§ Mr. ENOCH EDWARDS
proposed, as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words "in view of the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents in Mines, this House is of opinion that a considerable improvement in the safety of Mines would be secured 1475 were the laws affecting mining more rigorously applied, and that to secure this the staff of Mines' inspectors should be augmented; and this House is also of opinion that rescue and experimental stations with suitable rescue appliances should be set up in all the various mining areas, and that all other possible steps calculated to reduce the appalling loss of life in the Mines of the Country should be taken."
In moving the Resolution standing in my name, I desire to call attention to the Whitehaven disaster. In this House, thirty-five years ago, a very able speech was made on the prevention of mining accidents. Since that date calamities have occurred, though not so frequently as in earlier days, which bring home to all of us the hazardous nature of the miner's calling. It is not my intention to dwell upon the very sad fact of mining life further than to suggest that, with all the efforts put forth to improve the lot of the miner and to reduce to a minimum these sad calamities, there is in our judgment still room for further improvement. In our judgment many of these catastrophes would be obviated if the rules which are in force throughout the country—the rules laid down to regulate the control of the mines—were more strictly adhered to than they are at this moment. During a recent Debate in this House this question, which I have been asked to address the House upon, the appointment of additional inspectors was discussed. I admit that there is a sharp difference of opinion between those engaged in the coal trade, between the present staff of inspectors in the country, and the representatives of the miners' associations. The ground we have taken has been that if regulations are necessary for the safety of the mines of this country it is highly desirable that there should be sufficient inspectors to see that these regulations are carried out. It is upon these grounds that we have urged again and again an increased number of mines inspectors. It is because we believe that, however efficient the present inspectors may be, their number is totally inadequate to carry out their onerous duties in the interests of the health, life, and limb of the workmen that we urge an increase. We have no quarrel with the inspectors as such.
A finer class of public servants I do not think could be found anywhere. But it is too much to expect of them that what we conceive to be the full duties of in- 1476 spectors can be possibly discharged over the whole area of the mines of Great Britain with only something like forty inspectors. We have asked, and ask again, that there should be an additional number of inspectors appointed. We believe, and daily experience and observation goes far to prove, that much of this loss of life could be saved if there were more constant visits paid by the inspectors to the mines here, there, and everywhere. The problem itself is engaging, has engaged, and must continue to engage the attention and thought of this country. One of the greatest things that humanity seeks to do is to save human life. In this case we are satisfied that while there will always be associated with the work of the miner a considerable amount of risk, of danger, and of death, we say that if proper rules and laws are observed, both by the workmen and the employers, much of this loss of life could be avoided. It is because of that belief that we approach this subject to-day. If the class of inspectors, too, was drawn from men who are more practically in touch with the everyday life of the workmen it would be better. I am not here to set up a class of inspectors who will know nothing or not understand anything of technical matters in the mines. What we do say is that there are in the country to-day hundreds and hundreds of men, highly capable men, who have proved their efficiency by passing rigid examination, who would make admirable inspectors in the sense in which we suggest this increase; that is to say, men who would spend more of their time in the mines. After all, an inspector's duties, to successfully and fairly carry out these rules, lie largely underground. It is because we say that the present class of inspectors are unable to give that time and attention needed that we urge that an efficient inspectorate needs to have men, drawn from the ordinary ranks of men, more thickly studded in the mining centres than they are for the moment. These men would be able not only themselves to be there and observe if the rules were being carried out, but they would be able to assist with their advice and counsel those whose duties and obligations it is to carry out these particular statutes. It is because of this that the Miners' Federation has never ceased to urge that if we must, to a much greater extent than at present, get an immunity from these mining accidents, it must be by the visits of the inspectors being frequent and lasting longer. For myself I demur to the 1477 view held by many that you can get an inspection of the pits by merely examining a portion of the pit, and sampling the rest of it. An inspection, to be efficient, must be one where the inspector himself has been brought face to face with the ordinary conditions of the mine. It is because of that that we urge upon the Government that in whatever rearrangement there may be in the inspection districts that they should employ a new class of men. These men may not be able to command a salary of £700 or £800 a year, but I am satisfied—though it is not for me to argue in favour of the reduction of anybody's wages—that competent men can be got to discharge this work at £200 a year, men coming from the particular class of employés that I have referred to, who would be able to give constant attention at the mine to see that the rules were carried out.
Not only do we argue for more inspection, but in the face of the recent disasters we consider that greater exertions should be put forward to complete the experiments in problems that the engineers of the country have been trying to solve. After all, many of the dangers that are understood now have only been so understood in recent years, and the causes of them have only been discovered through the great exertion of the mining inspectors. We think more attention should be given to experiments with a view to discovering and finding out where the true source of danger lies in mines. The problem has become too big to allow matters to jog along in the easy off-hand way of thirty or forty years ago. In these days of great intelligence, when mining engineers so understand these problems, it is desirable that the Government of the country should lend its assistance to those engineers to assist them in the experiments they are making, experiments which deserve encouragement to the mind of those who speak on behalf of the miners. We view with admiration what a number of the leading employers throughout the country have done to assist such experiments. It may be a somewhat delicate matter, but I would suggest that the Government themselves should make these experiments and should become financially responsible for them. It is undoubtedly a fact that these experiments have been restricted for want of money and capital, despite the fact that the employers have come forward with handsome gifts, and it 1478 seems to me, speaking as the representative of the working miners, that it is not too much to expect that the Government should lend encouragement and assistance to these experiments even at the cost of a few thousand pounds. What is that compared with the saving in human life of those engaged in this the most hazardous industry in this country?
We suggest in face of the unfortunate disaster at Whitehaven that the rescuing appliances should be kept near at hand to the scene of such possible occurrences. For the moment I am not prepared to enter into any elaborate defence or explanation of the present plant. Much of it is in its infancy, and there is doubt in the minds of some people as to the utility and value of it. But there are appliances now existing which, if they could be got to the mines at the exact moment they are wanted, would enable us more accurately to ascertain the condition of things underground. I suggest to the Government, with all the earnestness I can command, that it is most desirable that in mining districts these appliances should be so fixed that they can be got at at once, and that it should not be necessary to run forty miles into another county to get them. It is preposterous to suppose you can save many lives after a disaster has occurred if you have to run through two counties to reach the saving appliances, while every moment is of supreme importance. Ever since the terrible catastrophe at the Courrières mines in France, men who have devoted themselves to these problems realise the significance of what may happen in some of our great mines, with 1,500 to 2,000 men working down in one shaft, and if there is any value at all in these modern appliances they will be all the more valuable if they are kept at hand, and are convenient in our mining centres. It seems to me incumbent upon the Government to have these appliances in centres where they may be got at with the least possible delay.
I should like to call the attention of the Home Office to the principle involved in two questions addressed to the Home Office by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. These questions found prominence in a circular issued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). They show the awful danger of undersea working. It is an obvious common-sense rule that in these deep sinkings there should be a way in and a way out, that there should be an additional shaft. Everybody realises you are brought face to face with a position where 1479 safety is almost impossible in undersea working except you have a way to enable the workers to return back other than that by which they went in. Our interpretation of that is not by having a return way of a few yards of road. That is not our interpretation of what is meant by two shafts. It is difficult to conceive a way of getting people out with safety except by preserving a road back for four or five miles in such undersea working. That is a matter for the consideration of the Home Office, and one which ought to occupy their attention. But certainly we cannot have a repetition of the terrific risks that ensue in undersea working such distance away from the colliery shaft. I am convinced it needs no words of mine to impress upon the Home Office and all connected with it these important facts, and my experience of the inspectors leads me to believe they realise and are ready to co-operate in obviating the difficulties and the dangers of which we are complaining.
After all, there is no greater function the House of Commons, could discharge than that of seeking to save men engaged in this industry working in such circumstances and under such conditions. When these disasters occur they have always awakened feelings of sympathy and generosity, but we would much prefer to have the intelligence and some of the wealth of the country utilised in preventing these occurrences rather than exhibitions of feeling and sympathy such as are awakened when they happen, because to my mind, without desiring to be prophetic, the future of mining is fraught with great seriousness unless every precaution is taken. I respectfully urge upon the House of Commons and upon the Government the necessity for the appointment of additional inspectors, and for further tests as to the dangers that may lie in the mines; and I also urge that appliances should be provided—whether by the owners of the mines or by the State it is immaterial to me—but that they should be provided, is, I think, fairly well understood by everyone engaged in this business. If these appliances are provided at the collieries many a poor fellow who is lingering and waiting for rescue will be saved from death. But if they have to be fetched from places thirty or forty or sixty miles distant the whole thing is perfectly futile. We respectfully urge therefore this Resolution 1480 upon the attention of the House of Commons, believing that the highest functions of any Government is to see that those toiling and labouring for the welfare of the country shall have the best security and protection in their dangerous occupation.
§ Mr. W. BRACE
I rise to second the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hanley, and I associate myself fully and wholly with what he has said, and I should like to particularly associate myself with the conviction he has expressed that there is no necessity for us to press this Motion either upon my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or the House for sympathy on behalf of those engaged in this dangerous occupation. That there is a tremendous case for increased precaution in mining work is proved to demonstration by everyone who cares to peruse the Mines Inspectors' Reports, and particularly the general Report presented by Chief Inspector Professor Redmayne. I have had some difficulty in bringing my information up to date, because the latest Report issued by Professor Redmayne is the Report of the year 1908. I was hoping that by now we should have had the Report of 1909, but it is not yet issued.
According to the Report for 1908 I find that the deaths from accidents was no less than 1,345 persons in that year. That is an enormous number. One thousand three hundred and forty-five persons were killed in the mines in this country in the year 1908, and I was amazed to find that no less than 143,258 men and boys were injured and disabled for longer periods than six or seven days in the mines in this country. These figures show such a wastage in human life that the mere mention of them must appal this House and the country when the matter is seriously considered. There has been an improvement in the amount of loss of life in recent years as compared with thirty or forty years ago, but there has been no improvement to-day as compared with five or six or seven years ago. I was deeply impressed, in looting through the figures for the purposes of this Debate, to find that in 1902, out of the number employed, the death-rate was 1.34 per thousand; 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. These figures show that there has been no improvement. Despite all the development of science the death-rate every year from 1902 up to now continues without the slightest improvement. 1481 That is sufficient to teach us that, at all events, we have not exhausted all the resources that are open to us to try to make mining a less dangerous occupation than what it is at the present moment. As I gather, the serious causes of accident will be found in explosions, falls upon the face of the roadways, and from shaft accidents. In connection with explosions, my hon. Friend has asked that something shall be done, either under the direct instruction or auspices of the Government, to create experimental stations in different parts of the country so that we shall be able scientifically to exhaust the sources of science to find out really whether it is possible to prevent this great wastage in human life. I understand that coal owners have spent £10,000 during the last year or so in experiments of this kind, and it is not dignified for a wealthy nation like ours to leave it to private enterprise to make life amongst miners safer. We ought not to be placed in the position that we have to depend upon colliery owners finding the money and financing experiments which are necessary to find out the causes of danger in mines. A great wealthy country like this, under the auspices of the Government and at the expense of the Government, ought to create experimental stations, and use the best brains of the nation to find out ways and means to prevent over 1,000 men and boys being swept into eternity and substantially 150,000 men and boys injured every year.
