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Clause 161—(Power Of Minister And Inspector To Grant Exemptions For Limited Period From Com Mencement Of This Act)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

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I beg to move, in page 96, line 14, after "may," to insert:

"after consultation with an association or body of persons representative, in the case of a coal mine, of the majority of persons employed at the mines concerned and, in the case of any other mine or quarry, of a substantial proportion of the persons employed at the mines or quarries concerned."
I am quite sure that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment, because it is an effort to solve difficulties arising through amalgamation between various quarries or mines with neighbouring properties which have an interest to combine. Perhaps I had better read the Clause to the House so as to make the matter quite clear. The Clause says:
"Where the Minister is of opinion, with respect to mines or quarries of any class, that by reason of the nature or amount of work involved, or of the shortness of the period during which the mines or quarries are expected to be worked or other special circumstances affecting them, it would be impracticable to require compliance with a particular provision of Part III or, as the case may be, Part V of this Act forthwith after the commencement of this Act, he may …"
The Amendment proposes, after the word "may," to insert:
"after consultation with an association or body of persons representative, in the case of a coal mine, of the majority of persons employed at the mines concerned and, in the case of any other mine or quarry, of a substantial proportion of the persons employed at the mines or quarries concerned."
This is an attempt to make it impossible to wind up or to cease production or employment at any such enterprise without the full consultation of the persons employed. Whether employed under Part III or Part IV of the Bill, these people stand the prospect of an amalgamation of the interests with, perhaps, the cessation of employment or a substantial modification of their employment, and we want to retain consultation. This is really the only piece of industrial democracy that there is in the whole of the Bill. I hope that the Minister has already made up his mind to accede to this request. It may be very important for people engaged, perhaps, in out of the way properties where neighbouring employment may not be available. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted so that a settlement may be arranged between all parties and employment guaranteed for these people.

9.45 p.m.

I hope that the Minister is still in the conciliatory mood in which we have found him during the whole of today's debate and feels disposed to accept this Amendment. If the provision we require is not inserted, the whole of this Clause 161 will be made nonsense.

The Clauses gives tremendous powers to Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines to grant exemptions not only in regard to old mines on account of the shortness of their expected life, but in regard to new mines also. The overwhelming powers conferred upon Her Majesty's Inspector render it possible for him to say, "You need not do anything about dust prevention. You need not do anything about ventilation. You can carry on with dilapidated roads in fact, you can ignore the rest of the provisions of this Mines and Quarries Bill." Where such tremendous powers are conferred upon Her Majesty's Inspectors and, as a consequence, the workmen have to undergo extra risks, we think that the workmen are entitled to be consulted before such exemptions are made.

I am sure that the Minister will appreciate the value of a mutual agreement in those circumstances. If I were an Inspector of Mines and was imposing extra risk on workmen underground by the exemptions which I was granting to the management I should feel much happier with a chance of carrying the workmen with me in such an exemption.

I wish to say at once that there is no doubt at all that, as a normal rule, there ought to be consultation with the representatives of the workmen on all occasions when any exemptions of this kind are given. I hope, however, that hon. Gentlemen opposite will be prepared to accept my assurance that there is a difficulty about actually putting the words in the Bill. We have to face the practical fact that there will probably be a slight rush of these applications just before the Bill comes into operation. If in those circumstances, when there was not time actually to arrange consultation with the workmen, and we actually have these words in the Bill, it would be statutorily impossible to give the exemption.

We propose, therefore, that we should retain the freedom to give the deferment—which is what it is, a deferment—for only a short time, a week, or a fortnight or a month and thus enable consultation to take place. That is how we would propose to operate, but the House will see that we do intend, as a normal feature, to have consultation.

Will the Minister go one step further and say that if there is a lot of unemployment the matter will receive special attention?

We must appreciate that months of deliberation can be swept away by Clause 161. If the inspector is confident about his decision, there should be no fear in taking into consultation the work people who have to endure risk inside the particular mine. This Clause may be a way out for some people, but we hope it is not a way out which involves greater risks and hazards in the mining industry. However sincere we may be in our desire to secure improvements in the mining industry, we must not allow any possibility of them being completely swept away by having an undesirable Clause in the Bill.

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 96, line 19, leave out "manager of the mine or quarry," and insert:

"responsible person."—[Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]