HC Deb 04 July 1884 vol 290 cc76-94

, in rising to call attention to the subject of accidents in mines; and to move a Resolution thereon, said, that it was not necessary that he should dwell upon the importance of the mining industry of the United Kingdom; since whether the House looked at the very large number of persons employed in mining—namely, more than 560,000 men and boys, or at the value of the material they produced, the importance of the industry in itself, or on account of the many other large trades that were more or less dependent upon it, he thought they might say it stood at the very head of the great industries of the country. If we stopped our coal supplies, we should stop at the same time nearly every other industry, for our manufacturing establishments were in a large measure dependent upon the production of coal. Now, this mining industry was carried on at a very great sacrifice of life and limb. There was no authentic and complete Return dating further back than 1851; but from that time to the present there had been more than 35,000 lives lost in our coal mines alone, to say nothing of fatalities in connection with metalliferous and other mines. During the last 10 years the total loss of life in coal and metalliferous mines was 12,170, or an average per annum of 1,217. Last year the number was 1,140. These figures told a very sad and terrible tale. Perhaps in comparison with one or two other industries, such as those of the seamen and the railway employés, mining entailed a somewhat less loss of life, considering the number of persons employed. But in one respect he thought mining occupied a very sad pre-eminence, and that was in the number of non-fatal and minor accidents. He was very much surprised when he examined into this part of the question a few years ago. He remembered that the late Mr. Macdonald, who did good service on matters of this kind, both in the House and out of it, estimated, in 1878, that the number of persons injured in mines was about 5,000 per annum. That was considered a somewhat extravagant estimate; but he (Mr. Burt) was quite satisfied that it was very considerably under the mark. There was no complete record; but, from the facts that were obtainable, there could not be the slightest doubt that the number really very considerably exceeded 5,000 a-year. There was a certain amount of authentic information furnished by the Reports of the Miners' Relief Funds, the rules of which provided for relief of men who were laid off work by injury for more than a week. In connection with one Society alone—the Northumberland and Durham Miners' Permanent Relief Fund—no fewer than 14,929 persons received payments on account of shorter or longer periods of injury. That was out of a total of 81,600 members in that Society. There were other Societies in Cheshire, Lancashire, and elsewhere; and if the whole of these Societies were taken together, they found that last year the total number of persons injured was 34,579 out of a total number of 224,000 members. Now, if the ratio of injuries was the same for the whole mining population, that would give a grand total of more than 86,000 persons who were injured every year while following their employment in the mines of the country. It was perfectly true that many of those accidents, fortunately, were not very serious; but they were sufficiently serious to throw the men out of employment, and to deprive them of their ordinary source of income for weeks; and no inconsiderable number of them, he was sorry to say—certainly some hundreds—were permanently injured, and would never more be fit to earn their support by their usual labour. These certainly were some melancholy facts. At the same time, he must admit that a great deal had been done by Parliament in the past. Very valuable Acts of Parliament had been passed in the interest of the miners. Those Acts had had, on the whole, a very beneficial effect; and, bad as the position was at the present time, it was only fair to admit—and he admitted it with great pleasure and satisfaction—that whether they took into consideration the number of persons employed or the quantity of minerals raised, there had been from 1851 to the present time, year after year, a constant and steady diminution in the loss of life. That ought to encourage Parliament to go forward in the direction of inspection and improved management of mines. With regard to inspection, there had been a gradual development. In 1851 there were only three or four Inspectors employed. Then the number was increased to six or seven, and gradually it continued to increase until, at the present time, there were 14 Chief and 12 Assistant Inspectors in connection with coal and ironstone mines. The theory of inspection had also improved and developed. For a considerable time the position held by the Inspectors themselves was that they should never visit a mine unless an accident had occurred, or unless they were specially sent for. That was not only the view of the Inspectors, but also of the Home Office some years ago. The late Sir George Grey, for whose memory he cherished great respect, gave evidence before a Committee of the House in 1857, and he accepted that view as the view of the Home Office. He (Mr. Burt) was very glad to find that latterly that view had been repudiated. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), when Home Secretary, issued instructions to the Inspectors telling them that they were to go to mines whenever requested; that they were to accept even anonymous communications; that they were to go unexpectedly, and were to keep a regular record of each visit they made. That was certainly a very important step in the right direction. It altered the whole theory of inspection. But there was no corresponding increase—in fact, there was no increase whatever—in the number of Inspectors in order to make the inspection more effective. He wished to say that he made no complaint whatever against the Inspectors. He knew many of them. Those with whom he was acquainted performed their duty with great intelligence and with great ability; and he believed, speaking of the Inspectors as a body, that they would bear comparison with any other body of public servants in the zeal and earnestness with which they performed