is £2,700; for a deputy chief inspector, £2,125; for a divisional inspector, £1,825 to £2,100; for a senior district inspector, £1,459 to £1,775; for a district inspector, £1,208 to £1,439; and for an inspector—that is the ordinary inspector in the area—from £917 to £1,152. Those figures sound substantial, but they have, of coarse, to be related to what is paid inside the industry to other officials. There is not the slightest difficulty to-day in getting managers. The conditions and terms of service are such as to attract the man who is technically qualified, and I feel that something ought to be done to see that the conditions and terms of service, and salary, of the inspector's grade are made not less attractive than those of other officials in the industry. There is also another body of inspectors mentioned in this Bill—namely, workmen's inspectors. Here again, I am pleased that the Minister has shown more wisdom in to some extent increasing the power of the workmen's inspectors. They are an important factor; their activities assist considerably in giving the workmen more confidence in regard to safety. They are to be allowed to inspect more frequently and more thoroughly, and I think that will certainly be helpful.

Let me now work back to one point in regard to inspectors, which is I think of some importance. Your Lordships' House knows by now that I am a man who was brought up in England, with a Scots name, who happens also to be a Welshman. I am very pleased to note that in Clause 142 of the Bill, which deals with inspectors, subsection (3) contains these words: In the assignment of inspectors for duty in Wales or Monmouthshire, among candidates otherwise equally qualified, persons having a knowledge of the Welsh language"— and I am now looking at the noble Lord Lord Raglan: shall be preferred. The noble Lord some time ago was a little worried about the Welsh language in Monmouthshire. I like that provision very much indeed, but I would ask the noble Earl, the Paymaster General, if he would consult the Minister as to whether there is any objection to including that phrase also in the appointment of managers and under-managers. They get nearer to the workpeople.

As noble Lords will know, I left the other place, at the request of the Prime Minister, in 1942, and then spent four years as Regional Controller, North-West area, under the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I visited all the collieries—something like 100—in that area, and found myself in North Wales many times, with men at the coal face who were almost monoglots; but the manager was English.


They are all monoglots in Monmouthshire.


Oh, no, I know some good churches in Monmouthshire where you can hear good Welsh singing and preaching. They are not all monoglots. I met miners working at the coal face, as I say, who were almost monoglots. There can be no direct conversation between those men and the colliery managers and, in fact, I had to interpret once or twice between the workmen and the colliery managers. I agree with the provision regarding inspectors, but I should like consideration to be given as to whether there is any objection to these words that I have quoted being used, in particular, in relation to colliery managers and also, if need be, under-managers.

There is one other body, the workmen themselves. This Bill will not operate without the co-operation of the workers. They cannot be neglected, and we cannot pretend that they can. I know that, as one who has been in contact with them. Safety is covered very well in the Bill, and provision is made for dealing with the man who is careless and neglectful. There are a number of clauses to which I will refer, in order to bring them to the attention of the Minister now, so that he may look at their drafting. Clause 90 is an important clause, from the miners' point of view, because it deals with the way in which he himself is responsible for the injuries from which he suffers. This morning I spent some time with officials of the National Union of Mineworkers, and it was felt that we ought not to be devising ways and means of additional penalty for that type of fellow. The Minister promised in another place that he would look at the point. That is something, but I hope that, as well as looking, he will find ways of amending that clause. Then there are medical examinations, and the provision applying if a miner fails to submit himself. We are strongly against this. Where a miner has spent many years in the industry and, as a result, his health is affected, directly or indirectly, it is not easy for him, at his advanced age, having been twenty or thirty years in the mines to find himself "on the scrap-heap," and not equipped to find other work in another industry. I hope that the Minister will look at Clause 92.

Clause 97 I mention at the request of those interested in the quarries. For some reason or other, we do not seem to have specified what are to be the qualifications of a manager of an ordinary quarry, as we did with managers of coal mines. It is true that in Clause 103 we find reference to a "prescribed class." Is the Minister satisfied that it is not necessary to make any specification regarding the qualifications of a manager in a quarry? On Clause 167 I raise a point at the request of the National Union of Mineworkers, who ask that the Minister should look at the clause again, as I think he has promised to do. They feel that machinery ought to be provided under this clause to secure that the job referred to is done by the right people. They are afraid that, as the clause is framed at present, somebody might be put in charge of the wrong people. The Minister has this point well in mind. Clause 168, which empowers the Minister, in consultation with an inspector, to exempt mines or quarries from the provisions of this Bill for a period not exceeding five years, is also important. We realise that that may be necessary, but what we are asking is that the power should be exercised very carefully and only rarely.

