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Column 174

Mr. Rogers : Does my hon. Friend accept that, in many private mines, proper records of accidents are not kept and the accident book is not always kept up to date, as it should be ?

6.15 pm

Mr. Hain : I listen to what my hon. Friend says. It is fair enough to paint the wider picture of accidents in private mines. I regret that the Minister seems to be reluctant to concede--as he was in Committee, and as the Department of Employment refused to do in a written reply to me on this matter--the fact supplied by the Health and Safety Executive : that a miner is 23 times more likely to die under privatisation, although that is the regime that the Government are ushering in and sanctifying in law.

Mr. Redmond : As figures are being bandied about, I wonder whether the Minister has the figures for the accidents and fatalities that took place before nationalisation of the industry, because the search for profits brought a complete lack of safety. As privatisation is about profits, I am sure that my hon. Friend probably wants to say a few words about that.

Mr. Hain : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes his point tellingly, because we are now in an era--we have seen it in the Neath constituency, and we have seen the consequences in terms of fatalities--in which life is increasingly becoming cheap, and in which profits and the stiff winds of competition which restrict those profits, and the ability to provide health and safety conditions and other support for working conditions, which have been the norm of British Coal, are inevitably constrained in private mines. As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) mentioned the situation since nationalisation, I draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that, in December 1990, the Select Committee on Energy published a report on safety in coal mines. That report said that, between 1900 and 1946--in other words, in the privatised era-- the chance of a man being killed at work in the United Kingdom coal industry reduced from one in 770 to one in 1,300 ; in other words, it roughly halved.

However, in the 40 years since nationalisation, the chance of being killed has reduced much further, to one in 11,600 in 1987-88, the safest year in terms of fatal accidents. In other words, the chance of being killed has reduced 10 times since nationalisation. We now have the safest pits in the world--or at least we will have until the Bill becomes law.

We are seeing history go in reverse. We are going back to the future. We are going back to an era in which accidents and fatalities will increase, because the Government are obsessed with deregulation, and with profit being the driving force of all the activity, rather than the protection of mineworkers who generate the wealth on which the country has depended for many decades.

Mr. Eggar : It is fair to say that we have had a general debate about safety matters. I make absolutely no complaint about that, because, obviously, safety is extremely important to anyone who is in any way associated with the mining industry. The Government have made it absolutely clear that the paramount issue as we approach privatisation of the mining industry is the preservation of high safety standards. It is precisely for that reason that we have accepted the recommendations of the Health and Safety Commission at every stage.


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I understand the involvement of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) with the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, and his genuine commitment to the cause of improving safety in the mines. However, he must appreciate that the Masham package has been the result of extensive consultation. It is not the act of some wicked Tory Government, but rather the recommendation of the tripartite Health and Safety Commission after as much as eight years of consultation. The hon. Gentleman should have been fair to me and the House by putting that on the record and putting it in perspective.

I will not say that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) made a speech which was word for word the same speech as he made in Committee, but it bore a remarkable similarity to it. If one were to run his speech through a word processor, one would find considerable repetition. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would do very well in the game that one occasionally hears played on the radio. The hon. Member for Neath returned to the same points that he had raised, but this time--carried away, as usual, with his own eloquence--he went further. I did not get the precise words down, but he said that the figures which he quoted show that privatised mines were 23 times more dangerous than British Coal mines. He has moved on from looking at the statistics for fatal accidents for last year, and has now, so to speak, made a prediction as a matter of certainty. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring such simple facts as that the privatised industry will include many of the mines that are currently owned and run by British Coal.

I do not want to belittle the extremely important issue of safety, and the need to make sure that the privatised industry carries forward mining at least as safely as, and, let us hope, more safely than, British Coal, by bandying statistics across the Floor of the House. I recognise, as every hon. Member does, that one fatality or one major accident in the mining industry is one too many. We all have a duty to try to make sure that the improvements that have been made both in the private licensed sector and in British Coal continue.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) mentioned the safety record pre-nationalisation. It was, by today's standards, absolutely appalling. It is because the record was so bad, and because there have been so many improvements as a result of the work done by the Health and Safety Commission and through health and safety legislation, that we want to make sure that the recent improvement in the record is maintained.

