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Clause 9—(Charge Of Mine Where Neither Manager Nor Acting Manager Nor Under-Manager Is Present)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

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I beg to move, in page 8, line 2, to leave out "(if any)."

I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House if the discussion on this Amendment could cover also the many other Amendments of a like nature throughout the Bill: they are practically identical.

This is a question of the qualifications of various people in the mines. In our view, the words "if any" can be interpreted to allow responsible positions to be held by somebody without any qualifications. The Clause applies to managers, under-managers and deputies. Presumably, it is not intended that a colliery manager or under-manager should not have qualifications, and, quite clearly, a deputy must be qualified. The removal of the words "if any" would avoid ambiguity.

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Amendment relates to a person having charge of a mine when neither the manager, acting manager nor under-manager is present and when the over-men in the industry take charge. I take it that the Clause deals specifically with over-men and no other persons. The Bill is not up-to-date and cannot be up-to-date until it recognises the status of the over-men. In responsibility nowadays they receive far more recognition from workmen, from management and from the Board, and yet, odd though it may seem, they have no statutory powers, they sign no statutory reports and they have no certificate higher than that of a deputy.

The efficiency and safe working of a colliery depends a great deal upon these officials, and the Clause is inadequate and unsatisfactory in not recognising their status. In previous legislation they have been referred to as officials inferior to under-managers but superior to deputies. As yet, however, they have not received any statutory obligations.

The overmen are responsible for the production and safe working of the colliery during the absence of the manager and under-manager—that is to say, far 50 per cent. of the working time of the colliery, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. This period of 12 hours includes the most dangerous shift of all, the night shift, when all the coal cutters are working at the faces and shot-firing is in progress ready for the faces being prepared at six o'clock next morning.

I suggest to the Minister that the status of these overmen should be recognised by providing in the Bill that all overmen should be specially certificated higher than a deputy and that an obligation should be imposed upon them to sign a daily statutory report. I cannot understand why the Minister has omitted any reference to these officials.

Safety is our aim. We cannot get safety of the standard that we require if during 50 per cent. of the working time of the colliery we allow officials to be in charge who have no certificate higher than that of a deputy. I hope that the Minister recognises the wisdom of these Amendments and will agree to this provision for future eventualities by the higher certification of overmen. Can the Minister say what are the views of the Coal Board on this matter? Does the Board at any time in the future intend to lift the cerificate standard of overmen in the industry?

I do not want to confuse the issue here with the duties of the deputy or overman. I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). We are concerned with a question of interpretation, and the phrase "if any" seems rather loose. The Bill should say what it means. I hope the Minister will accept our Amendments.

The words "if any" appear throughout the Bill and form a very important feature of it. Clause 21 says:

"Regulations may require the manager of every mine to keep at the office at the mine a geological map of the district in which the mine is situate, being a map conforming to such requirements (if any) as may be prescribed."
The words "if any" immediately create doubt. Why should we have "if any"? The geological map is of great importance. Is it to be suggested that in certain instances it does not matter if the map does not exist? The words "if any" are also used in relation to the position of the manager. We are justified in pressing for the deletion of the words.

This is rather a technical legal point, and I hope that I shall be able to explain it to the House. I can assure the House that the words "if any" have no belittling effect upon anybody and have no legal effect which might entitle the Minister or anyone else to appoint, or to allow to remain in posts, people who are not efficient.

If we were dealing only with coal mines, there would be no trouble at all, because there is power to prescribe qualifications in the case of coal mines, but the Bill applies also to metalliferous mines and also to very small coal mines where fewer than 14 men are employed and where qualifications are not required.

Therefore, as a matter of pure drafting, we use language which is very clearly established in the drafting of statutes. We refer to "such qualifications (if any) as may be prescribed." If the words "if any" were omitted, the implication would be that one could not have a man carrying out the duties unless qualifications had been prescribed. In the case of metalliferous mines and small mines, no such qualifications are called for, and, therefore, as a matter of pure drafting, we require the words "if any" in the Bill.

I would reinforce what I have said by reference to an example. In Clause 21 we have reference to a map:
"… conforming to such requirements (if any) as may be prescribed."
In relation to coal mines, requirements always will be prescribed by regulations, but in relation to other mines there is no power to prescribe the requirements. If "if any" were omitted, we should be stultifying our purpose because we should be referring to something for which there is no legal backing.

