HC Deb 05 July 1910 vol 18 cc1554-74

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I desire to say a few words, not, of course, with any desire to differ from the object of the Bill, because undoubtedly there has been in previous discussions in this House the greatest sympathy of every side that further steps should be taken with reference to rescue work in mines. Certainly the mine-owners are the last people who would raise any objection to a matter to which they have given much personal attention, and about which they are the only people who have taken practical steps to discover means to deal efficiently with the question. I would earnestly ask the Government to consider, when they get to the further stages of this Bill, whether they cannot adopt the procedure which is perhaps more in accordance with our mining legislation. They have taken by the Bill absolute discretion to the Home Secretary in connection with this rescue work. He is given the sole authority. The only restraining influence is an Order in Council which, as we know, is not a very efficient one, or one that is very easy to work. I would ask the Government whether it is not desirable in connection with this matter affecting mining legislation to follow mainly on the principles which have been followed always in the past in connection with similar legislation, namely, to act rather on the principle of special rules or on legislation which has in some measure adapted that principle of the special rules. I know it will be impossible, perhaps, to apply the special rules absolutely to this particular case, and that it would lead to great difficulty if every individual miner had his say in the matter. If the Government could see their way to give some arbitration, so that those interested should have the power of giving their opinion before the question is settled, and if they would be willing to accept some considerable portion of those representing a particular mineral area in this country, that, I think, would give greater satisfaction to the mine-owners, and they would feel that it was following upon the old lines. There are difficulties, no doubt, in applying that absolutely to all mining areas.

I have been especially interested all my life in the thin coal seams of the country, and I know there will be some difficulties as affecting them. The only desire in this matter is that we should have some say in the matter, because undoubtedly mines are entirely different from any other industry in this country. Those who work them are practical experts themselves. In the factories the manager may not be an expert in any way, and in such a case it may be left to the Home Secretary to exercise his authority. In the mines it has always been acknowledged that the manager is an expert, responsible for the working of the mines, and as the responsibility rests upon him he should have some say in considering the matter for which he is responsible. Therefore, whilst without any desire to take any hostile action in any way against the object of the Bill, I most earnestly appeal to the Government that in the future consideration of this Bill they will consider this matter, and, if possible, adapt the procedure to the one that has been more intimately connected with mining legislation in the past, and it seems to me to be still suitable for the purpose.

6.0 P.M.


I wish to join in the appeal to the Home Secretary to consider some amendment to the Bill with a view to carrying out the proposal of the hon Member opposite (Mr. L. Hardy). In some districts a great deal has been done by the mine-owners to provide appliances for necessary purposes, and, notwithstanding the expense, they are prepared to do all that is necessary in the future; but they think it might become a hardship if the Home Secretary insisted on certain appliances being provided by the mine-owners, as he might do, on the advice of his experts, in cases where the mine-owners took a different view, without their having any right, as the Bill now stands, to object in any way or to refer the matter to arbitration. The right hon. Gentleman may not see his way to give individual mine-owners a right to object, but if a considerable proportion of the mine-owners in a district, through an association or otherwise, brought forward an objection, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would consider their views. As has been pointed out, mining is in a different category from other industries, inasmuch as the managers are men who have to pass examinations and are responsible for the safety of the mines and of the men. More responsibility rests upon them than upon anybody else in reference to having the requisite appliances, and they are very anxious to do all that is necessary; so that it might safely be left to them to appeal to arbitration only in cases where there was legitimate ground for so doing.


Clause 1, Sub-section (2), deals with the establishment of a committee of mine-owners, and gives considerable powers to it. I have no objection to such a committee, but I think in common fairness, with a view to the proper carrying out of the provisions of the Bill, the workmen ought to be represented as well as the mine-owners. After all, it is the workmen who have to be organised for rescue purposes, and it would not weaken such a committee, but, on the contrary, would add to its efficiency, if the workmen, with their practical knowledge and interest, were represented. I hope therefore the Home Secretary will see his way to meet this point.


