I have on the Order Paper a Private Member's Bill, named the Coal Mines (Refuse) Bill. I never get an opportunity of raising my voice in protest on this matter. I have attempted to bring it forward on many occasions, because it is necessary that something should be done, but on every occasion it is blocked by the Chief Whip, who is, I suppose, acting on instructions from the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Mines. Therefore, we never get the opportunity, to which we are entitled, of ventilating the question. This matter is very important from our point of view, the miners especially. I live in a mining district and I represent a mining district. We have before us on all occasions these slag-heaps on fire. Nothing can be done with them, we are told, because there is an Act of Parliament which allows certain things and we are not in a position to get enough evidence to go to work under that Act. Consequently, this thing goes on.
During the May demonstrations I went to Northumberland and Durham to speak to the miners there. All around in those villages the same things happen, and I was appealed to by the. miners to try to get something done in the House of Commons. I told them of my difficulty and that it is one of the unfortunate things for a private Member that he can introduce a Bill, get it printed and read a First time and then constantly get it blocked by a Member on the other side of the House. Therefore I am using this opportunity of raising this matter. I am making my protest, and unless legitimate reasons are given from the other side why we cannot have an opportunity for this Bill we ought to keep the House on all possible occasions—I hope that I shall get some support from my lion. Friends—until we can cause the Government to say, "These people feel so keenly on this matter that we must give them an opportunity." Hon. Members are anxious to get away to-night. I understand that the Debate has been shortened for some particular reason. If it is so, I claim that it is all wrong, but I understand that it is because there is something particular on.
Could the hon. Gentleman tell me what particular reason it is? It is a Supply Day and it is open to the Opposition to raise any grievances which they may have. Can, the hon. Member tell us why the Debate has been curtailed? It has certainly not been curtailed by the Government.
I must apologise for that. I have taken a rumour and I cannot substantiate it. I was told by certain people that there was something on, but I withdraw that statement. I am taking this opportunity to raise what is a strong point and I would like an assurance from the Chief Whip that he will give me some opportunity of raising this, because every chance I have of obstructing business in this House I shall take unless I get some help. For two Sessions I have brought this matter forward and in the last Session of the old Parliament I was given an assurance that I should have an opportunity of bringing it forward this Session.
The Chief Whip must understand that in a matter of this kind there are passages between Members and it is not always wise to mention them, but I was told by someone on that side that if I brought the Bill forward this Session there would be an opportunity. I am not prepared to give any name on that. When Members bring forward Bills some chance ought to be given for discussion of them on the Floor of the House. I know that to-night I cannot do that very well. What I would like to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is, can I to-night press a Division on this matter, on this Private Member's Bill, to see if it can get a vote.
I did not follow the hon. Member, if he was asking me for a Ruling on that. I think that in what he has said he has recognised that already that in talking on the Adjournment he cannot discuss matters which need legislation.
I quite agree with that. People talk about gas masks being used when gas is being hurled from the air. Shall we have to use gas masks as a result of these slag heaps unless something is done by the Government? It is becoming so bad that something will have to be done. I hope that an opportunity will be given to me of putting this before the House.
I want to support the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in the question which he has raised, because I also represent a division where we suffer as a result of this kind of thing. But I am not speaking only on behalf of the division I represent. I lived in a centre in Lancashire where we suffered from this kind of thing during the whole of my life-time. Those of you who are familiar with mining and steel centres will have seen the eyesores which there are in all these centres, the slag heaps and the coal tips. Hon. Members whom I know fairly well on both sides of the House will, I am sure, extend to us their support when we are raising this question. Some time ago J. B. Priestley wrote a book. He traveled through the whole of the centre of Britain and he described very vividly the conditions under which people are living in the districts about which we are speaking to-night. The position is getting worse. As this tipping takes place it gets nearer and nearer the houses, and when it pours with rain the rain runs off these tips into the people's houses and on many occasions floods them. In addition, when the slag is being tipped the heap gets nearer the houses, and when it rains the effect on the molten metal which is tipped is such that people ought not to be expected to live under conditions of that kind.
It would not take much for the Government to deal with this and I hope that their Front Bench representative will be good enough to draw the Government's attention to it. We have debated this week a Bill which has the object of providing credit to the extent of £1,000,000. I hope the Government will consider allocating some of that money to local authorities, or to some big steel combine or coal combine so that they may deal with the question. In my constituency there is a place called Fenton Park. It used to be an old pit heap, but during the War German prisoners were employed upon it and made it a beautiful park, with trees and grass and beautiful flowers. What can be done during the War by German prisoners can be done again in these times. It is our duty to raise this question on behalf of the people who have to live in these districts. These eye-sores ought to be laid out on the lines I have indicated.
