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Clause 13—Other Officials, Engineers Technicians, Etc)

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.

It may be convenient if, with the next Amendment we discussed the next two Amendments, in page 10, line 4, after "manager." to insert "or owner," and in line 11, at the end, to insert:

(3) Every person appointed pursuant to this section shall be responsible to the manager of the mine for the efficient performance of his duties and nothing in this section shall detract from the powers and duties of the manager of the mine under this Act.

I beg to move, in page 9, line 32, after "manager," to insert "or owner."

In moving this Amendment I am asking the Minister to make a new departure in regard to mechanical engineers. I do so because a revolution has taken place in the mining industry in the last 10 or 15 years. There was a time when we had an abundance of manual labour, horse haulage and the steam winding engine and coal was screened at the pit top. A transformation has taken place since then and 85 per cent. of the coal produced today is dependent upon the use of electricity. That calls for great responsibility.

It is our view that the mechanical engineers—the men in charge of the department at a colliery—ought to be employed by the owners. In point of fact they are, but we would like this Measure to say so. It is laid down that the surveyor and under-manager shall be appointed by the owner. Where a mechanical engineer is in charge at a large colliery, producing possibly 3,000 tons or 4,000 tons a day entirely by the use of electricity—electricity right from the pit top to the roadway and the actual face—we have always to bear in mind that there are great dangers which call for expert knowledge. Without the electrician it would not be possible, in modern mines, to produce coal. Electricity is used for the lighting at the faces, for the power, for coal cutting, for conveyors, haulage and winding.

Hon. Members must bear in mind that great responsibility is placed on the mechanical engineer. We must make sure that in the appointment of a mechanical engineer the right person is appointed. I fully realise that the colliery manager has to be the captain of the ship and that the mechanical engineer must receive his instructions from the manager, but we have to remember that in the new set-up in the industry electricians work hand-in-hand with mechanical engineers in planning large schemes. They order the materials and consult each other. Nevertheless, we are conscious of the fact that, statutorily, it is the colliery manager who is responsible. When appointing the head electrical engineer the responsibility should be borne by the owner.

As time goes on in the industry with the demand for more coal and the sinking of more pits there will be a call for more electricity. It is a very admirable servant, but can be a very bad master. I trust that the Minister will give consideration to what we think is a very important problem in the mining world today.

5.30 p.m.

I beg to second the Amendment.

We have now moved away from the idea of the old colliery manager and the old colliery engineer. When the mechanical and electrical engineers are appointed, the manager may be there, but the appointments are made by those higher up and the manager has to accept the mechanical and electrical engineers they pick for him. The status of these men in the coal industry is such that the National Coal Board demand that they should have very high qualifications.

The Mining, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers' Association is not trying to detract from the powers of the manager. In a letter which it sent from Glasgow to all hon. Members on this side of the House—I do not know whether hon. Members have received it—it says explicitly that its arguments to be employed by the owner arise from a question of status and in no way detract from the powers of the manager. The Minister should consider this matter in the light of new developments, because, as we mechanise the mines and undertake great capital expenditure programmes, these men will become very important.

I cannot pretend to have the technical knowledge necessary for me to support the Amendment, but I want to ask my right hon. Friend why he has not seen fit so far to accept the request of the mechanical engineers. Hon. Members on this side of the House have the letter to which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) referred and it has caused some doubt as to whether the correct action has been taken in this matter.

As those who were Members of the Standing Committee will recall, the Minister willingly accepted my Amendment to change the word "subordinate" to the word "responsible," making the electrical engineer or mechanical engineer responsible to the colliery manager but not subordinate to him. That was a step forward on the lines indicated by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring, but it seems to me that if the appointment of a mechanical or electrical engineer is deemed to be so important because of the development in the industry it is reasonable that it should be made by the owner rather than by the manager.

There can be no doubt that the responsibilities of mechanical and electrical engineers have enormously increased in mining in the last generation. I can well understand that they desire it to be fully appreciated in the world outside, as well as in the mining world, that their status has increased, but I wish they would not choose this way of marking their increase of status. They are not the only people in the industry whose status has improved and is improving.

The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) referred to the fact that the old colliery engineer was a thing of the past. It is true to say, too, that the old colliery manager, or a certain type of the old colliery manager, is becoming a thing of the past, and we also want the status of the manager to improve and to grow with the revolution which is taking place in the industry with the introduction of all these up-to-date techniques of mining. The status of the miner himself has improved and we want to see it continue to improve.

It is, therefore, wrong to introduce a conception by which there is a kind of competitive race for status within the industry. While I appreciate and agree that the status of the electrical and mechanical engineers is improving, and while we note that fact and desire it to continue, we do not feel that this is the right way in winch to note it. We feel that it is still right that the colliery manager should make these appointments, as he has done in the past.

In all our debates on the coal industry we refer to the fact that not enough young experts are coming into the mining industry. We want technicians. No doubt in the next debate the lack of technicians in the mining industry will be a cardinal point of the discussion. In the meantime, young technicians are leaving the industry to become maintenance engineers or electricians in factories, where they get a far better job than they do when working inside the coal field. I am pleased that the Minister said that we must enhance the status of these men, where possible.

I understood that the hon. Member had intervened to ask a question.

I am sorry that I have been led astray. Did the Minister bear in mind the point which I was making about the need to attract young technicians into the industry?

I have not considered that point in relation to this proposal. We all know how important it is, but, if the hon. Member will allow me to say so, I do not think it is a very strong point in relation to this proposal. After all, in other industries, those engineers will probably be taken on by the works manager, not by an owner in some solemn capacity, as it were. There is nothing dishonourable in a man being taken on by the colliery manager.

It may be that the fine electrical engineers of today would have felt a tremor at being taken on by the old colliery manager of a generation ago, but it would be unfortunate if it were felt that there was something wrong in being properly taken on by the new type of manager we want to see.

Is it not the practice of the manager to consult the owner—to consult the experts of the National Coal Board in electrical engineering—before he makes the appointment? Does not that meet part of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts)?

Is it not a fact that when there is a vacancy for a mechanical or electrical engineering position, it is advertised, and that the appointment is not made by the manager but by the various general managers, with perhaps the manager in attendance?

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 9, line 37, leave out "may be reasonably required," and insert "is sufficient."—[ Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]