On behalf of the Lancashire mine-owners I wish to express their gratitude to the Home Secretary for the introduction of this Bill. We are particularly glad to see it, because the coal-owners of the Kingdom are, and have been for a long time, in advance of the requirements of the Government in this matter. In the recent discussion about rescue appliances, statements were made to the effect that the nation has a right to see that the men who obtain the necessary coal are not sacrificed on the altar of £ s. d. and that the colliery managers should not be allowed to draw dividends at the expense of the safety of the men. But if one looks at what has been done by the coal-owners, it will be found, as regards coal-dust appliances, that they are spending a very large sum of money. The Government have not seen their way to bear a portion of the cost, nor have the workers, although they took the matter into consideration, come to any resolution to join in the expense; therefore, the whole burden has been borne by the coal-owners. As to the provision of rescue appliances, it might be thought from the recent discussion that the coal-owners had done nothing whatever. That, however, is not the case. In Monmouthshire the coalfield is divided into seven areas, all of which are being worked with rescue appliances, and no difficulty JS anticipated. A large number of men are qualified, there are a number in training, and the capital expenditure for rescue appliances is probably about £15,000, with an annual cost from about £600 to £700. In Durham and Northumberland there is a station at the Elswick Works, where they have a thoroughly trained brigade; while in Lancashire there is a large rescue station, where men are brought from almost all the collieries and trained in the use of the apparatus. I could give similar information in regard to other districts, but this is sufficient to show the country that so far the coal-owners have been in advance of the Government, and have done a great deal in the direction of providing rescue apparatus. We welcome this Bill for two reasons: first, because it will do good, though perhaps many people have somewhat exaggerated the good it is likely to do; and, secondly, because those coal-owners who have not been doing their duty will be brought into line, and will have to share the expense with those who are already doing their duty. A great point in legislation is to make the bad do what the good are willing to do, and that will be the effect of this Bill.

Under the present Mines (Regulation) Act there is an appeal allowed. I would support the suggestion that there should be some such system in connection with the rules to be made under this Bill. Coalmining is a very expert business, and the experts should have the right to ask that when rules are made they shall be in conformity with their experience. I believe a Clause has been submitted to the Home Office with a view to securing that when objection is taken to the proposed rules the matter should be referred to arbitration, in order to secure that the rules shall be in accordance with the requirements of the district and with the proper regulation of coal-mining. I hope the Home Secretary will assent to that principle. It is not intended in any way to interfere with the proper working of the Act. We do not ask that it should apply to every district or to every colliery; we feel that that would be impossible; but we ask that there should be an appeal of this sort where there is a general objection.


In reply to an observation which has been made from the other side, may I say that during my long and close connection with the mining industry I have not met anyone who has complained of the niggardliness of the coal-owners in the provision of safety appliances at their respective collieries? On the other hand, many of us have again and again complained of the niggardliness of respective Governments in refusing to come to the assistance of coal-owners—as I think they ought to have done—by providing a certain portion of the funds to carry out the experiments necessary for the maintenance of the safety of mines. I rose principally to support the suggestion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Keir Hardie). It is very desirable, indeed, it is essential for the smooth working of any such arrangement as that which the Government have under consideration, that there should be a joint committee of employers and workmen. The difficulty here is that the responsibility for finding the whole of the capital for the provision of appliances, the breathing apparatus and so forth, contemplated by the Bill, is thrown upon the employers, and where men have to find the whole of the cost, they are naturally very anxious to keep the whole of the control in their own hands. I suggest that in order to smooth the way the Government should consider the advisability of providing a portion of the cost. Do not let us forget that large and expensive experiments have been carried out by the coal-owners in various parts of the country, with a view to finding out the effect of blown-out shots upon coal dust in the generating of explosions. In other countries — France, for example — the Government have come very generously to the assistance of coal-owners in erecting galleries to enable them to carry on their experiments. Nothing of the kind has been done in this country. We have been very backward indeed in the matter of providing financial assistance to enable employers of labour, not only in coal-mining but in other industries, to carry on experimental work with a view to proving the efficiency of appliances for protecting and safeguarding the lives and limbs of their workpeople. I believe it is very desirable that you should have a joint committee, consisting of workmen and employers, to enable you to carry out this plan smoothly and satisfactorily, and my only object in rising was to back up the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and to ask the Government if they cannot do something in the way of providing financial assistance to enable those concerned to carry on smoothly those experiments which they are making.


Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the advent of this Bill. I am sure it is well worth while to take some little pains to make the Bill as workable and as useful as it is possible for it to be. There are, as we all know, in connection with most mining districts joint committees, to which reference has been made. How far useful cooperation of both employers and employed can be introduced into the working of these proposals is well worth consideration. We must, however, I think, as well as having regard to the question of cost, have regard to the question of responsibility. The responsibility, I think, must remain with the responsible expert manager who is in charge of the mines. It may be that the joint committees would be useful to advise, but if you are going to divide the responsibility you are in danger of weakening the object which you wish to serve. You must put the responsibility, as distinguished from the cost, upon the responsible person in charge of the mines. That, I fancy, will be one of the difficulties. In respect to the question of appeal, I would join in urging the Government to consider the point. It may very well be the case that not only the employer or owner of the mine may wish a reference to an arbitrator or to a referee beyond the Home Secretary, but that the men employed in the mine may very reasonably wish to bring their view of the case before such person. I think the opportunity should be given to both sides, so that in case the Home Secretary's decision on a particular point, or in a particular matter, or in re- ference to some local authority was not satisfactory, that both sides, both men and masters, should have ample opportunity to state their case and to put it before a referee other than the Home Secretary. As a rule, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the working would be smooth, and it would be unnecessary to appeal; but there is an impression both amongst masters and men that some such arrangement should be made. I think the Government will be well advised to make it. I wish this Bill success


I would like to add a word in confirmation of what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and that has been repeated since. I strongly hope that some organisation will be set on foot by which the workmen, as well as the mine-owner and manager, shall have their say. I had the opportunity a short time ago of talking with an expert manager in regard to a particular coal pit with which I am connected, and he said this: "We must remember that rescue appliances are now in an experimental stage. Some people have very strong opinions in favour of one kind of appliance, and another set of people have equally strong opinions in favour of something quite different." He said it may be that we shall find out as time goes on that what suits one set of mines very well will not be quite so suitable for another. I think in these matters it is of the greatest importance that the responsible manager should have his say. Let me add another word in regard to the workmen, because, after all, these appliances, whatever they are, cannot be really as successful as they should be unless you have a trained body of workmen who are thoroughly competent to use them. This manager with whom I was talking told me that in that particular district great trouble had been taken to train a certain body of men so that they might know exactly how best to use the appliances. These men ought to know exactly where to go to in the pit, should be thoroughly cognisant with the pit itself as well as with the appliances. Remember, though it is quite true that the masters risk or spend their money, that the men risk their lives. It is the men who risk their lives who have to work these appliances. I think there is the strongest reason for combining both employers and workmen in any such organisation as we all hope may be started under this Bill. I should like, in conclusion, to add my thanks to those already given to the Home Secretary and to the Government for introducing such a Bill as this.


On behalf of some portion of the coal-owners of the country, may I say that we have always been very anxious for legislation which would in any way tend to the safety of our workpeople, and to the safety of our mines-This Bill will most certainly conduce to the safety of the workmen engaged in the mines, and also to the safety of the mine itself. Therefore we welcome it. I do wish, however, to support the appeal made by my hon. Friend behind me, the Member for the Ashford Division of Kent (Mr. Laurence Hardy), that there should be some reasonable appeal in case of great objection on any point in regard to any particular district. The procedure might be fashioned after that of the special rules of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. Perhaps not in quite the same way, but there should be a right of appeal. The coal-owners, say, representing a third of the output of any particular district, who wish to appeal against an Order of the Home Secretary in that district should be allowed to do so. I also think, and I agree with my hon. Friend who has spoken on behalf of the workpeople, that they also should have the right of appeal if they see any objection to the Order proposed by the Home Secretary. The proposal is that before the Order is confirmed notice shall be given of a certain period, say thirty days, to enable objection to be taken- I would put it that objection should be taken either by the coal-owners or by the workpeople in the district. I think if this procedure were followed it would answer extremely well. I do wish, on behalf of some of the coal-owners, to say that we welcome this legislation, and to say, further, that so far as we are concerned, we shall do nothing to prevent this Bill becoming law as quickly as possible, with the slight exception that I have ventured to point out, the matter of appeal.


