HC Deb 23 February 1871 vol 204 cc808-18

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Secretary Bruce.)


protested against the Bill being proceeded with until hon. Members had been afforded a sufficient opportunity of consulting with respect to it the opinions of their constituents. Last year, when a similar measure was before the House, it was utterly impossible to procure any information from the Government as to how or when it was to be proceeded with. The difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman then experienced were, no doubt, very serious; but he believed they were very much of his own making. As to the measure of last year, it was received in Cornwall with the utmost dissatisfaction; and although, in regard to that Bill, page after page of the Amendments appeared on the Votes, none of those Amendments had been embodied, so far as he could see, in the proposal of this year. At all events, so far as time had admitted of a cursory examination, none of the Amendments proposed by the Cornish Members appeared to have found any place in it; and it was, at any rate, desirable that those who were interested in its provisions should know what it really contained. As, however, he had been fortunate enough to obtain an assurance from the Secretary of State for the Home Department that a, sufficient amount of time for properly considering the Bill would be given before going into Committee, he did not propose to press his Amendment.


said, that he was glad to find the progress of the Bill at that stage was not to be delayed; but that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would endeavour to carry out the wish expressed last Session—that the Bill should be introduced this Session at a time that would allow of its going into Committee before Easter. All were agreed as to the principle of the Bill, and if those who represented the miners of Cornwall could not bring themselves to assent to the provisions of the measure as regards Cornwall they could easily except Cornwall in Committee. He had been requested by a deputation of miners to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his extension of the operation of the Bill to metalliferous mines as well as to coal mines. There had been several improvements introduced into this Bill. A most judicious compromise had been made with regard to the age at which children should be allowed to work in mines. Boys were to be allowed to work in mines at 10 years of age, but with restrictions with regard to the time of employment and provisions for their attending school—a change advantageous to the boy and for the interest of the mining population generally. The change in the provisions with reference to ventilation and the onus probandi clause did not appear to be advantageous. It would be necessary also to carefully consider the regulations with regard to penalties. He reminded the House that nothing but the excessive pressure of business last Session prevented the measure being passed then, and he expressed his thanks to the Home Secretary for having reintroduced it at the earliest possible period.


said, the feeling against the Bill was very strong in South Wales, and he viewed with alarm the reading of the Bill the second time, before the people of South Wales had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon its provisions. He thought the removal of the onus probandi a very valuable change, and he had to thank the Secretary of State for the Home Depart- ment for giving those who were affected by the Bill the Power to appeal. He objected to the payment of the men by measure or weight, and would have preferred its being confined to weight only. He hoped the second reading would not be pressed on.


said, great disappointment would be felt in Wales if longer time were not given before the second reading of the Bill. That was the proper stage on which to take a discussion on its merits, and they would be unable fairly to do this unless time were allowed them to hear from their constituents. He was much disappointed at the omissions of the Bill, and also its general tenor. They had been legislating on a wrong principle hitherto. They adopted resolutions, but they made no provisions for carrying them out. He recommended that, to insure the proper fulfilment of the intentions of the Legislature, the appointment of properly-qualified underground overmen should be insisted on as of the first importance.


, as one who was largely interested in coal mines, declared himself most anxious for the passing of that Bill, as far as its principle was concerned, and also that it might pass as soon as possible. There were a few points, however, on which Amendments might be introduced into the measure at the proper time. For example, he would suggest that it was very desirable that some encouragement should be given to night schools for the instruction of collier lads—a point omitted from the Bill as it stood. Again, Clause 47 enabled a Court of summary jurisdiction to award imprisonment for three months, with or without hard labour—a power too great, he thought, to place in the hands of one stipendiary magistrate, or two justices of the peace, ignorant of the peculiar characteristics of coal mines. Such a power ought to be given only to a Court of quarter sessions. Clause 49 was also a curious one, as under it proceedings might be taken in an inferior Court and at the same time in a superior Court, and while the proceedings in the latter tribunal were pending those in the former might be stayed. The effect of that would be that a man might be tried in a superior Court and acquitted, and then find himself liable to have proceedings against him gone on with in a Court below. True, he could not be punished twice for the same offence, but he might be tried twice, or something very analogous to it. These were matters of detail that would require attention in Committee.


