§ General Rules.
§ Clause 48 (General rules).
rose to move an Amendment. Rule 1 provided as follows:—An adequate amount of ventilation shall be constantly produced in every mine, to dilute and render harmless noxious gases to such an extent that the working places of the shafts, levels, and workings of such mine, and the travelling roads to and from such working places, shall be in a fit state for working and passing therein.He proposed to insert, in page 24, line 29, after the word "shall," the words "under ordinary circumstances." The insertion of these words was most important. He sincerely desired to make the Bill effective, and had done what he could to render it so; but, as a practical man, he felt that, unless the Committee adopted the words he suggested, it would be impossible to conduct a colliery without being brought within the pains and penalties which the Bill imposed, and responsible and competent persons would, therefore, shrink from the position of a manager of coal-mines. This was a practical question, and though he wished, as the Committee wished, to do all that was possible to increase the safety of the miners and improve the ventilation of mines, he knew from practical daily experience that no amount of ventilation would meet extraordinary cases. For example, a sudden fall of the barometer might lead to the escape of not less than 50,000 feet of gas a-minute from the workings and goafs; and then the greater the ventilation the greater the danger, because the gas in its natural condition was uninflammable, while it would explode when mixed with a larger amount 509 of atmospheric air. Again, in driving, you might come upon what was sometimes called "a bag of gas," which issued forth just as steam was blown from a locomotive. How could any amount of ventilation render a colliery harmless under these circumstances? These things frequently occurred. In the discussions in Parliament he feared it was often assumed that in collieries there was nothing like the amount of care which was really taken. Let the Committee remember, however, that in one mine there might be from 600 to 800 or 1,000 safety lamps, and that any tampering with these, or the minutest speck in some of the gauzes, might cause a serious explosion, and they would admit that it spoke well for the management of colleries that, with such a multiplication of risks, so few accidents occurred. If the greatest amount of care were not taken, depend upon it there would be many more disasters. But, according to his reading of the clause, it would never work. It was, indeed, a waste of time to discuss a rule so impracticable, and, he must add, on the face of it, so absurd; and any practical man, whether a mining engineer or a working miner, must admit this conclusion. The Bill comprised intricate and difficult provisions, and he was disposed to support and sympathize with the Home Secretary in the position he occupied with regard to it; but it seemed hardly possible that an intelligent Assembly like this should pass such a clause without the words he now moved to insert.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 24, line 29, after the word "shall," to insert the words "under ordinary circumstances."—(Mr. Elliot.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. LANCASTER
agreed with the hon. Member that it would be impossible to carry out this clause and work a colliery satisfactorily, unless the words "under ordinary circumstances" were inserted. Circumstances arose from time to time against which it was impossible to guard so as to provide sufficient ventilation.