their important duties. But he said that when the House took into consideration the great number of mines, their areas, and ramifications; when they took into account the enormously increasing amount of clerical work that was constantly devolving upon the Inspectors; when, also, they considered the very large development of the mining interest during the last few years, all these facts together showed the necessity for a considerable increase in the number of Inspectors. In fact, with the present staff of Inspectors, he did not hesitate to say that it was physically impossible that there should be any real and thorough inspection of mines. Very few hon. Members had any notion of the immense area of some of these mines. A terrible explosion occurred some time ago at Seaham Colliery. The Home Secretary paid a visit to the scene of the disaster, and it was a very great satisfaction to the miners, and widows, and to all connected with the colliery, that the right hon. Gentleman showed such personal interest in the matter. The main airways in that colliery extended over more than 12 miles, and that was not at all exceptional. He knew mines in Northumberland, and in Durham also, where the roadways extended over 40 or 50 miles. To inspect a mine of that kind required four, five, or six days, and it was no child's play to have to go through those narrow and intricate passages, and to examine them as they ought to be examined, to ascertain whether everything was right. The mines were also increasing in depth. The hon. Member for North Durham (Sir George Elliot), who spoke on the subject in 1878, declared that they were gradually getting into more dangerous "zones" in the working of these mines. That fact alone showed the necessity for stricter supervision. Even assuming, which he did not admit, that the inspection of mines was satisfactory in 1871–3, it must be remembered that since that time they had developed by fully one-third. The output had gone up more than 40,000,000 tons a-year since then; and that fact alone seemed to make out a good case for increased inspection. In his Motion he raised no question as to the status or standard of qualification of Inspectors. The working miners, as the Home Secretary was very well aware, would very much like to see a certain proportion of men advanced from the ranks of labour to act as Inspectors. The only thing he insisted upon, and the only sound principle that would bear examination in or out of the House, was that a sufficient number of thoroughly capable and efficient men should be appointed. He thought it would be advantageous to have men from the ranks if suitable men could be obtained; and he had no doubt that the increased education and mental improvement that were manifesting themselves on all hands among the miners — their progress in scientific questions, their knowledge of mineralogy, and other matters relating to mining—all that led him to think that the spirit of exclusiveness which had for so long characterized the service might, to some extent, be broken through, and they might have men from the ranks of labour appointed as Sub or Assistant Inspector of Mines. He felt all the more confident in approaching the Home Secretary on the subject, because he could not help remembering that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had already taken a very important step in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman had already broken through the old traditions and conventionalities of the Home Office, and had appointed as Inspectors of Factories men who came from the ranks of labour. No doubt objections would be raised to this Motion. The increased cost would, of course, be mentioned. He was one of those who advocated economy; but every now and then he had to come forward and ask for increased expenditure in certain directions. He was well aware, as the Scotch said, that "many a mickle makes a muckle," and that added very much to the expenditure. But if they took into consideration the object aimed at—the saving of human life—such an increase of expenditure would be amply justified, and the right hon. Gentleman himself would admit that the smallest military expedition would swallow up more than would pay the salaries of these extra Inspectors for all time. Doubtless, it would also be said that this step would lessen the responsibility of mineowners. He never met a mineowner but that objection was used, and in nine times out of ten it was a sham objection. He had never found that a mineowner or other employer of labour had really such a strong desire for responsibility. Their chief objection to the Employers' Liability Act was that it overwhelmed them with responsibility; so that he submitted that there must be some other objection than that, so far as the mineowners were concerned. But he admitted that it might be possible to extend the inspection so far as to lessen the responsibility of individual owners, and it would be a very great evil to extend it so far. The Home Secretary, however, would be the first to admit that we were a considerable distance from even approaching that point so far as mines' inspection was concerned. It only remained for him now to thank the House for the kind attention with which they had heard him. He hoped he had presented his case fairly and temperately, although he had not stated it so fully as he should have done under other circumstances. He had endeavoured to point out the great sacrifice of human life. He had admitted that that sacrifice was fortunately diminishing. The House of Commons and the country were certainly not indifferent to the lives of the mining population. Whenever a terrible explosion or other calamity occurred the hearts of the people of all classes were filled with sympathy; and he had no doubt that the House of Commons, and no Member of the House more than the present Home Secretary, would be desirous of doing all that could be done by legislative enactments and by scientific appliances, supplemented, as he hoped and believed these would be, by increased care and experience on the part of the mineowners and workmen, to diminish, as far as possible, the terrible record of the sacrifice of human life in the working of our mines. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.


