|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 161owners will not be interested in, concerned about or capable of dealing with those matters. Responsibility should reside with the Health and Safety Executive.
As I said earlier, the executive is not flavour of the month in the mining industry in every respect. The Masham proposals, which have been debated in the House, introduced a new set of health and safety arrangements. They eliminate the role of the deputy. The Bill makes limited reference to matters of health and safety.
We have identified a subject that has not been given proper consideration. Amendment No. 27 deals with people who are almost unique in British industry--the workmen's inspectors, mentioned in section 123 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. They command the respect of their fellow workers ; they have to have had five years' experience ; they are appointed by the majority union in the mine ; and they are given specific responsibility to tour the whole of the mine twice every month. They do so in the boss's time, they are paid and they have an independence that is almost unique in the coal industry.
The deputies' responsibilities had to be met daily. Their status in the mine was rather different from that of workmen's inspectors, but, sadly, the deputies are no more. We still have an independent core of men in the coal industry who, if they are to carry out their responsibilities to the letter, must have a guarantee that they will be paid.
As we understand it, it was regarded as inappropriate to include workmen's inspectors in the 1992 legislation, which extended the right of payment to safety representatives. The mining industry, however, was not covered by that legislation, and it is appropriate that workmen's inspectors should be given the status and the payment. The 1992 legislation does not cover workmen's inspectors. We are seeking to put mines inspectors on the same footing as those men covered by the Coal Industry Act 1992. As we understand it, they are not covered by that Act. That would enable them to conduct their duties without impediment or financial penalty. If pay for the work of workmen's inspectors is not explicitly the responsibility of the employer in the privatised coal industry, there is a danger that the work will not be carried out as it should be, and some of the men may feel intimidated.
We have seen that, in discussions on the establishment of the work force in some of the collieries that have been abandoned by British Coal, and are being licensed to private owners, the status of the trade unions is dubious. There are suggestions that there will be elaborate screening processes during recruitment so that union-minded men may be prevented from working in the pits. That may or may not be valid--only time will tell.
We want to ensure that workmen's inspectors, who carry out a unique function in ensuring safety in the mining industry, have the right to inspect the whole of the colliery. They should have access to all equipment, all records and all information. They should work with the confidence of their fellow workers because they are men of experience, they are appointed by the trade union majority in the colliery and their judgment is valued by their fellow workers.
For those reasons, we feel that it is appropriate to fit the two issues together. The medical service of the coal industry should be sustained--it is a unique service in British industry and a unique industry within the British economy.
Column 162There is plenty of evidence that the illnesses and injuries sustained by coal miners, in their working lives and beyond, need special care and attention. That expertise should be concentrated in a single medical service. We consider that it would be most appropriate if, after privatisation, such duties were the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive.
As a consequence of the statutory instrument pushed through the House last year, under the health and safety arrangements in the mines the deputy is no longer given his due position in the safety structure. But there is still one independent representative of the working men who is entitled to examine every aspect of the running of the colliery.
Such an inspector should be entitled to continue that work without the penalty, or the fear of the penalty, of being financially disadvantaged for taking time off during his normal shifts to carry out his important tasks.
At first glance, the amendments appear somewhat disjointed. For the sake of the future confidence of those who work in the mining industry and those whose loved ones work in the mining industry, it is essential to make proper provision for their health and safety and their medical care. We are pleased to propose the amendments and we hope the Minister will accept them as they are constructive and designed to help all those who work in the industry.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : I start by making the general point that we felt it necessary to move new clause 2 because, as usual, the Government are making a mess of the privatisation of the coal industry, as they have of every other privatisation. There is absolutely no long-term benefit. The consultation between the Government, British Coal and eggheads in various parts of the country leaves much to be desired ; there should have been consultation with people who work in the industry.
British Coal had the finest medical safety set-up anywhere--either on the surface, in industry, or in any other deep mining operation throughout the world. Ian McDonald used to be the Coal Board doctor for the Doncaster area. Each area in Yorkshire had its own doctor. Most of them were specialists. Dr. McDonald specialised in back problems associated with the mining industry. I do not envisage for a moment that the privatised industry will be in any way, shape or form financially inclined to provide such a service. It is important that we should try to ensure that the industry that remains has the best medical and safety set-up in the country. Regrettably, the Government's clause does not do that, hence new clause 2. The British Coal set-up did not come about suddenly ; it was built up over many years of practice and discussion and the Coal Board being pressurised by the NUM to make the necessary safety arrangements. The area consultative committee in Doncaster used to have a safety committee tagged on to it. After a couple of hours on the area consultative committee, we then got on to the safety committee. The safety committee was then set up in its own right. As Doncaster had established the safety committee, it won the best major improvements in British Coal three years on the trot. It is important that what remains of the industry incorporates the best possible practices and customs that have been built up over many decades. The Government will not manage that unless they listen to those who work in the industry.