I turn now to the precise terms of new clause 2. First, I understand the significant contribution that has been made by the medical service. I met a number of individuals who were associated with the rescue at Bilsthorpe when I went there with the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping). I am aware of the major contribution that the medical service has made, not just to the particular problems associated with mining but to furthering occupational health in this and other industries. The service has contributed considerably to the general expertise in that area.

As with all other safety matters, the Government have taken the advice of the Health and Safety Commission. The Commission believes that there is already a sufficient framework of law in place which will require employers in the mining industry, including future private sector employers, to carry out all necessary health surveillance.


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The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) said that the necessary medical records must be maintained, and that is obviously extremely important. The commission advised us that it must be for employers to determine how they should best meet the established standards, and it is for them to choose how they should carry out medical examinations. The commission's view clearly was that new legislation of the type proposed in the new clause is not required.

Mr. O'Neill : Was the Health and Safety Commission advice based on the experience of British Coal or on the experience of the existing private mines, the way in which they operate in the United Kingdom, and the way in which they keep records and look after the health of their employees ?

Mr. Eggar : My understanding is that the commission's advice was based on its analysis of the present framework of law, and on experience within the mining industry as a whole. The commission, having first said that the framework was right, then expressed the view--as have Opposition Members--that British Coal's medical service provided a valuable centre of expertise. The commission expressed the view that employers within the privatised industry might well wish to continue to have the opportunity to purchase the services of the medical service.

A body of expertise has been built up. The commission recognises that, but it does not think that it is essential to continue it. However, it feels that the option should be made available to future purchasers. British Coal is looking at the advice that has been given and the views put forward by the Health and Safety Commission, and it is currently considering options for the future of the medical service.

British Coal is responsible for the medical service, and has assured the Department that its proposals for the future of the service will be fully consistent with the commission's advice.

Mr. Kevin Hughes : Will the Minister assure the House that British Coal will give some consideration to how medical records are to be co- ordinated for people who work in the private sector, both now and in the future ? Those people are working on the short-term contracts I talked about. How will the records be co-ordinated ? At the moment, they are moving from pit to pit and working for different companies. It may be difficult to co-ordinate the health records, and it is important that that is done.

Mr. Eggar : I understand that. The Health and Safety Commission has made it clear that it believes that the legal framework is the right one, and an additional amendment is not needed. I am sure that British Coal will want to take into account matters such as that referred to by the hon. Gentleman when it looks at the future of the medical service. Of course, it will be a matter for the private sector purchasers, but I will draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of British Coal. I recognise that, certainly in the short term, it is a matter of considerable concern.

I hope that I have been able to give the reassurance that is necessary because of the genuine concerns in the new clause. Turning to amendment No. 27, I say--not least because the hon. Members for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Sunderland, North have been so active on section 123 inspections--that the Government completely accept that section 123 plays a valuable part in the health


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and safety system. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that those section 123 inspections continue to play the role that they have done for a number of years.

The House will understand that this is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission and for health and safety legislation. The medium suggested by amendment No. 27--in other words, the inclusion of the condition with regard to section 123 in the licences, which is the precise methodology used in the amendment--is, I suggest, not the right way forward. The Health and Safety Commission has made it clear that it believes that it is important that there should be a separation between its powers on the one hand and the conditions, licences and any powers of the Coal Authority on the other. The Health and Safety Executive is examining how best to strengthen the existing section 123 system by extending to mines the provisions of safety representatives and safety committees regulations-- this is the point which was made almost universally by Opposition Members-- which provide for the payment of safety representatives while they carry out their duties.

