HC Deb 28 April 1909 vol 4 cc411-46

called attention to the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents in mines, and to the inadequate inspection of mines; and moved: "That, in view of the number of fatal and non-fatal Accidents in Mines, this House is of opinion that a considerable improvement in the safety of Mines might be secured were the laws affecting mining more rigorously applied, and that to ensure this the staff of mine inspectors should be augmented."

In bringing this Motion before the House, I do not want to say one disrespectful word of either the Government or of the inspectors of mines; but I think everyone will agree that the present system of inspecting mines in this country is not a thorough inspection at all. In fact, I will almost go so far as to say that none of the mines of this country are or have been inspected as I think they ought to be. In the first place, I think it would be well if I brought before the notice of the House the number of fatal accidents which have taken place during the last 35 years. I am perfectly satisfied that this question is not thoroughly understood by hon. Members, and that they do not realise the extent of the loss of life among miners; because if they did, and if it were shown that more inspectors would prevent that loss of life, the House would not grudge any expense that might be involved in the more efficient inspection of mines. No less than 40,000 lives have been lost in mines during the last 35 years, and when that fact is realised I am sure the House will agree that if anything can be done to lessen this slaughter the necessary steps ought to be taken to do it. I do not want to lead the House to believe that there has not been any improvement in the working of the mines. I frankly admit that there has been great improvement during the period I have named. There has been better supervision, and the mines have been improved in many ways, but when I state that last year alone no less, than 1,340 lives were lost everyone must come to the conclusion that more inspectors are wanted for the purpose of carrying out the Mines (Regulation) Act. If hon. Members have read yesterday's evidence in regard to the recent explosion at Maypole, in Lancashire, I think they will come to the conclusion, if that evidence is true, that somebody connected with the mine—I do not want to screen the workmen—knew very well that they were breaking the law with regard to the Mines (Regulation) Act. I am not going to say more upon this question, as I do not know what the verdict will be; but it seems to me from reading the evidence that either the fireman did not understand his duty or he did not understand the Mines Regulation Act, or he would never have consented to men working in the mine in the condition in which it was. I should like to bring before the House the number of fatal accidents; which have taken place in mines during, the last five years. In 1904 the number was 1,060; 1905, 1,205; 1906, 1,187; 1907, 1,279; 1908, 1,344, or an average of 1,219 per year. With regard to non-fatal accidents in mines, according to a Return furnished by the Government, in 1903 there were 6,350; 1904, 6,160; 1905, 5,921; 1906, 6,333; 1907, 8,622; 1908, 8,613.


I think the hon. Member ought to explain that those figures are not comparable, because the large figures for the last two years are due to the fact that the Notice of Accidents Act was passed in 1906, under which there was a very large increase in the number of accidents which have to be reported.


I quite agree that it is not fair to take the last two years, where the numbers are so large as compared with the previous years. I quite agree that that is because of this Act which has been passed—the Notice of Accidents Act. But I gave those figures for the purpose of trying to prove my contention which is in the Resolution, and that is that there is not an adequate number of inspectors in our mines for the purpose of inspecting the mines. In showing the figures which I have done, the number of fatal accidents and the number of what I call serious accidents, I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that these figures, so far as non-fatal accidents are concerned, do not in any shape or form describe the number of accidents which took place in our mines, although there has been this Notice of Accidents Bill passed. I am perfectly satisfied that all the accidents have not been reported to the Government inspectors during the last two years which have taken place in the mines. Let me give you a case in point. It will show the great difference there is between the report which has been given and which I have in my hand, so far as one portion of Lancashire is concerned with regard to the Miners' Permanent Relief Society. If the Government will get the statistics with regard to the societies all over the country, they will find that instead of the small number reported, 8,000, the number will be nearer 150,000. I take it that the number which is reported to the inspectors of mines are those serious accidents in which the inspectors desire to visit the place and the Government wish them to do so. That being so—but before that let me give you what the Permanent Relief Society has done during the last 12 months, during the year 1908. The society has only 14,250 members, but they are at the various collieries in South-West Lancashire, and nearly represent all the collieries somewhat. During the last 12 months there were 33 cases of fatal accidents. One life was lost for every 432 men employed. There were also 4,447 cases of non-fatal accidents, or one in every three and a half employed, so that if that was anything like the ratio all over the country, then my statistics, which I have described as 150,000, would not be far off the mark. It only tends to show the serious loss of life and injury there is in South-West Lancashire in respect to miners' lives. It may be said, "Oh, but these are very small accidents and of no duration." Well, the duration of the accidents under the auspices of that, society of 14,000 members was 5½ weeks, so that they cannot be called minor accidents of the mines. With regard to this, matter, I simply show the number of fatal accidents and the number of non-fatal accidents for the purpose of proving that the-staff of inspectors at the present time is not sufficient for inspecting the mines of our country. Their whole time is taken up in visiting a place where there has been a fatal accident, by attending inquiries into these fatal accidents, and by visiting the mines where serious accidents have taken place. Therefore I contend that the mines are not inspected as we term inspection. I do not say for one moment that the inspectors of mines have not visited the mines of the country, even every one of them. But I do say that the-mines inspectors have not inspected the mines thoroughly; that is to say, gone into every workman's place to see whether the air that may be going into the mines is sufficient. It may be sufficient at the bottom of the shaft. It may be sufficient in the "intakes." It may be sufficient at the "outgo." Yet at the same time the miner in his individual working place may not be receiving that quantity of air which he ought to have and the quantity of air to keep the place in a condition to work in. I think it has been clearly proved, and I think it has been given before the Royal Commission, that there are many, both workmen and officials of the collieries who believe that an Act of Parliament ought not to be carried out in the way that it is passed. In fact, some of them have gone so far as to say that if there is only a small quantity of gas, and the system is to try and brush it out of the place, therefore it may be clear for the time being, and they do not report any gas at all—as has been seen. I am just afraid that that kind of work has been the means of causing many accidents in our mines and causing many explosions to take place. I know very well it is very difficult to deal with. I have no doubt the Government may tell us that they cannot do anything at the present time, because there is a Royal Commission sitting, and has been sitting for a long time. I think that the Government can perfectly well do something even if the Royal Commission has not finished its sitting, and has not brought in any recommendations for the House to carry out. It was only last Tuesday that the Prime Minister brought before the House a Bill for Welsh Disestablishment. A Royal Commission has been sitting upon that question, and they have not brought in their Report, and the Government did not wait for that report. I venture to say that the Government do not need to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission with regard to this question. It is a patent fact—and every miners' representative in this House knows it—that there is not a sufficiency of inspectors to inspect our mines as they ought to be inspected under the Mines Regulation Act. A great deal of good has been done with these Mines' Acts in the past. I believe they have been largely carried out through the instrumentality of the inspectors of mines, and I am perfectly satisfied that if there were more inspectors, who would be able to go and inspect the mines of this country in a thorough manner, then there would be more stringent measures taken to carry out the Mines Regulation Act as it at present stands. I want to point out to the Government that my theory of appointing more inspectors of mines is not to appoint chief inspectors or even assistant chief inspectors, because if that is to be done then I am afraid it will not improve matters. I do think that the inspectors should be called sub-inspectors; men who would be chosen from the ranks of the miners, and who would be able to fulfil that position, and who are qualified to fill it in every sense as well as the chief inspectors of mines. If that were done, I am sure there could be at least 26 more sub-inspectors appointed, at, say, £200 or £250 a year, which would not mean more than £5,200 a year in expenses. I am perfectly satisfied that this House would not grudge that amount of money being spent if it is going to save the life and limb of the miners. Now with regard to the question of the explosion which took place in Durham, I want to say only just a few words, because to my mind it has raised another great danger to the lives of the miners of this country. That explosion occurred, according to the verdict of the jury, not because of fire damp. We are told that it was an explosion of coal dust in the mine, and that it was not brought about either by the firing of shots or anything of that kind, but it took place from the fusing of an electric cable, and that it brought about the explosion, which landed no less than 178 men into eternity. This is added danger to the miners' lives; if electricity is to be used in the mines for the purpose of coal cutting and so forth, and if there is a possibility of the electric spark or a light being caused in the mines by the fusing of the wires, which is likely to cause an explosion, then I think the miner has more to fear than he has with regard to fire damp in our mines, and I hope the Government will give me some promise that they will do something with regard to this, as they have power to do, and that they will not only appoint more inspectors but that they will insist on the watering of mines which are dusty, and that they will force upon the employers of the country the duty of watering this dust, and preventing it being the cause of such explosions. With regard to the evidence given before the Royal Commission by one of the inspectors who was appointed to go and examine mines for the purpose of giving evidence, it will be found that that inspector stated that many mines were visited, but that he found there were both men and officials of the colliery who considered that broken or cracked glass was not a danger if the light could not be blown through the glass, and, in one colliery, down at the bottom of the mine, there was some white lead, or something of that sort, for the purpose of putting in glass if they found it broken. Is it any wonder that accidents in mines take place if such a state of things as that is allowed? I venture to say if there were more inspectors of mines appointed this kind of thing could not possibly take place, and would not be allowed to pass, because I look upon the present Mines Regulations Act as not allowing anything of that sort, but if there are officials of mines who are content with such a state of things as this, then it is no wonder that there are explosions in mines and great loss of life. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary to the Home Office whether he cannot give me some promise that the Government will appoint more inspectors of mines, and if he will not, try to meet the miners' representatives in this House by simply appointing, not inspectors of high rank, but mine inspectors drawn from the ranks of miners, so that they may inspect the whole conditions of the mine, not only from the bottom of the shafts but by going down to every workman's place in the mine to see whether he is getting his fair share of air coming in to him, and to see that he is working under proper conditions? I have great pleasure in moving the Motion standing in my name.


