HC Deb 20 February 1911 vol 21 cc1536-7

asked the Home Secretary if his attention has been directed to the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines on the Whitehaven colliery disaster, in which inter alia he characterises the precautions taken against the accumulation of coal-dust as of a haphazard and unsystematic character, calls attention to the absence of a second main intake road into the mine, and severely criticises the conduct of the rescue operations; if he is aware that recently a terrible disaster was narrowly averted at this same colliery, and that its management was then also the subject of grave official criticism; and if he will state whether he agrees with Mr. Redmayne that there is no case for criminal proceedings?


I have had under my consideration the report in question, which was submitted to me by the Chief Inspector. It is true that the Chief Inspector finds as a result of his investigation that the management of the mine was defective in certain respects, and that certain of the requirements of the Acts had not been observed. I am informed that any prosecution with regard to these matters is excluded by the time limit; and I agree with the conclusions of Mr. Redmayne and the Home Office Counsel that there is no evidence to show that the disaster was due to any breach of statutory duty or any negligence of such a character as would justify a charge of manslaughter. It is not correct to say that the Chief Inspector severely criticises the conduct of the rescue operations. He thinks that had more helpers been available at the start, the delay in reaching the fire caused by the efforts to restore the two men who were found unconscious on the road would have been avoided; and the circumstance forms a strong argument for the constitution of regular rescue brigades such as I am proposing to require by order under the Act of last Session. But he is satisfied that, once the fire was reached, the right course was taken, and nothing more could have been done. I presume the other occurrence to which my hon. Friend refers is the accident which occurred at the neighbouring William pit in 1907. In that case proceedings were taken against the management, but the charge was dismissed.


Having regard to the very serious nature of Mr. Redmayne's report, may I ask whether there will be any opportunity afforded to the House to consider that report, other than that which arises on the Vote for the Home Office?


As the House knows, I hope to bring shortly to the notice of the House a Coal Mines Regulations Act Amendment Bill; and I should have thought it would be much better to apply the many grave lessons which arise from the consideration of those two terrible explosions to the practical business of introducing effectual safeguards, so far as it may be desirable to do so.