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New Clause—(General Regulations To Be Subject To Annulment)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 28 March 1949

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The powers conferred on the Minister of Fuel and Power by Section eighty-six of the principal Act as amended and extended by this Act to make general regulations shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and any statutory instrument by which such powers are exercised shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

So much of subsection (4) of the said Section eighty-six as is inconsistent with the provisions of this Section shall cease to have effect.—[ Mr. McCorquodale.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg formally to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The effect of this new Clause is quite easy to explain. It is to subject to the familiar procedure of the statutory instrument, regulations made under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and regulations made under the enlarged powers conferred on the Minister by the present Bill. Section 86 of the Act of 1911, which is the substance of the powers with which we are concerned, is an extremely important provision in as much as it permits the right hon. Gentleman to make regulations upon the all-important subject of safety in mines. The code of safety in our mines in this country is very largely governed by the regulations which the right hon. Gentleman makes, and those powers are conspicuously widened by Clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill. What we desire to do, therefore, is to provide that those important regulations should be subjected to the same procedure as that to which other important regulations on other matters are subjected, and that is the essence of the case for this new Clause.

There are two major reasons why this is desirable, one of a certain constitutional importance and the second of considerable practical importance. The constitutional point is easily put. It is this. The provisions of Clause 9 provide that when the Minister makes these regulations he can retrospectively vary not only the regulations made under the 1911 Act but also certain provisions of the 1911 Act itself. That is to say, we are conferring upon him power to amend retrospectively an Act of Parliament and it would seem right, from the point of view of constitutional principle alone, that when this House is empowering a Minister of the Crown to alter an Act of Parliament, then what the right hon. Gentleman does in the exercise of that power should be subject to Parliamentary supervision and control. I do not think it is necessary to stress that point any further.

The practical point is, I think, of great importance. There can be few regulations made by a Minister of the Crown which are more important than those which the right hon. Gentleman will be empowered to make in this Bill, when read with the 1911 Act. It is literally a case in which the lives and the limbs of a substantial number of our fellow citizens are directly concerned, and it would seem that if there be any matter upon which this House is entitled to demand that it should retain some degree of Parliamentary control over delegated legislation it is this. We are not even asking in this Clause for that same degree of Parliamentary control as is exercised over, as it seems to me, the much less important subject as to whether a particular town should have cinemas on Sundays. Where that is desired the procedure of the affirmative Resolution is required. In this matter we are asking only for the less compelling power of the negative procedure.

After all, we are asking only for the same procedure as that which exists, for example, in any case in which the Minister of Food decides to alter the points value of snoek. We are asking for no higher degree of control than is exercised in that case. It seems to me that if it is solemnly declared that if the Minister of Food wants to alter the points value for snoek this procedure should be called into play, then it is difficult to argue that, on a major matter of this sort, concerning the safety of life and limb, this House should not exercise even that very limited power.

From the proceedings during the Committee stage, I believe that at one time the Minister of Fuel and Power was himself not disinclined to accept this point of view. I am fortified in that assertion by what the right hon. Gentleman himself said in Committee:
"We did in fact consider closely whether a change of this kind should be made, and I wish to explain why we decided that it should not be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 17th February, 1949; c. 531.]
The Minister then went on at some length—and I do not think I am misrepresenting him—to say that because regulations made under the Act of 1911 were not, and have not been since then, subject to this procedure, that was an argument for not introducing this procedure now.

I am a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should adopt the attitude that what was right in 1911 is, because it was right then, necessarily right now. That is a somewhat surprising doctrine from a Socialist Minister of Fuel and Power and, in adopting that attitude, the right hon. Gentleman completely over- looks the substantial change which has taken place in this aspect of the matter as a result of nationalisation. As a result of nationalisation we in this House have a greater responsibility for this industry than we ever had before, because, after all, we represent the community which now owns it. There is also the practical question: whereas in 1911 the State was something in the nature of a third party which could act as referee between employers and employed, now, as a result of nationalisation, the State is far more, and the executive Government is far more, closely connected with the ownership and the management and is therefore less fitted to play the part of an outside referee. That would seem to be a reason why this House, as representing the community as a whole, should have conferred upon it powers of control which may not have been considered necessary in the totally different circumstances of 1911.

3.45 p.m.

There was one other argument which was raised in the Debate on the Committee stage and with which, I think, it is easy to deal. It was objected by one or two hon. Members who represent mining divisions that if we adopt this procedure it might delay the enactment of adequate regulations. It is easy to deal with that argument by pointing out that the acceptance of this new Clause would not delay the making or the putting into effect of these regulations by a single day, because under the procedure which we envisage these regulations would take effect from the date when they were made, or the date expressed for their coming into effect, and they would continue in effect unless and until they were annulled by a. Motion in this House. There is no difficulty, therefore, to be envisaged from the point of view of delay.

On the other hand, I am perfectly certain that the power of this House to annul must have a wholly salutary effect upon the making of these regulations. It will cause the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that any defect in them will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and to Parliamentary debate, and for that reason it seems that a useful stimulus will be given to the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers to make quite sure that these regulations are adequate for their purpose. I would stress this: in a serious matter of this sort, a matter so important that I do not think it needs emphasis, is it right for this House completely to hand over control for the making of regulations concerning safety in an industry which the community itself now owns? Is it right to divorce the making of these regulations from adequate Parliamentary supervision?