I desire to associate myself with the mover of this Resolution when he said that he made no charge against the present inspector of mines. It is always a delicate question to bring forward Motions of this kind, lest it should be inferred that some complaint is being made against the inspectors. I make no complaint of that kind. I believe the inspectors are doing all they can under the circumstances. I believe they do their work very well; but still, while one may have a real delicacy in discussing matters of this kind, I think recent events in the coalfields of this country make it imperative that some cognisance should be taken of this question. Take disasters in Maypole and Wigan. If half of the disclosures given in evidence at the inquests are true, it certainly shows to our mind that there is very great need that some more vigilant inspection should take place much more than what goes on at present.

With respect to what occurred at West Stanley, it only emphasises the position and makes the Motion we have now before the House a necessity. The complaint we make is not against the inspectors, but against the fact that there are too few of them. Let me give the case so far as I know it. In the county to which I belong there are 200 collieries, besides the iron and stone quarries. For all those mines and quarries and other matters there is one chief inspector, and he has under him two assistant inspectors. As I have said before, that is altogether inadequate to make such an inspection as would give reasonable opportunities for securing that life and limb should be made reasonably safe. The total number of mines under the Mines Act is 3,327, and the proportion of inspectors is very much in the ratio I have given. That being so, no one will doubt the fact that the present staff is inadequate. I am not going to differentiate on this question as to what kind of inspectors there should be, because I have an object which is higher than that to-night, and it is that we ought to demand an inspection which will make the mines as safe as possible.

The total number employed underground in 1907 was 757,887. The total output for the same was about 282,000,000 tons. The total number of accidents from all causes in 1907 was 4,873. I am not going to trouble the House with many figures, but I wish to make reference especially to the fatal accidents, and I am going to quote from the "Labour Gazette" of this month in regard to fatal accidents underground and in mines. This authority goes on to say that of the 1,343 deaths from accidents to miners in 1908, 149 occurred on the surface and the remaining 603 were due to falls of ground. I never knew the ground fall like that, and I think it must mean falls of roof and sides. Ninety were shaft accidents, 128 were due to explosions caused by firedamp and coal dust, and 182 to men being crushed by trams and tubs underground. The total number of deaths was higher than at any of the years between 1904 and 1907 and the total was 124 above the mean of the five years 1904–8. The increase in the number of deaths between the years 1908 and 1904 is as follows: In 1908 the number was 1,194—I am speaking of accidents underground—in 1904 there were 942 deaths, making an increase between 1904 and 1908 of 252. I am informed that for ten years the fatal accidents in mines have averaged 933, and I think that is a very appalling figure.

Human life, as evidenced by figures of that kind, is not made so safe as it ought to be in mines, and as I believe it might be. I am not making any undue reflection upon anybody, but I believe that this danger might be minimised by further efforts, not only on the part of the management, but also on the part of the workmen themselves. Whatever may be the source or cause, we are seriously this evening taking into consideration the possibility of minimising this enormous danger. Our object is that we want inspection before and not after an accident. We do not complain of the inspections we get after an accident, when the serious consequences have taken place and when the breadwinner of the family has been taken away. Then there is vigilant activity in trying to find out the cause, but surely it is much better, if possible, that we should get the inspection made before accidents take place, because this would minimise the great aggregate of the harvest of human life taken in each year in consequence of accidents in mines.

We are face to face with very great dangers, and I would like to mention the question of coal dust. That is a very serious question with the miner. At one time we only thought of gas, and the miner believed that if there were no signs of gas he was reasonably safe from explosion. But all that has gone by. Mr. Atkinson, one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, some years ago propounded the theory of coal dust, and the experts at that time, I believe, almost laughed, if they did not actually laugh, at the incredulity of a man of scientific culture lending himself to say that coal dust would cause an explosion. But we have had several explosions after that, and hundreds of lives have been lost to emphasise the fact that the coal dust is dangerous, and the experts who claim to understand the question are agreed upon the fact that coal dust is a deadly enemy of the miner, and that any day, from a cause of that kind, given suitable conditions, there may be even in the least suspected manner in what are called the safe mines a devastation of this kind.

I want to refer to a new and what I venture to assert is a formidable enemy to the workman, and that is electricity. I am not objecting to the new methods of the more efficient working of the mines. It would be foolish if I derided the effect of labour-saving machinery, but what I wish to point out is this, that whilst this electricity may lead itself in the direction of cheapening the cost of fuel, what the miner expects is this—not that he objects to it, but that he should be assured of reasonable safety with respect to this new source of the gravest danger. Human life to me is of more importance than cheapness. Indeed, I have yet to be convinced that economically cheap things are the best. I believe that is not so. The point I wish to make is this, that where economy in production from whatever source it may come, acts in collision with the lives and limbs of the working classes, then I say that these cheaper methods of production ought to be denounced, particularly if they involve the sacrifice not only of hundreds, but of thousands of lives. I want for a few moments to refer to the West Stanley explosion. The Mover of the Resolution went a little astray in one portion of his speech, when he referred to the decision of the coroner's jury. The nebulous condition of the position of the decision of the jury cannot be allowed to stand where it is so far as we are concerned. The experts all agree in locating the place of the disaster which caused many deaths. They agreed that it was not caused by a shot, and they agreed that it was not caused by a naked light. Indeed, all the things that have hitherto been supposed to accompany explosions in mines were eliminated by experts, and yet they cannot say what caused the explosion. It is that doubt and uncertainty that make the question a very serious one to us, and all the miners in this country. If the coroner's jury could have elucidated the cause, and stated definitely what the cause of the explosion was that would have been better, so far as we are concerned, but when you have gentlemen, mining engineers of very high standing, eliminating all the known sources of explosion, the matter is a very serious thing for us.