§ MR. FOTHERGILL
said, that in order to carry additional conviction to the minds of hon. Members as to the truth of what had been asserted by the 510 hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot), he would, if the House permitted, refer to his own experience of coal mines. In his own collieries he had not lost a single life by explosion for seven years, and in those seven years the collieries had produced nearly 6,000,000 tons of coal. No doubt much of the credit was due to his agent; and yet at that very moment he trembled lest an explosion should have occurred. The reason was that explosions were not caused by the gradual percolation of gas into the collieries, which could be provided for by adequate ventilation. If that were the only difficulty there would be no need of the safety-lamp, for regular ventilation would carry off a regular issue of gas from the coal. But this insurmountable difficulty had to be dealt with: there were met with stores of gas, the accumulation of countless ages, which there were no means of computing, and of which nothing was known, each representing, perhaps, the broken-down bank of a lake. It was utterly impossible to provide for such a contingency; we might as well call upon a road surveyor to provide culverts and bridges to take away the water rushing down the road from the broken-down bank of a reservoir. If adequate ventilation for such contingencies were provided, it would be of such a character that men could not work in the mine. There were some who believed that the use of the lamp was to enable the collier to work in explosive gas; but that was not so. The lamp was provided to save the lives of the men when they came across "blowers." When the collier happened to strike one of these bags or accumulations of gas, when the gauze of the lamp indicated the presence of gas, it was his duty to report the fact to the manager, who would take such precautions as were necessary. Was it not, then, preposterous to make the owner, agent, or manager criminally liable in the event of an explosion over which he had no control? Would not the inevitable result be that prudent men would no longer retain these positions and run the risk of being made criminally responsible, punished, and socially ruined? In view of penal legislation, it was a very good joke for Members to say to each other—"When will your hair be cropped? How will you like the treadmill?" But penal legislation was no joke to those exposed 511 to it. It meant social ruin; no Member of Parliament who had been sent to prison and herded among villains could appear again in that House. He did not understand why owners, managers, and agents, to whose capital and zeal the country owed its trade, were to be prosecuted as if they were the the enemies of their species. He should say they were the friends of their country and deserved well of it; but it appeared as if they were to be persecuted like the Jews of old. What had they done to incur the righteous indignation of the right hon. Gentleman? The number of accidents kept diminishing. He had had no accidents in his own mine, and yet he was threatened with these fearful consequences. He would not appeal to those political philanthropists whose grating tones were familiar to their ears; it was useless to appeal to them by argument, because they had their own ends to serve; but he would appeal to the real, the noble-hearted philanthropists who sat in this House, and he would appeal to them in the name of the working colliers whose lives would be sacrificed if this Bill passed in its present form. If prudent and cautious owners and managers were driven out, imprudent ones would come in, and accidents would be multiplied and the sufferings of the mining population aggravated. The principle of this legislation was that as perilous accidents occurred they must be stopped. It was not enough that the strongest motives known to human nature should be acted upon to prevent them, and that an owner should be credited with an interest in the preservation of his property, which might be valued by tens of thousands of pounds, but there must be attached to these accidents criminal responsibility and social disgrace. Let the right hon. Gentleman go a step further; let him punish owners with death for a fatal accident; and if that were not sufficient, let him put them to death with torture. In the name of the working colliery population, whose imperfect education had been used by those who had their own objects to serve, he appealed to the Committee not to pass legislation which made owners and managers criminally responsible.
§ MR. BROWN
argued that, if the words "under ordinary circumstances" were inserted, it would be found on inquiry that the majority of accidents 512 would happen under extraordinary circumstances; and he therefore trusted that the Amendment would not be assented to, and that owners and managers would be required to ventilate their mines so as to provide against accumulations of gas.
said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment that this was one of the most important clauses in the Bill, and there was no Amendment which more affected the position of miners and the safety of mines than did that which was now before the Committee. He earnestly entreated the Committee to consider in what position the Government stood with respect to this Bill. In 1854 a Select Committee was appointed to consider the subject of accidents in mines, which were then frequent and terrible; and that Committee made a Report, upon which was founded the Mines Inspection Act. He hoped and believed that Act had had a considerable effect in reducing the number of accidents in proportion to the number of persons employed and the quantity of coal raised. But in spite of this improvement, terrible accidents were continually happening, and there was a continual occurrence of small accidents, which annually swelled the list of deaths until the number killed was almost equal to the number killed in a battle. And it was not only the numbers killed we had to consider. An explosion or accident often left many helpless, disfigured, and miserable for life, to say nothing of the dependents of those killed and injured; and therefore the