HC Deb 27 June 1910 vol 18 cc686-8

I am asking leave to introduce a Bill which I think, in the strictest sense of the word, will be accepted as uncontroversial. A few days ago we had in this House a debate on accidents in coal mines, and the Home Secretary then promised that he would shortly introduce a measure which would make compulsory and universal the provision of rescue apparatus and training of rescue brigades. That promise was welcomed both by mine owners and by representatives of the miners in the House, and that promise we are now proceeding to redeem. Upon the general question I have only two remarks to make. The first is that in this legislation we are merely following the example of many of the great coal-mining countries, and especially Austria, France, Belgium, and most of the coal-mining States of Germany, which have already embodied it in their industrial law. The second is that in proposing Government action in this matter we make no criticism of, and we desire no interference with, the work which has been already done, and admirably done, both by individuals and by associations of the colliery owners of this country. In South Wales, in Lancashire, in Yorkshire, and in other districts much has been accomplished by the enterprise and patriotic efforts of mine owners in providing that which we now desire to make universal. The Howe-Bridge Station, in Lancashire, is probably one of the best-equipped rescue stations in the world. There, all the year round, bodies of men from various mines are engaged in being trained in an atmosphere made as near as possible artificially resembling the atmosphere of a coal mine after fire or an explosion. The Home Office has sent a model of that station to the International Exhibition at Brussels, where, I believe, it has attracted considerable interest and admiration, and we have no greater desire than to level up the general conditions to such conditions as this.

But I think legislation is necessary for two reasons. The first is that there are still large districts in which no rescue stations are provided easily accessible to the mines. The second is that in districts which are already provided with rescue stations only a proportion of the mine owners undertake the work and subscribe to the necessary funds, and it is obviously unfair that a limited body of men should undertake this duty. As is known by everyone, should a fire or an explosion occur in one of the non-subscribing mines, they would be morally compelled to lend their apparatus and to provide their rescue brigade. Therefore we propose in the general Order to level up all the mines to the level already attained by many of them. In the Bill, which is a simple one, we propose to proceed in a similar fashion to that in which we proceed in the regulation of explosives under the Coal Mines Act and in much of our industrial and factory legislation. We propose that the Secretary of State may by Order require such provision as is necessary to be made for all mines or any class of mines in regard to all or any of the following matters: The supply and maintenance of appliances for rescue work, the formation and training of rescue brigades, the supply and maintenance of ambulance appliances, and the training of men in ambulance work, as recommended by the Royal Commission which recently sat on Safety in Mines. The Order we hope to make will be made in consultation with a Committee which we propose to set, up, consisting of our own officials, with, as we hope, the representatives of both the masters and the men. It will be published in draft in the ordinary fashion, and objection may be taken for forty days after publication. It will then be confirmed, with or without alteration. It will lie for forty days on the Table of the House, and, if not challenged, it will then take the force of law. We hope to work in that Committee not only by the peaceful persuasion of our own mining inspectors, but also by any help that can be given to us by the present Association of Mine Owners, which in all parts of the country is engaged in the development of rescue work. We require every variety of information regarding rescue appliances. We recognise that much that has been done in this field of scientific development is tentative and experimental, and we greatly hope that the result of this universal provision will be to further scientific knowledge and to make it more useful in those most lamentable occurrences.

There was much discussion in the Debate to which I have referred as to whether or not the men in the recent most mournful accident at Whitehaven could have been saved if apparatus for artificial breathing had been obtainable easily instead of only some twenty-seven hours after the explosion took place. We desire by this Bill as speedily as may be to ensure that this apparatus shall be either present at the mine or at some central station within half an hour's distance by rapid motor from the mine, and that in the case of every mine in the United Kingdom a certain number of men from the mine familiar with its own working shall be trained at the rescue station. It is impossible to say with the material at our disposal whether that provision would or would not have enabled life to be saved at Whitehaven. Many of the facts about that fire or explosion are at present conjectural, but after consultation with the mining inspectors of the Home Office I have no hesitation in saying that if we consider the last half-dozen serious explosions or fires in recent years there is no doubt at all that not only could property have been protected, but human life could have been saved if the provisions of this Bill had been in operation. In these circumstances, as representing the Department entrusted with the safety of miners, we think we have no alternative but to submit this legislation to the House, and we hope it may command its unanimous support.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Masterman and Mr. Churchill. Presented accordingly, and read the first time. (To be read a second time upon Wednesday.)