said, he could not regard the Bill as a piece of hasty legislation, as its subject had been for the last five years before the House, and his constituents interested in mining, both employers and employed, were quite tired of the agitation that had been carried on during that period. He hoped, however, before going into Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would give them time to master the new features of his measure, and to place before the House and the country such Amendments in it as might be necessary. He thought a child of 10 years of age ought not to be allowed to work in a mine. He also disapproved of women and female children being allowed to work on the pit-bank, for nothing, in his opinion, was more discreditable to our civilization than the sights that were daily witnessed at the collieries, especially of Lancashire, where women, dressed in the garb of men, worked with the banksmen, smoking short pipes with them, except, perhaps, when their babies were brought to the pit-bank and nursed there by mothers in men's attire and with blackened faces. This practice of employing women outside coal pits, as they were formerly employed down the mine itself, prevailed also in some parts of Scotland and Wales. He besought the Government to put an end to so degrading a practice. There ought also to be a provision in the Bill for weekly payments, for the truck system lived by long payments; and in order that the framers of the measure might more fully apprehend the evils of the system, and see the necessity of insisting upon weekly payments in opposition to those evils, he suggested that they should have the Report of the Truck Commission before them, and have the advantage of the important evidence it had obtained. He also strongly advocated weighing the quantities raised from the pits by the workmen as a means of preventing disputes. With regard to inspection, he reminded the House that of the 330,000 miners in Great Britain, 1,100 were killed annually, 10,000 injured; and of this last number 5,000 were permanently lamed. Were the system of inspection thorough, experienced men in these matters estimated that half the number of these casualties would be spared. He thought this country might learn a profitable lesson from Saxony, where no man was allowed to act as superintendent or overseer of mines who had not passed through a scientific education at the mining school. The Bill should be passed in a complete form, and an end put to the agitation of that question.


said, he was sorry that more time had not been given them to consult their constituents on the subject of that measure. The inspection at present was a mere farce, and if the number of Inspectors were not increased, inspection had better be done away with altogether. He agreed with other hon. Members that 10 years of age was too early for a child to work hard underground in a constrained and unhealthy position. The employment of women and female children on pit-banks ought to be abolished, as degrading and unsexing in its tendency. He also urged the introduction of a clause providing for the payment of wages weekly, which he believed would put an end to the evils of the truck system. He trusted that the Committee on the Bill would be put off till such time as would enable Amendments to be framed which would effect a final settlement of the question.


said, this was not the Bill of last year, for the present Bill was considerably altered from the previous measure. He did not object to the second reading; but some interval should be allowed to elapse before the Committee was taken, in order to allow hon. Members to communicate with their constituents.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) with respect to the clauses regulating the age of boys working in mines, and he thought that the provision in last year's Bill was calculated in districts where collieries were close to factories to turn the whole labour of those districts into certain occupations. So far from regarding the Bill as a retrograde one, he thought it a Bill in the right direction.


said, he thought the Bill of the Secretary of State for the Home Department dealt rather too ten- derly with the evils it was intended to prevent. He thought it permitted children of too young an age to be sent down into mines, and that it failed to require efficient inspection. In North Germany no child under 16 was permitted to be employed underground. The overmen could not at present be expected to pass a theoretical examination, but there could be no hardship in requiring that all men appointed after a given distant day, say 1st January 1876, should be required to produce certificates showing their competency to discharge their peculiar duties. As regarded inspection, the Secretary of State for the Home Department would admit that if it could be had, it was worth paying for; and when they were going to vote £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 to repay the over-regulation prices to those whose only claim was founded on their own violation of the law, they ought certainly not to grudge an extra sum of £10,000 or £15,000 per annum for the efficient inspection of mines. He did not think it could be possible to inspect every mine once in three months, but the difficulties of inspection, and even the number of mines actually in operation had been greatly exaggerated. Many, particularly in South Staffordshire, were returned as at work, which has been closed for years. The Secretary of State for the Home Department ought to be in possession of the state of discipline in every mine in the United Kingdom, and this could only be ascertained by the personal examination of Inspectors. It had been urged that by appointing Inspectors, all responsibility would be taken away from the owners of mines; but he could not see the force of the argument, because, in his opinion, the owners of mines were anxious that their mines should be worked on sound principles. The system of propping by the contractors or butties still prevailing in South Staffordshire, was the cause of twice the number of deaths, by fall of roof occurring there, than took place in the North of England. He trusted the Secretary of State for the Home Department would show a little more courage in dealing with the matter, and that he would make the provisions of the Bill far more stringent than they were at present.