The Health and Safety Executive tells me that a consultation document with proposals will be published shortly, and that the proposals will relate to recommendations for payment. I understand that it is the commission's firm intention that the consultation document should be in place, and that consultation should be concluded by the time privatisation takes place.

Mr. Eric Clarke : The division worries me a little. One of the problems raised when the law to create the commission was passed was the dilution of the powers of the mines inspectorate under section 123 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. Will the Minister give me an assurance that he will recommend something along the lines of what is contained in amendment No. 27 ? That would satisfy me, and I am sure that it would satisfy my colleagues.

6.30 pm

Mr. Eggar : I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that I will recommend the contents of the amendment, because it goes against the basic split recommended by the Health and Safety Commission. We have accepted that there should be a difference between the health and safety aspects of mines and the licence terms and the role of the Coal Authority. We do not want any interweaving or double-tracking in safety matters. It seems to me that there must be clarity. The basic thrust of the amendment relates to payment of section 123 inspections. The Health and Safety Commission will consult. It is a matter for the commission, but my understanding is that the consultation paper it puts out will include recommendations on payment of representatives involved in section 123 inspections. I hope that the Opposition will feel able to withdraw new clause 2 and amendment No. 27.

Mr. O'Neill : Amendment No. 27 has fulfilled its purpose, because we now have a clearer idea of the Government's intentions, although we shall have to wait and see what emerges in the form of a consultative document. Therefore, we shall not seek to press amendment No. 27 to a vote, on the understanding that, when the appropriate mechanism is available to us, we shall undoubtedly wish to debate it further. The


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Department of Employment will undoubtedly be the lead Department in the matter. Given the close inter-relationship between the Coal Authority and the Health and Safety Commission, no matter how much the Minister wishes to separate the two, we shall need to look at the matter again.

The Minister has conceded our case on the medical service. He has given notice that the Health and Safety Executive has come a long way on the issue, but we are not satisfied with what has been said. We believe that it is essential that the medical service continues to exist to care for existing mineworkers and those who have worked in the mining industry in the past and will suffer from illnesses and conditions related to mining, such as industrial deafness and the pulmonary diseases which are so much a facet of the lives of retired miners or those who have left the industry.

For the reasons that I have given, we insist on pressing new clause 2 to a vote. We consider that the medical service is of vital importance. It is one of the jewels in the crown of British Coal. We do not wish to see the coal industry lose it. We do not think that medical services should be left to the philanthropy of private mineowners. If there is one group that has been characterised by its meanness and indifference to the health and safety of its work force, it is private mineowners.

Various statistics have been bandied about today on what life was like in the coal industry before nationalisation. All I can say is that, in 1946, immediately before the mines were taken into public ownership, one miner died every eight-hour shift, and 1,000 men died every year in order that we could have coal. That figure has fallen dramatically, partly because fewer miners are employed, but more than anything because of the care about health and safety and the medical service that mineworkers demanded. We do not want to see what they have achieved thrown aside. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby in support of new clause 2.

Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 262, Noes 298.

Division No. 174] [6.35 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin


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Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gould, Bryan

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Henderson, Doug

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hoon, Geoffrey

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Hutton, John

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)

Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)

Janner, Greville

Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)

Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Jowell, Tessa

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Keen, Alan

Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)

Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)

Khabra, Piara S.

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)

Kirkwood, Archy

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, Terry

Litherland, Robert

Livingstone, Ken

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Llwyd, Elfyn

Loyden, Eddie

Lynne, Ms Liz

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

McCrea, Rev William

Macdonald, Calum

McFall, John

McKelvey, William

Mackinlay, Andrew

McLeish, Henry

Maclennan, Robert

McMaster, Gordon

McNamara, Kevin

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Maddock, Mrs Diana

Mahon, Alice

Mandelson, Peter

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

Martlew, Eric

Maxton, John

Meacher, Michael

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)

Miller, Andrew

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Morley, Elliot

Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)

Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)

Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)

Mudie, George


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