Column 163The section 123 inspectors, who religiously went around each month looking for and pointing out to the management any bad practices that were taking place, found that after the miners' strike the Coal Board did not want to know. I am confident that the new privatised mines with their new private owners certainly will not want to appoint or allow the union to appoint 123 inspectors with powers to stop malpractice.
I hope that the mines inspectorate will be kept separate from the Health and Safety Executive. If they merge, all the specialist knowledge that has been built up over the years by the mines and quarries inspectors will be lost and the Health and Safety Executive will not be inclined to make or maintain any improvements. As one last point in the quest for safety, I ask the Minister to look yet again at the number of disabled people employed in the industry. The percentage was not achieved in the old British Coal and certainly will not improve under the new privatised industry, although there are statutory regulations to that effect.
I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will have the courtesy to accept new clause 2. It has resulted from consultation with qualified people working in the pits, and it is important to have the best possible standards for the future.
First, one advantage of a particular occupational health service is the ability to study new methods. The evolution of the coal mining industry from working in a crude way with men shovelling coal to the sophisticated machinery that is now used was taken on board by the medical experts in the industry. Many hazards were unknown at the time. For example, it was discovered that the oil used for the hydraulic supports was giving men severe dermatitis. If a blister burst or had a small pin prick or hole, it went right through the skin and into the limbs and a major operation was required to remove it because of the high pressure. That study is just a quick example of why the medical group had to work in conjunction with new methods. That alone shows that there should always be preventive medical back-up.
Occupational health was a continuous service where people were systemically X-rayed to make sure that they were not contracting pneumoconiosis or silicosis. Many people were discovered to have lung cancer or something else wrong with them and were sent immediately for treatment. That was also a great benefit. The day-to-day knowledge of the medical experts, allied to the engineering ergonomics of the subject in which they were involved and the special strains and stresses of miners working underground, is unique and it would be criminal to destroy it simply by saying that now British Coal has gone they can have their P45s.
My second point refers to the section 123 inspectors. I should like to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). He referred to their appointment by the NUM or the mining unions, but they were elected ; there was an election at the colliery for workmen's inspectors.
The role of the NUM was second to none in educating and training those people, in conjunction with Her Majesty's inspectors of mines in Scotland, who lectured to them on many occasions. It was not them and us ; experts on strata control from British Coal and experts on other
Column 164types of mine plant and machinery also lectured to them. We were not the custodians of all knowledge ; there was a flow of knowledge among workmen, management and Her Majesty's inspectorate, all of them looking after the industry on behalf of the people.
Another unique feature of the 123 inspector was the fact that, by statute, he examined his own place of work. Following that examination, a report was made out and was hung on the pithead and subjected to close examination for seven days ; a copy also went to the inspectorate. Moreover, the manager of the mine had to reply to questions and comments in the report within seven days. That illustrates the power of the inspectors--a power, incidentally, that was never used in the context of industrial action : the use of safety provision for such purposes was strongly discouraged, and the inspectors' power was employed only in a sensible, reasonable and constructive way. They were generally admired, and their position was guaranteed.
Pay is an important issue. We do not want a second-class person to be paid a second-class wage ; we want someone at the point of production--at the coal face, in the front of the mine--who stands for election because he will suffer no loss of earnings. If, through no fault of his own, he is elected, why should he lose earnings ? After all, he is helping an area, or a section, to exist.
There have been arguments about who is responsible for safety on North sea rigs. An ideal solution would be to transfer responsibility to the people whom I have described : they should become 123 inspectors on the rigs, having received appropriate training. I hope that both management and workmen would be satisfied with such an arrangement, and that it would secure the level of safety that is desirable in an industry that can be at least as hazardous as mining. The status of such inspectors is important, and I hope that it will be maintained.