I am aware that side by side with the adoption of new apparatus there may be added dangers. A new electric lamp was brought before our executive council the other day, and I think it is a distinct improvement upon anything I have yet seen, because it enables the men to have much more light than they get with the use of oil. It is a fact, however, that side by side with these improvements there is an added danger, because an electric lamp will do nothing to indicate the presence of excessive gas. A man may work to a point of disaster in gas and not know it if he uses an electric lamp. I can conceive that while the introduction of the electric lamp would give better light to work by, and would be less dangerous where there was a small amount of gas, still, by the use of an electric lamp, a man may be unwittingly working in an atmospheric condition that might mean disaster and death to himself and those around him. What we want is the creation 1482 of experimental stations, to be regularly used and worked, and experiments should be conducted with shot-firing upon the explosiveness of coal dust and better lighting under the auspices of the Government, so that we shall have some reasonable chance of securing a reduction in the death and accident rate different to what we have experienced during the last six years. The main cause of the large number of fatal and non-fatal accidents in mines is attributable to roof-falls either at the face or on the roadway. I have for some time been watching carefully the result of the introduction of systematic timbering. I held when that law was passed, and I hold now, that to take away all discretion from the colliery was not the way to reduce the number of accidents in mines, but by an act of law every grain of discretion is taken away from the workman, and he must set timber at a certain distance apart, according to rule. I verily believe that the authorities who recommended systematic timbering intended that the standard should be the minimum, but it has been accepted largely as the maximum, and the workman has no power to set timber only in accordance with the rule laid down except tat the pleasure of the officials. I would not like to leave the impression that the officials are not careful of the lives of men. I believe they are; but when you take away from the workmen the discretionary power to protect themselves without having to face disturbance from the officials for setting more timber than the rules permit you introduce a new element of danger, and I would press upon the right hon. Gentleman that in addition to his rule of systematic timbering he should give to the workmen discretionary power to set more timber without an order either from a foreman or the manager to set such timber. I think the workmen should have power to set as much timber as they think is necessary for the protection if life and limb. With regard to the question of shaft accidents, a well known professor has issued a very admirable report in which he calls attention to the desirability of having attached to the winding-up apparatus some of the safety appliances that will prevent many of the shaft accidents which occur at the present time. I notice that there is only power to recommend and no executive power to compel the adoption of life-saving apparatus in connection with winding. If it is established that certain schemes do give more safety to the men who have to ride in the 1483 cages of the shaft, there ought to be some kind of power at the Home Office to compel the adoption of such schemes. Such appliances ought to be adopted to secure that if the rope breaks or the engine goes wrong the men will be given a chance in the shaft. If that were done I am sure we might look forward to a substantial reduction in accidents connected with shafts.
I wish to associate myself with the demand which has been made for more inspectors. The present system of inspecting collieries is to my mind wrong in principle. For an inspector to make an inspection of No. 1 and No. 2 district, or north and south, and then to take that as a fair sample of the whole of the district, is to my mind a wrong principle upon which to proceed. Perhaps 99 per cent. of a colliery may be absolutely safe, but it is not those ninety-nine parts that destroy life but the one dangerous part, and in examining a colliery the inspector might not go into the danger zone at all. It is only by the examination of the colliery as a whole that there can be that protection against accidents which we think miners ought to receive. I am aware that with the present staff of inspectors it would be difficult to adopt a systematic inspection of all mines on the basis we suggest. We think there ought to be an additional staff of inspectors of a less highly educated kind. Unfortunately mine inspectors are all drawn from the official classes. They have to be scientifically trained and go through a long period of probation, with the result that they must be high-class scholars before there is any hope of their passing the final examination for a mine inspector. I think there ought to be, side by side with the present staff of inspectors, another staff consisting of a class of men at a salary between £150 and £200 a year. Such a staff might systematically examine collieries, not in sections, but wholly from the beginning to the end periodically, and in this way every colliery in the Kingdom should be inspected by these lower-paid, but not less efficient, class of inspectors. When they came across a specially dangerous part they could notify the chief inspector, and he could have that part thoroughly inspected. I do not make any charge against the present staff of inspectors. I think they are very skilled in their work, and I believe they are conscientiously desirous of doing everything they can to increase the safety of the mines of this 1484 country. Nevertheless, they know nothing at all about the desires of the men, because the whole of their training has been amongst the officials. Their whole knowledge is official knowledge, and they have not the slightest idea of the views of the workmen so far as the rules are concerned. It seems to me that we must, in some way or another, have a closer connection between the Home Office and the workmen themselves than exists at the present time before we can get that substantial reduction in the number of fatal accidents which, we think, we ought to have. There are over 1,000,000 men and boys employed in the mines of this country, and yet, strange to say, in no direction whatsoever has the head of this great Government Department any way of getting into touch with the workmen themselves. I think the Home Office might copy the example set by the Board of Trade, and attach to their Department one or more workmen or workmen's representatives, so that when it is necessary these men could get directly in touch with the workmen and express their views. Take the case of the calamity at Whitehaven. From the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil and the answer given to it on this point, it is more than suggested that, so far as the workmen themselves were concerned, they were neither consulted and were not consenting parties to the colliery being walled up. The mine inspectors never attempted to get in touch with those engaged in the rescue work at Whitehaven before ordering the mine to be walled up. This may have been the best thing that could have been done under the circumstances, but as this is to be the subject matter of an inquiry, I will not venture now an opinion upon it. It seems to me that there is something lacking in the connection between the Home Office, the mine inspectors, and the working miners to have something done, in the face of a calamity such as that which occurred at Whitehaven, which is not in accordance with the desires of men who were desirous of proceeding with the rescue work. I believe the Home Office has something to gain in getting into closer touch with the workmen's side of mining life. I think we ought to create an avenue under which the chief of the State Department will be able to place himself directly in touch with the miners, without having to go so much to the mine inspectors and the official class. With regard to experimental stations, I 1485 thoroughly associate myself with what has been said. I gather from the Press this afternoon that my right hon. Friend has taken action, and that his Department has decided to create rescue stations in different parts of the country. I can only say that we gladly welcome what he has done; and may I say that it is simply a demonstration of what we expected him to do, because we believe that in the Home Secretary we have a chief who is in sympathy with our desire to make mining life safer than it is at the present time. Let me say that a nation which sends its soldiers into an action without placing at their disposal the best weapons that can be devised would be guilty of a great betrayal of their own flesh and blood. Therefore I say that a nation which sends her soldiers of industry into action to attack Nature in her strongest treasure-house without using all that science can devise to make their lives less open to be taken and their limbs less likely to be broken than at the present time, is guilty of a great crime against humanity. It is because we believe everything has not been done that should be done to reduce the deaths and accidents in the mines of this country, and it is because we believe that everything will not be done that ought to be done until the Government and the nation take this matter into their own hands and use the power of the State to make mining life something less dangerous than it is at the present time that we bring forward this Motion, and without any hesitation I beg to second it.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I should be very sorry to pose as an expert in the matter of dispute or to claim to have that close and direct acquaintance with these problems which my hon. Friends below the Gangway have, but I venture to rise to speak as the representative of a large mining constituency, and as one who is very deeply interested in this question, and who has had some opportunity of studying it. May I pay my tribute to the spirit which animated the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution. The House will agree that those speeches were marked not only by a great knowledge of the subject, but also by that note of moderation which has always characterised the views put forward by the representatives of the miners. There is no less profitable inquiry than that into the what-might-have-been, but I believe in the case of the Whitehaven disaster such an inquiry is not without profit, and I want, in the light of the 1486 Resolution, to consider some details connected with it which have not yet been touched upon.
At Question Time an hon. Member asked whether there was local satisfaction with regard to the steps that were taken immediately after the accident. The important point for us to consider is not whether such satisfaction was felt or not. The question appears to me to go much deeper, and what we have to consider is whether proper arrangements were made before the accident which might have saved the great loss of life which took place. I have no special source of information. I am simply speaking from the information I have been able to gather from Press accounts, but I have no reason to doubt that they are, in any substantial detail, accurate. After the explosion, the pit was filled with smoke, and to some extent with smouldering fire, but one or two men were able to force their way through that smouldering fire and reach safety. That shows that at the time of the accident or shortly afterwards there was only a condition of smouldering fire, and, if apparatus had been available so that men could have got down the mine right up to the fire, it would have been possible to have extinguished it, and very probably to have liberated the whole of the men who perished.
§ Mr. WILLIAM HARVEY
Has my hon. Friend ascertained that there was an explosion? Is it a proved fact?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I quite agree with the interruption, but the point is not material to my remark. When the accident happened the conditions, there is every reason to believe, were such as I have described, and my point is that, if you could then have got up to the scene of the accident with proper apparatus, there is more than a reasonable probability that the whole of the men who have lost their lives would have been saved. Could a stronger case be presented to this House for the establishment of rescue stations properly equipped with apparatus for dealing with the conditions of mines after accidents such as this? It is, I gather, a fact that there was a period of between twenty-four and thirty hours before any apparatus reached the mine, and before, therefore, there could be any proper attempt to get to the scene of the accident. The conditions in the mine by that time had entirely changed, and what was before merely a smouldering fire was 1487 then a blazing furnace, in which no life was possible. I say, therefore, that, if this accident stood alone, and unhappily it does not, it would surely be all the justification necessary for requiring the establishment of these rescue stations. Surely to every mine or group of mines there should be a central rescue station. We ought not to be satisfied with the establishment of any system of rescue stations which does not provide for a station being within the reach of every mine. There should be a central rescue station which could be reached by each mine within, say, half an hour's motor journey. It should exist to train rescue parties in the use of the apparatus and to keep the apparatus in readiness. One is very glad to acknowledge that many of the mine-owners of Great Britain have already taken steps to provide such rescue stations. There are in certain parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Wales rescue stations established by the mine-owners, and I say all honour to the mine-owners who have led in this direction. We cannot, however, be content for ever to wait for the laggers to come into line, and I would urge upon the Home Office that they should be made to come into line with those mine-owners who have already taken the right steps and made the right arrangements. No one, I hope, would suggest that we desire in any way to worry the mine-owners who are doing their duty. We merely ask that those who do not do their duty should, if necessary, be compelled to come into line with those who do.