May I now refer to two new clauses which were mentioned in another place, but which, for some reason, have not been referred to since. They were brought forward on the last day of the Committee stage, May 18, when the proceedings were being rushed in order to terminate the Committee stage. The first new clause was headed "Extermination of vermin," and the Minister said that he himself would like to bring in on Report stage a new clause on this important subject matter. The new clause was not forthcoming—I am not blaming anyone for 1 know that this Committee stage had overrun its time and things were hurried—but we should like that clause to be forthcoming in your Lordships' House. The second new clause deals with actions for damage against owners of mines or quarries and has been outlined very clearly. Sometimes an individual receives a special direct instruction to do a certain job or jobs, and the tendency has been to think that, if he should fail in that, the owner has no responsibility because the man had direct instructions. I would ask that this matter should be looked at, as the Minister has again promised that it would be. I am hoping—and I am not without grounds for hope—that this Bill will prove as effective in the second half of the twentieth century as its predecessor proved to be in the first half.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased to welcome this Bill, but before dealing with the Bill itself I should like to support the protest made by my noble friend as to the rearrangement of the date for taking this Bill. Indeed, when we look around your Lordships' House this afternoon we can see that the date in itself is unsuitable, because the attention of a large number of noble Lords is in another place, or soon will be in another place. The result is that, instead of having what we should regard as a reasonable House to deal with this most important question, though we are grateful to see as many noble Lords present as there are, the attendance is small. I should have expected that there would be a much larger number and a greater interest in this matter, which is important from the point of view not only of the importance of the industry itself but of the great human problem linked up with this legislation.

I know of no person who has been associated with this industry, either on the employers' side or on the workmen's side, who would not welcome this Bill. The National Union, of Mineworkers, the mining members of Parliament and other persons who are interested in coal mines and quarries in this country have thought that this Bill was long overdue. I agree with what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, to the effect that the Bill reaches your Lordships' House after a great deal of examination and improvement in another place, where members of all Parties, together with the Minister of Fuel and Power, set themselves to produce legislation which must result, if carried out, in minimising the causes of the all too many accidents and the great suffering and death from industrial diseases which are associated with the coal mining industry of this country. The other place has done a very fine piece of work. Indeed, seldom during my long Parliamentary career have I known so many complimentary references from all Parties made to a Minister and those associated with him for their great understanding and their efforts to improve a Bill, as were made to the Minister of Fuel and Power, his Parliamentary Secretary and his Ministry. As one who spent some considerable time in the mines and who has been a victim of some of the accidents, after reading the Bill and the reports of the debates I wish to associate myself with all that has been said in praise of those who have helped to get the Bill into the form in which it now comes to your Lordships' House.

Many of us remember the passing of the 1911 Act. Indeed my noble friend, Lord Lawson, and myself had been employed for some eighteen years in the pits before that Act was passed. We come from an earlier vintage, for we commenced work soon after the passing of the 1887 Act. Had it not been for the passing of that Act, or, indeed, if its passing had been delayed by three or four years, my noble friend, Lord Lawson, and myself would have commenced our working lives probably at ten years of age instead of at twelve years. For the 1860 Act was really a farce, so far as setting limits with regard to boys working in the pits was concerned. A strange condition was inserted in that Act for it laid down that a boy of ten years of age could work underground if he could read. If he could not read he had to stay at school until he was twelve years of age. But a reading test was never applied, and the result was that the boys went into the pit at ten years of age.

What must be remembered is the whole background of the coal mining industry of this country, which is such that the conditions in earlier days, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, were too terrible, indeed too horrible, to attempt to describe. My noble friend and I were associated with many of the survivors of those days. There were many problems arising out of the great sufferings of men, women and children. It was, indeed, a period of cheap coal, cheap labour, very low wages and very high death and accident rates. There were no statutory regulations with regard to safety or health in mines or limitation of hours. Indeed, the effects on the health of the people can best be illustrated by referring to the average life at that time of the inhabitants of the largest coal and iron centre in South Wales. It was 17½ years. I am speaking, of course, of a period a hundred years ago, before the days of legislation. There was no workmen's compensation and what was especially bad was the universal prevalence at that time of that organised system of plunder and oppression called "Truck."