I do not know on behalf of what coal-owners the hon. Member who has just sat down speaks.


South Yorkshire.


I believe I am interested in South Yorkshire, possibly more than anyone else here, and the principles of the Act have been in operation in South Yorkshire for a number of years. It is to South Yorkshire that the whole of the credit is due for first starting the provision of these rescue appliances. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have not any rescue stations that I know of. I ask the House not to attach too much importance-to this Bill. I do not think if there had been rescue appliances at Whitehaven they would have saved a single life. Supposing a mine is supplied with every one of these appliances, and the fire is reached by the men, how is that going to-put the fire out? The mere fact that a. man is able to get to the fire will not enable him to put that fire out, unless there is a water supply laid on to the particular spot where the fire takes place. I have been going in and about pits all my life. I am in pits when I am not here. I do not believe that this terrible mortality which we have in mind is going to be dealt with in any appreciable way whatever by this Bill. My own view has always been, that if any single life can be saved by these appliances by all means let us have-them. That is the view that all my co-directors have taken. In cases where life can be saved by having these appliances it is the duty of coal-owners to provide them. So far as these appliances go you are dealing with the effect before you deal with the cause, whilst you should deal with the cause before you deal with the effect. If the Royal Commission which is now sitting, and has been sitting for so long, would let us have their Report, and the House could go into the Report and the recommendations of this Commission—this matter of fire appliances is only one of their minor recommendations—and deal with the causes which bring about explosions, it would be well. I think that Report will show that coal-owners have always been anxious to promote legislation of this sort in connection with mines. I hope we shall have from the Home Secretary, and those who think with him, every assistance in passing what must be the duty of this House to pass—that is, legislation to prevent these accidents taking place. My view is that after these accidents have taken place you cannot, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, render any practical assistance to the men. We ought to deal with the cause, and not with the effect.


The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mansfield did not, perhaps, allow sufficient for the good work done by Mr. Garforth and some of those engaged in the work of life-saving.


Perhaps the Noble Lord will allow me. I was not going into the respective questions. I quite agree that the whole mining community owes more to Mr. Garforth than to any other person.


Anybody connected with any part of the British Isles will agree with the words of the hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wansbeck made one suggestion which I thought not inapposite. That is that the Home Office should make a contribution towards the expenses of this Bill. Some three or four years ago, I think, suggestions were made by the Royal Commission on Mines, then sitting, that the Government should undertake certain experimental work, chiefly in the direction of estimating the possible danger of coal-dust in mines. It was said that the Home Office was sympathetic in this matter, but when the thing was brought before the Home Office there was an absolute refusal. Ever since the Home Office and the Treasury between them have declined to make any grant in this direction.

Personally I have no objection whatever to the Government or any Department of the Government undertaking experimental work of a scientific character. They frequently possess plant and apparatus better than that belonging to private associations, and they are better able to work them, and I should not in the least raise any objection to the Home Office spending money upon working and experiments, but I entertain the strongest objection to people saying that the Government ought to take up work now incumbent upon the collieries or mills or other places for the safety of life. The case made out by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick) is altogether too thin that representation upon these Committees would be obtained by means of indirect grants of money made by the Treasury. If he wants representation he had much better get it without a Government Grant, and he will have to wait long before he secures it if it is to be done through the generosity of the Treasury.

I want to say a word about the rules; as the Bill stands there is no appeal whatever. There must be some appeal, I think, not only for those who have to find the apparatus and superintend the training of the corps, but for the colliers and underground workers who are equally effected by the rules laid down. Some appeal will have to be granted. The Home Office is right, I think, in putting in safeguards against frivolous appeals. On the other hand, the colliers and the mine-owners have a right to be safeguarded against any ill-considered rules. That is a common-sense position to take up, and it will probably be conceded by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Keir Hardie), and I imagine it would be very easy to come to some agreement. With due respect I should like to point out that the Home Office has got no knowledge upon these matters except what it ascertains from those who have served at the rescue stations. The inspectors from the Home Office are welcomed there at these stations, and they get their information and give their advice, but for every item of information which these rescue stations get from the Home Office they receive ten times as much from the chemists and people who are there day by day and hour by hour, and it is not reasonable to say that the inspectors at the Home Office, though they are men of great judgment and are very remarkable men, should, in matters highly technical and empirical such as these, lay down the law without any power of appeal either for those who have to use the apparatus below the 'surface or for those who for years and years past, in many cases, have been devoting their whole time to these very experiments.