deaths represented only in part the disastrous nature of these catastrophes. In 1865 a Select Committee was appointed to consider the whole subject, and it comprised many Members of great knowledge and experience on this subject. They had before them all existing legislation, and it was their business to consider whether anything could be done to diminish the terrible loss of human life and the immense amount of human suffering due to these accidents. They considered the subject carefully; they made recommendations, some of which were stoutly contested, others of which were carried only by a small majority, and others almost without a division; but there was one recommendation of the Committee, composed as it was of men of authority on this subject, which was 513 carried unanimously, and it was as follows:—Your Committee have recommended the omission of the words 'under ordinary circumstances,' in the first rule, on the ground that there might be circumstances which, though not in strictness ordinary, were yet such as might be foreseen or guarded against; but your Committee have, at the same time, recommended that the owner or manager of a mine should, in the case of any proceeding against him for a penalty, either under the first or any other rule, be entitled to plead as a sufficient defence that he had taken all reasonable precautions.That was the recommendation on which the present clause, which was denounced as unreasonable, was founded. That Committee consisted of hon. Members who were either mine owners or persons who had taken great interest in the subject, and the Resolution which he had just mentioned was carried without a division. The clause in the Bill which was founded on that Resolution was now represented as most disastrous to the masters. He admitted that there were in the conduct of mines circumstances which were absolutely beyond the control of the wisest and best manager, and the most careful master and best miner, and the hon. Member who moved the Amendment said the clause sought to give protection against accidents which could not be prevented. But he would ask his hon. Friends whether they would be content to carry on their works where such dangers existed in a manner which would be sufficient only under ordinary circumstances? Did not every conscientious and careful mine owner make provision for rare and more than ordinary circumstances? If they were not subject to these accidents, would they make so large a provision for the admission of air? It was true, as the hon. Member (Mr. Elliot) had said, that the danger of accidents was increased by a larger quantity of air under certain circumstances. Gas was not explosive until mixed with four times its quantity of air; although, when mixed with fourteen times its own amount of air it ceased to be dangerous; and the object was to diminish, as much as possible, the period during which danger arose. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Fothergill) said that the occurrence of an accident might make a master liable to be sent to prison. That would not be the case if the master showed that he had taken all reasonable precautions, and, in the 514 case of mines managed like those of the hon. Member for Merthyr, there would be no difficulty in proving that all reasonable precautions had been taken. The Government had been called on by the whole country not simply to consolidate the laws on this subject, but to provide some additional substantial security for those working in mines, and they found that the only possible way of effecting that object was to increase the penalties on the masters. If they had gone too far in endeavouring to attain that end, he should have nothing to say; but he denied that that was the case, for under the last words of the clause the masters would have ample protection. He knew the difficulty of meeting in discussion Members of that House with great practical experience on the subject, who said, and with truth, that they had, out of regard for their own interest and the safety of their men, adopted every conceivable precaution to prevent accidents. He had no doubt that was so, and if all mines were managed like theirs there might be no necessity for interference on the part of the Legislature. The necessity arose in the case of mines conducted by persons of less capital and less care. If his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr had been able for seven years to prevent accidents in his mines, while in other mines around the men were meeting with fearful calamities, did not that circumstance afford the best argument in favour of the present Bill? The object of the Bill was to increase the responsibility of the owners, and when he before alluded to that object he was charged with exhibiting unnecessary warmth. He confessed that he did feel warm. This Bill was specially brought forward for the protection of the men, and it seemed to him that the Government had been betrayed by those who were sent to represent the interests of the men. He found them admitting amendments which destroyed the protection proposed to be given, and which made it almost impossible to prevent the employment of children before the proper time. He hoped, indeed, that the vote of the other day might be re-considered. But he had also been informed, on what he deemed most trustworthy authority, that one part of the arrangement between the employers and the men in the discussion which had been referred to was, that if the men would withdraw their 515 support of the first general rule in its present form, the employers would concede payment by weight instead of by measure. Such a fact was most discouraging to those who wished to serve the men. He voted for payment by weight, but whether it was in the Bill or not was of little importance, because it was not necessarily connected with the safety of mines; whereas the Government looked upon this clause as all important. It was one on which the safety of the mine depended, and surely they had done enough, if, while casting upon the masters the responsibility of working the mine safely, they gave them the opportunity of setting up a clear and satisfactory defence when charged, which was all that the law required of them.