What I would like to emphasise is this, that if electricity is to be used in mines we should be assured of its safe working, and not be left in doubt. Hon. Members in this House cannot be surprised after the hazy condition of things in which the jury in the West Stanley case left the question, if we persistently insist, as far as we possibly can, that there shall be a more definite and more drastic inquiry into this possible source of danger in mines. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would do well to give this question his very serious consideration. I quite believe that the Government will do all that they can when the facts are brought home to them to inquire into this new source of danger. All that I have said has been leading to the point at which I commenced, that this new source of danger calls for an additional inspection and additional vigilance on behalf of the inspectors. Let me conclude as I began. Whilst I make no charge, or even the semblance of an indictment, against the present condition of things, as far as inspectors are concerned, I hope that the disasters of recent times will press home to the Government the desirability of using every effort to leave no stone unturned to make the miner's life as reasonably safe as the nature of the situation permits.


I find myself much in sympathy with the opinions expressed by the hon. Member for St. Helens and others. Everybody connected with mines is exceedingly anxious that there should be a reduction not only in the number of deaths but also in the number of accidents. I must say from a great experience of mines that I am always lost in wonder, not at what seems to be the great number of accidents, but at the small number of accidents in comparison with the great number of opportunities there are for accidents. I myself have found greater danger in St. James's Park than in all the mines I have ever been down in my life. But, of course, I have seen many serious accidents in mines. I quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about objecting to any economy that would involve any sacrifice of life or injury to limb. But my own experience in this line is that economy and safety go together. Economical management is safe management. I think that most mining engineers and most mine managers will agree with me. Only show them how they can increase the safety and they will adopt the proposals. Most of the mine managers and the under-managers are men only just removed from the coal-cutting class. Most of them have been colliers themselves, and they understand the position in which the workers are placed. I do not think there are any deputies or under-managers who would for the sake of any economy run any risk. I believe they are only too glad to be shown how managing can be done better than it is done now. But to put the matter on a lower ground—accidents do not pay. In addition to what the mine holders suffer through accidents, there is a tremendous amount of other expenses connected with them. If there is an inquest the officials have to give up their time to attend it. Perhaps a lawyer has to be employed, and there is a tremendous amount of other expense. So that if a man was absolutely heartless he would do everything he could to avoid an accident. Then there is the question of inspection. Managers of mines are liable to have a black mark placed against them by inspectors if they have an accident which the inspectors think ought not to have happened. The manager, so to speak, carries his living in his hands. When there is an accident, and even when only one life is lost, the inspector may say things which may cause that manager to be discharged. I do not know of any man who would be so silly as to risk his own reputation for the sake of saving his employer's money. Therefore I think there is the very strongest motive for trying to decrease the number of accidents. I am not quite sure as to the wisdom of the suggestion to increase the number of inspectors. When you consider the way in which the mine is managed you really have a certificated manager who is partly a Government official. The Government official in this case is paid by the holders of the mines, but he cannot get his certificate without the approval of the Government. Then there are sub-managers and under-managers, who are really representatives of the managers pro tem. They are really, in fact, Government officials, bound to carry out a very long list of rules and regulations, and to do a great many other things deemed necessary for the safety of the people in the mines which are not specified in the rules, and these men are working to the best of their ability to conduct the mines under conditions of safety. The hon. Member for St. Helens said there ought to be efficient inspection at each working place. You cannot have such an efficient inspection unless it is from hour to hour and from day to day. A working place may be well ventilated at one time of the day, and a few hours after it may be totally unfit for the men to work in. Therefore it is necessary to have constant and continuous inspection over the 24 hours. Now, to have a staff of Government inspectors sufficient to see with any sensible method that the mines are properly managed would require one inspector for every 100 men underground. That means that there would have to be 7,500 inspectors employed. Then you might have an efficient inspection of the mines every day. They have in some foreign mines always a Government inspector present. The question is, Is it better to have an inspector always there? Would he not become responsible for the state of the mine? Would the House be against any slight increase of inspectors or sub-inspectors? That raises a rather different point. But if you have a sufficient number of inspectors to inspect every mine thoroughly, and to see that every rule and regulation is carried out to promote the safety of the workers, then the Government inspector will practically have the whole of the responsibility for the safety of the mine on his own shoulders. At every point the inspector would be the defendant. At the present moment that is not so. An inspector is only there occasionally. He cannot be supposed to know that all the rules are carried out. He is practically the prosecutor trying to find out something or to pick some hole in the management, and the management is put on its defence. If he can pick any hole in regard to their action he exposes them. Once increase the number of inspectors to such an extent that it can be said, "The inspector was here yesterday, or went over the place this morning, and he found no fault," then you entirely remove the responsibility from where it is now, and throw it upon the shoulders of the Government officials. I am of opinion that those engaged in collieries are not stupid men, and know something about their work, and you do not make things any better by calling on the Government inspector and making him responsible if anything is wrong. What happens now is that an anonymous letter is written to the inspector saying that something is wrong, and he comes and investigates and inspects the mine to see whether the charge is true or not, and if anything has to be done to keep the men safe. Of course the inspector does not mention the anonymous letter, and say that he is there in consequence. I am inclined to think that the system which is now adopted is a better system than that of pursuing the policy of having a very great number of inspectors, and taking the responsibility for personal management off the owners of the mine. A great deal has been said about the number of deaths. It is a very serious thing, but, of course, if you choose to take the Returns and go back a great many years, you will find that you can make out a large number of deaths. I have looked at the returns of the Registrar-General, and in England and Wales alone in the last 36 years there have been more than 18 million deaths of people altogether. That is a very big figure, and the forty thousand deaths in mines is comparatively a small amount. It is not such a large proportion. If you take accidental deaths during those 36 years in England and Wales there have been, roughly speaking, about half a million, and that is more than eleven times the number of deaths that took place in mines. In the last 36 years there has been a reduction of the death-rate in this country in the mines by 40 per cent. per million tons of coal raised, and the death-rate of the last five years is approximately 60 per cent. of what it was 36 years ago, and that shows that those who are interested in the mines, as well as the inspectors, have done their best to bring about a reduction. Moreover, the work in mines is more difficult than it was, because they are deeper and larger in extent.

Of course, if I were a Government inspector, I should try to prove that that decrease was due to Government inspection, but not being a Government inspector I do not think it is due to that cause. I think it is due to the progress of science and the advance in knowledge of the large body of mining engineers and of scientific men, who have endeavoured to promote the safety of the mines. Coal dust has been alluded to as the cause of explosion, and the discovery that that was so has been the great event of the last 30 years. That discovery has been one of the main causes why deaths from explosion have been reduced. I can remember the time whenever there was an explosion we thought it was caused by firedamp, but fortunately some French chemists made numerous experiments forty years ago, which seemed to show that coal dust was explosive. Then came Mr. Galloway, one of the inspectors of mines, now an eminent mining engineering authority, giving a great deal of attention to the question, and made a great number of experiments, and to him is due the fact of introducing into this country the knowledge that coal dust, with a small quantity of gas added, was explosive. In those days he did not discover, as they have since, that without any gas at all it is explosive. Then we had Messrs. Atkinson, Government inspectors of mines, who demonstrated with, great care, and in a wonderfully clever book, that coal dust was the cause of a number of the chief explosions, some of which had been attributed to fire. After Galloway and Atkinson and the Frenchmen had given us the key, then it was easy to reconsider the case of the earlier explosions, and what had been the cause. One of the effects of that has been to reinstate in one's good opinion the deputies,—those men who go about the mines every morning and night and have to write reports in their books as to the condition of the mines as regards gas. When there was a great explosion in former days, 30 years ago, and you look at the deputy's report, you find he reported every place clear, and they said the deputies must have told lies, because there could not be an explosion without a great deal of gas, and the deputy certified that there was no gas, and therefore the deputy was a liar. That argument seemed conclusive. It was conclusive if the facts were right, but when they discovered that you could have a great explosion without gas, which could be seen by the ordinary methods of detection, or without any gas at all, that has reinstated the reputation of these poor deputies, many of whom lost their lives, and who I now believe were perfectly honest and capable men doing their best. That is a great discovery in science. Then there have been other discoveries. There have been great discoveries in comparatively flameless explosives, which is a very great advantage. I can remember when people were thinking of forbidding the use of explosives in mines, because of the accidents caused by the use of explosives. There is a great deal to be said for that, but on the other hand I demonstrated to my own satisfaction that if they did forbid the use of gunpowder it would not really reduce the death-rate. It might reduce the death-rate from certain accidents in mines if all the work which was done with the aid of gunpowder had to be done by the hammer and wedge or pickaxe. There would be so many extra men in the mine who would be subject to the ordinary accidents other than explosions that the deaths amongst them would have made up for all that would be saved in an average of years by the abolition of gunpowder. But fortunately that alternative was not presented, because the discovery of these new explosives which, though not perfectly safe, are much safer than gunpowder, enables an explosive to be used where it would be very risky indeed to use ordinary gunpowder. That is one of the chief causes of the reduction in the death-rate from accidents.