I know perfectly well that under the procedure laid down in the 1911 Act and carried out since then there is machinery for consultation of one sort or another with various of the interests involved, and it is right that there should be that consultation, but I submit that no degree of consultation with outside organisations, however important, or with outside experts, however well-informed, should be allowed to take the place of the final sanction of Parliamentary control. If those consultations have taken place and if the outside interests have agreed with the regulations, that would be a very potent argument in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman in defending his regulations against a Motion to annul them; it would be a powerful and perhaps a compelling argument. But that is not an argument for depriving this House, and in particular hon. Members with a direct responsibility to mining constituents, of the right finally to decide upon these matters.

It seems to me that the general principle of all this control of delegated legislation has been the test of importance. If one applies that test to these regulations there can be only one answer: this is a matter of major importance and it is because we regard it as a matter of major importance, upon which this House simply cannot abdicate its responsibility, that we urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should reconsider the attitude he adopted in Committee and permit this House and hon. Members in all quarters of it to carry out their responsibility to their constituents of ensuring that only the best and most efficiently drafted regulations are, in fact, put into effect on this most vital matter.

I am anxious to support the extremely lucid argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). We are dealing here with what is really a House of Commons matter beyond all else. We are asking that these powers given to the Minister should be the subject of Prayer in the House of Commons. I know that some hon. Members feel that Prayers are sometimes rather inconvenient things when they come on late at night. It is no fault of the movers of this Clause that under the procedure of the House of Commons, Prayers do come on so late. I would remind the Government that when they are in Opposition—and that time may be nearer than some of them imagine—they will find that Prayer is a most valuable safeguard for the House of Commons whenever and wherever the possibility of Ministerial error arises. No one could suggest that these regulations dealing with safety are small or inconsiderable matters, and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the real test of whether a particular form of regulation should be subject to Prayer is the test of importance; and nothing could be more important than the safety and welfare of the people in the mines.

My hon. Friend dealt with what was, perhaps, the main argument made against us in this matter in Standing Committee, when he answered the Minister in regard to the 1911 Act. I need not repeat his argument. However, certain other suggestions were also made against this new Clause. One very astonishing one was that if we had the Prayer procedure in regard to these regulations, employers —in this case, presumably, mainly the National Coal Board—might be less inclined to grant the finance needed to press forward safety regulations, if they felt that such regulations would have to be considered by this House. I thought at the time that that was an unworthy argument, and I hope it is not to be repeated today. I am not one of the apologists for the National Coal Board, but I am convinced that that Board, if it felt that new regulations were necessary in order to improve safety conditions in the mines, would not be slow to act because the regulations might conceivably be prayed against when they were laid on the Table of the House of Commons. It is an argument which I never accepted, and one which, I am convinced, will carry no weight in any quarter of the House.

One further argument was adduced, and it was that the mineworkers' organisation not only did not ask for this safeguard but did not desire it. All I would say in regard to that is that the duty of the House of Commons to safeguard itself against the Executive is not a matter for any other organisation: it is a matter for the House of Commons itself. I wonder very much whether the Minister, who, up to the present time, has proved himself adamant against the proposition contained in this Clause, really placed the thing before the mineworkers' representatives in its correct light. After all, this Clause is simply a round in the age-old struggle between the Executive and the Legislature.

We claim that the House of Commons should have the duty of safeguarding the position in relation to any major regulations made by a Minister. The Executive is always inclined to take the other view—that the safeguard is unnecessary, that everything will be all right, that they do not wish to delegate any further powers to the House of Commons. It is an argument we have heard ring down through history, very largely due to the fact that when one becomes a Minister one's mentality becomes slightly different from that of the ordinary private Member of the House of Commons. It does not, however, prove that one is right because one is sitting on the Treasury Bench. Suppose that the mineworkers' representatives were told that this safeguard cannot hold up safety regulations because the moment the regulations are passed, the moment they are laid on the Table of the House, they come into operation; would they then object to the safeguard?

This is not a form of regulation that would be prayed against on many occasions. Prayer is merely one additional safeguard that the House of Commons may have the final opportunity and the duty, if occasion warrants, to check a mistake by a Minister, or a mistake, perhaps, which it is very easy to make in the drafting of a statute when the draftsmen are overworked as they are in these days. No one could seriously object to such a safeguard. If it were not invoked for 30 or 40 years, I would, nevertheless support this new Clause because I believe profoundly that it is the duty of the House of Commons and its right, whenever it so desires, to debate any major regulations produced by any Minister of any party which affect the livelihood of vast masses of the people of this country. For that reason I support this new Clause, and I hope that on the other side of the House also there will be voices in favour of the proper view that the House of Commons should check an undue increase of power by the Executive, whoever the Executive may be.

I hope the Minister will not accept this Clause. The reason for my opposition to it is that we are very anxious that powers should be conceded to the Minister to bring in regulations concerning the safety and health of men in the pits as speedily as possible. Hon. Members opposite who were on the Standing Committee raised this matter then, and we pointed out to them then that our anxiety was that regulations should be brought in as speedily as possible because of the rapidly changing technique in the mining industry. As I said in Committee, there has been a change made with great rapidity, particularly in the last 10 or 20 years. We have travelled a long way from the old methods of winning coal—from what we call the pillar and stall work, the retreat wide work, and the long wall system, and many other systems. They have become out of date now. It is because of the urgent necessity of having new regulations that we ask that the Minister should have powers to make them.