I should like to say a word in conclusion with regard to the system of inspection of mines. The demand which is now being made for more inspectors is one upon which I believe all parties are agreed. The mine-owners themselves, I think I am right in saying, are agreed upon the necessity for more inspection of the mines, and the demands put forward by the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution are substantially in accord with the recommendation of the majority of the members of the recent Royal Commission on Mines. That Commission recommended the appointment of this new class of inspectors, and I am quite sure none of my hon. Friends who urge the appointment of such inspectors desire the appointment of men who are not fitted to discharge the duties which would fall upon them. I hope the Home Office will at least appoint some 1488 additional inspectors at a very early date. When such a disaster as that at Whitehaven occurs we are all filled both with horror and sympathy, but the miners who do this necessary work for the community are the men whose wives and children lose their husbands and fathers, and the State should not fail to take every measure of precaution to make more safe the conditions under which this national labour is performed.
Mr. J. A. JACKSON
I rise to support the Resolution, and I may say that I agree with both the Proposer and Seconder in all that they have said. When I tell the House that many of my own personal friends, and also five men in the battalion of the Territorial Army which I have the honour to command, are down the pit at Whitehaven, I think they will understand that to me the subject now before the House is a very painful one. I agree with the Mover and Seconder, that possibly the numbers of inspectors of mines is inadequate, but I should like to point out that probably the want of consideration which inspectors meet with in times of trouble leads to a difficulty in finding a suitable number of inspectors. The inspector at Whitehaven, who had to take upon himself the responsibility of giving the order to wall up the mine, to save further loss of life, took upon his shoulder—and I daresay he passed through the worst minute he ever spent in his life—a responsibility which I am perfectly certain no Member of this House would have liked to have taken up. With reference to life-saving instruments, I agree with both the Mover and Seconder in the arguments they have put forward, and I also agree that the Government, if they think that these appliances are necessary, ought to give facilities to different mines in different districts for getting the instruments. I would make no hard and fast rule, but I would point out, for the benefit of the House, that the Cory Company have these instruments at the pit mouth. I also agree it would be well to have these life-saving appliances kept in certain positions so that they might reach the pit's mouth after half an hour's ride by motor. I certainly am in favour of keeping an efficient staff for working the life-saving plant.
§ Mr. TWIST
The Resolution before the House is one which should command the attention of every man who puts human life before property. At the present moment, however, there seems to be a con- 1489 siderable number of Members who have no interest in this question. If we had been discussing the Land Taxes many of the seats now vacant would have been filled, and had we been debating the so-called inadequate defences of the country we also should have seen a larger number of Members in attendance. But I have always regarded the strength of the country as lying in the vitality and security of its wealth winners. This Motion before the House calls attention to three things. First, to the awful loss of life now going on in the coal mines of this country; secondly, to the need for the more vigorous enforcement of the present Mines Act; and, thirdly, the immediate and urgent reforms necessary in consequence of the new dangers that science has introduced into the working of our mines. I hold it is not a new Mines Act that we want so much as the better carrying out of the Acts now in existence. Something has been said this afternoon about offering no impeachment of the present inspectorate. I beg to submit that in the evidence given by the inspectors before the Royal Commission now sitting, which has issued already one or two Reports, even the inspectors themselves show that they do not pay regard to the proposals of those who represent the miners. Reference has been made to the inspection of mines by sample, and that a responsible inspector has been found to state that, in his opinion, that is a sufficient and adequate inspection is to my mind more than surprising. It is a manifestation of the ignorance or something worse of those who are concerned with the good working of the mines. At the present time we have nearly 3,500 pits. We have just over forty inspectors, and if every part of a mine is to be examined the present staff of inspectors could not possibly do it more than once in every three or four years, and during that time the mine will have changed its complexion, and will appear to those inspecting it as a new pit altogether. In that period, too, hundreds of thousands of tons of coal will have been taken from it. Take the Liverpool district. In that district during last year we had ninety fatal accidents. Each fatal accident requires a visit of inspection on the part of the inspector and his attendance at the coroner's inquest, and in that district alone 180 of the working days would be taken up by visiting the scene of the fatal accident, and by attending the coroner's inquest. Surely, that is not inspection of mines. It 1490 is simply inquiry into the cause of death, and the inspector is only an instrument of the coroner's jury. While performing that duty he cannot be said to be inspecting mines at all.
As to the awful loss of life, it remains practically the same to-day, in spite of the efforts of science and of engineers in the direction of saving human life. I say, in spite of all this, the ratio of accidents remains practically the same. This cannot be said in connection with the working of any other industry in this country. I am quite sure were the reasons for it to be seen on the surface in the daylight then a great deal more attention would be paid to the matter, and more drastic action taken than has been the case up to the present time. I am not here to offend those who manifest sympathy when a great calamity happens. But what we want to call attention to is the long, never-ending, and unceasing procession of individual cases that go from the mine not to their homes but to their graves. The number of people killed in the mine cannot be realised from a mere statement of the figures. The fact that 140 odd thousand are injured is easily stated and understood, but it is soon forgotten. Will the House pardon me for putting it in another way? It means a procession two deep, forty miles long, with a corpse every seventy yards, and a man's wife and family following that corpse. Surely such a loss of life must call not only for the sympathy, but for severe and drastic action? The present staff of inspectors is said to be insufficient. Let us inquire what really ought to be done under the existing Mines Act. There is a rule which permits the men to appoint a man working in a mine to leave his place in the ranks to inspect the mine. I happen to have acted in that capacity. The miners periodically spend money to inspect the mines of the employer in order to carry out that rule. I want to tell the House that there are not sufficient safeguards if the miners are to carry out that rule over larger areas and in more cases than they do at present. In fact, the rule is practically a dead letter. What we want is not a man who is earning his living on the coal face to take the post of inspector to-day and to go back to the coal face tomorrow, but we want an inspector free from the influence of either employers or employed. We want a State-paid service, which can be carried on without fear and without favour. We want 100 additional 1491 inspectors if the work is to be adequately carried out. Of course, I understand that the question of cost will be raised, but 100 such inspectors at £200 each would only represent £20,000. What does this represent on the output of coal? It is not equal to one-fortieth of a penny per ton, and I submit that the money could very easily and very properly be raised by increasing the taxation upon royalties. I have never seen in the list of the dead the name of the owner of a royalty. He never loses his life in winning the coal, and I submit it would be a fair proposal to obtain the money not from the coal owners or from the consuming public, but from the man who has received millions and has contributed nothing to the value of the coal or the labour that got it.
The last speaker referred to the unprofitableness of discussing what might have been. I am not discussing that, nor am I interested in it. What I am interested in is what is to be. The hon. Gentleman made reference to the Whitehaven disaster. I personally do not believe that there was an explosion at that pit. I am satisfied that the cause of this loss of life was nothing more than a fire, and I would submit in connection with this danger that the timber roof supports should be abolished and steel roof supports substituted. I think, too, the time is ripe for underground communication being set up between every part of the mine, in order that the anguish which now obtains through the closing up of a mine may be lessened lest there may be life still remaining in the pit. I believe it would be possible to have perfect communication, and that in the case of the Whitehaven mine which was closed, and the May-thorpe mine which was flooded, if such communication had existed, those responsible for stopping the mine or flooding it would at least have felt assured that no life was sacrificed thereby. So long as no communication exists, there will always be in the minds of those responsible for the closing of the mine the haunting dread that life still remains. I wish to draw attention to another phase of this question. I believe that dangers increase in our mines instead of lessening, and, therefore, there is a greater necessity for safeguards to be introduced than has existed in the past. At the present time the ordinary official in the mine who is largely responsible for the safety of the men is a much 1492 over-worked individual, and the fireman, upon whose report many of our collieries are managed is one of those overworked individuals. Let me here point out that only last week evidence was presented that in the working of one particular mine neither the under-manager nor the manager had been seen in the working parts of the mine during the last six months.
Under those conditions the mine has to be managed from the firemen's reports, and I myself have personally received complaints from firemen—particularly since the introduction of the Eight Hours Act—that they have been called upon to do a great deal more duty than was essential to the safety of the mine and the safety of the men in it. It seems to me that legislation will have to be applied to this particular point: that the firemen must be called upon only to perform those duties which are well within the work of watching for the accumulation of gas, the proper ventilation of the mine, the proper use of timber or roof supports, and other matters which concern the safety of the mine and the safe working of the coal. At the present moment it is not an uncommon thing for firemen to be put to other labour, such as the carrying of powder and other explosives, carrying a cable and a battery, and employment other than the discharge of the duties of firemen. In addition to that, they are sometimes called upon to supervise the work in a particular pit and to be responsible for the audit and the output in a particular district, and to be what is described as a colliery pusher, or a man who is responsible for seeing to the output.
Further, I believe, looking over the whole of the industry, that our mines today are being managed very largely from the standpoint of making dividends—whatever else is made or unmade. I believe that the colliery manager to-day can lose his situation much sooner for not having made dividends than for not having safely managed the colliery. In this regard let me say, in connection with the disaster which preceded that one at Whitehaven, and another one, which took place about the same time, that, in my opinion, to-day the inspection is insufficient, if only upon one ground, and that is that too often, for the sake of saving money, explosives are used where if there was an inspection of the place they would be prohibited. I was concerned in the Maypole disaster, being in the mine immediately after the disaster and just previous to the mine 1493 being flooded, and being present at every meeting of the inquiry, and with the inspector of mines who reported, I believe, and as far as knowledge can be conclusive apart from actual examination, was certain that the explosion occurred in one particular place where on the day previous there was a large accumulation of gas, which was blocked by a large fall being there. I am of opinion—I am as satisfied as I am of my own existence—that the payment of £10 in the form of an allowance, or a day's wage for putting the place through without using explosives would have saved that disaster. Leaving that, I say, that closer inspection of mines is necessary if only for the sake of deciding that places shall cease to be worked. Upon these grounds, and for these reasons, I submit that the Motion before the House not only deserves its attention, but I trust the Home Office will take immediate action and not wait until the Commission has finished its sittings and completed its Report before additional inspectors are appointed. I believe already the Commission has reported that there is need for more inspection. I trust that we shall not have to call the attention of this House to that need as the result of another calamity, but that the calamities which have already taken place will of themselves be sufficient, together with the long stream of individual accidents which are happening, to call attention to the necessity for such inspection. The ordinary risk, the ordinary danger, met day by day by the miner in carrying out his duty, with all these calamities which have happened, will, I hope, be sufficient to spring the Home Office into action, if in no other regard, in reference to the appointment of additional sub-inspectors to the number of 100, who will carry on their work in the mines and be able to report to us the condition of the mines from day to day.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILSON
I cannot claim to have any of that technical knowledge which some of the speakers have had on this subject, but representing, as I do, one of the largest mining Constituencies in Scotland, I should like to say a few words in support of the Motion. During the course of my election campaign it was impressed upon me many times that the inspection of coal mines in Scotland was wholly inadequate. One miner, speaking as a representative of a very large body in a very large district, told me that in 1494 all his personal experience of forty years' work in the mines he had never seen one of His Majesty's Inspectors at the mine making an inspection unless a fatal accident brought him there. Surely, when we have had a Report from the Royal Commission on Mining, giving practically a unanimous recommendation in favour of the immediate appointment of additional inspectors, the Government will see their way to grant that almost unanimous request. It is for a class of inspectors a little more closely associated with mining and with the coal miner in his daily work than the present inspectors of His Majesty's Government. I have no complaint to make in any shape or form of His Majesty's Inspectors of Coal Mines, but in the whole of Scotland there are only two Principal Inspectors of Mines, and as far as I can gather from reading the Reports of these gentlemen they are each assisted by three other gentlemen. That is, eight inspectors to look after the lives, limbs, and safety of 80,000 odd coal miners in Scotland. It only needs to be pointed out that from the reports of the inspectors themselves you can gather that the amount of work to be overtaken is so great that it is quite impossible for them to visit either personally or through their assistants the mines in their districts oftener than once in two years or thereabouts.
