HC Deb 27 January 1891 vol 349 cc1176-95
*(5.22.) MR. W. P. MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)

I rise to move— That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to create a Department to have the control and supervision of the mining industries of the country, to be controlled by a Minister of the Crown, such Minister to be called the Secretary for Mines. It is the first time that a Motion of this character has been brought before the House, but we have a precedent for the creation of new Ministers in the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture. We have also the example set us by all our Colonies, who have Ministers of Mines to whom appeal can be made in matters affecting the mining industry. It should be borne in mind that the total output of the mineral wealth of the Australian Colonies is £26,000,000, while the average of the United Kingdom varies from £75,000,000 to £80,000,000 per annum. I submit that this fact shows the necessity for the creation of a new office, which, can easily be controlled by a Minister like the present Minister of Agriculture. For such an important industry as that of mining it is essential, to my mind, that there should be some Minister in the House to whom appeals can be made with reference to it. We know that when questions arise in this House affecting the industry of mining, the Home Secretary has to reply in his place. We know that the mining industry is suffering, particularly in Wales, because there are an insufficient number of inspectors of collieries, and we know well that whenever a catastrophe happens, then, and then only, are these matters taken notice of. The mine proprietors are quite able to take care of themselves, but it is the bounden duty of the State to see that life and limb are properly protected in the carrying on this great and important industry. I will not detain the House at any length on this matter, but I must say it does seem to those who are connected with the industry to be an extraordinary thing that in this House there is the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer looking after the interests of the Mining Department in one respect, and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary looking after it in another respect. If any one refers to either of these Ministers he is usually sent first from one to the other, and finally to some Department where very little is known of the subject which is being administered. I am anxious, on the other hand, to concentrate all the business connected with the mining industry under one head, so that hon. Members may have some one to whom they can appeal, not only with respect to the condition of the industry itself, but as to the risk to life and limb which those engaged in it are continually incurring. We know that when an; accident occurs at a colliery an inquiry is held. As the matter stands at present responsibility cannot rest upon the shoulders of the Home Secretary; but if there were a Minister of Mines in the House, we should be able to appeal to him, and he would be responsible not only to this House but to the country. The Home Secretary has other onerous and important duties to perform, irrespective of taking charge of the mining industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also has important duties to perform, and cannot devote his time to the matter. I bring forward this Motion in the hope that the Government will favourably consider it. It is no party question, but one which may have an important bearing upon the development of the mineral wealth of the country. If we had some one to whom we could appeal when we got into disputes, it would be greatly to the interest of the industry. We have a Commission now sitting to inquire into the question of mining royalties, which Commission is doing important work. Shortly it will present its report, but there will be no one on the Ministerial Bench in a position to speak for the Government on the question of mining royalties generally. I have no desire to thresh out the question now, but, having had this opportunity of dealing with it for a few moments, I trust the House will receive the Motion in the spirit in which I tender it—with a desire to do all that can be done to develop the mineral resources of the country.

(5.30.) MR. PICKARD (York, W.R. Normanton)

I beg to second the Motion. It is well known that the Home Office is overburdened with work, such as that which is connected with a magistracy and other matters, and the consequence has been that it has not been able to pay that amount of attention to the interests of the great mining industry which that industry deserves and ought to receive. I do not intend to say anything against the manner in which the Home Secretary has discharged his functions in regard to the mining interests, because, as I have already said, I believe the Home Secretary has quite sufficient to do in regard to the other matters I have mentioned. We know from long experience that when accidents do occur in connection with mines, it takes the Home Office a long time to analyse the facts. The Home Secretary has to receive information from the various persons engaged in investigating the circumstances, including the Coroner, and the Inspectors of Mines, and this information he must necessarily have sufficient time to consider in order that he may be in a position to determine what course he ought to pursue. We also know that it often happens that in cases where prosecutions may hare been expected there are no prosecutions at all. When we remember that there are now between 3,000 and 4,000 large mines in the country, with all the ramifications which make them so different from what mines were some years ago, it is only reasonable to suppose that it has become necessary that some one person shall be responsible and be at the head of some department which shall have these matters under its particular supervision, and have the means of understanding exactly the real position of affairs. When we remember that the Home Secretary has not only to receive all the Reports sent to him of Coroner's inquests, together with the results of investigations made by the Inspectors of Mines, but is also called upon to answer whatever questions may be put to him from time to time in this House, it must be clear to those who consider the subject that the person who has to deal with all these important matters should occupy some position in connection with the Government, which should be not only that of a Secretary of State, but should also be accompanied by a seat in the Cabinet. Considering this matter as I have done from time to time, I have come to the conclusion that the Home Secretary, as far as he is personally concerned, would be thankful to be relieved from that portion of his duties which relate to mines. I have no doubt that were he now in his place the Home Secretary would tell us that he would like to be relieved from this portion of the work he has to do, and that he would be glad if he could see his way to the adoption of a Resolution like this, which, if carried, I have no doubt will be productive of a great deal of good not only in relation to the saving of life, but also in regard to the development of the great mining industry. I have no desire further to protract this Debate, and, therefore, will at once conclude by seconding this Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to create a Department to have the control and supervision of the Mining Industries of the Country, to be controlled by a Minister of the Crown, such Minister to be called the Secretary for Mines."—(Mr. Pritchard Morgan.)


