Pit Baths.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 16th December 1936.

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Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I have no doubt that when the sun is shining and the air is clear, and all the omens are favourable, he will be an exceptionally good bricklayer, but when the dark clouds obscure the sun and the omens are towards stormy weather, I am afraid his bricklaying will not call for very much praise. I have heard the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) called "Farmer George." You cannot imagine the bricklayer I have mentioned or "Farmer George" going in at the front door of his own house and through the hallway into the drawing room, carrying all the plaster and marks of toil with him. If either of them did, I am sure there would be a domestic crisis that would send him scurrying for cover. If we consider the argument as applied to such cases as I have referred to, surely we can see to it that in more essential cases care is taken to provide that the refuse from the pit shall not be carried into the homes of the miners.

I make an appeal to hon. Members on behalf of the wives and the mothers. They deserve our consideration. We should always be prepared to appreciate their qualities, and we should see that whatever we can do we shall do to make their toil easier and to guarantee that the work which they do to brighten up the home is appreciated, not only in the mining areas, but here also. Therefore, I make my first appeal on behalf of the wives and the mothers. For their sakes, I ask for the immediate installation of pit baths at every working pit in the country. But we do not only have the mothers to consider; we have also the children to consider. The children in mining areas, like children in all working-class districts, are subject to all the dangers that arise from inclement weather and are subject to the fact that they have to go out very often without a sufficiency of good clothing on their bodies or of good food within their bodies. We are taking up now, through the various Departments, ways and means to try to cope with infantile mortality and with diseases and troubles among the children. The Ministry of Health is responsible for clinics of one kind and another, and we are supplying milk in our schools, which is something for which the present Secretary of State for Scotland exhibited very great zeal when he was Minister of Agriculture.

We are trying in many ways to make things safer and better for the children, but we are not doing enough. We have only made a start, and we have very much farther to go, but here, right before us, there is a danger facing the children that we can immediately remove. I have been affected, as all Members of this House and people throughout the country have been affected, by the stories that have been told about the "quins" and the care that has been taken of them. Those five children are growing up bright, bonny and healthy. But there may be five children in a miner's home, though not all born on one day. They deserve every bit as much care as any other children, whether the "quins" or children in any other home. Here is a danger being taken right into their midst. You may have a child a few months old, or it may be a year or two years old, and that child may be affected by one of the epidemics that go round about in a mining home, such as influenza, measles, or some other trouble that is common to children. The father is forced by the exigencies of the situation to go into his home carrying with him this coaldust and dirt. The damp, sodden clothes have to be hung up to dry. In the report of this investigation we read: The clothes are often soaking and covered with mud and coaldust. They soil everything they touch. The wet and dirty garments must be dried and sometimes mended, and the big fires which have been prepared for boiling the water have to be maintained or renewed. One of the Scottish miners' leaders, in his evidence before the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, said: From my own experience as a miner, I have known my wife to rise as often as six or seven times in the night time and turn my clothes when I was working in a wet place, and we had to inhale the steam rising from these clothes all night. Upon this the Commissioners commented: When it is remembered that the steam given off by the wet clothes may include injurious mineral fumes, it will be seen that the risk to the health of the children is very great when the kitchen (which is also the chief sleeping apartment) is used for this purpose by day and night. The Commission stated: The risk to the health of the children is very great. We should take whatever steps are necessary to free the children from this danger, right from this moment. No time should be lost in saving them from the menace.