Then there has been an immense improvement in wire ropes. We have now beautiful steel large cables, which is an increased factor of safety. I have seen hemp ropes being used, and the factor of safety owing to the extra weight of the hemp rope was not very high. You can now have a steel rope, the strength of which is ten times the load at the end of it. Ten to one is a very large factor of safety, and that has reduced the number of winding accidents very much. These are the causes of the improvement, and not the extra inspection. Something has been said about having working men inspectors. At the present time I do not think there is any rule against an ordinary miner being made into an inspector. All that is necessary is that he should show that he has the requisite experience and the requisite scientific knowledge. It is no use having an inspector if he cannot command the respect of the court before which he gives evidence by showing that he has as much scientific knowledge as the mining engineers and those whose work he has to criticise. A man whose only claim is that he is without knowledge is not a man who ought to be appointed, but the mere fact that in addition to that knowledge he has been a practical man for many years of his life I am sure would be regarded by no man as a drawback. Many colliers have attended my course of lectures, and some of them have risen to a considerable eminence in their profession, and are as scientific as anyone else, but they trained themselves first before they thought of rising to a higher position.

Something has been said about watering the mines. Of course, watering the mines is one method of laying dust, but there are other methods recommended by inspectors. You can run from one danger to another, which is worse. In Germany they had a very strict law about the water- ing of mines in order to prevent coal dust explosion, but they got an illness with a great long name, which is far worse. If I were a collier I would ten times rather take my chance of being burnt by an explosion every now and then than having this disease. The death-rate is far worse. A brave man can die but once, and the colliers do not fear death in the slightest. It would be a bad day for this country if the Government departed from the wise course which it has hitherto adopted in Acts of Parliament of not specifying any particular thing that is to be done and throwing the responsibility for safety on to the owners and managers and competent people and scientific inspectors to use the best thing and most up-to-date thing science can suggest. Some men will sweep all the dust out of the mines. That is a far better way than deluging it with water—and there are ways in which it is done. I trust, when the right hon. Gentleman comes to bring in a new law, if he ever does, with regard to coal-mining, he will not tie up the hand of progress by any Parliamentary enactments, and that he will leave us free for the best brains of workmen and engineers and Government inspectors to carry out from time to time the improvements which, I have no doubt, we shall continue to make, and, as our mines get deeper and as greater dangers come round, so we shall be able to meet them. It is not to be supposed that any inspector will have prevented any of these accidents. Almost every accident I have ever heard of is a novelty. They say it was not this and it was not that, but they found out what it was. I could take you through a long list of accidents, and show you that each particular accident never happened before. Take any district in the country, and you will find a great explosion in a mine is a great rarity in that particular district. If you take the whole of Great Britain, with an explosion in Derbyshire one year, in Glamorganshire another year, and in Lancashire another year, the numbers mount up, but it may have been 20, 30, 40, or perhaps 100 years since there was a serious explosion in that district—so long that people have forgotten it. Then the danger comes about in a new and unforeseen way, which no one anticipates, and then, this new danger, suddenly taking people unprepared, the accident happens.


The hon. Member for St. Helens is to be congratulated upon his success in the ballot which has given us the opportunity of calling public attention to this very grave and serious question of the enormous loss of life by accidents in our mines. I am afraid—do what we will, either by inspection or by improved rules and regulations—the miners' occupation will always be very hazardous and dangerous. The imperfect light by means of which he has to perform his daily operations renders it very difficult for him at all times to become aware of the immense danger which confronts him, but that is no reason why we should not be disposed to do all that we possibly can, either by legislation or by administration, to reduce the holocaust of life in the mines to the lowest minimum.

I was very glad indeed to hear my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Resolution disclaim any intention of reflecting upon the way in which the present inspectors discharged their duties. I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a more conscientious class of men than our present staff of mines' inspectors. They are fully alive to the seriousness of their duties. They are very active and very painstaking men, and they would permit nothing, so far as they have health and strength to perform their duties, to stand in the way of the conscientious discharge of those duties. But I have often thought, and still think, that we do not make all the proper use we ought to make of the number of inspectors we have. I am afraid that we throw too much clerical work upon the inspectors. I know a case, and I daresay my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Department knows similar cases, where the chief inspector and the assistant inspectors are empolyed days together in purely clerical work, which ought to be done for them in the office. They ought to be able to delegate this clerical work to clerks in the office. An amount of time would thereby be saved for the work of the proper and efficient inspection of mines. I think a great, deal could be done in the way of utilising the services of the present staff of inspectors were we to provide them with sufficient clerical assistance to enable them to do their work in an efficient manner. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford, who reminded us that we have done a great deal in the way of minimising the terrible death-rate in mines. That is perfectly true. But I suppose the death-rate is one of the penalties we have to pay for the march of civilisation and the discoveries of science.

I am afraid that many of the recent discoveries of science have been responsible in themselves in their application to mining, operations for the opening up new sources of danger to which we were not at all sufficiently alive prior to these discoveries. By the Act of 1887 we tightened up the regulations respecting mines, and improved the character both of the management and the inspection of mines. We, I think, did something in the way of reducing the possibility of accidents in mines. By the very wise provisions of the Act of 1887, under which ambulances have to be provided at each colliery, we did something to prevent loss of life, and to prevent serious consequences following from accidents in mines. I should like, at all events, to see some further step taken in the same direction. I regret very much that nearly all the experimental work that has to be done at the mines is left practically to the managers and owners of the collieries themselves. It is very little assistance indeed that colliery owners are able to claim from the Government in experimental work, the object of which is to reduce loss of life. Recently when dealing with the question of coal dust I remember the coal owners in the North of England at their own expense were compelled to carry out experiments with the view of testing the inflammability of coal dust procurable in many of the local mines in the North of England. I consider these experiments, the intention of which is to reduce loss of life in coal mines, ought not to be left absolutely to the discretion or willingness of the employers of labour who are engaged in colliery operations. I think a great deal might be done in the way of minimising the number of fatal accidents if we were nationally to provide that proper rescue appliances and apparatus in addition to the ambulances which owners are compelled to provide at each mine were provided. I will not say that should be done at every mine, but you might take a district, or a group of mines, and provide for the training of what I would call a rescue brigade. I do not see why we should not have a colliery rescue brigade just in the same way as you have in your big watering places a lifeboat brigade or in towns a fire brigade. After all, when you have a big explosion, for example, the only hope you have of reducing the number of casualties depends upon the chance you have of making a speedy entry into the mine. It depends entirely on the readiness of your access whether the men are to be rescued or otherwise, and the first two or three hours after an explosion, nay, the first quarter of an hour, many times means in the result whether there is to be rescue work or otherwise. It is perfectly true that up to the present the whole cost of this work is being thrown on the colliery proprietors, and I do think, having regard to the seriousness of the case, we may reasonably and justly call upon the Government to provide a certain sum of money either to supplement the voluntary contributions of the employers or to provide themselves for the experimental work necessary to prevent loss of life. Reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford, who has considerable knowledge of this question, to the work of deputies. I do not know whether the term "deputy" is considered in the same sense in all other parts of the country as in the North of England, but, at any rate, it seems to me that taking the term as understood and applied in the North of England, the hon. Member's suggestion is not quite sufficient to meet the case in the full sense in which we desire to see it met, because these men are largely employed as timber men and shot firers, and they do not have the same fulness of responsibility as the managers. I admit that their responsibility is very great in the absence of the manager or under-manager, but there is not the same fulness of responsibility attaching to the action of the deputy as to that of the manager or under-manager. I do not think that even an increase in their number would lead to a considerable diminution of the difficulties which we are considering. Every improvement and discovery in the science of ventilation only tends to increase the number of dangers which are to be found in the working of our collieries. The recent explosion at West Stanley has been referred to, and apparently the opinion of the experts who have carefully and fully investigated all the circumstances, so far as they could be gathered after the explosion had taken place, is that the unfortunate explosion is not to be attributed to any of the known causes which have hitherto led to such devastating results as those which occurred at West Stanley.