There are here two principal questions to which I think the House ought to pay attention. The first is whether the mining industry is in such a position of pre-eminence and superior magnitude in comparison with all others that it is desirable it should have special administrative treatment; and the second is whether, assuming that it occupies such a pre-eminent position, it is desirable that the State should undertake the functions foreshadowed in the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. I should be the last to dispute the great importance of the mining industry, both with regard to the magnitude of the wealth which it adds to our national resources and the greatness of the risks to the property invested in it, and, what is of even more importance, the risk to the lives of those who are engaged in its prosecution. These are matters which must in any case occupy a very large place in the view of Parliament. But when the hon. Member goes further and proposes that the mining industry should be treated exceptionally in comparison with other industries and should have a particular Minister to itself, he is making a proposal which proceeds on a fallacious view of the right functions of the Government in this country. It is quite true that there is already a very important connection between Parliament and the mining industry. The mining industry is one of the regulated industries of the country—regulated by minute rules laid down in Statutes to which Parliament has given much labour and attention, and by those regulations and restrictions important additions have been made, not only to the Criminal Law, but also to that part of the law which, though properly described as not criminal, yet involves penalties for its infraction. Now the enforcement of this law is a very important function, because it is one which concerns the safety of the lives of large numbers of miners no less than with the question of property. For the discharge of the functions connected with these matters there is already a Department fully equal to the task imposed upon it. But that is not all. The State is not merely charged with the duty of laying down regulations in the interests of the miners with regard to life, but in another capacity it may be the owner of the soil under which the mine was driven, or, in virtue of its sovereignty, may be entitled to a reversionary right in regard to royalties and other dues. The uniting in one Minister of the functions arising from those different relations would be neither logical nor necessarily advantageous. But it is not alone in the case of mines in which various interests have to be dealt with that State regulation is required. Factories are, perhaps, even more minutely regulated than mines, but I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman would say on that account that a special Minister should have charge of factories. To justify a Motion of this kind there must be reason for complaint with regard to such action as the State has undertaken. I will say, in the absence of the Home Secretary, that my right hon. Friend has been careful, both with respect to the enforcement of the existing law and to its improvement; and not merely has he shown great interest and acuteness in devising improvements in the law, but it may be contended with justice that he is in advance of public opinion, and of the opinion of those who are specially skilled in this matter, and in support of that contention I may appeal to the fact that my right hon. Friend has announced his intention to institute a new inquiry as to the special properties of accumulations of coal dust in mines, with a view to diminishing the number of explosions. The hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Motion may think that certain delays have interfered with the enforcement of the law. The expiry of the three months limit for prosecutions has possibly caused defeats of justice. But that has been because the pendency of an inquest has rendered inevitable a delay in deciding. When inquests have to be resorted to, an elaborate review of the facts is necessary, and until that inquiry is concluded no Department could say that we are in a position to judge whether a prosecution is likely to succeed in the particular case. In a former Debate on the subject of the inspection of mines, my right hon. Friend admitted that the period of three months, which has to elapse before he is in a position to decide whether to prosecute, is too short. I venture to submit that the case of the hon. Member who says the Home Office Department which has charge of mining affairs is overworked, and is therefore incapable of properly dealing with these matters, has not been substantiated. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion complained that where accidents take place in mines there is no Minister who is responsible. I would ask the hon. Member does he seriously mean that any Minister should be put in a position involving administrative responsibility for the occurrence of all accidents in mines?


