HC Deb 17 March 1911 vol 22 cc2646-74

Order for Second Reading read.

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


A large modern colliery, with its extensive and carefully elaborated equipment, including its various appliances for getting the coal and bringing it to the surface of the ground, or transmitting power through long distances underground, or causing great volumes of air to flow through confined passages many miles in length, or draining wide areas underground and raising water to the surface, or sorting the coal into various sizes, separating it from the intermingled dirt; that spectacle, as has been said, is one of the most remarkable specimens of human activity in its struggle with and triumph over matter. We must remember that there are employed in the coal mines of the United Kingdom upwards of a million persons—1,049,000 persons—of whom 848,000 are employed below the surface of the ground; and this vast community, with their dependents, make up a very substantial proportion of the whole of the inhabitants of this island. The Bill which I have now the honour in a very few words to place before the House deals with the health and safety of all that number of persons. It amends and consolidates the law relating to coal mines, except in regard to check-weighing and miners' eight hours. Both of those subjects are left out of the consolidation clauses of the Bill. We have had nothing of this nature since 1887; and in 1906 my predecessor appointed a Royal Commission, which was composed of the very strongest representation of both the mine owners and the miners which could be found in the country together with additional representatives. This Commission has made a prolonged and exhaustive inquiry into the whole of the present conditions under which coal mining is carried on. This Bill, which I now ask the House to consider and to assent to upon its Second Reading, is the result of the labours of that Royal Commission. The great bulk of the amendments of the law included in this Bill are recommended by the Royal Commission unanimously. There are also a number of amendments suggested by the departmental experience of the Home Office, and there are several amendments which have been added in view of the inquiries into the recent colliery disasters. The Bill itself is divided into eight parts—management, safety, health, accidents, regulations, employment, inspectors, and supplementary provisions.

I think that the House will agree that it may be considered an urgent matter. The death rate in collieries which had been coming down steadily year after year for upwards of half a century ceased to fall any lower five or six years ago, and last year, I regret to say, there was a very grave rise in the death rate, which was, no doubt, in large part due to the accidents of these great explosions. And it is a fact that the number of persons who were killed in coal mines last year, though not the highest proportion on record, because, of course, the population engaged in mining has increased very greatly, was unfortunately the greatest number of persons killed in any one year since mining statistics have been prepared. With all the main causes of these accidents this Bill attempts to deal. Let me remind the House what these main causes are. There are first of all the dangers which arise in the shaft. There are the dangers which occur in the haulage way; and there are the dangers which occur in the works. Now shaft accidents are often due to improper raising or lowering of the cage. They are due very often to errors in signalling: Men are precipitated to the bottom of the shaft. That is dealt with in Clause 54. Through the breakage of ropes or chains accidents also occur. For this, however, the Bill proposes the inspection of the winding-ropes every three and a half years, that they should be re-capped every six months, and that no rope which had been spliced shall be used at all. Over-winding is also a cause of accidents, and this Bill provides, in Clause 40, for a greatly improved system of speed controllers and detached ropes and suitable brakes which are designed to protect the miner from that terrible peril of over-winding, which throws the men out of the ascending cage and very likely wrecks the descending cage at the same time.


On the question of inspecting every three and a half years—


The hon. Member should wait until the right hon. Gentleman has finished.


Another provision is in reference to minerals and tools being raised at the same time that men are being wound up and down the shaft. Provisions are inserted which will ensure the shaft being kept in good repair, and provisions are also inserted to remedy the defective arrangements in signalling and to secure a uniform system of signalling throughout the country. Leaving the shaft, I come to the haulage accidents to which the miner may be exposed as he travels between the bottom of the shaft and his working place, Passing along the haulage way he encounters sets of tubs which are moving often at a high speed, and a very large number of accidents occur every year from this cause. Two hundred and thirty-four of these persons were killed during the last year by accidents connected with conditions of travelling from the shaft to their work being caught between the trucks and the wall or being run over or being crushed by tubs which had left the line or got out of control. The Bill will deal with that in Clause 47. It will provide that adequate space shall be maintained by the sides of the trucks while they are travelling, that suitable and sufficient refuges shall be prepared and there will be special regulations wherever the inclination of the roadway is steep, and where there is danger of high speed being developed by these trucks. There are various complicated technical provisions designed to make the haulage of coal less dangerous than it is to persons proceeding along the haulage road. The haulage road is too often the return airway. The return airway is the sewer of the mine, the channel along which all the inflammable gases which have been driven through the mine by the ventilating machinery run, and when there is much gas coming back that way clearly it is not a proper travelling road, nor is it a suitable road for haulage. There are always persons there, and the conditions are unhealthy if not dangerous. Ill new mines, we prescribe that there shall be two intakes, one for haulage and one for tramways, and, in any existing mine, if it is found to be required in the interests of safety, two intakes may be required. That will be a subject for arbitration under Clauses which deal with that, and it will not apply to any mines which are naturally wet, or in which less than 100 persons are employed.

