HC Deb 15 March 1886 vol 303 cc908-15

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I would like to call attention to the fact that the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) has already brought in a Bill on this subject, and the Government have also consented to bring in a complete measure dealing with the whole question. It seems to me that we shall get into difficulties if we go on with the Committee on this Bill before we have an opportunity of dealing with the Government Bill. If we have this confusion of Bills before the House and the Committee, it will be very difficult to deal with the question; and, therefore, Sir, I beg to move that you now report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir Joseph Pease.)

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

I wish to point out why I want this Bill to go on at once. After the Report of the Royal Commission on this subject, it was the intention of the late Government—and I have no doubt it is the intention of the present Government—to introduce such a measure as will conduce to the saving of life in coal mines. I should like to pay a tribute to the Gentlemen who served on that Commission, because, although they have been a very long time in coming to a conclusion, they have taken a very large amount of trouble in the matter; and it must be remembered that they were all scientific people engaged on other matters. I am quite sure that their Report will be satisfactory to the country. But about this particular Bill. It was brought before the late Government, and the reason why I want to go on with it now is the same reason I had for pressing it on the then Cabinet, because there are one or two questions dealt with in the Bill seriously affecting miners, which had nothing to do with the Royal Commission at all. Therefore, this Bill was introduced. Of course, we cannot regulate the time at which colliery accidents shall take place; and they may take place at any moment under these constant changes of temperature. When an accident did occur, during the time that I was Secretary of State, I always sent down and held inquiry into the matter; but, although in the case of a gunpowder explosion, it was possible for me to send down a Commission, I found that in the case of coal mine explosions, we had no power to take evidence on oath.

THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)

The right hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to the Motion to report Progress.


That is precisely what I was trying to do. I hold that matters are urgent, and that it is not necessary to wait for the Report of the Commission, at any rate, on these points—that is to say, the points relating to the appointment of a check-weigh-man, to the right of the relatives of men killed in mines to appear before the Coroner, and to the power of the Home Secretary to send down an official to inquire and take evidence on oath. The late Government had decided to bring in a measure bearing on these points without delay, irrespective of any larger measure that might afterwards be introduced to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission; and, therefore, I hope that the Government will not consent to report Progress, but will go on with the consideration of the Bill to-night.

MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

I hope that this Bill will be allowed to pass to-night. I represent the coal mining district of Wigan, and I can say that in that district there is great anxiety that this Bill shall pass. It is greatly desired by the working colliers of Lancashire generally; and, therefore, I hope the Committee will promptly and readily pass it.


I feel some difficulty in following the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross), for fear I should transgress the Rules of Order. The Committee will remember that a Bill was down for second reading a fortnight ago, in the name of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor). That Bill was read a second time by general consent without a division. This Bill stood on the Paper lower down, and the Government consented to the second reading of it on one distinctly expressed condition—namely, that the Committee stage should be put off to the date agreed to for the discussion of the hon. Member for East Donegal's Bill. That time was fixed to meet the time at which the Government would be able to bring in their Bill. Those conditions have been honourably fulfilled by the hon. Member for East Donegal, and the Government understood that they were agreed to also in the case of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. That being the arrangement, it is now impossible for the Government to break faith with the hon. Member for East Donegal, and to agree to go on with the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. I should like the Committee to remember that these are not the only proposals before the country with regard to mining legislation. We have a very valuable and elaborate statement from the Miners' Conference; their proposals are contained in resolutions exceedingly important and valuable. Then we have also proposals of a very valuable nature from the hon. Member for East Donegal, as well as the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. Then we have, in addition to that, the very valuable suggestions which have been made in the Report of the Royal Commission, which Report is now in the hands of Her Majesty's Government, and will, I believe, in a very few days be in the hands of every Member of this House. Under these circumstances, the Government think that it is only reasonable and right that the Committee on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman should be postponed in order to be considered with the other proposals that are to come before the House, and that we should not be asked to legislate piecemeal. Under these circumstances I feel bound to support the Motion.

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

I cannot allow the moment to pass without disputing the statements of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Broadhurst). As to what took place on the second reading of the Bill of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor), it is quite true that the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) asked me if I would consent to the second reading of my Bill on the same terms; but I distinctly said I would do nothing of the kind. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the report in The Times newspaper of the following day, he will sea a distinct refusal on my part to accept the second reading on the terms mentioned under any circumstances whatever. It is not for me to state publicly what has taken place between myself and the Home Secretary; but perhaps the hon. Gentleman had better consult the Home Secretary. But I mean to go to a division on this matter, and if the hon. Gentleman stops this Bill, on him will rest the responsibility. These are questions upon which there is no dispute whatever, and the reason why I strongly press this Bill is, that in case of an accident taking place in a mine, the Secretary of State will not be able to hold the inquiry which this Bill enables him to hold. Let it be known, therefore, to all the miners throughout the country, that if this Bill is stopped, it is stopped in consequence of the opposition of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department; and although the late Government regarded this Bill as being independent of the larger Bill, Notice of it was given before they left Office. It shall be known throughout the length and breadth of the country that it is the Under Secretary for the Home Department who has stopped it.