I said there should be some one responsible for legislative action in this House, not administrative action.


So there is. We have at present a Minister who is responsible for most of the legislation introduced into this House, but it is clear that nobody but the House itself can be responsible for the legislation it sanctions. I submit that the speeches which have been delivered interpreting the Motion show that the duty which it is sought to impose upon the State is far in excess of the duties which the State should undertake.

(5.45.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

Sir, I should like to say a few words before the subject is allowed to drop. The hon. Gentleman, in his concluding remarks, seemed to suggest that my hon. Friends were going beyond precedent in asking for the appointment of a Minister of Mines, and that there was no other industry in this country which claimed or received such special attention. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we are simply following the precedent formed by the appointment of a Minister of Agriculture. If the industry of agriculture is deserving of such special recognition, the mining industry is entitled to even more recognition by reason of its importance to every other industry in the country. Hardly any industry, no matter what its character, can proceed without there has first been recourse to the bowels of the earth for various minerals, notably coal to generate motive power. I do not think it needs a single additional word to establish the mining industry. Then comes the question, does it need the control and support of a Minister of Mines. The hon. Gentleman who has replied for the Government has taken an exceedingly narrow point of view. He seems to be unable to carry his view further than the question of the regulation of mines for the prevention of accident. But collieries do not solely constitute the mining industry of this country. I am connected with tin mining in Cornwall; and while we are dependent on coal for the prosecution of tin mining, the latter industry is none the less one of great importance. In other districts of the country, various other minerals are extensively mined. While I recognise the first importance of protecting women and children from excessive hours and excessive labour, and the men from the dangers of their calling, still what we want to see besides is a development of our mines. We want a special Department of the Government for the purpose of looking after the mining industry, which has been, I will not say throttled, but hampered, through the control exercised by private individuals. In other countries there are mining Departments, and mining Ministers, and those countries are immensely benefited. We believe that a similar institution in this country would be attended with great and beneficial results to the mining industry. It would bring about a further development of mining enterprise, while at the same time providing for careful attention to the safety of those employed. We ask for the creation of a Government Department which will control the hampering influences of landlords, who are the absolute monopolists of our soil and all our mineral wealth, and for the purpose of giving our mines such fair play as will tend to the enormous development of our mineral interests. In Cornwall mine after mine, which when in full operation employed 10,000 men, has been closed, until there are now only two at work. That condition of things is owing to the harsh and restrictive conditions imposed by the ground landlords, which make it impossible for outside capitalists to bring in their capital and develop the mining industry. There is any amount of mineral wealth in that part of the country undeveloped, and only awaiting proper appliances and inducements. The immunity from control enjoyed by the landlords, especially in regard to royalties, and the many restrictions which they can impose, have led to the deterioration of our mining industry, and we think that a Minister of Mines would be useful in checking these adverse influences and in relieving the mining industry from those harassing conditions which at present do anything but induce capital to come to its assisttance. I think the idea of a Minister of Mines is a step in the right direction, but I should look upon it only as one step. I also attach importance to the suggestion of having Mining Courts, and I am hopeful that we shall see them some day, whether in conjunction with a Minister of Mines or not. It seems to me that the precedent of a Minister of Agriculture forms a strong argument in favour of the Government introducing a Bill for the appointment of a Minister of Mines. In our Colonies such a system exists, and it is attended with beneficial results. In all the great mining countries of the world, Mexico, South Africa, South America, and on the Continent, you will find that Government control is exercised for the purpose of giving fair play and free scope to mining enterprise. I should like to call attention to a passage in the Report of Dr. E. Foster, who succeeded Mr. Harrington Smyth at the School of Science. In his Report, published in the year 1887, on the mining industries of our Colonies, on page 23, he says:— It is not generally known in England that the Government of Victoria, like that of some of the sister Colonies, spends several thousand pounds every year in prospecting with diamond drills, and in subsidising Companies or individuals using them. Cores from 1 inch to 3¼ inches in diameter were shown by the Mines Department. They had been drawn up when prospecting for quartz reefs, for deep all vial 'leads' hidden under basaltic lava flows, or for coal seams in the mesozoio strata. Some of these boreholes have been the means of discovering gold. The Report of the Secretary for Mines on 'Diamond Drills in Victoria,' describes the work done up to the end of 1884, and explains many useful improvements upon the original drills imported from the United States. I have here a communication from Dr. Foster, giving me details—with which I will not trouble the House—regarding experiments which have taken place during the last year or two. Now, if we had a mining bureau we could follow the example thus set by our Colonies, and stimulate to an enormous extent the development of our mining industry. It is well known that there are enormous districts in this country in which some mining operations have been carried out, but which contain latent resources only awaiting enterprise for development, and which should be fostered here, as they have been in our Colonies. Let me refer to the action which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Pritchard Morgan) with great public spirit has taken up in the interest of the mining industry, and those who have spent their capital in developing the gold-mining industry of Wales, an action in which he unfortunately has not met with great success in the Law Courts. Questions affecting Crown rights are involved in this litigation. I am not going to question the legal decisions, all I will say is it is very hard that a private individual who has done his best to develope this gold mining industry should be mulcted in an enormous sum for the purpose of deciding these questions. The hon. Member for Merthyr made no personal allusions, but we who stand outside may point out that this offers a strong argument why we should have a Minister of Mines, for with such a Minister and his Department, great questions of public rights such as these would be taken up and settled in a scientific manner without discouraging persons who do their best to develop the resources of the country, putting them to enormous expense and anxiety in fighting these questions in the Law Courts. It should also be mentioned that the geological survey of the country is by no means in the condition it ought to be, and if we had such a Minister, a great stimulus would be given to that branch of science, to the improvement of the trade and industry of the country. In previous Sessions I have drawn attention to the magnificent series of geological maps provided by the Government of the United States of their territory, far superior to anything I have discovered in any museum or library in this country. We want these things attended to, as at present they are not. At the present time the Department of the Home Office is crowded with an enormous amount of detail with which the Home Secretary and his subordinates have to deal. I am not for a moment complaining of the Home Secretary or his Department. I can only say that it appears to me altogether impossible, that any single human being can properly look after all the interests which are heaped upon the Home Secretary, and I think I may say that almost every other kind of business the Home Department has to do has priority of urgency of attention before the mining, industry of the country, I mean in the particular direction I am alluding to. I am not referring to the mere questions of the administration of Acts passed at different times for the protection of life in coal and other mines. I think it must be admitted we have made out a good case for the assistance we conceive might advantageously be extended to this important industry, and we have indicated instructive precedents. We have raised a question that must be solved one of these days, and if we do not get what we want from the present Government, then we shall from their successors.

