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Clause 12—(Deputies)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendments made: In page 9, line 18, after "prescribed," insert:

"by virtue of this paragraph."

In line 29, leave out from "is," to "to," in line 30, and insert "sufficient"—[ Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]

I beg to move, in page 9, line 31, at the end, to insert:

The persons appointed shall not perform any duties which in their opinion may interfere with the efficient performance of the duties imposed upon them under paragraph (a) hereof.
This is a very important Amendment. I raised the matter during the Second Reading debate and it was argued at considerable length in Committee. We are raising it again on Report because we wish to be satisfied that the deputy is protected.

Under the 1911 Act the statutory duties of a deputy were specified, but that was repealed in 1947 and the duties were embodied in regulations, either in 1949 or 1950—I am not sure of the date. The statutory duties of a deputy are very important. He has charge of the men in his district, and in law he is responsible for writing a report about the conditions in his district at the end of each shift—the number of persons he has in charge; the condition of the air in the district; that there is sufficient timber for the men.

The duties of a deputy regarding safety precautions are paramount, and the production of coal is a secondary factor. We all know from experience that it is possible for a great deal of pressure to be put upon the deputy to neglect his safety duties in the interest of coal production. Previously the deputy has been able to safeguard himself by saying that under the provisions of the 1911 Act his paramount duty was to attend to the safety of the men under his charge, and that the question of coal production would be dealt with after that duty had been fulfilled. The deputy had another power, that if his district was too big, and it was impossible for him to carry out his statutory duties, he could appeal to the inspector and have the size of his district reduced.

We desire that the deputy shall be safeguarded against pressure which may be put upon him to produce coal to the detriment of safety. We are not asking that a deputy shall have nothing to do with production at the coalface. There are some who argue that safety and production may be married, but in such a marriage we wish to see that the predominant partner is safety. We therefore move this Amendment to empower the deputy to say that he will attend to the matter of coal production after he has fulfilled his statutory duties relating to safety. If there is nothing to that effect in the Measure, a deputy may find himself in difficulties with those above him.

There is a different set-up in the mining industry today from that which was envisaged when the 1911 Act was passed. Deputies are now on the official staff of the pits. While I am pleased that they have attained that status, I would emphasise that it makes it more imperative that they should be safeguarded against pressure which may be exerted upon them by those above them. If the object of this Bill is to promote safety and protect the interests of the men in the pit, such statutory protection must be afforded to deputies.

5.0 p.m.

I beg to second the Amendment. It is possible that the Minister will mention the 1951 regulations and that he will say that the Government's intentions on this matter are equally as good as ours. That may be so, but without question we should like this provision put clearly in the Bill. All my hon. Friends who have worked in mines understand what the work of a deputy involves. We realise the economic pressure which from time to time has 'been brought to bear upon these officials. This has meant that the statutory duties have been neglected in the interests of production. We want it to be clear that on this issue statutory duties must come first.

We want to ensure that those duties will be properly carried out. I want no sidestepping on this point. Though conditions have changed in the past few years, nevertheless the note is still on production and even more production. The Minister would give great satisfaction if he accepted the Amendment. My hon. Friend mentioned the size of districts. We all know that, especially in the last 25 years, safety measures have not always received their fair share of attention. We are somewhat apprehensive because, while the colliery manager is responsible for the well-being of a pit and those who work in it, the deputy himself has a most responsible job. We want it stated in no uncertain terms that he must on all occasions fulfil the statutory duties first.

The Amendment is far more important than might be assumed from what has been said so far. The deputy holds a key position in the safety administration of a mine. We are discussing the duties of qualified men who have existed for as long as the industry has existed as examiners, deputies or firemen. They have always been charged with the responsibility for inspecting the whole of their district, for seeing that work is properly done, for giving instructions when required, and for giving warning of danger. These men are really the pivot on which the whole of the managerial responsibilities have been centred.

The examiner, the fireman or the deputy is in his district the whole time. The manager is not. The manager has general supervision over the whole of the mine and he must satisfy legal requirements in that respect, but the deputy is confined to his district. Woe to him if he is found outside his district—even though he may be doing similar work—to the neglect of his own work. He is the man in charge.