In the past, some people were blacklisted ; despite the law, they did not become 123 inspectors because they had no union protection. If the union was anything, however, it was there to protect the safety of men at work-- and this was one way of doing that. Moreover, the safety provision was not granted directly by some divine movement ; it was secured as a result of considerable sacrifice and strife, and a terrific loss of blood and, indeed, life. The clause providing for inspectors was earned over many generations by my forefathers and others, who wanted a statutory right to inspection of their workplaces.
I hope that the Minister will take this constructive new clause seriously, and accept it.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : My hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) and for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) mentioned the role of the deputies. Let me put something on record, in case it was not said in Committee.
We would not be discussing the sad role of the deputies--and the fact that the Government have kicked them into touch with their privatisation measure, giving them responsibility for mine safety--if they had not played a significant role in 1984-85. If they had delivered the goods when they secured a ballot vote of 80-odd per cent., we would not be here today talking about privatisation. In her book, the last Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that
Column 165if the deputies had decided to act on that ballot result in the middle of the strike she would have lost the battle against the NUM. Now we find ourselves in strange circumstances.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) rose
Mr. Skinner : I do not think that I can give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have not much time, and he has plenty to do looking after his own businesses. He is up to the neck in it : he has all sorts of moonlighting jobs. I have just looked them up, and if he wishes to intervene I shall mention them all, so his constituents can learn how much moonlighting he is doing instead of doing his parliamentary job. I shall read them out, if necessary--and refer to one or two more besides.
It is a strange irony that the NUM members among us, and others who supported the miners during the strike, are now battling to introduce a clause giving deputies some power and responsibility--albeit in a roundabout fashion--so that they can perform the duties that they used to perform before the introduction of the Bill and last year's changes.
Mining is an extractive industry ; it is not like factory work. That is one of the reasons why privatisation will fail, and why it will be impossible to implement the Government's so-called safety measures. We are dealing with people who, by and large, work down a hole in the ground, where the strata change from day to day. How can such an industry operate on the same basis as, say, the car industry or any other manufacturing industry ? We are talking about people who have to deal with mother nature every hour of every day. The Minister should understand that coal mining is an extension of the pit community. Coal could not be dug if people did not collaborate underground in one way or another : that is why it is important to make safety a prime responsibility.
Sadly, safety is no longer the prime responsibility of the deputies. Those who will masquerade as deputies in the future will be responsible for production. Indeed, according to our information, under this privatisation measure the new Coal Authority will have no responsibility whatever for safety ; it is not even mentioned. Neither deputies nor anyone else could carry out such
responsibilities, because the Bill is all about making vast amounts of money in a relatively short time. That is all that the Government are interested in. They are not interested in a coal industry that will last for 20 or 30 years ; those who will run the authority on behalf of the Secretary of State will run it for as short a time as possible to make as much money as possible.
As with the health authorities and all the rest, Tory spivs will be in charge. Perhaps some Tory Members even have little sinecures lined up for the time when the Bill becomes law. They will already be on some board or other, making representations, acting as advisers or consultants and picking up £10,000 or £20,000 a year ; then they will talk about idle people who have no jobs in society. You can bet your bottom dollar that they have already lined up some of those jobs run by Tory spivs. Everyone knows, however, that the coal industry cannot be run by people who are interested only in profit ; it is a very dangerous industry.
How would the industry manage without the St John's ambulance teams ? I do not think that that has been mentioned today, although it was probably mentioned in
Column 166Committee. In every pit village, the industry has been run by an assembly of men--sometimes assisted by women-- who formed the backbone of that organisation, free of charge. It would be impossible to operate without them. I do not think that the Government have paid any attention to all the free assistance that has been given in respect of health and safety.
According to the latest figures available, a major incident, accident or death is 20 times more possible in a privatised pit than in one in the public sector. Up until 1992, such incidents were five times more likely in the small number of licensed mines--there are more now. According to the latest available figures, it is 20 times more dangerous to work in a privatised pit. The Minister may shake his head, but those are the facts. It is a simple calculation. I know that the Government fiddle the dole figures and the cost of living figures--they fiddle all the figures that they get hold of--but they cannot fiddle the safety figures because they represent people who have died or suffered injuries of one kind or another.
Post-privatisation will be like the pre-war days my father used to tell me about. He said that so many men were available for work in the pits that if it were a question of replacing a man or a pony, the management would sooner replace a man because there were so other men up on the blocks, waiting for a job. There were thousands of such men in every pit village-- we all know what it was like in the run-up to the second world war. The cost of replacing a pony was £80. If there were an incident and people were injured or killed, the first thing that the manager asked was, "Have you saved the pony ?" He knew that he could replace any number of men. That is what privatisation is all about, and there are 4 million people out of work under this Government.