I have raised this matter in the House on previous occasions. If it is to be dealt with, it must be by Government assistance. The coal-owners of the North-East say that they are in a poor way financially. During the month of February their profits were only £57,000 and, therefore, they plead poverty. Personally, I believe they are doing 'very well, but they claim that they are not in a position to deal with these slag-heaps themselves. Therefore, it will be necessary to have Government assistance on the advice of the Commissioner for the Special Areas if they are to be dealt with. That is the problem as it affects the present. As to the future, these slag heaps are growing in every mining area. I suggest to the Government that it would be a reasonable thing if they took steps to prevent these nuisances growing. I have a district in my constituency which is reasonably prosperous. The people take an interest in their homes and in their businesses, and being good business people they endeavour to make their shops attractive to purchasers. If they paint their shops in a few weeks they look absolutely dilapidated and present no attraction to any purchaser.
We have been considering in this House the question of armaments. We have talked about gas masks, the provision of petrol underground tanks, and making accommodation so that we can have as many bombs, shells and guns as we want. We shall have to keep them somewhere. The secret service of other countries will not have great difficulty in knowing where we are to store these things. What are you going to do? We can see the flames from these slag-heaps miles away. Are you going to put a shade over them? It will be practically impossible to darken them. There will be nothing to prevent an enemy aeroplane coining straight to a particular pit-heap of which he knows the situation and from there taking his course anywhere he wants to go. Therefore, from that point of view it is a sensible thing in the interests of the defence to deal promptly with this matter.
I once asked an hon. and gallant Member how far out in the North Sea it was possible to see one of these pit-heaps. He said that on a clear night it would he difficult to say at a particular altitude, but that he had seen the Alps 300 miles away on a clear day. If you can see the Alps 300 miles away on a clear day, then on a clear night the mass of red flames from one of these pit-heaps will be seen many miles out in the North Sea. If you want to safeguard your ammunition dumps and petrol supplies and, what is far more important, the lives of the people, something ought to be done to abolish these abominable nuisances which interfere with the health of the people and which also cost the people great sums of money in an endeavour to keep their business premises as well as their homes in a decent state. I have much pleasure in supporting the appeal that has been made. It is the Government's job. They have allowed this nuisance to go on, and the Government should find the money.
I should be sorry if it were thought that only hon. Members opposite took any interest in this matter, but under your Ruling Mr. Deputy-Speaker I find myself in a difficulty because this question is the subject matter of a Bill and, therefore, is the subject of legislation. I should be out of order if I followed hon. Members opposite in what they have said, although I have much sympathy with the object of the Measure. All I can do is to ask the Patronage Secretary to see if anything can be done without legislation to ease the conditions under which private Members find themselves in regard to private Bills. Many hon. Members on this side of the House have sympathy with the object of the Bill, but we are precluded from saying so at the present time.
I was really waiting until hon. Members had finished their speeches before replying. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has been in this House for a number of years, and he knows very well that certain time is allotted to private Members on Fridays and Wednesdays. If Members are not successful in getting their Bills through the ballot, they have to take the chance after 11 o'clock of getting an unopposed Second Reading. Any man or woman, any Member of this House, by saying "Object" after 11 o'clock, can keep a Bill from receiving its Second Reading or from proceeding any farther. This is not a matter for the Government alone, but it concerns every Member of this House. If the House finishes its business by 9.30, how am I to know beforehand that that will be so? This is a Supply Day asked for by the Opposition. As hon. Members know, 20 days are allotted to them in which to air their grievances before granting Supply. Am; I to be told that in the ordinary course of business there will be no further grievances to be discussed after 9.30? What about other hon. Members who may be interested in this subject. They do not suppose that this Bill will come on at 9.30 p.m. Therefore, they are not in their places to join in the discussion of it. The only people who would get the advantage of a situation such as this, therefore, would be the hon. Member for Leigh and his friends.
It is for that reason that I, as Patronage Secretary, in charge of the business of the House, if the business before the House comes to an end before 11 o'clock, move the Adjournment of the House, in order that private Members' Bills shall not be taken then. If they were taken, other hon. Members who might not happen to be present would be deprived of the opportunity of taking part in the Debate on those Bills. In view of the confusion which seems to exist in the minds of hon. Members opposite on this question, I think the House will agree with me that the hon. Member for Leigh, so long as the Standing Orders are as they are to-day, has no grievance whatever, and certainly not against me as Chief Whip, who has the duty of trying so to order the business of the House as to be fair to all the Members, from whatever quarter they may come.
I am sorry the Patronage Secretary has left the matter there. He might have gone a little farther and eased the minds of my colleagues. He has misunderstood my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) if he thinks he was casting any reflection on him for the business having finished so early this evening. He did not mean that, nor did he want to ask the House to discuss his Bill to-night. He only wanted to take the opportunity of calling the attention of the House, and particularly of the Patronage Secretary, to the fact that last Session he brought in a Bill to deal with this question of burning pit-heaps, and that he never had a chance of getting a Second Reading for that Bill. Somebody objected every time it was brought up. He brought in the Bill again this Session, and the same thing has happened up to the present. He is therefore quite in order in drawing attention to the very hard case of having his Bill blocked all last Session and again this Session.
A Chief Whip has enormous power. Our Chief Whip sometimes frightens us, and I am certain that a word from the Patronage Secretary to the Members on his side of the House who are blocking this Bill, just to let the Bill go through, would be sufficient and would satisfy my hon. Friends. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to go that far. The Bill is so important and has been so long before the House that I think he ought to take that step. Otherwise, we shall be bound to express our disapproval of the position by forcing a Division on the Motion for the Adjournment. We do not want to do that. We want the Patronage Secretary to be reasonable and to give us some hope that he will be prepared to help us in getting this Bill through.