As the Bill is drawn of course the Secretary of State is supreme, and that leads me to another point. It does not, I admit, necessarily arise out of the Bill, but is quite germane to it, that is the question of responsibility. The whole tendency of the Home Office, and, indeed, of every other Government Department as well, is towards a modest form of meglomania, the officials wish to obtain authority in all departments of public rights where at the present moment the responsibility is divided. As this Clause is drawn you are going to divide the responsibility; I think that is a very dangerous thing to do. The hon. Member for Merthyr said that representatives of the colliers would be upon those committees, but the most important result is still further to diminish the responsibility of the manager. Does the hon. Member opposite want to do that? If you allow the Home Office the power conferred upon it by this Bill you reduce the responsibility of the mine manager.


I wish to point out that all this committee is empowered to do is to report to the Home Office. The former legal and final decision is with the Home Secretary.


I presume if the committee is appointed, the Home Secretary will act upon the Report of the committee, and you cannot get away from the fact that you diminish the responsibility of the mine managers. Hon Members who are connected with the textile industry will not apprehend the difference there is between the position of a mine manager and the manager of a mill or factory. The Under-Secretary to the Home Office, or I, or anybody else, are competent within the law to become the manager of a great cotton mill, no examination is required. That is a practice which is absolutely unknown in the case of a coal mine. I do not say it is right that the manager of a mill or anything else of that kind should have to go through an examination like the manager of a coal mine. It is absolutely essential that the manager of a coal mine should have expert knowledge, and that you should have a man with expert knowledge to deal with the greatest physical dangers that exist in this country, namely, the dangers of explosion. The mine manager in this country is in danger of being prosecuted for manslaughter, if, owing to any act of carelessness, life is lost in his pit. Does the Under-Secretary think that it will add to the safety of the mine if he reduces the responsibility of the manager? I say it will be doing an injury to everyone to do so. If it is done, the manager will say, "The Home Office said I must do this. It is quite true, I am techncially to blame, but you must also bring to book those gentlemen from the Home Office, and the representatives of the Miners' Union, or whoever else they may be."

Probably you will find that there are many mine managers in this country who would not object to the course suggested, because it would remove from their shoulders the sole and terrible responsibility which now rests upon them, but I do not think it is to the interests and safety of the mines that that division should be made of the responsibility of the mine manager. I think that if you want to place this terrific responsibility upon the shoulders of a man, and have him prosecuted, perhaps for manslaughter in the event of a death, you will not add to the safety of the mine by dividing that responsibility among two or three parties. I urge that very seriously, because it is an aspect of the situation which is not appreciated probably by anyone except those who live in colliery districts, and are familiar with the colliery problem.

There is a great deal of truth in what the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Markham). He mentioned what is a commonplace, namely, that at the present moment this apparatus is in a perfectly experimental state. I gather that either the committee or the Home Secretary have got to sanction the apparatus. I really do not know what apparatus they will choose to sanction; there are only two or three, and everybody knows that in every single one of these apparatus there is one admitted shortcoming, and although experiments have gone on for years, we are still only in the first stage of this experimental process, and it will be necessary, if the Home Office does its work properly, at every three or four or six months to have new experiments, because science is not going to stand still, and what the Home Office may say is good now may be useless after a very short time. That is why the procedure under the Bill is so cumbrous. I think it will be very difficult, for instance, to make any particular form of helmet obligatory. Those used all over the country, and indeed on the Continent as well, are only experimental, and, indeed, I do not think that the Continental helmets which are obligatory are better than those we have in this country.