If that be so, it seems to me, as the hon. Member for St. Helens has already indicated, that the obligation on the Government is greater than ever to provide for a careful and searching inspection to be made into the various mines, particularly in mines where inflammable gas is known to exist in considerable proportions. I do think we are justified, therefore, in calling on the Government to take some steps in the way of seeing that the work of inspection is very carefully carried out. With the exception of the merchant shipping servants there is no industry in the country in which the number of fatal accidents is nearly so great as in mining. I have gone back to a period of 30 years, and taking the average for the last 10 years I find that in the building trade there were 99 fatal accidents per year; in docks and wharves, another dangerous occupation, there were only 133 per annum. The number for factories and workshops is 760. In the railway service it is 518. In mining occupations, underground alone, we have the alarming result of 933 per annum. The merchant shipping service is certainly considerably higher than that, and amounts to no less than 1,285. I do hope my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will be able to give us some assurance that the Government, as far as they can, will come to the assistance of those who are very honourably and very generously, it seems to me, giving of their substance in order to carry on experimental work, the object of which is solely to reduce as far as possible the number of serious accidents in our mines. If that assurance can be given to us, then I think a very great step forward will have been taken as the result of our deliberations this evening.


In rising to support the Motion of the hon. Member for St. Helens, I may say I am afraid my silence would be misinterpreted if I kept my seat in this House while such an important Resolution was being debated. So much has been said about accidents that it is well to remember that the main point which we are discussing is the appointment of more inspectors for the mines of this country. I know it is a matter of debate with some of our Friends as to whether the appointment of additional inspectors will add to the safety of the mines and will tend to lessen the number of accidents. I do not know whether all coalowners will view it as the hon. Member for Sleaford viewed it—that a man is safer in the mines than in St. James's Park. After his long experience I would have thought that he had made the discovery that after all there were some real dangers in connection with coal mines. At all events, St. James's Park has not yet been considered dangerous so far as regards gas, dust, or electricity. I do not know that anyone has made any charge against either the managers or inspectors of any mine. The promoters of this Resolution have no interest in making charges against men who have faithfully carried out their duties, whether as managers, under-managers, or foremen in our mines. We have too long an experience to come to this House and complain about the class of men who are among the best servants in any trade in any country. What we say is that the duties of the inspectors to-day, the work devolving on them, the increasing magnitude of the industry, and the increase of the number of people employed, make it impossible for the present inspectors to discharge those duties so completely and so satisfactorily as we would like to see them discharged. No one who knows for a moment the character and qualities of those inspectors would feel it at all in keeping with his belief to say one word derogatory of them. They are among the best public servants of our country, but they have too much to do. There are too few of them. It is because we feel that that this Resolution is moved by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens.

Might I call attention for a moment to the enormous amount of time spent by these inspectors at inquests? There is a large number of inquests into all these fatal accidents. Taking the figures that have been given to you of the number of men slain yearly, the call for an inquiry, for an inspection at the pits, an inquest in the neighbourhood, and the returns that have to be made, little time is left to the chief inspector, and often to the assistant inspector, to attend to the ordinary inspection of a mine. And it is well to remember that this House, by this Resolution, is not seeking to establish a new principle, but rather seeking to carry out the Resolutions of this House and the Bills passed which have become law. From 1870 on to 1887 and down to to-day you have passed these laws, after mature experience and judgment of the best men in this country on both sides and all sides of the House. You have passed certain laws for the government of mines and the safety and protection of men in those mines. We have special rules galore all over the country and what we say is, the Government having realised their obligations towards this great class of men, 70,000 or 80,000 men and boys underground, it is incumbent on them to see that there are sufficient inspectors appointed who shall satisfy themselves that these rules passed by Parliament are being carried out in every mine in this country. I want to say from my place here that it is impossible for the 12 chief inspectors—the total number of inspectors is 40 in all—over the wide area that they have to travel, and with the increasing extent of underground work, it is impossible for this staff to carry out effectively the duties of inspection.

My Friend the Member for Wansbeck suggested rather that the Government was somewhat remiss in not granting facilities to give aid and encouragement in dealing with some phases of mining matters. I would point out that Germany has tackled this matter in a very drastic fashion, much more so than in this country, and the serious danger referred to by the hon. Member for Sleaford has been effectively stamped out—I refer to the serious subject of water in mines. I was member of the Royal Commission which had to inquire into this subject, and which desired to make experiments in Lancashire. After the evidence of the best experts in this country, it was thought that we ought to have some opportunity of making a test, and that we should have a gallery for the purpose of carrying out those experiments. We have the sympathy, I believe, of the Home Office, but I am not sure that we have got much more than their sympathy; at any rate, we were not able to persuade the Government that it was their business to find the money to enable the Commissioners to carry out the experiments. The Commission were greatly disappointed that £10,000 or £12,000 should stand between this important investigation and their recommendations, to be followed by legislation. The colliery owners, with their usual generosity, have found the money, but I do not think it is very creditable to the Government that they should leave the colliery owners to supply the funds necessary for such experiments. When the Commission of which I was a Member was appointed they hardly expected that they would have to depend on private sources for the money required to conduct these important tests. When we reminded the Treasury of this matter reference was made to the enormous profits of the coal trade. But that was scarcely an answer to those who are trying to do something to solve these delicate problems that the best scientific men were unable to solve without these experiments. The Commission was grievously disappointed at the refusal of the Treasury to find the money, and I hope the Government will take the hint from at least one member of that Commission that this course of Action does not seem to indicate any very extraordinary generosity or readiness on their part to help the Commission, especially when that body are left to rely upon private sources for the money they require to assist their inquiry. In the matter of the appointment of additional inspectors, it seems to me that the Government, with the knowledge they possess, and in view of the increased number of accidents during the last two years, compared with the numbers in previous years, should be prepared to do something effective in the appointment of inspectors. The Under-Secretary shakes his head when I say there have been an increased number of accidents in the last two years. I am chairman of a committee which brings me into close contact with this subject, and I am in a position to state that there has been an increased number of these accidents in which three, five, and seven men have been killed. But even if it were merely to avoid the death of one man in the pit, it is most desirable that we should have effective supervision by inspectors in order to see that the laws are enforced. I have no shadow of doubt in my mind that in proportion as you find inspectors to see these rules carried out, the fewer will be the number of accidents. I have never disguised from myself that this would throw obligations both on the owners of the mines and on the workers, but I think it is the duty of the workmen themselves to look after their own safety, and to see that accidents may be prevented as far as possible by a proper enforcement of the rules, whatever the consequences may be to either owner or workman. I suggest that the Government should not wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, but should at once appoint inspectors. There are numbers who have now passed their examinations and obtained certificates of competence, and I undertake to say that the appointments could be made. But without entering into the question of the standard of technical knowledge possessed by an inspector, may I say that the Government, which after all has shown its desire in many ways to lessen loss of life, has now an opportunity in the coal mining industry of taking effective measures for increasing the safety of those engaged in the mines. There is a great expansion of trade and a greater number of people are involved than when this Question was last discussed, but this means that there is also greater danger surrounding those engaged in this particular industry, and therefore this opportunity of appointing inspectors to see that the rules are carried out and so ensure greater safety for those employed, should not be neglected. You have armourplated ships and great guns for the destruction of human life, but I ask you to excel by appointing inspectors. By taking such a course the Government will earn the gratitude of these 750,000 men, who thoroughly believe that many accidents occur which need not happen and will not happen if an adequate body of inspectors is engaged to see that both the managers and the workmen observe the rules.