§ MR. LIDDELL
would appeal to the common-sense of the Committee upon this subject, and would appeal to it with confidence. He asked whether they were prepared to call upon the mine owners of this country to do what, on the highest practical authority, was declared to be impossible? The question was, whether the ventilation of a mine should, under all circumstances, be kept at the point of perfectibility? That was what they were requiring by this clause. It was a simple impossibility. The right hon. Gentleman said the Select Committee had recommended the omission of these words. The Committee were not infallible, any more than "Secretaries of State," and in that case they made a great mistake. Before their Report was dry they received representations from practical men that the thing was impossible. When the Government Bill of 1871 was introduced it was found that the words "under ordinary circumstances" were restored to the clause; and he found that in The Times report—generally very correct—the right hon. Gentleman was on the 13th of February stated to have said that "he had consulted the Inspectors of coal mines, and he considered it best to retain the law in its present form." Now, why was this change made? These words had been inserted in the Act of 1855, after long, careful, and anxious consideration; and they had been retained in every Act since. Why, then, should they now be departed from?
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
said, the subject had been considered by the Committee of 1867 with very great care. 516 They heard evidence and came to the conclusion which the right hon. Gentleman had read to the House. But the Report of a Committee was very different from practical legislation by which penalties were imposed. The question had been discussed by the highest authorities, who believed it impossible that mines could be carried on under such conditions. The Committee ought to be very careful, in regard to penal legislation, not to admit words which could not be practically carried out. Now, in this case they were asked to insert words which those who were practically acquainted with the working of mines knew it would be impossible to comply with, and therefore he submitted that penalties ought not to be attached in such cases. From some slight accident—such as the leaving open of a door or some change in the barometer—"a working place" might become charged with gas, for which the owner, agent, or manager became chargeable with an offence he never committed, and for which he might be sent to prison, with hard labour. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that the section at the end of this clause would be a sufficient protection for owners, agents, and managers of mines. He took quite a different view. That sub-section violated every principle of English law. It assumed that owners, agents, and managers of mines were in the position of habitual criminals—that they were guilty until they proved themselves innocent; although, it might be quite impossible for them to prove that they were innocent. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thought that an occasional flogging would do the managers good. Those who owned mines in the sense of receiving royalties from them were exempted from penalties; but those persons who ventured their money in mines, without having any more to do with the management than those who received royalties, were assumed to be guilty of offences which other persons had committed, unless they proved their innocence, and if they could not prove their innocence they might be sent to gaol, with hard labour. After all the practical opinions which had been given as to the impossibility of carrying out the rule, he hoped the Government would adopt the words proposed by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot).
§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
contended that the proposed words were incompatible with the safe working of mines. ["No!"] The Inspectors' Reports proved that many mines were insufficiently ventilated, yet these mines were, "under ordinary circumstances," worked with safety. But there ought clearly to be a provision in such mines for more than ordinary circumstances. The rule was not meant to affect well-ordered mines. At the same time, some words ought to be inserted to save mine owners from undue responsibility. What we wanted to insure was that precautions should be taken against extraordinary circumstances, so far as that was humanly possible. Perhaps owners and managers were not sufficiently protected from the consequences of extraordinary causes, against which it was not humanly possible to guard. He would suggest the words—"except in case of accidental circumstances beyond the control of owners, managers, or agents." These might not be the best words; but they indicated the change which seemed to him to be necessary.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
The hon. Member who spoke last not being a coal owner, and therefore not being in danger of being treated as a habitual criminal, does not appear to know that the words "ordinary circumstances" would apply to particular mines, and that if in a mine there was a liability to extraordinary issues of gas, ordinary precautions would, as far as possible, be provided against any extraordinary issues. The word "ordinary" would be construed by any Court under ordinary circumstances according to the character of the mine brought before the Court, and therefore the words were applicable to the circumstances of every case. But I trust the Committee will understand that the legislation which is applicable to the conductors of factories and workshops cannot be applied to the managers of a mine. The manager of a mine has the supervision of the working for miles underground. He is liable to as many accidents as the captain of a vessel; he is liable to the effect of the weather; he is liable to sudden falls of coal; he is liable to fogs. And therefore any attempt to render a mine as safe as a factory or workshop is simply an impossibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has pleaded 518 the difficulties of his position. One of the chief difficulties to which