HC Deb 03 February 1971 vol 810 cc1851-82

10.30 a.m.

Resolved, That if the proceedings on the Mines Management Bill [Lords] are not completed at this day's Sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Ridley.]

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Mines Management Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time. The Bill is a small and not, I hope, a very complicated one. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to introduce it briefly and describe what it does, then listen to questions and points raised by hon. Gentlemen and, with the leave of the Committee, reply at the end of the debate. I will try to introduce the Bill in the shortest terms

to allow the maximum opportunity to hon. Gentlemen to debate this Bill.

Basically, the Bill brings up to date the important and generally acceptable family of legislation dealing with safety in mines. The first Bill in this family was the Coal Mines Act, 1911, followed by the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954. This placed the sole responsibility for safety in mines on the manager and under-managers of a pit, and gave specific responsibilities to deputies and to mechanical and electrical staff. Secondly, it placed specific statutory duties and responsibilities upon those individuals, and it prescribed further that the manager of a mine, and his under-managers, were deemed to be guilty of an offence if the regulations were breached.

This Bill is necessary because of the change which has taken place in mining practice since 1954. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), fresh from direct experience as a manager of a colliery, will agree that there have been major changes in the ways that coal mines are managed, which stem from the heavy mechanisation of the pits, together with the change in structure of the Coal Board. Now we have much bigger outputs. Often the output from a face can be bigger than the output used to be from a whole colliery. The Coal Board has changed its structure to having only three tiers—the board, the area and the colliery level— and collieries have become much bigger because several faces can be working.

These changes in mining practice have led to a need to amend the mines safety legislation in order to bring it up to date. Basically, there are two changes in the Bill, embodied in Clauses 1 and 2. Clause I recognises the fact that a manager of a modern large colliery often will need assistance. He cannot attend to all the duties at the same time. For instance, he might have a qualified mining engineer as his underground manager; he might appoint a chief engineer to deal with electrical and mechanical problems; he might wish to appoint a surface superintendent to co-ordinate all the activities above ground. At the present time, none of these individuals can be made responsible for safety because they are not mentioned in previous legislation. Therefore, the Bill gives power to the manager to give written authority to any such person to take responsibility for the matters specified in a written notice. This will not absolve the colliery manager from carrying the full share of the responsibility himself, hut it enables the person to whom responsibility for safety is delegated to accept his share.

As hon. Gentlemen who have experience of coal mining will agree, statutory responsibility is coincidental with authority in the coal mines. Therefore, it is necessary to regularise the position of assistants who may be appointed——

The Chairman

Order. It is disorderly to smoke in Committee.

Mr. Eric Ogden

And dangerous, too!

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) must also have regard to safety in these proceedings!

The power is contained in the Clause for the manager to give written authority to share his responsibility, and there are further provisions relating to this.

Clause 2 makes a minor change in relation to the rôle of under-managers. This is the second change which the Bill seeks to bring about. At the moment, the law requires them to accept responsibility in limited circumstances. If there is a contravention of safety regulations in the area for which an under-manager is responsible, he is deemed to be guilty of an offence. The responsibility is limited under the present law in terms of the area of the pit, either the level or the face being worked, and that limitation can be applied at the present time to an under-manager's responsibility.

However, in modern mining there is much more shift work, and it is not possible under the present law to excuse an under-manager from responsibility where a contravention takes place when he was not on duty and he was not at that time in the pit controlling the operations in the area of his responsibility. So Clause 2 gives the power to excuse under-managers when they are off duty and another under-manager is in charge of the area concerned.

Of course, it may be possible that some act of his, before leaving work, contributed to or caused a later contravention of the regulations. This is taken into account in the way that the Clause is drawn, but it does not deem him automatically to be guilty if the regulations are breached in an area of the pit for which he is responsible when, in terms of time, he was in no sense present or responsible.

It is intended to apply these new regulations in the first instance to the large mines where the problems have arisen already. My right hon. Friend has power under the Bill to prescribe by order those mines or those areas of mining activity to which the Bill shall apply. We would certainly extend the provisions of the Bill to all mines or to whatsoever mines appear to need it, if future experience makes it seem right to extend the provisions of the Bill to smaller mines where the problems I have described have not yet arisen.

The responsibility cannot be transferred to other persons except if a written notice is sent to the local inspector of mines and quarries, or a written notice is preserved at the mine indicating precisely those parts of the manager's responsibility which he has imposed upon his juniors. So the position is known to all and is regularised.

Further, there are in the Bill certain basic and fundamental responsibilities of which the manager is not empowered to divest himself, and these cannot be passed on to his juniors.

Fourthly, there are provisions in the Bill to make sure that everyone who receives authority under the Bill to be responsible for safety matters has the necessary qualifications.

I believe this Measure has been agreed by all those concerned—the professional institutions as well as the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers—and I believe it has the general support of the entire mining industry. I even dare to go so far as to say that I hope it has the support of the Opposition, because I believe they drafted the Bill before the election and would have brought it forward in other circumstances. So I commend the Bill to the House.

I would not wish to end this brief statement about the Bill without making a few remarks about the safety record of the mining industry in the last year. I am very pleased to say that the numbers killed and seriously injured in 1970 were the lowest ever recorded in the history of the industry; 90 men were killed and 641 were seriously injured. Those figures are still provisional, of course, and compare with 100 killed and 712 seriously injured in 1969. The reduction in the numbers more or less accurately reflects the contraction in manpower in the mining industry, so that one cannot say that the safety per thousand employed is very much better. Nevertheless, I am sure that it gives us all great pleasure and satisfaction that the total number is falling and we hope that that progress will continue year by year. If the Bill makes a small contribution to that improvement in the safety record, I feel sure that it will be welcomed by the Committee.