The provision of these extra means of exit will make sure that people will not be cut off by fire, as they were in the case of the Whitehaven disaster, and that they will be able to find another method of exit to the foot of the shaft. We also provide in the Clauses which deal with this part of the subject, Clauses 42 to 49, that a proper means of extinguishing fire shall foe provided wherever there is an accumulation of combustible material. When the miner has safely descended the shaft and has travelled along the haulage or travelling way to the workings, there he is received by the deputy or fireman, and the deputy or fireman, after having inspected the district beforehand, pronounce the workings quite safe for the man to begin his work. The deputies and firemen are the non-commissioned officers of the mining industry, and, just as the non-commissioned officers are said to be the backbone of the British Army, so the deputies and firemen are the essential foundations on which the safety and security of the mines mainly repose. Clause 14 deals with the position of the firemen and deputies. They must be twenty-five years or more of age; they must have had at least five years experience below ground, and they must have received from a mining school approved by the Secretary of State a certificate of ability to test for gas, and also of ability to calculate the volume of air current. There are also provisions for a test as to eyesight. The district over which the deputy or fireman has charge must not be greater than will permit of his thorough and effective inspection. The Bill provides that his duties must be limited so as not to conflict or prevent the performance of the essential and primary duty which he has in his charge, namely, that of safeguarding the men working in the mine. Another danger to which the miner is subjected when he is in the workings is from the falls of ground, and it is calculated that from falls of ground, whether great or small, from roof and sides, which take place mainly at the working face, one-third of the fatalities which take place in the mining industry are due. In the last ten years 3,479 deaths have occurred in the mining industry from falls of rock and coal, which have taken place either at the working face or in the travelling way. It is a matter of great difficulty to guard against this danger, but there is a very strong opinion that a systematic development of timbering on scientific lines is in the main a very great safeguard against it. Clauses 50 to 53 deal with the question of timbering. I do not propose to go into the details of that subject, though the House will see that it has been very carefully considered by the experts who have dealt with this measure. But the principle of the Bill in regard to falls of ground is that no person shall work under an unsupported roof—shall neither work permanently under an unsupported roof nor shall he work under an unsupported roof when, from temporary causes, props are being removed to some other position. There are provisions in the Bill to ensure that where drilling is likely to engender dust which may lead to fibroidphthisis, proper precautions in the way of jets and sprays shall be provided. There are provisions in the Bill dealing with the use of explosives, from which, I am sorry to say, there were twenty-three fatal accidents last year. Among those provisions it is laid down that no explosive shall be used but that provided by the owner of the mine. That will prevent explosives from being left about in miners' houses, where accidents have several times occurred. All those matters it will be found are dealt with in the text of the Bill.

Then I come to the most striking of all the dangers which beset the life of the miner, and one which impresses most the imagination of the public—I mean those terrible explosions of coal dust spreading through the whole mine, and sweeping away in a few moments the whole, or nearly the whole, of the men who are working throughout the extended area. I must remind the House that we have had four great explosions since 1908—the Maypole explosion in 1908, where seventy-five persons perished; in 1909, the West Stanley disaster, in which 168 lives were lost; and in 1910 we had two—the terrible catastrophes of Whitehaven and Hulton—in which two together, in a single year, 500 persons perished. In the Bill it will be attempted to deal with this great danger from various points of view. Clauses 32 to 35 deal with safety lamps, and deal with them in a much stricter form than hitherto has been the law. Clause 67 prevents any person from working in any part of the mine where there is more than 2½ per cent. of gas. There are provisions for compulsory search for matches under regulations laid down by the Home Office. There are provisions in Clause 62 to prevent the avoidable accumulation of coal-dust in roadways or elsewhere. By Clause 60 electricity is precluded in any mines where its employment would be attended by risks. There are important provisions intended to deal, not only with the health of workers, but to prevent explosions connected with ventilation. By Clause 30 a standard of ventilation is required. Proposals are put forward for the classification of mines according to the degree of the inflammable or noxious gases in the atmosphere. That is a provision which prevails in Belgium, and the death-rate there is smaller than in any other country in the world. Clause 29, Sub-section (2), provides that, in order to avoid errors in measuring air, the measurements must be taken, not only in the main current and in every split but also at the point where the mechanical haulage comes to an end. It is provided that means shall exist for reversing the air current. It is also provided, and here I pass from danger to health, that baths shall be established for the miners when they reach the surface of the ground, and the provisions on that head are of a somewhat daring character. By Clause 79 provisions are made in regard to disease which may be acquired by working in the mine; and there are clauses dealing with the employment of children and women, the former not to be employed at the surface under thirteen years, and below ground under fourteen years of age.

That is a very, very brief and rough survey of the general scope of the Bill. I recognise that the time is short, and I recognise that the House has had very short notice, and that complaint may legitimately be made on both those grounds. We are in the hands of the House. It is not suggested for a moment that the course which I have ventured to suggest to the House should be adopted as a precedent. The opportunity presented itself of bringing this Bill before the House, an opportunity which might not recur until a very late period in the Session if it were lost. The bulk of the Bill embodies the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission. There are many important points of detail, but they are points of detail which are well suited for discussion in Grand Committee. No principle is involved in the Second Reading of the Bill, for there is no division between parties on the subject; it is only a question of the method by which safety can be obtained. I propose, if the House should decide to read this Bill a second time this afternoon, to allow a substantial interval before the Grand Committee stage. I should not propose to enter upon that stage until after the Easter holidays, but in the interval there will be conferences. No time will be wasted. Conferences will begin between the miners' representatives and the mine owners, which will be held at the Home Office; and it is hoped by the time the Grand Committee are ready for the Bill that a very great amount of their work would have been rendered wholly uncontroversial by agreement which will have been reached at those conferences. As I say, I cannot claim the Second Reading from the House, but if the House were disposed to grant it it would demonstrate strikingly that the health and safety of the mining population is in this country a common cause upon which capital and labour may join hands, and for the sake of which all parties in the House of Commons are wiling earnestly and energetically to contribute.