The Bill and its safety aspects are a deliberate attempt to make a bob or two for the Government's Tory friends and some of the Tory Members of Parliament who will be allied to the industry. It has nothing to do with safety, which is why I believe that we should support the relatively moderate amendment No. 27--it does not ask for the moon--to make safety matters a little more prominent in the Bill. It will be a sad day when the mines are taken over. The Government are not bothered about people suffering injury and illness--they never have been. They have stripped away many social security measures and the social fabric of all the pit communities and now they are trying to provide a platform for making money. They do not care tuppence about the men, and the women, who have to endure the consequences of their proposals.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : New clause 2 and amendment No.27 are extremely important. The new clause calls for the continuation of the medical service which has been built up since 1947 and which provides a bank of information about various diseases connected with the industry. For example, in the case of pneumoconiosis, the qualification period is 10 years underground. If a miner could not prove that he had fulfilled that qualification, he would call on the medical service to prove it.
A man may have worked in the coal industry for many years and sustained an injury perhaps 20 years ago. Having left the industry, he may begin to be troubled by that old injury. When he makes his claim for a disablement assessment, he will be required to show that he has worked
Column 167in the industry and that the problem from which he was suffering was the result of an industrial injury. He would most likely call on the coal industry's medical service to substantiate his claim that he had worked in the industry and sustained his injury when he informed the Department of Social Security that he had sustained it. It is important, therefore, that the service is maintained.
Another disease--chronic bronchitis and emphysema--has been accepted in relation to coal mining. The qualification period is 20 years. When a man finds that his period of work in the industry is questioned, the only way in which he is able to substantiate his claim is by calling on the records kept by the medical service. The service is important not only for the keeping records but for monitoring the health and safety of the men who work in the industry.
Radiographs are taken of each miner. The mobile X-ray van travels around the coalfields and tries to ensure that each miner is X-rayed every two years so that his health is continually monitored. Such a provision must be maintained and I hope that the Minister, who was nodding, will confirm that it is to be maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned the industry's safety culture, which is second to none. The British deep coal mining industry is the safest in the world. If one compares the safety record of public sector and private sector mining, it is clear that there is a marked difference. It has already been said that the public sector industry is as much as 20 times safer. We should bear it in mind that, after privatisation, the safety culture is likely to be reduced, and it would be sad and disappointing if the number of accidents in the industry were to degenerate to the level now experienced in the private sector.
The Minister appears to frown at the suggestion that the level of accidents and fatalities in the private sector is that much higher than in the public sector, but I refer him to the fatality record which is about eight times greater in the private industry than in the public industry. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the safety culture, which has been maintained in the public sector, is carried on when the industry is privatised.
One way to ensure that the safety culture is maintained is to ensure that workmen's inspectors continue to be elected and to be paid for the duties that they carry out at the collieries, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). The workmen's inspectors buttress the safety culture in the industry and have made British mines the safest in the world.
I hope that the Minister will tell us that the section 123 inspectorate will continue in the same way when the industry is privatised as it did when it was in public hands. Will he also ensure that payments are made to the section 123 inspectorate ? In Committee, the Minister said that he would ensure that the safety culture of the public industry was maintained when it was privatised. If he is genuine in that endeavour, he will be able to tell us now that the section 123 inspectorate will continue and that payments will continue to be paid.
Column 168The Minister has already done the cause of safety in the mining industry a profound disservice by the changes to the mine regulations, which had such a catastrophic effect on the historic role of the colliery deputy. He may recall that I had a meeting with him a year or so ago at which I said that I trusted that, for historic reasons, he would have a care about his position. I said that if more men died or were maimed as a result of a shift in the Government's approach to safety, his name and that of the Secretary of State would go down in history for rather different reasons and with rather different emphasis than they might appreciate now.
There is a vital need to maintain the safety culture in the mining industry. The amendment is vital in part because of the way in which the Minister wishes to structure the industry. If he must have a number of private coal owners, I fear, as many other people fear, that the standards will be those of the lowest required. If he must ensure that some standards of health in the mining industry are retained, there is no better way in which to send signals to that effect than by accepting the amendment, which seems to be perfectly sensible and one which any intelligent or moderate Government would be eager to accept.