he alluded was that he was bound under a pressure of opinion to take the strongest precautions that could be taken in this case. Now, that opinion is, to a great extent, an uninformed opinion upon the possibilities of the case. The right hon. Gentleman is one of those politicians who is liable somewhat to disregard the requirements of justice in their anxiety to accomplish what they consider a necessary object. I have heard him defend an official who had acted contrary to law, and who was afterwards convicted of having done so. I have heard him justify the conduct of that official by saying that he acted upon the principle salus populi suprema lex. I never before heard a man in a high position use that argument in this House, and I am afraid he is induced by uninformed public opinion to victimize the coal owners and the interests of the public. I wish to draw attention to the practical information which he has received. I am not ignorant of the fact that amongst the speculative coal owners—and by that designation I mean companies and their managers—there are persons who do not take due precautions, and I should not object to the imposition of a heavy deodand on every owner who renders himself liable to punishment. These speculators make great profits, and I would confiscate those profits. But when you come to inflict upon persons who very likely have taken all possible precautions penal legislation, you are going too far. I would say this—that this House ought to beware how it adopts in the case of a large class of capitalists who are exposed to something like unfair odium by the ignorance of the public, the character of the legislation which is applicable only to the criminal class; and I most urgently beg the House, looking at the criminal provisions contained in the subsequent clauses of the Bill, to adopt the words of an hon. Member who has had such large practical experience. It should be remembered that where a mine is liable to explosion from fire-damp, the "ordinary circumstances"—if the Bill is otherwise complied with, and the Inspector does his duty—will include every necessary and possible precaution against the characteristic danger of that mine. It is my firm belief that if the House attempts to 519 legislate thus exceptionally, it will be legislating as if they were attempting to regulate the labour of the mariners of this country on the supposition that the ocean is never in a storm.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
thought the clause had not been sufficiently considered as a whole. It had been looked at as if this particular section which was now engaging the attention of the Committee stood alone. The clause laid down that there was to be an adequate amount of ventilation, so that mines should be in a fit state for working and passing therein. Hon. Gentlemen engaged in coal mines said that such a stipulation compelled, and made failure penal under all circumstances, whether an accident could be prevented by care or not, to have the mine in such and such a condition. If the clause stood so there would be much in the argument to which he was now addressing himself. But everyone knew that it was an inflexible rule of law that no one could be called upon to do an impossibility; and if a person had done all that was reasonably possible under the circumstances, and was overborne by circumstances that could not be controlled, he was, in his (the Attorney General's) opinion, within the meaning of the clause as it stood in the Bill. No magistrate would be justified in convicting; and no Judge would sustain a conviction in such a case. But the concluding section of the clause laid down a sort of procedure, and after having promulgated a certain number of general rules concluded in this way—Every person who contravenes or does not comply with any of the general rules in this section shall be guilty of an offence against this Act; and in the event of any contravention of or non-compliance with any of the said general rules in the case of any mine to which this Act applies, by any person whomsoever, being proved, the owner, agent or manager of such mine shall be guilty of an offence against this Act, unless"—and the Committee should mark the words—"he proves that he had taken all reasonable means to prevent such contravention or non-compliance.The informant would hear of an explosion, and he would find, primâ facie, that the mine was not in a fit state for working, and that the owner had contravened the rule which said the mine should be in a fit state for working and passing therein. In the absence of any proof to the contrary, the owner of the mine would be guilty of having contravened that rule. But if he could 520 prove that he had taken all reasonable means of preventing a contravention of that rule, he would be protected by the words of the Act. What was the hardship of imposing upon a mine owner who took such large profits from his operations, which could not be conducted without great risk to human life, the duty of showing that he had taken all reasonable steps to protect human life. If a shipowner sent to sea a ship which was unseaworthy, he was criminally responsible; if a railway train went off a line and killed people, that was primâ facie evidence that there had been negligence on the part of a railway company, and, in the absence of any proof to the contrary, the railway company would be answerable for that. First of all, therefore, the responsibility sought to be imposed by the clause was a reasonable responsibility; and, secondly, it was not a new responsibility. Now as to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Elliot), that the words "under ordinary circumstances" should be inserted, there were certain states of danger which could be easily guarded against; but there were cases in which the risk became still greater, and which would require greater care, and these were circumstances which ought to be within the contemplation of mine owners when they conducted their operations. To insert the words of the Amendment would, in his opinion, take away all means of effecting an improvement in the working of mines; but Government were willing to introduce the words "so far as possible."
