HL Deb 07 March 1960 vol 221 cc854-60

6.54 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord St. Oswald.)


My Lords, I was sorry that owing to another engagement I was unable to be here when this Bill was discussed on Thursday last, but my noble friend Lord Stonham made the necessary excuses for myself and my two other ex-mining friends, and the noble Lord, Lord Mills, spoke in like appreciative terms. I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill. I believe the attitude towards it in another place was expressed in words which unfortunately I cannot quote. But as to their general spirit I would refer to what was said there by the honourable gentleman, Colonel Lancaster, a man who has been eminent in mining circles and has spoken with great authority over many years. He referred to some of my friends in the other place pointing out that, as a result of great infusions of money in the last ten or fifteen years, conditions generally were improving in the mines in respect of lifesaving, output and general working conditions. He said he agreed with what had been said and that it was for that reason that he was going to support the voting of the sum that was asked for by this Bill.

May I say that since the mines were nationalised there have been very great changes. If we take a comparison of the lives lost at present as against the old, pre-nationalisation days, we shall find that for man-days worked the figures have gone down very much. Output is now increasing, and there is a general spirit and sense of satisfaction, so far as the work is concerned, throughout the industry. Apart from the question of the coming of oil I have never, in my time, seen the average miner in a better mood. I have never known a time when there was less disgruntlement and trouble in the coalfields. These last ten or fifteen years have brought a revolution in changed conditions that have prevailed as a result of nationalisation. There is, too, the fact that the mines themselves have been improved, and those who know anything at all about mining will know that, very often as a result of shortage of capital, the mines were either ill-worked or over-worked and that the working conditions prevailing were very bad. I have been very pleased to see that a whole range of diseases have been brought under compensation law. It used to be a sad thing to see men panting with what was called pneumoconiosis, not knowing what was the matter with them. We knew, of course, that it was caused by a form of heavy gas—we called it the "stype"—that had infected the men's system and heart and would shorten their life. Conditions have improved considerably and I am glad that my noble friend referred to those.

But one of the striking things that has taken place, of course, is that, as a result of national ownership, the effect of the coming of oil has been almost broken. We have to face the fact that oil comes into the country and is wanted for various forms of power. When the rush of oil came I myself thought that we were going back to the old days of what were called the depressed areas. I said so in this House, and noble Lords here may remember that I raised the note of alarm and spoke with considerable passion about it. I am glad to find that I was wrong; that the mines authorities, with the Government, have been wise enough to face this problem, so that the full effect of the coming of oil, a large spate of oil, has not been what I was afraid it would be.

But mines are being closed and men are losing their work. It is being done by pensioning off the older men and in some cases retiring men under 65. I was present quite recently at the presentation of some long-service certificates; and how different it was to what it used to be! We had a function, a very bright and happy "tea fight." The old people were gathered there, and it was something that delighted the heart of all to see, knowing what things had been like in those older days when mines were just closed without any reference to the men at all. I am not saying that the people who owned the mines were happy about it, because they were not; they just simply could not carry on. The result of national ownership, of course, has meant that we can have the kind of function that I speak of at which I was present. I noticed one think about that function, however. I think that there were about 60 certificates given. I should say that about six of the recipients were younger men, not of retiring age, who had gone out of the industry as quickly as they could to get work somewhere else, though they got their certificates for their service. I inquired about them and I found that that is what was happening.

My Lords, that is a serious matter. If the younger men, men somewhere about 40 years of age, with a family to think of, are going to seize the first job they can, and if that spirit develops in the mining industry, it will not be good for the mines. This particular coalfield, which I believe has existed for nearly two centuries, produces, according to the National Coal Board, perhaps the best coking coal in the world; that is in North-West Durham. If we are going to lose the miners in an area like that, and the mines find it difficult to carry on, it is going to be a serious situation for the local community indirectly, as well as for the men concerned. I say this because this area has not been made one of the areas that is to receive factories under the Local Employment Bill, on the ground, I think, that there is no particularly large amount of unemployment there. But in that area, and in all mining areas, there is a good deal of female labour that will not be in the employment market until factories come into the area. It seems to me that the result of all this is going to be that mines must stop before an area is made what is called a development area.

In the mining areas we have, in the main, heavy industries: coal, steel, heavy engineering. Apart from that, there has been development in recent years as the result of unemployment and depression, which have given rise to the Local Employment Bill. But these heavy industries underpin the rest of the industries in the country. Steel is needed for motor cars and various other commodities; heavy engineering is required for other industries. But an industry has to be closed down, apparently, before a locality is going to be declared a development area. I admit that the situation is a difficult one, and I know that in the South-West of Durham there has been development. The North-West covers a very wide area supplying the great Consett iron and steel works and other steelworks in the county and has the necessary coke for steel making.