said, he begged to second the Resolution. The greater number of his constituents were working colliers, and he could say there was no class so thoroughly outspoken and independent. When they came together at a meeting they never left you in doubt as to what was in their minds. There was no question about which they were so sore as this question of the inspection of mines. They never complained of the character of the Inspectors. He knew several Inspectors himself, and they were men of great intelligence and industry, and did their work thoroughly well. But when gentlemen were put in a position where no industry could overtake the work it was no wonder that the work failed to be done, and that was the case with the inspection of mines. Formerly, no doubt, according to the rules of the Office, the Inspector did not conceive it to be his duty to go to a colliery until after an accident. That had been lately altered; but still, if they had not improved their staff by increasing their number, what were those gentlemen to do? He wished to draw the attention of the Home Secretary and the House to what happened in the North of England, and to what occurred in the South Wales districts. There was a district in the North of England which included Northumberland, Cumberland, and North Durham. That district raised, in 1882, 16,900,000 tons of coal, and the South Wales district raised in the same year 16,500,000 tons. Anyone would suppose that, all things being equal, the death-rate in the mines in South Wales would be about the same as the death-rate in the North of England districts. What were the facts? The number of deaths in the mines in South Wales was double that in the collieries of the North of England district. In 1882 there were 73 deaths in the North of England district; but in the South Wales district there were 144. This was a serious matter. It might be said that the South Wales mines were more difficult to work than the collieries of the North of England, and that the custom with regard to timbering was different. But those circumstances alone could not and ought not to raise the death-rate in South Wales to 144. It was most important that the Inspectors should turn their attention to the subject, and do what they could to reduce that number to something which represented the normal condition of things—the 73 deaths in the North of England district. He had never seen anything to show why there should be so great a difference between the two districts with regard to the death-rate. But the matter did not rest there. He found that in the North of England nine deaths occurred in shafts; but in the South Wales district the number killed in shafts was 17. Why was that? A shaft was a shaft all the world over. It was a hole in the ground with machinery to lift people up and let them down; and why should not a shaft in South Wales be as safe as a shaft in the North of England? He could see no reason why they should be killing 17 in the South Wales shafts, when in the North of England, where the same quantity of coal was raised, only nine were killed. Then, with regard to deaths from falls of ground in the mines, that was a matter which possibly ought to be brought prominently before the colliers themselves. Those falls, no doubt, arose in some cases from imperfect timbering; but while in the North of England the number of deaths from that cause was only 32 the number in South Wales was 66. He was sure it was not necessary to do more than mention the matter to induce the Home Secretary to look into it, and see what could be done to reduce the number of deaths in South Wales from falls of ground in pits. Then, again, he wished to call attention to the increase in the output of coal in South Wales since the year 1872. In that year there were 38,000 people employed in the South Wales pits; in 1882 the number was 54,000. The quantity of coal raised in 1872 was 10,000,000 tons; in 1882 it was 16,000,000. Was it, therefore, in accordance with common sense to ask a man who inspected pits in 1872 which raised 10,000,000 tons, to inspect pits with the same care in 1882 which raised 16,000,000 tons? The thing was simply impossible. There were 374 collieries in the South Wales district which the Inspector had to attend to. Some of those pits employed over 1,000 men underground. If the Inspector had those collieries in his office at Swansea, with all their plans, he could not get through the work of inspection, seeing that there were only 300 working days in the year, while there were 374 collieries to be looked after. With reference to the status of the men to be appointed as Inspectors, he would say that it was necessary that the work should be done properly, so as to make the miners as contented as possible, and to give them the assurance that all was being done that could be done for them. The colliers, however, would not be assured of that unless they had among them Inspectors who had worked their way through the various underground offices upwards, and who had by honesty and hard work attained to superior positions.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "considering the great development of the mining industry of Great Britain in recent years, the number and extent of the mines, their increasing depth, and the large number of persons employed therein, this House is of opinion that the time has come when there should be an addition to the staff of inspectors of mines,"—(Mr. Burt,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he did not wish the House to remain in doubt as to the views which the Government took on this question, which had been so admirably presented by men in every respect fitted to represent the cause of the miners. He did not think it very likely that in the House, as constituted that night, he would find it necessary to wait and listen to arguments from the other side; and, for himself, he had no disposition to argue against his hon. Friends. Besides, he had had the advantage of meeting, the other day, a large number of the men themselves, who spoke with much directness and frankness. It was not necessary to impress upon anyone holding the Office of Home Secretary the importance of this question. That the miners of England were among the most useful class of the people of this country—that they contributed most directly to its wealth and prosperity—were matters of common knowledge. That they were exposed to many risks was a fact of which no one was more aware than himself. The death of an entombed miner was probably one of the most fearful that the human mind could contemplate. There were days, no doubt, when the matter was regarded from a laissez-faire point of view; but it was not necessary to argue that aspect of the question now. Parliament long ago decided that some protection was due to men engaged in coal mines. The miners had sent to that House a spokesman who was always heard with respect. Whatever questions might be neglected, and whatever difficulties there might be in making a House at 9 o'clock, those difficulties had not been experienced to-night on account, in the first instance, of the importance of the matter which the House had to consider; and, in the second degree, on account of the respect entertained by the House for the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). The facts which the hon. Gentleman had laid before the House, with much earnestness and moderation, were sufficiently graphic. He had told them of the thousands of men