10.40 a.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden

May I first declare my interest as a sponsored member of the National Union of Mineworkers, as indeed are the majority of my hon. Friends in the Committee. Those who are not actually sponsored by that union are very closely connected with the mining industry. Some of us have been declaring that interest for a good number of years, but since there may be new Members on the other side of the Committee who may not be directly aware of that, it is perhaps appropriate that we declare that interest again today.

This is a particularly important occasion for Labour Members in Committees of this kind because, as the Under-Secretary indicated, we have on this side, I think for the first time in many years, an actual mine manager. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis).

The Under-Secretary was right to describe this as an enabling Bill. It makes arrangements possible, but it does not impose them on any one manager. The purpose, as he has described it, is to provide for an improved system of management of large and complex collieries, to remove many anomalies which face colliery managers and under-managers under existing legislation, and to recognise in law the needs of those who have the very heavy responsibilities and duties for the safety and livelihood of many thousands of coalminers.

We are very grateful to the Under-Secretary for the safety record figures in recent months. There is always a conflict between safety considerations and production considerations. Safety must always come before production, even though production is greatly needed.

On many occasions we talk of those in other industries who have tremendous responsibilities for capital investment. We hear of jumbo jets and so forth. Yet too often we forget the actual capital investment involved in a coalmine and the amount of capital investment for which the manager of a coalmine and his under-managers are directly responsible. They have the duty and responsibility of leading in an industry which is vital to the power needs of our country. They therefore have three rôles: the direct responsibility for the colliery; the needs of their own safety and production; and responsibility for the capital, as well as the wider rôle of providing energy needs. When we read in the newspapers of the difficulties in the Near East and other parts of the world with regard to oil supplies, we see that some of the things which we have been saying from the Labour benches over many years have been proved even more true in recent weeks than they were before.

The Under-Secretary was right to claim that this is a good Bill. Let us put this clearly on the record. It was inspired by a Labour Government. It was drafted under the terms of a Labour Government. It was introduced by a Labour Government some 12 months ago, so it could hardly be anything but a good Bill. It had made some progress through the other House but it was one of the casualties of the General Election, one of the many tragic casualties of that "black Friday". Fortunately, somewhere in the new Administration some honest soul recognises true worth when he sees it, and the Bill has been rescued and reintroduced. Indeed, I think that my hon. Friends at least will agree that the only good Bills to be introduced this Session by the new Conservative Administration have been Bills which fortunately were introduced by the Labour Government, which unfortunately fell at the last General Election, and then because they had no other legislation to bring through, some of the honest souls in the party opposite at least reintroduced good Labour Measures. But that store of good legislation must be coming to an end with this Bill. This must be the last of the good vintage before the vinegar which we are likely to have in the years ahead.

The hon. Gentleman, therefore, has the assurance that, although there will, no doubt, be critical comments upon parts of the Bill and its practical applications from those of my colleagues with direct knowledge, he has our support. He will have no need of a guillotine in this Committee. The lesson might be learned by his ministerial colleagues that if they could introduce good legislation they would never need a guillotine.

Perhaps I may reinforce his comments on what the Bill does or does not do if I read some brief extracts from the Report of the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Mineworkers to the annual conference in 1970, just to check that their interpretation of the intentions of the Bill 12 months ago is precisely the same as what the Minister thinks that it will do now. There is no reason why this should not be double-checked. We do not want any legal difficulties to arise, as has happened on other occasions.

In that Annual Report, the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Mineworkers said that the Bill had two main purposes: The first is to confer statutory recognition and responsibilities on the persons, including specialists, required at a large mine to enable the manager efficiently to discharge the statutory responsibilities imposed upon him in the interests of safety and health. Such persons. by the nature of their work, may be required to give instructions to under-managers who, of course, carry statutory responsibilities. That under-managers should be criminally liable whilst acting under instructions from persons who have no such liability is seen to be anomalous, and the Bill seeks to remove this anomaly. That is the first purpose. The second is to enable under-managers to be employed more effectively. Such an official under existing law is legally responsible 24 hours a day, with his jurisdiction extending to the whole or a particular part of the mine. The Bill proposes that he may be on duty for a particular shift and, when responsibility for a particular part of the mine is shared with other under-managers over 24 hours, that an under-manager should be absolved from liability for a contravention of the Mines and Quarries Act. 1954, which occurs when he is not on duty and for which he is in no way responsible. Then the Bill recognises that the owner may appoint persons to whom the manager may assign the aforementioned duties. It will also empower the manager to give written instructions to these persons …"— That they are written instructions is an important point, because we know the difficulties which may arise with verbal instructions— who will then, in relation to the matters specified in the instructions, bear the same statutory responsibility and be subject to the same penalties as the manager; equally they will have the same defences as the manager. The Bill will, however, provide that certain matters, such as the making of appointments already required or authorised by statute and the making of transport, support and tipping rules, will remain the manager's sole responsibility. His responsibility for the overall management and control of the mine will remain as before. There are other provisions about the powers of the Minister, who may change by regulation and consultation the collieries to which it will or will not apply, and there are also certain responsibilities and duties for the under-manager which, at least in this Bill, are set out in four reasonably clear and precise parts for a better arrangement of colliery management and a more equitable sharing of statutory responsibilities. It does not, of course, change the structure of management, but it recognises the changes which have taken place and their practical implications, bringing the law into line with practice rather than forcing change through the law. It is an enabling Bill.

We should get it on record that there has, indeed, been consultation with all the interested parties—the National Union of Mineworkers, N.A.C.O.D.S., management organisations and the Coal Board who are in effect the major owners, although there may be one or two outside. We ask for the assurance that when the hon. Gentleman is drafting his regulations or beginning to implement them or change them, the same consultation which has taken place in the past will continue to take place in the future.

I ask him again, because the point was raised in the other place, when questions were asked about the effects of the Bill and whether it would apply to opencast mining. The interpretation given some time ago was that the Bill does not apply to opencast mining, because under the law opencast mines are quarries and the Bill applies only to underground workings. I would ask for an assurance on that point.