I think I understood the hon. Member. What I was going to say was that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), when he first raised this question, mentioned, it is true, a particular Bill, but he was discussing generally the question of the inability of private Members to get Bills through after 11 o'clock owing to their being blocked by some Member who objected Then he was discussing a question concerning the procedure of the House, but the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) is now speaking of the importance of one particular Bill. That obviously is a matter for legislation, and he cannot do that.
No, Sir Dennis, I think you rather misunderstood me. I did not make myself clear. My difficult task was to try to convert the Patronage Secretary, and I will ask him to meet my hon. Friends. An hon. Member on this side said he had been to Northumberland and Durham and seen these pit-heaps, and the fact of having seen them for himself caused him to make up his mind that at the first opportunity he would raise the matter in this House. That is the sort of thing that we have wanted the Government to do with regard to the distressed areas. If we could have got them to go and see these areas for themselves, we think they would have done much more for them. In the same way, if the Patronage Secretary would go to Lancashire, or Durham, or Northumberland and see these pit-heaps for himself, I am certain he would help us in this matter. I do not want to discuss the question of these burning pit-heaps, but may I make a final appeal to the Patronage Secretary to help us in getting this Bill through?
The pit-heap fires in the counties of Northumberland and Durham are nothing to be compared with the fires in South Yorkshire. It is only the other day that a politician travelling through Yorkshire and popping his head through the carriage window wanted to know whether it was hell with the lid off. The burning pit-heaps in Yorkshire are growing to a great extent. In fact, some people, when they have not passed a certain point in Yorkshire for three months, find a great big mountain where there has been a valley in the past. These burning pit-heaps are a great detriment to the health of the people who live in these villages. I have been in my bed at night, and the fumes have been coming in through the window. I therefore speak from experience. The managing director of the pit where 1 used to work once went to Bournemouth for his holiday, and on returning said to me, "Well, George, have you enjoyed your holiday?" I replied, "No, I have had my holiday in bed with the smoke coming in from your pit-slack and the fumes coming through the bedroom window." He said he was sorry. I would like to take some hon. Members to some of these pit villages and into some of the houses that are practically banked in by these burning pit-heaps. We ask the Government to give some consideration to this matter. These burning pit-heaps are becoming a menace to health and a serious financial menace. Scores of boys and girl's have to stay away from school because of the state of their health on account of these pit-heaps. Moreover, the health of the women who live there continuously is such that it is a menace to the family. I would ask the Government whether they do not intend to do something in this matter from the health standpoint?
I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could easily have moved that the Bill be taken if there was no objection. I would like to say that we are more concerned with trying to ventilate in this House what is obviously a grievance than to have a Division. I think those who have spoken from the Labour benches have an unanswerable case. If the Government had wished to do so, they could have tackled this problem by administrative means and without a Bill. It does not need an Act of Parliament. I think the Secretary for Mines might have come into the House when this question was raised. I would like to remind hon. Members, in connection with the distressed areas, that the person in charge of the Scottish area, Sir Arthur Rose, recommended that the funds at his disposal might be used for the purpose of removing these heaps. As I understand the matter, the Commissioner for the distressed area, under' his powers, is able to go to a local authority and say that a particular thing, for instance a slap heap, is a menace to the health of the local community, that it does not allow the town to develop properly, that it prevents the town from getting the proper facilities which it needs, and that, consequently, he is entitled to give a grant towards the removal of that particular heap.
There is nothing to hinder the Minister of Health, the Special Commissioner and the Secretary for Mines together taking the local authorities into consultation and starting to deal with this problem. Some hon. Members laughed when the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) spoke of these slag-heaps being a menace to health. I do not live in a mining area, but I have seen these burning pit heaps, and there are some not far from the place where I live. I am told that they cause trouble to the local authority in connection with sewerage. I am told that no matter how much is spent inside the town on sewerage, if these pit-heaps exist outside the town, the sewerage is largely nullified by the water running from the pit-heaps.
If hon. Members who have considerable feeling of this matter can prove that it can be dealt with by administration, I do not think it is asking too much from the Patronage Secretary if we ask him to try to get the Ministers responsible brought into the House to hear the case stated and at any rate to see whether, without waiting for a Bill to be passed, the problem can be dealt with by administration. In view of the great danger to public health, I am certain that the Minister of Health has sufficient power under the present Public Health Act to deal with the problem if he has the aptitude to approach it in the right way. I know that if any Minister does not want to do a thing he will always find more reasons for not doing it than for doing it, but if he has the will to do it I am sure the Minister of Health can deal with this problem. It is with a view of trying to get him to approach it with the proper will that hon. Members raise this issue.
