HC Deb 15 June 1869 vol 196 cc1910-5

said, he rose to call attention to the need of an early Report from the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the duration of our Coal Fields. His object in placing the Notice on the Paper was to elicit information rather than to impart it. At various times, the question of the exhaustion of our coal fields has been brought prominently forward. Dr. Buckland was one of the first to take up the subject, and much more recently it was pointedly referred to by Sir William Armstrong, in the very able inaugural address which, as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he delivered at Newcastle on Tyne. Sir William laid particular stress, not so much on the quantity of coals we had, as on the manner in which we were exhausting our coal fields, and as a matter of national economy, recommended immediate attention to this great question. That address was followed by the publication of books on the subject by Mr. Hull and Professor Jevon. From the calculation of the last-named gentleman, taking the quantity of coal roughly at 100,000,000,000 of tons, we may compute that, if the demand continued at the present rate, it would become in about 100 years, equal to the exhaustion of the whole of the present coal fields annually. Since the appointment of the Royal Commission, in 1866, that rate of increase had continued very much the same as had been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister some years ago—about 3.5 per cent per annum. The quantity of coal wrought in this kingdom, in 1855, was 64,000,000 tons; in 1861, 85,500,000 tons; and, at the present time, about 104,000,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman, in his Budget speech, in 1866, laid very great stress on the value to the country of this enormous coal supply. The year before that speech was delivered, the coal was valued at £16,000,000 a year; and, at the present time, it was valued at no less than. £25,000,000. Well, in the June following that Budget speech, his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. H. Vivian) brought this question before the House, the result being the appointment of a Royal Commission to investi- gate it. Among the Members of that Commission were the hon. Gentleman himself, the Duke of Argyll, Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir William Armstrong, Mr. Dickinson, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot), Mr. Forster (mining; engineer), and other gentlemen of eminence. That Commission proceeded to investigate the probable quantity of coal contained in the coal fields of the United Kingdom, and the probable consumption of the same. Several subsidiary questions were proposed, to this Commission, which required a considerable amount of organization, time ability, and labour to investigate and in moving this Resolution he had not the slightest desire to throw the least reflection on the Commissioners, who, he believed had laboured assiduously at their task, but it was of great importance that the result of their inquiry should be known; and he begged, therefore, to move a Resolution to the effect that an humble Address; be presented to Her Majesty, praying her to take steps, in order to procure a Report from the Commission at an early date.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to take such farther steps as She may be advised, in order to procure from the Royal Commission on thy Exhaustion of the Coal fields (appointed in July 1866) a Report on the subjects committed to their care, at as early a date as the important and difficult character of the investigation will permit."—(Mr. Pease.)