I do not wish to refer to the appalling disaster at Whitehaven, in which the whole country sympathised so deeply. That has nothing to do with the raising of this question, as I think the Mover of the resolution pointed out. There is a demand which is backed by the highest authority in the country, the workers themselves, for increased inspectors, and I do hope that the Home Office will take immediate action and appoint a large number, of additional inspectors. In my own Constituency, only a month or two ago, there was a terrible accident at a town called Bellshill, where there was an over-winding of the engine. The cage was smashed at the pit-head and some eight miners who were in it were crushed. The accident could easily have been prevented by some automatic gear which would bring the cage to a standstill, and I do think that the demand of the men for inspection which would prevent accidents of that kind ought to meet with an immediate response from the Home Office. From reading the Report of the Royal Commission on Mines I gather that they 1495 asked His Majesty's Government for a special grant to conduct experiments as to the causes and results of explosions from fire damp and coal dust. Up to now that request has not been granted, so far as I know, or at least so far as the reports I have read gave any information. I cordially support what the Mover of this Resolution said about the urgent need that the Government should spend money so that the best brains of the country may be applied to studying the various causes so far as they are recognised of accidents in our coal mines. I do not wish to take up the time of the House any longer, but, as representing the largest mining constituency in Scotland, I wish to press the claims of the mining population for additional inspectors so that the safety and security of the workers may be obtained.
§ Mr. W. E. HARVEY
I desire to bring this matter down to a practical standpoint, because after all the question of mining inspection and all the other reforms we are asking for must be dealt with rather from that point of view than from a theoretical standpoint. We have had three awful calamities in the mining world during a very short period which startled the whole of the populace, and I am glad to say opened the springs of sympathy with regard to the relief of the widows and orphans. I appreciate very much the large-hearted sympathy which has been shown in this country in regard to the whole of these three catastrophes that we have had, but it would have been better if we had not required it. Nothing can compensate a widow for the loss of her husband, and nothing in this world can compensate for the loss which the child sustains by the death of its father. The coal mining industry is the largest industry that we have in this country, and its importance and magnitude almost stagger us when we consider them. The persons employed in and about mines in the United Kingdom has reached the stupendous magnitude of 1,017,740 persons, and their productive power, which is at the basis of the work of this country and which is essential to its well-being and to its trade success, has reached 275,540,746 tons per annum. That is the latest summary of statistics that I have been able to ascertain. You would have thought, and it has been supposed, that mining accidents were on the decrease, that the great engineers of the 1496 country and the Mines Regulation Acts had so influenced the trade that the accident list was becoming less. In 1906 fatal accidents reached, per 1,000 employed, 1.19. In 1907 it reached 1.8, and in 1908 it reached 1.24. The number of fatal accidents in 1907 was 1,279, but in 1908 it was 1,345, so that the list of fatal accidents in winning the wealth of the country and providing the essential of commercial life of the nation is increasing instead of decreasing. But when we come to non-fatal accidents we have something more startling. It appears to me that the country needs informing upon what risk there is to the men who do the work, and that there should be more consideration for them with regard to the hours they work and the wages they receive. The reported accidents were 131,851, but how many accidents are not reported? The permanent relief funds show that there are more accidents than are reported. If you take the whole of the permanent relief funds of this country which pay relief on the certificate of the doctor that an accident has taken place and the man is unable to follow his work, it works out that one man out of every six who goes down in the mines meets with an accident every year. It is startling, and it ought to call for more serious consideration at the hands of this House, and it should deserve the sympathy of the whole community.
Our object to-day is to call the attention of the Government to the seriousness of this, and to ask what they are going to do. We shall be told, not by the Government nor by the Home Secretary, but by people outside and perhaps by some inside, that what we are asking for will add to the cost of production. I wonder how many graves are covered with grass owing to men having lost their lives on the altar of cost! Cost should not stand in the way of saving life and limb. Alexander Macdonald said—and his reasoning on this point has never been opposed—"To prevent explosions, sink your shafts oftener and prevent speculators from going under the earth without making fresh air." It has been the policy of a good many of the old school of practical miners that no man should be allowed to go two or three miles underground without shafts. Gas cannot live where there is fresh air; you only need velocity of air to remove gas, but when you have three or four miles underground, as in the Whitehaven mine, it is almost impossible that you can get fresh air to the men at the far end of the working. If this 1497 matter was gone into thoroughly by practical men it would be realised that the one thing needed to prevent explosions and to give health and vitality to the men who are producing your coal is to see that they have more fresh air and that less consideration is given to cost. If the nation needs coal the nation has a right to see that the men who produce it are not slain on the altar of pounds, shillings, and pence.
With regard to inspectors, we have heard that there are districts where an inspector is as rare as the comet has been, and men would be startled to know that an inspector was coming round. They would want to know what kind of an individual he was. It is playing at inspecting and treating the thing as a farce. Who dictates as to which district inspectors shall go into? When he arrives at the colliery, or is met at the station, I suppose the colliery manager has to say which district he is to go to, and he will take care that he goes to the best district there is Speaking as a practical man who began to work in the mines before I was twelve years of age, I say the time has come when inspection should be real, and should not be a sham. With regard to the employment of the men in the mines, it may be a pet theme of mine, but there are other men who have been engaged in mining life for many years who believe, as I do, that the time has come when mining should be made a trade, and when you should not allow inexperienced men from every other trade to go into the mines. There is no trade equal to ours. When you have the blue canopy of heaven to work under, and when there is no danger of explosions, you can employ whom you like, but when you are going into a mine where there is a lurking foe always round you, when there is danger ever near you, and by one injudicious action of an unskilled workman he may not only slay himself but hundreds of others, the time has come when he ought to be restricted from going in until he has a knowledge of mining. The difficulty seems to increase. I am afraid those who do not understand mining believe that it will always be one thing, and that there will never be any change, but is it realised that we are going to deeper depths, and that the top seams of coal in this country are being exhausted, and that the seams which lie 100, 150, and 200 yards are being worked out, and it is no new thing for us now to go down 800, 900, and 1,000 yards into the earth? We are having new dangers 1498 developing every day. We are working at higher temperatures to-day than ever, and there are men working under new conditions, hundreds and thousands of them, at a temperature between 80 and 90. Instead of the dangers lessening they are increasing.
I have the inspector's return for my district for 1909, and I find that shot-firing, although they are going to deeper depths, has increased, and that last year for the Midland district, comprising Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, and Leicestershire, there were no fewer than 2,620,137 shots fired, and that firing by electricity is on the increase, and yet I have never met a colliery manager who will declare that electric shot-firing does not give off a spark. I attended the inquiry last year into the cause of the West Stanley disaster, where 168 lives were lost, and it was proved to the satisfaction of practical men that the explosion was caused by electricity. In all our mines we are having electricity introduced and new sources of danger are being created, and the number of inspectors per thousand which would have done twenty or thirty years ago will not do to-day. It is because we realise the importance of this in the interests of life and limb that we appeal to this House not only to give us sympathy, for we expect that. I am not very much interested in the amount of sympathy which we shall get, but I am interested in the amount of definite promise that we shall obtain that something will be done immediately to assure the workers in this country, and their wives and families, that something of a practical character is going to be done which shall cut down this long list of fatal and of minor accidents, and that the Government and the Home Secretary who wilt take steps to reduce the list will receive the eternal gratitude of the wives and children of the miners. I hope and trust that something will be done.
§ Mr. G. A. LLOYD
I should like to say a few words in support of the terms of the Resolution now before the House. The miner's life is a peculiarly precarious one, and his work is peculiarly valuable to this country. No precautions that can be taken to minimise the serious risks which he undergoes every day of his life can be too great. I do not propose to offer any criticism with regard to the views put forward by the hon. Member who opened the discussion (Mr. Enoch Edwards). He is a past master on the technicalities of a 1499 very difficult and very complex subject, and I shall not attempt to vie with him in their discussion. I do not believe myself that either the colliery owners or the workmen can do very much themselves to add to the safeguards. It is to the Government of the country we must look for the provision of these safeguards. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Wigan saw fit to make some very severe remarks with regard to colliery managers. He remarked that they cared more for the production of pounds, shillings, and pence than for the lives of those under their control.
§ Mr. LLOYD
However that may be, I am glad to have the hon. Member's explanation. I do not think that the remark which the hon. Member has put forward is justified, or that it will help the cause we are here to promote to-day. Attention has been drawn to the thinness of the House during this discussion. I would remark that the benches on this side of the House are by no means so thin as those on the other side, but it must be remembered, after all, that this is a very technical subject, of which very few people have particular knowledge. It is, therefore, not surprising that the House is not a very crowded one, although hon. Members are in sympathy with the reasons which bring us here to discuss the position of the mining population. I can only hope that we shall hear something from the Home Secretary showing some practical sympathy with the terms of the Resolution. I do not believe that anything material can be done by putting fresh burdens on the colliery owners. I believe that unless pounds, shillings, and pence are got from mining operations, while there will be no lives lost, there will be no wages earned. I hope the Government will do something in this matter.