I can assure the House that the use of "if any" in the Bill could not possibly have the effect of lowering standards or of allowing low standards to be adopted. It is purely a matter of legal drafting. I assure the House that there is nothing significant in it.

I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would clear up a point for me. Clause 13 (2) specifically provides for regulations under which a manager may appoint competent persons, and the regulations are to prescribe their qualifications. Would that apply also to Clauses 9 and 11 and others? Is there power to make such regulations in respect of all appointments in coal mines?

4.45 p.m.

The Attorney-General has given us the legal explanation, but we must get down to the practical application of the provision. A manager may be going on his holidays and may appoint someone in charge of the mine—I do not say he would—who has no qualifications, while there may be other men in the mine who have the necessary qualifications. Apparently that would be legal under the Bill as it now stands.

I support the arguments which have been put by my hon. Friends. With all due respect to the Attorney-General, we have to consider how the provision will be construed by a manager. In these circumstances, the manager would no doubt assert that he was acting within the provisions of the Measure.

I regard the reasoning of the Attorney-General as dangerous in the extreme. It may be all right to point out that these words are necessary for the purposes of metalliferous mines and small coal mines, but we have to consider the practical application of the provisions. I appeal to the Attorney-General to look again at the phraseology. It does not matter so much here where we are enacting a Measure, but we have to consider what will happen in actual practice if an accident occurs. What we are enacting will have an influence on the lives and the work of men throughout the coalfields.

Part of our difficulty arises from the original defect in the Bill, which is that it deals with other mines as well as coal mines and also with quarries. Throughout the proceedings in Committee it has been obvious that the language of the Bill is unnecessarily tedious and ambiguous because of the fact that we have not had separate Bills for mines and quarries.

It would be a very dangerous mistake if we allowed it to be assumed that, as a result of leaving in "if any," the obligations in respect of proper qualifications would be weakened. The danger about leaving in "if any" is that it would appear to give the Minister the right to appoint officials without qualifications. Even if the words "if any" are left in, we must insist that the obligations upon the Minister are as strong as if those words were omitted.

Even if "if any" were omitted, the Minister would still be able to prescribe trivial qualifications, so we should not be protected. The words "if any" do not weaken the provisions. Elsewhere in the Bill a duty is imposed upon the Minister to cause mining officials to have qualifications. If it were said that a manager must have two eyes, that would be a qualification. It is obvious that the provision is not weakened by the use of "if any."

We want to be quite certain that the Attorney-General is right and that the obligation to impose proper qualifications in respect of officials in coal mines exists in other parts of the Bill and will be carried out, and that the obligations upon the Minister in that respect are not weakened.

If I may, by leave of the House, speak again, I would say that I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) for what he has said. Although he was not able to be with us when we were considering the Bill in Committee, he seems almost to know more about it than anyone else.

With regard to the structure of the Bill in this connection—the words appear in a number of places—it is for the Minister to prescribe the qualifications. In Committee the Minister, on a number of occasions, made a definite statement that he would prescribe, for example, suitable conditions in all these cases, and the Committee thought that that was a better way to do it than to write the conditions into the Bill. That was the way in which we dealt with the matter in Committee. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend. I have no doubt that he may wish to say something about this. However, on several occasions in Committee he was asked this question, and he gave the answer which I have just given.

If I may be permitted to say another word, I can understand the preoccupation of my hon. Friends, but the Attorney-General has assured us that there are to be regulations covering the whole matter; that they will meet the points which my hon. Friends have in mind and that in fact these words will not make any practical difference. In the light of that assurance, I think that my hon. Friends would be willing that this Amendment should be withdrawn.

There will be regulations with regard to overmen.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 8, line 4, to leave out "either."

I think that it will be convenient to take this Amendment with the next Amendment in line 5, to leave out from "employed," to the end of line 6, and to insert "thereat below ground."

Both these Amendments implement an undertaking given in Committee by my right hon. Friend to meet the point raised that, notwithstanding how few men there were underground, there should always be someone in charge.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 8, line 5, leave out from "employed," to end of line 6, and insert "thereat below ground."—[ Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]