§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill is one that was originally put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) under the Ten minutes Rule. My hon. Friend and others have used the opportunity given very often in this House, if one can seize it, to bring before the Members the condition of things in the coalfields in respect to heaps that are burning. They have from time to time explained to the House the conditions that prevail there, and I wish to pay my tribute at the outset, particularly to my hon. Friend, for the Bill which I have adopted and presented.
In this country in recent years particular attention has been directed to the question of rubbish tips and deposits of various kinds. Some 30 years ago, in 1906 the Alkali Act, which dealt mainly with deposits from chemical works, was passed. In recent years there has been the Public Health Act, which has given wider scope to the investigation of rubbish tips, and as a result attention has been directed in the last year or two to the growing evil of burning pit heaps, but I think it would be true to say that those responsible have been almost powerless in their attempts to apply the Public Health Act as it is at present drawn. The present Minister and his predecessor have realised the gravity of the matter and have been very sympathetic in their efforts to deal with it, and the inspectors have been very energetic, but in spite of all their efforts these pit heaps and the overwhelming stench from them still poison the air day by day, and the evil gets rapidly worse. The term in the present Act for this kind of thing is "nuisance." We think that it is a very light term indeed, and it is not exactly what they call it in the areas that are affected. I should not be permitted to use the exact terms in this House, but I can assure hon. Members that they are more eloquent and expressive. The fact remains that the present Act of 1936, and particularly Section 92 of it, are almost useless for the purpose of dealing with this 2118 grave matter, so that I propose in this Bill to strengthen the Act by specifically naming these burning pit heaps as those which are "liable to spontaneous combustion" and as a "deposit which is prejudicial to health," and I say, not that they may be dealt with, but that they shall be dealt with, summarily.
The fact is that under the permissive Section 92 of the Public Health Act, 1936, a local authority would sometimes act, but I think the Minister will have noticed that there is a certain amount of risk to the local authorities in acting in this matter. First of all, the duty is laid upon the medical officer of health to say whether or not there is a nuisance. I have known a case in which the medical officer has said it was a nuisance, and forthwith a particular pit has been closed and the coal gotten from another district, but the local authorities have not felt that they have had exactly the powers that they desired to use in this respect, and so this one-Clause Bill says:For the purposes of section ninety-two of the Public Health Act, 1936, an accumulation or deposit of refuse from a coal mine which is liable to spontaneous combustion shall be deemed to be an accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance and liable to he dealt with summarily in manner provided by that Act.The Bill, therefore, substitutes "shall" for "may," so that instead of being permissive, action will have to be taken almost automatically. The Bill also includes such heaps as are liable to burn. It is important that the House should notice what the Chief Inspector says upon this matter. He says:Conical dumps are particularly likely to fire for the reason that the larger lumps naturally tend to roll to the bottom, thus producing a heap with an open base which allows easy access of air. It has been noted that the fires usually start at the bottom of these tips.May I point out that, first of all, every local authority under this Clause would be placed in the same position and must all act automatically when necessary, and that the companies responsible for these monstrous conditions, which I shall later describe, will ultimately be compelled to treat the matter seriously instead of ignoring those who suffer from their actions, as is the case at present. I have heard it said that this is one of the shortest Bills ever introduced into the House. It is short because we did not want unnecessarily to burden it. It is 2119 directed to a very grave evil, and, frankly, it is designed too to give the House an opportunity of expressing that greatest common measure of support which has been expressed from time to time in this House and which Members on all sides have desired an opportunity of implementing by some remedial measure.
May I tell the House something of the evil with which the Bill deals? Those of us who live in mining districts had been familiar all our lives with pit-heaps. There is an old poem for children about fairies being at the bottom of our garden, but they could not have got away with that as far as we as children were concerned, because there was a pit-heap at the bottom of our garden. It was a familiar sight, so familiar that it became, so to speak, a real old friend. It seemed to my child eyes as though it extended for miles. Great wagons clanked along it all day long, and the dust was carried to a considerable distance. We got some of it, but we did not mind as long as we did not get too much. That was the old style of pit-heap, which existed for long periods. There is another kind, which is familiar in districts where the coal seam is close to the surface, and which as a rule becomes absorbed in vegetation and sometimes covered with trees and shrubs. But I have noticed in Lancashire that they have a smaller type of pit-heap, which I think is in a class of its own, and which tends to burn more than the others do. The old pit-heaps sometimes burn, but not always. In fact, I think it is true to say that they do not burn very much on the whole.
In recent years a new type of heap has been thrust upon the mining areas. These are great conical heaps which rear their heads towards the sky. I live rather high up in a mining area, and I can see several of these conical heaps which are quite 15 miles off. And they are multiplying amazingly. They grow in size, they burn, they fling up smoke and stench, and, if any of them are not burning to-day, one can be sure that time and weather will start them burning later. They are a kind of pyramid always on fire, or I might say, to use another figure of speech, that in the mining areas in Wales, in Yorkshire, in Durham, in Lancashire and in Scotland we have our 2120 Strombolis and our Etnas, that smoulder in the day and show their fiery heads at night, and all the time, day and night, cover the houses with filth, poison the air, and generally affect the health of the people who live in those areas. What is worse, it appears to those of us who have watched this process going on that this kind of thing is only in its infancy. Anyone who knows the craze of the mining companies for this new style of pit-heap can easily visualise a future of fiery monsters. Of course it is said that it is not bad for the health of the people. They will tell you in our districts that there are certain chemicals in the air that are really good for you. It is on the same principle on which, as children, we were told that, the nastier the medicine, the more reason there was to take it. It reminds one of the limerick:There was an old fellow of Crewe, Who discovered a mouse in his stew. Said the waiter, Don't shout, and wave it about, Or the others will want one too.'Although we have had considerable lectures as to the valuable effect of this upon health, it is quite clear that great communities are being affected vitally in their conditions and in their health. The Minister has told us that there are in England and Wales 266 of these heaps which are burning, but that figure does not take any account of the heaps that are burning in Scotland. When one travels from Edinburgh to Glasgow, one can see them from the train, and, indeed, one can smell them from the train, but that is not the only part of Scotland that is affected. This matter has attracted attention in quite unexpected places—in, of all places, the Miners' Welfare Journal. That, of course, is one of the first places in which attention should be directed to such an evil, but I must say, for all that, that I was surprised to find, in the annual report for last year on miners' welfare, this statement:The pit heap, the tip of waste material removed in the winning of coal is every coalfield's special scenic characteristic. Now right down to a few years ago the colliery waste in this region was tipped in great, sprawling heaps, which were sometimes of considerable height, but which were horizontal rather than vertical in their configuration. … They no longer spread; they leap up to the sky, sheer conical mountains of enormous height, raked to an angle upon which no vegetation can ever glow, incapable of being adapted to landscape, but doomed 2121 for ever to stand, visible over half a county, a stark memorial to the industrialist's philosophy of muck and money.It goes on to say that one would have thought that this would have been a subject for the Commissioner for the Special Areas to deal with, and may I say in passing that I really do not understand why the Commissioner does not deal with some of the older of these heaps. In my own Division, as in many other parts of the mining districts these great pit-heaps stand on the very edge of vast and deep clay-holes, and at very little expense they could be tipped into these holes. Why that is not done I do not know, but I do not propose to deal with the amenity side of the question to-day, as it is the more direct effect of these burning heaps on the lives of the people with which we w ant to deal. As regards Durham, with which I am most familiar and about which I have some particular evidence, the county inspector has written to me as follows:When carrying out my official duties as County Health Inspector I became much impressed by the number of heaps which were afire. I have investigated nuisances arising from such heaps, in the course of which investigations I took the opportunity of viewing for myself the conditions of the houses adjacent and I was astounded to find most horrible circumstances. So much did this become apparent that I have taken it upon myself to catalogue all the burning heaps"—and he sent me a list of 40 such heaps. He went on:In the course of burning pit heaps inquiries I have found conditions where food (e.g., the week-end joint) had to be cooked immediately to prevent its spoliation by fumes, where brassware and paintwork were badly attacked by the same cause, and even where windows had to be kept more or less permarently closed lest any veering of the wind should flood the premises with noxious vapours.He mentions two schools where the children are continually affected by these fumes when they are sitting at their lessons. I have always felt very strongly on this matter, and recently there has been in my own neighbourhood a very painful experience. Hon. Members have heard a good deal about the Team Valley Trading Estate. Whatever criticisms there may be against that estate, it is agreed that it is laid out on an admirable plan, and that the valley has been almost untouched by the industry. The factories are laid out in an orderly way, 2122 and very great pains have been taken to make the estate what we might call a "real good looker." Old pit-heaps down towards the valley have been taken away, spread over the ground, and trees put over them. It is amazing what can be done. In recent years, the Durham County Council have taken over a farm for experimental purposes. They took all kinds of old pit-heaps, and converted them into a beautiful plantation that really is an addition to the county. In the Team Valley all the pit-heaps have been taken away.
On the very edge of the North Road, going into Gateshead, there have been for half a century some colliery houses. They are so well situated that the local council, in order to rehouse some people who had been removed from a demolished slum, built a very comfortable and attractive group of houses quite close to this spot. Near by, there are some pithead baths of really good architecture—an erection which has done much good to the people in the district. But on the edge of the Team Valley, looking down into this area, on which great sums have been spent in order to beautify it, a company has actually dumped one of those colliery heaps within 90 yards of the people's houses. I went to see it myself. I would not have believed that any employers in Great Britain would have been so callous about the condition in which people live. All day long, great wagons come up, the refuse is thrown out, and clouds of coal dust go into the people's houses. I saw an absolute blanket of coal dust across the skies. That goes on all day long. Some 1,800 tons of this stuff go to the very doors of the people every week.
I went into the miners' baths. Here, a man goes in, has his boots brushed automatically, takes off his clothes and puts them into a warm place where they are dried; then he bathes and puts on his ordinary clothes, leaving his working clothes at the baths. When they were erected the miners said "Now we shall see the end of the state of things under which men took their muck into the house." Yet here we have, right on the doorstep, this kind of thing planted. The women get this dust floating into their houses. After all their labour, they cannot open the doors. As the medical officer says: 2123Dwelling houses are in close proximity to the heap, winch is go yards from the terrace and 140 yards from the new council houses. … I understand that approximately 1,800 tons of material is being deposited there per week, and a large portion of it is combustible.He adds that the approximate population is round about 500.
He says that people have to keep their doors shut all day. Of course they have. You have only to stand by this particular heap to realise that. As we know, material from other pits has taken fire; and this heap might take fire in the near future. At any rate, the House ought to recognise the evil condition in which not merely are the men working, but the women and children are living. I sometimes say of the women of the mining districts that their housewifery, their patience in the house, and their diligence in cleaning their houses amount almost to a fault. The average English housewife is very careful and proud of her house, but I sometimes think that the miner's wife has a sort of overdose of that. I think this is due to the isolation of the villages. The women very seldom, if ever, go out when the men are at work. They have had to take their washing to the other side of the street, because it gets so dusty under the conditions now prevailing. No effort has been made to deal with this particular heap. This is a case of the worst type of coalowner.
There are those who are concerned about the people's conditions, I know; they are human beings just like us; but, taking this problem as a whole, it is one of those survivals in which you see the early nineteenth century mind working at full blast. While modern ideas have touched this industry, in common with other industries, the way in which some owners stand on their own rights and think nobody else has any rights, is one of the most amazing things.
I have seen, as I am sure other hon. Members have seen, instances where this kind of thing can be dealt with without very great difficulty. There is in my Division an old grey stone castle, which hon. Members who have gone along the Great North Road will have seen, between Durham and Newcastle. Some thirty years ago there was a proposal to sink a mine close to the castle. Hon. Members will know it when I say that it is Lumley Castle. The family objected to the pit 2124 being sunk so near to the castle, and, after some years, it was agreed that the seam should be tapped at a certain distance away from the castle. They said that on one side the pit must be surrounded by poplar trees, which were planted, and have grown up beautifully. They said that the pit must be worked by electricity, and it was worked by electricity; that the engine house and all the plant should be constructed of a certain type of glazed brick, and they were so constructed; and that the dirt must be run out in a certain direction, and it was. If anyone were to stand between the castle and the pit, which had recently been closed, it would be very difficult to tell which was the castle and which was the pit. Those who know this district will agree with me that from the amenity point of view the mine was saved from being an eyesore to the whole district. We did not blame the family for doing a thing like that, and I do not mind telling the House that we used to try arid give our blessing to the people who had been responsible for it, and to "point the moral and adorn the tale" as far as other people were concerned.
This kind of thing can be done where there is the will to do it. In some countries the rubbish is sent back to the pit. In any case, it can be treated in various ways, and there is no doubt at all that, if the companies will it, this matter can be dealt with effectively. The time has long gone by when companies should utterly ignore the conditions under which the people have to live and to treat local authorities as if they had nothing to do with the matter at all, as in most cases they do. There is in this House, I am glad to say, a lively conscience on social matters as compared with that which existed 20 or 25 years ago. I have criticised the Government, and I could spend a good many hours here to-day pointing out the things they should do.
§ Mr. Lawson
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I think that he will agree that in our time there has grown up a social sense in this country, and I believe that it is so strong that our legislation very often lags behind it. Whether that be true or not, here is one instance in which we give the House an opportunity of expressing itself upon a very grave and serious matter to a limited number of 2125 people, but who yet form a great community. We who have come from the mining communities live a life that is peculiarly isolated. Sometimes it is said that we are rather narrow. If that be so the conditions under which our people work and live are some explanation and good reason for what might appear to be a kind of narrowness. I, myself, would have welcomed the opportunity to-day to have dealt with some matter of more universal application, but I believe that I would be doing wrong to the mining community and to this House if I did not give the House an opportunity of expressing itself concerning this great evil which rests very hardly on the mining community.
We have heard a great deal about the national danger of these refuse heaps. In my Division one of these heaps lights up a munition factory less than a mile away. I have not said anything about this, because I am concerned with the immediate relief for the people concerned, and I move the Second Reading of this Bill, believing that to-day the House will see to it that, although we may not be able drastically to modify the conditions under which the miner works, we shall at least see to it that the conditions under which he and his wife and children live, shall at least be as decent as those of the average citizen of this country.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I beg to second the Motion, and to express my thanks and gratitude to my hon. Friend for having given the House the opportunity of a full day's Debate on this important question. The matter has been before the House on many occasions, but it has always been felt that we have not been able to get an expression of opinion by voice from other hon. Members. Several times a Bill has been presented, but we have not been able to get any further with it. One realises that if a Bill is not further examined, objections can be taken. The Chief Whip has rightly taken the line of objection that he could not allow it to go through Committee because it was felt that the Department concerned had not given sanction to it. Therefore, we have not had the opportunity we desire to get a Bill discussed and to obtain a free expression of opinion from the House. Today my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has taken 2126 that opportunity, and whatever the result may be to-day at least the House of Commons had the case before them. My hon. Friend brings to the House a kind of poetic fervour in causes in which he believes. I have often heard him speak on the unemployed, and he always carries me away with the fervour he is able to bring to the case he has in mind, and this morning, halfway through his discourse, one could realise his feelings through living among the people who have to face the present position.
I want to follow on these lines because, like other hon. Members from mining areas, I come from the heart of the trouble. I shall describe as well as I can some of the instances I have met with in my own Division of Leigh. We are surrounded by collieries—Tyldesley, Atherton and Astley. They are all mining centres, and we have been affected very much by these pit-heaps. About eight years ago the trouble began to be more prominent than ever before, and I was asked to take some action in order to get it dealt with. I received letters from many of the inhabitants, and, as I always do if I have the opportunity, I went to investigate for myself. First of all, I visited the heaps and took the opportunity of going to the top of them—they are flat, not conical shaped—and in one instance I got across with the employer because I had not asked for permission. I took the opportunity of going there, and the watchman reported me to the employer, who asked me what right I had to go on the premises without permission. I told him that I had done so realising that I had broken the law, but that I thought the occasion warranted it. I did not tell him the reason for my visit, otherwise I should not have got permission, and having asked for permission and been refused, it would have been difficult for me to go there. Therefore, I went without permission. Having done so, the employer asked me to write to the head office and they would see what could be done in the matter.
