HC Deb 26 May 1905 vol 146 cc1579-86


Order for Second Reading read.

MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)

said that this Bill was passed in 1895, and again in 1901, when it was referred to a Select Committee. As that Committee did not feel that a necessity existed for it the promoters of the Bill were prepared to limit the scope of the measure practically to mines. This was not a small matter, because there were employed in coal mines alone no fewer than 842,000 men and boys. Hon. Members would, therefore, realise that this fact alone, in a question of safeguarding and providing for the safety of life and limb, was well deserving of the consideration and attention of the House. The Under-Secretary for the Home Department, speaking in 1901, said that if the Bill had been confined to winding engines it would have been a different matter. Now the promoters of this Bill were prepared in Committee to have it amended so as to apply to mines only. It was stated in the Report of the Committee that the passing of this measure would remove the responsibility for the employment of competent persons in charge of engines and boilers from the owners and users of steam. He was quite aware that under the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887 there were most admirable provisions imposing upon the owner the necessity of employing certificated managers, and regulations for the guidance of those in charge of boilers and engines, but that added an additional safeguard to that the Bill provided because it did not require the mine-owner to make very revolutionary changes in order to carry into operation the provisions of this Bill. The fact was that, so far as he understood the matter, there would be created under this Bill a large body of certificated engineers competent to take charge of engines and boilers connected with mines, and it would be an obvious advantage to colliery owners when they were about to select men to take charge of engines and boilers that they should have this large body of competent persons who had obtained certificates from which to make their selection. He thought that would be a great advantage.

By previous legislation this House lad shown that it regarded it as of the greatest importance that certificated men should be employed in charge of engines and boilers where there was great risk to life in case of disaster through ignorance or neglect. Under the Merchant Shipping Acts it was made obligatory that only certificated men should be in charge of engines and boilers on vessels doing a foreign trade. If for the safety of passengers and those employed in the mercantile marine it was necessary to compel the owners of ships to employ only certificated engineers to be placed in charge of engines and boilers, was it not equally necessary that only certificated men should be employed in mines in the same capacity? In the Report of the Select Committee there appeared a calculation that in fifty weeks during which the men employed in collieries worked five days per week no less than 156,000,000 persons would be raised and lowered by enginemen employed in mines. He thought it was a reasonable request that similar protection to that which was given to the travelling public in the case of steamships employed in a foreign trade should be extended to coal mines. He trusted that a Second Reading would again be given to this Bill, and although the measure as it stood applied to other trades, hon. Members might rest assured that the promoters would be prepared in Committee to apply the Bill to mines and to mines only.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


thought the House had some right to complain of the way this Bill had been introduced. Three or four years ago this measure was read a second time, on the understanding that it was to go to a Select Committee. It was sent to a Select Committee and they reported strongly against it as it stood at the present moment. Having the decision of that Committee before, them, he should have thought that the promoters of this Bill would have put it in such a form as had now been suggested and apply it to mines only, but nothing of the kind had been done.


said he had already informed the House that the promoters of the Bill were willing in Committee to strike out all parts which did not apply to mines.


said the Bill ought not to be presented to the House in this way. What sort of a Bill was it going to be when it was cut down in this fashion and applied to mines only. Would it apply to persons in charge of boilers as well as steam engines?




said boilers were no more dangerous in mines than in other places, and as a matter of fact there were fewer accidents in mines from this cause. Under the Coal Mines Regulation Act the owner or the agent of a coal mine was personally liable in regard to negligence in this matter, and if incompetent persons were employed to manage boilers or engines they could be fined or sent to prison.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

called attention to the fact that forty Members were not present.

House counted and forty Members being found present,


resumed his speech. He wished that the hon. Member who had moved the Second Reading of the Bill had gone a little more into detail as to what the Report of the Committee contained. When he went to the library to try to secure a copy of the Report he found that the hon. Member had already taken it into the House. He was quite certain that the Committee did not recommend that the Bill should apply to mines only.


But the Secretary for the Home Department suggested that if it applied to mines only that would be quite a different matter.