We suggest that the Bill should not fail to say that the man in charge may not be put on other duties which may interfere with the efficient performance of his own duties. If the deputy is not doing the duties imposed upon him, what could he be doing? What licence is to be given to the manager to give instructions to the deputy to take on additional duties not merely connected with the question of supervision or of safety in his district? We are treating this matter far too lightly. The examiner, the deputy or the fireman is an important person.

I have known a manager to spend a week before he went to see all the districts in his mine. Occasionally, the under-manager may be away on urgent matters and unable to pay a daily visit but the deputy is there all the time. The workmen have confidence in the deputy. He is generally known as a good workman himself, or he would never be made deputy. Everybody would know what his responsibilities were if the Amendment were accepted. It would be clear that whatever a man was asked to do, especially in a small district where there might be more time at his disposal, he should not neglect the duties for which he was appointed. Even though he does not hold a managerial certificate, the deputy is a person qualified to exercise full control over safety precautions in the industry.

Perhaps it would help if I intervened now to say at once that the Government agree in substance with the case which has been put so powerfully by hon. Gentlemen opposite In no circumstances should any additional duties interfere with the paramountcy of safety duties. I have been into the question of the best way of giving effect to this suggestion. Since the deputies are dealt with under regulations, it would be best dealt with in that way; but since, on this important matter, the House would desire that there should be an injunction in the statute, I should like to advise hon. Members that we have taken advice as to the best way of securing that.

I am advised that the best way would be to have an injunction on the Minister that in making regulations dealing with deputies he should safeguard the paramountcy of safety duties.

If hon. Members accept that, the Government will undertake to bring forward appropriate words to that effect.

We are very much obliged to the Minister. What he proposes is obviously the best plan. It will certainly meet the point which we have in mind, and I think that my hon. Friend will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.

There is an important principle involved in the Amendment and I thank the Minister for what he has said. However, I press that we should accept the principle laid down in the Amendment which states:

"The persons appointed shall not perform any duties which in their opinion may interfere …"
That is a most important principle which needs to be safeguarded in what the Minister proposes.

It is the deputy who will have the right of exercising judgment about what may or may not interfere with the efficient performance of the duties imposed upon him. We all know of the old story of how the deputy used to leave his district because there was a breakdown elsewhere: but he cannot do that now because, with mechanisation, the deputy has to be almost an engineer or a fitter to be able immediately to remedy any defect in order to keep coal production in progress.

I do not want the deputy to be under fire from the manager or under-manager or the fireman for not attending to some breakdown on the face because in his opinion that would have interfered with his work under the regulations relating to safety. I hope, therefore, that whatever the Minister does that safety principle will be safeguarded.

The Minister has accepted in principle what we want and, therefore, it is unnecessary to carry the debate much further, but I am puzzled by the situation. I cannot for the life of me understand how a Department with the long experience of this Department could have drafted a Bill and carried it through the Committee stage to the Report stage without having in it a provision for a principle of this sort. We do not know even now what vehicle the Minister will select to carry out his purpose. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) pointed out, one may say that the paramountcy of safety must be made clear, but by whom must it be made clear? Is it to be by the deputy or by the manager?

I should have thought that the Minister would have been able to tell us what kind of vehicle he proposes to use. We have always regarded this as one of the most sensitive points in the whole hierarchy of the mine. In some coalfields we were so conscious that the deputy fireman was used for production purposes in contradistinction to his duties as a safety official that in some areas we did not allow him to be a member of the miners' union. We kept him outside because we knew that he was not only a safety man.

Let us suppose that an accident occurs and an inquiry is held and it can be shown that if the deputy had done what he might have done the accident might have been avoided and he says, "I was doing something else." Unless the priority of claim upon his time is something which he himself exercises he has a defence at the inquiry. If he is carrying out duties given to him by the manager or the fireman and those duties interfere with his work as a safety official then, unless the priority is determined by himself, he has a defence and we do not want him to have a defence. We want to take it from him and by statute and regulation say that his first duty is to look after the safety of the men and that he must decide the paramountcy. What vehicle does the Minister propose to use to effect this?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. There is no doubt that the reason why the Bill did not specifically mention this subject was that it is so much taken for granted in the Department that the idea that there could be any departure from it never occurred to those concerned. I should like to draw attention to the existing requirements in the regulations dealing with deputies, which were promulgated in 1951. Regulation (2B) uses these unequivocal words:

"No deputy shall at any time perform any duty himself, or knowingly permit any work by any workman under his charge, if the same would prevent or delay the performance of any duty or work necessary for safety."