The Industrial Revolution was built up upon the suffering of the people who lived in those districts during that period, and those of us who had the good fortune to miss that period have been very pleased to think that we were born when we were. There is little opportunity of judging the accident rates before accidents were first recorded, but what is interesting to note is this. From the records which started in 1853—just a hundred years ago—we find that in the half-century from 1853 to 1903 no fewer than 53,000 persons were fatally injured in the coal mines of this country, and that does not take into account those who were killed in colliery disasters such as explosions. During that period there were 135 disasters which resulted in the loss of something like 7.000 to 8,000 lives. So the total number of persons killed during that period was no less than 60,000. It is true to say that in the first quarter of this century the numbers of colliery accidents were still excessive. The highest figure of colliery accidents was recorded two years after the passing of the 1911 Act—that is to say, in 1913. During that year not only was there a record in the output of coal but there was also a record in the number of fatal colliery accidents, the total being no less than 1,750.

I thought it would be useful to give the background of the situation of the coal industry before dealing with the Bill, because we are expecting very much from the provisions of this measure. It is a very bold attempt to deal with the many safety and health problems of the miners. We have awaited this Bill for a long time, and instead of having legislation, we have, of course, had any number of regulations. We are told that no fewer than 1,000 regulations have been passed or operated from 1911 till the present time, and while we have in this Bill 189 clauses and four Schedules, we are promised the making of many more regulations to add to the powers which the Bill confers. I tried to count the number of clauses which are going to be extended, to some extent, by the introduction of new regulations. Then there is the overriding clause, Clause 140, which gives the Minister power to make regulations for any purpose for which provision is made by the Bill, and so on. I am not an opponent of delegated legislation, and I realise how difficult it is to get all the necessary details into an Act of Parliament. I should, however, like to know from the noble Earl how long it will take to get these regulations completed, because I understand that parts of the Act will not come into operation until the regulations for which they provide are completed. I should also like him to tell me what opportunity for examination and discussion will be given before the operation of these regulations. Are they to be laid before Parliament?

One of the greatest problems we have in the mines—and it is one which is giving a great deal of concern—is dust, which brings in its train pneumoconiosis. This is a matter of vital importance to miners and their families. There are two clauses in the Bill dealing with this important question: Clause 74, for coal mines, and Clause 111, for quarries. Clause 74 is very short; it runs to only forty lines. These forty lines cannot cover adequately the precautions which will have to be put into the regulations for dealing with the suppression of dust. During the last four years no fewer than 15,000 persons—over 6,000 of them in South Wales have been certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis, and there was a surprising increase last year over the three previous years. We want to see that no expense is spared in dealing with this danger, and that no regulation should be brought into operation unless it is completely adequate.

I am not going to take up much time in dealing with the cause of dust in mines. The main cause is mechanisation. During the last five or six years a good deal of machinery has been put into the mines, and although much action has been taken to suppress dust, both at the coal-face, where the coal cutters are used, and at the conveyors, when one looks at the heads of the conveyors one finds that there are not nearly so many dust suppressors as there might be. I would that the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Coal Board would see to it, whatever else has to stay undone, that every effort is made to install suppressors at every point where they can obviate the distribution of the slightest hit of dust. In my opinion, in the mining communities there is much more concern about the continued effects of dust than there is about the number of colliery accidents; and if the relative figures could he obtained, I am sure it would be found that there are more deaths from silicosis and pneumoconiosis than from accidents in the collieries. I beg the Government, the Ministry and the Coal Board to do everything possible to deal with this matter, the greatest scourge with which the mining industry is faced at the present time.