Mr. W. ABRAHAM (Rhondda)

I wish to emphasise one or two facts which have already been placed before the House. This House is good enough periodically to supervise Acts of Parliament already passed in order to meet the demands that, in some way or other, the rules and regulations for the safety of life and limb may be made more stringent and better adapted to that end. The idea of inspection is to see that the Acts are properly carried out, not merely for the purpose of protecting life and limb, but also for protection of the property of the owner. I agree to some extent that the better collieries are managed, the better they are equipped, the more economically and cheaply they will be worked. I do not believe in the penny wise and pound foolish policy of endeavouring to manage collieries or any industry on other than adequate lines. I may be pardoned for calling the attention of the Government and the House itself to what is evident to must of us, namely, that the Government—not this Government more than any previous Government—make these rules and regulations with the idea that they are necessary to protect life and limb, but they are also necessary to the safety of mining property. If the inspection is to be effective and to carry out its original purpose, it wants to be sufficient. Now the idea of the Government and the idea of the officials of the Government, I know, is that inspection by samples is an efficient protection. Now we disagree with that entirely. Take the collieries of four large districts. If an inspection is made of one-fourth of the collieries, and it is felt to be fairly satisfactory, then that kind of inspection is taken as satisfying the inspector that every part of the collieries is the same. I call the attention of my hon. Friend to what the Member for Sleaford said on this matter, and when he says a thing, of course, he means it. He said that it was impossible to guarantee the safety of any part of a mine from hour to hour. If that is so, then I say all inspection by sample is condemned for ever. Now we, as practical miners, will be pardoned for putting our views before the House, but we know by experience as practical men that inspection by sample is indeed sometimes simply deceiving even the inspector himself. It is, in fact, a deception and a farce, because it is well known to us that whilst one part of a colliery may be safe, and is bound to be safe, that on the same occasion and at the same hour another part of it is very unsafe. I am not going to paint or whitewash the inspectors unnecessarily; I do not think they would do it intentionally, but it is known occasionally they happen to be led to a part of the colliery which is safe and not to a part of the colliery which is unsafe. That has happened.

We want to press on the Government to consider the necessity of having a thorough inspection, and that all the collieries and every part of the collieries should be inspected not only once in every 12 months, but we say once in every three months. That should be done if you are going to secure what can be brought about by inspection. We believe as practical men that it is necessary that not only a portion of the colliery should be sampled and taken as a criterion for the safety of the whole colliery, but that the whole colliery should be thoroughly inspected about once every three months. To that it may be said: "We do not know what number of inspectors you will want to do it." That is a question for the Government to consider. The value of the lives that may be lost as against the money that such inspection would cost is the point. I wish to get the mind of the Government changed as to the inadequacy and incorrectness of the idea that inspection by samples is a thorough and complete inspection. What we want is that every part of the mine should be periodically inspected, so that there should be a sufficiency of air, or, as the Act of Parliament puts it, "a considerable amount of ventilation" carried to every district and to every working bed. In what we are asking we know the value and the importance of an adequate supply of air to the men who are working in the mines. We think when this House understands that need that not only will they give us great sympathy, but that they will find the means of finding an efficient class of men to do it. We want to suggest that it is not necessary for this efficient inspection that all the inspectors should be highly-qualified, such as the chief inspectors are at present. We do not want that any man should be allowed to inspect collieries, but we want the best men. We believe in having at the head of the inspectors of mines in this country the best man that science and money can procure, but we think when such men are at the head that you may have four men for the price of every one of the other men. If a colliery manager wishes a report of a dangerous part of his mine he will call for the report to his own workmen, because he knows they know what they do, they are conscientious in what they do, and that they make a thorough inspection. If that is so you can have at your hand the men to do the work. We do not want to reduce anybody; we do not want to say you are paying too much for your officials, but we say you can have a staff of efficient men. If the Government will have thought out the difference between inspection by sample and thorough inspection, I think the House will be prepared to guarantee the money.