If there is anything with which the mining community in this country can be charged, possibly it is with being too quiet and too acquiescent about the things for which they ask. They cannot be charged with being terribly extreme in any of the demands they make represent a non-mining division, and often I am aghast, not at the miners extreme ideas, but by the mildness of their requests. The mining community is now making a small request, not to put a farthing on a ton of coal, but to try to make the lives, not of the men but of the women and children, a little more tolerable than they have been in the past. It is a simple request. None of the Ministers concerned is here to-night. Everybody knows that they have great power and influence. I would ask the Patronage Secretary, after hearing the human appeals which have been made to-night, to go to the Minister of Health to-morrow and tell him of these appeals, and to induce the Minister of Health to look into his powers under the Public Health Act and see whether something cannot be done to deal with this human matter.
I hope the Patronage Secretary will give us such a guarantee. I think the present Minister of Health is the only Cabinet Minister with a reputation left. He is the one Cabinet Minister who, as Postmaster-General, made great advances in an administrative way. I am certain that if he approached this problem with the same courage that he displayed at the Post Office, he could, within the administrative powers he now has, largely meet the demands made by hon. Members. I trust that the Patronage Secretary will go to the Minister of Health, who has capacity and energy, and who, if he would apply himself to these problems, which are not money-making problems but human problems, would be able to do something. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to close his mind on this matter but to try to meet the case that has been raised.
The answer is simple. I am a Member for the city of Glasgow, and before I allow a Bill affecting that city to pass I am entitled to see it. The Bill to which the hon. and gallant Member refers was not in the Vote Office and was not available to me, and I refused to allow it to pass until I saw it. The moment the Bill was made available I allowed it to pass. If the hon. Member is prepared to be a slipshod Member of Parliament and to allow things to pass without seeing them. I am not. When the Glasgow Corporation learn to have their Bills printed in time to supply the Members for that city with copies, they will receive from me the courtesy which I expect from them.
I would not have risen again had it not been for the very remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He has had a long experience of this House and knows its Rules very well—
No, but I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to indicate, if not to say so in so many words, that he would not have attempted to speak again unless he thought that there was a desire that he should reply to certain questions. It is, of course, only by the leave of the House that he can speak again.
Would it not be well to see that the ancient procedure of this House is not worn away by a process of attrition? There is a growing tendency on the part of the Ministers to attempt to dispense with the leave of the House before they speak a second time, and although I was listening intently to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman I heard no attempt of any kind on his part to secure the approval of the House.
I do not think that is a matter for the hon. Member to discuss. If he objected to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman speaking again he ought to have said so. If the House objects that is, of course, a matter for the House.
I would like to put a point on behalf of Members of this side. Owing to the fact that this matter was. not on the Paper and that we did not know it was going to be raised, we have not had any opportunity of meeting together in order to propound our views. I am concerned with the question of slag heaps in my constituency, and it seems to me that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has suggested a way of dealing with them. The Commissioner for the Special Areas has power to see that these heaps are reduced or done away with altogether.
Do I understand the position to be that the Patronage Secretary was making his speech when the point of Order was raised as to whether he could speak a second time or not; that you, Sir, ruled that he was in order and that we are now awaiting the conclusion of his speech?
I think it would be to the advantage of the House if I were allowed to say what I have to say and if the Patronage Secretary followed me. I was about to say that in my constituency the Commissioner is now levelling these slag-heaps under power given to him by the Special Areas Act which was passed last Session. I can vouch for the fact that it is not only a question of the nuisance caused by these smoking slag-heaps but of the grave menace to the health of the community which is involved.
The hon. Member must wait and see. There is an hon. Member in possession of the Floor of the House, and while he is in possession I cannot allow the Patronage Secretary or anybody else to speak.
On the point of Order. I assumed that the Patronage Secretary was in possession of the House, and it was while a point of Order was being considered that the hon. Member opposite intervened.
I do not see how proper discussion can take place in this way. Hon. Members may have their views as to what the Chair ought to do, but they cannot object in this way to the decisions of the Chair, and it is clear that only one hon. Member can be in possession of the House at the moment.
It is not a fact that I resumed my seat to give way to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), but because it was clear from interjections from hon. Gentlemen opposite that when I asked for the leave of the House—not in so many words, but by inference—I did not get that leave. Consequently, I resumed my seat.
The hon. Member has been long enough in the House to know that one Rule of Order is that he must not be on his feet when the occupant of the Chair is standing. I cannot allow any more discussion on this particular point of Order.
I am sorry for the attitude of hon. Members opposite because I represent a constituency for which I wish to put forward views similar to those they have expressed themselves. They are like the pitman's wife, who would rather have the bairn die of measles than have another doctor. According to them no one on this side of the House has any feeling at all towards mining constituencies. When complaints have been made about a pit heap adjacent to my constituency, the manager has said, "All right, if you insist upon this stench being stopped, I will close down the pit." Therefore, the council concerned had to choose the lesser of two evils and the nuisance and the menace to health continues. The worst of it is that within a mile or so there is a new honsing estate which has been put up at the cost of thousands of pounds, and which was made possible by a grant from the Government to Gateshead Corporation. The stench from this pit heap is abominable and a menace to health. I can back up in every way what my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has said. It is impossible when the wind blows. from a certain airt for people to live in that housing estate in comfort.