whose lives were lost, and whose prospects were damaged by accidents which did not actually destroy their lives. His hon. Friend had referred to the functions of the Inspectors and of the Home Office. He could most sincerely and frankly say that nobody was more fully aware than he was, or deplored the circumstance more deeply, that among the multitudinous and miscellaneous duties of his Office he should not be able to devote more time to this great and important subject, which of itself might well occupy the whole of the time of any official. But, at all events, in the administration of these questions, he had always desired to take the rigorous view of the matter; and when a doubtful question arose he had always urged the Inspectors to take that course which was most likely to secure safety. With reference to closed lamps in mines, he might point out that mines differed immensely in their character. Some mines were much more dangerous than others in consequence of defective ventilation, and some mines were more fiery than others. As he had already suggested to a deputation of miners from South Wales, inspection was of very little use unless the precautions recommended by the Inspectors were accepted and enforced by the miners themselves. Only a few months ago he received from an Inspector a recommendation that the use of closed lamps should be enforced in a mine in South Wales. He did not wish to mention the name of the mine; but he might state that he received the most vehement remonstrances against the order which issued from the Home Office that closed lamps would be insisted upon in this mine. He received communications on the subject from hon. Members who were connected with the district, and a deputation from the miners themselves waited upon him to protest against the hardship and injustice of that precaution, which had been taken for securing the safety of human life. The miners said it placed them at a disadvantage, and caused inconvenience, and they wished him to rescind the regulation; but his answer to them was that he could not assume such a responsibility when it was reported to be necessary for the safety of human life. He thought his hon. Friend had amply made out his case with regard to the number of Inspectors. In consequence of the great consumption of coal in this country mines were going deeper and deeper, and consequently they became more difficult to manage. Since the great famine, as it was called, of iron and coal in 1873, there had been an immense extension of the works of the mines. His hon. Friend had referred to one of the most difficult practical questions of administration that could possibly arise. It was admitted that a certain amount of inspection was necessary in order for security; but it was quite impossible for the Government to undertake such an extensive constant inspection as would be, in itself, a guarantee of security. If they were to attempt to do so, then would really arise what his hon. Friend deprecated—the responsibility of the owners and managers of mines would be destroyed. A statutory regulation which he had stringently enforced required that a visitation of the mine should be made before the men went down. This was one of the greatest securities, and he could not relieve the owners and managers of mines from the responsibility which that regulation entailed. If a mine were fiery, it might become dangerous in an hour. The stroke of a pick might open a vein from which the gas issued, and no inspection could guarantee that mine from a danger which might spring up in a moment. Therefore, it would be simply misleading the House and the miners if he were to represent that the Government could undertake the task of appointing such a staff of Inspectors as would supersede the responsibility of a daily and weekly management of the mine. If that were to be done, they would require to have a Government official attached to each mine in the country, and he was sure his hon. Friend did not propose that. But apart from that, useful functions could be performed by the Government Inspector. First, his visiting the mine and ascertaining the cause of accidents, and arranging for their prevention in future, and by occasional inspection, would operate not only beneficially on the mine visited, but on others which might be visited at any time without notice. That seemed to be the reasonable limit of what the Government could be expected to do in such a matter as this. If the number of Inspectors 10 years ago to perform such duties was adequate, then it could not be adequate now, and, therefore, he accepted the proposition of his hon. Friend; but he would not expect him at that moment, in a matter of such consequence, which required to be looked at from every point of view, to give any definite pledge upon the subject. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the observations made to the deputation of miners and to the House, that he was with him on this question. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman said, this would lead to increased pay; but extravagance consisted in what the money was spent for. With regard to the class of men who were to be employed, he must also request his hon. Friend not to expect him to give any definite pledges. He had already made, with great success, the experiment of introducing into the factories' inspection men of the class who were interested in the inspection. When he commenced that practice, there was a great deal of noise and sound about it. It would be a great evil to introduce class considerations in these appointments—to appoint Inspectors who were adverse either to employers or to workmen. It would be introducing class distinctions to determine that any employment of this character should be confined to a particular class exclusive of the rest; this would be the worst of all class distinctions. It was most desirable to give the miners confidence in the inspection, to let them feel that the Inspectors were chosen, not because they belonged to one class or another, but because they were thoroughly conversant with the subject. Another feeling which had influenced him in making the experiment he had was that the industrial classes of the country, who formed the great majority of the community, should feel that they had their share in the Civil Service of the country. Nothing could be more beneficial in the progress of modern civilization than the breaking down of the walls of partition which had separated classes. Differences which had existed between the higher and the middle classes had been very much removed within our lifetime. The educational disadvantages of the weekly wage class were gradually disappearing, and, as the obstacle of imperfect education was removed, he hoped there would be greater interchange and communion between all classes of the community. It would be well to proceed cautiously upon this principle, for a mistake would be injurious to all concerned. This was a statement of the case from the practical point of view, from which he had had to consider it. His hon. Friend would feel that before practical effect could be given to any new views on the subject other Departments of the Government would have to be consulted. As representing the Government in the interests of this large class of men, he hoped the statement he had made would be considered satisfactory to the hon. Member who had introduced the subject, and that he would not press the Motion further at present.