4.0 p.m.

The Clause makes reference to a certain section in the principal Act of 1911. This House ought to remember, and I think that Members of the Opposition ought to remember, that no general Act of Parliament dealing with the mining industry has been placed on the Statute Book since 1911. Hon. Members opposite, from time to time, have put forward the claim that they are the friends of the miners and are interested in the safety and welfare of the miners. They were in power for more than 37 years, and they never instituted an Act of Parliament to safeguard the interests of the miners. Section 86 to which reference is made in the new Clause makes this statement:
"The Secretary of State may by order make such general regulations for the conduct and guidance of the persons acting in the management of mines or employed in or about mines as may appear best calculated to prevent dangerous accidents and to provide for the safety, health, convenience and proper discipline of the persons employed in or about mines."
That Clause was put into the 1911 Act in order to give the Secretary of State for Mines, as he then was, the powers to make regulations. If that was of paramount importance in 1911, it is equally of paramount importance today, in order that regulations may be brought forward by the Minister.

Complaint has been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite about Parliament not having the last word. They will have the last word because Section 86 (4) gives those powers to this House. From time to time, when regulations are submitted by the Minister of Fuel and Power, Parliament will have the right to revoke them if there is anything wrong with them. What has happened in the past? It is as well to take a retrospective view. Since 1911, drawing on my memory, I believe that there have been 18 to 20codes made by the Secretary for Mines or the Minister of Fuel and Power. Within those codes, there were about 18 to 20 regulations. If we make a calculation, we discover that there have been approximately 400 regulations made covering the safety of the men in the pits, and I suggest that not one of those regulations has been prayed against by any Member of past Parliaments. Hon. Members come along today—

Surely it was not competent for any hon. Member of this House to pray against regulations under the 1911 Act. Regulations had to be laid before Parliament, but they were not subject to annulment.

Section 86 (4) gave the power to do so. My complaint is that hon. Members opposite are now asking the House or the Minister to do something which, in the past, they have failed to do. I am putting forward the point of view as we see it in the pits. After all, that is where we have the most complaints and the most accidents. We are anxious that the Minister of Fuel and Power shall be given these powers, in the same way as the Secretary of State for Mines was given powers under Section 86 to bring in regulations to safeguard the health and safety of the men. That is all that we are anxious about. I think that it is now too late in the day for Members of the Opposition to bring forward this new Clause. We are very anxious that the Minister should have these powers, and I hope that, in view of the urgency of this matter, the Minister will resist the new Clause.

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under the 1911 Act there was power to annul the regulations? I took the trouble to look up the Act just before this Debate, and, although I was unable to bring a copy with me, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although the regulations had to be laid before Parliament, there was no power of annulment.

Subsection (4) of Section 86 states:

"An order made under this section shall be laid as soon as possible before both Houses of Parliament, and shall have effect as if enacted in this Act,"
Subsection (5) states:
"An order made under this section may be revoked, altered, or added to by an order made in like manner and subject to the same provisions as the original order."

The Minister was in charge, and he was commissioned with the responsibility of seeing that the regulations had for their objective the safety and health of our men in the pits.

The same sort of confusion has arisen this afternoon as that which arose during the Committee stage of the Bill. Right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench made the same objection as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has made today, that our desire to have an opportunity of praying against these regulations would in some way affect the speed with which the Minister could issue regulations. Of course, nothing of the sort will occur; nor, indeed, is it the desire or purpose of Members on this side of the House that anything should be done to interfere with the Minister's desire to issue regulations with regard to safety, or to interfere with the speed with which they may be put into effect. In Committee, it was said that because hon. Members on this side had not previously objected to these regulations or desired to pray against them there was no reason for this new Clause. The right hon. Gentleman instanced me in particular as not having raised an objection on this matter. I had very little time to do so between being elected to this Parliament and the termination of the war. Nevertheless, neither of those arguments seems very sound on this occasion.

What we desire to do is to introduce a Measure which will allow Parliament to have the last say on these matters. In desiring to do that, we are not asking for anything which will impede the Minister's powers to bring in regulations or the speed with which he can do so. As the hon. Member for Ince rightly pointed out, the changes which are occurring today in techniques and methods in the mining industry undoubtedly necessitate a whole host of regulations being brought in from time to time, and the Minister will no doubt be faced with this problem until he sees his way to introduce a fresh Act of Parliament providing for a series of regulations. We do not intend to impede him in so doing.

It is perfectly evident that, in the vast majority of cases, these regulations will not be prayed against. If the Minister can say that the National Council and the various bodies interested in these matters have given him their support in discussions with regard to the particular regulations he proposes to bring in, that will undoubtedly be so powerful an argument that our prayers, if Prayers there be, will carry very little weight; but, from time to time, matters may be brought forward of a somewhat doubtful nature—matters which we feel are possibly not fully covered by the regulations which the Minister brings in, or in which the regulations tend to impede and retard what we consider may be reasonable developments of a technical nature. We may desire to take the opportunity of having a full discussion of these matters and giving voice to what we consider to be objections to some of the regulations which the Minister may wish to make.