§ Mr. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
There is an old and true saying, "Someone should die for the people." 1500 We have been waiting for some years now for an improvement and strengthening of the Mines Act. I am not going to blame anybody, because I have reason to know that Members of the last Government, as well as the Members of the present Government, have been very anxious to find out what were the real causes of loss of life and limb in mining. They have believed that what was called an accident was not always an accident, that some of the great calamities which have occurred from time to time have had avoidable causes, and that all of them have not been merely acts of God. I have very great sympathy with the Members of any Government in their anxiety to find out these causes. I do not think it matters much to the poor miner, or to widows and orphans, who may need a £5 note, whether they get it from Tories or Liberals. That is not the question we are discussing here to-day. We who represent mining constituencies are glad that there are so many here giving attention to this vital question. I came here twenty-five years ago. Mr. Speaker and I came here at the same time, and we have been engaged in every improvement of the Mines Act since those clays until now. Still we are waiting for a better, stronger, and safer Act of Parliament—one which will give greater safety to the miners, and also to the property of the owners, because every practical miner knows that if life and limb are to be safe, property must be in the same position. I should not like to be one to sound a discordant note this afternoon in this discussion. We have had unanimity of opinion, and that is very pleasing. Many good words have been spoken in favour of our present staff of inspectors. I have always been on that side. While one believed that the inspectors themselves felt the inadequacy of the inspection from the insufficient number of inspectors, one always sympathised with the inspectors. I always thought they were with us as to the necessity for a greater number of inspectors, and, indeed, for a new class of inspectors as well. The time has come when one must join issue with them. I wish to call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to this question. He will find in the Report of the Mining Commission that a great number of our inspectors, good men as they are, have formed the opinion that the inspection of some one part of a mine is sufficient and efficient. Here we join issue. They have formed the opinion also that inspection by sample is 1501 efficient inspection. I disagree entirely with that opinion. You may inspect a piece of cloth and say that one part represents the quality of the whole. I do not know that that is a safe thing to say, because, while many pieces of cloth are good, you will find some fault in another piece. I am certain that every practical miner in this House will agree with me that it is a fallacy to say that the whole of a colliery is safe because a portion of it has been inspected and found to be sound. Not only is it wrong to say so, but it is misguiding and dangerous in my humble opinion. It means giving a false sense of security. Within a mine there may be three or four departments, and because an inspector visits a portion of a mine he cannot say that those portions which he does not visit are safe. If an inspector goes into one part of a mine and reports to the manager, "The colliery is safe," I ask, "How do you know?" I say that instead of being a means of increasing safety, it is a means of danger. I would rather the inspector would say, "I have seen so much of the colliery, and that portion is safe." The value of inspection is to have it done efficiently. It may be said that if you are going to have every portion inspected in a reasonable time, it will cost a great deal of money. I do not know that that has got much to do with the matter. I do not want to point to the fact that so much money is spent oh machinery for destroying life and so forth, but I am certain that there is no Gentleman in this House now who will say, after the calamity which recently occurred, that we are spending too much or that we can spend too much in providing for the safety of miners. I would like to convince every Gentleman in this House in favour of increasing the staff of inspectors as a means of increasing safety underground. We believe that where the inspection is inefficient is where you will also find the greatest number of accidents taking place. The inner parts of the workings and the roads into the workings are the places where most of the mining accidents take place. It is there we want men to find out the causes. Can an inspector watch the inlet and find out the cause after an accident has taken place and lives have been lost? What we want and believe can be done is to find out the causes of accidents by looking for them in time.
That is not a new proposition. You can find out the causes of a number of these 1502 calamities if you look for them at a proper time and at the proper place. That is the point which I wish to impress upon the House. Say that one class of timbering is systematical; there is much to be said for systematical timbering. But what we say is that whatever system you have you want to make certain that the timber is properly put in under that system. You want to know whether stones are hanging that ought not to be allowed, or whether there are various other kinds of causes of accidents which can be ascertained by looking and finding out in time; and we also believe this, that there is among the workers a number of men properly trained whom you can employ to do this kind of work, and do it well. You do not need very highly trained engineering men. There are thousands of practical men whom you can employ to do this kind of thing, and do it not only as well, but even better, than men who have been simply trained to be, as it were, the managers of the working men. I saw a question raised before my hon. Friend the other day that every inspector ought to be of such a character that he could give advice to the colliery manager, and that there was a danger of appointing these men lest they should some day take the responsibility of managing the colliery. We do not want that. No such idea troubles our mind at all. We want practical men to do practical work, and they can do it even better than the other class to which I have referred. It may be said what use would they be suppose a great explosion takes place, and what advice could they give at that time? We have seen the result of explosions. We have been present at coroners' inquests, and whenever it was found out that an inspection of the colliery had been done by the working men themselves and a report was made by the working men, at every inquest that report can be made use of and has been made use of. Therefore, if it is of value in that way, it shows you at once the value of the inspection done by these men. I shall not detain the House longer. I have tried to make my point. I disagree entirely with the idea that inspecting a portion of the collieries is a safeguard. Rather than that I hold here and now that it is a danger, because it gives to the management and it gives to the working men a sense of false security, and whatever you do I hope you will discourage the idea that sampling a colliery is a satisfactory system of inspection.
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
I have not the advantage of possessing any practical experience in relation to coal mines, but I have long been aware of the conditions under which work is carried on in collieries, and it has been my unfortunate experience to have been professionally connected with inquiries into, I think, almost every important accident which has taken place in this country within the past thirty years. Therefore I can claim to speak with some slight authority on this question. I very readily recognise two things as the result of my own observation. First, that there has been a growing tendency on the part of owners and managers of mines to take more scrupulous care in the management of the mines for the purpose of securing the safety of those working therein; and, secondly, I recognise that legislation, such as has been passed during the past thirty years, has been contributory to securing greater safety; and, finally, the conditions under which men worked underground in mines are from every point of view infinitely more safe than they were in former years. I think that every Gentleman in this House who has any experience in mines will concur with that as an expression of opinion generally as to the coal mines in this country. But my experience is that there are four points to which the Home Office should direct its attention, and I regret to say that, without imputing, of course, any disregard or negligence on the part of the Home Office of its duties, sufficient attention has not been directed to those points to which I would very briefly call the attention of the House. In the first place I believe that almost every colliery explosion which has happened in this country has either been caused or very much intensified in its effect by the presence of coal dust, and I am ready to admit that there is a growing disposition on the part of colliery owners and managers to recognise the conspicuous part which coal dust plays in causing or aggravating an explosion. But in the second place I say advisedly those explosions which have happened in recent years might in my judgment have been, I will not say prevented altogether, but their disastrous consequence and effects might have been absolutely prevented were strict measures employed by the managers in preventing the existence of coal dust in the mines or taking such measures in treating coal dust as to render it innocuous.
For those hon. Members who are not experts I may mention that coal dust in 1504 the mine is different from that with which we are familiar in our domestic experience. It is a very fine impalpable dust which is being continually set in motion by the passage of tubs along the main ways. It is also set in motion whenever a shot is fired, and it is also set in motion merely by the men passing along the travelling road. This fine dust in the case of a shot being fired or in the case, to which I will refer a little later, of the discharge of a spark from electricity, may without the presence of gas in all probability be fired and a disastrous explosion may occur. What I wish to ask the House Office is this: Why do not they strengthen their powers in the direction of insisting that coal dust should be removed or treated? One of the last explosions with which I was concerned was a case in which I do not wish to animadvert in a spirit of hostility upon the management. They acted, I believe, for the best according to their lights. But in this case it was a dry, dusty, and hot mine. There was coal dust in huge quantities which was never removed. It was sometimes removed on the floor. It was lying on the roof, it was lying on the sides, and there was no system of watering it except on the floors in parts. When interrogated upon that point the answer of the management was that the watering of the coal dust might lead to the cramping or heaving of the floor. In other words it would entail somewhat greater expense to the management. The inference which one was irresistibly compelled to draw from the evidence of that explosion, which involved enormous loss of life, was this, that but for the existence of the coal dust that loss of life would not have occurred.
I say that the Home Office ought not to let a question of expense, in a matter of this kind, as was said by one of my hon. Friends, have any magnitude attached to it. They should impose upon the owners of mines which are dusty and dry the obligation to treat and remove the cause. The second cause of explosions is the firing of shots. One of my hon. Friends stated that the number of shots which were fired in coal mines in the different coal areas is something enormous. How are these shots fired, and when? As a rule—and on this I am subject to correction by those who know better than myself—during working shifts they are not fired; that is, while the coal is actually in course of being hewed in the collieries the shots are not fired at all. Sometimes even that reasonable precaution is not observed, but shots 1505 are fired when a repairing shift is on duty, consisting of a very large number of persons—may be fifty, may be 100, or may be even more. Those shots are fired in dry, dusty, and gaseous mines, and an explosion takes place—and be it observed that almost every explosion that has taken place in this country has been traceable to shot firing, and an appalling loss of life has ensued. I know, of course, the objection on the part of expense may sometimes be urged and has been urged, but still nothing can be easier than for the Home Office to insist that when shot-firing takes place in a mine all persons save those actually engaged in the work of shot-firing should be withdrawn from the danger.