said, that the hon. Member for Morpeth might well be satisfied with what had fallen from the Home Secretary, who, as he understood, practically accepted the Motion, and accepted it unreservedly, simply saying that he required due time to consider how it could best be carried out. Personally, he was entirely satisfied with what had fallen from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It was a matter he had had under his consideration from the time he entered the House. There could be no doubt on one point, and that was that responsibility must rest upon the mineowners. It would be a dangerous thing to introduce anything which relieved the mine-owner from responsibility. But there was no reason to fear that by increasing the inspectorate, responsibility would be taken off the shoulders of owners. The owner who conducted his mine in a proper manner did not fear inspection; on the contrary, he always welcomed it; because the more information an owner obtained the better was he able to maintain the efficiency of the management. If mines were conducted in an improper or niggardly manner, it was well that they should be under constant inspection. It was impossible to overrate the dangers which might result from niggardliness. If anything could be done to prevent danger, it was the bounden duty of owners to do it. It was inevitable that there should be risk and danger in the business, as much so as in the manufacture of gunpowder or fireworks; but this risk ought to be reduced to a minimum. As to the loss of life in South Wales, it was just possible that the statistics that had been quoted might be explained by a single accident in which a large number of men were concerned. As to falls from the roof, it might be that the system of timbering in the North, where each man timbered for himself, was the better system; but men did not like to change their habits; and in South Wales there was a strong feeling against the double-shift system which prevailed in the North of England. The loss that occurred from a single accident outweighed any advantage to be gained from unduly stinting expense; and it was, therefore, the first interest of the owner to prevent accident. The very best agent he ever had was a man who rose from the ranks, who began as a door boy; and if he wanted to provide for the proper management of a colliery he should like to have a man of that class as his most important underground manager rather than a young gentleman brought up in a kid-glove school and taught high engineering. The Inspectors they had had hitherto were men of a most excellent and praiseworthy class, who had done their duty in the most self-sacrificing manner, and had been the first to be ready to risk their lives whenever a terrible explosion had occurred in a mine. At the same time, he desired to see them aided by men who had been practically and thoroughly acquainted with the working of mines from their boyhood. In conclusion, he believed that the Motion of the hon. Member for Morpeth had done great good, and they must look to the Home Secretary to carry out the promise he had made that night.