There is much debate nowadays on the relationship between the law and industry. If I may stray temporarily from the Bill and its Clauses, the Committee might think it appropriate to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the mine managers. Often they are unsung heroes. I hope that I shall not embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis). I am as guilty of this as anyone. We talk of those who work at the coalface, those who have to consume the product and the administration staff, but we rarely talk about those who hold responsibility for the running of a mine.

I have known, and worked under, five colliery managers. They are a complex breed of people with all the technical qualifications of any technocrat. Added to that, they must be surveyors, electricians, accountants, lawyers, public relations people for their own Coal Board, welfare officers and politicians. It is not strange that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham came to the House by that route.

On Fridays, when the morning shift comes up and one begins to sort out wage packets, although the mine manager's job may have finished underneath, and the under-manager's job may have finished below, there are consultations, discussion, arguments and rows about wage packets, conditions, and everything else. Friday afternoons must be marked out in red for every colliery manager, and anyone who has ever worked in a coal mine knows that the manager has a tremendous job to do.

Whilst the manager may be a relative stranger to any part of the enterprise, as compared with the under-manager who is there all the time, sharing the physical work, the physical responsibilities and the dangers, when there is danger, something which happens too often, even in these days, the manager is there. Those who work in the coalmines know that the manager, the under-manager, the overmen and the deputies have the same practical knowledge as they themselves, and this is a very important factor in industrial relations and security, although it is not always appreciated.

I remember one occasion when we had a fall on the top level of a very steep-rising face. After two days, the blocking was still on at the top of the level and a great deal of gas was known to be, or was thought to be, at the higher parts of the face. The manager, the under-manager and one canary went up the face, and we were gathered at the bottom. One of my colleagues, who expressed himself more bluntly than some, said: "There's one of those three that I feel sorry for, and that's the bird." But that same man, when the manager and the under-manager did not come down in what we thought was a reasonable time, was the first to lead us up the face to get the manager and the under-manager out. That is one way of expressing appreciation. I have given one example of partnership in an industry which is thought to belong to those who work in it. There are lessons to be learned from that relationship.

The Bill recognises some past and present legal anomalies. It removes some of those anomalies and places some of the responsibility where it should be placed. Those who have the responsibility for making decisions and issuing instructions should accept the same legal responsibilities that face the managers and under-managers.

The Bill has had a speedy passage on a number of occasions, but has fallen a victim of the Parliamentary system. It has now been rescued and introduced. We on this side want to see it passed through to the Statute Book as speedily as possible.

10.56 a.m.

Mr. Tom Ellis

After all the sweet things that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has said about colliery managers, which I am not sure that we deserve, I am pleased to have the opportunity of saying a word or two about the Bill.

As the Under-Secretary has said, it is a short Bill, and it has been welcomed by everybody who has had anything to do with it—the unions, the Coal Board and Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I, too, welcome it, although not unreservedly. It might have gone further. What it does is on the right lines, but more should be done in the whole section of mining legislation.

One of the difficulties of legislation, particularly in rapidly changing situations, is that one is always behind. One has no sooner prepared legislation than a situation has changed and the legislation is outmoded. This would seem inevitable by the very nature of the law and the legislative process. The law is at a disadvantage in this respect.

In the last decade or so, that has been one of the great drawbacks of the British legislative tradition in the mining industry, an industry with a great deal of legislation around and about it. The British approach to mining legislation has been to codify the best practice current at the time when the legislation is introduced, which in slow-moving times is a sensible thing to do; a pragmatic, practical, typically British approach, ideal in slowly-changing conditions but not quite so good in conditions of rapid change. Undoubtedly, there has been much rapid change in the mining industry during the past 10 years.

Not so long ago, about 80 per cent. of our coal was won under roof support systems which were outside the law. Every manager had to have an authorisation from Her Majesty's Inspectorate to enable him to work the faces outside the law, thus reflecting the slow-moving process of the law.

The Bill deals with management structure—a phrase which I am always hesitant to use. Management is not structured; it is a personal thing. The more the law is applied to management, the more it is formalised. In modern conditions this is a bad approach, although it might be inevitable at the moment.

The application of law to management may be more amenable to a theoretical approach than straightforward technology. One could use the law for a more creative purpose: to try to steer the ship, rather than merely to chart where the ship has been. This is the situation in which the law has found itself more often than not in the coal-mining industry since the enactment of legislation in the middle of the last century and with the 1911 Act and the 1954 Act.

In mining, more than in most industry, the essential requirement is the commitment to the enterprise of everybody concerned with it and not merely, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said recently in the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, the winning of consent, grudging or otherwise, of the worker by management. This is not good enough in mining. The very nature of the work, the lack of supervision and the difficulties of providing supervision, for example, all require the securing of full-blooded commitment.

Inevitably, the winning of commitment implies a diffusion of responsibility. It cannot do otherwise. Such an approach is not acceptable to the traditionalists, and there are many traditionalists. If there must be a statutory framework for management, the Bill will help a little in diffusing the responsibility. I accept that the manager will still hold ultimate responsibility, as the Under-Secretary has said. There is, however, a sharing, and to that extent the Bill is a good thing. I wish that it could have gone further.

Since the 1911 Act, management of a colliery has always been very much a one-man band. The legal framework might have corresponded with reality in 1911, with the triumvirate of the manager, the under-manager and the deputy. The three components of that trinity—an unholy trinity, I suppose, some might have called them—were the kingpins around which the whole mine revolved. That situation certainly does not correspond with reality today, when, as the Under-Secretary has said, there are large electrical departments, electronics departments, a considerable amount of mechanical engineering with thousands of horse-power installed underground and hundreds of prime movers, complicated ventilation departments, not merely concerned with measuring the cross-sectional areas of roads and the velocity of air, but dealing with complicated mathematical techniques, the use of analogue computers, and complicated safety departments. All this means that no manager can be in any real sense directly responsible for all that goes on in a mine. Today, no deputy in his district, any more than a manager in his mine, can be immediately in charge in any real sense. Long since have we had to delegate and depute, and I suppose that the Bill is a step towards recognising this.