(6.7) MR. RANDELL (Glamorgan, Gower)

I simply wish to express my approval of the Motion for the creation of a separate Department of State and a Minister in touch with the important mining interests in the country. It is a justifiable step, and I might even say an imperative necessity. It would soon be justified by the great increase and rapid development of the mining industry throughout the country. The Motion should command the support of both Parties in the House. The Home Secretary has deservedly won the regard of the mining interest and those who represent it in this House; but however desirous he may be to promote mining questions, it is impossible for him to do so with much advantage so long as he has so many subjects demanding his attention.

*(6.9) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

Inasmuch as I represent a constituency composed almost entirely of miners, it is right I should say a word in support of the Motion. The mineral wealth of this country is such that it should have a separate Department to look after this interest. An objection was raised by the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government that this would increase the cost of administration, but the wealth and importance of the industry is such that it might well bear the expenditure required for a Department to look after its interests. The mineral wealth of this country amounts to about £80,000,000 a year. The Home Secretary has multifarious duties to perform, and though I am bound to say there is considerable satisfaction with the readiness with which, the Home Secretary listens to our complaints or demands, yet there is some dissatisfaction on account of the delay in the attention given to mining matters at the Home Office. There is a subject I brought before the House on another occasion, but which is germane to the question now before us. If we had a Minister of Mines we should not have more delay in the appointment of sub-inspectors of mines, a delay which is fraught with danger to the lives of miners. I think there was a promise last Session that the Home Secretary would look into the matter, but we can quite believe that, occupied as the right hon. Gentleman is with many affairs, he has not been able to give the necessary attention to, and bring his mind to a conclusion on the matter. But I do not think that if we had a Minister of Mines there would be any more delay. It is an imperative necessity, and must take place before long, and for this reason, among many others, I support the Motion.