I went to the neighbouring houses, and I had there a clear example of what happens. The people were complaining very bitterly of the discomfort caused by the sulphuric fumes from the burning heaps, and I was shown various articles in the houses which were discoloured with the acids. In several houses the 2127 occupants were showing signs of bronchitis. I ascertained that the bronchitis was not altogether due to the fumes, but I was assured that where any of the people had chest complaints, the fumes intensified the trouble. It was difficult to make any headway in regard to the medical officers of health, but I was satisfied that there was great cause for complaint and urgent need for efforts to rectify it.
My hon. Friend has referred to the schools. I have had a letter from a school mistress, which I will read:Dear Sir,—May I ask you if it is in your power to do anything for us in regard to the foul smell which we still have to endure from the burning tip situated near by. I am a teacher, and am constantly having complaints from parents about the bad smell from the tip. During the week ending September 7th, there were 35 girls absent from the girls' department of my school. The majority of them complained of sore throats. We often have to close the school windows on account of the vile smell. If the children go to the playing field they are still breathing the foul air. We teachers consider it is a menace to the health of the children, and we should be glad if some pressure could be brought to bear to compel the colliery company to remove this nuisance.That is from the head mistress of a school. To satisfy myself, I visited the school and interviewed the head mistress and the teachers. They showed me the windows, which were tightly fastened down, because they said that if the wind was in that direction the school became filled with fumes. I mention this, because I am grateful for the fact that in this House if we can do anything for the health and the benefit of children, every hon. Member is always ready to do his best. Here we have an example of what is taking place near these burning pit-heaps. I have had many letters on the subject from urban district councils, including the Atherton District Council. I have had letters from 36 authorities, saying that they agreed with me and that they were doing all they could to have the matter brought to the notice of the Minister.
I should like to emphasise another point, and that is that these burning pit-heaps are blots on the landscape. I had hoped that the junior Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) would have been present to-day, because he takes a very strong line in defence of the amenities of the countryside, I have heard him make 2128 many speeches on the subject, urging that something should be done. Had he been with us to-day we might have had his help in trying to get this Bill a Second Reading. Last night I went to the Library, after listening to a good many speeches in the House. I went upstairs to have a little breeze [Laughter]. Yes. Some of the speeches grip you, while others do not, so you go out for a little relaxation and you come back refreshed. While I was in the Library, I took up the paper, "Truth" and, curiously enough, it was dealing with this particular subject. In an article headed "In Sylvan Disguise —Slag Heaps," it said:The accumulated dross and refuse of a mine are the most unsightly, perhaps, of all features which disfigure an industrial area, and they are certainly the most durable. Long after the mine has ceased work and the machinery has been removed these gaunt hillocks of broken rock remain—monuments of desolation. It is a sad commentary on our civilisation that, while it is always profitable to create ugliness, schemes to remove them have to rely on charitable assistance.The article goes on to say that a certain Trust is trying to get these unsightly heaps removed from the countryside. It ought not to remain a matter for private effort. It ought to be dealt with by this House, if we can satisfy the House that these heaps are blots on the countryside.
So far, I have been dealing with flat pit-heaps. There are, however, conical pit-heaps. That brings me to our position in regard to invasion. During the last few years we have been filled with the terror of possible invasion from foreign countries, and the Government have adopted the process of what are called "black-outs." Hon. Members will know that that means that if enemy aircraft are approaching, then the locality in the vicinity of the approaching aircraft must be blacked out; all lights must be extinguished. This was tried in the West Riding, and comments on the experiment appeared in the local press on 8th August of this year:The black-out in the West Riding proved instructive on the question of burning pit-heaps which might guide enemy planes to strategic positions in the North. The extinguishing or obscuring of these night lights of the coal-field constitute a grave problem. In the Barnsley area, for instance, steps taken at the pits to extinguish service lights, the great flares from the coke ovens, and the flares caused by the burning of waste gas proved effective, but a huge pit-heap which rises at the back of the Barnsley football club's enclosure was clearly visible.2129 That experience is typical of hundreds of others in the country, due to burning pit-heaps. In answer to a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) on 10th November, the Minister of Health said that 151 out of a total of 266 pit-heaps reported to him had been visited. According to those figures we have in the north 266 fires of this description that will serve as guides to enemy aircraft. I would ask those who do not live in industrial areas, as well as those who do, whether they are prepared now to do something in view of the danger to the community. The danger is the more real in view of the fact that the possible enemies that we may have to fight are well versed in what is happening in other countries, because they have their secret service men and their maps, just as we had when we entered Palestine and other enemy centres during the war, showing the lie of the country and the weak points. Therefore, they will have mapped out all the points in this country which will lead them to any place they may desire to reach in time of war. Every one of these burning pit-heaps will be a guide to them. It will not be only the districts where they make the attack that will be in danger, but they may get at the surrounding localities. Therefore, it is well for the country to realise our dangerous position in regard to these burning pit-heaps.
There are three points which I should like to emphasise. (1) the danger, which I regard as the greatest, to the health of the people in the vicinity; (2) the destruction of and blur on the countryside, whether the heaps are on fire or whether they are put out; and (3) the guide that these heaps would be to enemy aircraft in the case of invasion. The question is, how can they be dealt with? Has some attempt been made to deal with them? Yes. Since the agitation started in this Chamber the Minister of Health has tried to do something, and I should like to give credit to the inspector of the alkali works. That gentleman and his staff have done all that men could do to mitigate this evil. Our thanks are due to them for what they have done. The first report was issued in 1932. At that time they had examined one burning spoilbank. They started full of hope believing that they could 2130 deal with the matter. In their report they say that they examined the place and had a talk with the colliery company and the local authority, and the report ends with the remark that they believed that they had done something. Next year the report is more lengthy. It says:The district inspector has conferred with officials of the local authorities and the colliery company and has advised them of the steps which should be taken to prevent recurrence, but I regret to say that little if anything in this direction has yet been done.We get reports year after year until 1935, and in the report for that year it is said:Further attention and inquiry have been devoted to this matter. The problem resolves itself into two parts—(1) the extinction of burning banks, and (2) the construction of banks in such a way as to reduce liability to firing in future. As regards the first problem, the methods outlined in last year's report have been successfully employed. These were flooding externally with water, flooding internally by percolation, blanketing with inert material, and isolation of the burning portions. As to the second method, wherever space allows the dump could he restricted to a height of less than 20 feet. It could be grouted or covered with a nine-inch layer of clay followed by nine inches of soil reserved from the land on which the dump is situated. The top surface could be sloped so as to conform to the contour of the surrounding land and could be put to agricultural use. By such means only the general contour would be raised, there would be no unsightliness and risk of firing would be reduced to a minimum. Crops are growing quite successfully on a dump constructed on these lines in Lancashire.I know of two cases, one in Ince where they have been successful in dealing with this trouble, and where they have made the country look as well as it could in the circumstances. In my own district I am glad to say that a determined attempt has been made by a Manchester colliery to meet this evil. The pit-head which I have mentioned as causing the trouble has been dealt with, and they have given full power to their surface foreman to take whatever steps he wishes to meet this evil, and he has reported that he has been successful in dealing with it. Therefore, we come to the House of Commons and ask hon. Members to support the Bill which will make bad employers do that which good employers are doing now. If we do not do this what will happen? The good employer will say "why should I go to this expense when other are getting away with it?"
2131 That is why we are anxious to get the Second Reading of the Bill. If there is any objection by hon. Members I want to assure them that in Committee we are prepared to examine the whole position and do what is best for employers and the people. If they can show that there is a better way in which this problem can be more easily solved, we are prepared to have the whole question examined in Committee. But I trust that we shall carry the Second Reading by the united voice of the House of Commons. I should like to think that in a matter like this, which means so much to the people of this country, there is no objection, and that the House is prepared to help by allowing the Second Reading of the Bill, and then in Committee make it a better measure for everyone.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I think it will be the general wish of the House that I should congratulate the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on having brought such an important subject as this before the House on a private Member's day, and also congratulate the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) on the obstinate persistence with which he has pursued this subject for the last four or five years. I do not complain that the mover or seconder of the Motion has not produced any infallible remedy for the baffling problem of burning pit-heaps. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street told us that the spoil from collieries could be treated in various ways. I should like some other hon. Member to expand this a little more, because my experience is that the problem of burning pit-heaps is a very baffling one indeed and that it has not been solved, as far as I am aware, anywhere in the world. No doubt palliative measures can be taken, but I think we shall all be agreed that prevention is more likely to be effective than cure.
The general public often asks, why do we have these spoil banks and slag heaps, or, as they are more familiarly known in Yorkshire, muck stacks, at all? May I explain, although it is ABC to hon. Members opposite, why muck stacks exist. Refuse is an inevitable concomitant of mining operations. It comes from three different sources. The first is that in sinking a shaft you have to extract many thousands of tons of solid rock. I believe that in sinking modern shafts in Yorkshire 100,000 tons of solid rock are extracted 2132 from the shafts alone. In the second place, very large quantities of inferior coal and other waste matter are cleaned out of the coal by screening, washing and other processes. The quantity of matter screened out of the coal in this way is increasing year by year. In 1929 the difference between the tonnage raised and weighed at the pit head and the tonnage of saleable coal was 5,000,000 tons. In 1937, on a rather smaller national output, the difference between those two figures was 6,500,000 tons. That means that last year 6,500,000 tons of inferior coal and dirt of one kind and another were added to the spoil-heaps of the country, compared with 5,000,000 tons seven or eight years ago. That increase is due to the working of inferior seams, many of the purer seams having been worked out; and of course, methods of cleaning coal have greatly improved over the past generation. Thirdly, there are large quantities of rock extracted from a mine in the process of making drifts, driving underground main roads, and so forth. It is probable that at the present time at least 8,000,000 tons of spoil go on to the spoil-banks and pit-heaps every year. Undoubtedly, the greater proportion of that spoil contains a percentage of combustible matter.
Those who do not know a great deal about the mining industry sometimes advocate underground stowage, but I do not believe one could find a competent mining engineer who would recommend the underground stowage of the 8,000,000 tons of waste matter which is produced, at the present time. I think that on grounds of safety alone the proposal to place combustible matter in the old workings, which are subjected to great overhead pressure, could not be contemplated, and in any case the process would be exceedingly costly in money, in human life, and in accidents. In some foreign countries hydraulic stowage is carried out, but that is a process, I am informed by those who know most about it, that can be effectively carried out only where the seams of coal stand in a high degree of inclination, and is not suitable to the great majority of the coalfields of Great Britain. Therefore, it is inevitable that somehow or other we should dispose of large quantities of spoil from the coalmines on the surface, except at the seaside, where in some cases they tip all this waste matter into the sea; although there again, there are very great disadvantages 2133 for I am told that on the coast of Durham the places where one can bathe without getting covered with fine coal dust are few and far between.
§ Mr. Lawson
As a matter of fact, it is well known in Durham that I use the sea coast considerably for purposes of bathing, and I do not accept the hon. Member's statement.
§ Mr. Peake
All I can tell the hon. Member is that when I sat on a Committee upstairs where a Private Bill was promoted by the Easington Rural District Council for the purchase of a piece of foreshore, they said that it was impossible to bathe anywhere within three miles of Horden Colliery. I think we have to accept the fact that we have to dispose of these large quantities of spoil somehow or other. Nevertheless, the methods pursued in the past have very frequently been faulty, and might be very greatly improved. We have certainly not paid anything like the attention we ought to have paid to the question of amenities. Too often we see pyramids, cones, and miniature alps going up in perfectly flat country, without any regard whatever for the surrounding landscape, and in such flat country there are very often low-lying areas subject to flooding which would be greatly improved by the proper disposal of the spoil. Although in very many cases these pit-heaps are eyesores, I think all hon. Members will agree that it is only in a minority of cases that they are, at the present time, a public nuisance. The hon. Member for Leigh mentioned that there are 266 of these pit-heaps on fire at the present time. Probably that represents only one in 15 or one in 20 of the pit heaps of the country. There is, of course, no doubt in anybody's mind that such pit-heaps, when on fire in the neighbourhood of dwellings, constitute a public nuisance. On looking at the Bill which has been introduced, we see thatan accumulation or deposit of refuse from a coal mine which is liable to spontaneous combustionbecomes automatically a statutory nuisance under the Public Health Act, 1936. I am not sure that is not going a little too far. We have to decide for ourselves when such an accumulation or deposit is liable to spontansous combustion, and I must confess that it is my view that 2134 there is hardly a pit-heap in the country which is not, in certain conditions, liable to spontaneous combustion. Therefore, the Bill says that every pit-heap, or virtually every pit-heap, is automatically a statutory nuisance. That is not quite true, because some of us have taken a good deal of trouble to avoid pit-heaps becoming statutory nuisances. In my view the test is a difficult one to apply. When is a pit-heap liable to spontaneous combustion? After all, a good many Members of Parliament are liable to spontaneous combustion, and I think we should have some difficulty in deciding for ourselves whether all or a majority of Members are so liable. There seems to be a difficulty in this matter, and it seems to me that it might be better to say that a pit-heap is a statutory nuisance when it betrays signs of spontaneous combustion, and not before. Do not let us put all pit-heaps automatically into the category of statutory nuisances.
I shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. It will, I think, focus public attention on what is undoubtedly a most important problem. There has been, for many years, a good deal of private research proceeding on this problem by colliery undertakings. We have found, at the pits with which I am connected, that to put water on a burning heap is no remedy whatever, and only makes things worse. We have discovered that the only way to put a fire out once it is started is to prevent the access of air, and various methods have been tried of preparing a kind of paste or mixture to spread over the burning heaps. At one West Yorkshire colliery, such a method was successfully carried out, but there again, a most unfortunate accident occurred, because the preparation formed a crust over the fire, the fire went on burning underneath, and a workman most unfortunately fell through the crust and met a most horrible death. I am only pointing out some of the practical difficulties of dealing with the problem. During the last few months, organised research by the colliery owners has been undertaken on this matter. Committees have been established in Yorkshire and, I believe, in most of the other principal coalfields. The alkaline inspectors have been giving assistance and eminent scientists from the Universities have also lent their aid. The facts of the problem are being col- 2135 lected by the industry, and it is most earnestly to be hoped that we shall evolve some useful and practical conclusions from these efforts which the coal industry is undertaking possibly because of the efforts which the hon. Member for Leigh has made in this House to bring public attention to bear upon the question. The Bill may stimulate these efforts on voluntary lines, and it will at any rate show that in the opinon of this House there should be an organised effort to deal with a situation which has received far too little attention in the past.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Mitchell
Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) I wish to congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading on the very persuasive speeches which they have made. Of course, this is not a party question at all, but one which must commend itself to the attention of the whole House. I am sure that everyone sympathises in general with the objects of the Bill, which are to avoid the nuisance of these large heaps of refuse, or bings as they are called in Scotland, which are on fire. The Mover and Seconder said that they were prepared to consider suitable amendments to improve the Bill and to meet objections, and I hope they will bear with me if for a few minutes I point out one or two very serious objections to the Bill as drafted. My own view is that the Bill would lead to many anomalies and in some cases might be very prejudicial to employment, and I shall endeavour to show why.