We went astray a little while ago in trying to specify statutorily in the most minute detail the jobs of various types of people in the mine, such as the electricians of the mine, the mechanics, and so on. It is a mistake in legislation to try to pinpoint too much of a specific nature in minute detail. The Bill does not fall into that trap; it leaves it to the manager to depute or to delegate. There is the safeguard of Her Majesty's inspectorial oversight; that is a very wise precaution. It does, however, leave it to the judgment of a manager to delegate as and when he thinks fit. This is a sounder approach than trying to tie up the whole thing with a kind of job description of what "assistant manager" ought to be, which would be outmoded, I like to think, in less time than it would take to say "0.P.E.C., the miner's friend".

That, in the first two subsections, is the burden and purport of the Bill: that a qualified man can carry statutory responsibilities and other duties in a flexible way at the discretion of the manager. It is the flexibility that is important in the Bill. It is a step towards providing the opportunity for a less pragmatic ex post facto framework of mine management. A manager can now safely make one kind of statutory appointment which tries to anticipate events rather than belatedly follow along behind, as has occurred only too often in the past.

Subsection (5) of Clause 1 deals with the situation when a contractor or his staff are proscribed from having these statutory qualities or responsibilities. I do not think that anybody who has had anything to do with the mines would disagree; this is a very wise precaution. Contractors provide a useful service in the mining industry. They follow in the itinerant tradition of the navvy and the ganger and, at one time or another, we have all appreciated their services. However, they are not appropriate for any kind of statutory authority or responsibility, if only for the reason of divided loyalties. In this context, I am a little anxious that nobody in the National Coal Board should make any part-time appointments under the Bill when it becomes law. I hope that no area ventilation officer, for example, would carry part-time statutory authority in a coalmine. That would be a big mistake. For my money, I should have liked to see written into the Bill some kind of provision specifically excluding that possibility. I hope that the Coal Board will be wise enough not to make that mistake. We shall have to wait and see.

I welcome Clause 2. It will be interesting to see its effect. Here again, I hope that, at least at first, the limitation of times of responsibility for under-managers will be judiciously applied. The under-manager has played an important rôle in the history of the mining industry, and to some extent he has gone down in the world a little. Unfortunately, in my view, this might push him down a little further. I know it is said that …a rose By any other name would smell as sweet", but I am rather worried that there is a danger that the under-manager will spend his fragrance on the desert air of the back shift.

The back shift of the modern mine suffers from being a misnomer. There is really no back shift in the mine of today. Nevertheless, I think that we shall now have under-managers and under-managers, some being a little more equal than others. I trust that the Board will, in the first instance, make only a very judicious use of this provision.

It is important that, in a particular part of the mine, at whatever time of day it might be, there shall be a continuous, unified under-managerial policy. This is where I am a little worried about some under-managers being a little more equal than others. We shall have to await developments and, presumably, we shall respond accordingly when the time comes.

I should like to end with a brief tribute to my erstwhile managerial colleagues in the mining industry. I understand that I have recently acquired a certain notoriety in those circles as a result of a speech I made in the House of Commons not long ago. I should like to tell my colleagues that I think that the notoriety was undeserved; I am very much a lamb in wolf's clothing, and they have got it quite wrong when they think that I am trying to knock them. I am not. I want to pay them a very well-deserved tribute, and I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend pay his tribute. They perform a very heavy duty. It is only somebody who has himself shared some of that duty who can appreciate quite how heavy it is. If we, in Parliament, pass this piece of legislation, we can at least be pleased that we have done a good turn for colliery managers.

11.10 a.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner

It seems rather ironical that we are debating the Mines Management Bill, which is closely concerned with the question of responsibility in mines, at a time when we are without a man at the top. Perhaps the Government are having more than a little difficulty in finding a man who is prepared to hive off and, at the same time, to be amenable to the National Union of Mineworkers and the other unions in the industry.

Having said that, I do not wish to detain the Comittee too long on this matter. Whilst agreeing with a good many of the things that have been said by my hon. Friends, I think it is important to appreciate why it is necessary to have a Bill of this kind. It is necessary, as the Minister has remarked, because of the rundown of the industry and mechanisation has taken place during the past 15 years at a fairly rapid pace. What has not been mentioned yet is that during that period of time, there has been a massive run-down in the number of manual workers both underground and on the surface. During those 15 years, whereas there used to be one administrator at the pit to every 17 workers, there is now one to every seven. The very fact that that has happened, that we have had this run-down of manual workers, and at the same time no general run-down of the administrative staff, has meant that while there are as many managers and under-managers as there were previously, substantial numbers of different grades have appeared—such as the assistant manager-personnel and the surface superintendent, to whom a reference was made previously. Because of all this, we now have to produce a Bill in order to combat that situation.

We do not want to be faced with a situation in a few years' time when, as a result of some further managerial appointments, we have to introduce another Bill in order to take account of the many and varied jobs that have been introduced within the Coal Board and the pithead structure. It needs to be placed on record that there are many people, certainly in my party, who have been very concerned about the number of appointments that have been made during the past 10 or 12 years. I voice the opinion of thousands of people within the mining industry who have been shouting from the rooftops that they feel there has been an overburdening of the managerial structure at the pithead and at area level.

