HC Deb 31 March 1898 vol 55 cc1472-3
SIE CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the statements in the Report to him by Mr. Le Nève Foster, dated 1897, but circulated in the present year, to the effect that the death-rate in the least dangerous of the large British coalfields is 50 per cent. higher than the average in the French northern coalfield; and that, while the death-rate from accidents in mines in France has fallen in each quinquennial period, the rate in Great Britain is now equal to that which prevailed in France in the period 1875–80; what results have been obtained from the working in the first months of the present year of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1896; and whether Her Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of producing in the next Session of Parliament further Measures for safety in mines, or of giving facilities for the reference to a Committee of the Coal Mines Regulation Bill of the Miners' Committee?


My attention has been called to the two statements mentioned. The first is accurately quoted, except that the reference should be not to the whole northern coalfield of France, but only to the Department of Pas de Calais. With regard to the second statement, I find that M. Lacombe, the French author, from whom Dr. Foster took the figures, has fallen into a serious error with regard to the death-rate in English mines. The correct figures are given in an appendix to Dr. Foster's Report. The general death-rate in English coal mines for the period referred to is not 2.18, but 1.60—nearly one-third less than as represented by M. Lacombe. Moreover, from later figures, which are now available, I find that for 1896 the death-rate below ground in English and in French coal mines is the same, 1.62; and that for 1897 there is in England a still further improvement, the death-rate below ground being 1.48, the lowest figure ever reached. For 40 years there has been a continuous decrease in the death-rate in English mines, and it is now less than a third of what it was 40 years ago. With regard to the working of the last Coal Mines Act, the time since the Explosives Order came into force is so short that no definite results can be given, but the reports I have received from the inspectors are, on the whole, exceedingly satisfactory. In these circumstances I do not see my way to promising further coal mines legislation. Precedence must, I think, be given to legislation for metalliferous mines and quarries, in both of which the death-rate is now higher than in coal mines.