So I say there is a danger that the younger men will leave the coal industry to go to the shade of the Tee Valley, the factory area, or even leave the county or perhaps the country; and there is going to be a shortage caused in this way. They have to think of their families. I just wanted to place these matters on record—because a very serious position has to be faced—while the Minister was here, and for the English leader, Mr. Sadler Forster, to note that men are moving in this way because they are afraid of what is going to happen to their families. They are men who would be satisfied in the mines—and, indeed, who like the mines, for a miner gets a communal sense; he gets moving in among his own kind, and he likes the work. I had people give me sympathy when I was a miner, but I did not mind about that. It was not that which I minded about: it was the money. It was not the work; it was the ill-pay for what was done. But I liked the company; and, in a way, it was a man-testing job, and I did not mind it. But now, of course, if areas like that are to be excluded from the Local Employment Bill, and from being made development areas, the effect is going to be, I think, that young men with families will get out as soon as possible, and there will probably be a shortage of the younger men.

I am pleased that this Coal Industry Bill has been accepted in this spirit; and I was very pleased indeed to read the understanding spirit which prevailed in the other place. There was no criticism. I was also very pleased to read how it was accepted in this House by your Lordships, and I think that to-night the same spirit will prevail. But I would ask the noble Lord who is about to answer if he would draw the attention of the Government's representatives to the point that I have made about such a great area as North West Durham (and there must be other areas in the country also) being left out of the reckoning as a development area. My Lords, I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend, who was unable to be here this evening, will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, for speaking on this Third Reading. Rather more personally, perhaps, I can say myself, as one who lives among coal miners in another area, that it is very encouraging for me to hear the noble Lord set his seal of approval on this Bill. He was not here on the last occasion on which we discussed this Bill, for the reason that he was among his miner friends in his own area; but, if it is of any comfort to him, his fame, and the affection for him, spreads far beyond that area, and at least into the area of South Yorkshire where I myself live.

The noble Lord spoke of the improvements which have taken place in the pits in recent years, particularly in working conditions and in safety conditions, and there is no doubt that these improvements have been taking place very steadily and will continue to take place in the future. The Board's future plan for control, to which this Bill is closely related, promises the investment of £511 million between 1960 and 1965; and, as a result of this new investment, as well as that which has been taking place in recent years, 80 per cent. of the coal output in 1965 will come from new and reconstructed collieries. In point of fact, it is fair to say, therefore, that the coal industry, so far from being a dying industry, has been given a new look, which is what the noble Lord would himself wish.

However, he spoke with less pleasure about recruitment. In fact, I think that the recruiting facts are slightly rosier than he suggests. The National Coal Board has been restricting recruitment, but a general preference is laid down for juveniles and craftsmen; and the noble Lord's worry that young people will not be coming into the pits is, I think, being taken care of and need not necessarily be as dangerous as he thinks: and certainly it would be regretted by everyone in this Government if it were to happen. In some areas—the East Midlands and in parts of South Wales—actual shortages have occurred, and there more general recruiting has been resumed. The noble Lord, rather naturally, spoke of the Durham Division, and I can tell him that between 1960 and 1965 there will be an investment of £34 million in the Durham collieries, and this, I think, should hearten him to some extent.

The noble Lord also mentioned a fear that an industry must close down and go practically into bankruptcy before an area is recognised as being liable to become a development area: but that is by no means true. This new Bill, the Local Employment Bill, which he mentioned, is designed not only to deal with possible unemployment but to anticipate it, and there is absolutely no reason to think that the coal industry will be ignored in that way. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Minister of Power will see to it that, should redundancy be threatened in the industry, it will be remembered and looked after.


My Lords, I was emphasising the position as far as the heavy industrial areas are concerned. They must have practically finished work and closed down operating before they are declared a development area. At any rate, that is the case in North West Durham.


My Lords, I was making that particular point about the Local Employment Bill, which is not yet in action, but which gives the Board of Trade a power to focus, if I can call it that, and a power of anticipation, which has not existed before; and that, I hope, may take care of the noble Lord's anxieties.

I will close with a very few words—simpler, briefer and, I hope, more coherent than some that I uttered earlier this afternoon. I remember that on one occasion, when the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was not present, another noble Lord on his side of the House got up (I forget the subject of the debate) and said that it was beyond him how anybody could take pride in working in a mine. On that occasion I rose to my feet on this side of the House in order to say that he had evidently not read a book, a great human document, called "A Man's Life", written by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, a copy of which I am glad to say I have, signed by him and presented to me by my own former Member of Parliament and our mutual friend, Mr. Horace Holmes. The reason did not burst ii to speech was because I found that I was standing in front of the Bishops' Bench, and an outburst of lay indignation from that place would have been not only inappropriate but out of order. With those few words I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, for intervening.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.