HC Deb 18 July 1881 vol 263 cc1128-9

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, now that his attention has been called to the very serious charge brought in his Report by the Inspector of Metalliferous Mines for Cornwall, Devon, &c. against "a very large number" of the magistrates for the county of Cornwall, and which reads as follows:— On looking down the list of fines, one cannot help being struck by the fact that most of them are absurdly small. It almost seems that some magistrates think more of the life of a pheasant than they do that of a man, for I believe that if a similar number of convictions for poaching cases were taken at random, the average fine would be greater; The fact is, a very large number of the magistrates are interested directly or indirectly in mining. Many of them are owners of mining property, and have been troubled by repeated notices to fence dangerous abandoned shafts, and have thereby been put to considerable expense, some indeed have been prosecuted for neglecting to attend to these notices, others are shareholders in mines in the district, and, as such, are not disposed to look favourably upon Government restrictions which they think may interfere with their profits. As a natural consequence fines have on the whole been light, and the inspector's labours have been increased considerably; If the offences had been punished with greater severity, mine agents would have attended to the provisions of the Act with much more diligence. I am convinced that this mistaken leniency on the part of the magistrates leads to a delay in carrying out all the pro- visions of the Act, and thereby tends to keep up the death rate from accidents; and, whether he will cause immediate and searching inquiry to be made as to the truth or otherwise of the charge, and, in the event of the allegations made in the Report not being substantiated, whether he will relieve the Inspector from further service in his present capacity?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, in making so serious a charge against the Magistrates as that contained in the Mines Inspector's Report for Devon and Cornwall, and quoted by the honourable Member for Stafford yesterday, he, the Mines Inspector, should not have substantiated and justified it by actual facts, and that as this was not done, whether he will not now call upon him to do so, and will lay such further Report upon the Table of the House?


said, that before these Questions were answered he had another to ask. He wished to know whether, in the event of the charges made by the Inspector being substanstiated, he would direct the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the fact, with the view of having every magistrate in the county of Cornwall who valued human life at not more than 5s., or 7s. 6d., or 10s. to be removed from office?


said, he was not surprised at this Question, because the Report of the Inspector involved a very serious charge. He would not weary the House by going into the Report; but he might just mention two of the examples given by the Inspector in support of his charge, in one of which a fine of 5s. had been imposed for an offence at a place where no other offence had been previously reported, while in the other, for the filling-in of a facing, the fine was only 10s. There were other cases in which the fines were only 2s. and 2s. 6d. Upon these facts the Inspector had made the charge in question, and in the circumstances he (Sir William Harcourt) considered that the matter was one deserving of further inquiry, and he had called for a special Report from the Inspector on the matter.