I do not quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman should import so much heat into the discussion. He differs from the impression which my hon. Friend the Under Secretary has as to certain arrangements which have been made. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman has stated his clear understanding of what took place; but because it appears in The Times, it does not follow that it is absolutely correct. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary is only stating what he understood to be the arrangement, and he may fairly claim exactly the same tolerance that was shown to the right hon. Gentleman. But then the right hon. Gentleman went onto attack my hon. Friend, and indicated his intention to appeal from this House to the country in order to show up my hon. Friend, as if he is not interested in the miners, as if his life has not shown, and strongly so, his interest in the matter, and as if the right hon. Gentleman, forsooth! has greater interest in this matter than he. The right hon. Gentleman forgot, however, that the opposition to proceeding with the Committee on this Bill does not turn merely on who is right or who is wrong as to the understanding with the Home Secretary. It has been pointed out by the hon. Baronet (Sir Joseph Pease) and by my hon. Friend, very clearly, that this is only one part of a very large subject; and one thing to be avoided, if possible, is that it should be dealt with in this fragmentary manner.

MR. BURT (Morpeth)

I was in the House when the Bill of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) and that of the right hon. Gentleman were moved, and I was certainly under the same impression as my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst). At the same time I frankly accept the disavowal of the right hon. Gentleman. Now, in my opinion, this Bill is a very good Bill. It is good as far as it goes; but it only deals with a very small part of the question, and I am of opinion that it is very undesirable to deal with a subject of this kind in a piecemeal and fragmentary manner; and, therefore, at all risk, I, for one, will support the Motion for reporting Progress.

MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Committee must remember that the existence of Governments is precarious; therefore it is desirable to pass this Bill, although it only deals with a part of the subject. This is not the first time that it has been argued that because a proposal only dealt with a part of the question it should wait for a complete measure, or in which Bills so put off have been put off for an almost indefinite time. The Committee will also remember that on the last occasion not only did my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Assheton Cross) not accept, and absolutely refuse, but he also evidenced that refusal by putting this Bill down for the following Monday. Then, again, if my right hon. Friend's memory is backed up by the report of The Times, that in itself is a very significant fact. This Bill contains the minimum of what cannot be accepted without question by all concerned, and if it is passed now it can be easily repealed on being superseded by more comprehensive legislation.


As a large number of my constituents are miners, perhaps I may be allowed to say that this Bill, although it does not go so far as I could wish, is a very good instalment. It will extend to Scotland great benefits; and I do hope that, if it is to go on at all, it shall be passed through as rapidly as possible.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

I am compelled to support the Motion of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Joseph Pease). What happened on the last occasion was this. After the second reading, my hon. Friend the Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) said—"This day month." The Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) then offered to accept the second reading of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill on the same terms. The right hon. Gentleman below me (Sir R. Assheton Cross) remained silent, and made no sign of dissent. [Cries of "No!"] I observed him very closely, because I was once played a similar trick. When the right hon. Gentleman named an earlier day for the Committee than that named by the hon. Member for East Donegal for his Bill, the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) immediately gave Notice that he would oppose the consideration of the Bill, and would move to put it down for the same day as the other Bill. I do not know whether he did do so; but I will tell you what the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) did on Wednesday. At a quarter to 6, he managed to smuggle the Speaker out of the Chair.

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

I must appeal against those remarks. The Home Secretary was sitting exactly in front of me when I made the Motion to go into Committee. I must appeal to the only Cabinet Minister present to lot this Bill pass. I want it to pass, and I hope it will be taken now.


I was not present when this arrangement with the Home Secretary was made; but it is very evident to me that to-night the feeling of the Committee is very strongly in favour of postponing the consideration of the measure.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 128; Noes 69: Majority 59.—(Div. List, No. 32.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee have leave to sit again To-morrow."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

I beg to move that the Bill be taken on the 31st of March. It was well understood, and the Committee has by the division just taken resolved, that the Bill should not be taken before that of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor).


Does the right hon. Gentleman agree to that?

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

No, Sir; not at all.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "To-morrow," in order to insert the words "upon Wednesday, the 31st day of this instant March,"—(Mr. Sexton,)—instead thereof.

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


The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Childers) was present when this Bill was at the stage that you, Sir, should leave the Chair, and he did not raise the slightest objection to the Motion to that effect.


I think that, considering this rather disagreeable misunderstanding, it would be better if the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) were accepted, so as to give the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) an opportunity of making any explanation he may have to make. I, therefore, ask the hon. Member for Sligo to withdraw his Amendment,


Upon the understanding that it is to allow the Home Secretary an opportunity of explaining, I do ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Committee to sit again To-morrow.