MR. STAVELEY HILL
must take exception to his hon. and learned Friend's statement that a railway was liable in the first instance on account of an accident before a primâ facie case of negligence was made out. Passing, however, to the actual subject under discussion, he remarked that the clause enacted that the owner, agent, and manager of a mine should be held to be criminally liable and subject to penalties in the event of the ventilation being inadequate. The question to be considered, therefore, was, what was an adequate amount of ventilation? They were told by those who had experience in ventilation that the passing of a certain number of cubic feet of air per second through the mine rendered it safe for workmen to work in a mine; and they were also told that a fall in the baro- 521 meter indicated danger, and that certain gases were being liberated which would fill the whole mine. The marsh gas or fire-damp existed under such pressure as to maintain it probably even in a liquid state, and from a sudden diminution of pressure it rushed out in what was termed "a blower," and filled the workings. Now, the question was, ought the ventilation called for by that clause in the Bill to be so great as in every possible event to reduce into a harmless state the gases which were thus set free? Those who supported the Amendment said that that was an impossibility. He did not think the words suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman in place of the Amendment at all met the case of owners and managers. The question was, what amount of ventilation would be required to pass per second through the mine in order to render the gas harmless which was likely to be liberated, and ought they to require more? As it was impossible to pass through the mine such an amount of air as to do so in all events, without interfering with the working of the mine, the insertion of the words in the Amendment, or some such words, became necessary. He considered the Amendment one of the most important which had been submitted to the Committee.
§ DR. LYON PLAYFAIR
was sorry that there was not a disposition "on the other side" to accept the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. He did not think the word "possible" in the Amendment suggested by Government a good word; but he thought "practicable" would meet the case. He dissented entirely from the insertion of the words "under ordinary circumstances." A manager or owner incurred immense responsibility by the arrangements which he adopted for ventilation. In fact, he held in his hand the lives of hundreds of persons, just as the captain of a ship held in his hand the lives of the crew and passengers intrusted to his skill. Now, what would be thought of a proposal to make the captain only responsible for navigating his vessel "under ordinary circumstances." If the barometer fell, and if a hurricane came on, was the captain's responsibility to cease? Why, then, should the responsibility of the mine owner be at an end when the 522 barometer fell, or from other causes a moment of danger was at hand? He was sorry to see that science was at a discount in this discussion; but he might mention that a paper, recently read before the Royal Society by a practical miner, and by the head of the Government Meteorological Office, stated that 71 per cent of the explosions which had occurred during the three years 1868, 1869, and 1870, were due to barometrical depressions and thermometrical risings. If, then, as they were told by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot), a fall in the barometer had such influence, why should not the owner or manager be held responsible? He himself had a pecuniary interest in mines, and he felt convinced that both the owners and the miners would be benefited if this responsibility were imposed on the former. He did not speak as a mere theorist, for he had seen all kinds of mine accidents, and drawn the explosive gases from the mines under all circumstances, and the deaths were few which occurred from the sudden blowers they had been told of. In cases of falls of the roof, and falls in the barometer, and escapes of gas, no advantage would be gained if the words "under ordinary circumstances" were inserted. It was quite true the total loss of lives from explosions was not increasing much in this country; but there was one thing which was increasing, and that was the number of serious explosions, with the loss of a large number of lives. From 1851 to 1855 there were 13 serious explosions, and by serious explosions he meant where there was a loss of more than 10 lives; from 1856 to 1860 there were 15 serious explosions; from 1861 to 1865 there were 12; and from 1866 to 1870 there were 21. It thus appeared, as deeper pits were sunk, as mining works were extended, these serious explosions became more frequent, and it was necessary that not only practice—for practical experience was indispensable—but intelligent knowledge applied to that practice, should be brought to bear. Accordingly he trusted that the words "under ordinary circumstances" would not be introduced into the clause.