said, he thought it was only right that the side of the House on which he sat should contribute something to this interesting debate before it closed. He had been much interested in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), who introduced this Resolution to the House; and he thought that he had put forward the claims of those whom he most particularly represented—namely, the colliers and miners, in a most able and convincing manner. He was also much satisfied with the assurance which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had given. There was one passage in the Home Secretary's speech to which he meant to take exception more by way of giving the right hon. and learned Gentleman the opportunity of making an explanation than by way of finding fault. The right hon. and learned Gentleman at the commencement of his speech used these words—"I do not think it necessary to listen to arguments from the other side before I rise, &c." Now, he felt sure that he knew the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mean to infer that this side of the House was likely to be inimical to the proposals of the hon. Member for Morpeth, although his words might give that impression.


said, that he had no intention of indicating anything of a Party nature.


, continuing, said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would doubtless be the more obliged to him (Mr. Harris) for having given him the opportunity of explaining himself. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] The fact seemed to be very apparent that from every part of the House the hon. Gentleman would find support, and it was more for the purpose of giving him this assurance than with the object of making a speech he had risen. The ground had been pretty well covered by previous speakers, and he was glad to agree with them in thinking that a certain number of the Inspectors of Mines should be men who had raised themselves from the ranks, men who knew where the shoe pinched, and who could put their hands on the right place. If to these were added men of the class of mine and colliery managers—and there must be many such now seeking employment owing to the depression of trado—these would be a suitable counterpoise from the coalowners' side, who would oppose any extravagant recommendations which they thought unnecessary. The real object was to save life. Some persons might argue that the wages paid were higher than in many other industries, and that the high wages compensated the men for the risk; but that was no reason why the risk should not be minimised. It must answer the purpose of the employers as well as of the colliers to make the risk of life as small as possible, because if wages were relatively higher on account of the risks, when the risks were removed or reduced the same difference was not likely to continue, and the industry would draw to itself more of the surplus labour from other centres. He had collected statistics of the earnings of the men in a large steam coal colliery in the North of England, and he found they were as follow:—In 1875 the men earned 8s. 6d. per diem; in 1876, 7s. 3d.; in 1877, 6s. 6d.; in 1878, 5s. 7d.; in 1881, 5s.; and at the present time they were earning about 5s., though a year or so since there had been a small advance. For the nature of the work, he considered 5s. a-day was a very low wage, and seeing, moreover, that men could not be expected to work underground for six days in the week, it was quite evident that no part of the cost of extra inspection must come from the men themselves; but, as he had before said, he thought the employers would gain as much in the end as they might lose at present by any small claim upon them to defray the cost of the extra supervision proposed. He presumed the Government did not mean to make it an Imperial charge. It was not that he grudged the expense; but he thought there were other industries which would be apt to claim similar subventions. Having made these few remarks, he would not trespass any further on the time of the House.


, as a mineowner himself, also expressed the satisfaction with which he had heard all that the Home Secretary had said on that question that evening. He could assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that as far as regarded metalliferous mines—and he was not personally entitled to speak in respect to collieries—he should be very glad if they had a much larger amount of inspection than they now had. He was certain, from his experience, that the inspection at present was very inefficient, and not sufficient to meet the requirements of the country. The Home Secretary made use of a phrase in which he agreed—namely, that the tendency of democracy was towards the increased expenditure of money; but he thought it was also towards economy in the expenditure; because economy, after all, was not a parsimonious but a wise expenditure, and he would press upon the Home Secretary that the Treasury should give a larger grant to provide an increased staff of Inspectors. The abolition of the Royal Yachts and other economies which he could mention would provide for the expense that would be entailed.