I have no claim to speak on this subject with the authority which many Members in different parts of the House possess, and I shall certainly occupy but a very short portion of the very slender margin of time which is available to us for this discussion. I have been asked to make a few observations on the subject, and on the various points which the right hon. Gentleman has raised by persons in Lancashire who are largely interested in this question, and I shall be careful not to take an undue part of the hour and a half available for the discussion now. The right hon. Gentleman has made a very conciliatory and persuasive appeal to the House, and principally, I suppose, to the Opposition, to allow the Second Reading of this Bill in the very short time which is available for that purpose. If the right hon. Gentleman was always as conciliatory and persuasive to those who sit in this part of the House I think that other business might be carried through the House a little more expeditiously. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that although this is a Bill which contains 12.3 Clauses, much of that matter is merely re-enactment, but it is also true that a considerable part of the measure consists, not of what has been done, under any previous legislation, but of recommendations, some of them a little controversial in their character, of Commissions.

I must not be taken, in the few observations I have to make as assenting to the use which the Government is making of the time of the House, or to the plea which is put forward that it is not possible to give adequate time for this discussion, or the discussion of any other meaure, but I do assent to the view which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward that it would be a very great misfortune, that although we have so short a time to discuss this measure, if the Bill did not obtain its Second Reading to-day. I express that view, not because I do not think it might have been possible that we should have been allowed a little more than one and a half hours for this purpose, but I express that view because, on whosoever's shoulders the responsibility ought to be placed for the very limited time, we have to face the fact under existing conditions that that is all the time that is available, and that if we do not give the Bill a Second Reading on this Friday afternoon it is very doubtful whether it will obtain a Second Reading until the summer is far advanced, and we should have to assent to the conclusion that the prospect of the Bill becoming law this Session would be gravely jeopardised. As far as I am concerned, and some of my hon. Friends, that is a prospect we should contemplate with very great dismay.

I may perhaps be allowed to say, as I had the opportunity of discussing this matter, not only with some of those interested in this question from the point of view of the miners, but also with those whom it is equally necessary to consult, and on behalf of the coal-owners, I am authorised to state to the Government and to the House, that on the part of the coal-owners, and particularly as to the views of those who carry on the business in Lancashire, there is a very strong desire that there should not appear to be the slightest disposition on their part to prevent such progress being made with this measure as will enable it to be placed in its ultimate agreed form on the Statute Book in the course of the present Session. I understand what the right hon. Gentleman has said on this point is that there will be some considerable interval before the discussion in Grand Committee, and that full opportunity will be allowed in committee with the object of arriving at a measure of agreement on many of the important points which arise. I will not deal with many important matters now, but it has been my duty to examine into the Memorandum which has been drawn up and which is a very lucid document dealing with the object and scope of this measure. Probably the attention of the House will have been most vividly directed to that part of the Bill which deals with accidents and their prevention. I am sure that the House listened with great interest to the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman gave of the scope and effect of the Bill in the direction of preventing accidents. As to accidents caused by the fall of the roof or the side, which I may say in the Memorandum account for nearly 50 per cent. of the fatalities, and as to the accidents which are the consequences of haulage, practical proposals are brought forward in the Bill. I understand, as far as I have been able to follow the Bill, that those accidents which are caused by explosions due to coal dust are not comprehended in the scope of the Bill, for the reason that unanimity has not followed on the experiment made by the coal-owners who have attempted to deal with the matter.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of one other provision, and that was the provision contained in Clause 76 of the Bill. He says there are daring provisions contained in the Bill in relation to baths. The right hon. Gentleman has not informed the House that the daring provision consists in the fact that daily baths are made compulsory on all miners under the terms of this particular Clause. I am far from expressing any decided view upon the matter, but I should be very sorry to be taken as expressing the sanguine view that in its final form this Clause will be found to still adorn or improve or complicate the measure. May I say, I cannot help feeling it may be a happy precedent in legislation of this character, if the Opposition are able to take the view that they can unite with the Government and with other sections of the House in forwarding the measure to its career in Committee. The occasions of party controversy are frequent enough in this House, and are not growing less frequent; and it would be a source of great satisfaction to those of us in every part of the House who take any interest in questions of this kind, if it were possible, however various and numerous the party controversies which distract our Parliamentary life, for us to concentrate in all parts of the House in endeavouring to avoid unnecessary or excessive controversy on measures of social reform and requirements which really, to an equal degree have the sympathy and support of all sections of the House.


The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) has referred to the fact that this Bill consists of 123 Clauses, and the Home Secretary has admitted that there is much to be said as to the undesirability of a Bill of such magnitude being brought forward for Second Reading so soon after its introduction. The First Reading was only on Wednesday last; the Bill was then printed and circulated, and the Second Reading is proposed to-day. Consequently it is almost impossible for Members to have read the Bill through or to have mastered its details; while, as far as the interested industries are concerned, it has been almost impossible for them to have the Bill in their hands at all. It will be agreed, I am sure, that it would be most undesirable that it should become at all usual for so short a time to elapse between the First and Second Readings of such a Bill. The Home Secretary has also referred to the unprecedented reforms which are proposed, and has urged as a reason for the unusual course which is being taken the fact that during the last few years serious accidents have occurred in connection with mining, and that there have been explosions which have unfortunately caused the loss of so many valuable lives. These considerations, perhaps, take the Bill out of the ordinary category, and give some excuse for the celerity with which the Second Reading is being taken. The main provisions of the Bill are designed to safeguard the workers underground. It has been impossible for the Mining Association of Great Britain, which includes nearly all the great mining interests of the country, to convene a meeting to discuss the Bill, but I had the advantage yesterday of meeting representatives of nearly all the large mining industries in England, Scotland and Wales, and taking their opinion upon it. Although they felt that they were adopting a very unusual course in coming to the decision at which they arrived before they had seen the Bill, they felt that a very grave responsibility would rest upon them if they took any course which might prevent the passing of a Bill in which the safety of the miners was concerned.