§ LORD ELCHO
remarked that former Mines Bills contained a clause which rendered it necessary to have a barometer at the mouth of the pit as well as below in order to indicate the state of 523 the atmosphere. While listening to this discussion he could not help thinking it would be desirable to have a barometer in that House, in order that hon. Members might know what kind of atmosphere pervaded it. If the barometer had shown that explosive gases were afloat, hon. Gentlemen would have known that there were a great number of blowers on the Treasury Bench to-day; and that, at all events, one of the volcanoes on that Bench was not wholly extinct. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said the interests of the miners had been betrayed. He distinctly asked the right hon. Gentleman to state who it was that had betrayed the cause of the miners? The impression made upon practical men by the right hon. Gentleman's new-born zeal was this—that he was endeavouring to put upon the mine owners duties which, owing to the laws of nature, it was impossible for them to fulfil. This question was discussed years ago, before this "unholy alliance" had been formed; it was discussed at meetings of miners and coal-owners, and they agreed on a form of words which they thought unexceptionable—namely, "except under circumstances that could not reasonably have been anticipated." He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not fly at his throat again, ["Oh, oh!"]—morally, he meant—for referring to the meetings which were held this year with respect to the Bill. The words he had mentioned were proposed, and who was it that objected to them?—Mr. Dickinson, one of the most able and experienced of the Inspectors, and his reason was that the words could not be construed to mean more than the words "ordinary circumstances," and Mr. Dickinson urged in the strongest way that these last words should be restored.
§ MR. PEASE
believed that the Committee which had been alluded to, though it had done useful work, still represented only a part of the men, some coal-owners, and some Inspectors. The clause as it stood was not satisfactory, for it was an attempt to enact that unless the mine owners proved that they were innocent they should not be acquitted. The object which all had in view he believed could be best effected by substituting the word "practicable" for "possible" in the words suggested by the Attorney General, and that substitution he under- 524 stood the Government were prepared to accept.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
contended that the clause should be retained as it stood. In the interest of the miners, whose lives were in danger, he must object to the words "ordinary circumstances," and the words suggested by the Attorney General he held to be equally objectionable. Who was to judge of what was "practicable?" Any qualification of the clause would be a means of escape from that liability which they were anxious to impose on the masters. The arguments against the clause were, in fact, arguments against the legislation which the House of Commons had expressed its determination to adopt. He earnestly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would stick to their own clause.
§ MR. RODEN
did not find in the speech of the Attorney General a single argument which was valid against the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman (Dr. Playfair) had stated that serious accidents were increasing every year. Every one knew that statement was entirely wrong. ["No!"] The quantity of coal taken out of the mines was enormously increased, and the accidents were not half so many if the quantity of coal was taken into account. There was no trade in which a greater amount of talent was enlisted, or in which greater exertions were made to secure able men. Why, more accidents occurred in the streets of London in one year than in all the collieries in England in the same time. ["Oh, oh!"] It was a fact; he alluded, of course, to explosive accidents. He had to take exception to a serious mis-statement made by the Under Secretary the other evening, which had gained the Government several votes. The hon. Gentleman stated most clearly and distinctly that this Bill was a mere extension of the Factory Acts.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM
said, he stated nothing of the kind. What he did state was that the clause under consideration at the time referred to was to some extent taken from the Factory Acts.