There are two main categories of refuse heaps, those which are on fire and those which are not. Take the serious case of the large burning heap. All of us who are familiar with colliery districts know these heaps. I listened with great attention to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Bill, but I confess that I am still at a loss to know the most effective way of dealing with a really large heap which is on fire. Remember that in a case like that it is a question of dealing with hundreds of thousands of tons of burning material. How is all this material to be taken away? The Mover of the Second Reading said that it could be dealt with in various ways. In actual practice, if I read the Public Health Act 2136 aright, there is a statutory obligation to remove a nuisance. The material would have to be taken away on trucks or in lorries in some way. My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds has pointed out the extraordinary danger of dealing with large masses of burning material. Quite apart from the risk of anyone falling in there is the grave danger from fumes to anyone working in close contact with it. Then, again, where is one to put the burning material? I am satisfied that in the case of a really large heap on fire the only way to deal with it is to move it away and spread it out. That involves a considerable area of ground and naturally no one is very enthusiastic about having large quantities of burning material put upon his ground. I admit that it may be possible eventually to turn such ground into arable land, but the cost of doing so would be very serious indeed. So much for those heaps of refuse which are burning. But there is, of course, a very much larger category of heaps which are not burning and which might be described as liable to spontaneous combustion. Indeed, that is a matter which it is extraordinarily difficult to decide. A particular heap may vary from part to part. Some parts may not be liable to combustion, while other parts, with a larger proportion of coal mixed in, would clearly become very dangerous. The reason why these high heaps are formed in many cases is that there is not land available for spreading out the material; land cannot be acquired.
I suggest that to carry out the Bill literally would involve the industry in thousands of thousands of pounds, and of course that is a burden which would have to be borne not only by the owners, but would be reflected in the wages ascertainment as an additional increase in the cost of coal. I mention that only because we must look at the Bill from every point of view and see to what extent it would involve the industry in additional costs. The most likely approach to this problem is, I think, not so much to deal with existing heaps of refuse as to try to minimise the creation of heaps in the future. More might be done in the way of underground stowing, although you can stow all your material underground only in certain circumstances, and there are many collieries which, if they were not allowed to raise material to the bank, would be quite unable to operate.
2137 I think the Bill is a very good example of the great complexity of the mining industry and of the variations between different districts. In looking at the back of the Bill I notice that there are on it nine names representing Members connected with differing mining districts, but there is no name of any Scottish Member. What is the significance of that? The Bill says:An accumulation … which is liable to spontaneous combustion shall be deemed to be an accumulation … which is prejudicial to health.In those words there is a very definite direction to the local authority. There is no discretion left to the local authority to decide whether a bing is causing any offence or not, and provided it might catch fire at some time the local authority is compelled to take action. The mover of the Second Reading was perfectly clear about this. He said that he wanted the direction to be an absolutely definite statutory one to the local authority. A dumping place might be miles away from any village, but nevertheless the local authority would be compelled to act. The Bill if put into effect would have most serious and disastrous effects in Scotland. Hon. Members familiar with Scotland will agree that the problem of rehousing, of slum clearance and of getting rid of overcrowding is very much behindhand in Scotland compared with England. One reason is that there has been a very considerable shortage of bricks. To some extent, indeed to a large extent, that shortage has now been overcome, although even now other and more costly methods of construction, such as the use of concrete, are being advocated on account of the situation in regard to the production of bricks. But by far the largest proportion of the bricks which are being made in Scotland at the present time, are being produced from the very refuse bings with which we are dealing in this Bill. I can, from personal experience, give the House an illustration of the importance and size of this industry. Companies with which I am associated have, within the last three years, added an output of over 100,000 bricks a day to the production in Scotland, and that is only a fraction of the total increase. That increase has been produced almost exclusively from the material of these old refuse bings.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Perhaps Yorkshire may, one day, follow the lead which Scotland has given in this matter. Notwithstanding the increase to which I have referred, there is still a great deal to be done in this direction. These colliery refuse, bings or dumps which have in some cases been standing for thirty years or more, are composed of material of a highly combustible nature. There are thousands of people employed to-day in the manufacture of bricks made from these dumps, and anything which interferes with that industry would not only prejudice the employment of those people, but would paralyse the building industry in Scotland. I mention that fact because some hon. Members may not be familiar with the peculiar local conditions which apply to the building trade in Scotland, where a completely different type of brick is used from that which is generally used in England.
§ Mr. Cassells
Is it not a fact that what the hon. Member says applies only in a few isolated instances?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am glad that the hon. Members should raise that point. Actually, this industry is extending very rapidly. I have given one example, and I can give other examples of the extent to which, within my personal knowledge, it has grown in a very short time. I mentioned an increase of 100,000 bricks a day. That has been produced from two or three works with which I happen to be personally associated, and it is only a fraction of the total. You find these works all over Scotland—in Fife, Clackmannan, Stirling, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire—and at every one of those works bricks are being manufactured either from old bricks or from colliery refuse material.
§ Mr. Cassells
May I again put my question? Is it not a fact that at the present time that system is only in existence in isolated and exceptional cases?
§ Mr. Mitchell
Not at all. These brickworks exist in all those counties I have named, and I suggest that by far the greater part of the total number of bricks produced at the present time in Scotland are made from this material. I can assure the hon. Member of that from my own close association with that industry. It seems to me that where we can make 2139 use of these refuse bings for such a useful purpose as that of assisting in the rehousing of the population, that is obviously a better way of getting rid of them than the method envisaged in this Bill. I go so far as to say that almost all the refuse dumps in Scotland at present—such as have not been burned—are potential sources of brick supplies. I would add that almost all are liable, in certain circumstances, to spontaneous combustion. Indeed the material is so combustible that when one is burning the bricks in the kiln practically no coal is required for firing, a fact which will perhaps illustrate to hon. Members who are not familiar with the process of brick-making, the combustibility of the material.
This is to some extent a new industry and enormous strides have been made in it during recent years. A type of material which, five or ten years ago, was regarded as useless can now be used as a result of the great improvements which have been made in kiln construction. I believe that process of improvement is likely to continue. I do not believe that the last word in kiln construction has yet been said, and we may find in other parts of the country that many bings now regarded as useless, will prove useful sources of material for this and other purposes. Within the last year I have been associated with the starting of two brickworks in the Special Areas in Scotland. They are manufacturing exclusively from old refuse heaps. Those bings might have gone on fire because they are composed of highly combustible material. In fact, they have not gone on fire. One of them is a large conical heap which can be seen for a distance of about 50 miles round. An hon. Member stressed the point that conical heaps were more likely to go on fire than others. That may be so, but there is no certainty about it and we all know that heaps burn sometimes, whether they are conical or flat. In each of the two cases which I have mentioned this work of manufacturing bricks from old refuse heaps is the only source of employment in villages where all the surrounding collieries have been stopped. Of course, if this Bill had been in operation, those refuse dumps would have had to be dispersed or dealt with in some other way. I appreciate the fact that the circumstances in those 2140 districts do not apply throughout the country but as an illustration of the amount of employment which can be provided in this way, I may mention that in one case there is an output of between 20,000 and 25,000 bricks a day giving employment to 40 people for an estimated period of 10 years. That of course, only refers to one of several heaps.
While I feel that the intention of this Bill is excellent, it does not tackle the problem in the right way and it would, in my opinion, require serious amendment before we could possibly pass it into law. To begin with, it has one big defect. It deals only with the bing which is liable to spontaneous combustion, and that is very difficult to determine. A bing which would in no circumstances go on fire spontaneously might be set on fire through boiler ashes or something else of a burning nature being put upon it. We all know that that is how many of these fires occur. I would welcome legislation to prevent people putting hot boiler ashes and similar material on these bings, because I believe that that, almost as much as spontaneous combustion, is a cause of these fires. Another thing which the Bill omits and for which I would like to see provision made, is the encouragement of practical methods of endeavouring to beautify these bings. Reference has already been made to the desirability, wherever possible, of encouraging the growth of vegetation of some kind on these heaps. I remember being in the Ruhr district of Germany many years ago. There I saw the enormous amount that had been done to beautify bings. Almost all the old bings that I visited were planted with trees which seemed to be growing perfectly well. I believe we could do a great deal in that direction, although there may be bings which would not lend themselves to the process; but it would be far less expensive if we could succeed in beautifying them wherever possible than to attempt to remove them entirely.
Before I could possibly support the Third Reading of the Bill it would have to be considerably altered in Committee. I hope that the Mover and Seconder will try to make changes to meet the Scottish point of view, which may be different from that of some other districts. If they can do that and can substantially recast the Bill, it might be a great deal of use. 2141 We all want to avoid the unpleasant and unhealthy fires which are such a menace in certain districts.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
I have taken particular notice of the presence in this Friday morning's Debate of certain Members of this House who are coal-owners. I wonder why the hon. Members for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), Eccleshall (Sir G. Ellis), Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. H. Mitchell) and Faversham (Mr. Maitland) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Ham North (Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew) are present this morning. They are always good champions of the interests of the coalowners as a whole. I suspected their presence here this morning. It was with some delight that I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for North Leeds and I listened with less delight to that of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick. The coalowners are largely responsible for the need for the Bill, and they must accept responsibility. It is not for them to come to this House in order to whittle down any attempt to deal with this grievance.
I am glad they have promised their support to the Second Reading, but they have also promised their opposition at later stages. We do not claim that the Bill is perfect, but we claim that something has to be done with these burning pit-heaps. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick told us that in Scotland they have found a way to avoid the nuisance by making the refuse into bricks. I know the coalowners sufficiently well to believe that if they can discover a way to use pit-heaps for their own profit they will do so. They will use pit-heaps or anything else in order to make profit. If they discover a method of dealing with pit-heaps to their financial advantage they will pursue that method. They need not tell that to this House, because we know it already.
There is need for the Bill. Local authorities have failed to deal effectively with this grievance. In many places they are confronted with very obstinate and unreasonable employers. There is a case in my Division in which an urban district council covering a population of some 25,000 people has asked a big colliery company times out of number to deal with the grievance in regard to a very big burning pit-heap. The company has 2142 refused to do anything. I drew the attention of the present Minister of Health to the grievance, and I now want to pay him a compliment. He made it his business during a visit to Lancashire to see this pit-heap. He has since dealt with the matter on lines that have proved successful. The last communication I had from the urban district council stated that the council were watching events and would inform me of what happened. The Minister was told by the coalowners that the heap would be twice as big before long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has told me that I am at the top of the League for pit-heaps. I may be. I agree that the Bill appears to be drastic. I agree that the word "liable" may need alteration. I fully appreciate what was said by the hon. Member for North Leeds that it is not very easy to define whether a pit-heap is liable to spontaneous combustion, and there may be something to be said for his suggestion that we should wait until there are some active signs of combustion, but when that stage is reached greater difficulty will be experienced in dealing with the matter. This point may need amendment in Committee. I hope that he will not try, after letting the Bill get a Second Reading, to amend it in Committee in such a way as to destroy its purpose. He will find that the Mover and Seconder will be very amenable to argument during the Committee stage provided the purpose of the Bill is safeguarded and the Bill is left as an effective instrument to deal with this grievance.
The question has been raised whether a conical heap is a bigger danger than a flat-topped tip. I am no authority on the matter, but the inspector is. He has gone into the matter carefully and he has expressed his opinion. He says, in his report:Conical dumps are particularly liable to fire for the reason that the larger lumps nautrally tend to roll to the bottom, thus producing a heap with an open base which allows easy access of air. It has been noted that the fires usually start at the bottom of these tipsThat is the opinion of the inspector. He thinks that the conical tip tends more easily to combustion than does a flat-topped tip.
Some of us live in the neighbourhood of burning heaps. There is one to which 2143 I have referred, the very heap visited by the Minister, which I have passed many times. I paid a special visit to it last week and there it was, burning away and making clouds of smoke. The place where this heap is situated is the only part of the district where the people can take a country walk. They have to go past the very edge and base of this heap, and it spoils their lives entirely. It is a grievance in the mining areas.
We should never have thought about this or any other Bill for the purpose if effective machinery existed for dealing with the matter, and if the coal-owners had attempted to deal with it. There are good coalowners, and I think that the representative coalowners in this House are among them. I can understand that they may be feeling slightly hurt this morning, knowing that they have done their best to deal with the difficulty in their own colliery areas. They know, however, that coalowners differ, and that there are some who are not concerned with social welfare. It is with this type of coalowner that the Bill seeks to deal. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said that he did not want to emphasise the amenity side of the question too much, but I think he did emphasise it. If we have any pride in our country—I always consider it to be the finest country in the world, in every sense—we do not want these unsightly pit-heaps, irrespective of whether we happen to live in the areas concerned. It is certainly much nicer to live in the south of England or on the sea coast, but the miners and their wives and families have to live in the neighbourhood of these pit-heaps because they cannot live anywhere else.
The Mover of the Second Reading made the point that when a man has been underground, working for hour after hour in uncomfortable conditions, it is rather unfair that he should have to experience uncomfortable conditions on the surface. The Bill has been brought forward to deal with the grievance from that point of view as well. We have been told that present legislation could be made effective, but we have tried to use present legislation. It has not been made effective. I hope that the Parliamentary 2144 Secretary will make no attempt to defend opposition to the Bill on the ground that the grievance can be effectively dealt with by present legislation, because we have tried that and have failed. We know that the Bill will mean a burden to some colliery companies.
I have been asked to give some illustrations as to how the position has been dealt with. I can give hon. Members an exact case from my own Division. There is a big colliery employing from 1,500 to 2,000 people. From an adjoining field of seven acres they took off from two ft. to a yard of the top soil, spread the material from the heap over the field, and then replaced the soil. It is now as fine and as productive a field as can be found anywhere, and except for the fact that the ground is higher, there is little difference in it. That may be an expensive method, but this colliery company did it, and I do not think it is any more profitable than other companies in Yorkshire. This colliery is next to the colliery which refuse to do anything with their pit. They are both working the same seams. This House is a small place compared with the pit-heap to which I am referring. A good colliery company such as the one which spread its heap does not object to this Bill, and it is only right that other collieries should be made to do the same thing; otherwise the result is unfair competition. Hon. Members sometimes leave this Chamber and go into the Library, which they find more entertaining than the debates, and come back only for the big speeches.
I wander about the Library occasionally, and to-day I accidently came across a quotation from William Morris. He dealt with this kind of thing from the purely picturesque point of view. He denounced modern industrialism which had changed, he said, the English countryside into a "smoke net" of dingy houses and factory chimneys, had degraded the craftsman till he became a cog in a vast inhuman machine and in pursuit of material welfare had lost sight of the beauty altogether. William Morris did not live in the days of pit-heaps. I wonder what he would have said to-day if I could have taken him through just my own Division, and no other. It is suposed to be a fairly flat division, but anyone seeing the pit-heaps would think it was a place of hills and dales, reminiscent of the Israelites being brought 2145 out of Egypt, with its pillars of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night. There is really no case against this Bill, but if there is any better way of dealing with this problem we shall be glad to accept it.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I want to congratulate the Mover and the Seconder of this Bill not only for presenting the Bill, which is a reward for the pertinacity of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), but on the sobriety of their language. The latter amazed me, because I often fear that I shall blow up in spontaneous combustion because all the revulsions of a lifetime burn up in me as I think of the stinking heaps throughout the county of Durham. It seems to me that the sins of our industrial forefathers have been visited upon the third and fourth generations. I am glad, at any rate, that I have been able to say that part of my speech, because I have had to cross out several parts which contained some good slogans, because other speakers have pinched them. Two or three generations ago in the industrial age, all that was thought of was the making of money. The world seemed like a howling wilderness and everything that was intended to do you good, even religion, had to be nasty. This Debate reminds me of the little girl who prayed God to make all people good and good people kind. Her experience was, as my early experience was, that you must expect this world to be a hard place, and that beauty was something that lured the soul away from God—the old Puritan idea that we ought to be afraid of things that are beautiful. I happened to come into contact with John Ruskin, William Morris, Charles Kingsley and other men who gave me a different point of view, and I have revolted against what seems to me the deliberate disfigurement of the countryside by these burning pit-heaps.