said, that as he had moved the appointment of the Commission, and had sat continuously upon it, he wished to say a few words on the present occasion. He thought that the House and the country could not be otherwise than grateful to his hon. Friend for having brought this question forward. The Commission was apponted in July, 1866, and it met for the first time on the 7th of the same month. It had points of the utmost difficulty to investigate, and it determined that the best mode of dealing with the question would be to divide the Commission into Committees to inquire into those several points. The first point to be ascertained was whether coal could be worked at greater depths than at present; second, whether there was waste in the combustion of coals; and thirdly, whether our future consumption of coal was likely to be much greater than at present. All those points had been most carefully investigated by the Committees whose Reports he held up to December last. The first Report was as to the possible depth at which coal could be worked. The Committee were making experiments as to temperature, and it was hoped that in one or two more sittings that Committee would bring its labours to a conclusion. The second Committee inquired into the question of waste in combustion; the third investigated the question of waste in working, and both these Committees would shortly report. Upon the subject of the future supply of coal, Sir Roderick Murchison had summed up the inquiries of the Committee by a memorandum, which stated that the result of the investigation, founded upon trustworthy geological data, would show that a very large amount of good fuel would be at our command after the exhaustion of the present known coal fields. That most difficult problem, the extent to which the consumption of coal may be expected to increase, had been undertaken by Mr. Robert Hunt, the head of the Mining Record Office and the Museum of Practical Geology, who had besides making other inquiries, issued upwards of 12,000 circulars to colliery lines, steamship owners, manufacturers, and mines, and continued zealously prosecuting his labours. The duty of inquiring as to the extent of the coal existing in the fields at present in work had been intrusted to some of the most eminent coalowners. Various coal fields were allotted to various members of the Commission, and on the 22nd of December last they were requested to report to the Commission upon the progress of their respective inquiries. The only coal field which has been completely finished was that of Bristol, including Somersetshire and Dorsetshire, which had been reported on by Mr. Prestwich. He estimated that the coal remaining unwrought at a depth not exceeding 500 yards was 1,825,000,000 tons; between 500 and 1,000 yards 1,719,000,000 tons; between 1,000 and 2,000 yards, 2,627,000,000 tons; between 2,000 and 3,000 yards, 777,991, 144 tons. The total was 6,950,000,000 tons of coal remaining unwrought, or, taking the quantity within the depth of 4,500 feet only, it was 4,862,000,000 tons. Taking the present consumption at 100,000,000 tons a year, he arrived at the gratifying result that that which had hitherto been commonly described as the insignificant coal field of Somerset and Dorset was capable of supplying the whole of England for forty-eight years. It might be calculated that one seventy-ninth part only of the available supply from it was exhausted. He believed the reports upon the other coal fields would prove as satisfactory as this was and if they did, there could be no reasonable doubt that we had coal enough for all time. This inquiry was a national stock-taking of that which nature had provided for many generations to come. The probable rate of consumption of coal in this country could be arrived at only by ascertaining the quantity of coal consumed in each special branch of our manufacture and for domestic purposes, and that could be ascertained only by consulting most difficult and complicated statistics. The necessity was strong that the Commission should report to the country at the earliest possible moment; but it was equally strong that the conclusions arrived at should be well founded. It was utterly impossible to exaggerate the enormous importance of this question. The greatness and prosperity of England reposed upon her manufactures, and her manufactures reposed upon her coal; therefore, he could quite understand the anxiety with which the Report of the Commission was looked for by the country. He had been told that some persons; doubted whether the investigation was; worth its cost; but he believed £20,000 would cover the whole, or, in other words, the expenses of the Commission would not exceed 1–600th part of the expenditure upon our army alone every year. From July, 1866, to March 1867, it was found impossible to move in this great question from the uncertainty as to the amount which should he paid to those who assisted in the investigation. At last, after nine months' delay, it was determined that the mineral surveyors should be properly remunerated. He hoped and believed that by the end of this year the Commission would be in a position to report to the House and the country the result of their labours, and he should certainly feel it his duty to bring the subject before the House, and call attention to the result of their inquiries. He had not alluded to any of the conclusions to which they had come; but he might be allowed to say that the conclusions which he had the honour to express when lie moved for the Commission remained entirely unshaken. A bountiful Providence had laid up in this country a store of wealth which would contribute to her greatness for many generations to come.


said, he had seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend who had just sat down when he brought this question before the House some few years ago, and he now congratulated both the House and the Government of that day on having selected so competent a person as a member of the Commission. He rejoiced that the apprehensions expressed with respect to the failure of a supply of coal, and a consequent decline of our manufacturing and commercial prosperity, were in a fair way of being dissipated. He agreed with his hon. Friend that it would be extremely unwise to hasten the Report, of the Commission, because it should be remembered that it was not only the information which the Commissioners had been able to obtain that the country was looking for but also the conclusions which the most able scientific men would deduce from that information. If the inferences were hastily drawn, they might lead the country into apprehensions which it had been the object of his hon. Friend's Motion to remove.


expressed his concurrence in the view that our supply of coal was practically inexhaustible. His strong conviction was, and it was supported by conclusive evidence, that there was greater waste in the production of coal than in anything else. The system of working coal had been very much improved of late years. The great question was how mechanical ventilation could be best introduced, and within the last three years there had been, as he had expected, a great development and much additional security arising from the adoption of the new system of ventilation which he bad mentioned at the first meeting of the Royal Commissioners. The question of the exhaustibility of our coal mines depended upon the question at what depth the coal could be worked, and this, in turn, was measured by the heat at which human labour could be exerted.


said, he had listened with great interest to the discussion, in which his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorgan (Mr. H. Vivian) had justified the delay in issuing the Report of the Commissioners, and in which hon. Members had urged, on the other hand, the importance of the publication of their Report at the earliest possible period. When they considered the immense variety and extent of the interests involved — the importance of preventing any waste of our coal fields, and the geological inquiries which, as his hon. Friend believed, would show the existence of vast undiscovered fields of coal—the country would, he thought, be of opinion that the Commissioners had exercised a wise discretion in patiently and laboriously collecting the fullest materials for the valuable and interesting Report which he had no doubt they would give to the world. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorgan that the supply of coal in this country was almost indefinitely great, It was, however, desirable that we should be informed as to the best means of preventing its waste, and how it could be worked and obtained in the cheapest manner, so that our coal proprietors might economize the stores that were nearest at hand, After what had been said that night the House would anticipate from the Report of the Royal Commissioners a rich store of the most useful information, and under these circumstances he trusted that he need not urge his hon. Friend (Mr. Pease) not to press his Resolution.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present.

House adjourned at a quarter after Ten o'clock.