The hon. Member who has just spoken, and the others representing the miners of almost every coalfield in England and Wales, have brought before the House in very earnest and forcible speeches a grave matter which is well worthy of discussion in Parliament. I regret my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who had intended to be here to-night in order to speak on this occasion, is prevented by the recurrence of a recent indisposition from being in his place. The fact that the mining industry is an exceptionally dangerous one is of course a commonplace. Everyone knows it is the most perilous trade in the country except that of seamen and fishermen. But I think that many who are not closely connected with mining hardly realise what is the extent of the danger and what are the grave risks that hundreds of thousands of men daily have to face. I, representing a mining constituency, when I see in the streets of the villages, or in the workmen's clubs, sometimes men without an arm, sometimes without a leg, sometimes with bandaged head or bandaged limbs, have brought home to me very forcibly the dangers of this trade. It is not only the injuries that one sees, but in many, perhaps in most, mining villages or towns there is hardly a street but has lost by death in recent years at least one inmate through an accident in the mines. Nor is it only the deaths or the injuries caused by accidents; there is the ever present anxiety that hangs over the men engaged in these industries and their families. Although daily custom may blunt the edge of that anxiety, every week or every month there happens some serious accident in the district to sharpen it again. It is quite right to say that it is the clear duty of the State to safeguard, so far as it is able to do so, those who produce the wealth of society. We cannot say that the safety of all men engaged in mining shall be guaranteed, for no man can do that; but this principle at least we can lay down, that accidents which are preventable ought to be prevented, and that it is an elementary obligation on the State to use its powers to that end. As hon. Members who have spoken have already pointed out, much has been done in the past by the State to perform this duty. If you go back 40 years and turn to the early days of the Coal Mines (Regulation) Acts you will find that the death rate in mines was very much higher then than it is to-day. If you take the average of the years 1866 to 1870 you find that the death rate in mines was 3.43 per thousand. Last year it was 1.32. The deaths now number about 1,300 a year, a terribly large figure, but if we had still the same death rate in mines that we had 40 years ago, instead of 1,300 it would be over 3,300 per annum. We save 2,000 lives annually to the country by the better regulation of mines which prevails to-day. This, as it has been pointed out, is no doubt partly due to general improvement in conditions, and partly to the greater scientific knowledge which prevails; but in no small degree it is due to the fact that this House in times past has passed Coal Mines (Regulation) Acts, and a staff of inspectors exists to enforce them. This great saving of 2,000 lives a year, and the prevention of a far larger number of lesser accidents, stands, in part, to the credit of the State as a most conspicuous and remarkable example of the success of carefully devised and carefully enforced State interference in the conditions of industry. Many foreign countries have a much less favourable record to show. The latest figures I have are for the year 1906. In that year in this country the death rate in mines was 1.29 per 1,000 of the men employed; in Germany it was 1.88, or 50 per cent. higher; and in the United States it was 3.2, or 150 per cent. higher than in this country. I by no means say that the present state of things is satisfactory. I shall come to that in a moment; but I wish to point out that we have at least these sources of comparative satisfaction, and further that in recent years there has been no increase in the ratio of accidents compared with the number of men employed. There has been an increase in the absolute number of fatal accidents; but at the same time there has been an immense development in the coal industry, and a very large additional number of men employed. In the last three years I believe the number has increased by 120,000 men employed in mines alone, but there has been no increase in the ratio of accidents compared with the number of men employed such as there has been in factories. Last year we had a discussion on the number of accidents in factories, and the very disquieting fact was revealed that not only the absolute number, but also the proportion of accidents had very seriously increased in many of the industries which are under the supervision of the Factory Department, and a Committee is now investigating that matter. The hon. Member who moved this Motion to-day put it down in its original form to call attention to the increase in the number of accidents in the mines. On further investigation, however, he found that that case probably could not be fully substantiated, and he altered his Motion to call attention to what is undoubtedly a very real evil—that is, the large number of accidents still prevailing in the mines. In order to substantiate what I have been saying, I may be allowed to give one or two figures to show the number of fatal accidents per thousand of the men employed during the last few years. They were in 1901 1.34; in 1902, 1.23; in 1903, 1.25; in 1904, 1.24; in 1905, 1.35; in 1906, 1.29; in 1907, 1.31; and in 1908, 1.32. The House will see how comparatively small the variation and constant the percentage has been during recent years. The figures of non-fatal accidents are not comparable, as I pointed out. In 1906 we passed the Notice of Accidents Act, a measure which I had the honour to be in charge of, and which very greatly increased the stringency of reporting accidents in mines, thereby securing what may be called a Blue Book increase in the number of non-fatal accidents, though this does not imply an abso lute increase in the number of accidents. I pointed out that some other countries are worse than we are, and that there is no increase here. Yet I do not for a moment contend that the Government are satisfied with the figures as they are. That there should be 1,300 deaths and 6,000 serious accidents and a far larger number of minor accidents in the year is a matter which should give this House food for thought. It should stimulate all who are concerned to use every effort to bring it to narrower proportions. I do not for a moment believe that we have reached the irreducible minimum. I have quoted Germany and the United States as having worse statistics; but if you look at France and Belgium you find that they have slightly better statistics than we have. In France the percentage of deaths is 1.04, and in Belgium the percentage is 0.95, slightly less than 1 per 1,000. I think this House cannot be satisfied that any other country than England should set the standard for the world in this respect.

The Government is fully alive to the needs of the case. The Government which passed an Eight Hours Act and which repealed the Coal Duty is not likely to lack interest in the needs of the miners. When we came into office we found that there was no Central Mines Department. It was remarkable that in one of the chief mining countries of the world there was no Department in London, in the seat of administration, that corresponded with the Factory Department, and there was no one of the officials who devoted his whole time to the supervision and the co-ordination of the work of mines inspection, and the initiation of reforms which technical experience and the growth of science might suggest. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has created the Mines Department of the Home Office, presided over by a Chief Inspector, who, I think, possesses the confidence both of employers and employed, and who has that combination of scientific knowledge and practical experience which is essential in an office of that character. The hon. Member for Gateshead called attention to one aspect of the matter, the new danger introduced by the use of electricity in mines. The Government have not been remiss in that regard, and the Home Secretary has appointed an electrical inspector of high scientific attainments, who is now actively at work in the mines which have electrical installations. He is insisting upon all the defects discovered being remedied, and thereby obviating dangers to which these defects would give rise. The inspector has also to revise the staff generally on technical and difficult questions that require the special knowledge of a trained electrician. In addition, in the South Wales district, which needs for various reasons special attention, my right hon. Friend has appointed a superintending inspector in that district, and has so strengthened the staff. We found also that there was a very large number of questions other than inspection pending needing close expert examination. The comparatively new principle that explosions were very often due not to gas but to coal dust—a principle which has been established by the Home Office staff, who have thereby rendered a great service to mankind—has given rise to comparatively new problems that needed examination and treatment; the question of the best method of preventing dust explosion, whether by watering the mine where the dust is, or by creating in the mine preventative zones, and, if so, how long these zones should be, and their precise character, are questions that needed expert examination, such as the Home Office staff by itself could not secure.

The frequency of accidents due to fall of roof or sides in the mines is another grave factor that required examination—and the House should remember that the number of fatal accidents from fall of roof or sides are eight times as numerous, on the average, as those due to explosions—the best method of securing safety in the haulage ways, the deficiency that undoubtedly exists in certain coalfields in the system of control by sub-officials, the areas that should be satisfactorily supervised, are all questions that required examination. In fact, the Government felt the time had come for a general review of the Coal Mines Regulation Acts and their administration. Consequently we appointed a Royal Commission, and of the nine members of that Royal Commission three are presidents of the Miners' Federations of England, Scotland, and Wales, and two of these are Members of the House, and have taken part in this Debate. It will be seen therefore that the workmen's point of view is very adequately represented upon that Commission. This Commission charged with the investigation of these various matters was asked to consider also questions of inspection and the adequacy of the Home Office staff for that purpose. My chief complaint about the Resolution proposed to-night, apart from the complaint that it implies censure upon the Home Office, is that it is too narrow in its scope There are many other matters that very closely touch the subject of accidents in mines besides the mere number of inspectors, as the hon. Members who have spoken will recognise. The Acts themselves need review, the general rules embodied in the Acts need review, and the special rules made need review also. It is further very essential that the rules should be observed by those for whose benefit they were made. It is a very unsatisfactory state of things that in 1907, the last year of which I have figures, over 1,000 workmen had to be prosecuted for infringements of the rules made for their safety, 200 for breaking the rules about taking matches and smoking materials into the mines, and over 100 for breaking the rules with regard to safety lamps. Besides these 1,000 prosecutions there was a very much larger number dealt with by the managers by fines without having been brought before the courts, and probably a larger number still of men who infringed the rules without having been detected in the act. The point, however, specially brought before the House tonight by Hon. Members was whether or not more inspectors are needed. Some hon. Members who have spoken have been good enough to bear testimony to the efficiency of the present staff so far as it goes. So far as I have been able to come across the mines inspectors they have struck me as having a very strong sense of their duty, they take great interest in their work, and they possess the highest technical qualifications. The Duke of Wellington once said of the British soldier that he had every virtue and only one fault—that there was not enough of him. I think that is the complaint of hon. Members with regard to the mine inspecting staff. One hon. Member has pointed out that the staff, even with their present numbers, might be more effective for their work if they were relieved of some of the clerical duties which devolve upon them. I am inclined to agree that the inspectors have too much clerical work, and that they have not adequate clerical assistance, and I hope, if and when the organisation of the staff is altered, that steps will be taken to remedy that, defect.

Under the present system inspectors visit mines on three occasions or for three different causes. In the first place, when a serious accident takes place, they visit the mine to see if the accident was preventable and whether anyone was to blame for its occurrence. In the second place, complaints are frequently sent to the mines inspectors, and those complaints are investigated if, primâ facie, they appear to have some substance in them, and care is always taken that the employers shall not be informed of the names of those who have complained. Thirdly the mine inspectors do make a very large number of surprise visits to the mines every year in order to carry out the general inspection. With very few exceptions every mine is visited at least once a year, and a very large number of mines are visited oftener than once a year. An hon. Member for Cornwall wrote to me some time ago, and said he was anxious to bring to the notice of the Home Office the large increase in the number of accidents in Cornish mines, which he said were due to inadequate inspection, and he declared that if only the inspectors would come before the accidents instead of after them a great number of accidents would be avoided. I called for the return from the inspectors of that district to show on what dates they had visited the mines where accidents had taken place before the accident, and I found that, with, I think, only one exception, an inspecting visit had been paid to every mine within a few weeks or months before the accident occurred. The accidents were almost all of them such as could not have been avoided by inspection. Some were due to scaffolding, often used in that district, giving way, and others to the falling of the roof, occurrences which could not have been foreseen, and could not have been avoided even if you had had the system which the hon. Member for Rhondda desires, of inspecting every working place in every mine at least once a quarter. A certain number of these accidents could not possibly be foreseen even with continual inspection.