expressed his opinion that the clauses of the Bill dealing with the safety of the miners could not be much improved, as they showed that the framers of the measure were acquainted with mining affairs to the utmost minutiœ of detail. Upon the question of the age at which children should be permitted to be employed in mines, he thought the matter might be left to the discretion of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, where the mineowners and parents were agreed, because, whereas in some districts it would not be right to permit children under 12 years of age to descend the mines, in others no harm would result from permitting children of 10 years of age to be so employed. In regard to the penal clauses, he hoped that it would be found practicable to impose fines—up to £100, if they liked—on the owner, and up to £10 on the miner, and only to resort to imprisonment if those fines were not paid. No man had taken a deeper interest in the safety of mines than himself, and if he thought that sub-inspection would result in the saving of lives he would gladly approve of its adoption. But he remembered his own experience as manager of a colliery, and he knew how natural it was for a man in that position to feel that when the Government Inspector had been over the workings all responsibility on his part was at an end, at least for a time. Such a feeling ought never to be encouraged; and any legislation that tended to encourage it would create a greater evil than it remedied. On the whole he felt sure that the Bill would prove acceptable both to the owners of mines and to the men employed in them, and would be the means of effecting many useful reforms, and therefore he hoped it would be allowed to go into Committee.


said, he did not consider the Secretary of State for the Home Department at all chargeable with undue delay in this kind of legislation, the present Bill, in substance, having been long before Parliament. He approved of the limitation of the age as pointed out by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), but regretted that the Bill embraced not only coal mines, but metalliferous mines also, the conditions of which were in many respects entirely different. Before the last-named class of mines was introduced into the Bill, time should have been allowed for an expression of opinion to be received from those most closely interested in the ques- tion. When the proper time arrived—in Committee—he should invite the attention of hon. Gentlemen to this point.


complimented his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the discussion which had arisen, although he thought every objection that had been taken could have been more satisfactorily taken in Committee than in a debate on the second reading of the Bill. He could not quite understand the view taken by some hon. Members, who began by making sweeping objections to the measure, and ended by saying that, as their constituents disapproved it, they ought to have an opportunity of seeing the Bill. It reminded him of the captain who bound a man with two chains, and then asked who he was and what he had done. The hon. Members first prejudged the Bill and then wanted time to look into its provisions. This was one of those measures which, when introduced two or more years ago, it seemed desirable to pass in the first instance, but which a subsequent acquaintance with the facts had been shown to need modification in some particulars; and he had no doubt that when it had passed through and been further amended in Committee, and was brought to its final stage, it would be found to be a measure deserving a satisfactory reception in all parts of the country which would be affected by its provisions. The districts of England in which the Bill would operate were dissimilar in many respects. In some parts of the country it did not matter whether the restriction as to the age at which children were to be allowed to go into the mines was fixed at 10 or 16 years, for they would find their way there in the end; but in districts where there were not only mines but manufactories, it would be found that they would be sent to the factories at an early age, and then the mine owners would altogether lose the advantage of youthful labour. He did not see why children should not be allowed to labour in the mines, where, as a rule, they would be engaged in work with their own fathers—under the same or similar "half-time" regulations that obtained in factories. If this were not so, the colliery owners in certain districts would have a right to complain that a law was being meted out to them different from that under which manufacturers conducted their business. With respect to another branch of the subject, he felt sure that a system of minute inspection, such as was suggested by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), would result in enormous expenditure, with but small corresponding benefit, and would, at the same time, afford little or no additional protection to the workmen, because it would decrease the responsibility of colliery owners and managers. He felt confidence in the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, because, in his opinion, the measure hit the mean between rendering managers almost entirely irresponsible, through excess of Government inspection, and allowing them to conduct their business in a reckless manner, because the Government inspection was either insufficient or inefficient. He believed that it would be impossible to inspect thoroughly one of the larger mines in Northumberland in less than a fortnight. Such an inspection would be costly, and it would be of no benefit to the miners themselves. He was quite sure that the miners would regard this measure as a well-considered compromise, and he trusted that it would be passed in a shape that would be satisfactory to the workmen and the mineowners, and also to the Houses of Parliament.