It is true that the structure has been changed from one of five-tier to three-tier, and many of us supposed that that would result in some massive changes taking place for the better. Whilst some of these changes have been for the better, we also recognise that it has been almost too difficult to get across to the membership of the National Union of Mineworkers that this is for the betterment of the industry as a whole. Therefore, whilst it may be necessary to pass this Bill as it is, in order to take account of the changes that have taken place and the new appointments that exist, we must warn everyone concerned, including the absent landlord, that we have seen enough of the new appointments and that we hope we shall not have any more. If there are, the kind of outburst that has occurred in the mining industry during the past two years will increase in intensity.

I think it is important to place on record the fact that there are thousands of miners throughout the country who have been upset about the new changes and the new appointments, and we want to ensure that there is no increase in the number within the next few years, which would result in the necessity to introduce another Bill to take account of those changes.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. D. G. Stewart-Smith

I wonder if I might give two points of view from people engaged in the industry. I have a letter here dated 25th January, 1971, from the Secretary of the Institution of Mining Engineers, and he says very simply: … my Institution gave an official opinion on the above legislation to the Ministry in March, 1970. Briefly, we supported the move to bring about the changes in management responsibilities. These were anticipated and should result in a much needed sharing of the responsibilities in the running of the larger units. I think those words reflect the view of the mining engineers.

Another view of those engaged in the industry appeared in an editorial in the Colliery Guardian of May, 1970, which made some quite good points. It consists of just a few paragraphs, but it is worth reading out in toto: A recently introduced Bill, the Mines Management Bill, amends the law on the management of mines first by giving legal responsibility to senior staff appointed to assist mine managers, and second by making provisions about under-managers to facilitate working on a shift basis. Each new provision is only to apply to mines prescribed by Ministerial regulation. This change in the law should be welcomed by mine management, since with the increasing size and complexity of collieries it becomes progressively more difficult and almost a physical impossibility for the manager to carry out in person all the duties placed on him. Clause 1 of the Bill enables a mine manager to give written instructions to managerial staff appointed to the mine by the owner by virtue of which the staff will have legal responsibility and authority in relation to the matters specified in the instructions to the same extent as the manager. These instructions will confer on the officials the statutory responsibility and authority appropriate to their duties. The Bill will also enable the degree and quality of supervision to be improved by facilitating shift working by under-managers. In fact in Clause 2 where under-managers have written instructions fixing their hours of duty (on shift basis) their responsibilities are limited to the periods when they are required to be or are in fact on duty. Then it gives this opinion: Such steps as are being taken can only assist the mine manager in the day-to-day running of his colliery and should go some way to sharing what has, in the past, been a very unequal load of legislative responsibility. Now without prejudicing the running of his colliery under the Mines and Quarries Act he can concentrate on 'managing' and this he can do with a much easier conscience. This is an exercise he must carry out to the best of his ability if the industry is to remain viable. I think these are quite useful points of view.

Mr. Ridley

With the leave of the Committee, I should like to reply to the points which have been raised by hon. Gentlemen and to thank them for their contributions. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden)—

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mrs. Jeger. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am almost certain that there will be some more contributions to the debate. This is not a criticism of any kind, but certainly from our side of the Committee there will be some more contributions, and it might be convenient to the hon. Gentleman to wait until he has heard them all. We are quite prepared to let him speak on any number of occasions that he wishes in this Committee.

The Chairman

I called the hon. Gentleman because there seemed to be no one else who wished to speak.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper

I should like to intervene for a few minutes. I was waiting for my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) to rise, but my hon. Friend is not quite used to Committee work and was a little slow in getting to his feet. The Minister wants to have his Bill passed, and passed pretty quickly, and he rose first. You were quite right, Mrs. Jeger, to call him. Nobody is delaying this Bill, because we want it just as much as the Government want it. It is really our Bill, apart from a sensible Amendment introduced in another place by their Lordships, who altered the words from "not capable of having any responsibility", to the words which now appear in this Bill— not capable of having a statutory responsibility of the manager". In the very few minutes that I need for my contribution, I want to seek a clarification, and I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) because he has given me the proper nomenclature. I too, like him, am a little bewildered by all the different types of jobs that seem to spring up within the industry, and I have only been out of the industry for 8¾ years. I feel that I have become a stranger to some of the practices that have sprung up during that period. The clarification I want is in relation to the assistant manager-personnel. This is an innovation of only a few years ago, by which the mines manager no longer has any responsibility for engaging people to work in the industry, or even sacking them. It is left to the assistant manager—personnel.

I remember—I will not say how many years ago it was—when one used to toddle along to the pithead on leaving school to see the manager and say, "I want to come and work in the mine". One signed on the dotted line and started work, and that was it. Things went on fairly amicably, apart from little periods in between, until one retired. Now, however, that is no longer the case. The manager no longer has the responsibility, and, no doubt, he is pleased, because he can devote his time and attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) has pointed out, to more important work, especially in relation to safety. I wonder, therefore, how personnel managers' assistants are placed under the Bill and whether they will have statutory responsibilities, because they, too, in addition to the duties of seeing to the rundown of the colliery and the engaging of personnel to run the mine, spend periods down the pit.

I am also pleased to see in the Bill that under-managers are not to be held responsible for 24 hours a day each and every day. They are to be excused when they are not on duty. At the same time, it is pleasing to see, in Clause 2(b)(ii), that if something occurs as a result of any act of theirs before going off their shift, they can be held responsible. The Minister will well know, because he has a long connection with the mining industry, that quite a number of cases have been successful at common law as a result of something that the men on the preceding shift have failed to do. Quite a number of these cases have been successful pursued in the courts.

I would correct the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) in what he said about the hours of work of an under-manager. I do not think that things have changed too much in the mining industry, notwithstanding what I have already said, because the under-manager is, in my opinion, the hardest-worked man in the mining industry, with all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham. He does not have any hours of work. If he is on the day shift, he starts at about 5 o'clock in the morning and, like a Member of Parliament, he does not know at what time he will finish. That is my experience. I am not trying to be too kind over this, but that is the situation with regard to under-managers.