I am therefore authorised by them to say that they intend to take no part whatever in trying to prevent the Second Reading this afternoon, but that they will do all they can to secure that result on condition that their agreeing to the Second Reading at such short notice is not taken as a precedent in any way, and that sufficient delay is allowed before the Committee stage is entered upon for the Bill to be sent into the various mining districts of the country and thoroughly considered by those who are interested. The right hon. Gentleman has given an undertaking that at the earliest the Committee stage should not commence before 25th April next. A further condition is that if they assent to the Second Reading no objection shall be raised in Committee to Amendments, on the ground that they have agreed to the main principles of the Bill, or that the Amendments proposed are contrary to the main principles or the Preamble or title of the Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that this unusual course is being taken, will grant reasonable time for the discussion of such Amendments as may be proposed either by the employers or by the miners. On behalf of the coal-owners, therefore, I have the greatest pleasure, so far as I am concerned, in assenting to the Second Reading. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will afford every consideration to those who wish to discuss the Bill more fully in Committee. I will not on this occasion enter into the merits or demerits of the various clauses, but will rely on there being opportunities for them to be discussed and thoroughly threshed out in Committee.


I was very pleased to hear the Home Secretary frankly acknowledge the difficulty experienced by most Members of the House in consequence of the very short time allowed for considering this Bill in all its details. Our difficulty on this occasion is considerably greater than when we considered the Bill of 1887, which is now the principal Act. At that time we had no Debate either on the introduction or on the Second Reading of the Bill, but the House was then in a very different position as compared with now. The present Bill, I understand, is to be sent to a Grand Committee. In 1887 we had no Grand Committees. The Bill was considered in Committee of the whole House, and all Members interested had an opportunity of taking part in the discussion of any substantial Amendment that was brought forward. Under present circumstances, the utmost limit of the Committee upstairs is eighty, so that about only one-eighth of the House will be engaged in considering the provisions of this Bill. I agree that the matter is urgent, and I make no complaint of the brevity of the time at our disposal this afternoon, although I should certainly have liked to have had longer. But it is not my intention to enter into any lengthened con- sideration of the proposals of the Bill on the present occasion. For my own part and on behalf of those Members representing mining constituencies who took part in the Debates in 1887, I may say that most of the new proposals embodied in this Bill were submitted to the House by them at that time, but were unfortunately rejected. I am very glad to find that a different spirit has come over the dream, and that proposals which were then rejected are more likely to find acceptance on the present occasion.

I am sorry that it has required such evidence to induce the House to move in the direction of humanitarian legislation. No doubt the four recent serious explosions to which the Home Secretary has referred in such sympathetic tones have quickened public sympathy in this respect, and made the House more ready to accept such proposals as are now put forward. It required the loss of over 200 lives of men and boys in the Hartley Pit, in the county of Northumberland, to induce the country and the Government to grant us the double-shaft system. I regret that it has required the four recent calamities which have carried such widespread suffering to quicken public sympathy in these later times. However, we are very likely now to carry this Bill through. But I must warn the Home Secretary, from the very cursory observation which I have been able to give to the Bill, that it seems to me he cannot expect to get the Bill through Grand Committee without some very considerable amount of time being devoted to it. Many of his proposals will have to be seriously considered. The question of "search" is a question to which personally I offer no objection, because I see, as we can all see every day in the newspapers, cases being brought before the courts in which men and lads are fined for carrying matches into dangerous parts of the mines. None of us, I think, who have any regard for the safety of whose who earn their bread underground can object to search. But I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in all cases that search should take place on the surface, and not in the mine. There is very grave danger of the workpeople being subjected to considerable hardship if the search is permitted to take place underground. The search ought to be open, in the light of day, and before the man leaves the surface. We know what goes on in mines and in other industries where a man has become a marked man. It is an easy thing for an official or any man in a responsible position to pass by where his clothes are lying, drop a few matches in the vicinity, and so endeavour to fix upon that man the responsibility for a breach of the regulations. Therefore, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the advisibility of the course I have suggested in respect to the search.

I do not think that the Bill provides with sufficient force for the watering of dry and dusty mines. No one who has read the report of the Stanley Inquiry, or who has read Mr. Redmayne's Report on the Whitehaven Inquiry, can fail to see the great importance that must be attached to the watering of dry and dusty mines. I was a humble member of the Royal Commission that considered this question of the effect of coal dust in mine explosions. The chairman was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Every Member of that small Commission was fully convinced as to the serious danger that exists in a dry and dusty mine, even in the entire absence of gas. If there had been a moment's doubt in our minds I think the Pemberton explosion would have freed our minds of any doubt whatever. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be free to accept the tightening up of the provisions with respect to these dry and dusty mines. I regret also, in the light of the evidence which has come from the Whitehaven calamity, that there is not some power given to the Home Secretary or some other authority to limit the distance which mines working under the sea can be extended. In the Whitehaven case you had workings that were, according to the report of Mr. Redmayne, going four miles away from the shaft bottom. The workmen were there at great risk, because the breakage of the roof might let in the water. For a man to run a distance of four miles under the sea in order to make good his escape is a very serious thing. In other mines that are worked inland, far away from where there is any serious accumulation of water, it would be possible to have an extra shaft. But in a case like that of Whitehaven it is utterly impossible for you to have an extra shaft. I regret there is not some provision in the Bill to prevent mines working so far under the sea. I was very pleased to hear that there was likely to be a conference held between employers and workmen to see how far we could come to mutual agreement on points in dispute. That was the course which was followed, and with very good effect in 1887. Several conferences took place between employers and workmen, and very many knotty points of difference were considered and finally got rid of.