That view has been expressed by many colliery experts who are not, like my hon. Friend, connected with working miners, as a feasible, reasonable, and necessary proceeding on the part of the Home Office. Yet the Home Office has taken no effective action in that direction, which would, I believe, contribute enormously to the saving of human life. Further than that, I am not satisfied—I speak with great deference to those who know better than myself—that proper care is taken in the selection of persons whose duty it is to fire shots. I think mare rigorous responsibility should be imposed on the management in the selection of shot-firers. That is a matter which it is possible for the Home Office to deal with by regulations. The third point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Home Office has reference to the introduction of electricity into coal mines. It has been introduced not merely for haulage purposes—if it were confined to haulage purposes probably the danger would be comparatively small—but for the purpose of coal-cutting machines. This entails the use of loose cables. Any abrasion of the insulating material, which is inevitable in the case of loose cables, may lead to an accident, for a mere spark in the highly sensitive atmosphere of a coal mine may cause an explosion. I believe that has been the cause of at least one explosion—that which occurred at the Stanley pit. Of course, the jury did not arrive at any very definite conclusion as to what was the true cause of the explosion, but I am satisfied that it was the result of the use of electricity. The Home Office shortly after that explosion appointed a Commission, which was undoubtedly composed of eminent men, 1506 but a most distinguished scientific man, a professor at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who gave evidence clearly showing, in my judgment, that the explosion was caused by the use of electricity, was not nominated to be a member of that Commission by the Home Office. He was perfectly independent, and he came to give evidence as a scientific man—he is not a personal friend of mine, therefore I speak with absolute impartiality—but he was not appointed by the Home Office as one of the Commissioners to inquire into the matter. As regards the use of electricity, although the Home Office has recently made rules, I am not satisfied that the Home Office has taken care to see that the colliery managers appoint competent persons to be electricians in the mines. I was just now glancing at the report of fatal accidents which occurred in pits in Derbyshire through the use of electricity. I find that these accidents were entirely due to defective electrical apparatus in the coal mine. I press upon the Home Secretary the necessity of taking care not merely that there are certain rules and conditions under which electricity should be used, but that the persons who are appointed electricians are qualified to look after the management and have the control of electrical work. I think they should be persons of the highest skill and competence. These are points which I desire to press upon the Home Office. Then there is the question of inspection. I can anticipate what the Home Office may say upon that point. They may say that we have ample inspection, and that if a larger number of inspectors were appointed we would lessen the sense of responsibility on the part of the management. There is something to be said from that point of view, if the appointment of inspectors is pressed too far. I will state my own experience. I have spoken to many inspectors, perhaps the most of them. They are highly competent officers, anxious to do their duty. What do they tell me? They inform me that it is absolutely physically impossible for them to inspect anything but a fraction of the coal mines in the areas over which they have jurisdiction. After a merely chance visit, which they sometimes pay, they never go to any coal mine except at the request of the manager or the workmen, or as the result and in consequence of an accident. The consequence is that the great majority of coal mines in an inspector's district are absolutely left without any official supervision on the 1507 part of a Government officer. I repeat that I do not impute any want of care to the gentlemen who are inspectors, but this I do say, that it is a reasonable thing to increase the number of inspectors so that there may be not what you might call a daily and continuous inspection of mines, or at very short intervals, but that there may be something partaking of the nature of a more effective observation of the mines than at present exists. I speak from experience of these inquiries. The inspector is asked, "Do you know of this practice?—No if I had known of it I would certainly have interfered to prevent it." "When were you last in the mine?—Not for months, perhaps years." They have no information as to the mines they have to inspect. I think it is impossible, work as hard as they may, that they should do greater and more efficient inspection than at present. The right hon. Gentleman may say, "Oh, but you have more working-men inspectors." I am not by any means undervaluing the work done by working-men inspectors in coal mines. I quite recognise that the work they do is often extremely valuable, but in some cases working-men inspectors do not avail themselves—and it is not to be wondered at—of the facilities which are afforded them. However generous or magnanimous the management of the coal mine may be, there is a sentiment about the working-man inspector that he exposes himself to some danger of losing his employment if he makes an adverse report. We cannot hide that fact; it is human nature. Therefore, do not let working miners rely on the working-men inspectors as a sufficient substitute for the appointment of additional inspectors. I quite agree that the inspector ought to be an educated man, that he ought to have a certain standard of knowledge, but of this I am quite certain, that from the ranks of the working miners there can be selected men of long experience, of considerable scientific knowledge, and of great practical knowledge who might be appointed as additional mines inspectors in every centre. Within my experience these questions to which I have called attention have been mooted over and over again in this House. The Home Secretary has expressed his sympathy with the ideas put forth, but nothing whatever has been done. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies that office is going to say, but I have, respectfully I hope, drawn his attention to matters which I know to be evils 1508 connected with mining industry—coal dust, the use of electricity, the firing of shots, and the inadequacy of the number of inspectors. I hope that in the right hon. Gentleman's reply he will give us assurances on these points. I represent a district where the miners work in gaseous and deep-sunk mines, and the deeper the mine the greater the heat and the greater the danger. The number of deep-sunk mines is rapidly increasing in this country, and we who represent mining constituencies have a mandate to insist that the Home Secretary should give us not merely pleasant promises which will not be fulfilled, but an assurance which will be acted upon in regard to those evils which are admitted by the inspectors themselves—the use of electricity in coal mines—a source, to my mind, of the greatest possible danger—provision for the laying of coal dust, the inadequate number of inspectors, and the necessity which is shown for stricter firing regulations than those which exist. If the right hon. Gentleman will give us such an assurance, we shall be satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman will do what we wish.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Churchill)
The Debate which has arisen this afternoon in the House, and which has been so full of knowledge among the speakers who have taken part in it, gains an added degree of significance from the fact that our minds have been filled by the details of the terrible catastrophe at Whitehaven. It would, I think, be unfitting if it were supposed out of doors that that accident had been the special cause of this Debate. The leaders and representatives of the mining industry, more than six or seven weeks ago, came in a deputation to the Home Office and acquainted me with their views on nearly all subjects that have been brought up this afternoon; and before the Whitehaven disaster took place I had already, as a result of my discussions with them and with others at the Home Office, taken steps to call together a meeting of the colliery owners with a view to making provision for rescue purposes and improving rescue work. There is no doubt that our minds are full of the tragic incidents of this last great mining disaster, and I presume that the House will wish me, on this the first occasion when we have discussed such matters, to express on behalf of every Member the deep grief which we feel for those who suffer from this appalling misfortune. There are two 1509 bright features in this most melancholy accident—the great generosity of the public and the heroic; dauntless courage displayed by the miners and others on the spot. I agree with what was said, I think it was by the hon. Member for Glamorgan, in an interruption which he made of my hon. Friend behind me, that it is premature for us at the present time to discuss the causes and the details of this accident. We do not know, and we have no means of knowing, what actually took place. Whether there was an explosion at the face of the coal or not cannot be decided with certainty. How the fire was originated, whether it was near the friction gear, whether it originated at the point where the force of the explosion spent itself, which is sometimes the case, or whether it arose from some cause connected with the friction gear, no one can tell, and perhaps we shall never know.
There is one point which I should like to take this opportunity of making clear to the House and to the public outside, namely, that when the fire broke out the air which ventilated the mine and the air which passed through the fire carried with it, and with great rapidity, the poisonous gases generated or liberated to all parts of the workings. Those gases must have proved fatal to life within a very short period of time. It is possible that in particular districts the approach of this danger might have been noticed, and, though it is unlikely, it is possible that the miners might in some districts short-circuit the air supply, and so hold back the fumes for some longer period. But in this particular mine the percentage of impure air is, and I speak subject to expert knowledge, very high. It is about 2 per cent., I am informed, and from this cause alone it is certain, even if the air supply had been short-circuited, life would not have been prolonged, in any part of the workings for more than a very few hours. That is the opinion of the best experts to whom I have had the opportunity of having recourse.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is referring to explosive gases or to light damp, in the 2 per cent.?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am referring to poisonous gases which would be fatal to human life by breathing. The sealing up of the mine did not take place for thirty-one hours, it is calculated, after the explosion. It was thirty-one hours before 1510 the intake was closed. During the whole of that time the air was passing, although the air current was reduced, through the fire and through the works, and was the means of bearing with it the poisonous gas that had been generated. There is something very horrible in the idea of the closing of this intake. But it is a mistake to suppose that that closed all exit from the mine. This is a mine which has an effective return for the air current, a return which, I am informed, is large enough for two men to walk along abreast, and this return channel was not closed for nine days after the explosion. Although it was open, there could not have been, a very few hours after the explosion, any who could have passed along it. I hope to have made clear that the act of sealing up one of those two ways into the mine was not an act to cut off, even had there been, and I am informed there could not have been, living persons in the mine. The act of sealing up one of those air channels was not an act which cut off exit from the mine and left no means of escape. It was, in fact, an act which stopped altogether the passage of further poisonous gases generated by the conflagration and driven forward by the draught into the workings. Of course, it was the only step by which the fire could be extinguished and to enable the mine to be entered. As I have said, the highest authorities to whom I have been able to have recourse are confident that no person could have been alive in the mine when the intake-airway was closed; but even if there had been, no other course could have been taken with the intention of safety.
I pass from that to the other subject which has been raised in the course of this deeply interesting Debate. The figures of accidents in coal mines have often been quoted with a view to showing the great improvement which has marked the course of modern legislation during the last forty or fifty years. In the period from 1851 to 1855 the accidents in mines underground were no less than 5'149 per thousand of the men employed—that is, fatal accidents—and that has fallen in the period 1896 to 1900 to something like 1.473, an enormous reduction of nearly three-fourths. But I think it also emerges from the figures that we seem there to have reached a dead level, and that since that great and beneficent period of reduction has been completed we do not seem to have made any headway. I deduce from that, and I think I am entitled to do so, two conclusions, first of all that the legislation which 1511 Parliament has from time to time been perfecting in regard to mines, and the system of inspections which have gradually been extended and developed, proved effective; and the second conclusion is that we seem to have reached the limits of improvement under the existing system, and that the time has now been reached when we should make a distinct and definite effort to break new ground and to set up a higher standard.
The Report of the Royal Commission the House knows, been delayed by the fact of the illness and death of its able Chairman, Lord Monkswell, who devoted so much of the closing months of his life to this work. A new Chairman has been appointed, and the second Report of that Commission, which was issued in July of last year, concludes its labours on all matters relating to coal mines which were referred to it except ventilation, and the prevention of explosions from coal dust. I think it is very desirable that that final work of the Commission should be expedited, and I do not think that any undue or unnecessary delay will be caused by the fact that another Commission largely connected with the first, yet distinct, is also at work inquiring into the conditions which prevail in metalliferous mines and quarries. I do not think any practical delay in legislation will be caused by that extension of the scope of the inquiry. In the meanwhile we have already reorganised the staff and the districts, and that reorganisation has taken effect from the 1st of the present month, and the details have been published in the Press. The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones), in the course of his instructive speech, and the hon. Gentleman is a very careful student of these matters, spoke of four points, and drew the attention of the Home Office to four points which, he said, required a higher standard of precautionary attention at the present time. With regard to coal dust as the cause of explosions, and the strengthening of powers for preventing explosions from it, I can assure him that the Commission is at work on that point, and it is one of the few outstanding points on which their attention is now concentrated. With regard to shot firing, recommendations are in the Reports that have been issued, and those recommendations will, with many other recommendations designed to secure greater safety, be included in a general new Coal Mines Regulation Act. With regard to electricity, a 1512 small expert Committee of the Home Office has been set up with a view to revising the existing regulations, and the existing special rules which, in regard to a science which in its application to coal mines is so novel and so rapidly changing and developing, are already obsolete in many respects.
Lastly, there is the question of inspection to which my hon. Friend referred and almost every hon. Gentleman who has spoken in this discussion. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. William Abraham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) and the hon. Member for Glamorgan (Mr. Brace), and the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Harvey), and others have spoken in unbroken unison and succession arguing in favour of an increase of inspectors. The Royal Commission were unanimous in recommending that the staff of inspectors should be strengthened. This is what they said about it:—After examining the various duties imposed upon the inspectorate, and the size of the staff, we have come to the conclusion that the present staff is too small for the purpose.I think my hon. Friend the Member for the Rhondda Valley is under a wrong impression in attributing to the existing inspectors of mines complete satisfaction with the strength of the present inspectorate. I am informed that the view of many of our inspectors is that the staff is distinctly too small for the purposes it has in hand. It is quite clear, after this unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission, that there must be an effective increase in the inspectorate. I do not think that we can determine the exact limits of that increase until the reorganisation of the new districts and so on has been completed, but I am certainly prepared to take steps to strengthen the inspectorate, and I shall hope without undue delay to announce at least some of the steps which will be taken.