It is not the least good thing that pressure should be brought to bear to stimulate inquiry into this matter, and I have no doubt that before very long expert people will be able to devise some machinery or helmet that will take the rescuers through a section of the poisonous area, though, of course, in the case of the fall of the roof or in the case of a serious fire no breathing apparatus can be expected to exist, but I have the greatest confidence in the future. We have now reached a certain stage. Hitherto people said we were groping in the dark. Now there are six or eight men, each of whom may be said to be within the reach of a really good thing, and I have confidence that, although at the present moment we are in a perfectly experimental stage, and no existing apparatus can be guaranteed to do what its promoters desire it to do, yet I think we shall be able to do much more in the future. It is not only this apparatus with which good work is being done. Experiments are now being conducted, to which great importance is attached, to reach beyond the pillar of fire where survivors may be by wireless methods, and if that be so it is a tremendous step in the right direction. That is in itself a tremendous step in the right direction. I would renew my request to the Undersecretary to take care in framing his rules not to limit or reduce the responsibility of those upon whose shoulders it is now properly placed.


I must thank the House for the manner in which they have received this Mines Accidents (Rescue and Aid) Bill, and, in thanking the House and the representatives of the coal-owners who have spoken, I must also thank the general body of coal-owners outside who have shown no hostility to the Bill, but, on the contrary, have welcomed it and are prepared to work under its conditions. I find myself very largely in agreement with the Noble Lord (Lord Balcarres) on the general questions which have been discussed by him, but I think he is probably under a little misapprehension as to the intentions of the Home Office with regard to these Orders when he suggests that we should, for instance, fix upon some particular kind of apparatus, express our opinion it is a perfect type, and insist that it should be provided in all mines, or that we should in any way interfere with the responsibility of the management. I agree with every word he said as to the importance of that responsibility. Whatever form of megalomania we possess, it will not take the form of trying to interfere with that responsibility. The management is responsible for the welfare of the men, and it will be as much responsible after this measure becomes law.

I noticed a protest in the paper last week in connection with this Bill. It seemed to be assumed we should make this apparatus compulsory not only in its availability but in its use. Nothing is further from our minds. It is entirely for the management, having the apparatus and the trained men, to decide, when any of these difficult explosions or fires occur, whether it will be of any use or not. Nothing will interfere with that nor will any Home Office rule insist upon its being used under any circumstances. The question of expense has been raised. There, also, I am in agreement with the Noble Lord. I think that for the Home Office to get money from the Treasury is more hopeful on an afternoon like this than on an afternoon like yesterday, and, if any Treasury or Development Grants are to be given in connection with this subject, they should be confined to grants for experimental purposes, for the advancement of scientific knowledge through experiment, and should not take the form of grants for the general provision of apparatus which so many of the colliery owners are taking upon themselves not only for the protection of lives but also property in the mines.

The questions mainly raised in this discussion are strictly relevant to the Committee stage of the Bill, but they are of sufficient importance to make them well worth raising, and they are questions which quite rightly I am asked to answer. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), in dealing with the general committees which are enforcing the provisions of this Bill, suggested we should arrange that both masters and men should be members of them. I am doubtful, after consultation with some of the representatives of the mine-owners, whether that provision will stand in Committee. It was provided in order to relieve the very great extra work thrown upon the inspector, and it was hoped we might utilise the committees which are now in so many parts of the country running rescue stations and training men in rescue work. I rather understand a good many of the colliery owners are not very much inclined to take upon themselves the obligation of inspection and enforcement. These committees, will not be entrusted with powers of interfering with the mine management. They are to see the orders are carried out, and the orders will merely provide that some form of these various kinds of rescue apparatus are available in case they are needed either at the mines or in the neighbourhood, and that some proportion of men familiar with the mine in its working shall be trained in the use of that apparatus, because all experts agree that to send untrained men into the mine with this apparatus is very nearly like sending them to their death.

I quite agree that the question whether sufficient safeguard is being allowed against what has been termed the megalomania of the Home Office is a more substantial point. Our suggestion is to proceed by Order. Any Order made shall be first published as a draft Order. Objections may be urged against it and considered. It shall afterwards be laid upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament, and if neither House objects it shall become law. I know there is some objection to that course of procedure, and I think the objection is more valid in this case than in some others, because in this case it really does concern the technical details of the mine and not very much people outside. It is not, however, quite true to say this is a new precedent, because we have a precedent in the Explosives Clauses and Mines Regulations.