I am pleased that the Minister has made the point that the safety record last year was the best ever. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has spoken about the reason for this and the Minister, to be fair to him, made the same point, but he qualified his remarks by saying that safety per thousand employees is possibly not much better than it was before contraction took place in the industry. The safety achievements are due to the efforts of the National Coal Board and the N.U.M. Her Majesty's inspectors do a marvellous job of work. In particular, I want to praise my own union, because it spends a lot of time and effort, and also a lot of money, in pursuing safety. Safety is the keynote. We have local inspectors in the pits who are paid for by the N.U.M. and N.C.B. jointly. Safety classes are also held. A safety board operates within the N.U.M., even at pit level, and safety matters are discussed. They are the first thing that is discussed at any meeting, even before the discussions on wages, conditions and the like.

The Bill is short, and it is much better for that. Long Bills are sometimes ghastly. It is a very important Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said, it does not need the guillotine. We want to complete it this morning. Under the provisions of the Bill, the coal mining industry will be able to adapt its management structure to modern conditions. This is highly necessary because of the revolution in mining methods. As I have already said, one does not need to be long out of the industry to realise what one does not know about it. When we go back on occasion to see how things are progressing, we are amazed at the differences we find.

I support the Bill, and we certainly do not oppose its Second Reading.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

I have probably been nearer to the coalface than any other Member of Parliament. I worked my last shift at the coalface in May last year.

Mr. Skinner

I did mine in June.

Mr. Wilson

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that he did his in June. I accept that stricture and I am glad that I finished a month before him.

It is true that management and practice in the coal industry have changed considerably since 1954. While I incline to accept the content and purpose of the Bill, I nevertheless have some reservations even about the need for it. Since 1954, I have seen thousands upon thousands of mineworkers displaced from employment. At the same time, I have seen colliery management staff, colliery office staff and area level staff, not decreasing, but increasing. Nobody was more concerned with safety in the coalmines than I was. For over 15 years I have been concerned mainly with the dependants of the victims of the coal industry. I therefore welcome anything that will help safety, not only in the coal-mining industry, but in any other industry as well.

I wish to make a comment on one part of the Bill and I should like the Government to take note of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) mentioned that there is not enough flexibility in management. I believe that the Bill tightens up the existing strictures on some managements. In saying that, I refer to Clause 1(1) regarding the appointment of one or more persons to assist the manager Those persons have to be given statutory duties. A note of those duties must be clearly given in writing to a person who is appointed, and the written instructions must be applied strictly to the letter. If that person goes into a district or an area in a coalmine and he oversteps his duties by so much as moving into another area, he will be in trouble, according to the Bill, unless there is an easy explanation. I do not like a person who has the necessary qualifications and who can carry out the necessary statutory duties being confined in any way by written instructions.

I said at the outset that I had worked recently in the coalmines, and I have with me, not something taken from a book, but an illustration of my experience over the last two or three years. Hence my slight criticism of even the need for the Bill. With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), an ex-manager, I do not accept that managements, and managers in particular, are constricted in any way in their duties. Rather the reverse. It is true that managers nowadays do not have anything to do with the planning of districts or planning the winning of the coal. Generally speaking, that is done by a planning department at area level, I have with me details of the personnel structure of management in one colliery, with a personnel overall of 1,400. We start with an area manager, and there are three under-managers on each shift. There are two extra, ready to step in at a minute's notice, should they be needed. There are area foremen, with very small areas indeed for which they are responsible. There are face foremen, who are completely in charge. These foremen are the only persons in charge of that particular mechanised face. Then there are face deputies, who are in charge of the face, given statutory duties as deputies by the manager. There are stall deputies at the end of each face length, generally about 600 yards. So there are three deputies in the space of 600 yards. a face foreman, an area foreman and an under-manager in the full area. There is an outbye deputy from the face. There are pump deputies. These are all in the same areas.

Then there is the staff of the training officer—the man truly in charge of safety in every colliery. They have under them to some extent an under-management. There are shotfirers. I do not know the statutory duties of a shotfirer at the moment, but I know that he is allowed to fire considerably fewer shots than he did in the past, in the interests of safety, and we welcome that.

Therefore while we welcome this Bill to place legal and statutory responsibilities on a section of management which did not have them before—something that is badly needed—nevertheless I warn the Government that if there is to be more contraction in the number of people I represent in this industry, I, as a member of my union, and as a sponsored Member of Parliament from my union, will be asking for a pro-rata reduction in management.

So I welcome the Bill with the reservation that the Government should consider the industry from a humanitarian point of view. It is right that I should refer at the end of my speech to the campaign and the fighting that we did as miners to reduce the top-heavy management in the National Coal Board from 1958 on. I do not believe that that was ever looked into. However, should there be more contractions in the future, we should look very closely indeed at a pro-rata reduction in the men who work below the management level.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. Norman Pentland

I will take only a few minutes of the Committee's time to add my voice to that of my hon. Friends who have welcomed this Bill this morning. I think the Committee is fortunate in the sense that while we support the Bill, at the same time we have had the true voice of experience from the pits, both from the coal face and from management level, from my hon. Friends this morning. They know what they are talking about. They have spoken with sincerity, and have expressed certain doubts which I hope the Under-Secretary will take back to the Minister.

In my last years at the pit, prior to 1956, my time was spent, day after day, week after week, fighting with colliery managers in order to get the best deal possible from the management for the members of my union which sent me to the colliery office regularly. Having said that, I endorse what has been said, that the responsibility of the colliery manager is very heavy and onerous, and we pay tribute to the work that he has done.

Probably I welcome this Bill more than anyone because it tightens up an aspect of safety in our mines. It makes a contribution to safety. I was interested to hear the Under-Secretary's reference to the number of people killed last year in the pits. I remember attending a National Union of Mineworkers' conference shortly after the end of the last war, when the compensation secretary of our union had the sad duty to inform the conference that, taking average figures of men killed and injured—both serious and minor injuries—in the pit, every three minutes, night and day, someone was being killed or injured in our pits. Happily, we have now moved away from that terrible situation.