It is imperative that we retain some safeguards in mining operations and new clause 2 will do exactly that. I hope that the Minister will accept it. In preparation for coal privatisation, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 was repealed and replaced by a set of guidelines. That repeal, along with the impending privatisation, will mean--not may mean--that safety standards will be undermined. The new regulations were introduced via a statutory instrument. I must say to the Minister, as I have said before, that those regulations were slipped through by the Secretary of State for Employment during the summer recess ; he presented a statutory instrument in August, which was to be implemented before Parliament resumed in October. When Parliament resumed, we insisted on having a debate, albeit too late. On an issue as important as the scrapping of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, we were allowed a three-hour debate.
The new regulations abolished the pit deputy. As most people who worked in the industry knew, the pit deputy was a buffer between management, which was not only, but mainly, interested in production, and the maintenance of safety. He was not always popular, even among most of the men. Through those regulations, power has been being handed over to the pit manager, who may just be tempted to put production before safety. I hope that that does not happen, but I have a feeling, given my experience in the mining industry, that some people may be a little over-eager and may tend to overlook safety aspects in striving for production goals.
The statutory instrument eliminates statutory duties. It eliminates the words "shall", "will" and "must" from the regulations and introduces words such as "as far as practicable". What does that mean ? Who will interpret that
Column 169phrase ? As far as practicable for what, for whom or for what purpose ? That phrase is very dangerous, but the words "shall", "will" and "must" are specific. Everybody knows what "shall", "will" and "must" mean, but not everybody knows what "as far as practicable" means.
Let us consider the private sector's track record in the mining industry, which has already been mentioned by one or two hon. Members. It is absolutely appalling when set against the record of British Coal. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has already mentioned that the number of fatalities in the private sector has been five times higher than it was under British Coal. In the first six months, the major accident rate was 62 per cent. higher than that among people working for British Coal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) mentioned that, over the years, miners who worked for British Coal developed a safety culture attitude. He is absolutely right. It appears that there is no such culture in the private sector ; if there were, there would not be such a high accident rate. Make no mistake, there are probably more miners working for the private sector in British Coal mines than there are British Coal employees. Many jobs that used to be done by employees of the then National Coal Board and British Coal have been taken over by the private sector. Miners who have already started work in the private sector are being shipped around from pit to pit on short-term contracts--one month here, two months there, three months in another pit--and are being asked to work longer hours.
Private companies are insisting that miners work only on short-term contracts and we all know the reasons why. What is really disturbing is that, when they sign the short-term contracts, they are being told that they must work seven days a week and 12-hour shifts or they are not employed. The private companies know that they can go elsewhere for workers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, when he recounted the words of his father from many years ago, the self-same thing is happening to miners now as happened then. The private companies know that there are unemployed miners aplenty who are looking for work and that if people are not prepared to work seven days a week on 12-hour shifts, they can find somebody who will be prepared to work such hours.
Longer hours compromise safety, especially in the mining industry, where there are problems such as humidity, lack of light, dust and heat. Under such circumstances, miners working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, whether they like it or not, become fatigued. The Government will not accept that longer hours have compromised safety. I suggest that they take another look at the figures and reconsider their attitude on long hours and their relationship to accidents. Clearly, longer hours, stress and fatigue inevitably lead to more accidents.
May I say a few words about amendment No. 27 on the section 123 workmen's inspectors, considering that I spent 11 to 12 years as a workmen's inspector at the Brodsworth mine ? Among the management and workers at most collieries, the position of a workmen's inspectors was well respected. They worked hand in hand with the inspectorate, the safety engineer and the safety officer at the pit and, on many occasions, with management, because their attitudes on many aspects never clashed. It was a coveted position.
Column 170People stood for election and, once they were elected, they were generally respected by their colleagues. It is essential to support the amendment so that their pay is not affected by carrying out duties as a section 123 inspector. It is not an easy task being a workmen's inspector. Sometimes one receives a little criticism, like the deputies
Mr. Hughes : I did on many occasions. I can remember one occasion when I was a new workmen's inspector, full of enthusiasm, fresh from the joint courses with British Coal and the inspectorate of mines and having being taught all the ins and outs of the Mines and Quarries Act, going into a heading and discovering that there were more men in that heading than there should have been by law. There were about 10 men and there should have been only nine. For a workmen's inspector, all that was out of order because there were too many men in the heading. Those men were lugging a great big heavy electric cable ; it was unbelievable--and one of them had to leave. The next day when I returned to work I got some aggro from my colleagues, because it meant that fewer of them helped to hump that enormous cable through the heading. So there can be criticism, too.