There is no obligation to use those explosives, whereas there is an absolute obligation to provide this apparatus.


I know. I rather understood the objection to this particular provision was largely on account of the introduction of a precedent. We agreed from the beginning on this point fully to take into consultation representatives of the mine-owners before framing any rules or Orders, and, of course, we have no intention of framing an57 rules or Orders beyond those which will provide what has been carried out in the collieries with which the Noble Lord is connected and what others have been carrying out in Lancashire. We do not want to quarrel about a matter of that sort, and so long as we can make the arbitration simple and so long as we can prevent the obstinacy, doubt, or indifference of an individual owner checking the development of a movement, we have no wish to exercise autocratic authority on the matter. I will not confine myself to the terms, but we would favourably consider in Committee some such suggestion as that advanced by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Samuel Roberts) and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Harmood-Banner). I am glad they agree, as we certainly would agree, that in any cases of appeal the men should have an equal right of appeal with the masters. The master provides the money and the apparatus it is true, but the men have to provide the men to be trained, and the men's lives as well as the master's property are at stake. I should roughly propose that if, say, a minority of a third of the coal-owners or of the men affected by any Order take objection to a draft Order that is published, they should, within a certain number of days, be allowed to lodge an appeal. That appeal would go before an independent referee—I think one referee would be enough. The present system of arbitration is too complicated. The decision of the referee, say the Lord Chief Justice or some quite independent tribunal, should be final on the matter. If that will allay all the objections to this Bill, I shall be very glad to agree to an Amendment of that sort in Committee.


Does the hon. Gentleman mean one-third of any district or of the whole country?


No; one-third of those affected by the Order. The hon. Member is perfectly right in saying the Order may be different in different districts. It will be a third of those affected in the district. If an individual mine is dealt with, then, of course, it would be a third of those in the mine. I have, with the assistance of the experts at the Home Office, studied the history of this movement in England and abroad, and I agree it; is possible to exaggerate the effect of the appliances; but my contention is that a very large number of mine-owners have found it worth their while to spend many thousands of pounds in the provision of appliances and in training their men in the use of them. I contend, further, that we have the compulsory provision of these appliances in most of the other coal-mining countries of Europe, where science is rather more believed in than in this country. I contend also that in every mine explosion of which I have had report, including the explosions for the last ten years, there have been hastily despatched messengers for this apparatus. It has been used and found imperfect, either because of the distance it has had to be brought or because no one at the mine has been able to use it. In the case of the Whitehaven disaster two sets of apparatus were sent for, one from Newcastle and one from Derbyshire. The Newcastle apparatus came without the liquid air necessary, and the Derbyshire apparatus came without the electric light. Consequently, it was not until twenty-seven hours afterwards that the men could proceed to operate the apparatus. If that had been in use within half an hour, and there had been trained men at the pit, no one can say what might have been 'done. There are very few Bills which realise all the objects which it is hoped to achieve. Let us hope this Bill will, at any rate, realise some of them.