I had not been long a Member of Parliament, and therefore had something to say about what should happen to the district which I have the honour to represent in this Mother of Parliaments, before I wanted to know the reason why the burning pitheaps were not quenched. I saw the clerk of the town council and the clerk of the neighbouring urban district council. There is a garden city which our corporation have built at great expense at Gateshead, in the most beau- 2146 tiful part of the district, making a landmark right out to sea. There is a story of a verger of the church there showing a man round. The visitor asked whether the church was high or low, and the verger said, "It is very high; it is 600 feet above sea level." It is a landmark out at sea, and on the crest of that beautiful hill people may dwell in a land of far distances. It is a beautiful garden city, but when the air is humid and the wind in the east, the people are practically suffocated by an abominable smell from a neighbouring pit-heap as if a kettle had been upset into the fire. I wanted to know all about it, and I was told by the clerk of the council that when complaints were made the colliery owners said, "We will close the pit; have it whichever way you like."
I would not be doing justice to my constituency if I did not take the opportunity, as I have done before, of standing up for the amelioration of this nuisance, and for the use of compulsory powers to see that it is done. These heaps are so unnecessary. Within a few hundred yards of the heap of which I am talking, there are worked-out quarries of considerable depth which are a public danger. At very little expense these heaps could be poured into these quarries. If I had the money I should become a quarry owner, because he not only gets money for the stone which is taken out of the quarry, but charges 1s. 6d. a ton for tipping into it, and then sells it for desirable building sites. It would pay the corporation to buy these quarries to give free tips into them, and when the material had settled it would be suitable for building. At another place which can be seen on the north line there are disused clay holes within a few hundred yards of a heap, and they need filling up, for they are very unsightly.
All they need do is to have what contractors call a jubilee railway, but instead of running the trucks up to the top of those conical-shaped heaps let the trucks run down, which they would do by the law of gravitation, as one can see when one is passing Peterborough and notes the scientific methods they have at the clay pits there.
I lose patience when I think of our lack of common sense in this matter, and feel that we are the stupidest nation that God ever made. It takes a couple of generations for a new idea to penetrate in this country. [Interruption.] I am not 2147 going to be diverted from my speech by remarks from the opposite benches, because I think they are a static party. They represent simply the ideas of Karl Marx; they are immovable, and I should not think that any ideas would penetrate there. Let me keep to my text. When one thinks of the inpenetrability of the thick skulls of Englishmen to new ideas one is apt to lose patience. It is time, and more than time, something was done. There is no sense in building garden cities if regard is not had to the amenities of the district. We do not allow the business of pig-breeding to be carried on too near our houses. Noxious trades are strictly limited and licensed. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street was quite right in what he said about preserving the amenities in the neighbourhood of Lumley Castle. I love the place, and it is a beautiful sight from the main north road. What is good enough for Lumley Castle—and nothing less—ought to be good enough for the houses of our working people and the schools in which the children have to be brought up.
I should not be making a useful contribution to this Debate if I had not some remedy to suggest. We have talked "hot air" about these hot pit-heaps for a considerable time, and I have one suggestion which I would make with all deference to the powers-that-be. If the enabling owners will not allow the land in the vicinity of a pit to be cleared, local authorities ought to have compulsory powers to buy that land for the sake of the amenities of the district. We might have some mobile machinery with which to clear away the pit-heaps. One cannot expect a poor place like Gateshead or Felling to go to the expense of clearing away these pit-heaps, but mobile machinery could be acquired for the use of the whole county of Durham or for certain districts which could be let out on hire. Since last I spoke on the subject the whole case for the mineowners has gone completely. There were some pit-heaps at Team Colliery, which is just on the margin of my constituency, and in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and for months and months relays of lorries were occupied for 24 hours a day, except on Saturdays, in clearing away those pit-heaps for the trading estate. That was a 2148 good thing to do in the interests of the trading estate, and what was necessary in that case is, I submit with the utmost confidence, just as necessary for the well being of our working people and the amenities of their homes. I suggest, in conclusion, that hitherto we have never seriously tried to get down to this job and public opinion in the North of England is convinced that not only is it time, but high time, that we dealt with the problem in a thoroughgoing manner. I heartily support this Bill which was presented to the House with so much moderation by the Mover and the Seconder.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
We have had the most surprising series of contributions to this Debate that I have listened to for a very long time. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) moved the Second Reading of the Bill in very moderate language; indeed, I was rather surprised that he was not more outspoken. All of us in the House know that my good friend the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has, with characteristic doggedness, pressed this question of burning pit-heaps upon the attention of the House and of the country for a long time. While the observations of the fourth speaker in the Debate might surprise anybody who did not know anything about the mining industry, some of us have known for many years that the older types of pit-heaps, in the Midlands, at any rate, have been utilised in the manufacture of bricks. I am satisfied that any colliery owner who felt that his pit-heap could be turned to good account in the manufacture of bricks would have utilised it in that way and would not need to have his attention directed to it by this House.
I think the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) made a very courageous speech. He showed a good deal of courage in the way in which he approached this baffling problem of what we in Yorkshire call "the modern muck stack." He asked subsequent speakers to develop any ideas they have as to how we may deal with what is not only a menace to the interests of public health and of local authorities and of colliery proprietors themselves, but is an abhorrence to the women folk who have to live in the neighbourhood of these pits. He 2149 went on to enlarge upon the magnitude of this problem, but I rather thought he understated it. He told us that in a modern colliery the first deposit around the pit head during the process of sinking the shaft would be approximately 100,000 tons of refuse, and then he pointed out that under our modern process there would be deposited on to the dirt pits of the country approximately 8,000,000 tons of refuse annually. I should have thought that that was rather understating the problem, because between the amount of saleable coal and the quantity of coal raised at the shafts, I think it would be fair to state that the coalowners of the country would be very satisfied if there was a loss to the colliery of 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Dunn
I think the hon. Member will agree that some of us have some idea of what the operations of the modern colliery really mean. I was discussing this matter during the last week end, and I know that on the dirt product alone, consequent upon screening and washery operations, spread over many years, the loss for refuse of this kind on the amount raised has been anywhere from a minimum of 12½ per cent. to a maximum of 15 to 17frac12; per cent., so that, taking that as a guide, if I said that, with the modern collieries and spread throughout the country, the loss would be 10 per cent., not taking account of the colliery consumption of coal—I have yet to learn that they raise steam by dirt—I should be taking a modest position. If that be a true assumption throughout the country, Members of this House will get an idea of how big this problem is. I put the amount going on to the dirt stacks of the country at present, not taking account of driftings, roadways, and so on, but entirely due to the fact that the country now demands clean coal, at 20,000,000 tons a year. I think that would be not overstating the position.
I want to ask whether there is not a direct connection between burning pit-tips and the accident rates in collieries, because it seems to me that the modern 2150 mechanised method of producing coal is in itself one of the factors which has really marked a clear division between the old and the new systems of producing coal. It used to be an old saying, with the old miners, if they saw round about a pit head a big dirt stack, "That is not the place for me to seek work at; keep off that entirely." But now, instead of there being only a few collieries with enormous dirt tips, it is the accepted thing, with the modern requirement of the market and the march of industrial technique, which is demanding that coal supplied for the purposes of raising steam and so on must be of a cleaner quality than used to be the case. Much has been said with regard to the question of subsidence. It is fairly clear where the dirt comes from, and I submit that if there was far more dirt used for goaf stowing in the pits instead of raising these unsightly, stinking pit-tips throughout the country, which are a blot upon civilisation, and if sufficient consideration was given to redirecting it back again to where the dirt has come from, that in itself would be a considerable factor in assisting the problem of safety in mines. I put that forward as a main consideration.
I have had an opportunity of looking at some of the roundabouts of the collieries with which the hon. Member opposite is connected, and I noticed that a cemetery is on one of the pit heaps of one of the collieries controlled by him. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) said. I think the colliery problem can make a direct contribution, and at no great cost, to agriculture. I have in my Division 11 of these enormous pit-heaps, the majority of which are burning. On the other hand, I have the unsightly condition of hundreds of acres of waterlogged land in my area, in consequence very largely of this ever increasing problem of pit-tips. The valleys of the Rother, the Don, and the Derwent are a positive disgrace to this country at the present time, and hundreds of thousands of acres of valuable agricultural land are year by year going out of cultivation. The hon. Member for North Leeds will agree with me that round about the area with which he is connected the same thing applies. You have an inland lake round about the collieries in that area. One passes it on the road 2151 to Leeds, and is amazed that something is not done.
I put forward this proposal quite seriously, because at one of the collieries in my district an attempt has been made to reclaim waterlogged land by the use of refuse from burning pits. I have taken representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture into that area to examine the land, and have shown them scores of acres that have been reclaimed by the use of refuse from pit-heaps in the Rother Valley. I am informed that that land to-day not only has a higher letting value than the normal rate for agricultural land in the area, but, at the same time, is making a very substantial contribution to agriculture.
I am glad to know that there is no direct opposition to this Bill. Surely we should all face up to the problem. It is regarded as a baffling problem, but I do not think it need be. If we had the will to deal with it, and directed our attention inside the pits with a view to making them safer, and also to agriculture, these unsightly pit-heaps could be reduced to a minimum, and we could make a general contribution to the health and happiness of the people of this country. I am glad to know that the Bill, small and modest as it is, has found support in every quarter of the House.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Ellis
The Debate to-day is more like a Wednesday debate than a Friday debate, but there is just this difference between the two, that on a Wednesday one can speak at large on the subject under discussion and leave it in the air, whereas in a Friday debate an attempt is made to crystallise what we are doing into a Bill which is to become an Act of Parliament. On the amenity question I agree with what has been said by various hon. Members, but the whole question cannot be dealt with in so narrow a compass as we have here, and, therefore, if this Bill is seriously put forward as an attempt to deal with the question, we have to consider whether it is meant to deal with a part of the question or whether it is meant to deal with the question as a whole. Obviously, as the Bill stands to-day, it cannot deal with the question as a whole, and, therefore, we are narrowed down to the smaller part, namely, the pit-heap which may be actually burning or which is likely to burn.
2152 As regards the Bill as it stands, I think hon. Members have not read quite as much of the Public Health Act of 1936 as they might have read, because they do not appear to have found in that Act the recognition of the principle that certain industries have to be specially treated. We are asked to see whether we can make any recommendation which will be of assistance to them in connection with the Bill. I would like to suggest that they should recognise the peculiar position and the peculiar difficulties of the coal industry in exactly the same way in which the difficulties of the alkali industry have been recognised in the special Act which was passed with regard to that industry in 1906. Section 4 of that Act contains this provision:Waste shall not be deposited without the best practicable means being used for effectually preventing any nuisance arising.I suggest to hon. Members that that does make a distinction—
§ Mr. Lawson
That is just the point to which I was referring. The Bill is designed to do something by local arrangements.
§ Sir G. Ellis
The Bill as drafted applies to pit-heaps which are liable to spontaneous combustion, and so, first of all, it would be necessary to establish the fact that a particular heap is liable to spontaneous combustion, when the Bill would become effective. But that does not alter the principle which I am trying to put forward, that there are really two sets of pits concerned with this matter, namely, those which have done their very best and those which have not done their best; and in this Measure, as in any other penal Measure, there should be a distinction between the two, and some effort should be made to have regard to what is being done. In that respect I think that probably the Minister of Mines would come in a good deal. The reference in the Public Health Act is to the Minister of Health, but in an industry like ours it is absolutely necessary that reference should be made to the Minister of Mines, because of the peculiar conditions which attach to the industry as a whole.
Suppose that the Bill is taken as it stands to-day, and the question arises as to whether some particular pit-heap is liable to spontaneous combustion, where is the case to be taken? Under the Public 2153 Health Act it goes to the local bench, but let me say, from my experience of local benches and also of quarter sessions, that in many mining districts the magistrates would either be members of the public authority, which would be the prosecutor, or would be connected with the company or colliery concerned. Most of the magistrates in such a district would be definitely interested. They are the only people who know anything about the conditions of colliery work, but, from the nature of the case, most of them would not be able to sit because they would be interested. That would leave the local bench bare of those people who know most about the matter.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
It might leave a lot of gentlemen there who know a great deal about the nuisance.
§ Sir G. Ellis
That might be so, but you have no right to consider the nuisance without regard to the questions to which the nuisance gives rise. Therefore, I think the Bill as drafted would leave a certain amount of difficulty in that respect, and regard must be paid to these details. You must follow out all the implications of the Bill, and not merely consider what you would like to have, but what you are going to get when the Bill becomes an Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has mentioned that a considerable amount of work and experiment is being carried out on this question. That must be known to the Minister. It is certainly known to the industry, and I take it that the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows it also. I think that the ultimate way in which we ought to deal with this question is, not to switch it into the Public Health Act and deal with only one side of it, but to treat it as something essentially belonging to the industry in relation to public health. I do not see why, in view of the researches and examinations which have been made, it should not be possible for the Minister of Mines to deal with the treatment of these heaps, after consultation, naturally, with the industry and with the local authorities. Rules would have to be made. They need not be exact and detailed in every respect, like some other rules, but they should at any rate embody all the experience which has been gained as a result of the researches which have been carried out, and should provide a general code to be 2154 applied by colliery owners in dealing with these heaps. Then the problem of what is and what is not a nuisance at any colliery would be very much simplified. If the management of the colliery could come forward and say, supporting their statement by evidence, that they had done their best to keep within the rules, that should be counted to their credit.
I ask my hon. Friends to consider all the implications of this little Bill, which is very small. They tell us that they will accept Amendments. I am glad to hear it. I do not intend to vote against the Bill, because I consider I am sitting here on a Wednesday, and not on a Friday; but I very much doubt whether, within the limits in which the Bill is drawn, they will be in order in doing many of the things they suggest. If they are in order, they will need to have a Bill very different from this, and that will lead to a great deal of discussion in Committee.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
I realise that the problem which faces you, Sir, to-day is not one of choosing speakers to follow one another in terms of for or against this Bill; because everyone in the House has a good word to say for this small Measure, which may have such important consequences if carried into effect. Your problem, as I see it, is to choose speakers in terms of the areas they represent. I am glad to be the first Scottish Member to speak on this Bill. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. H. Mitchell)—I am sorry he is not in his place at the moment—seemed to criticise Scottish Members for not having shown their interest in the Bill by having their names appended to it as backers of its proposals. So far as I am concerned, had I been able to be in the House—and it was only illness that prevented me—when the Bill was presented, I should have asked to have my name printed on the back of the Bill, because there is very grave need for such a Measure so far as my constituency is concerned.
The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), in his leading contribution from the Government side in favour of the Bill, took my mind along a certain distance. I was expecting that he would make a very important proposal, because he used the words "Prevention is better than cure." I expected him to say that the way to prevent pit-heaps from burn- 2155 ing was to prevent them from being there at all. I expected him to make a proposal that the waste represented by those pit-heaps should be taken back underground. That would solve not only the problem of the burning pit-heaps, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has been so keen for a number of years, but that other problem which the same hon. Member has brought before the House on more than one occasion, the problem of subsidence, would also be to a very great extent solved.
In my constituency we have mines of two kinds. We have the mines from which shale is taken. Oil is extracted from the shale in retorts, and, therefore, all the fire-producing qualities of that material are removed. It is put on tips in its hot state, and after that it is finished with. It does not form a menace from the point of view of combustion, but it makes a very unsightly spectacle in many parts of the county which I have the honour to represent. There is a story about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) coming to Linlithgow to speak at a by-election. In his usual picturesque manner, he remarked how he had enjoyed coming among "these great Scottish mountains." A miner said "Get away man; they are not mountains, but pit-bings." The right hon. Gentleman might be excused for thinking that they were mountains, although they had been man made, by the operations of digging for shale, since the middle of the last century. In some parts of the county, where one comes through from one main road to another—I have in mind the road between Winchburgh on the Linlithgow road and Broxburn on the main Glasgow road—one comes to huge areas covered with great peaks that have been built up during the last 70 or 80 years, consisting of an immense amount of material that has been taken out of the bowels of the earth and now forms great mountains surrounding one on all sides.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick—I am glad to see him back in his place—spoke about the production of bricks from that waste material. Certainly, there is a very considerable industry carried on in the county which I 2156 have the honour to represent in the making of bricks for building purposes out of the shale waste, although I have no knowledge of any being made out of the coal waste. It does appear that those who use these bricks for building purposes are not quite satisfied—I do not know what the analysis of moisture absorption and so on shows, but those bricks evidently are not considered as being of quite so high a quality as clay bricks, because once a building has been erected in no case have I seen those bricks left exposed. They are always treated with rough cast or something of a similar nature outside, in order, apparently, to protect them from the elements.