said, he was far from complaining of the remarks that had been made, whether as to the time at which this Bill was proposed, or as to the details of the Bill. With respect to the objection as to the time at which the Bill was proposed, the answer had been already sufficiently given that the Bill had been before the country for a long time. Last year the Bill was read a second time without any opposition. The changes that had been introduced were few, and as a general desire had been manifested that the Bill should be proceeded with with all diligence, and the Bill was essentially one of detail, he thought the best course was to get it read a second time as early as possible, with the full understanding that ample opportunity should be given to consider its details before going into Committee, and with that view he proposed that the House should not go into Committee until the expiration of three weeks. If there was one exception to the general tone of the discussion, it was the speech of the hon. Gentleman who commenced the discussion (Mr. Magniac), and whose complaints were unfounded. That hon. Gentleman said that certain Amendments with respect to the inspection of mines had been introduced for the first time without the wish of the Cornish miners. Now, so far from that being the case, every single Amendment affecting mines in Cornwall was introduced after discussion with, and with the approval of, the Members for Cornwall themselves, the only difference being that the clauses were arranged more systematically. The children employed above ground in connection with coal mines were not included in the Workshops' Regulation Act, and therefore the Select Committee suggested that the Workshops' Regulation Act should be applied to such children. But the character of the work done by the children in Cornwall and elsewhere in cleaning the produce of copper and tin mines already subjected them to the operation of that Act. He would proceed to notice very shortly a few of the objections to the Bill. He thought the best answer that could be given to the objection of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) was that given by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot). Hon. Members must know that as to framing rules on a subject of this kind, anyone occupying the position of Secretary of State for the Home Department must take the advice of the most competent advisers—namely, the Inspectors of Mines, and with them he had consulted, and had largely availed himself of their advice in preparing the general rules contained in the Bill. Since the measure was before the House last Session, he had received suggestions from various parts of the country against an absolute exclusion of children under 12, who, it was said, earned very considerable wages. He had so far altered the Bill of last year that children of 10 years of age would be permitted to work underground but only for three days a week, and with provision for their education up to the age of 13 years. With regard to the employment of women above ground—no women were employed under ground—he agreed very much with what was said by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) that that question must be left to the general feeling of the population, and to the spread of general enlightenment. As to the complaint of the hon. Member for Wenlock (Mr. Brown) that masters and workmen were differently treated with respect to appeals, he denied its justice; the appeal was given to both parties whenever the magistrates imposed a sentence of imprisonment without the alternative of a fine. As to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot), he thought that for ordinary offences, which might cause some injury to machinery, fines would be an amply sufficient punishment; but that as to greater offences whereby the safety of people engaged in mines was endangered, there ought to be the power of inflicting severe and summary punishment; but in these cases an appeal to a higher Court had been provided. As to short payments, the whole of that question would be brought under the consideration of the House when the Report of the Commissioners on the Truck System was presented. The evidence was now completed; but it was voluminous, and the Report could hardly be expected in less than about five weeks from the present time. It was of the utmost importance that the means of obtaining a complete education should be afforded to mining agents. But no mining schools existed in this country, or at least to an extent altogether insufficient for the education of so numerous a class. Let schools and means of education be provided, and then we should have a right to insist upon a strict preliminary examination. The case of shipmasters was not analogous, because the shipmaster went to sea for perhaps five or six months, and during all that time the lives of the crew were in his hands. But an agent who committed a mistake might be taken before a magistrate and immediately removed by his employer. All these things, however, were matters for Committee, and, in order that ample time might be given for the consideration of the Bill by the country, and for putting Amendments on the Paper, he should name the Committee for that day three weeks.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 16th March.