In conclusion one suggestion I would like to make to the Home Secretary is that before this Bill is reprinted, as it will likely have to be before we consider it in Committee—seeing it is largely a consolidating Bill—though an enabling Bill as well—the course should be followed which was followed with the Workman's Compensation Bill. Those parts which are simply consolidating, and the parts which are from other Bills, should be reprinted in italics or underlined for the convenience of Members so that they may be able to see what parts are new.


I will see if it can be done.


Such a course prevents Members from having to refer to old Acts of Parliament. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind, although I speak for nobody but myself, but that this Bill will be hailed with great satisfaction throughout the country. I hope sufficient time will be given between now and the Committee stage for us to master the details of it.


On rising for the first time to address the House let me say I do not profess to have expert knowledge of this matter like the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, or yet the practical experience of many of the hon. Members below the Gangway. I claim, however, the indulgence of the House for a few moments, because the subject of this Bill is one in which personally I not only take a deep interest, but I represent a Constituency which contains nearly 12,000 coal miners. There will not, I think, be any doubt but that the time has come that some alteration should be made in the law relating to coal mines with the object of preventing those deplorable accidents, so far as they can be prevented by legislation, which have startled the whole of our community during the last two or three years. It is not only accidents like the Maypole, West Stanley, Whitehaven, or Hulton which required to be considered by Members of this House, and for which some provision should be made: it is absolutely an appalling fact that during the year which has just passed over 12,000 accidents occurred in the mines of this country, involving a loss of life amounting to something like 1,260. I do not think there will be found inside this House or outside this House any opinion expressed contrary to the view that the time has come for amending the Coal Mines Regulations Acts of 1887 and 1896. I agree with the observations made by two previous speakers as to the difficulty put upon Members of the House owing to the shortness of time in connection with the introduction of this Bill. I am not distressed by that fact so much as I might have been had I not known that the greatest measures of improvement which the right hon. Gentleman has included in the present Bill were always the object and aim of the miners and of those who advise them.

Although the Bill at present under consideration includes a great many Clauses it will be found that many of them are re-enactment Clauses, and that the new Clauses are not so many in number. Such as they are I think they are a step quite in the right direction. Clause 4, which provides for proper supervision of the mines by the manager; Clause 15, which requires qualification for firemen, a body of men whom the right hon. Gentleman very properly referred to as the backbone of the mining industry; and Clause 20, relating to the plan of the ventilation of the mines, are all of them Clauses which are undoubted improvements relating to the management of coal mines in this country. The provisions contained in the second part with regard to ventilation, travelling roads, and haulage, appear to be a most praiseworthy attempt to meet dangers constantly occurring in our mines, and the right to make regulations as to the use of electricity and provision dealing with the terrible danger of coal dust are most hopeful. I know that the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessors have made regulations regarding the use of electricity in mines. I heartily welcome the introduction of the power to make these regulations into a Statute. The evil of coal dust has long been a recognised one, and the time has certainly now arrived when the Legislature should do something to mitigate the evil that arises from it. I notice, also, that a standard of inflammable gas has been set up in this Clause. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite know, and those who advised the Home Secretary know quite well, the difficulty of fixing the standard for inflammable gas, but although the matter is a difficult one, it is undoubtedly one that ought to be dealt with by legislation, and there should be a percentage fixed to prevent the workmen in mines being subjected to the danger of working in a mixture of gas and air of an inflammable nature. There is only one other Clause to which I should like to refer, and it has been already mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith).

4.0 P.M.

I think the promoters of this Bill will have to adduce very strong arguments indeed before they succeed in getting a Committee of this House, or the House itself, to assent to Clause 77 of the Bill, which makes it a criminal offence not to take a bath every day. Speaking from extensive knowledge of the coalminers of Lancashire, I say without hesitation that they are as clean and careful in themselves as any other class of workmen in the community, and personally I am a great deal more averse to coal dust in coal mines than upon the collier's face, and I see no difficulty whatever and no danger to themselves that the miners should come home, as they do at the present day after their work, and have their wash-up when they get home, and I think that is a great deal less dangerous than being compelled to take a bath as soon as they come out of the mine. That is all I have to say with regard to the Clauses of this Bill. There is just one other observation, and it is this. It seems to me that the success of this Bill will depend in very great measure upon the regulations made by the Home Office when it becomes law. I have not had sufficient experience of this House to know whether the remark I am now about to make will find ready acceptance on the Front Bench, namely, that it is a very easy matter to pass an Act of Parliament. I am not quite sure that it is; it certainly is an easy matter to formulate principles and put them into a Bill, and it is not difficult, if all sides are agreed to pass a Bill into law, but the success of the measure will depend upon its administration. I am in hopes of learning before long that very drastic steps have been taken by His Majesty's Government with the object of appointing a greater number of qualified inspectors than hitherto for the purpose of seeing that the provision of this Bill, when it becomes a Statute, and the regulations made under it are carried out. There can be no doubt that for a very con- siderable time past the number of inspectors has been totally inadequate to perform their duties, and I am sure the mining communities, as well as the public, will be glad to know that steps were taken to improve that condition in the future. I venture very respectfully to say to this House that I welcome this Bill on behalf of the mining community, and I trust that at an early date it will be passed into law.