§ Mr. H. Mitchell
The reason is that the colour is not so attractive as that of clay bricks. But, from the point of view of durability, they are quite all right. I know a great number of buildings where rough cast is used simply because these bricks are not so attractive to look at.
§ Mr. Mathers
Personally, I do not find anything to object to in the colour of those bricks. They are of a purplish tinge, which it seems to me would add to the picturesqueness of the buildings.
Now I come to the question of coal waste. In the South part of the county, coming from Polkemmet Colliery outside the Burgh of Whitburn there is a very serious menace in respect to the very subject with which this Bill seeks to deal. There is a burning pit-heap which sends its fumes down into the Burgh of Whitburn, and more particularly into the new housing area. I am told by the town council that the woodwork and metal work in the houses are suffering. If materials like those can suffer from the fumes coming from this burning bing, one can imagine what the position is like for the inhabitants.
I cannot complain about the attention that has been paid to my representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland, for he has on several occasions sent his alkali inspector to the spot to inquire into the position and see what might be done with the co-operation of the colliery owners. I do not think there is even very serious complaint about what the colliery owners themselves are endeavouring to do to mitigate this nuisance, but it is the fact that it is a very serious problem, and that anything in the nature 2157 of further powers being given to local authorities to have matters of this kind dealt with is obviously something that must be supported by those of us who feel the menace of that position.
People suffer from these fumes not only in their homes but when they come out of their homes into the open air. I have experienced it standing in the open air talking at a meeting. Even in going to the local Picture House you are affected. The doors and windows of the Picture House in the burgh of Whitburn have to be kept closed. The atmosphere becomes overheated because of the fact that if you allow the air to come in, it causes the atmosphere to become bad, and instead of having the fumes from the burning pit-heaps, patrons would rather have the carbonic acid gas that is produced by a number of people sitting in an enclosed building and breathing the same atmosphere. The menace of the position is not only felt in places that are somewhat remote from the burning bing. It has also often caused a good deal of menace to the men working at the colliery. In addition to having had representations from the town council of the burgh, I received quite a number of representations, since it was known that I was dealing with the matter, from the men working at the colliery. Here is passage from a letter received from the check weighman. He says:I am sorry to tell you that on Friday, 28th October, we had three stretcher cases carried off the burning bing at one time between 1 and 2 o'clock, they having been overcome by the fumes.That is obviously a serious condition, and the men at that colliery are very perturbed about the conditions under which they have to work. In spite of the fact that efforts are being made to counteract the bad effects of these fumes, the menace still continues. The matter has been in hand for months, and yet at the end of last month there was the serious position of men being overcome by fumes and having to be removed by stretcher through being rendered completely unconscious as a result of breathing these fumes.
In the northern part of the county as well there is a huge burning bing at Kinneil Colliery outside the burgh of Bo'ness. The only thing that prevents that burning bing from being a very serious menace to the whole of the people 2158 of the important town of Bo'ness is the fact that the prevailing wind is kind to the town and takes the fumes out across the Firth of Forth, causing them, therefore, to miss the more densely populated part of the town, but the people who are living near to the colliery certainly do feel the menace of these fumes very much indeed.
It seems to me that it would be a very simple matter to deal with this particular burning bing, although I realise that it would involve a good deal of physical effort, because there are 300 tons of waste being added to that bing every day. But close by there are some 350 acres of what are called slob lands which at high tide are covered with water but which at low tide are simply mud flats. To level that great bing down into the Forth at that particular point would be a matter of no very serious difficulty. One of the reasons why I have cried out against the limitations imposed by the Special Areas Act is the fact that the particular part of the county containing this tip, the removal of which might be assisted by the Special Commissioner, is outside his authority because of the fact that the northern part of the county is not scheduled as a Special Area.
I believe that there is much to be said for this Bill in giving greater authority to deal with menaces of this kind. I am glad it has received such a good reception in this House to-day and I hope that it will speedily pass into law.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
I think that this is the first occasion upon which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) has addressed the House since his illness, and I would therefore like to express the hope that the recovery of his usual health will be permanent and complete. He began his speech with the statement that the Bill was being received with favour in all quarters of the House, but I am sorry to have to say that, in my judgment, that was not quite a correct statement of the position. I think that the real position is that there is general agreement in all parts of the House with the purpose of the Bill, but there are certain hon. Members who have some misgivings as to whether the Bill will achieve its purpose. I am always impressed by the sincerity and singleness of purpose of both the Proposer and Seconder of this Bill. It has been my 2159 pleasure on one or two previous occasions to follow in debate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and on these occasions it has not been necessary to question any of the statements he has made, whether they have arisen from matters of fact or as matters of opinion. I have at times found occasion to differ from his opinion, but never to doubt his sincerity, and I am sure that, in all quarters of the House, we were impressed to-day by the very moderate and modest way in which this Bill was submitted by him.
It has been submitted on the ground of public health, and on the ground, too, of the amenities of the country. It was also put forward on another ground which did not appeal to me as representing a ground of strength, namely, on the ground of bad ownership. I would like to face the suggestion of bad ownership, because I think it was an hon. Member speaking from this identical place who talked about the present position having arisen from the sins of our forefathers, and that in this generation we were suffering from a lack of foresight for which our forefathers rather than the present generation had the greater responsibility. Without attempting in any circumstances to relieve the present generation of its liabilities and its responsibilities, I think that that is true in regard to the subject matter of this Bill. We have an example in some of the suggestions that have been made to-day as to how the difficulty of dealing with pit-heaps or spoil-heaps might be met. I heard somebody say that it was a dangerous matter in this country to provide for the storage underground of the waste material which is the cause of the trouble. I have heard some hon. Members opposite say that it is done in Germany. That is true, but I believe that the mining Members in this House will appreciate that the construction and layout of mines in Germany are entirely different from the construction and layout of the mines in this country.
On technical grounds and having regard to the interests of safety it is very doubtful if the problem with which we are seeking to deal in this Bill can be solved by putting the slag and dirt back underground. We can never overlook the great question of safety. As one who has some responsibility in connection with the direction of mines, I am always 2160 much concerned about two specific things, first, the safety of the men in the mines, and, secondly, the menace of the growing heaps of slag and dirt that one sees. One colliery with which I have been associated, as the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) knows, is not situated in a secluded village, where the slag-heap affects a limited number of people, but it is in the very centre of an industrial community.
Those who have any sense of responsibility in the direction of a mine must always be exercised in their minds as to how this problem is to be dealt with. It is not as simple as some hon. Members have suggested, and it would certainly be a very grave act on the part of any person responsible for the management of a colliery to adopt a method which might prove even a greater menace by making more insecure the lives of the men in the mine. Therefore, although I have the greatest possible sympathy with the purpose of the Bill, I feel it to be my duty to point out that this is not the simple matter that it has been represented to be and as it appears to be in the minds of certain hon. Members.
As some difference of opinion has been expressed with regard to the percentage of dirt that comes up from the mines, I should like to give some particulars of the proportion of dirt as shown by the figures that I have received relating to a certain colliery. I asked for the information, and it reached me this morning from the manager of the mine:The amount of dirt handled at the colliery on a coal output of 7,000 tons is approximately 950 tons from washery out of the smalls, 350 tons from screens, out of the large coals and 750 tons filled out of roadways, tunnels and new developments—a total Of 2,050 tons per week.That is nearly one-third of the total output of the mine, and to any one who is in a responsible capacity that is a very important matter. It is not a thing that can be disposed of in some airy kind of way or on some problematical theory. How is the House going to deal with the situation? When we are discussing legislation of this kind it is well that we should ask ourselves what will be the practical effect of our legislation and if the proposed methods to be adopted will really provide a solution for the prevailing difficulty. Is the House asking the 2161 authorities responsible for the administration of the Public Health Acts to say, "Here is a nuisance and it must be abated," without knowing how it is to be abated and solved effectively? What would be the consequences of that if we apply it in every specific case as this Bill suggests? I am not exaggerating the effect when I say that in some cases it will definitely mean the closing down of the pit. I am not putting that forward as any ground for refusing to face up to the situation, but as a ground for serious consideration when we are trying to find a remedy for a very complex problem, in regard to which every mine-owner would be only too glad to see a satisfactory solution.
I was impressed by the suggestion of one hon. Member who said that this problem was part and parcel of the responsibility of the industry. I believe that to be so, and it may well be that by the assistance which can be given by private research, by research by the Mining Association and by the additional knowledge of the Mines Department, some method may be found to enable the problem to be dealt with; but, believe me, it cannot be solved in a few months or even a few years. Hon. Members are anxious to relieve the situation, but we must be careful that in trying to alleviate the problem we do not create other problems more seriously and directly affecting the lives of the people. As one who has a responsibility for dealing with these matters I am very anxious to see a solution of the problem, and it is in that spirit that I came here to-day, not desiring to put forward any purely obstructive criticisms to defeat the Bill, but to express the desire that we should discuss this problem in a national way. If it is to be dealt with in a national way we must have regard to the prevailing conditions and difficulties which have to be overcome before we can reach the desired solution.
It is true to say that in regard to all these matters there is to-day a better sense of responsibility on the part of employers and trade unions than ever before. If evidence of that were needed it is to be found in the fact which we all welcome that there is less industrial strife to-day, and a greater desire on the part of all concerned to find a way out of our difficulties and to co-operate in a real en- 2162 deavour to solve our difficulties in ways that are beneficial for all concerned.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Cassells
The last speaker expressed the view that this is not a simple matter with which we are seeking to deal. No one in any quarter of the House ever suggested that it is. If I remember aright, one of my hon. Friends made it perfectly clear that we desire to get a Second Reading for the Bill to-day in order that the questions of difficulty referred to by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) may be discussed and a possible solution found in the Committee stage. Beyond that, I do not think that any hon. Member went. I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Eccleshall (Sir G. Ellis). He made two points. The first was that it would be rather galling that if a colliery owner was able to show that he had been endeavouring to do something in this matter but without success, he would be liable to prosecution and ultimate conviction. Surely, it is an elementary principle of our judicial system that in considering cases such as that the local bench of magistrates are entitled to apply and they do apply, elasticity of judgment. The hon. Member's second point was that there might be difficulty in regard to the personnel of the bench. I do not think that there should be any difficulty in that connection.
My main purpose in rising to address the House is to supplement what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). I had not intended to participate in the Debate, but I felt impelled to do so in view of a statement made by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Mitchell). He emphasised the fact that there was no mention of any support from any Scottish Member. All I can say is that so far as the Scottish Members on this side are concerned, they whole-heartedly support the Bill and hope that it will receive a Second Reading. It was rather interesting to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick. Taking a line through that speech I submit with confidence that that is one of the reasons why the Bill should be accepted, but it is rather interesting to know that it is only in such discussions we hear from the hon. Member. I am still waiting to hear from him in regard to the 2163 progress made in house-building in Scotland, and perhaps he will turn his attention to the statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland concerning the rising price of bricks.
My last point is in relation to the inducement and the allurement which are before young people in the various slagheaps in Scotland. Young people are constantly brought before the magistrate or the sheriff and charged with the crime of trespass. If you have places where they can climb with the added allurement of a fire, young children and young people will go there. Furthermore, there is the element of danger, and I have known cases of young children who have been lured to these places of positive danger and very seriously injured—some of them have died—and yet in the courts in Scotland they are constantly faced with the defence that they should appreciate the obvious danger and not go there. Why cannot we recognise this positive danger and give the Bill a Second Reading? If there are points of difficulty, we can in our wisdom and judgment consider in Committee the best way of arriving at a reasonable and satisfactory solution.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I speak as one who represents a constituency which possesses the worst slag-heap in the world and another probably the most dangerous redd-bing in Britain. Anyone who travels in the County of Fife will see in the Blairhall area a glow which gives you the impression of Piccadilly Circus. The illumination can be seen from a long distance and over a very wide area. When the War was on, the Germans used numerous agents and spent large sums of money in trying to damage the Forth Bridge. A great naval base is in the Forth, and if the bridge could have been destroyed it would have done the greatest possible damage to the defences of this country. The Forth Bridge is only a mile or so away from this illumination. There is not an airman coming from any part of the world who could not on the darkest night find his way and drop bombs on the Forth Bridge. The guide is there; the illumination is there. No matter from which direction he is travelling, he has only to locate this illumination, and then within a stone's throw is the Forth Bridge. There is also an 2164 ammunition dump very close to this guide which could also be found by any airman, no matter where he is, just by locating this illumination. That is a matter which ought to be immediately dealt with. As to the making of bricks out of these slag-heaps, it is nonsense. There are not sufficient brick works in Scotland, and even if you doubled and trebled them they could not possibly absorb the daily output from the pits.
§ Mr. H. Mitchell
Surely the hon. Member is aware that a very large number of bricks are being used in Scotland, and there is every indication that the industry is expanding. The majority of bricks now being made in Scotland are being made from the refuse dumps of the country.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I know that bricks are being made, but whether they are using new material or old, it is only a very small portion in comparison with the output which is coming daily from the various pits in Fife.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Can the hon. Member name me any county in Scotland where the amount of material being used for bricks is greater than the output of the mines?
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is only a small part of what is generally included as part of the Fife coalfield, but I will make enquiries. I am positive that even in Clackmannan the daily output of the mines is much greater than the amount used in the making of bricks.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Clackmannan is a very small area from the point of view of mining. Generally, Clackmannan is considered as part of the county of Fife, and does not occupy an independent position as a mining area.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am a good Fife man, but at the same time Clackmannan is a separate county from Fife.
§ Mr. Gallacher
There are half a dozen mining areas in Scotland. Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Fifeshire and Clackmannan comprise one area, and then there are the Lothians and Stirlingshire. But I am on safe ground when I say that it is utter nonsense to suggest that in any of the mining areas of Scotland it is possible for any brick works to consume the daily output of redd, let alone deal with the dumps. The redd bing at Buckhaven is one of the worst in the world, from the point of view of the destruction that is caused. The redd is dumped by the Wemyss Colliery Company right along the foreshore, and the bing has reached enormous dimensions and a great height.
At one time, Buckhaven was a lovely little village. Along the seafront, on the East of the harbour, there were flat-topped rocks, and in the summer people sat on the rocks and got the advantage of the sun and sea air. To the west of the harbour was a beautiful little bay with lovely golden sands. But now, what does one see? One sees no rocks, but only the redd, which is ten to twelve feet deep. Along the harbour wall there were broken rocks, and when the waves were high and the storm raged, the waves were broken on the rocks as they rolled up, and on hitting the sea wall had no serious effect on it. Now, the rocks are covered and there is a smooth surface right up to the sea wall; the rocks no longer break the force of the waves, and the waters roll over the smooth surface and hit the sea wall with their full force. The result is that to-day there is no sea wall left. The sea wall has gone and the harbour has gone, and one can now walk across what was once the harbour, with the redd about eight or ten feet above the level of the waters. Round the west bay, where once there were golden sands, there is now only an unsightly mess.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would see to it in the Committee stage that the Bill did do something about it. All that destruction has taken place, and the old village—above, they are building a new village on higher ground—is threatened with destruction, as with every storm the wind sends redd along the seashore on to the village. If this is allowed to go on, in 2166 a generation or two the old village will be completely buried, and the time will come when people will dig through the redd in order to discover homes which were occupied a 100 years before. When there are high winds blowing in the direction of the village, the smell is unbearable, and the redd is sent flying over the village. Sometimes the school has to be closed because the redd gets into the classroom, and people walking in the streets need gasmasks or goggles to protect their olfactory nerves and eyes. It is almost unbelievable that such a menace to the community should be allowed to continue.