§ MR. RODEN
said, that several Members, at all events, had voted under a misconception. It appeared to him that under "ordinary circumstances" were as suitable words as could be employed, and they were words which had been 525 agreed upon by the representatives of the mine owners and the men. He should support the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliott) unless the Government gave way.
§ MR. BROGDEN
, as a mine owner, thought that the words "under ordinary circumstances" would allow of too great laxity, and that "as far as practicable or possible" were terms which were even as general and as incapable of accurate interpretation, and he would suggest, as words which would indicate to the magistrate that something more than the care required "under ordinary circumstances" was expected, the words "except in a contingency which cannot be provided against by reasonable precautions." There were contingencies which could be provided against; and there were others against which no ingenuity or foresight would avail.
§ MR. WHALLEY
thought there was an almost general concurrence of opinion that the acceptance of the words "under ordinary circumstances" would increase the risk in mines. He never yet heard of an accident which occurred under ordinary circumstances. It seemed to be the object of the Bill, while not interfering with fair enterprise, to prevent, if possible, mines being carried on by men with inadequate capital, or men not disposed to expend what was necessary to insure safety.
§ MR. HENDERSON
said, the words "as far as practicable" would scarcely meet the case, because it might be practicable to provide more ventilation than the men could work in. He would, therefore, suggest that the expression used should be "reasonably practicable."
§ MR. ELLIOT
said, he would propose to add these words at the end of the clause if the Government would accept them:—"So far as may be reasonably practicable, having regard to any special circumstances of the mine."
§ MR. DENMAN
said, these words would mean nothing at all—no more than the words at the beginning of the clause. Neither would the words "as far as practicable" make any practical difference to the clause. The best course would be to adhere to the form of the clause proposed by the Government and to insert no words at all.
replied in the negative. The word "reasonable" had no legal significance; "practicable" would mean reasonably practicable, or practicable under the circumstances of the case. Although he was not sure that the words suggested by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Elliot) would weaken the force of the words now proposed by the Government, he was not prepared, without more consideration than was possible on such an occasion, to accept them, because he should be sorry to discover afterwards that they admitted a dangerous principle. Therefore, if the words now proposed on the part of the Government were accepted, he would undertake to consider how far it was possible also to accept the words of the hon. Member.
§ MR. ELLIOT
could not accept the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman; he would rather be beaten on his own Amendment. The discussion had only convinced him of the soundness of the opinion which he had already expressed. He had been called in, either for the Government or others, on the occurrence of every great explosion for many years; in no case had it been proved how the accident occurred; and yet it was proposed to make owners criminally responsible in cases in which they could not prove that they were not responsible. He had discussed this matter with almost every practical authority in the country, and the Home Secretary was almost the only man he had met with who stood up for the clause. He must adhere to his Amendment, because he believed that if the clause as it stood were carried, it would not work.
, in reply to a remark which had been made, said, that nothing was further from his mind than to use an argumentum ad hominem; he merely referred to authorities as a justification of the Government in the course they had adopted. He hoped the Committee would support the Government in negativing this Amendment, and when they had done so the Government would insert the words proposed by the Attorney General, with the modification suggested—"as far as practicable." The Bill did not compel the owners or managers of mines to show the cause of the accident. That would be unjust; but the Bill simply required them to show that they had taken all those reasonable precau- 527 tions which men carrying on a dangerous business were bound to take for the safety of those they employed.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 20; Noes 298: Majority 278.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.
§ And it being now Seven of the Clock, the House suspended its Sitting.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the Clock.