In rising to add my tribute to the general trend of praise which we heard in this discussion I should like, in the first place, to acknowledge the very admirable services rendered to the mining community by the Home Secretary, and I also want to bear my testimony to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool and to other hon. Members also for the wishes expressed that this Bill, tending towards the safety of the miners of this country, shall have support in this House irrespective of parties. I am glad that there are, after all, some subjects upon which all parties can agree. It is not every day that we can agree, and I am delighted to find that on this great question there is a general agreement. That is the position which I have always taken up, and I quite believe that, irrespective of a Member's polities, there is always a general desire to meet such questions fairly, temperately, and humanely in this House. I would like to have given a synopsis of the work of the Commission, but at this stage it would be out of place. I wish to bear testimony to the fact that from one end of the country to the other, there has been a willingness on the part of all sections of the community to tender evidence before the Commission to enable the Government to draw up a Bill to reduce to the lowest possible minimum the death-rate in mines. I realise, what most men must realise who have had experience in mines, that whatever Bills may be framed to deal with this question, it is desirable that there should be sufficient inspectors to see those measures administered properly. Whatever is done in this direction, there will always remain open to those interested in this trade an educational work to impress upon managers and workmen that there is a duty devolving upon them and that is to exercise the greatest vigilance and care. I am persuaded that we shall do much to reduce many classes of accidents in the pit by constantly enforcing upon those engaged the necessity for greater care, thereby strengthening the provisions of this Bill as foreshadowed.

It has been said that many important questions are raised, but I am sure there is a desire on all sides to bring the discussion of those questions before the Committee upstairs. I am satisfied that before such a Committee we shall be able to thresh out what is in the best interests of all concerned. The Home Secretary has spoken of the duties of firemen and other classes of officials. I am one of those—perhaps somewhat old-fashioned—that have held the view that the most important official in the pit is the fireman, and it is desirable that this man, above all men, should be able to prove his fitness. The last Act dealing with mines was passed in 1887, and a good many things have happened since that time. The industry has in the interval undergone a complete change, and it is desirable that these men who are always in touch with the men who work in the pit, should possess such qualifications as will enable them to discharge those duties. I am satisfied that the eulogy paid to this class of men is quite a deserving one. Whatever may be said about managers and under-managers, it is to the firemen we must look for greater safety in mines throughout the country. The Home Secretary has referred to a class of accident which, I am afraid, does not excite the sentiment of the nation, and you do not get the same spontaneous subscription in support of the men who are killed at the face. There is no other industry at all comparable to mining carried on under such difficulties under a contract system. I have often considered this question of the number of accidents happening at the face. Perhaps a man neglects to set up a prop as he should do. I think experience has taught us that if this question is to be faced and if the workman is to be safeguarded there must be more constant general supervision at the face than what there has been up to date.

I am sure that any general attempt to deal with this question will meet with general approval. I believe both masters and men will seize the opportunity to deal with this question themselves and come to an agreement on this Bill before it gets to a Grand Committee. I am sure that a solution on those lines will earn throughout the mining community of this country the gratitude of all men who have been seeking to bring about some sort of legislation to reduce the number of accidents. One thing is clear. No one needs to be deceived by thinking that accidents such as we had in Lancashire and Whitehaven are not the least we shall hear of unless there is more vigilant care exercised everywhere. Anyone who knows anything of the general trend of things to-day knows that in the old pits twenty, thirty, and forty years ago, where perhaps 100, 200, or 300 men were at work, the conditions were different, and you could understand them better; but now you have between 1,200 and 1,600 men and boys working in one shaft, and unless this important question of the danger of coal-dust is dealt with I shudder to think what may happen some day. It is desirable that everything that is humanly possible should be done to prevent such a disaster as has already happened from this cause spreading to our large mines, as may be the case unless we have some effective remedies. I am aware that there is no finality about this measure, but everybody knows that coalmining in many of its aspects is better understood to-day than it was twenty or thirty years ago, although it is not completely understood. It should be the business of the Government, at any rate, to lend itself to all efforts of research. You have in and about the mines five or six million people, and I venture to say there are none more patriotic or heroic. These men are looking to this House, to the Government, to the inspectors and to the machinery of the Law to help them. I heartily welcome the general agreement which exists on all sides of the House, and I hope the first consideration with the Committee will be, not pounds, shillings, and pence, but the safety of the lives of these men. We are not unmindful that the question of cost must enter to some extent into the matter, but I do not think it enters so largely as it did twenty years ago. There is a desire on the part of managers and colliery people that the mere question of a few pounds shall not stand in the way of what they believe will add to the safety of the men. I hope the Government and the Committee will proceed with this Bill on those lines, and place it on the Statute Book at an early date. Whatever may be the rejoicing in the country over the Coronation, there will be no greater rejoicing than among the miners of the country when they find on the Statute Book a Bill which will give them greater security in the mines.