I cannot for the life of me see why, in those circumstances, Parliament should be deprived of that right. As has been pointed out, the time may very well come when hon. Members opposite may be more than anxious to exercise their right of cross-examining the Minister of the day, who may not be a member of the Labour Party, and they would be the first to object if they had not this power. Indeed, in Committee there were indications that hon. Members opposite were concerned about this, and I hope that on further consideration the Minister will see that there is substance in our desire to have this new Clause accepted, and will grant these powers to us.

I admit that on the face of it there seems to be a certain amount of logic in the arguments adduced by hon. Members opposite, but to those who know the facts the case does not appear quite so strong. To understand this problem necessitates examining what happens before any regulation is introduced. It is recognised, I think, that we are here dealing, not with something in which there is not an interested organised body, but with matters which are watched by large organisations. Indeed, not only is there an organisation of a million people, in the shape of the Mineworkers' Union, which watches all these things, but before any regulation is passed, this organisation and all interested parties in the industry are consulted. With important regulations there will be many meetings and lengthy consultation to consider the question with shall oppose this Motion.

Of course, despite that consultation with the Minister before the passing of a regulation, there might be an exceptional case where, after the implementation and the evidence in the mines of the working of a regulation, there might be some dispute as to whether or not it was beneficial. If that be so, the question arises: Is there any other method of dealing with the problem than by a Prayer in this House to annul the regulation? Although every effort is made to have a regulation thoroughly considered by all concerned before it is brought into operation, it is possible that some regulations do not work as expected and that there is a case for amendment. I assume that the Ministry of Fuel and Power has means of dealing with such a situation, in collaboration with the Mineworkers' Union. If I am wrong my argument is weakened, but I assume that if any regulation does not work as expected, and if harmful results follow its application, then the Mineworkers' Union would, on behalf of their members, raise the matter with the Ministry, and I am convinced that it would not need the interference of Parliament to obtain the necessary amendment.

4.15 p.m.

I am confident that were that not so there would have been an intimation to that effect from the Mineworkers' Union. I am a miners' representative, and I have had no such intimation from the union; there has been no suggestion that it is necessary to watch this carefully, or that there should be no other method of remedying a defect than coming to Parliament and having a long Debate on a Prayer for the annulment of the regulation. As miners' representatives we are confident that there are other methods of ventilating grievances and dealing with difficulties which arise following upon the making of a regulation by the Ministry. Because we are certain that any problem which follows the making of a regulation can be dealt with more speedily and effectively, and more satisfactorily to the practical men in the pit, than by the method suggested in this new Clause, we shall oppose the Motion.

I wish to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), and I think it rather unfortunate that, after saying that for 37 years the Tories had not prayed against any regulations made under Section 86 of the 1911 Act—a statement which he must have known would be controverted from this side of the House—the hon. Member should have left the Chamber without taking the opportunity of hearing the truth and being able to withdraw such an accusation. However, he has gone and we must do the best we can without him.

I would point out that my hon. Friend has left because he was sent for.

I do not wonder that he was sent for after making such an outrageous statement. He deserves a little bit of a caning, and I expect he is getting it now. Nevertheless, I do not think that is a reason for leaving the Chamber; the headmaster ought to wait until the boy has had an opportunity of making an apology.

Section 86 (4) of the 1911 Act says:
"An order made under this section shall be laid as soon as possible before both Houses of Parliament, and should have effect as if enacted in this Act."
Subsection (5) says:
"An order made under this section may be revoked, altered, or added to by an order made in like manner and subject to the same provisions as the original order."
What happens under that Act is that the Secretary for Mines, as he was at the passing of that Act, and now the Minister of Fuel and Power, makes the order, and it is not possible to pray against it. I am sure that the Minister will agree with this point of view. There is no power to pray against any order amending a previous order. There is a procedure provided for in the Schedule by which an order made by the Minister may be referred to a panel of referees, and if they think there is a special legal question involved there is appeal to a lawyer. The whole procedure in regard to reference is laid down in the Schedule.

Surely the hon. Member will agree that the operation under subsection (5) is subsequent to action taken in this House?

I cannot agree. Subsection (4) makes it quite clear that the regulations are simply laid. If the Minister wants to alter them, he must alter them under subsection (5), when there is no discussion in the House. Members may like to refer to the procedure about reference which is contained in the Second Schedule. The Minister must give notice of the order he is going to make, and if there are objections, which must be in writing, the Minister may refer the objections to a panel of referees, and on the report being made by the panel, he either alters the draft order or lets it go through as before.

That is the point I am endeavouring to make. The Minister does not alter the regulations unless representations are made by someone that changes should be made.

"Someone" is very different from the House of Commons. The "someone" is the persons affected by the regulations who lodged their objections in writing.

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ince has now returned. I should like to ask him to withdraw his allegation that the Tories have not prayed against regulations made under the 1911 Act for 37 years; that is quite apart from the debating point that the Tories have not been in power for the 37 years since the 1911 Act. There is the substantial point that the regulations cannot be prayed against, and I expect the hon. Member during his visit outside the House has satisfied himself that that is so. If the hon. Member is now convinced by his research or from the teaching he has had outside the House, I hope he will withdraw that remark. I know that the hon. Member does not want to let a false point or false argument go out from this House. He has said that one of the crimes of the Tories has been that they have not prayed against these regulations, and I am sure he does not wish that to go out because it is quite untrue. If he does not wish to withdraw, I am afraid that I cannot teach him fairness in politics—that is a matter for himself.