(6.10.) MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)

The recent appointment of a Minister of Agriculture strengthens, I think, our claim for the appointment of a Minister of Mining. The conditions of mining are much more hazardous than the conditions of agriculture, and the reasons are much more urgent for supervision and control. There is a general feeling among those engaged in the mining industry that the Home Secretary is too far removed from them and their interests, and all his information filters through inspectors. I do not say that this is justifiable, but I know I speak the view of miners that the Secretary for the Home Department is not sufficiently near them and sufficiently interested in their pursuits that they have confidence that their interests are properly safeguarded. Equally I think I speak the view of miners when I say that their wants and interests have never been more regarded by any Home Secretary than by the right hon. Gentleman who now fills that office. He has shown an amount of sympathy and intimacy with the wants and work of miners I very gladly recognise. Yet it must be admitted that the duties of the Home Secretary are too much dispersed over many interests to hope that the mining industry can receive that attention which is required.

*(6.12.) MR. BURT (Morpeth)

I can testify to the fact that there is a very strong feeling among miners in favour of the appointment of a Minister of Mines. Again and again that feeling has found expression in Resolutions passed at conferences and in deputations to successive Home Secretaries. The belief which I think rests on a solid foundation is that the Home Secretary is so over-burdened with work that it is impossible for him to give the time necessary to many important matters connected with the mining industry. In saying this I find no fault with the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary has discharged those duties in connection with mining which are entrusted to him under various Acts. I must express my dissent from one remark that fell from my hon. Friend who introduced this Motion, that it would be an advantage to transfer the control of mines to the Minister of Agriculture. I do not think that would be any improvement, but quite the reverse. As regards the number of men employed, the risks attending the prosecution of the industry, the amount of capital invested, the influence upon other trades, the industry is of such transcendant importance that there ought to be a Minister to devote his time and attention almost exclusively to this one thing.

*(6.15.) COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)

I am opposed to the multiplying of Ministers, but it would perhaps be convenient that the Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office should be understood to be the official at the Home Office at the head of all matters affecting mining interests. But the Government would do well to wait for the Report of the now sitting Commission before making any change in present arrangements. It may be found desirable to establish Mining Courts to decide certain points, but a decision now would, I think, be premature. It would be well to wait until the Report of the Commission is in our hands.

(6.17.) MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)

I am very glad to hear a, Gentleman from the front bench admitting the importance of the coal industry, though he did not allow that pre-eminence we claim for it. It is, perhaps, natural that practical colliers should think there is no industry in the country more important than coal mining. No other industry can claim to be so essential to the success of all other undertakings. At all events, we, more than other persons, feel the necessity of having in the House a Minister to whom we can appeal for immediate assistance in all matters affecting safety to life and limb in the working of mines. We know the importance to miners of having an authority of this kind. I gladly recognise the spirit in which our claims have at various times been met on either side of the House, for this is no Party question; it is a question vital to life and limb. The exhaustion of physical power and nervous energy is such a danger in mines that there ought to be certain limits laid down beyond which miners should not be permitted to go to the danger of the lives of themselves and of their fellow-workmen. There is danger in a man working an unlimited number of hours. If we had a Minister to whom we could directly apply, before whom we could bring evidence, to whom we could make representations, I say, with all respect to the gentlemen now in the Home Department, we feel that the wants and wishes of our many thousand workmen underground would receive the required attention, and the danger to life and limb would be minimised. The mining industry will owe a debt of gratitude to any Government which brings this result about.

(6.20.) MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)

I can testify to the good results which have attended the appointment of such a Minister in our Colonies. In the Australian Colonies there are Ministers of Mines, and there is every reason to believe that, if there were a corresponding Minister in this country, the existence of a separate department would have a beneficial influence on the development of mining industries. I therefore support the Motion of the hon. Member.