It is a great misfortune that this matter has been raised in this way without due notice when many Members on this side, who represent constituencies which are affected, would have liked to speak. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is correct when he says that it is within the competence of the Minister of Health to deal with this problem administratively, and thus not only to cause unsightly heaps to disappear from the landscape, but to make it possible for beautiful housing estates built at such great expense to be healthy places. I welcome the opportunity at such short notice to speak on this matter, all unprepared as I am, and to back the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Gorbals that the Patronage Secretary should put the matter to the Minister of Health and point out to him that he should tackle the matter at once administratively.
The origin of this discussion was a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) with regard to the poor chances that private Members' Bills have of getting Second Readings because they are not down for discussion on a particular day, and because, if they do not get unopposed Second Readings when the Orders of the Day are being read at the end of the sitting, they are put back and continuously postponed. The effectiveness of this discussion is very largely impaired by the fact that, obviously, it arose without premeditation, and that there was no opportunity for any of the Ministers concerned to be in attendance to deal with the complaints raised. But I want to get back to the point concerning the business of the House. The Patronage Secretary has had to-night an indication of the unanimity of the House about the desirability of dealing with this particular matter, which is the subject of a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh.
The grievance that hon. Members on this side of the House have in relation to Bills which have been introduced is not that they are not disposed to face objections raised by hon. Members who are opposed to the principle in a Bill; they are willing to take their chance in that respect. If they see an hon. Member objecting to a Bill they will endeavour to get hold of him, find out what his objections are and try to reason him out of them. What is resented by hon. Members who have introduced Bills backed, it may be, by Members in all parts of the House, is the organised opposition which, as we imagine, is obviously inspired from the Government Front Bench. I am sure that it will be the desire of the House that the Patronage Secretary should have another opportunity of speaking in this discussion, and I hope he will then apply himself to this point—that when there is a Bill which is obviously desired by Members in all parts of the House he should apply his mind to providing the opportunity for that Bill to get an unopposed Second Beading when the Orders of the Day are being read over.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is here and has not yet spoken in this Debate, and if he will be good enough to move up a little closer to the Patronage Secretary I am certain that he may be able to reply on his behalf a little later. There are two matters which have been raised in the course of this extremely useful Debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). First is the question which has just been touched upon of objections to private Members' Bills. I think it is most unfortunate that the Patronage Secretary and his myrmidons, if that is a Parliamentary word, should organise objections to private Members' Bills of this particular character, which, as has been shown by the Debate to-night, have a very large measure of support on all sides of the House. There are, as everybody knows, a number of very contentious private Members' Bills which naturally get objected to, but this is a Bill of a type which, I venture to say, nobody who has ever been into—
The hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously arguing in favour of a particular Bill. He says, "This Bill is of a type," and again he is referring to one particular Bill. He cannot argue about this Bill.
There are undoubtedly Bills which are open to objection and which are highly contentious. There are other Bills which are not highly contentious. What I would suggest to the Patronage Secretary is that when a Bill of the non-highly contentious type comes before the House after 11 o'clock, it would be very reasonable for him to permit those Bills to get a Second Reading. No harm could be done and no Parliamentary time would be wasted. I hope the effect of this Debate may be that hon. Members who read it, or who listen to it, will appreciate what that type of Bill is to which I have referred.
There is another point, as to the administrative measures that may be taken to deal with the very grave state of affairs which arises out of pit heaps in this country. A good many hon. Members in this House have probably not had direct experience of the very unpleasant circumstances which arise from these pit heaps. They are perhaps accustomed to see them as they pass in the train, and they notice that there are unpleasant incidents in the landscape. They see the smoke coming from the heaps, but they do not appreciate what that means when one is compelled to live in a house quite close to the pit. Till not very long ago, I had not myself realised how trying and terrible it can be. I had the good fortune to go into a small township which was close to one of those pit heaps, and to go to tea in a house which was very close. The wind happened to be blowing in the direction of the house, and the condition of that house was intolerable for human beings. Closing of the windows was quite ineffective to keep out the smell and the smoke, and the unpleasantly heated atmosphere which necessarily came from that large body of burning material. There are administrative measures by which the Government could take steps to persuade the persons responsible for those pit heaps to see that this continually smoking and burning menace is removed from the proximity of thousands of women and children in this country.
I guarantee that if the Patronage Secretary, or any hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench, were to live for a month in one of those very small houses they would be far more vociferous than my hon. Friend about the remedying of this evil. The Patronage Secretary has had the offer to go and experience for himself the condition, and I hope he will accept the offer. If he did so, I am certain that he would go round among his followers afterwards and say: "I want you carefully to examine the Private Bills which come before the House, because they are—
Let me say again, in words which I hope will not offend against any Rule of Order, that what I was suggesting was that, if the right hon. Gentleman had gone through such an experience as I have detailed, he would realise the advisability of going round among his various supporters and suggesting that they should exercise more care in giving voice to the word "Object" when any Private Member's Bill came before the House of Commons; and I am sure that other hon. Members who are aware of this burning question—for it is a burning question in every sense of the word—will do all they can to facilitate administrative action by the Government as regards the cure of this disease of the countryside in, so many places, and will express in some real way the sympathy which I am sure everybody who has experienced the unpleasantness and the dangers of this type of pit-heap must feel for those who are compelled to live near such heaps, because their work compels them to stay there and because they have no means to get away.