As one of the oldest representatives of a raining constituency, I desire to associate myself with what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick), in welcoming this Bill as perhaps the most valuable legislative attempt that has ever been made to mitigate—I cannot say remove; that, perhaps, is impossible—and reduce the danger to the miner. I would like also to express my acknowledgments of the generous spirit in which the Bill has been welcomed by the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), and my hon. Friend who sits on this side of the House. I am not going to take up more than a moment, because we are all anxious to see the Second Reading of the Bill, and I fully recognise that the matter of the Bill is Committee work; but, while recognising that fact, I desire to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to two points to which I attach great importance. I observe that the sections of the Act of 1887, which dealt with shot-firing are altogether omitted, and no clauses in substitution thereof have been placed in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will justly say that these matters are to be dealt with by Regulations of the Home Office. I am not at all sure, with all respect to the Home Secretary, that he is not affording a little too much scope for the Regulations of the Home Office. The Bill deals in the most minute detail with many very important questions, but, on the other hand, electric lighting and firing of the shot, two of the most vital questions in the management of mines are simply totally ignored in the Bill, and the whole thing is left to the Regulations of the Home Office, which means, of course, Regulations of Mines Inspectors. I cannot, of course, claim the experience of my hon. Friends behind me, nor do I pretend even to equal them in judgment on this point. But I have had practical experience in this sense, that all great colliery explosions in this country, until the introduction of electricity in coal mines, were due to the firing of shots in mines. I take a strong view, which may not be entertained by my hon. Friends behind me, when I say that in gaseous mines—and nearly all mines are more or less gaseous—shot-firing should be absolutely prohibited. I may be told that that is impracticable. I know that even among my hon. Friends there is some difference of opinion as to that, but at any rate the precaution should be taken, and it should be a statutory precaution—it should not depend on the regulations of Home Office officials—that all men who are not actually engaged in the process of shot-firing should be withdrawn from the mine when shots are fired. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will fully appreciate this point. I give him, for all it is worth, the highest credit for anxiety to make this Bill an effective measure. But I wish to impress upon him the importance of not leaving this matter to be dealt with by Home Office officials. He should in this statute state explicitly what precautions he intends to take with regard to the firing of shots. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman an illustration of the danger of leaving this matter to the Home Office. It was left to the Home Office to decide what explosives should be "permitted" or "non-permitted." The Home Office gave authority to certain types of explosives. The mine managers said, "These are permitted explosives, and our responsibility is discharged." As a matter of fact, we know that explosives were used which were a source of very grave and serious danger, and, in some cases, their use undoubtedly resulted in serious accident. That is the only observation I wish to make with regard to shot-firing.

My second observation is with regard to coal dust. There, again, the proposed statute deals with it, but the words are in vain. I have made a most careful examination of every clause of this Bill, and I find that where the roads are wet precautions with respect to coal dust are not required. There could be nothing more illusory. I was down a coal mine a short time ago where the roads were so wet that the water stood in them, and, at the same time, the walls, props, timbering and roofs were covered with impalpable dust. I believe, on the authority of well-known professors, that if an explosion took place through the introduction of a small percentage of gas that coal dust would be just as dangerous and would result in just as much disaster as if the roads were dry. It is, therefore, no security to say if these roads are wet precautions need not be taken. I am satisfied with this, and I think the right hon. Gentleman's very able advisers, will bear me out when I say that, whatever might be the unusual cause of the explosions which have taken place in this country, their disastrous effects Lave in almost every case—perhaps in every case—been due to the presence of coal dust. Therefore there is no more vital question to which the right hon. Gentleman could direct his attention when dealing with coal mines. Then, in regard to electricity, that is left to the Home Office, and I know the difficulty of putting it in the pit. I am perfectly convinced that these coal-cutting machines with loose cables are a source of great danger, but it may be that the right hon. Gentleman is not able to embody provisions in the Bill dealing with coal-cutting by electricity. At all events, before this Bill leaves our hands I hope he will give us a specific assurance as to how he is going to deal with electricity. I was professionally engaged in the West Stanley case, and although it was not the actual finding that electricity was one of the causes of this accident, yet one of the most distinguished men of experience in this country was of opinion that that was a most serious source of danger. And the evidence at that inquest satisfied any reasonable man that, as at present provided for, these coal-cutting machines worked by electricity—some of them are worked by water—are a serious source of danger. In conclusion, let me say a word as to the provision in regard to searching. I know that that will be very distasteful to the miners in my county, and I will say this that throughout my experience I have never known a case at which it has been even plausibly brought home that the miners have been responsible, either by the use of matches in lighting their pipes or otherwise, for an explosion. But I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that if he does not eliminate this clause he will put that limitation upon it that is suggested by my hon. Friend that the search should take place at the pit head by responsible persons deputed in writing by the owner of the colliery to carry it out. It is a vexatious proceeding, and one which the high-spirited miners in my Constituency will resent; but, apart from this criticism, I recognise that the Bill is one of the most valuable measures that have been introduced in connection with this subject, and reflects the highest credit upon the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him. Care should, however, be taken to make it acceptable both to the miners and to those who employ them.


I wish to support the view put forward by my hon. Friend and others that this Bill should go forward to-night and be remitted to a Committee. Personally, I look upon this Bill as the only useful Bill foreshadowed by the Government during the present Session, and it is deplorable that on a subject of this magnitude and character, affecting as it does such gigantic interests, and the lives of 800,000 or 900,000 people, business should be so managed that we can only get an hour and a half for our Second Reading. That point, for what it is worth, is met by the undertaking given by the Home Secretary to occupy the interval between the Second Beading to-day and the effective opening of the Committee stage by conferences between people who are directly concerned. I hope the result of that may be that the labours of the Committee may be abridged, and not only abridged but may be brought to a fruitful conclusion.