thanked the Home Secretary for the way in which he had met the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth. The encouragement offered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman would give very great and wide-spread satisfaction, not only among the miners of the United Kingdom, but also among the other trades of the country generally. There were other departments of industry which required some further attention; but they must take their turn among the matters calling for the consideration of the Government. Reference had been made, in connection with the necessity for the miner himself exercising caution, to a case in which certain miners in South Wales had objected to have closed lamps imposed on them. But it might be said, in extenuation of the view taken by the men, that in that particular district to work with closed lamps meant a considerable reduction in their weekly earnings; and that was the reason why they objected to the new regulations. It was not that they were unwilling to observe the best modes of insuring safety, but because the mode of safety suggested involved a reduction of their weekly earnings. With respect to any risk of over-inspection, there was, he thought, no danger now of their reaching such a degree of inspection as would interfere with the freedom of industry; while, as to the argument about increased expenditure, the people of this country were all for true economy; but did anyone believe that that was either a wise or a true economy which resulted in the sacrifice of health or of human life? He would not presume to advise his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth as to the course which he should pursue; but after the speech of the Home Secretary, perhaps he would not deem it necessary to press his Motion any further.


said, he sympathized so heartily with the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth that he should have been quite prepared to second his Motion that evening, had he not been prevented by a prior engagement from being present at the earlier part of that discussion. There were one or two points which he wished to refer to. He was anxious that in no system of inspection should the weight of responsibility be taken off the shoulders of the conductors of mines. Most of the mines in this country were in the hands of very responsible owners; and the men employed, or who ought to be employed, to conduct them should be those who were well calculated to carry out those regulations, which, so far as human foresight could devise, were necessary for the safety of the men.

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


, resuming, said, another point which he was anxious to see carried out in the inspection of mines was that the responsibility should not be taken off the men themselves. There was an important clause in the Mines Inspection Act which gave the men the power to examine any mine at anytime—a power which he should be glad to see the men put more frequently in force. It was on the intelligence of the men themselves that they should rely in future for the prevention of those mining disasters, rather than on any system of Government inspection. At the same time, inspection was a necessity, and he was glad to think that out of the ranks of the men themselves could be found those whose practical knowledge and ability fitted them to discharge all the duties of Sub-Inspectors.


said, that instead of expending a great deal of money on the Inspectors, who, no doubt, did their work remarkably well, but who were more theoretical than practical men, some plan should be devised of paying one or two men in each colliery to institute a weekly or monthly inspection. If this system was adopted, he believed a great deal of money could be saved to the country, and much more efficiency would be attained in inspection than at present existed. The causes of accidents in mines were threefold—gas explosion, falling of the roof, and disobedience to orders. Disobedience to orders was one of the great evils which mineowners had to contend against. No doubt, the better class of workmen in the collieries set themselves against the men who broke the rules; but, having no power to interfere, they could not prevent the disobedience. If they had a few selected men acting under an Inspector, and who had some power to interfere in the case of disobedience to the rules, he believed a great many accidents in mines could be prevented.


said, the object of the proposal submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Morpeth must commend itself to every Member of the House irrespective of Party. With reference to the extension of powers of inspection, the House must always bear in mind that inspection alone could never prevent accidents. Inspection might do a great deal in ascertaining the probable causes to which accidents were due, and in indicating how accidents might be prevented; but accidents could not be prevented by an extended system of inspection. With regard to the character of the inspection, he desired to point out that in all cases where Inspectors were employed by the State, especially with regard to this particular class of work, they should not be hostile critics either of the owner or of the men. They ought to be the friends of the employer and the employed; and the real value of a good Inspector was, in the first place, in this—that he extracted the best information on the subject he had to deal with; and, secondly, that he could give advice. It was of the greatest importance, he believed, that the Inspectors who were appointed should be men who were capable from their experience, from their knowledge, from their character, and other considerations, to give advice and help to the employer and also to the men themselves. He trusted that, in making fresh appointments, the Home Secretary would be careful to select such men.


said, the statement of the Home Secretary could not have been more satisfactory; and he was bound also to express satisfaction with the spirit in which the discussion had been carried on. He felt confident the right hon. and learned Gentleman would lose no time in giving practical effect to the proposal; and he would, therefore, ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."