I should like now to allude to the point of view taken up by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). He says that the House of Commons need not be bothered because there is the miners' union and the Government own the mines, and that therefore everything is quite happy as between the miners' union and the Government. I do not think the hon. Member has quite appreciated the fact that although things may be all right between the miners' union and the Government—and of course the top union officials have jobs in the Government and represent the unions in Parliament—things are not all right between the members of the union in the nationalised industry and their union officials in the Government. Things are not all right, as one can see, because there are unofficial strikes and it takes months for disputes and. grievances to come up even to the men's own union officials.

It is no answer for an hon. Member to get up in this House and say, "It is all right, the union has said nothing." Of course the union have not said anything. They work hand in glove with the Government and disregard the interests of the men. That is the trouble, and we get the same trouble in civil aviation and in the transport industry. That is why some breakaway unions are popular and why there are unofficial strikes; it is because the men are dissatisfied with their own union officials. There is great disquiet among many trade unionists who remember the glorious record of trade unionism that is being thrown away because top union officials prefer to work in harmony with the Government instead of putting the interests of their men first. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Then how do Members explain why they have unofficial strikes and why they cannot control their own members? It is because they get too far away from their own members.

If we allow the union and the Government, as the hon. Member has suggested, to work hand-in-hand in regard to these regulations, they will be open to disregard the point of view of the men, and that is why we are bringing in this new Clause. It is because we want Parliament to look after the interests of the men.

Can the hon. Member give the figures of the unofficial strikes under private enterprise as against the unofficial strikes under nationalisation?

I am much obliged to an hon. Friend who tells me that there were 1,100 unofficial strikes in the coal industry in the last year.

Can the hon. Member tell us what procedure has been followed for the past 37 years, to which he and his party have taken no objection until today?

The answer to that question is easy. We have approved the procedure which has been followed for the past 37 years because there have been three interested parties. There have been the miners, the owners and the Government, and now there are only two parties. On the one hand, there is the Government, with the top union officials who will not look after the interests of their men, and Members know perfectly well that there is grave dissatisfaction among the rank and file of trade unionists throughout the country—

Is the hon. Member suggesting that there was no dissatisfaction when the men were represented by their trade unions in the old days and who, incidentally, are still represented by their trade unions? Will he tell us what Government intervened on behalf of the men and the public in 1946?

I am afraid that the hon. Member has not appreciated the point. The fact that there has been dissatisfaction before, does not prevent dissatisfaction in the future.

When Members rise in all parts of the House one knows something has been said that has got under their skin. If one reads "The Tribune," as I do every week, it will be seen that this point of view is put forward; that the top union officials are not always looking after the interests of their men. We want to remove one of the reasons for unofficial strikes, and one way of doing that is for Parliament to be put in as an extra party in regard to these regulations to see that the unions and the Government do not get too close together so that all the miners can see that instead of having a personal boss and a union official to protect them, they are now by themselves, and have one boss consisting of the Government and the trade union top officials together.

That is the reason why this Clause has been brought forward, and that is the reason why we say that the procedure under the 1911 Act should be altered—because the position has altered. Instead of having three parties in the industry we now have only two, and the miner is beginning to find his own officials on the side of the bosses, and his own officials tell him, "This is a Socialist Government, and you must not embarrass them even though your grievances are quite justified, and even though you would be entitled to press them under private enterprise. Under a Socialist Government you are not so entitled."

4.30 p.m.

I am anxious to confine my remarks as far as possible to the Bill and to the new Clause, but I cannot let the comments of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) pass without making some reply to what seemed to me to be a disgraceful attack on the leaders of the trade union movement. He appeared to be criticising them for the moderating influence which they exercise upon their members, so as to help the country through its present economic difficulties. I am astonished that a prominent member of the Conservative Party should now be descending to a syndicalist policy. I should hope that if any Member on the Front Bench opposite is to speak he will repudiate the hon. Member for Northwich, because he made a most scandalous suggestion.

The new Clause which we are discussing does, of course, go much further than this Bill. In effect it is an Amendment of the 1911 Act to provide that regulations made under that Act shall be subject to annulment by Parliament. It is perfectly true that under this particular Bill the power of the Minister to make regulations is extended, but important as it is that we should have that power, nevertheless, the power to make regulations to amend Part I cannot be regarded as comparable in importance to the power which already exists under the 1911 Act to deal with safety matters. Therefore, it is primarily as an amendment to the 1911 Act that we must regard the new Clause.

Hon. Members opposite really must not be surprised if some of my hon. Friends upbraid them for their passive acquiescence all these years in what they have now described as a most monstrous procedure. It is perfectly true that they could not pray against those regulations but they had many opportunities in all those years to raise this matter in the House of Commons. It might have been mentioned in any number of Debates about the coal industry.

It would not have been out of Order. Hon. Members could have referred to regulations made under the 1911 Act, and could have said, "Of course they were not in the right form but if only Parliament had had the opportunity of looking at them they might have been in the right form." Nothing was said.

We have on the Front Bench opposite a right hon. and gallant Gentleman who was Minister of Fuel and Power in the Coalition Government. I do not know whether, when he held that position, he felt at any time that it would really have been a valuable stimulus to him had these regulations been subject to Parliamentary annulment. I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank), when he was Secretary for Mines and no doubt made many regulations, felt that it would have been an advantage to him that the regulations should be subject to annulment.