My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor dealt with Clause 92, which provides for the making of regulations for the medical inspection of men who are employed in the mining industry and of men who want to enter the industry. During my close association with the miners, I found that whenever this matter of medical inspection was raised by the coal owners there was nothing which irritated the miners more. They asked why, if they were suffering from slight injuries, should they submit themselves to an examination which might lead to their dismissal. Medical inspection never was approved by the miners, and I am not sure that the National Union of Mineworkers approve of it at the present time. I know that the clause will give a good deal of concern to the older miners, who have given their lives to the coal industry, because there is scarcely one of them who does not suffer from some disability as a result of nearly a lifetime of service. And the Bill does not even provide for an appeal against dismissal, if dismissal is going to be applied as the result of medical examination. When the Bill goes into Committee I hope that we shall obtain the support of a large number of noble Lords to alter that clause.

Then there is the question of the employment of women at the surface of the pits—I am surprised at the noble Earl; I am treating this as a serious matter. Almost 1,000 women are employed on the surface at the present time. I do not know how many of your Lordships have seen the conditions at the screens of the pits where most of these women work. It is almost a hundred years ago since women were taken out of the pits, and today, 100 years after the disappearance of the woman miner, whose existence shamed the world, there are women employed at the pit-tops in conditions infinitely worse than some of the conditions under which they would have to work if still employed in the pits. In the early part of this year I read a statement made by a dear old colleague of mine, a Member of another place, about something which touched him. He was talking of a pit-brow "lassie from Lancashire" who was suffering from pneumoconiosis as a result of her employment at the pit-top. The miners are hardy; they can put up with a lot of things; but when it comes to women who are employed on the surface contracting these terrible diseases, then it makes one think deeply.

I just cannot understand why nothing has been done about this problem. There are only three districts in which women are allowed to work at the pit-tops, and all that was asked for in another place was that, without interfering with the women who are there now, if they want to carry on, women should be stopped from going into this kind of work. If the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has not been to see the conditions which exist at the screens of some of the pits of this country, I should like him, between now and Committee stage, to do so, and I am sure that he will come to the same conclusion that we have. The National Union of Mineworkers and in fact all miners, are strongly opposed to the continuation of the present conditions. We have not had them in South Wales for some fifty years. There are only three districts—namely, Lancashire, Cumberland and Scotiand—where they still exist. I hope that between new and the Committee stage we shall hear that something is going to be done.

My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor referred to the position of inspectors, and I would support all that he said. Her Majesty's inspectors of mines are a wonderful lot of men, of great knowledge and integrity, in whom both the miners and old employers place a good deal of confidence. However good this Bill may he when it becomes an Act of Parliament, it will not work as efficiently as it should unless there is an adequate inspectorate. We are some thing like thirty men short at the moment, and of seventy applicants who applied for jobs as inspectors only three were found suitable for the work. We understand that discussions are going on between the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to the conditions which will apply to these men. Let us show a little realism in connection with this matter, and see whether we cannot in some way relate the conditions of employment and wages of these men, who are so indispensable, to what they would receive if they were employed in an outside industry. That is all we ask, and I hope that this difficulty will be quickly overcome.

I am pleased to see that as a result of the discussions in another place the status of workmen's inspectors has been improved. They have done excellent work in the course of the last four or five years. I was also pleased to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said about the problem of ventilation. That is the key to greater safety; and improved ventilation can also do much to safeguard the health of the men employed underground. I hope that boys will not be allowed to go underground until they are sixteen, although my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor and I had had four years in the pits by the time we were sixteen. I had a place of my own when I was sixteen and a half, and by that time I had learned the way to drive a horse and do all sorts of things. I am delighted that no one will have to go through the same difficulties which some of us had to go through at that time. Looking at my noble friend and me, it might be said, "You do not look too bad on it." As I have told your Lordships, I have had a good mixture of thirty years in the pits and thirty years in politics—nobody could want a better mixture than that. And, as I have also said before, I am not sure at which job I have been the happier.