The duties of a workmen's inspector start when he arrives at the pit and systematically goes round the chosen district for that day. There is usually a joint inspection, because the inspector is accompanied by the safety officer or safety engineer and the district under-manager. When he gets down to a particular coal face, the senior overman or the deputy accompanies him. Often, many of the little problems spotted by the inspector can be put right on the spot, or the deputy can deploy somebody to sort them out.
The more serious problems would go into a report posted at the colliery and displayed there for seven days, and also sent to the mines inspector so that he could pick up recurring issues that the management were not systematically putting right.
The job was not simply a matter of visits ; the inspectors put a lot of their own time in, too. That is why I am arguing that they should not lose pay by carrying out the inspections. They need to keep checking up to see how the problems raised during the inspection have been dealt with--whether they have been dealt with properly, or even at all. Often, after an inspection a discussion will take place in the safety office, and if there is a serious problem the workmen's inspector will ask to see the manager and take the issue up with him.
With a more serious issue, if the inspector feels that he is not getting satisfaction from local management he can get directly in touch with Her Majesty's inspector of mines. The position of a section 123 inspector is a serious one, and people genuinely take their duties seriously. So it is essential that the Minister accepts amendment No.27.
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) : I declare an interest : I am sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers, and I am proud of it. It is a sad day for the NUM when the Bill is going through Parliament--and a sad day for the country as a whole, too. I cannot help thinking that the Conservative Benches--Conservative Members would have been in opposition in those days--
Column 171must have been fuller when we were going the other way and nationalising the industry ; Conservative Members must have shown more interest then.
I shall speak briefly because I had my say in Committee and I know that others are anxious to speak now. In Committee, we spent many hours discussing the subject. It is partly because the Opposition members of the Committee were not totally satisfied with the Minister's assurances that we tabled the new clause and amendment No.27.
I do not want to go over ground that has been adequately covered by my hon. Friends, but I must tell the Minister, as I have told him before, that one of the most important aspects of the duties, responsibilities and functions of the British Coal medical service was the keeping of records. People could find out about accidents that had happened many years ago and examine information about their chest X-rays. Because there has been such a rapid rundown in the industry it is vital that in the years ahead people who find that they have health problems should be able to get access to such information. It is imperative that that information be vested in a good reliable body. The Health and Safety Executive could well take over that function.
The present pneumoconiosis scheme agreed by the Government, the union and what was then the National Coal Board, came into existence because of the Pickles case--the first successful attempt to obtain damages from the employer for pneumoconiosis. That came about because the Coal Board did not have adequate records of the dust samples from the colliery in which Mr. Pickles had worked. Emphysema, bronchitis and so on can take many years to develop and we do not want the Pickles case to be repeated in years to come when people find that they have such conditions. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept the new clause, which would do nothing more than the Minister said in Committee he was willing to do.
As for amendment No.27, like my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) I have been involved in section 123 inspections. I used to be a member of an ad hoc body run exclusively by section 123 inspectors, with no involvement by trade union officials or management. I have a gold watch in my pocket that was presented to me by that body, and I am proud of it.
There is more in the provision than meets the eye, because there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding not only of the role of the section 123 inspector but of how that role came about. In 1872, miners first acquired a statutory right to inspect and report on their own workplaces, because the Government realised that the Government inspectorate was not large enough to deal with the many inspections required in an industry that was both dangerous and not very well run--which is what one would expect under private enterprise.
With one or two exceptions for very small workplaces, those rights became the province of all working people 105 years later, under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977, SI 500, which gave the right for inspections to be carried out quarterly at all workplaces. Because the mining industry did not have that statutory right, there was a collective agreement between the Coal Board and the union to provide for inspections to be carried out in every part of a mine every two months, and to be paid for by the employer. Over and above that, the miners had the right to carry out a monthly inspection at their own
Column 172expense. If they wished to carry out that monthly inspection, they would pay for it themselves ; the second month the employer would pay, and so on.