I want to ask the Under-Secretary one question, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper), about Her Majesty's inspectors. I understand that the Under-Secretary is to contact them—am I right?——

Mr. Ridleyindicated assent.

Mr. Pentland

—about the working of this Bill. I should like to know how the hon. Gentleman will deal with the men's inspectors, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, who are engaged by a number of pits in an area—what is known as a federation of mines—to carry out certain duties along with Her Majesty's inspector in the pits. I should like to see that they are also kept fully up to date on these issues.

I want to reinforce what my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) have said. It is quite true that in the past the miners were very concerned about the excessive preponderance of people employed on the administration side. I do not think we can put the purpose and intentions of this Bill directly into that category. Here we are seeking assistance for the colliery manager to enable him to carry out the heavy duties imposed upon him. However, the Under-Secretary should take the point that there has always been concern about the preponderance of people engaged on the administrative side.

My other point—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover referred briefly—is that there is a cloud of concern over the coal industry at the present time. The men are concerned about the policy that the Government intend to pursue. Here this Bill is relevant, in a way, to recruitment. There is a manpower problem in the pits. Here we are hoping to engage people who have to take statutory responsibility and obligations upon themselves. Therefore, we need the right type of man to take on this work. Thousands of men are needed in the coal industry, but there is this concern and doubt about the Government's policy in regard to selling off parts of the industry. I know this has been discussed in another Committee and on the Floor of the House, but it is only right that we here also should express our concern about the Government's intention.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said is quite true. The coal industry has lost the head of the Coal Board. Lord Robens has now left. Perhaps if Lord Robens had stated openly and publicly his reasons for disagreeing with the Government, and had carried on his duties for another five years. that would have cleared the air. Mrs. Jeger, I do not wish to impose too much upon your generosity this morning in dealing with this matter. All I wish to impress upon the Under-Secretary is that we hope he will convey to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister responsible for the power industries the fears which have been expressed in this Committee about the Government's intentions in this very dangerous field. I repeat that if one is to encourage recruitment and to obtain the necessary manpower in the industry, the Government, whether from a review or anything else, must make their intentions clear as quickly as possible.

I wish to mention another point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) in his very helpful speech. He expressed the hope that a person appointed under the terms of the Bill would not have a series of responsibilities placed upon him in addition to the intentions of the Bill. I believe that my hon. Friend meant that such a man must have full responsibility and that if he is to have statutory responsibility within the meaning of the Bill, that must be his job and his job alone. I think that that was the point which my hon. Friend was making.

All of us on this side of the Committee welcome the Bill, quite apart from the minor doubts which have been expressed this morning. I welcome it very much indeed.

11.43 a.m.

Mr. Ridley

I think that I have got it right this time. I apologise to hon. Gentlemen, because on the last occasion when I rose to reply it appeared that no one else wished to catch your eye, Mrs. Jeger. I should also like to thank all hon. Members who have participated in the debate for the very wise and helpful things they have said, as well as for their general assurance of support for the Bill.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that the Bill was one of good value and that if only the Government brought forward similar Bills dealing with other matters, they would be given the easy passage which has been promised for this one. I should like to conjure the hon. Member in the opposite sense, that the Government always bring forward good Bills and if only the Opposition behaved with the same sense of sweet reason and understanding that they have shown on this Bill, they would make their lives considerably easier. Let us, however, rejoice in the fact that there is no need for a guillotine or for disagreement on this occasion, even though we may not always be able to do so on other measures.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the interpretation which he read out from the National Union of Mineworkers' journal was accurate. I can confirm that it is completely accurate in all respects and adds up to a very useful summary of what the Bill does. We shall, of course, consult all parties concerned in the actual writing of the regulations. Indeed, there is a statutory duty in the 1954 Act for such consultations to take place. I give the hon. Member the assurance which he sought on that score. Lastly, he asked whether the Bill applied to opencast mining. I confirm what he said. It does not, because opencast workings are intended to be treated as quarries.

I should like to associate myself with the tribute which the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members paid to the managers of collieries. I was most impressed by the list of duties and the list of responsibilities which he read out. His story about the canary reminded me of a similar story. A friend of mine who is a pit manager once saw a couple of men working at a drift way out on the edge of a coalfield. He saw that the canary was in its cage on the surface and had not been taken down into the drift, although there was a considerable likelihood of gas being present. He shouted down the drift," Why haven't you got the canary with you?" The answer came back, "What? Take that bird down there with us? That bird's worth 30s." That shows the great sense of economy which miners can have.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), in a most attractive speech, discussed the very difficult question of how to apply the law to safety and managerial operations. I think that it is common ground in the Committee that the law should always be used to insist upon proper safety standards in industrial enterprises. One must, however, take the point made by the hon. Member that even safety standards and considerations quickly become out of date, especially in a fast-changing age such as the present one. If I may digress for a moment, I think that that might often be even more true in management considerations than in safety considerations, because what is impossible to foresee at the present time may well come to be without the law if one tries to legislate too much on the structure of management in any industry. That is a difficulty which arises in nationalised industries where the structure is enshrined in statute and one must frequently bring Bills before Parliament when the structure needs to be altered for reasons of technological change.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member that with regard to safety it is very important to keep the law up to date. That is why we are keen to have the Bill on the Statute Book. However, there is a slight difference between this Bill and many other safety measures in that it is more a question of placing responsibility. It is a good tradition, and one which one would perhaps like to see more widely applied in our safety legislation, that certain people are identified as bearing responsibility for safety. We tend so often to make regulations about what shall or shall not be done in factories or on building sites that one would, perhaps, like to get back more to the idea of giving people the responsibility for safety. In any case, I am sure that that is the only proper way to proceed with regard to the pits.