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to reply I will tell him, although I had not intended to take part in this Debate. When I first became Secretary for Mines one of my chief intentions was to carry out a revision of the whole Act dealing with safety regulations. I recommended and had set up a Royal Commission, which reported, in order not only to deal with the whole question of safety but, which would follow from that, the procedure to be followed in this House in dealing with the subject. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Unfortunately, that does not happen to be the answer to the question which I put; it has nothing whatever to do with it. I asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether, when he was Secretary for Mines, he felt that it would be a good thing or not to have these regulations subject to Parliamentary annulment.

I have just said that I was instrumental in setting up a Royal Commission to advise on that very point.

It is interesting to observe that the Royal Commission did not in fact recommend that these regulations should be subject to annulment by Parliament.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) argues his case on the basis that the safety and health of miners is a major matter, and is something which should concern the House of Commons. No one would deny either of those propositions, but there is the further point whether we should decide the question of whether or not a regulation is to be subject to annulment simply on this basis of importance. I suggest to the hon. Member and to the House that that is not really the criterion which should be applied. I take it we all agree that there are some occasions when regulations should not be subject to Parliamentary annulment. We are not taking the view—I do not think that any Mem- ber opposite has taken the view—that in all circumstances every regulation made, must come before the House and be capable of challenge.

A line has obviously to be drawn here, certain criteria have to be applied. I do not think that it depends solely on the importance of the matter. It seems to me to depend first on whether the matters to be dealt with in the regulations are highly specialised, are of general public interest and are matters affecting persons who are not fully consulted before the regulations are made. If that were not the case, one could well understand that the House of Commons would be the place to defend the rights of the individuals concerned. Here, as the hon. Member for Northwich indicated, we have a very elaborate procedure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) explained, every one is consulted before these regulations are made. Owners and workers alike have the right of general objection to regulations which are made. That means that they can take the Minister to arbitration if they are not satisfied.

That is perfectly true. But they are consulted and they have the right of private objection to the Minister. I suggest that it was these circumstances which determined Parliament in 1911 to decide that this was a type of regulation which need not come for debate before the House. I suggest also that the satisfactory way in which the whole procedure has been carried out all these years is at least some evidence that it has worked well, and that there is no particular case for making any change at the moment.

The only argument that hon. Members opposite have put forward to support the view that there should now be a change is the difference made by nationalisation and something to do with the position as between the individual trade unionists, on the one hand, and their leaders, on the other. I suggest that no difference whatever is made in this matter by nationalisation. The Minister's position remains exactly as before. In the matter of safety we remain an independent party, and I can assure the House that I should be very sorry if that position were ever to change. The mines inspectorate are just as impartial in their administering of the regulations and the advice they tender as they were when the industry was under private enterprise. Therefore, that argument has no substance whatever. As to the other argument, I have already indicated that to me it seems one which it was quite wrong to put forward and which is not to be taken seriously at all. The trade unions themselves can very well take care of that, though it does not do the hon. Member for Northwich much good to be coming forward and supporting unofficial strikes.

There are only two further points wish to make. Reference has been made to the argument put forward in Committee that delay might take place if, in fact, the new Clause were adopted. I still think there is a risk of that, but I do not put it very high. I was challenged because I said that the National Coal Board and other employers might not be willing, if there was a danger of regulations being vetoed by the House, to carry out extensive expenditure which might be necessary at once. I did not mean by that that if particular measures were necessary for the safety of the men they would hesitate, but it might be a question of changing a particular design —the design of a lamp, for instance. Certain designs might have been approved before hand, and then it might be decided to have a new type, with the result that the National Coal Board might be in a difficult position if they went ahead with the new design before Parliament settled the issue.

They are not the only persons concerned, because the manufacturers of the equipment are concerned as well, and they might hesitate. I do not emphasise this argument as having enormous importance. Clearly it has not; but it is a possibility and if there is a possibility of delaying essential safety measures we should look carefully before we adopt this new Clause.

We do not feel strongly about this particular matter. I said upstairs, and I repeat it here, that when the time comes for new legislation to cover this whole field, the matter can be looked at again. I do not say that we shall not go further than the Royal Commission, and possibly if at that time, it seems fit to the Government and the House to make a change, it will be done. I am quite clear, however, that this is not the moment to make any such change. I am quite clear, too, that the procedure hitherto followed is perfectly satisfactory to all concerned, and on those grounds we must certainly reject this new Clause.

My hon. Friends on this side of the House will not regard the Minister's answer as very satisfactory. He made some offensive remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), but this is a matter which trade union leaders in many different trades are giving very anxious care to, as the Minister of Labour, myself and others who have been associated with various industries know very well.

Maybe helped and maybe hindered, but it is no good the Minister thinking that there is no concern here about unofficial strikes, and his offensive remarks in regard to my hon. Friend were unworthy of him and of the Government. I regret that he should have engendered heat over this matter. [Interruption.] The heat was engendered by the Minister. We regard this problem as a House of Commons problem and not as a party matter at all. I believe the Minister is wrong. The Minister said in Committee that he would give more consideration to this problem, but after a great deal of balancing of the pros and cons he thinks that the present time is not appropriate to bring it in. He has not given us any satisfactory reasons for coming to that conclusion.

4.45 p.m.