I desire most strongly to support the plea that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that these slag-heaps should be dealt with, but it is quite clear that, before we can get them dealt with, we have to deal with the slag-heaps opposite. When they are removed— [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] It does not require legislation to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells) is sitting here, and he has shown the way in which a good start can be made on the matter. I have no doubt that within the near future other shining examples will be shown to the country. I have the honour of representing the constituency in which my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor showed the country how this could be done. He was for many years a very distinguished member of the Town Council of South Shields, and South Shields had not merely pit slag heaps, but those appalling heaps which were created in the old days before Free Trade was brought to this country, when the ballast was tipped by the side of the Tyne from the ships that had had to come back in ballast because they were not allowed to bring goods into the country. The South Shields Borough Council by administrative action dealt with those slag heaps, and two of the finest parks in the country are planted on what were disreputable, disfiguring heaps in the days before my hon. Friend turned his great ability to the question of solving the problem.
I recently conducted a Member of the House from Newcastle to my constituency and we passed through the constituency represented for the time being by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) and we saw the heap to which he alluded. There is only one greater disfigurement of the landscape than that heap and that is the whole constituency. As we came along we spoke of the way in which this matter could be dealt with. There is the Special Commissioner with money voted by the Government, and we understand that, if he can find ways of spending it, the Government will be willing to vote him more. This is a matter which might very well engage his attention, the levelling of the slag heaps, covering them with the necessary quantity of soil and laying theca out as pleasure grounds and sites on which factories could be erected. It requires no legislation. It would be preparing the way for the new industries which we have passed a Bill to enable to be started. Until these slag heaps are removed, with the smoke, the grime, the dirt and the general disfigurement that they create, we are not going to attract new industries of anything like the alluring pattern that you now see on the Great West Road and elsewhere. This is a matter well within the competence of several Government Departments and I hope they will co-operate with us in getting the matter dealt with.
There is another serious matter that has been mentioned. It is becoming more and more obvious that all that the Government requires is a sufficient number of Members to he in the House to get their Measures through at some time of the night or other. Even when they cannot get enough they defeat the object of having private Members by putting down a Vote of Confidence and wiping out the well-deserved defeats that are inflicted upon them from time to time. [Interruption.] Can anyone doubt that they are well deserved defeats? I hope we have not got to go over all that, although there is plenty of time left in which to discuss it. Thirty-one of their Members were so disgusted with them that they went into our Lobby and helped to defeat them. The hon. Member for Sunderland was one. He only voted against them once. The next time, when he really could have done the young ladies a bit of good, he was away, and I do not envy him the prospect of having to face them when he is next on the Wearside. I know some of them are waiting for him, because they told me so. He really ought not to have placed himself in the very perilous position in which he now stands.
The House ought to afford a private Member on a matter like this a reasonable opportunity of bringing his views before the House and having effect given to them. I hope, as the result of what we have heard to-night, the Home Secretary, who would not tolerate these conditions inside a factory—[Interruption.] I have heard about the right hon. Gentleman's golf. I am sure he would not like it near Walton Heath. A very junior barrister was playing on Walton Heath and said to his caddy, "I think I am getting on." The caddy remarked, "If you only try long enough, you will be as good as the Home Secretary, and he is one of those brainy fellows." I am sure that we should not in our homes and where our businesses and pleasures are carried on, tolerate this condition of affairs for a moment, and in these appallingly crowded villages, which in themselves are really a denial of our civilisation, it is wrong that we should in these days tolerate such a condition when there are plenty of men willing to work and local authorities willing to carry out the work if they could only obtain the assistance which the Government can now give. We should not allow these things to continue for another day.
I want to say a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who was justified in bringing this grievance before the House to-night. This matter can be put right by administrative action. Reference has been made to the recommendations which have been placed before Members of the House by the Special Commissioners. It may be necessary for him to take special action to remove these tips, which are burning in different parts of the country, but the Secretary for Mines can prevent the accumulation of these tips in the future. Perhaps one of the most serious causes of accidents in mining is due to the fact that we have the gobs unstoned, and the rubbish that ought to be left in the pits is brought to the surface. Through the rubbish being brought to the surface we have huge fissures and fractures taking place underground, and they are to-day causing the major number of accidents. If hon. Members would look at the statistics of mining accidents they would find that most of the accidents happen at the coal face through falls of roof, and many of these falls of roof are due to the fact that the mines are not properly stoned. It is cheaper to bring the rubbish to the surface, and, by means of escalators, make these horrible eyesores in the countryside, than it is properly to treat the gobs and consequently save an enormous amount of human life underground.