I raised this question with the predecessor of the present Secretary of State for Scotland, and he even went himself to look at things there. He was horrified, but he cleared right away from the area, he never went back, and nothing was done. There are other bings in the area which are a disgrace to a civilised community, but the two bings I have mentioned represent danger and destruction. The first is a danger to the country—one might as well set up a great beacon at the Forth Bridge notifying everybody that there is the Forth Bridge open to destruction if the country is involved in war. That bing is a menace to the country. The other is a menace to the people of the area, it is a source of annoyance, danger, and destruction. Therefore, I would like to see this Bill passed, and if it is given a Second Reading, I shall do my utmost in the Committee Stage to see that something is done to remove this menace and this intolerable nuisance.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
I think it is useful for an hon. Member who knows nothing whatever about coal mines to speak in this Debate. I wish to speak as a layman who has neutral and independent views on the subject. This Bill is called a Public Health Bill, and therefore it is of interest to me. I have had great interest in this subject whenever the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has raised it, and he has raised it with such great assiduity and reasonableness that it has always appealed to me, as it has appealed to many other hon. Members. Therefore, if only as a little tribute to him, I would like this Measure to be given a Second Reading. At the same time, public health law is so complicated 2167 already that one does not want it to be further confused by a large number of heterogeneous measures unless they can be worked into the present public health system. The proposal here is that we should simply work the Measure into the present system by a slight enlargement of the definition in the nuisance Clause of the Public Health Act. That nuisance Clause has been the subject of contention from numerous points of view ever since it was enunciated in the 1875 Act, and even, I think, in the previous Acts. The actual wording in the Bill is:Prejudicial to health or a nuisance.It is very difficult to say what is prejudicial to health or a nuisance, and what is not; and my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) suggested that possibly a good many of us might be considered as being liable to spontaneous combustion, and therefore might be included as a nuisance. I do not mean hon. Members on this side of the House. Obviously, a nuisance may be almost anything under the sun, according to the individual who applies the word. With regard to this Bill, it is difficult to say what might, in certain circumstances, be prejudicial to health. Even good things, such as tobacco, food, drink, may be prejudicial to health, and exercise, in one way or another, may be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tea."] Tea may be drunk when it is much too strong to be good. Therefore, we come to the question as to whether something can be definitely associated with health. There is a very similar problem which many of us would like to see included as being prejudicial to health or a nuisance, and that is noise. There is no question about it that noise is a nuisance and is often prejudicial to health, but it is very difficult to include it in any public health law. Then there is the question of smoke. Many of us have been intimately concerned with attempts to reduce the smoke nuisance generally. Again it is very difficult to include it in a definition of a nuisance.
Now we come to the question of smouldering slag-heaps. In certain cases, such as those graphically described to us this morning, where you have the heaps smouldering within 90 yards of workmen's houses, obviously there is a nuisance which ought to be included. Why cannot we consider it as a nuisance already and condemn it? That is one 2168 of the conundrums hidden in the courts of law and the legal profession and is still a conundrum to the medical profession. But it is not merely that it is a direct nuisance. As an indirect nuisance there is no question about it, where the heaps of smouldering material make the houses of the workers uncomfortable and prejudicial to health. One may definitely say that, directly, such a condition of dirt is obviously in itself very prejudicial to health. We have had that very clearly made out in the case of cowsheds where the illumination of the sheds has been shown to have had very great effect.
The dirt from the smoke in the case of these burning heaps is probably not in itself harmless, but inasmuch as it darkens the windows and causes the closing of the ventilation of houses it is in a way prejudicial to health. But the matter goes further than that. As the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) said very clearly, it is doubtful whether we could possibly include amongst the things that are prejudicial to health or a nuisance anything that is only liable to spontaneous combustion. If it is only liable to become and is not yet a nuisance, it cannot be a nuisance. Therefore I am afraid that the wording of the Bill cannot possibly pass, but I hope it will be amended in Committee.
We in the public health world will be only too delighted if we can get power to deal with things that we know are going to be a nuisance at any time, but with the present protection of the individual rights of people we are limited to those things that are already a nuisance or anyhow those which are about to be a nuisance, and I am afraid that we shall not be able to get what we should like from the public health point of view. What is at the bottom of all these questions is that it is of infinitely more importance to have a long-term point of view. I sympathise with the short-term point of view and I realise that this movement arises mainly from the immediate trouble. Those of us who are devoted to public health and the progress of social welfare want to see a long-term point of view in order that we can prevent these things happening in future. It does seem to me to be an extraordinary travesty of chemical and engineering science that we cannot find some means of preventing these combustible heaps from 2169 burning. We know that they must have oxygen in order to burn. It is clear to all of us who have been provided with gas-masks recently that there are ways of dealing with certain gases that are necessary to combustion. It seems to me that the obvious thing to do is to take the line that is taken in ordinary houses and buildings for dealing with fires. There you have apparatus that contains simply solid carbonic acid, and when you press the button out comes the stream of carbonic acid and combustion is impossible. A proper application of that system could do for smouldering slag-heaps what it does in ordinary fires, that is expel the combustible elements and deprive the heaps of the necessary oxygen.
It seems to me, also, that we must go further than that. This accumulation of heaps has surely not been made with a definite intention. It has been done just as litter is thrown about the streets or thrown on the Floor of this House by Members, a most untidy method which is very much to be deprecated. It is done simply to get rid of something that is not wanted. It was only natural, in days when we did not consider each other very much, that the coalmines should have thrown their litter out on the nearest possible space and heaped it up. I do not believe they had any reason for doing it except the desire to get rid of something unpleasant. Now, as part of our more modern ideas, we recognise that we have no waste land in this country, that every part of the country is to be considered both from the point of view of usefulness and amenities, and it is high time that we introduced some kind of regulation, some definite arrangement declaring how a mine is to dispose of its slag. Eventually the prevention of this trouble will have to be on a definite and sound industrial footing.
How are we to get rid of this slag? It should be necessary to look around and find out where space is available. In some cases there are natural gravel pits and in other cases disused pits in which it could be put. In still other cases it could be spread out and used to raise the level of the land or to flatten the land, a very useful purpose. As a medical officer in South London I have had experience of another form of smoking heaps, of ref use being disposed of in various ways. The best way to deal with 2170 it is by what is known as the Bradford system, under which the refuse instead of being destroyed is disposed of in such a way as to make fresh sites which have proved useful not only for football grounds, tennis courts and public playing-grounds but even for building operations. In the same way it should be considered as part of mining activity that use shall be made of this waste material.
This matter should be taken up not merely by the mining community, or from the point of view of public health. It ought to be taken up by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I have not yet heard whether that body is taking any special interest in this matter, but I think that the preventive side of its activities ought to be extended to this question. It seems to me that there ought to be a very large force of public opinion behind the view that, although in the past these accumulations have been considered a natural and inevitable part of the industry, they are a disfigurement of the landscape and a misuse of what might be extremely useful material. I submit that we ought to arrange to deal with this matter from the start on a proper plan and decide upon the best method of making use of this material, or disposing of it in such a way as to prevent its being a nuisance or prejudicial to health. I support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I hope not to detain the House for long, but I think that it is necessary, as the representative of Barnsley, that I should say something about this question. Most hon. Members who have spoken have dealt with this embarrassment of burning pit-heaps as it affects their own constituencies, but my hon. Friend, the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), mentioned not only the pit-heaps in his own constituency, but those in my district. He referred to the fact that not only were they eyesores, but that during the recent crisis when experiments were made in "blacking out" they were found to expose our districts where they exist to observation from the air. Only a few days ago my hon. Friend, the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), mentioned to the Secretary for Mines that a burning pit-heap adjacent to the Barnsley football ground prevented proper observation by the spectators of the games on that ground owing to the fumes. I may mention, in passing, that our local football team at Barnsley happens to be at the head of the 2171 Northern Section of the Third Division, but I would not suggest that the reason for that is to be found in the fact that the fumes from that pit-heap prevent opposing teams from seeing the Barnsley team. But we who live in those districts feel that we have been too long saddled with the reputation of being the "black parts" of the country. We are prepared still to do that work which other parts of the community do not like, mainly, the work of coal-getting, but we think that when we have left our work we ought not to be levied with the reputation created by such consequences as those dealt with in this Bill. Too long have we heard that hackneyed old gag about the lady in the South who said she had three sisters, two living and one in a mining district. That joke has been perpetrated too long.
I have been rather interested in the speeches made in all parts of the House on this subject and in what I have to say about burning pit-heaps I hope that as a new Member I shall not show any discourtesy. Though I may appear to do so a little crudely, it is my wish to continue those courtesies which have existed for so long between hon. Members in different parts of the House. But I cannot help feeling and quoting this contrast, that whereas Members on this side of the House introduce Measures to deal with difficulties of this description, on the other side hon. Members merely make speeches about those difficulties. In the one case there is only vocal support for these reforms; in the other case we have practical proposals for action. I feel that we have had the vocal support of hon. Members opposite on this and similar questions too long, and that it would look more sincere if they introduced Bills of their own to deal with problems such as this instead of giving their blessing vocally to proposals from this side, and then proceeding to condemn those proposals. I was particularly interested in one observation made by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). Having cited the difficulties which exist—and I believe his citation to be correct—he went on to say that, assuming that this dirt, or portion of it, were left in the pit, it would constitute a danger to the miners who had to deal with it.
I have recently left the mines to come to this House, and I have made periodi- 2172 cal visits to mines since, and my view is that under the present system of coal mining, with long sections of coal being withdrawn, there is greater need than ever that this stone should be left in the pit to form what we call "packing" as a support to the large areas which are being more rapidly exposed. Too frequently, in the extraction of timber or iron supports, large areas have been uncovered with the effect of exposing the miners who have to make those extractions of roof supports, to real danger. I am convinced that if there were in our mines more systems of stone supports and packing, using up much of the material now sent to the surface, we should have fewer accidents. Explosions are much to frequent in the mining industry at the present time. Accumulations of gas occur and there is a point of ignition which causes explosions. The fundamental way of dealing with that difficulty is to prevent the accumulation of gas, and this can best be done by having a better system of ventilation in the mine. Experience as a practical miner has convinced me that if you measure the air going into the mine near the shaft bottom, and take another measurement nearer the working face, you will find that portion of the air has been lost. We, as coal-miners, have long advocated the view that if the stone which now goes to the surface were used in stowing up old roadways, escapages in the ventilation would be less likely and you would ultimately reach a point at which the air which was brought in for the purpose of dilating the gases, at the working face and elsewhere would be better, and there would be less likelihood of those explosions, which not only the miners but I am sure the general public wish to see lessened.
Now I want to touch upon another aspect of the matter. I feel that the time has long gone by when these scars on the face of nature, as I would style these pit-heaps, should have been removed. We are district-proud as well as nation-proud. I suppose all hon. Members are proud of Britain; in the same way we are proud of the immediate vicinities of the localities from which we come. In my perhaps sentimental and idealistic youth I used to feel that though I often chafed at being condemned to the life of a miner yet, on rising to the surface and taking part in social life, there was a compensating value 2173 in the fact that, outside the range of the pits, the mining folk lived in some of the best country of Britain. We had the feeling sometimes that a benevolent Providence, God, had given us, because of our work, the right to live in localities of which we could be proud. If there be anything in that, and I admit that it is only idealistic, I would ask, how much have we, the people who could have altered tins state of affairs, misused our opportunities of giving to the people who work underground a chance of enjoying all the advantages of the good countryside in which they live? When I have looked at some of these pit-heaps I have felt that, engaged as we often are in very thin seams now in our districts, those huge heaps on the surface, even though they may have worsened the conditions in the districts, are at any rate a standing testimony to the industry of the mining folk.
The second thought that besets me is that these heaps testify to the fact that those who own the coal pits and are responsible for them have become deserting owners. They have gone to parts that are more salubrious and healthy than are the pit-heap districts that they created. The effect upon our children has also to be considered. I have had the privilege, since I became a Member of Parliament in the middle of June, of being called upon to perform many social functions, as I expect other hon. Members will have been. One, a short time ago, was that of opening a school of art in Barnsley. There I saw something of which I was proud, both on account of the scholars and the teaching profession. I saw examples of the introduction into the minds of the scholars of art and beauty, and I marvelled to see that ordinary people could do an ordinary job in such beautiful fashion as children are being taught to do it to-day. I wondered whether the psychological effect of the district which has been so badly marred by burning pit-heaps had improved the outlook of our children.
The hon. Member who has just sat down doubted whether the fumes had any effect upon the health of our people, and he glossed over the matter by saying that perhaps they merely dirtied the windows. In the mining district we may be more prone to keep our windows closed, but that is not because we do not 2174 like fresh air. It is because the house-proud women have as much regard for their humble homes as has any other set of folk, and they do not intend to have their places spoiled by the fumes and dirt. In our mining districts we become accustomed to the bad atmosphere. Sometimes our children are taken on trips to the seaside. I well remember going on one of these trips in my boyhood days, and I remember the comment of one youngster when he saw the sea for the first time and smelt the beautiful ozone. He said: "What a funny smell you have here. How different it is from the smell in our district"—different, not because the smell was funny at the seaside, but that the smell to which he was accustomed in the mining district was particularly objectionable. We have a heavy roll of ill-health by reason of respiratory trouble occasioned by these pit-heaps.
I would ask hon. Members on all sides of the House not merely to give the Bill a blessing here, but to endeavour to do something in Committee to make it speedily practicable so that these heaps may be removed. I admired the eloquent speech of the introducer of the Bill. He talked of "treating" these heaps. The best thing would be to give the residents of the districts the "treat" of removing as speedily as possible from their districts these hideous eyesores, these ill-health-breeding places, these dangers in time of war. This is an age in which people's standards rise, and it is typical of man that he desires to rise above the ground. Egypt had its Pyramids of antiquity; it has occurred to me that the pit-heaps of Britain are pyramids of indignity. I hope that we shall have an opportunity as early as possible of removing them and of improving the districts in which they now stand.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernays)
In this Debate we have had speeches from Members on all sides of the House, and I feel that the time has come to tell the House the attitude of the Government on this subject. I know that the whole House will join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on his success in the Ballot, and upon the way in which he has made use of it. I hope he will allow 2175 me to say in all sincerity that he never speaks on any subject in this House without making that subject live to those who hear him. Certainly, to-day has been no exception. I would like to congratulate, also, the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) on having the opportunity of seconding a Bill which is so dear to his heart. I remember when I first had the honour of assuming the office which I hold now that almost the first question put to me was one on this matter by the hon. Member, and that in the course of my reply upon the Estimates of the Ministry of Health I had to say that this was not a subject with which I had been able to make myself familiar. If I am not familiar with it now it is no fault of the hon. Member for Leigh. I never see him in these days, even when he is refreshing himself in the Library, without thinking of a burning pit-heap, and whenever I see a burning pit-heap I think of the hon. Member for Leigh.
I have no doubt that both the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and the hon. Member for Leigh will be satisfied with the reception that their Bill has received this afternoon. I am not surprised at the welcome that has been given to the Bill. I am sure that every hon. Member would be glad to put an end to these burning pit-heaps if a practical means could be found for their abolition. I agree that it is a melancholy experience to look down from high ground upon a colliery district and to see in what was once a pleasant, smiling countryside these huge coal heaps belching forth smoke and flame. Nevertheless, we have to keep this problem in perspective. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) reminded us, every colliery heap is not a burning heap. I think he said that only one in 20 was a burning pit-heap, and I do not think that that statement has been challenged. At the same time, there are 266 of these nauseous burning pit-heaps in England and Wales. I am informed that one of them has an area of 50 acres. I suppose that that is the size of the average park in a provincial city. Another of them is 250 feet high which is nearly two and a half times the height of "Big Ben."