Part I of this Bill is a justification of the view that first thoughts are not always the best, because the whole of Part I amends the 1945 Act. Therefore, nobody will say that because a Bill or regulations have been produced, they cannot be amended, and that they should not be considered in that light. None of us on this side of the House would do anything to hold up for one moment necessary safety precautions in the mines, but I do not believe that by having this suggested power here, there is any chance of any safety device being held up at all. There is a point which it is necessary to put. We had two Clauses down with regard to the position of managers, but those Clauses have not been called. Under Section 2 (1) of the 1911 Act, a colliery manager is responsible for the control, management and direction of the mines, but he has no statutory right to make representations to the Minister in regard to new regulations. The owners and workers have such a statutory right, and it seems strange that while the manager as a responsible official has to carry out the safety regulations, the owners, who are now the National Coal Board, and the workmen have this statutory right, which the managers have not.

There might be a clash of opinion on some safety regulations. If there is a clash of opinion and the Minister has to take sides between the two different kinds of advice given to him by experts, Parliament should be the final court of appeal and should be able to fortify the Minister in the action he has taken in accepting advice from one party. He could then say that he had taken the matter to Parliament and that Parliament had not objected to it. The Minister also argues that because this system worked well in the past we should leave well alone and carry on with the thing as it is. That is an attractive argument to present to the House in these days, but it will not hold water here, because conditions are quite different from what they were in the past, since this industry, alas, has been nationalised. We in this House are trustees for the owners of the mining industry. Prior to 1945 the owners were individual sets of people; now they are the whole people and we in Parliament are their trustees.

I should have thought in those circumstances that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is a good one—that since nationalisation has come about, and as this onus is on all of us as representing not only those actively engaged in the mines but all the shareholders in the business, we should have the final word of debating and if necessary annulling any regulations which the Minister may make. I was very glad to hear the Minister suggest that possibly he might change his mind in a new Bill on the subject. We are anxiously awaiting that new Bill. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned we shall certainly facilitate its introduction.

I cannot recollect any fairly modern precedent whatever of Bills authorising regulations of great importance, like the regulations for safety in the mines, which would be of great importance, being made without being subject to some control by Parliament. The position has gradually changed over the last 25 years, and Parliament is more and more desirous of keeping a hand upon regulations issued by Ministers. This is not a party question at all, for whatever Government are in office naturally they are inclined to object to Parliament having that hand. I am sure that it is a salutary thing for Parliament to have some say in these major affairs. It is good for the Minister and for hon. Members as trustees for the nation, and better regulations may be brought in as a result of it. I hope that the Minister will be able to change his mind and to accept our proposed new Clause. Otherwise I must ask my hon. Friends to support it in the Division Lobby.

I look upon the proposed new Clause from a different point of view, not having been mixed up with these affairs when the Bill was in Committee. It is not right on an occasion of this kind that an important Measure should be entirely controlled by experts. The work of those who are experts on coal has been essential, but there is another point of view, that of the ordinary Members of Parliament who represent the millions of people who now own the coalmines. That is a position which has not existed in the past. I would not look upon a new Clause of this kind in a favourable light if it increased the number of regulations which are to be made and laid before Parliament.. We have far too many regulations.

The hon. Gentleman opposite reads every regulation rigorously, I have no doubt, and he will be able to interrupt us on every one of them if he wishes to. The fact remains that ordinary Members of Parliament have complained that there ought not to be regulations unless they are absolutely justified. That might be a reason for voting against the new Clause. A very strong reason would exist if the coal experts, who are only a fraction of the House on either side, could prove to us ordinary Members that passing this Clause might mean delay in the introduction of safety measures. Obviously in that case it would be ridiculous to have every one of the regulations laid on the Table of the House and debated. I would not suggest that for one moment.

So far as the Tory Party are concerned —I speak only for the Tory Party—we believe that in matters concerning human life it is the duty of the coalowners and of the Government to take every possible precaution. We support that principle as a party. We have always done so, and we intend to continue to do so. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) referred to the position under the 1911 Act and said that regulations made under it had not been raised in the House. It has never been possible at any time to do it. If it had been possible I am sure that if some Tory Minister of Mines had brought in during that period an order which was not quite perfect, the miner Members of those days would have called attention to it. Miners' representatives were not the docile creatures, under the control of a Government Whip, that they are today. It would have been possible also for the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929–30 to have changed such orders. There was never any suggestion of that being done. The position today has changed completely. One thing which has changed is that we then had miner Members with fire in their hearts and—

The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the subject of the proposed new Clause.

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was saying that one of the reasons why I support it is that we have a very different position today from what we had in the past. We have eliminated one of the three parties who were then in existence in the coal industry, the coal-owner, as a private individual. He has been bought out and taken out. We are left with the miners, whose representatives in this House I was describing as a body of men not so virile—

The hon. Member must not reflect upon the ability or capacity of other hon. Members. He knows that perfectly well.

5.0 p.m.

If you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, rule that I am out of Order in saying that hon. Members are not as virile as their predecessors used to be, I must, of course, accept it. It seems to me, if I must not accuse hon. Members opposite of having lost force and virility, that I may say that they are more inclined to be mild than they used to be. I have no wish to go into an argument about precise words. Our case is quite strong enough without that. It is that the Tory Party have always fought for safety regulations for the miners. On the other hand, there is a terrifically strong organisation in the Government and in

Division No. 88.]