Now we come to a more complicated point with regard to the inspectorate—the suggestion that we should create a new class of inspectors, that we should have, as it were, a dual system of inspectors; that there should be the existing superior inspectors who should take action, and that there should be under them another body of inspectors of lower rank, perhaps without quite the same high educational attainments, but with practical knowledge and thoroughly efficient for the purposes in hand, who should report to their 1513 superiors whenever there came to their notice matters which seemed to require the intervention of Government authority. I have been giving my attention to this subject. I hope my hon. Friends and the House generally will show me some indulgence in these matters, because it is not easy to form views on these important subjects in a hurry. One must digest them and turn them over in one's mind. I have been at the Home Office only about four months, and those months have been occupied by many other matters which have pressed upon me. But I see a strong argument which may be used against using two classes of inspectors. It is said that the mine manager is responsible for everything in the mine, that he is a man of wide practical experience and high scientific attainments, and that he ought not to be inspected by anyone who is not at least equally skilled with himself. I think that is a serious argument, but I do not think it disposes of the question when it is proposed to assign to another class of inspectors the r61e merely of reporting to a superior authority. I am very anxious indeed to provide for more frequent inspection in mines, and I am anxious also, if I may say so, to promote complete solidarity between all classes of those who are engaged in the work in the mines. I am informed that a man may rise from a working collier to a high post in colliery management, and I think it is undesirable in regard to the Government inspectorate that there should be, as it were, a sharp line drawn so that it is in practice not easy, almost not possible, for a man who begins life with manual labour at the face of the coal to rise to a position of responsibility in the inspectorate. I am very anxious indeed that there should be no such jump as that in the system of Government administration under the Mines Regulation Acts. While I would ask the House not to expect me this afternoon to say exactly in what way I will give effect to the views and opinions I have put before them, I trust I shall be enabled in some way effectively to meet the wish that has been expressed that the number of inspectors shall not merely be increased, but that it shall be increased without in any way derogating from the efficiency of the inspection and in such a way as, at any rate in a certain number of cases to begin with, and as trial permits, shall make it possible for practical workmen who have worked at the coal themselves to bear their part in the business of inspection.
1514 There is another point akin to those to which I have referred, namely, the question whether there ought to be at the Home Office in connection with the Mines Department some one or more officials connected with the trade unions or the mining associations, similar to those who have been employed with so much success at the Board of Trade. I, of course, know very well the comfort and advantage which I, as head of the Board of Trade, derived from the services of men like Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Cummings, who had distinguished careers in the trade union world, and who have been able to keep the Board of Trade as closely in touch with Labour opinion as any public authority in the country has ever been. If it should be found possible to extend that system to the administration of the Mines Regulation Acts under the Home Office, it would certainly be very agreeable to me, and I think it would tend to bring us all more closely together in the discussion of the many questions which from day to day arise between the mining population and the Department charged by Parliament with the protection of their lives and interests.
I have said that the Royal Commission on Mines have made a large number of recommendations in regard to coal mines, dealing with the supervision of the mines, the standard of ventilation, the use and testing of safety lamps, shot firing, the revision, improvement, and establishment of special rules, examinations for manager's certificates, and other important matters, all of which involve amendments of or additions to the present Acts. It is very important that effect should be given to those recommendations as soon as possible. I am not entitled to say this afternoon what will be the legislation of next year. I have no reason to know whether there will be a next year; but if I should be responsible for the conduct of the Home Office to the end of the present year, I think I can guarantee the House that the Bill giving effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission shall be completed and ready for this House, or any other House of Commons, to take action upon at the first available moment. That Bill will, of course, include as well the necessary amendments in the Acts relating to metalliferous mines and quarries. But there is one matter which, I think, will not wait until next year, and that is the more general provision of rescue apparatus. It is quite true that these new appliances, whereby men 1515 can penetrate into poisonous atmospheres, as a diver goes under water, breathing oxygen or liquid air from a helmet specially provided, are at the present time in a very experimental stage, and that their use is attended with, or is not free from, an element of danger, which sometimes—at any rate, in one case—has resulted in the death of the user. At the same time, my advisers inform me that, especially in case of fire in mines, these appliances might be of the very greatest use, and might be the means of saving many lives by enabling the fire to be extinguished through an otherwise unbreath-able atmosphere. There are many other uses to which these appliances can be put. But it is no use having a few of these appliances scattered about at infrequent positions through the country, so that they take many hours to reach the scene of an accident, do not arrive until the conditions are such that it is practically hopeless to do anything, and when they arrive very often arrive imperfect, damaged in transit, or without some of the necessary fittings, as was the case at Whitehaven. It is no use depending on any system so loosely established and connected as that. What is wanted is that there should be available within reasonable access—say, within half an hour by motor-car—of every mine a certain number of these necesary appliances. More than that, it is necessary that there should be in every mine men who know how to use these appliances, and who also know the particular mine. It is very little use men who understand the appliances going down a mine with which they are not acquainted, and it is no use men acquainted with the mine going down wearing the appliances for the first time. It is, therefore, necessary that there should be set on foot a system of a rescue corps, or parties, in every mine; that there should be regular apparatus with each rescue party, so that the party may be trained in the use of these appliances and in other matters appertaining to rescue work. It is also necessary that there should be good training centres, where the men can be thoroughly trained, in the first instance, in the use of the new apparatus. I have had inquiries made into what foreign countries have done in the matter of the provision of rescue apparatus. In France, Belgium, and Austria there are already laws on this subject. Austria has had since 1905 a detailed Code requiring the provision of a rescue officer 1516 at every mine, and at every pit a man available for rescue work. Belgium has a Decree which came into force on the first day of this year requiring a rescue station to be provided for every group of mines of a dangerous class, and providing for the provision of rescue apparatus. France has a similar Decree for rescue stations at mines employing shifts of 100 men. In Germany the utility of breathing apparatus is widely recognised, and in some States, such as Prussia and Saxony, the provision of such apparatus is already compulsory. I do not recite these facts to the House in order to make them the basis of reproach against the mining industry in this country. On the contrary, I wish to join with several speakers who have taken part in this Debate in their expression of high praise for those mine-owners and collieries where a bold attempt has been made to equip themselves with the latest and best pattern of what, after all, is a highly experimental apparatus. Much credit is due to those who have done this. I had the opportunity a few days ago of seeing the Mining Association of Great Britain. I was assured by the members in no uncertain terms of their readiness and resolve to press forward the procuring and more general adoption of these measures. I am convinced that by taking any steps by legislation I shall have the help of the great majority of the coal-owners throughout the country in promoting the universal adoption of rescue stations and of rescue apparatus.
I have, therefore, with the consent of the Prime Minister, decided to introduce a small Bill upon this subject this Session. The time is not very favourable for legislation, but I think—although I note that the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) is in his place—I can frame this Bill in such a way as to secure it from being in any degree controversial. It will be a very simple measure. The character of the Bill will enable the Home Secretary to make Orders as to rescue work in the same way as he now makes Orders with regard to explosives under the Act of 1896. I need hardly say that in enforcing such an Act full weight would be assigned to the fact that the apparatus is at present in an experimental condition. We should not try to stereotype and insist upon the same pattern being applied all over—at any rate, not in the present condition of the question. We should consider very carefully the efforts which have already been made and the apparatus which has been provided in many parts of the country, and 1517 we should use the measure with a view of supporting the large voluntary spontaneous movements that are on foot amongst the coal-owners, and to bring into line with the best means of advance those mines which might under a voluntary system lag behind with a feeling of confidence that they might, when an accident or need arose, use the apparatus which others had provided for their own need. I therefore hope in the course of the present Session to pass an Act of the kind I have indicated to the House, and I would most earnestly appeal to all Members, in all parts of the House, to treat it in the fullest sense as an uncontroversial measure. I thank the House for having listened to me so patiently upon a subject upon which many hon. Members have spent their lives and have studied very fully. I am sure that they will look with a friendly eye upon one dealing for the first time with matters which, after all, are extremely technical.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I am sure there will be a general feeling in the House that the discussion which has taken place this afternoon has been one of the most practical, and promises to be one of the most fruitful, that has ever taken place within the walls of this Chamber. The speech to which we have just listened, with its promises of reform, I venture to say, opens up in many directions an era of hope for the miners of this country. That being so, none of us will be inclined to carp at the delay which has taken place in carrying through a reform required for years, and for which opinion has long been ripe. In regard to the promise of the new class of inspectors, I was especially glad, and so, I think, were my colleagues, to hear the Home Secretary give what was really an undertaking in regard to the appointment of these men, that practical experience will carry more weight than classical learning in the qualifications that are required. There are many young men in the mines to-day who have qualified themselves in all respects, save one, for obtaining a manager's certificate. So far as the practice and theory of mining are concerned, they could sit for an examination and pass it triumphantly at any moment, but where they are conscious of failure, and where they often fail, is not in regard to mining, but in regard to matters of classical learning which have no more connection with mining than they have with any other extraneous subject. Therefore, it is a special pleasure to learn that in the future practi- 1518 cal experience in regard to the new class of men is to carry most weight. In regard to the rescue stations, I quite agree with the opinion expressed by the Home Secretary that it would not be wise to set up a hard and fast standard of apparatus at this stage. The important thing will be to see that such stations have some workable apparatus, even if the types differ in different parts of the country. Reference was made to the deplorable calamity at Whitehaven. When the deputation of the Miners Association was at the Home Office the other day, the Home Secretary made use of an expression with regard to a statement of my own which I should have thought on reflection, and in view of the fuller knowledge which he now evidently possesses, he would have been ready to modify or withdraw. I listened very carefully to those parts of his speech dealing with the possibility of any men being alive in the mine at the time when it was agreed to wall up the "intake." The Home Secretary, by his admission that by a short circuit of air there was just a possibility of some of the men being alive conceded the point which I have been endeavouring to make. I did not make the statement, as implied, that any other course could have been taken than the one that was taken in order to extinguish the fire.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly read the remarks of the hon. Gentleman as giving the impression that the mine had been prematurely walled up with a callous disregard of life, and with a preference to the safety of property over life. I regretted that the hon. Gentleman, whose high character and long public record deserve respect, should have given his weight to a suggestion that was cruel and not true; but if the hon. Gentleman says that he did not mean to convey that impression, and that it was a pure statement of fact, without any intention of suggesting that a callous or inhuman course had been adopted, then I am certainly ready to withdraw the expression which I used.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman got his information of what I said. I do not know where he has got that impression, or what report he has read. I saw no report that would convey an impression of that kind. My reference to the men being alive was this: that it added to the horrors of the situation that these men possibly were alive, an opinion I still hold, when the 1519 mine was walled up. I went on to point out that I was not blaming those responsible for the act for having decided to wall up the mine. The point I wanted to make was this: that had there been a proper means of escape other than the road on which the fire took place, not a single life need to have been sacrificed from the fire itself. The Home Secretary has told us that it was only the intake airway that was walled up, and that the return was left open; but at the working place where the men presumably were, which was far inside from where the fire took place, the air was much clearer and much more capable of saving life than it would be m the return airway, where the smoke and gases were necessarily finding their way. Therefore I say a point of some importance was raised.