The hon. Gentleman asked me in particular whether the part-time ventilating engineer might become a responsible person under the Bill. I assure him that the answer is "No". The only people who can have part-time responsibility are under-managers in the sense that at a given time they are not on the shift. Nobody else could receive delegated responsibility from the manager unless he were full-time and carried that responsibility full-time, because in all other aspects the manager's responsibility is full-time and, therefore, can be delegated only in a full-time context. It would be impossible to delegate part-time responsibility.

The hon. Gentleman was almost a little too humble. He described himself as a sheep in wolf's clothing. Apart from the fact that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) said that he spent most of his time fighting colliery managers, I hope that this bodes well for the relationship between the two hon. Members in their later incarnation. I am not sure that either a sheep or a wolf is the right way to describe the hon. Gentleman. I thought that the simile between managers and hon. Members which the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) produced was more appropriate. To say that the hon. Member for Wrexham had, perhaps, become a politician in manager's clothing would be a more appropriate simile. In any event, I think that the whole Committee would like to welcome him as one who has had his experience and to say that we recognise the very great responsibilities, difficulties and burdens which fall upon the managers of collieries and we greatly admire what they do.

I must deal with the suggestion of the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson), and to some extent of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, about the number of staff in relation to the number of pitmen in the collieries. I do not know whether it is correct that the figure has grown from one in 17 to one in seven, but I would remind hon. Members that quite recently the National Coal Board cut out two tiers of its administration, reducing it from a five-tier to a three-tier organisation, an obvious and welcome streamlining operation. It would also be right to point out that as mining becomes more mechanised and technological, there are bound to be more specialists and white-collar miners—if there are such men—and more people will be required to look after the financial, legal and commercial dealings at the pit.

My other point is on extending safety precautions and safety regulations as the hon. Member for Hamilton described. The number of people on a face, or near a face, with responsibility for the various mechanical, ventilating and electrical processes, and all the other aspects of modern mining, is of itself bound to result in a higher proportion of administrators than in the past.

The same tendency is discernible in many industries. The actual function of manufacture or production becomes less and less demanding on labour, but the functions of supervising, making and maintaining machinery, and the services which have to attend to that, take an ever greater proportion of people. Projecting a thousand years into the future, there will be no one left in production or mining, only machines with people making them, controlling them and tending them. We are a long way from that at the moment.

The hon. Member for Pontefract asked about the position of personnel managers under the Bill. The manager of a mine could, quite properly, delegate some of his responsibility to a personnel manager, if that personnel manager had the necessary mining qualifications, and if he so wished. That one of his functions might be dealing with personnel would not prevent this, although often the personnel manager may not be a qualified mining engineer, and may not wish to be given those responsibilities. This is not likely to occur, except in conditions in which everybody would agree that it should occur.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and his hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street asked about the men's inspectors. I can give them two reassurances. The men's inspectors will have a statutory right to see the documents appointing assistant managers to positions of responsibility. These documents detailing appointments and responsibilities will be kept at the colliery offices, or they can be seen at the offices of Her Majesty's inspectors, and they will be available on public display. In addition, the manager of a mine would always wish to inform the men's inspectors of any delegation of responsibility which he has made. The hon. Member for Wrexham would confirm that it would be a rash manager indeed who delegated some of his responsibility without bothering to tell the men's inspectors what had been done.

If there is any anxiety on this score, I assure hon. Members that we will be pleased to see how best to meet it, although, so far as I know, no representations have been made that arrangements are not as they should be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) emphasised the extent to which the Bill has been agreed by the relevant professional organisations, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board. I would like to join in the tribute to Her Majesty's inspectors and to say how much we owe to all concerned. Safety in mines is becoming less of a problem, and the figures are not as bad as they have been in the past. Mining is now a much safer job than it used to be.

There are anxieties about the future of the industry, and what will happen to it, but this is not the place to discuss such matters. To have two parallel discussions on these matters would be superfluous, as well as out of order.

I assure hon. Gentlemen that we are entirely at one with them in our desire to make the mines as safe and as proper a place to work as any other employment. The Bill will be a small contribution to that end. I thank the Committee for its support, and I hope that the Bill may have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Mines Management Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Mr. Ridley

It is customary, Mrs. Jeger, to thank you for taking the Chair so excellently and presiding over our proceedings. I hope that we have not detained you too long. It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I hope that you have found the subject as interesting and enjoyable as I have

Mr. Ogden

It is not only customary, Mrs. Jeger, but it is very right and proper that we should all support the words of the Under-Secretary. One of the first things I look for on a Committee list is the name against the word "Chairman". When the name is your own, it is accepted and recognised that we will be allowed a

Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Chairman) Pentland, Mr.
Cockeram, Mr. Pounder, Mr.
Ellis, Mr. Redmond, Mr.
Gilmour, Sir J. Ridley, Mr.
Gower, Mr. Rost, Mr.
Harper, Mr. Skinner, Mr.
Huckfield, Mr. Leslie Stewart-Smith, Mr.
Ogden, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Alexander
Osborn, Mr. J. H.

little lattitude, but that you will bring us back to the proper course, when you have to do so, with fairness and good humour.

This has been a good Committee. The Bill has had expert consideration from my hon. Friends and the proper silence and attention which it merits from hon. Gentlemen opposite, with the exception—which is forgivable—of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), who seems to be continuing the interventionist traditions of his predecessor.

It is a good Bill, and I believe, Mrs. Jeger, that it is not the first Bill dealing with the coal industry over the proceedings of which you have presided. In those days, as you will remember, we talked of a contracting industry. Today, we have talked of an expanding industry, and we hope that the Government will do nothing to harm that. Thank you again for your chairmanship.

Mrs. Jeger

Thank you very much.

Committee rose at Twelve noon.