AYES

[5.2 p.m

Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Raikes, H. V.
Amory, D. HeathcoatHare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Ramsay, Maj. S.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. RHolmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Birch, NigelHudson, Rt. Hen. R. S. (Southport)Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Bossom, A. C.Jeffreys, General Sir G.Ropner, Col. L.
Bower, N.Lambert, Hon. G.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Lancaster, Col. C G.Sanderson, Sir F.
Braithwaite, Lt -Comdr. J. G.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. HSavory, Prof. D L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Lennox-Boyd, A. T.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Lindsay, M. (Solihull)Smithers, Sir W.
Bullock, Capt. M.Linsteacl, H. N.Spearman, A. C. M.
Carson, E.Lipson, D. L.Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Challen, C.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Clarke, Col. R. S.Low, A R W.Studholme, H G.
Cooper-Key, E. M.Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n. S.)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.Teeling, William
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Crowder, Capt. John E.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. SThomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Cuthbert, W. N.Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Darling, Sir W. Y.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Touche, G. C.
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)MacLeod, JTorten, R. H.
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)Tweedsmuir, Lady
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Wadsworth, G.
Draws, C.Marlowe, A. A. H.Wakefield, Sir W. W
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. Richmond)Marsden, Capt A.Watt, Sir G S. Harvie
Eccles, D. M.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Erroll, F. J.Mellor, Sir J.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.Molson., A. H. E.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale.)Nicholson, G.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. MNield, B. (Chester)

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Gammans, L. D.Peake, Rt. Hon. O.Major Conant and Colonel Wheatley.
George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)

NOES

Alien, A. C (Bosworth)Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Daggar, G
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Daines, P.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Brown, T. J. (Ince)Davies, Ernest (Enfield)
Attewell, H. C.Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)
Ayies, W. H.Burden, T. W.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. BButler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Deer, G.
Bacon, Miss A.Chalet, D.Delargy, H. J.
Barstow, P. G.Chetwynd, G. R.Dodds, N. N.
Barton, C.Cluse, W. S.Driberg, T. E. N.
Battley, J. R.Cocks, F S.Dumpleton, C. W.
Bechervaise, A. E.Collins. V. J.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Benson, G.Colman, Miss G. M.Edelman, M.
Berry, H.Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Evans, Albert (Islington, W)
Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.Cove, W. G.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)
Brook, D. (Halifax)Crawley, A.Evans, John (Ogmore)

the Coal Board, and we think that we are justified under present conditions in asking the House to enable regulations, especially those connected with life and health, to be laid before the House. We believe that the final responsibility rests not with the Government or with the Coal Board, but with the Members of the House of Commons. Unless we have power to deal with regulations of this kind I see no hope of bringing satisfaction to the miners themselves, and the knowledge that they can appeal finally to the House of Commons as the supreme arbiter on matters that concern their health.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes. 98: Noes. 180.

Farthing, W. JMcAdam, W.Shawcross, Rt. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Follick, M.McEntee, V. La T.Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Forman, J. C.McGhee, H. G.Shurmer, P.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. NMack, J. D.Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Ganley, Mrs. C. SMcKay, J. (Wallsend)Skeffington, A. M.
Gibson, C. W.Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)Skinnard, F. W.
Glanville, J. E. (Consett)McLeavy, F.Smith, C. (Colchester)
Goodrich, H. E.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)Mainwaring, W. H.Solley, L. J.
Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Grierson, E.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Sparks, J. A.
Griffiths, D. (Rather Valley)Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Stamford, W.
Gunter, R. J.Mathers, Rt. Hon. GeorgeStross, Dr. B.
Hale, LeslieMedland, H. M.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilMellish, R. J.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. RMiddleton, Mrs. LThomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Mikardo, IanThurtle, Ernest
Hardman, D. R.Monslow, W.Timmons, J
Harrison, J.Moyle, A.Tolley, L.
Haworth, J.Murray, J. D.Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Naylor, T. E.Turner-Samuels, M.
Herbison, Miss M.Oliver, G. H.Vernon, Maj. W. F
Hewitson, Capt. MPargiter, G. A.Viant, S. P.
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Parker, JWalkden, E.
Houghton, A. L. N. D.Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Wallace, G D (Chislehurst)
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Paton, J. (Norwich)Warbey, W. N.
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)Pearl, T. F.Watkins, T. E.
Hughes, H D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)Popplewell, E.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)Porter, E. (Warrington)Wells, W. T (Walsall)
Hyrul, H. (Hackney, C.)Porter, G. (Leeds)Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Proctor, W. T.While, H. (Derbyshire, N.E)
Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)Pryde, D. JWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)Pursey, Comdr. H.Wigg, George
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Randall, H. E.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Ranger, J.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Keenan, W.Reeves, J.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Kenyon, C.Reid, T. (Swindon)Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Kinley, J,Robens, A.Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Kirby, B. V.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Willis, E.
Lang, G.Robertson, J. J (Berwick)Wise, Major F. J.
Lavers, S.Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)Yates, V. F.
Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. JRoss, William (Kilmarnock)Zilliacus, K.
Lee, F. (Hulme)Royle, C.
Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)Scollan, T.

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Leslie, J. R.Segal, Dr. S.Mr. Pearson and
Levy, B. W.Shackleton, E. A. A.Mr. Richard Adams.
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Sharp, Granville