*(6.21.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

I wish to assure hon. Members opposite who are identified with mining industries that Her Majesty's Government will leave nothing undone that could in any way minimise danger to life and limb in the working of mines. We are fully alive to our responsibility in this respect, and if we hesitate to accept a Resolution in favour of the creation of a Minister of Mines, it is simply because we do not believe that at the present moment a case has been made out for the creation of a new Department to be represented by a responsible Minister. Much more evidence will have to be adduced to justify an addition being made to the large number of officials representing the Government in this and the other House of Parliament; and it is not absolutely certain that the addition of another Minister would secure all the advantages that hon. Members desire to obtain. Hon. Members will admit that there must be circumstances that weigh with the Government which cannot so well be appreciated by non-official Members. I say at once that if the creation of such a Minister would be the means of preventing a recurrence of mining accidents that shock the country, then by all means let such a Minister be appointed. But hon. Gentlemen know better than I do, that accidents occur from circumstances no precautions can control, from causes apparently beyond the control of man, and in fact unknown to those who suffer from them. My hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart Wortley) has stated that the Secretary of State is already taking steps with the view of securing a further examination of the causes of accidents in coal mines. The right hon. Gentleman has consulted me on the question, and I have assured the right hon. Gentleman that the Government will give him the fullest assistance in the investigation he has directed. If he is right in the course he has taken, and his assumption of the causes of some of the accidents we deplore, in the result he will confer a greater benefit on the country than any of the Home Secretaries of the past. He is engaged now in these investigations. It is a question whether a special Minister could do more than is being done at present for mines and miners; and if their special claim is conceded, it may be that other industries will then put in a similar claim. We have other regulated industries, including cotton factories, railways, and shipping; indeed, all factories are inspected; and the Acts affecting these interests are carried out under the superintendence of the Home Office or the Board of Trade, and recently a Minister of Agriculture has been created. I by no means assert that our existing system is the best that could be devised; I should be the last to suggest that no improvement can be made in our administrative arrangements; but I deprecate the acceptance of an abstract Resolution upon the assumption that, as soon as a new Minister and Department is created at large expense, and a Department formed, there will necessarily result a great improvement in the conditions and circumstances of those engaged in the industry concerned. We shall give the most careful consideration to what has been urged in support of the Motion; but we cannot be expected to assent to a Resolution which would have the effect of transferring from the Home Office a large portion of its present work. We shall do our best to investigate and correct every deficiency which may be shown to exist in the present system, and to provide a full and complete responsibility in every Department of the Public Service; but we cannot admit that a case has been made out for an addition to the official element in Parliament.

(6.29.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

There are strong grounds of justification for the Motion, and every argument used in support of the creation of a Minister of Agriculture applies with even greater force to the appointment of a Mining Department. We do not expect that the advantage to the mining industry would be at once apparent; but we do consider that with the appointment of a Minister charged with a direct and special responsibility there would be less delay in the prosecution of matters connected with the mining interest. I, like my colleagues who have spoken tonight, am not disposed to reproach the officials in the Home Department, because I believe they have given every evidence of a sincere desire to do all that it is possible for men to do to minimise the serious character of the fatalities that occur during mining operations. But I think it is possible for the Government, by appointing a Minister for Mines, to give more general satisfaction, and to secure even better results than they have already secured. The appointment of a Minister for Mines in other countries has given general satisfaction, and I think it would give equal satisfaction here. In point of importance it is difficult to find another industry to compare with the mining industry. There are between 3,000;and 4,000 coal and ironstone mines in the country, turning out 180,000,000 tons per annum. Between 600,000 and 700,000 persons are employed above and below ground. In these circumstances, it is, in my judgment, desirable we should have some person whose attention will be devoted exclusively to the appeals that are made, and must necessarily come before him, arising out of such an industry. The First Lord of the Treasury promises to give serious consideration to the subject. I hope the time is not far distant when we may have the pleasure of hearing him declare that the Government have come to the conclusion to meet our wishes in this matter.