What is the purpose which an inspector has in visiting a mine? His duty is not to share in the management of the mine. I think hon. Members who have spoken will agree with me that it is a matter of very great importance to preserve the direct and complete responsibility of the manager, and there is a real danger in giving anything that resembles a Government guarantee of the conditions in the mine. We do not want an inspector who is analogous to a departmental inspector, who examines goods sent in by a contractor, and if he passes those goods they are sup- posed to be sound, and the contractor could appeal to this fact to absolve him from any blame if any defects were afterwards found. If we had the same system in the mines I think it would be a very great weakening of the responsibility of the manager for the safety of the mine. As the hon. Member for Sleaford said, there is a great danger of the inspector, instead of being a prosecutor, becoming a defendant. If we had quarterly inspections of every working - place in a mine the manager would be inclined to say that the inspector was there a few weeks ago, and he made no complaints. The duty of an inspector is not himself to secure that every detail of the rules is carried out, but to see generally that the manager complies with the Act of Parliament. The question, therefore, arises, is the number of the present staff for the inspection of mines sufficient adequately to perform the duties of their office. I cannot conscientiously say that the number is sufficient. I cannot say that there is no need for an increase of mining inspectors. The industry has rapidly grown of late, and there have been in recent years many new duties thrown upon mining inspectors. Unless, therefore, the inspectorate was overstaffed before, it must necessarily be understaffed now. If need be, my right hon. Friend would not hesitate to approach the Treasury with regard to an additional number of inspectors. The fact that he has appointed 50 additional Factory Inspectors since the Government has been in office, because it has been proved that the number was not sufficient to perform the duties under the Act of Parliament, shows that he will not be slow to act when occasion arises. The question has been raised, why should the Home Secretary wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, and why should he not now increase the number of inspectors. But what class of mine inspectors are to be appointed? The hon. Member who moved the Resolution, and other hon. Members who followed him, suggested that a different type of inspector should be appointed to perform the less difficult duties, as they regard them. Whether there should be any change, and, if so, what change, is a matter on which the Government would naturally wish to have the views of the Commission. How many new inspectors ought to be appointed? That will depend upon the new duties which are to be performed. We do not know to what extent the Royal Commission may report with regard to new duties There may, for instance, arise questions of greater control of haulage arrangements, of preventative zones, of the supervision of the lamps which should be used in the various coal fields. It is out of the question for the Government to form any opinion of the number of additional inspectors that are required until they know what are the duties that are likely to devolve upon the inspectors in the near future. And in what districts are additional inspectors required? There may be some recommendation for re-arrangement of districts which might necessarily involve reorganisation of the staff. Suppose this year we were to alter the arrangements, and then, a year after, on the recommendation of the Royal Commission. we had to re-arrange the districts a second time—


At the present time there are 12 districts, and 12 inspectors for them. Every district is under-staffed at the present time, and the sub-inspectors might be put in each district, and there would be no trouble in shifting them about if it were desired to do so after that.


I think the evidence of the Royal Commission showed that the deficiency of the staff varied a good deal according to the districts. In some districts there appeared to be a far more urgent need for inspectors than in others. There would have to be a geographical rearrangement of the mine inspectors under any change. It is not a very desirable thing to be continually moving an inspector from place to place. He has to give up his home, and his family has to be shifted. If the removal had to be made after an interval of three or five years it might be faced; but when a Royal Commission is sitting which may recommend a rearrangement of the staff I think it would be unreasonable for the Home Office to re-allocate the positions of the staff this year with the possibility of next year having to make a second removal and a regrouping of the staff. I think if the hon. Member who moved the Resolution had been in the place of the Home Secretary, and had referred this Question to an expert Royal Commission, he would hold his hand until the Royal Commission had reported before going to the Treasury with a partial and ill-thought-out scheme soon requiring readjustment. I understand that the evidence of the witnesses before the Royal Commission is concluded, and that almost the whole of the Report has been drafted, and is now in print. It is probably only a question of weeks before that report is presented. If the recommendations of the Commission are in favour of an increase of the staff—and I am informed that the Commission are fairly well agreed—that it is in the minds of the Commission to report in favour of an increase of the inspectorate, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have no hesitation in taking that into immediate consideration, and in pressing the Treasury for an increase of staff. In these circumstances I hope my hon. Friend will not find it necessary to press upon the House a Resolution which is in form, though perhaps not in intention, a censure upon the Department which I have the honour to represent.


I shall not presume to advise my hon. Friend as to the course which he should take in the matter, because, not being a miner, it seems to me it is not my place to intervene and give advice in one way or another; but I cannot refrain from saying a word or two on what I consider the unsatisfactory speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Speaking as an outsider, of course it will remain to be seen in a few minutes what course my hon. Friend desires to take. I could not help thinking during the last few minutes of the right hon. Gentleman's speech of other promises of a similar character and other statements of a similar character as to certain Commissions who have sat on similar subjects. We have just been told that in all probability the Mines Commission will report in the course of a few weeks. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I should be very much surprised to hear of that Report being out in a few weeks. I was talking to a member of the Commission about it only to-day, and he suggested to me that the Report might be out next October. I think that that is probably nearer the mark. That being so, inasmuch as the House does not sit at that particular time of the year, and probably will not be sitting for three or four months after that date, I think it is extremely probable that no action will be taken on that Report till next Session. And even if that action has been decided upon, does it not involve still considerable preparation in setting up the necessary machinery for the re-allocation of districts, the examination of the new inspectors, and all the rest of it? It seems to me that the action to be taken upon this Report cannot terminate in anything which is going to benefit the miners in the minimising of accidents for a very considerable time. Therefore it does not seem to have been an unreasonable request to have urged upon the Home Office that they should have taken some action now whereby this terrible toll of death might be reduced, pending the bringing into operation of the recommendations of the Commission, whatever they may be.

Let me remind the House of the tremendous number of men involved in this trade. We are told that there are no less than seven hundred and seventy odd thousand men and boys employed—nearly threequarters of a million—and having regard to that as well as to the conditions of darkness and danger in which the work of these men is pursued it seems to me that this matter is a very important one. I am told that twelve of the districts are allocated, but that it is contended that the districts might be more numerous and smaller, so that the inspectors may get about the smaller districts more rapidly. If as the result of the Mining Commission there is a re-allocation of the districts, it will take time, and we have twelve districts now admittedly under-staffed, and, therefore, I think it would not have been unreasonable to have urged and pressed to a Division a proposal that a larger number of mining inspectors be appointed now to each of those twelve divisions. The right hon. Gentleman said that there had been additions made to the staff in Wales over certain areas, and he wanted to know what sort of inspectors we wanted. It seems to me that no dubiety was expressed on that matter, and both the Mover and Seconder stated that they wanted assistant inspectors with practical knowledge of mines That being so, it seems to me that there ought to be some provision made earlier than can be made as a result of the Mines Commission whereby the number can be considerably increased, and therefore the danger of further loss of life and limb very considerably minimised. However, I am not going to take upon myself to advise, but I could do no less than express my view, as an outsider, of the speech which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman.


After hearing the assurance given by the Under-Secretary I beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.