They found the return airway being open did not in the least degree facilitate the escape of the men inside, because the poisonous gas in the return airway made it impossible for the men to fight their way out. My point is that just as the Mines Regulation Act lays it down that there must be two means of escape from a mine—two means of egress—and that these must be separated by at least fifteen yards, so in the case of these works so far in under the sea, where no second shaft was possible, the provision made to apply to the escape shafts should, had due regard been had to the safety of the men, have been made to apply to escape roads. I submit that had that course been taken and escape roads with a decent system of ventilation been provided this terrible disaster which we all deplore could not have taken place. I am certain of this, that had this mine been inspected by inspectors with practical knowledge of mining conditions all the thing which led to the accident would have been condemned beforehand and in all probability put right. That, then, is the position which I have taken up in regard to this matter—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
As the matter is of considerable importance, let me say, if I understand from the hon. Gentleman that he does not impeach the humanity or the necessity of the course taken to stop the in-take airway, if I understand that from him—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Then I certainly withdraw the strictures which I passed. I will read the report of the hon. Gentleman's words.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
From the "South Wales Daily News":—Here 136 miners were behind a fire from which there was no escape, and, speaking as a collier, let them mark his opinion—these men were still alive when the wall was built to put out the tire. While there was such a lot of mummery shown at the one man, those men in the North of England were uncared for.That it was that led me to offer these strictures which I thought were justified as the impression they would naturally bear, but taking the statement of the hon. Gentleman that he did not make, and did not wish to make, such a charge, and as he considers the course taken was the proper one in the circumstances, I gladly withdraw the use of the two adjectives I employed.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I cannot find in the report just read anything to justify the assumption that I consider that the men had been unnecessarily walled off. I am quite certain that not one of the hundreds who heard me speak had any such impression in his mind. No one could have had it. I was at pains to explain that if the same course had been taken to provide means of escape as ought to have been taken, and that if the £1,000 which Lord Lonsdale gave to the fund after the calamity was spent in making the mines safe before the calamity the accident would never have happened.
I can only say that if this discussion promises to show greater activity on the part of the Home Office, more energy in administering the Mines Regulation Act, and in procuring additional inspectors, and in additional enforcement of the law as may be required, then the result will undoubtedly be the saving of many valuable lives in the future, because those who are best acquainted with mining will bear me out when I say that a very large proportion of the accidents that take place in mines are preventable, and if only the law is strengthened and better enforced then many of those terrible disasters which we deplore will cease to occur in connection with this industry.
§ Colonel HICKMAN
I rise with great diffidence, because I am not in possession of the technical knowledge or experience possessed by hon. Members opposite in the 1521 Debate this afternoon. But as the representative of a mining constituency, and being in some measure a colliery owner myself, I wish to associate myself with the remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite upon this subject. I am sure that the House has heard with great pleasure the speech of the Home Secretary, in which he assures us of the great interest which he takes in this subject, and in which he has promised us that he will bring in legislation very shortly to meet the state of affairs going on in coal mines at the present time. If I may venture to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, it would be that he would carry what he states a little further. I would suggest that instead of having those helmets and appliances for getting into mines where there is a lot of bad gas at a central place, where they would have to be fetched to the scene of such occurrences by motor car, it would be more practicable if ten or a dozen of these helmets were obliged to be kept in each pit, and if there were ten or a dozen men trained to put them on and wear them, and also to know the pit and where to go, it would have the greatest possible effect.
Perhaps it might be interesting to Members of the House if I tell them that the firm to which I have the honour to belong are at the present moment experimenting with a number of helmets similar to those to which the right hon. gentleman has alluded. I am told that in these helmets there is a certain chemical and also some oxygen, and that when a man breathes the oxygen inside the helmet, and throws out carbonic-acid gas, this particular chemical absorbs the carbonic-acid gas and sends back oxygen again to be breathed by the man. By this means a man is enabled to breathe in the very worst possible atmosphere for at least an hour. I think it will be quite plain to everybody that if these helmets were used by ten or a dozen men in each mine when any small explosion occurs or fire takes place, if these men could go at once to the point of explosion or fire, there would be a great chance of its being put out, and grave dangers would be avoided to miners in future.
§ Mr. F. W. VERNEY
I desire, as a mine owner myself, to add the expression of real pleasure which it has been to me to listen to such a speech as we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary this afternoon. No body of men will be more glad to know that real practical measures are going to be taken very 1522 quickly than the mine-owners of this country. I cannot for a moment pretend to have the expert knowledge which so-many of those who addressed the House have, both scientifically and practically, upon this subject, but no one who owns a mine can possibly help having a deep interest in all these subjects, and those of us who have been horror-struck by the recent accident and former accidents that have occurred, and have read something from the scientific evidence given at those inquiries which were held, must all unite in hoping that science will work hand in hand with practical knowledge, and that the scientific knowledge employed abroad or in this country may be fully devoted for the benefit of those who work in the mines and for the purpose of allaying alarm to the wives and families of those engaged in getting out of the bowels of the earth the riches which many of us enjoy in peace and comfort in our own homes. I think the speeches we have listened to from all sides of the House will convey the impression which I believe to be absolutely the true one, that there is practically nothing controversial that need be introduced into the immediate legislation which the Home Secretary has indicated, and in which I hope he will find support from all sides of the House. We have had abundant evidence that he will receive the support of the Labour Members; we have had evidence from the other side of the House that he will be supported there also, and I think he will find among the mine-owners themselves those who will give him the greatest possible encouragement in the course he is ready to enter upon and which I for one hope to see speedily brought to a successful termination.
§ Mr. A. E. DUNN
As a representative of a mining constituency I desire most sincerely to thank the Home Secretary for his speech, and particularly for the promise contained in it to increase the number of inspectors. It is now some months ago since it became my duty to approach the Home Office with a view to endeavouring to remedy what those resident and working in my Constituency in the extreme West of England considered a serious grievance. We have, of course, inspectors, but the nearest inspector for mines in my Constituency resides so far away from his work that it takes him five hours' railway journey before he can reach the mines that he is called upon to inspect. I certainly trust that the Home Secretary will at the earliest moment possible take steps to 1523 secure that where there are a number of mines in the extreme West of England there shall be a resident inspector. Most of our accidents arise from insufficient supporting and matters of that kind, and immediate and prompt inspection is absolutely necessary in order to detect the mischief, and we cannot have efficient and prompt inspection when it takes a man five hours by rail before he can reach the mine in which the accident has happened. I am glad indeed to have the promise the Home Secretary has made, and I trust it will not be very long before the dangers which exist at present in connection with these Western mines is remedied.
§ Mr. A. B. MARKHAM
I do not think the Home Office even yet appreciate the importance of electricity in regard to this question. When I first came into this House I put numerous questions upon this subject, but nothing was done. Then we had a series of accidents involving loss of life, and the late Mr. Ritchie agreed to appoint a Committee. Certain rules and regulations were drawn up, but most of the recommendations of the Committee were swept aside and were not carried into effect. The unfortunate calamity five months ago where there was a very serious explosion was thought to be due to electricity. After that the Government appointed a small Committee of three gentlemen at the Home Office, and I want to know what is going to be done with their Report? Is it going to form part of some legislative proposals? I understand the Government have no power under their regulations and rules to put into force any of those recommendations unless they have legislative power. With regard to the effect of gases in mines it is no use the Home Secretary telling the House what he has done on that point, because the moment the in-take airway is closed every man must have been dead inside within three minutes.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The in-take air passage was just as effectively closed by the gases which the fire was pouring forth as by the walling up of the mine.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
I say certainly not. I can speak from experience of a colliery which belongs to me in Warwickshire, where a fire took place due to a motor working a pump. The man in charge had only been there two hours, and he went to sleep on a bench. The motor set fire to some oil, and afterwards to some timber, and five minutes afterwards, through the 1524 whole of the mine where the air current was passing the men were able to get out of the mine except at one point. I do not think any man could possibly be alive thirty-six hours after the fire, but I agree with the Member for Merthyr, that if there had been more roads of escape between the in-take and the return a good deal of this suffocation might not have taken place. The moment the in-take road was closed every man must have been killed in three minutes. I do not myself think the position is at all satisfactory with regard to the escape from mines where there is only one return and no roads between the returns. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that any legislation is necessary or not in regard to electricity.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
When the Electrical Committee has finished its Report and has reported on the revision of the rules, effect can be given to their recommendations by taking new orders under the existing Act. With regard to the statement which the hon. Member has made as to the Whitehaven colliery disaster, I can only say that my statement on this point was perfectly accurate.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
The right hon. Gentleman gave the impression that the return way was open, and he led the House to believe that the men could have come out that way.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have no intention of arguing the matter with the hon. Member. [HON. Members: "Oh, oh!"]
§ Mr. MARKHAM
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need be insolent on a question which is of vital importance to the well-being and the lives of miners. What I was stating was not in any way hostile criticism. The right hon. Gentleman led the House to believe that the return air-way was open, but the moment the stopping was put into the in-take every man would be killed within three minutes. There is only one other point, and that is the urgent necessity of doing something with regard to electricity. There is more necessity for legislation in regard to electricity in mines than in any other question. The number of accidents caused by electricity is large, and in a majority of 1525 collieries the working conditions are not safe. Grave danger is caused by the use of electricity by the manner in which it is being used, and I hope the Home Secretary will deal with this evil.
I wish to say a word or two in connection with the scheme which the Home Secretary has foreshadowed about rescue stations. I wish to ask whether it would not be possible to have some system of telephonic communication between one part of the mine and another, and to be able to communicate in this way to the bottom of the pit-shaft. I am aware of the practical difficulties associated with this question. Terrible explosions are often followed by heavy falls of roof which block the roadway, and if you have to use telephonic wires connection may be destroyed by those falls. I do not know whether it is possible to have some sort of wireless telegraphy in mines; if so, it has often occurred to me that that might be a matter of very great service and importance to those who are in a mine after an explosion, or in a case where you have a sudden inrush of water into the mine. The management, as a rule, know fairly well where all their workpeople are to be found in a mine under ordinary circumstances; but when an explosion has taken place, or you have had a sudden inrush of water, it is every man for himself, and the men rush out to the nearest point of vantage and safety. Rescuers go forth after an explosion or an inrush of water to the places where they expect to find the men, but the workmen are generally gathered together in a totally different part of the mine; and if there could be established any such system of telephonic communication or wireless telegraphy, as I have indicated, it would convey to the rescuers the spot where the men were likely to be found, and this would be a decided advantage. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point in consultation with his advisers at the Home Office.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
The right hon. Gentleman has very wisely and very kindly stated here this afternoon that he intends augmenting the inspectorate of mines on broad and general lines. I hope he will realise the necessity of appointing inspectors who can speak the Welsh language. Some hon. Members will no doubt remember an incident last Session when the late Home Secretary appointed a gentleman to be the principal Inspector of Mines in South Wales who had no knowledge of the Welsh language, with the 1526 result that arrangements had to be made whereby this gentleman, although exercising supervising authority over the coalfield, was not actually in charge of a district. Some rearrangement took place at the Home Office which has put that same gentleman now in charge of a district, and this has created a state of things that was successfully protested against last Session. I desire to call the attention of the Home Secretary to this fact, and I hope he will realise that if these inspectors are going to be of use in the inspection of mines, and making the necesary inquiries from workmen who can only speak Welsh, they should have a knowledge of the Welsh language.
§ Mr. ENOCH EDWARDS
Having regard to the conciliatory nature of the Home Secretary's speech, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.