(6.34.) MR. LABOUCHERE (North-hampton)

My hon. Friend is somewhat ingenuous if he is satisfied with the promise that Ministers will take this matter into consideration. When Ministers say that, they mean that they intend to do absolutely nothing, and I think my hon. Friend will find that will be the course pursued by Her Majesty's present Ministry. I was anxious to know how the First Lord of the Treasury would defend the appointment of a Minister for Agriculture and refuse to appoint a Minister for Mines. If the right hon. Gentleman had said there were already sufficient Ministers, and that every industry in the country might claim to have a separate Department, the contention would be a good one. But the Government have already appointed a Minister for Agriculture. Why? Because they are supported by gentlemen who say they represent the landed interest, and they could not refuse the request of their friends. But when gentlemen from Wales and other mining districts ask that a Minister for Mines should be appointed, they say, "We will seriously consider it." I am the last person in the world to urge increased expenditure. I think that we could do without many of our Ministers, and that in the open market we could get men for considerably less than we pay Ministers. But considering the importance of the coal industry, I think it is desirable we should have a Minister for Mines, and it seems to me we might appoint one and not incur any extra expense. We might do away with one or two of the wasteful sinecures that exist now, and devote a salary—a small but fitting salary—to a Minister for Mines. I am afraid, however, that will not be done. When a Minister for Agriculture was appointed, we were promised that that Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should be one and the same. But the Chancellor of the Duchy still enjoys his salary, and an absolutely new salary has been created for the Minister for Agriculture. I suggest that right hon. Gentlemen opposite should subscribe something from their own salaries, or should arrange matters in some way by which this useful reform may be effected without costing the country a farthing.

(6.39.) MR. D. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)

The First Lord of the Treasury has stated his belief that most of the accidents in mines are beyond human control. Probably they are; but it is, nevertheless, the fact that the number of fatal accidents diminish in proportion as mines are better managed. I went into the matter very closely some time ago, and I was enabled, by the kindness of colliery managers, to get Returns from about a dozen of what I regard as the best managed collieries in South Wales. On an average, each of these collieries employed between 700 and 800 men, and the number of fatal accidents in these mines, during a period of ten years, was proportionately somewhere about one-third of the number over the remainder of the coal-fields. It seems, therefore, that a very great deal of good can be effected by good management, and that points to the necessity for the appointment of a Minister for Mines. We have been reminded of the large number of persons employed in mines, and of the magnitude of the output. The coal industry is a great industry, great not only because it gives employment to 600,000 or 700,000 people, but because also it is the motive power of all other industries. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the cotton industry, and of the railway and shipping industries; but where would these industries be if it were not for the coal industry? We not only supply ourselves, but to a great extent we supply the world with coal. An hon. Member opposite has said that although he agrees with the Motion he considers it premature; premature because a Royal Commission on Mining Royalties is sitting it the present time. What bearing a Royal Commission on Mining Royalties has on the appointment of a Minister for Mines I cannot conceive.

(6.42.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)

It is now four years since the Royal Commission on Mining, of which I had the honour to be Secretary, after having sat for nearly eight years, reported to Her Majesty. Though it was not within the scope of the Commissioners' duty to suggest a separate Mines Department, it was obvious that the Commission was impressed by the fact that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had the control and regulation of mines in his hands. I do not wish to reflect in the slightest degree upon the Home Department; but I think it proper to say that the Commission felt that the Department was not fit to cope with the enormous coal industry, and with the various accidents that constantly arise in connection with mining operations. I cannot help thinking that if we cannot have a separate Minister for Mines the time has come when we might fairly ask the Government to separate the mining business from the ordinary business of the Home Office. The Commission of which I have spoken reported— The result of our laborious investigations has impressed upon us the need for the official establishment of some permanent arrangement by which the continuous pursuit of this important class of work would be secured, and by which also the merits of suggestions and inventions should be investigated promptly and thoroughly and authoritatively. Whilst we are waiting for the appointment of a Minister for Mines, surely it is not unreasonable to ask that what was suggested four years ago by a very important Commission should be adopted by the Government. Let me give an illustration of the absolute inadequacy of the present state of things. Anyone who has taken the trouble to read the final Report of the Royal Commission on Mining will learn that coal dust has a great effect in producing explosions in mines. To my great surprise I find that during the last three or four weeks the Secretary of State has issued a Circular directing the attention of all those engaged in mining operations to the very important bearing coal dust has upon accidents. I trust that the Government will seriously consider whether they cannot, at all events as an instalment, detach the work relating to mining from the ordinary administration of the Home Office, and make it a separate branch of work altogether.

(6.47.) The House divided:—Ayes 88; Noes 118.—(Div. List, No. 18.)