It is possible by administrative action for the Secretary for Mines to instruct his inspectors to see that the gobs are properly stoned. In consequence the rubbish that is brought to the surface to-day would cease almost automatically, and instead of having to face an ever-growing accumulation of rubbish and the menace of burning stench and all that it means to people living in small communities banked by these burning pits, we should have saved human life underground by keeping the rubbish in its proper place. The Patronage Secretary will have done a solid day's work if he reports to-night's discussion to the Secretary for Mines and to the Minister of Health. If both those Ministers would take administrative action they would be able, the one to remove the menace on the surface, and the other to prevent the menace developing in the future.
This is not an occasion for jocular remarks. It is something far bigger than that. One who has been brought up in those surroundings knows that apart from the horror of these slag heaps, and in spite of all the things that have been said here to-night, there is something bigger than all that. When a man and his family of perhaps five or six boys have been working in the pit for a full week, under wet and damp conditions—there is often either a mizzle or a Scotch mist, which is the only thing that we get free from Scotland—the effect is bad not only on the general health but on the nerves. Reference has been made to Mr. Priestley's book. It was the division of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) that he visited. I had, of course, been there many times, as I had been to many other mining areas, but one did not realise the full extent of the evil until after one had read the book. Then one saw the worst features of these horrible fires. Miners' wives used to decorate their houses with the little ornaments they had on the mantelpiece, brass dogs and cats, and so on, in which they took a great pride. He would have been a brave man who would have gone into any of those cottages and sneered at those brass ornaments, but no sooner had they been polished than the sulphur from the burning slag heaps came and turned them green within 24 hours. If it will turn brass green in such a short time, what must it do to the health of the people?
Reference has been made to the possibility of dealing with this evil administratively, and I hope that something will be done. Nothing more effective has been said to-night than the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor). I would ask any hon. Members opposite to come into Durham or Northumberland on any dark night and they will see for miles the reflections of these fires. Apart from the sulphur smells, the heaps themselves are a danger. Adults and children have lost their lives on these heaps. They are burning continually and no one really knows what happens. They are hollow inside, and in Durham within the last four or five years adults have been lost; they have dropped through the hollow slag-heaps while searching for coal or cinders for their fires. I would appeal also particularly for the women who have to live near these burning heaps. My hon. Friend for Morpeth referred to shopkeepers who paint their premises in order to attract customers, but within a fortnight the premises are as bad as ever. There is also the slime which comes from the burning heaps, and the dirt which is carried into the houses. There is also the heat, which was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps).
Above all things, I do appeal to the Government to give us an opportunity of seeing something beautiful in our districts, by clearing away these heaps and at the same time providing work for people. Give us the opportunity to see something. You can beautify them by putting soil over them and killing the sulphurous fumes, or by letting grass grow over them, or by planting trees. We desire to have them removed altogether. In the colliery in Sunderland where I worked the owners spent many thousands of pounds on tipping, but if that stone had been properly packed inside the pit—much of it is freestone—not only would it have saved the lives of the men, but it would have saved a good deal in the way of subsidence. But after all our frivolity and trying to keep the House until 11 o'clock there is something more. With the spare money with which you are trying to give men work you can also do this, and take away the sore that has been in the eyes of their grandmothers, and give them their desire that their children should live in fresh air. We demand as citizens this opportunity for these people.
I only want to give the House a very short statement in this matter. In the autumn of 1931 I was endeavouring to keep the hon. Member for Sunderland out of this House, and I had a day free and drove with the hon. Member for Durham to a place called Cambois. When I was still 800 yards away I was assailed by the most appalling smell I have ever experienced. It grew worse as I approached the pit. I went away from there for the sheer pleasure of escaping from that pit. If that smell were inflicted for a week on any middle-class community an action for nuisance would be brought and an injunction obtained. I had occasion recently to investigate superficially the treatment of pits in the mines of South East Holland belonging to the Dutch Government. There the pits are covered with turf as fast as they are created and later they are planted with trees.
It will be a pity to waste the few moments left to us in not hammering home the points which have been made during the Debate. There is a proverb which runs that if the mountain will not come to Mahomet Mahomet must go to the mountain, and that suggests a course of administrative procedure which we can recommend to the Government as an alternative to removing these tips if it should prove too great a task. What is to prevent in future town planning schemes removing a great many of these communities to a more congenial atmosphere and providing them with proper means of getting to and from their daily work? One or two remarks have been dropped during the discussion which throw a lurid light on the way in which some coalowners look upon their employés. One hon. Member gave an incident where some people who were residing near one of these slag heaps and suffering the miseries he described complained to the coalowner, and his answer was that if they did not like the slag heaps he would close down the pit. There has been a great deal too much of that spirit in the administration of our coal mines. One coalowner has it in his power to close down his mine and throw out of employment perhaps 1,000 people. That is a state of affairs to which the Patronage Secretary might direct his attention.
There has been too great a tendency to adopt a different attitude towards the sufferings of one class of the community to that which is adopted towards the sufferings of another class. The hon. and learned Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) has said truly that if any middle-class community was asked to live in the vicinity of one of these slag heaps innumerable societies would be formed to abolish them. I ask hon. Members to project themselves into the minds of people who have to suffer this nuisance, and to imagine for a moment the sufferings they have to undergo. The Lord President of the Council is not in his place, but when he was in Opposition he made a speech in which he said that if we would give him authority he would make the land blossom like a rose. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is exerting his authority in this Government to remove the evil to which we are drawing attention. I shall go into the Lobby with satisfaction to vote against the Adjournment of the House as a protest against the inactivity of the Government on this question.