They have been compared by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street to Strombolis and Etnas, but there is a certain 2176 dignity in a volcano. At any rate, it does represent the elemental strength of nature, and it is something that man cannot harness or control. These burning pit-heaps have been created by man, and they must be removed if it is humanly possible. The discussion of this Bill has given us an opportunity of considering ways and means, not as opposing parties, separated as we are on so many questions on great matters of principle, but as a real council of State agreed upon a common objective and only concerned with the best means of achieving it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds when he says that this Bill will help to focus public opinion upon this evil. I welcome the time that has been spent upon it, for the first step to any reform is to get public opinion behind it, and there is no better way of doing that and of moulding public opinion than a day's discussion in this House.
Before I deal with the Government's attitude towards this Bill, I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I restate what, as I understand it, is the position of the law as it stands to-day. Under the Public Health Act, 1936, any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance, is liable to be dealt with summarily as a statutory nuisance. I agree with the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) that that Act does not work as well as we should like it to. There is no dispute about that. Unfortunately, we do not always settle a problem by passing an Act of Parliament against it. We have to ensure that the Act we are passing will work, and what is required, in addition to regulations against burning pit-heaps, is a satisfactory means for extinguishing existing fires and for depositing refuse in a way that will avoid fire. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds said, our greatest difficulty is to discover appropriate means of abating this nuisance. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and his predecessor have done everything in their power by administrative action to discover these means.
My right hon. Friend has recently increased the staff of his alkali inspectors, and extensive study and experiment are in progress in consultation with colliery owners and, in some counties, regional associations and mineowners. Following an interview in March this year which 2177 some hon. Members had with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Mines, a general investigation of all burning spoil-banks discoverable was undertaken to find what practical means are available for putting out existing fires and making new heaps in a fire-proof way. The hon. Member for Ince referred to the result of the investigation in at least one case. It may interest the House to know how the investigation is progressing. More than half of the burning pit-heaps have been visited. Allowing time for the necessary repetition of visits for further diagnosis and the effective checking of new methods that are being tried, it is expected that this survey will take another year and a half. The question is asked, what use are our inspectors? Progress is being made, and I am happy to be able to report that, where practicable, means are found for abating the nuisance from a particular heap or of depositing material at a particular mine in such a way as to avoid the likelihood of fire.
The coal owners are willing to co-operate. It is only fair to say that very definitely. Of the 266 burning pit-heaps, 156 have been visited and remedial measures have been recommended. I am informed that in only a very trivial number of cases—I think it is no more than 10—has there been any difficulty with the coal owners. Where coal owners are not willing, it is open to the local authorities to take action under the existing law. The promoters of this Bill, however, say that the existing law needs strengthening. The effect of their Bill is to enable summary proceedings to be taken in the case of a deposit of mine refuse which is liable to spontaneous combustion, without waiting until it has fired and become a nuisance. Various technical objections have been raised to this by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland), which would be better considered in Committee. There was a point raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Mitchell) with regard, as far as I could understand it, to the effect that this Bill would have upon brick-making in Scotland. I will go into the point which he raised, but it may satisfy him at the moment if I say that the Bill as at present drafted does not apply to Scotland.
An important question was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for 2178 North Leeds when he said that it was not always easy to prove that any particular deposit is liable to spontaneous combustion. He said that some hon. Members in this House might also be liable to spontaneous combustion, but if they are, they can be named, and there is a very definite method of removing them, with assistance if necessary. Material which is liable in some circumstances to spontaneous combustion may be made inert by methods of packing of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) and of blanketing with other materials. Therefore, it would often be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish the fact that any deposit was liable to spontaneous combustion, until in fact it had fired. The Bill creates a new and immediate offence based on an assumption which can only satisfactorily be established in the case of many heaps when spontaneous combustion has actually occurred. I can imagine that the question of the liability to spontaneous combustion at the time of deposit may give scope for considerable expert argument. I was interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Ince that it might be possible in Committee to consider the redefinition of "liable to spontaneous combustion," and, speaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend, we shall be glad to consider any other definitions that may be in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Undoubtedly there may be cases in which it can clearly be proved that a deposit is liable to spontaneous combustion, and in such cases it is the view of my right hon. Friend that the Bill will be of some value. Therefore, while I do not think that the Bill will do all that hon. and right hon. Members opposite think it may do, I am convinced that the House will do well to give it a Second Reading.
We need to tackle this problem from three directions—the mobilisation of public opinion, so that every agency that is willing to help can help; investigation and inquiry into the best methods for abating this nuisance; and, if necessary, the strengthening of the law so that these methods may be applied when they are discovered. If this Bill will, as I hope it may, assist that third part of our common purpose, I certainly think the House will do well to speed it on its way to the Statute Book. I would stress again in conclusion that in this as in very many 2179 other questions legislation is of itself no certain remedy. For example, you can pass a law that it is a punishable offence to leave litter about, but unless there are receptacles for litter, and unless there is a public opinion against litter, the Act of Parliament may be worthless, and if we are to end the scandal of the burning pit-heaps we must have the co-operation of everyone concerned.
One of the reasons why these burning pit-heaps have continued for so long is that nobody has really bothered about them, we have had so many other things to consider, but I was interested in the tribute paid by a Member of the Opposition to the rising social conscience. While he was speaking I wanted to find out his constituency, and looked it up in "Dodd." There I saw the record of his life, which started "Began work in the pit at the age of ten." At any rate we have got rid of the abomination of child labour, because all parties and all classes decided that it must not continue. So it is with the slums. The slums continued until all parties and all classes said "This is a horror that must not be allowed to remain any longer," and so a series of Acts has been passed by which it is hoped that within four years a slum house will be as much an anachronism as the hansom cab is to-day. Therefore, I congratulate Members of all parties who have brought to the attention of the House this serious evil of the burning pit-heaps. I earnestly hope that from their efforts will come a real solution of the problem, and that thereby there will be removed from our land an evil legacy of the 19th century.
§ 3 p.m.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I am sure there is not a Member of the House who will complain of the reception which has been given to this Bill, or complain of the tone of the speeches in the Debate. It has been a Friday afternoon when it has been a pleasure to stay in the House. We have been debating something which is of material importance to the wellbeing of the community. I should also like to say that we appreciate the position which the Government have taken up towards the Bill. We are not tied to any particular wording. In Committee we shall be ready to discuss the matter from every point of view, and I am certain that 2180 some means will be found of helping us to solve the difficulty before us. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) told us that there were at least 266 burning pit-heaps in this country, excluding Scotland. That means 266 utter nuisances to the particular districts in which they are situated, where everybody will be pleased to see them done away with. It is an easy thing to talk about burning pit-heaps but a much more difficult proposition to put them out, and the application of all the thought and research that are possible will be required if we are to do away with them. One hon. Member suggested removing the burning pit-heaps and spreading them over larger areas of land. Of course it is an impossible task to remove a burning pit-heap, and consequently we shall have to apply ourselves to the task of preventing them from becoming burning pit-heaps.
Further, there is the question of the new conical pit-heaps which are springing up all over the country. One which is in the Ince Division has been mentioned, and in my own Division, and on the borders of the Ince Division, there is another which is growing quite as rapidly, if not more rapidly, than the one referred to. These two pit-heaps were seen by the Minister of Health when he was in that area in the middle part of the year. One is burning and one is not burning. On the day of his visit it was fine, clear weather, and there was not much smoke or fumes or smell from the burning heap, but on the following day, when the weather was damp—just a little rainy—an aerial photograph taken of that heap showed it enveloped in mist from the bottom to the top. One could hardly see the heap for the mist. According to the reports of the inspectors, the new conical pit-heaps are particularly likely to burn, and we who have lived in the areas all our lives and have worked in the mines quite understand that, and know to a large extent what is the cause of this kind of thing. The "Miners Welfare Journal," which was quoted by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, speaks of these pit-heaps as "accumulations which stand for ever," and they do. Even after they are burnt-out there they are as standing monuments of either inefficiency or carelessness. They stand there like a number of extinct volcanoes, neither use nor ornament.
2181 I may have something to say later on the subject of the proximity of these pit-heaps to houses and schools. One of the greatest evils of the whole business is where these burning pit-heaps are within a measurable distance of people's homes or the public elementary school, in which the child life of our people has to be spent. Formerly, Lancashire and probably also Yorkshire Members will remember, on the highest point in their locality they generally had beacons built to communicate from one part of the country to another. I suggest that now we do not need these beacons, as there are so many burning pit-heaps that they can communicate with one another without going to the expense or bother of erecting beacons. I lived in an area for the greater part of my life where we had a burning pit-heap, and I can confirm everything that was said in that connection by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). We did all we could, with the colliery company and everybody else, to get a reduction, if it were possible, of the fire or the fumes arising from the heap. To my knowledge, that heap has been burning for at least 50 years, and I am not sure whether or not it is now extinct, but I remember when I was a boy seeing the same heap burning, and that is considerably over 50 years ago. These things are certainly blots on the landscape. They are heaps of desolation, and they ought never to have been there, but, of course, there they are.
On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) about the covering-up of one of these heaps with soil, I think that is a very fine gesture indeed and that the company in question have undertaken a very heavy task. They are working at it successfully. It was seen by the Minister of Health during his visit to Wigan, and he, like everyone else who has seen it, marvelled at the efficiency of the experiment which has been undertaken there. It is one which ought to be undertaken by more colliery owners, because the creation of these great conical burning pit-heaps is a matter rather of custom in the minds of the coalowners, or they have not given sufficient thought to what it means to the people in the neighbourhood. It is a kind of habit that has grown up among them, and it remains there.
I think the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said something about 2182 there being no infallible remedy, and probably that is true. He said that in sinking a shaft something like 100,000 tons of material would have to be deposited around the pit head, but I would call his attention to the fact that the kind of material found in the strata while sinking a pit would not be combustible. On the other hand, he pointed out that the refuse picked from coal, to the extent of 8,000,000 tons a year, was tipped in the ordinary refuse-heaps of the collieries. That material is combustible and ought not to be tipped on the ordinary ref use-heap of a colliery. I should like to suggest that that kind of material should be stowed away by itself and not be broadcast among these standing colliery heaps, because this is one reason why this kind of burning pit-heap is spreading so quickly. The hon. Member for North Leeds also spoke about the stowing of material. I have had a fairly long experience of colliery life, and I am sure that at least 75 per cent. of the material now sent out of the pit could be stored in the colliery underneath. I know particularly one colliery where no refuse was sent out of the pit, but every bit of refuse of that kind was stowed there and worked in a solid packing system very successfully. It was better for everybody. It was better for the health of the miners, and there were fewer accidents in the mine. It was safer, and there was certainly no surface subsidence, which is so common. I am sure that this is a good idea, along with other experiments, such as hydraulic stowing, which is the Continental method. It has been tried, I think successfully, to some extent in one part of Lancashire. I do not know why or whether it has been discontinued, but it is one of those things which will be possibly the salvation of the question of the burning pit-heap. I think colliery owners should keep underground all the material which it is possible to keep there, in order to make a solid packing and make the mines safer for the workmen and better for everybody concerned.
The question is not a new one. I am inclined to agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that the reason why this state of affairs has gone on for so long has been the apathy, or I might almost say the carelessness, of the public in not making an outcry about it and bringing it more forcibly to the minds of the coalowners. I do not think that the coalowners want 2183 this nuisance any more than we do, but they have built up a certain custom, and think it ought not to be changed. We think it ought to be changed. We are certain that this nuisance can be greatly minimised, and that too much material is being sent out of the collieries to-day in order to make these dumps.
Burning pit-heaps are a danger to the health of the population. I remember, as a young man, talking with a group of colliers in a village where there was a large burning pit heap. One of the men was coughing, and another said to him, "You have a bad cough this morning." "Yes," he said, "I have two chances. One is that I can go down the pit and be killed, and the other is that I can come up to the surface and be poisoned." That is very characteristic of the Lancashire people. The miner works below-ground all day, and then comes up into a vitiated and contaminated atmosphere which gives him no opportunity of recuperation. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, although he has expressed his sympathy, cannot be aware how far these fumes carry. In the direction of the wind you can smell these collieries two, three and four miles away, and consequently the unhealthy conditions obtain, not only near the colliery, but for miles around it.
This dumping of refuse is simply one method of getting rid of unwanted material. It may be expensive to change it entirely, but I am sure that, unless some way can be found of utilising these heaps, provision will have to be made for stowing the material underground and preventing it from becoming a complete nuisance to everyone. At the moment the colliery owners, when this material has been sent up out of the pit, take the view that their responsibility in regard to it is ended, but we do not take that view at all, and we want the law altered in such a way that they can be called upon to do the right thing. If they are compelled to make these heaps, I do not see why they should not consult the local authorities with a view to selecting the best sites for them. I do not think that a colliery company should have the right to dump this material anywhere, where it may create hardship for the community, when they can dump it, say, in some declivity away from any houses, and I do not think there can be anything wrong in demanding that they shall do that. 2184 While local authorities are given power to deal with a nuisance, they should also be given some power to prevent a nuisance. It may be expensive, but it would make mining much less dangerous.
The owners and directors of collieries generally live as far away from the collieries as they can. They are not sniffing and blowing 24 hours a day through living in an atmosphere not fit for anybody; they are probably shaking their feet at Blackpool or Southport. If they have the power to prevent the creation of a particular nuisance, such as this, why do they not prevent it, and live in the area? It is one of the curses of industrial life to-day that owners of industrial works live away from their works. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the close association of employers and workpeople is one of the best things for industry. The employers' families are safeguarded from all these troubles and nuisances. They take all the profits, and leave all the nuisance to be dealt with by local authorities. But local authorities have something else to do besides cleaning up the mess made by other people. Everyone is aware that even when a colliery closes down and is dismantled, the owners do not go to the trouble of filling up the shaft with the refuse that is left. They simply leave the shaft open, with a brick wall around it, and thousands of tons of material standing about.
I have a particular knowledge of this kind of thing, because I represent an old-established industrial area which has done as much as any area in the country to build up the power and wealth of Britain. In our little Wigan—it is not more than six miles across anywhere, I think—there are hundreds of acres of land covered by slag heaps. Right in the centre of the borough, we have a district where over 15 acres of land is covered by slag heaps. It cannot be utilised for anything. Industrialists will not come near it, because they are pot going to build new works in areas of that kind. Although it is not in combustion, it is a nuisance to everyone. We have five other areas of the same sort in Wigan. We cannot expect people to come there and sink new money in places which are literally covered with pit-heaps. Yet they can be easily cleared, and the value of the land restored to the community. There 2185 is plenty of land where the dumps can be emptied, and if this land cannot be used for industrial and commercial purposes, it can at least be used as playgrounds and parks. Who is going to clear the land? The Wigan Corporation cannot afford to. We have all the labour necessary to do it, but we have not the money. We have tried to get help from the Government, and have failed. The six pit-heaps in the borough of Wigan have been measured, and it is found that their capacity is nearly 1,900,000 cubic yards. Who ought to pay the cost of that? The people who have made their fortunes there have gone away. They are residing under much better conditions of life. They are not compelled to live in areas where they cannot get the ordinary amenities of life.
I am not saying that Wigan is any worse than anywhere else. Wigan is a very nice place except in these particular pit-dump areas, and that is the case not only with regard to Wigan, but all over South-West Lancashire where refuse is being dumped. I am now speaking of the whole of the area in which millions of people around Wigan are condemned to live where there are burning pit-heaps and other nuisances. These heaps ought to be cleared away. Colliery owners ought not to be allowed to leave these great dumps behind after their collieries have been dismantled, when there is even a greater obligation upon them in the interests of the community as a whole. In future they ought to take upon themselves the responsibility for leaving the land as clean as when they found it. The workers have no option. They must remain where they are. If they left the neighbourhood they would become unemployed, and they could not afford to do that. The owners take advantage of the profits of industry to live in healthy surroundings.