This Bill is a charter for greater safety, for which the miners have long waited. What is so remarkable and pleasing is that it will receive the unanimous approval of Parliament and the mining industry, and will be followed by the whole country, who will guarantee what is necessary for the greater safety and welfare of the men who man the pits and get the coal. I would say this, in conclusion. It should be remembered that legislation of itself does not ensure safety. This can be obtained only by every section of the industry, the Coal Board, the inspectorate, managers, and all their assistants, and the miners, working in complete co-operation, pledging themselves to make their contribution by fully operating the power which Parliament places at their disposal.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to speak at all in this debate, having no qualifications, and not having been, like the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, connected with the mines for a long period of time; in fact, I must say that I have never seen a coal mine, except at a distance. Nevertheless, I should still like to associate myself with the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in supporting the Bill, and I sincerely hope that the House will give it a Second Reading. I would merely draw the attention of my noble friend the Paymaster General to what is perhaps a Committee point on Clause 155. This clause provides that persons shall not be under a liability for contraventions which it was "impracticable to avoid or prevent." Several of my noble friends and I have consulted with certain outside interests, who have taken an opinion from eminent counsel, and it appears that "not reasonably practicable," which is the phrase used in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and "impracticable" may not be exactly synonymous. In view of the fact that the Law Officers of the Crown take a different view from those eminent counsel, perhaps there could be consultation between now and the next stage of the Bill so that, if necessary, an Amendment can be put down in Committee. I do not ask my noble friend to give me an answer on this point immediately, but I put it forward for his consideration between now and the next stage of the Bill.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords warmly for the manner in which they have received this Bill, and I am particularly grateful for the reference to my right honourable friend the Minister. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, agrees with the Government policy of combining the extracting industries together, and I was glad that he said specifically that there is no antagonism between safety and production. That is a healthy and proper thing to say. Noble Lords have referred to the inspectorate. I am at one with them in thinking that this is a serious position, and it is having the attention of my right honourable friend. But I might say that this is nothing new. There is no shortage in the supply of men, but there is a shortage of men with the necessary and proper qualifications.


The only point we are making is that those who have qualifications go elsewhere in the industry.


I appreciate that; and that is why my right honourable friend, as he has said, is in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether some arrangement can be made to make the work more attractive. Most of the questions, such as about the deputies' position in regard to safeguarding, will be dealt with on Committee. In the other place it was said that the subject of extermination of vermin could properly be left to your Lordships' consideration. In regard to regulations, I can only say this to the noble Lord: there are two forms of regulations—those which are now under the Act and the continuation of regulations under the 1911 Act. The procedure is slightly different in regard to each, but I am given to understand that the complete regulations should be available within about twelve months. That is what the hope is, but I do not want to be too definite about it.

In regard to medical examination, I think that at the Committee stage we shall meet the major points the noble Lord has in mind. I think his points will be met, if I understand them correctly. There is only one which I do not think can be met, and that is the request made elsewhere that the man should obtain a medical certificate from his own doctor. That is not normally done by the medical profession. In regard to dust, I think the noble Lord will agree with me that the Bill emphasises the importance of dust education, and anyone in touch with the National Coal Board will know the importance they attach to it. The noble Lord emphasised the question of the employment of women. It is largely a question of freedom of choice. I think the noble Lord is making rather heavy weather of that subject, because there is nothing in this work which is fundamentally unsuited to women. It neither strains them, nor is it bad for their health. I believe the noble Lord is over-emphasising this question. He will find great difficulty in supporting it in any way. There are no undesirable effects upon which the Ministry of Labour would naturally put their finger if they thought it was unfit for women. After all, is it worse than working on the land? They have to clean out pigsties and do many difficult things. Is it worse than some of the work in the textile industries?


May I ask the noble Earl to go and see the conditions for himself, and then_ he will be able to judge. That is all I ask him to do.


I accept the noble Viscount's point, and I will make a point of doing so.


In Scotland?


In Scotland, or in Lancashire. The Royal Commission who, after all, may be said to know something about this, examined the whole question and were quite unable to make the recommendation which the noble Viscount makes now.


Which Royal Commission was that?


The Royal Commission of 1935, on Safety and Welfare in Mines.


Royal Commissions accepted anything in those days.


I think that is a little unfair, if I may say so.


I venture to say that the general standard of what was expected for miners was extremely low in those days.


The new Bill is based on the findings of the Royal Commission of 1935, and no doubt the noble Lord will bring his criticisms at the Committee stage. I will end by saying this. We in the Conservative Party are proud to continue the fine traditions of Lord Ashley a hundred years ago. Noble Lords opposite had eight years in which to pass this Bill if they wanted to. They did not do so, and we come forward with it and are pleased to do so.


We will have an answer to give to that, and a very effective answer, too.


No doubt you will.

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

[The Sitting was suspended at five minutes past four o'clock and resumed at six o'clock.]