I want the Minister to bear in mind the fact that we do not want the section 123 inspectors to be reduced to conducting quarterly inspections. One reason why that should not happen was revealed in a conversation I had some years ago with a Government inspector--we used to talk to them, and even to the Coal Board, at times. That inspector was concerned about the appalling rate of accidents in private mines and asked whether the NUM would mind if he concentrated more on the private mines and less on the nationalised sector. We agreed because we understood that that need was paramount. The Government inspector was having great difficulty in getting people in the private sector to accept the section 123 inspector's job. That was why he was having to devote more of his time to the private sector.
Unlike the Government, I believe that things will get worse in the industry after privatisation. The Government inspectorate will be engulfed with problems. Never has there been a time when the section 123 inspector--the miners' own inspector--has been more necessary. As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) said, it should never be forgotten that when the section 123 inspector writes his report and the local colliery manager has made his responses, the completed report goes to the Government inspector, who can have an overview of what is going on at any colliery without having to visit it himself.
I hope that the Minister will ensure that any employer who tries to prevent any workman from carrying out those duties, which are more than 110 years old, will be vigorously dealt with. I hope that the Government will ensure that the Health and Safety Executive does its job properly and brings any such employer to book.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : A few weeks ago, in my home village of Resolven, I was woken up early by an ambulance coming through the village. As my hon. Friends who live in pit villages will know, that sends more than the usual tremor through a coal mining community. When I phoned the Lyn mine above the village of Cwmgwrach a few hours later, the person who answered the phone told me not to worry, because the worker who had attracted the ambulance had only broken his jaw.
That is against a background of two deaths in private licensed mines in the Neath constituency in the past two years. Another worker was paralysed from the waist down. He was an excellent rugby player as well, so that was especially tragic.
There are 36 private mines in the Neath constituency--more than anywhere else in the country--employing nearly 450 workers. There are many good employers among them. There are many family firms that have mined for many years, and they have a good relationship with their work force. They produce coal for the domestic market and are well regarded in the community.
We also have Ryan Mining International, which has rightly been heavily criticised in recent weeks for the treatment of its work force. Nevertheless, it has made a huge investment in the community and is building a major railhead to reopen the Vale of Neath railway line to transform the transportation of coal from road to rail, and that is welcome.
Column 173That picture shows the ominous future which the Bill will usher in and make the norm throughout the country--the ominous future of privatisation. For many decades, men have been treated at least like human beings by British Coal, but they will no longer have that certainty. In the Neath constituency, for example, private mine workers go around the pubs on Friday night to find the foreman so that they can get their pay, because they cannot find him anywhere else. If they are unlucky and he does not happen to be in a particular pub, they must wait until the following week to be paid. Health and safety are cut to the bone. Men are often not paid with proper pay slips,as required under the contracts of employment legislation, which stipulate their bonus payments, Saturday work, overtime and so on ; they are simply handed a lump sum of money. They are instructed to work over Christmas in defiance of agreements with their employer, as is the norm in the coal industry. They are often dismissed before two years are up
Mr. Hain : I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply wanted to paint the broader picture in which the conditions that men work under in the private mines in my constituency have a bearing on health and safety. I shall now concentrate on that.
The figures--I had this argument with the Minister in
Committee--provided by the Health and Safety Executive, and supplied by the Library of the House, show that the fatal accident rate is much higher for licensed mines, at 1.82 per 1,000 employees, than it is for British Coal mines, where it is 0.08. That means that a miner is 23 times more likely to die in a private licensed mine than in a British Coal mine. There has been a marked deterioration in the fatal accident rate in licensed mines since 1989-90.
Mr. Eggar : To give a fair balance in what is an important debate, can the hon. Gentleman read from that same agency report the major accident rate, and the fatal and major accident rate, in British Coal and licensed mines ? It is right that he should put that on the record.
Mr. Hain : I am happy to do so. According to the statistics of the Health and Safety Commission, the major accident rate in British Coal mines in 1992-93 was 8.60 per 1,000 employees ; in licensed mines, it was 4.24. The fatal and major accident rate for British Coal in 1992-93 was 8.68 per 1,000 employees ; in licensed mines, it was 6.06.
The Minister invited me to draw attention to those figures, and it is proper for him to do so. However, with regard to the accident figures-- unlike the fatal accident figures--the Health and Safety Executive specifically draws attention to the fact that there are sharp fluctuations because of the smaller statistical base, especially in private mines.
The important point about fatal accidents--after all, if a man loses his life underground, he loses his life ; there is no argument about that--is that a miner is 23 times more likely to die in a private mine than in a British Coal mine, according to the latest figures.