The right hon. Gentleman says that this was taken for granted, but it has always been taken for granted before nationalisation that deputies were frequently called upon to perform duties wholly or partially inconsistent with their primary duty to take immediate action if a fault was discovered. Who is now required to decide whether work done by the deputy is contrary to his duties relating to safety? If the mine manager tells him to do a certain thing and the deputy thinks that his duty lies elsewhere, who determines the point? The object of the Amendment, which is of the utmost importance, is to make clear that the safety man is pretty independent in these matters.

5.15 p.m.

The language which the Minister read to the House is still rather too ambiguous from our point of view. The deputy is under the disability that anyhow he is an employee. A strong deputy can answer back a weak manager, and we want to provide that the deputy shall be able to say to a manager that something should not be done, in his judgment.

We considered this matter at length in Committee. These regulations were brought into effect in 1951. When I said that these matters were taken for granted, I was not referring to past history, but to present day-to-day administration of health and safety matters in the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which it has been my honour to represent during the passage to date of this Bill. The language which the then Minister inserted in the regulations was meant to be quite unequivocal and it would be my desire also to make the language unequivocal. In the course of our discussions it was desired to go further and to make sure that in the statute the Minister was directed to act in that manner and that such a stipulation should be put in the statute. That procedure we would do well to follow.

I should not like the opportunity to pass by without further warning the Minister of the dangerous trend towards deputies placing production before safety. I have had recent experience of working in the industry and I have seen this trend. Deputies have been urged to do things by managers who do not fully realise their folly until an accident occurs. These may be strong words but, nevertheless, they are true.

The Meco-moore, the Samson stripper and other mechanical aids have been introduced and deputies are urged to make a machine a success. Consequently, a deputy will sit on the machine for the whole of the shift and neglect his safety duties. If there is a belt-conveyed face in the mine and there is a breakdown, the deputy is expected to go along and assist in getting the belt ready or repairing the conveyor. Consequently, his duties in examining supports and roadways are neglected. I warn the Minister that these things are taking place. By adopting the Amendment the position may be remedied.

I hope that the Minister is making a strong effort to meet our views. We who have experience of the coalfields know perfectly well that the fireman has always been the upper and nether millstone. The recent accident at Newcraighall Colliery, Niddrie, Midlothian, accentuated the position of the deputy. A major catastrophe very nearly occurred there. I urge the Minister to make it plain that the deputy will be protected in the performance of his duties.

Our Amendment was entirely based on Regulation (2 B). I am at a loss to understand the terrific opposition of the Government benches to putting this provision in the Statute. It is suggested that the Minister should have some power imposed on him by regulation to do what we want him to do, but why cannot that be put in the Act? If the Minister does not like our wording, why not put in the Act the words:

"No deputy shall at any time perform any duty himself, or knowingly permit any work by any workman under his charge, if the same would prevent or delay the due performance of any duty or work necessary for safety."
If the Minister cannot accept our Amendment but would put those words in the Measure, the deputy, by reading the Act, would know that he was statutorily protected. If this is done by regulation some other Minister could give an entirely different interpretation and the deputy would have no statutory protection because the regulation might be altered and not represent the feelings of this House at this time.

I am very sorry that, after three hard fights over two hours in the Committee on this issue, we have not yet been able to reach satisfaction. Let there be no mistake about it, our whole ambition here is to give protection to the deputy—who has onerous duties—so that he can stand up against anyone in the pit who said says that he must get coal and neglect safety duties. We want this provision in the statute. Whether the Minister puts it in by using the words in Regulation (2, B) or by accepting this Amendment does not matter. We are keen that there should be protection for the deputy in his safety duties stated in the statute.

Amendment negatived.