7.0 P.M.


I find some difficulty in addressing the House on this subject as, without supporting the Bill in its entirety, I do wish to emphasise a point raised by the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland which has my entire sympathy. The hon. Member asked that the Treasury should, in some form, assist any experiments that might be carried out with regard to life-saving apparatus. I do not advocate that these experiments should be carried out independently by the Treasury, but, where experiments are now being conducted by owners of mines and engineers, the Treasury should give them sympathetic attention, and, as far as possible, render pecuniary and other assistance. A terrible accident occurred recently in the Ham-stead Colliery in my own Constituency, and I went down the pit and made the most minute inspection I could of what had happened. I was told that if suitable apparatus had been provided the lives of many of the miners might have been saved. My great difficulty was to find out which was the best apparatus to provide for that purpose, and, acting on the best advice I could get, I presented certain apparatus, namely, the Draeger apparatus, to the pit in order that if any similar accident should occur in the future there would be on the spot the means of rescuing the unfortunate miners. I stipulated that the apparatus should be available not only to the Hamstead Colliery, but also to other collieries which surround it. I do not know whether I was wise in the form of apparatus I chose, and it is for that reason I am anxious that the Government should take up this question, and assist, pecuniarily and otherwise, experiments which have for their object the finding out of the best form of apparatus, so that those interested in the saving of lives in mines may know the direction in which they can best proceed. The hon. Member for the Mansfield Division rather decried the use of such apparatus, but I will give a short account of what happened in the case of the Hamstead Colliery. A fire occurred between the up-cast and the down-cast, and the men at the bottom of the pit naturally supposed from the direction from which the smoke poured that if they could force their way through the smoke they would get into clear air and be able to ascend by the down-cast shaft. As a matter of fact, the fire had broken out between the up-cast and the down-cast, and the draught was so strong that the smoke was drawn into the workings, past the foot of the down-cast shaft, so that the nearer they got to the down-cast the smaller became their chances of escape. I maintain that if apparatus had been available by which it would have been possible to send down a couple of men when the fire occurred to warn the miners where the fire was, and that it was of no good their attempting to make their way to the downcast, and to direct them in the other direction, many lives would have been saved, as they would have been able to avail themselves of the up-cast. It is surely of the greatest importance that we should know what is the most effective apparatus to provide, so as to save the lives of our underground workers, who are deserving of our greatest sympathy, and for this reason I hope the Government will not show itself averse to providing some assistance from the Treasury for experiments which have this object in view. I am not advocating that the coal-owners should be relieved of the necessity of providing efficient apparatus for saving life in their coal mines, but that the Treasury should by every means in their power assist in the discovery of the best means of saving life when an accident has actually occurred.


I represent one of the largest mining constituencies in the United Kingdom—


Except Mansfield.


My hon. Friend the Member for the Mansfield Division is, of course, at the head of the coal trade; but on behalf of the miners of the Barnsley Division, arid not only on their behalf, but I am sure I can speak in the name of the 900,000 men and boys working in the coal mines of this country—I say that they will gratefully welcome the introduction of this Bill by the Government. There has been shown in the course of this Debate on both sides of the House a recognition of the fact that everything that is humanly possible should be done to safeguard those who work in our coal mines and who pursue a most dangerous and hazardous calling. I am sure it does credit to the humanity of the House of Commons when we recognise that the whole House has shown to-day a strong anxiety to make every provision in this direction. At any rate there should be within convenient reach of all mines apparatus which may be used for the saving of human life. I am sanguine that when this Bill is passed into law. as it is certain to be in view of the general acceptance it has met with, every coal miner will be trained in the use of these, appliances, and we shall soon find that changes will be introduced and fresh apparatus and appliances discovered in the interests of life-saving. We all rejoice that the number of deaths from accidents in our mines has been reduced in the last forty years from 5 per cent- to 1½ per cent. But that does not make us the less anxious in case of accident to have at hand apparatus which may be available and thus to a still greater extent reduce the loss of life. I welcome the introduction of this Bill most warmly, and I believe the result will be that in the future the lives of our workers in the coal mines will be more efficiently safeguarded, and that the total number of deaths occurring in the pursuit of this hazardous calling will be substantially decreased.


I should like to call the attention of the Under-Secretary—in case this Bill is intended to apply to metalliferous mines—to the mines in Cornwall. We have in that county a large number of small mines, in which perhaps some thirty men only are at work, and these mines are perhaps more dangerous than many collieries, because the work is carried on in old shafts. Now, these small Cornish mine-owners have but a small capital at their command, and it is very desirable to know whether they will be obliged to incur the heavy expense of buying this apparatus. If so, I fear it will result in the closing of many of the mines. I hope the Undersecretary will to-day, or later on, give us some information as to what is contemplated with regard to this class of mine. It is a matter of vital importance to know whether or not they are to be included in the provisions of this Bill.

Mr. A. E. DUNN

I should like to know whether it is not intended that this Bill should only apply to coal mines. I understand that at the present moment a very important Committee is inquiring most minutely into matters appertaining to metalliferous mines, and, undoubtedly, when we have the Report of that Committee, steps will be taken to remedy the many evils which are, unfortunately, prevalent in mines, such as those which have been referred to by the last speaker. But I think we may take it that the pre- sent Bill has no reference whatever to mines such as those in which the Cornish people are interested.