I want to make one or two suggestions in conclusion. I am quite sure of one thing, that whatever the Bill asks for, it is not asking too much. If it is not drawn in appropriate parliamentary language there will be an opportunity for it to be put right in Committee upstairs. If it does what we want it to do, it will serve our purpose, and I am sure that it will serve the purpose of millions of our population. I am delighted to know that the Minister has been given the Government's consent to the Bill. We are only asking 2186 in the interests of the population that healthy surroundings shall be safeguarded, and that where collieries are closed, the owners shall remove all nuisances and clear the land without any expense or obligation falling upon local authorities. Colliery owners and other owners who create these dumps only pay rates like any ordinary citizen in a particular borough or town, and they ought to be under the obligation of leaving the land clear in order that the particular area shall not be burdened with something which it really ought not to have. The Minister should take immediate steps to amend the law in order to safeguard the health and well-being of the community. We are not asking for anything out of reason, but for the placing of responsibility upon those people who, directly and deliberately, create these slag-heaps in order to amass wealth. The health of the community is of more value to this country than the whole of the colliery dump-heaps, which are of no use whatever. They are nothing more or less than cancers on the landscape. They have been created by human agency, and they ought to be removed also by human agency.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, in giving what I fear is now superfluous support to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson), the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) for the fact that I was unavoidably prevented from being present to hear their speeches. In several speeches which I have made pleading for the preservation of the beauty of urban and rural England I have had the support of hon. Members opposite and I should, therefore, be very sorry if when they were introducing a Bill dealing with amenities I were not here to give my support. I had arranged that in any event I should be here in case the matter went to a vote on Second Reading.
I wished all the more to be present because on a Private Member's Motion last December, which I seconded, it had been the intention of the hon. Member for Leigh to move an Amendment dealing with the subject of this Bill. Although you, Mr. Speaker, did not allow that Amendment to be called, for which 2187 I was very grateful, because it would have shortened the discussion of other matters in which we were interested, I had intended in my speech to refer with sympathy and approval to what was contained in the Amendment. I had that in my notes, but all of us at times miss things that are in our notes, and I sat down without referring to the Amendment. When the hon. Member for Leigh first drafted a Bill on these lines I told him that I doubted whether, as drafted, it would completely effect the objects which he had in mind. I still have those doubts to some extent, but I am quite clear that they can be resolved in Committee and that when the Bill goes upstairs it can be put right, since it was stated by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), among others, that no one is tied to the actual language of this Bill.
Last month I addressed at Chester the National Conference of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and as a result of my experience at that Conference and of numerous conversations with members of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and representatives of local authorities from all parts of the country, I can assure the Minister that the interest taken in this particular question is very great and very widespread. If this Bill in slightly different form reaches the Statute Book, very large numbers of people will be grateful, and the contribution of the hon. Member for Leigh towards a solution of this problem will not be forgotten.
There is one further matter which I should like to mention. If I understood the Minister rightly, he gave as a possible reason why this matter had not been tackled before, the slowness of public opinion in condemning some of these evils and in making itself sufficiently vocal. In one sense it is true that if a Government Department is determined not to act until it is sufficiently kicked, then the mobilisation of public opinion to make it sufficiently angry to kick that Government Department is a necessary precursor of legislation; but I would record my emphatic opinion that in this matter of amenities public opinion throughout the country is very far ahead of the Government. I believe that if, instead of waiting to be kicked by public 2188 opinion, they would have confidence that the remedying of some of these notorious evils would be approved by public opinion, the evils would be more rapidly corrected, to the general gain of everybody, including the Government.
I very much hope that when this particular matter has been dealt with by Statute other matters will not be overlooked, and that the Government will not hesitate itself to bring in Bills to preserve our threatened and most precious amenities. The hon. Member for Leigh has had the good fortune to have this Bill brought forward, although he did not win a place in the ballot himself. There are many other matters dealing with amenities which if they had had luck in the ballot hon. Members would have brought forward, and I hope the Government will realise that the preservation of amenities ought not to depend on the luck of private Members in the Ballot. I congratulate those who have brought this Bill before the House, and in particular the hon. Member for Leigh who has been so persistent in the matter.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
It may be a far cry to the Western Isles, and for the representative of the Western Isles an imposition to claim the indulgence of the House to say a word or two on this subject. For millions of years we have been trying in the Isles to produce coal, but so far we have got only as far as peat. At the same time I cannot forget that this question of danger to amenities which we are discussing is one which is showing its head in the Highlands of Scotland as well as in other areas as industrialisation proceeds. When I listen to speeches in this House by hon. Members from mining constituencies, I admire more and more the sincerity with which they speak on behalf of their fellows and the people of the districts which they represent, and with which they are familiar. The sincerity of hon. Members who represent mining areas has impressed me perhaps more than that of any other body of Members in the House. I do not think any represent their fellow-workers so nobly and so ably as the mining members of this House.
There are one or two considerations I want to mention. Probably no other hon. Member except perhaps the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major 2189 Neven-Spence) has to travel quite so far as I have through the various industrial and rural districts of Scotland, and in going on my long journey I see something of these areas and the blots on the landscape which we are discussing. While I recognise that a carefully planned industrialisation of the Highlands is very necessary along with agriculture and fishing if these areas are to survive, yet at the same time I must say that I am alarmed by the appearance, in miniature if you like, but as a great threat—looking into the future—of the very things we are discussing on the Second Reading of this Bill. I know some of the mining areas in which these bings or burning pits have been developing for generations, and I know that they are in some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. Great parts of Lanarkshire are still beautiful. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) defended Wigan. Unfortunately many of us have read the story, now notorious, of "Road to Wigan Pier," a very grim story, but one which in part at least could have been avoided if planning and care had been taken at the proper time. I agree with him that prevention is really better than cure, and that it is almost the only way which can be suggested, apart from palliative measures.
Going through some of these most beautiful parts of Scotland—partly or totally industrialised but still beautiful—one does not require a telescopic eye or the sensitive nose of a connoisseur to see and smell these pit-heaps miles away from the areas which they have spoiled and contaminated. I cannot say to what extent in Lanarkshire, for instance, these fumes are detrimental to the health of the people in those areas, but certainly they do not improve the atmosphere there. As a stranger going into those districts, they strike me, and certainly I know that they do not improve the attractions for visitors. If one goes on one of the best roads in Scotland, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, only half an hour after leaving Glasgow one begins to smell the pit-heaps, and only half an hour out of Edinburgh, going in the other direction, one begins to smell them; and the people of Edinburgh, in fun, say that as soon as you start to go to Glasgow you begin to smell it, and the people of Glasgow say that as soon as you start to 2190 go to Edinburgh you smell it, 40 miles away.
My hon. Friends have referred to the discomforts of the miners, and it is a good thing they can joke about them, although they are serious matters. There is a story told in the mining districts in Scotland about an Irish miner who had become so accustomed to living in one of those areas that when he went away on an excursion, he fainted at the first breath of fresh air, and had to be taken into the vicinity of the bings before he could be revived. It is bad enough when a miner has to work in polluted air during seven, eight or nine hours, and possibly overtime; but surely provision ought to be made to avoid his having to eat, sleep and pass his leisure hours in the same- atmosphere, as that in which he has, worked during the day.
There are two reasons why large housing areas are affected by the fumes from the pit-heaps. The first and obvious one is that the houses were there before the industry, that the villages were there before mining and industrial operations began; and the second is that the local authorities are restricted to building within areas under their control and areas conveniently within reach of the place where the workers have to work. Therefore, it is doubtful whether there is any hope of a solution being found by removing the population from the vicinity of the pit-heaps, if we are not able to remove the pit-heaps themselves. We are thus baulked either way. One of my hon. Friends has emphasised, quite properly, that the real task, apart from the immediately important task of removing some of the pit-heaps, is to prevent them in future.
The idea of digging holes and filling them in again has been discussed with a spot of humour, for that process has always been associated with the arguments against large-scale public works. I notice that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) appears to sympathise to some extent with that view. I believe that looking towards prevention, looking to the future rather than to retrospect, it would be better if we could dig holes and fill them up to some extent, for the reason that earth heaps are less dangerous than these burning pit-heaps and are not such an ugly sore on the landscape as piles of smouldering refuse. As far as that can be accomplished I think we should do it.
2191 The suggestion has also been made that in these days, when all sorts of far-fetched proposals are made to deal with anomalies, and huge amounts of money used for air-raid precautions, some of the earth could be used, with or without sand, for the purpose of filling the tens of millions of sandbags that would be needed in war emergency. That would certainly be cheaper so far as it goes than to extinguish and to keep on extinguishing combustible material of that kind and taking various costly health measures. Let me refer in passing to what has been mentioned already but has not been sufficiently emphasised.
We are taking all sorts of air-raid precautions and spending millions of pounds upon them, and we might have to spend hundreds of millions if the menace becomes greater. Surely there could be no clearer indication to an invading enemy of the proximity of industrial areas than these burning pit-heaps. Glasgow, Lanarkshire, and all the districts around are simply open, with what I may call industrial indicators in these pit-heaps for aerial attack. Attackers would know that near these heaps were great industrial towns and areas of population.
Within the darkness of Nazi Germany we have a glimmer of good example in this connection. I am told by some German friends that in Germany they enforce the burial of refuse as it is brought up to the surface, the contention being that it is better to put the refuse back where it comes from under and not above the earth. In this strange country of Germany, where everything now is synthetic, from sugar to silk-from-milk, and everything is a mixture of the astute and the unexpected, from food to foreign policy, they are always making some use of waste products. They have been able to manufacture useful joint-products of different kinds from these refuse dumps. Personally, I am not acquainted with them, but the subject is one for the scientist, the chemist, and the technician, and I shall not presume to offer critical opinions. I am told they are making some partial use of their pit-heaps in Germany, whereas in this country we have made no use at all of our pit-heaps. Meanwhile we have this massive and still massing material evidence accumulating, while the need for reform, in connection 2192 with the danger to public health and the danger of the spoliation of the countryside's beauty in those areas where these pit-heaps are growing up is long overdue. One thing is certain. The burning mountain will not come to the Government any more than the mountain came to Mahomet. The Government must face the problem and go to the mountain.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence
It is not often that I am able to see eye to eye with my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan), but on this occasion I am very glad to associate myself with him in the tribute which he has paid to the sincerity and moderation of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill, and, indeed, of everybody who has spoken from both sides of the House. I might add to that a recognition of the sweet reasonableness which has been shown by all parties. A Private Member's Bill is apt to provide a happy hunting ground for cranks, both inside and outside the House, but no one who knows the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) or the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) will accuse either of them of being in the least likely to promote a cranky Measure.
I speak with some trepidation on this subject. Like my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles, I have no special right to speak for the mining industry in any capacity. In the course of a somewhat varied career I have not been a miner and have never even been down a mine. I do not own any colliery shares and, up to date, none of my hon. Friends on this side has offered me a lucrative post as director of a colliery. Like the hon. Member for the Western Isles, too, I do not even burn coal. So my approach to this Bill must be that of the ordinary citizen, to which I can add one other qualification, namely, that I have been a practical worker in the sphere of public health. I regard this Bill as a very valuable contribution to public health. I am glad that the hon. Member for Leigh has had this chance of adding one more stone to the edifice of public health legislation, in the initiation of which the party to which I belong has played a pioneer part and in which it continues to exercise a very strong influence.
2193 I feel that the first condition of a full and happy life is that people should be able to enjoy personal health in a healthy environment. The poorest miner in the humblest home in the remotest part of Wales or Scotland has as good a right to personal health and a healthy environment as anybody who lives in Mayfair or Belgravia. It may be considered that the subject which we have been discussing to-day has not attracted as much attention as it ought to have received, but the reports on the alkali works show that for some years this matter has been attracting increasing attention. In the report for 1932 reference was made to one case of a burning heap. By last year a very much wider field was being covered. The matter was being closely watched and a very great deal of valuable experimental work has now been done. Complaints were very general from all over the country, riot only of England but also of Scotland, but they do not appear to have attracted much notice from the authorities In Scotland until 1935, where complaints came from counties as far apart as Fife, Ayr and Aberdeen. Curiously enough, there never seems to have been much complaint by the agricultural industry, although this matter is of some importance to it, not merely because a great deal of valuable agricultural land is continuously disappearing under these monstrous excrescencies, but because the fumes that emanate from burning bings are definitely poisonous to vegetation and are capable of doing, and do, a great deal of damage.
The problem seems to divide itself sharply into two. The first division is the extinction of existing fires and the other is the prevention of fires in the future. It must be admitted that the extinction of existing fires is exceedingly difficult, but it is not insoluble. It has been dealt with and various efforts have been made in that direction. Hon. Members have referred to flooding with water and attempting to get water to percolate into the refuse heap. Those methods have not proved satisfactory and, as one hon. Member mentioned, the resulting position is sometimes worse than the position was before. Obviously the most scientific way to deal with the burning pit-heap is to stop the ingress of air into the heap. Spontaneous combustion 2194 takes place because the heap is composed of inferior coal, waste pit props and other combustible matter; slow oxidation takes place and heat is generated until eventually the heap fires, but it cannot fire if oxygen is kept away from it. The most likely method of stopping a heap from firing is to prevent the ingress of air.
Interesting experiments have already been carried out to that end. What strikes me as the most hopeful method is that of blanketing, which has been carried out at certain pits. The method appears to be to drive a three-inch tube six feet long into the face of the bing and to pump through it an emulsion of clay which then spreads out and consolidates the surface. That method has been successfully applied to some bings, and seems to be a very sound way of tackling the problem. Another method is to cover the bing with clay or other incombustible and impervious material. If everything else fails, the burning part of the bing ought to be isolated. It is positively wicked for any colliery to continue to pour combustible material upon a fire which is already alight, but that is being done. It ought to be stopped forthwith. There is abundant evidence to show that if the means known to be available are now applied, the nuisance may be almost entirely abated. Some burning may go on, but there will not be such a pouring out of smoke and of noxious fumes over the countryside.
Prevention could be begun at once. The obvious way is to reduce the amount of carbonaceous material in the bing. That is the way in which some collieries are working, but others are not doing all that they might in the light of the knowledge that has been acquired in the last few years. The mere packing of the refuse into dense packs will alone make a tremendous difference. Some collieries have now installed modern plant for crushing and washing the material which normally goes to waste. I am told that washery slurry containing as much as 20 per cent. of ash and 25 per cent. of water can quite well be used for generating steam at the pithead, and that it is in fact so used. In that way, although it may be expensive to install the plant necessary, some of the costs will be recovered.
The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) referred to amenity, and this points to another way in which a great deal more could be done in the method 2195 of disposing of refuse. Washery refuse containing as little as 3 per cent. of coal it is liable to spontaneous combustion. The first thing to be done is to store it in separate bings and take special steps to deal with it. If that material is used to fill up holes or, at worst, deposited in flat-topped bings not more than 20 feet high and covered with a few inches of clay and the soil which has been removed from the base where the bing is to be put, not only will it be free from the risk of spontaneous combustion, but, as has been shown in Lancashire, the bing can actually be put to agricultural use.
That seems to be the ideal way. It will avoid the risk of fire, improve the appearance of the countryside and avoid those horrible conical protruberances, while some agricultural use can be obtained from the land. We are all familiar with the conical bings with aerial rope-ways. I am told that it is possible to deposit the refuse by means of rope-ways in a much flatter way. The system is to deposit the refuse in parallel lines of small cones, and the rope-way can be so worked that the intervening spaces can be filled up. In that way there is gradually built up a flat-topper bing which is less liable to catch on fire. Conical bings are particularly liable to catch fire because, as the refuse is pitched out on top, the heavy material rolls down to the bottom and there forms a perfect flue, so that if a fire starts it is guaranteed to go on burning until it reaches the top.
It is clear from the reports that some collieries have been very helpful. They have been glad to get the advice of the 2196 inspectors and to put it into practice. Others, on the contrary, have been anything but helpful. I submit that there is sufficient knowledge accumulated about this subject for some action to be taken, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary spoke so favourably about the Bill, even if it should be found necessary to amend it in certain respects. It has been said that the cost will he prohibitive. I cannot tell as an expert about that, but I want to point out that there are certain other activities outside coalmining which have noxious, poisonous or dangerous waste products. These are all compelled now to take steps not to cause a nuisance. There is one more point—
§ Mr. Lawson rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at One minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next. 28th November.