said the hon. Member had introduced a Bill on which a Select Committee had reported adversely, and then he came and told the House that the promoters were willing to make it applicable only to certain classes of engines and boilers. The Report of the Committee was not that the Bill should be cut down to one applicable to mines only, where, indeed, the regulations should be of greater severity than in other cases. Some attention should have been given to those paragraphs in the Report which showed how completely illusory the Bill was. What was now proposed was to cut out certain absurd parts of the Bill, to leave all the other absurdities as they stood, and then to say that they would only apply to mines. Any more absurd proposal he had never seen in his experience of that House. The Bill was intended to apply to persons in charge of engines and boilers. Clause 3 provided— The term 'boiler' shall mean and include only a closed vessel having a steam pressure of ten pounds to the square inch and upwards, as may be used for generating steam, or for heating water, or for heating other liquids, or into which steam is admitted for heating, steaming, boiling, or other similar purposes; the term 'engine' means any engine used in the production of motive power, and worked by steam from a boiler; the term 'horse-power' means nominal horse-power. Clause 4 exempted from the application of the Bill— Any boiler or engine used exclusively for domestic, agricultural, or farming purposes, or any boiler or engine used in the service of His Majesty, or any boiler or engine used by a railway company, or any boiler or engine used on board a steamship having a certificate from the Board of Trade, or any road traction engine or steam roller. The Report of the Committee showed how absurd that proposal was. The scheme of the Bill was to provide two classes of certificates, the qualifications required being described in Clause 6 as follows— (i.) A person taking charge or control of any boiler or engine to which this Act applies, of five horse-power or upwards, or of any engine to which this Act applies, used for winding workmen or minerals up or down the shaft of a mine, must hold a first-class certificate or a special certificate of service under this Act; (ii.) A person taking charge or control of any other boiler or engine to which this Act applies must be the holder either of such a certificate as aforesaid or of a second-class certificate under this Act. The Report of the Committee condemned the proposal in regard to the second-class certificates as perfectly illusory. If such certificates were granted they would only result in increasing the danger by creating a false sense of security, because they would afford no guarantee whatever of the qualifications of a person who had the management of a boiler or engine. Clause 7 provided that the penalty for taking, or employing to take, charge or control of a boiler or engine without the qualification required by the Act was to be a penalty of forty shillings for the first offence, and ten pounds for the second offence. Far heavier penalties were imposed under the present law in connection with the working of machinery at mines. He would remind the House that the Workmen's Compensation Act contained provisions which operated very usefully in the direction of securing safety. [An HON. MEMBER: Does that prevent accidents?] It did not prevent accidents, nor would this Bill. He took no exception to the severity of the regulations under which the owners and managers of mines were obliged to work. The workmen ought to be protected by the strictest provisions in the carrying on of their dangerous occupation, but he maintained that the conditions which secured safety in the carrying on of industries were not strengthened by the illusory protection proposed to be given by this Bill.

Another objection to the Bill was that the responsibility was diffused over two Government Departments. The latter part of Clause 6 provided that the Board of Trade was to have power to make certain regulations in regard to the certificates, while Clause 10 provided that all certificates should be made in duplicate, one part to be delivered to the person entitled to the certificate, and the other to be "kept in such manner as a Secretary of State directs." His fundamental objection to the whole scheme of the Bill was that such certificates as were proposed to be granted would not form a proper test of the fitness of a man to manage an engine or boiler. By far the most important qualifications required were those moral qualities which could not be tested by examinations. A man might be able to pass an examination, and yet not have the nerve or force of character necessary in one who had the control of engines and boilers, and this was especially true in the case of mines. Accidents from over-winding were now very few. This was partly because of the precautions which the discoveries of science had enabled mineowners to adopt, and partly owing to the fact that great care was always taken to see that those in charge of mining operations were fully qualified. [An HON. MEMBER: A good argument for the Bill.] He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months.


seconded the Amendment. He was a member of the Select Committee which considered the Bill brought forward in a former year, and he thought those who investigated the provisions of the measure at that time had some reason to complain that exactly the same Bill had been reintroduced now. Not the slightest respect had been paid by the promoters of this Bill to the evidence of the witnesses, or to the Report of the Select Committee. He confessed that the part of the case which then impressed him most was the absolute, paramount, and governing importance of moral qualities on the part of those who had charge of boilers—not merely moral qualities in the sense of steadiness and sobriety, but those qualities of a purely intellectual character which enabled a person in charge of a boiler to act with decision at a critical moment.


Do moral qualities include a knowledge of machinery?


hoped the hon. Member would allow him to proceed. He knew as much about the subject as the hon. Member. A comparison had been drawn between men to whom this Bill would apply, and men in charge of marine boilers. It seemed to him that there was no analogy whatever. To have charge of engines and boilers on a ship in mid-Atlantic was quite a different thing from having charge of engines and boilers on land, where public opinion could be brought to bear on the selection of the individual and where his conduct could be kept under daily review. Speaking as a layman in these matters he thought the promoters of the Bill held somewhat exaggerated views as to the length of time required in order to obtain the necessary knowledge and experience. Another thing which had struck him was that a man might be very fit in one year to hold a certificate of the nature proposed, while at the end of a certain number of years he might have lost his skill and be no longer the man he formerly was. He and some of the other members of the Committee thought that a certificate under such circumstances, so far from being a protection, might be a snare and a trap. It should be remembered that employers had not only a strong interest in taking precautions for protecting the life and limb of their workmen, but also in providing for the proper management of their machinery. They did not wish to risk precious machinery to incompetent persons. The safety of property was a consideration inferior to the protection of life; nevertheless, if industry was to go on, property must be secured.

And, it being half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.