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I need not on this occasion ask the leave of the House to address it again. What has occurred to me while I have been listening during the last three-quarters of an hour—
On a point of Order. At a few seconds before 11 o'clock the right hon. and gallant Gentleman rose in his place when he was not entitled to address the House again, and he occupied the few seconds which, as no one else had risen, should have been taken by you, Sir Dennis, I suggest, to put the Question, "That this House do now adjourn," on the original Motion.
The hon. Member may have great knowledge of the procedure of the House, but on this occasion he is wrong. My duty is to interrupt the proceedings on the stroke of eleven, as I did.
I am not disputing the point. I have never made any claim that I have any exhaustive knowledge of the procedure of this House. I am learning, as the late Mr. Tim Healy learned, by breaking most of the Rules, so that I can discover what they are. But I want to submit this point quite seriously, that at a few seconds before 11 o'clock, when we were all, with you, watching the clock, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman rose, and no one else rose. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself was not entitled to address the House, having already done so, and in fact, in the few words that he was able to enunciate before 11 o'clock, he made an appeal, I understood, for the leave of the House to address it again. I want to know from you, Sir Dennis, whether in those circumstances it is not possible for the original Motion, "That this House do now adjourn," to be put, as you were only prevented from putting it by the extraordinary action of the Chief Whip.
Mr. D EPUTY-SPEAKER:
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman rose to make a request of the House, and I think I should have been exceeding what is expected of the Chair if I had attempted to prevent him. Indeed, if I had so attempted, I think the clock would have struck eleven.
I am now addressing the House on the Motion, "That this House do now adjourn." I have listened with a great deal of sympathy to the Debate during the last hour. What had surprised me was that hon. Gentlemen opposite had not asked that on this Supply day Votes for the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Mines should be put down on the Order Paper as well as the other Votes, because in that case there would have been a whole hour and a-half, and a further half an hour on the Adjournment during which this subject could have been adequately discussed with Ministers present who would have been competent to reply. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) could have said to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) "The Votes on the Paper will never take up the whole of the time. Cannot I have a cut in?"; and the hon. Member for Bedwellty could then have asked that the appropriate Vote should be put down on the Order Paper, in which case the Government would naturally have seen to it that the appropriate Ministers concerned were present.
That, of course, is my entire case. Neither the hon. Gentleman opposite nor I had any idea that the Debate would end before 11 o'clock. Therefore, when I am accused of not having the appropriate Minister here, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) accused me at the beginning of the Debate, when he took me to task for not having the Minister concerned here to listen to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite and the powerful oration of the hon. Member for Gorbals himself, I can say, in defence of the Government, that the Government had no more idea than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh that the Debate would close at half-past nine and that consequently there would be an hour and a-half and a further half an hour on the Adjournment.
Moreover, it is always possible for hon. Gentlemen opposite at Question time to ask the Government whether they intend to grant facilities after 11 o'clock or at some other time for the Second Reading of their Bills. If the Government do not give a reply which they consider to be satisfactory, it is always open to any hon. Member to say, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I propose to raise this subject on the Adjournment," in which case, when an Adjournment comes round, as is the ease to-night, the Minister could be present. If that had been done, the appropriate Minister would have been present to-night to listen to what hon. Gentlemen on both sides have said on what I consider to be a most important question. I do say that the fact that there is no Minister here to-night who is competent to deal with the points is not the fault of His Majesty's Government, but of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who raised this Debate and gave no notice whatever. As. a further consolation to hon. Gentlemen opposite, let me say that there are now 14 more Supply Days on which grievances can be raised.
A further point was raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who went more fully than I intend to do into the question of what is a contentious or a non-contentious Bill. Obviously, only the Bills in which he is interested and of which he approves are non-contentious Bills, and every Bill of this side of the House is a contentious Bill. If a Bill really is non-contentious, not only in his mind, but in the minds of hon. Members without exception, that Bill does get an unopposed Second Reading after 11 o'clock. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have been here after 11 o'clock last night. If he was, why does he shake his head when I say that Bills which are non-contentious receive an unopposed Second Reading? Last night two Bills, one from each side of the House, received Second Readings. We had a Solicitors Bill moved by an hon. Friend of mine on this side, and a Weights and Measures (Scotland) Bill moved by an hon. Gentleman opposite. They were non-contentious not only in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but in the minds of all Members of the House, and consequently received unopposed Second Readings. When he shook his head, he seemed to think that I was saying something which was not true.
I never said any such thing, and I think, having scored that very definite touche against the hon. and learned Gentleman, I should be foolish to pursue the matter any further.
I will leave the matter there. I would only say to hon. Members opposite that I shall certainly draw the attention of the Minister of Health to this debate. I am sure he will be sorry that he was not here to listen to the speeches of hon. Members, and that when this matter is raised again on the proper occasion he will reply to those speeches.