There is one point which should not be overlooked. There is a great danger, I think, of this Bill being pushed through Parliament without receiving adequate attention and consideration. Everyone knows that the effect of the Eight Hours Bill has been to produce confusion. In some cases it produced dislocation of the whole industry, and in some cases, again, I am very much afraid the result has been to stimulate the speed of work, and thus to increase accidents. I was a party to that Bill, and to that extent share the responsibility with anyone else who supported the measure. It left Parliament with all these blots and oversights on it simply because it had to be pushed through owing to the pressure of other business, and the result in some districts has been very serious indeed. Why the Eight Hours Act has not been put into a Mines Consolidation Bill the right hon. Gentleman has not explained. These matters are extremely technical—far more technical than controversial. A principle or an appliance which may be excellent in the Midlands may be fatal in Lancashire, or vice versa, and if you begin to makes rules about the length of the shaft and the distance of the workings to meet the case of Cumberland you may find yourself prejudicially affecting work in Lancashire or Staffordshire, and therefore the greatest of care and the greatest of patience has to be shown in dealing with this matter, or else we shall again do what, unhappily, has been our experience in the regulation of hours, and do something which may militate against the general safety. I hope, therefore, that much may be done between now and the opening of the Committee stage, that the Committee stage upstairs will be handled with prudence and patience by the Home Secretary and his colleagues, said that when the Bill comes back for Report, we shall have an opportunity of discussing it commensurate with the great interests and great dangers which hasty decision might involve us in now.


I wish to offer my thanks to the Home Secretary for the introduction of this Bill, which, I am sure, will be of benefit to the mining community. There are several clauses to which I wish to direct the attention of the House, and particularly to the clause which relates to explosions. The Act of 1887, Clause 49, and General Rule 12, dealt at very considerable length with the whole of the conditions under which shots were to be fired in mines. That was superseded to some extent by the General Order of 1906, but in this Bill there is no reference to the use of explosives underground, except that they shall be purchased by the owners instead of by the men. I do not think I am wrong in saying that nearly all the great mining disasters in this country have been due to shot firing in the main roads. I think that, with the exception of those due to electricity in mines, an overwhelming majority of the great disasters which have taken place in this country have been occasioned by shot-firing, and shot-firing only.

Clause 2 of this Bill provides that the owner of a mine shall take no part in its management, unless he has a manager's certificate. As a matter of fact, I am going to do it whatever the Act does, and if any accident was occasioned I am perfectly willing to be summoned and to pay any penalty, or go to prison if necessary. I do not see why an owner should be divorced from the management of his mine. The proposal seems to me to be ridiculous. I would point to the fact that the Home Office officials are to be the people who are to have the settlement of these important matters, while a man who is the owner of a mine is not to have control in its management. It is absolutely ridiculous. The House of Commons is not to be trusted to make the general regulations with reference to shot-firing. All these things—and this is my objection to the Bill—are to be centred in the officials at Whitehall. The officials at Whitehall are to be regarded as competent to manage a mine, and an owner who is doing all he can to manage his mine properly is not to take any part in its management at all. The proposal is so ludicrous that I can only say that it must have been inserted by the Home Office officials.


It is a recommendation of the Royal Commission.


Pardon me, the Royal Commission did not recommend it. The Royal Commission did recommend that an owner who took an active part in the management of a mine should be held responsible for any fault occasioned by the part he played in the mine. But the Royal Commission did not say that an owner was not to take any part in the management of a mine. I do not wish to say anything to retard this measure, but I do trust that the Home Secretary will recollect that, although we who are coal owners say that we are all anxious to see this Bill passed into law in some modified form, when we get into Committee upstairs the fight will be on the question of cost—on the question whether the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill is to represent a capital expenditure of several millions by those who are connected with the coal mining industry. This Bill does not go far enough That is my opinion. I am willing to give the Home Secretary every advice I can give with the view of minimising the appalling slaughter which takes place in the mines of this country, but the Bill does not go far enough to meet my wishes. I hope that we shall be able to greatly improve the Bill in Committee. As to the use of electricity in mines—of which I have had considerable experience—and also in regard to shot-firing, I hope he will allow us a full Debate on the question whether these all-important matters could not be incorporated in the Bill, instead of being left to the Home Office, as provided now.


As the representative of a large mining constituency, I desire to say a few words with regard to one or two points in connection with the Second Reading of this Bill. The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, Lord Gladstone, did very many things in the cause of mining reform of which the establishment of a special Mines Department and the appointment of the Royal Commission were only two instances. But how much more remains to be done is shown by these appalling disasters which have been alluded to this afternoon. I want to point out in that connection that, in addition to these disasters which make this dramatic appeal to the sympathy of the nation, there are constantly taking place small disasters, accidents that affect one or two men only, but which are very serious in their frequency. I rejoice that the Bill, not only embodies many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission that was appointed by Lord Gladstone, but also applies the lessons, so far as they can be applied at this stage, afforded by some of the recent disasters. In this connection I should like specially to mention the precautions that are now to be taken with regard to fires in mines. If I have read aright the lesson of the Whitehaven disaster, whatever was the original cause of the disaster it was subsequent fire which led to so great a loss of life, and the proposals that are now made seem to mark a substantial advance in dealing with accidents of a similar kind. In that connection a great step forward is taken by the proposed classification of mines according to the inflammable gases which may be expected in the mines. I take it that the classification means that regulations will be issued by the Secretary of State, and I believe that that is a great step forward. But the other point, which I think of supreme importance, is the proposal which is made in this Bill in the matter of the daily and other reports by the officials of the mine. There, again, experience of the report issued in connection with the Whitehaven disaster is being used and I believe it to be one of the most important proposals in the whole Bill. Two points arose in the course of the Debate to which I wish briefly to refer. One was raised by the hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith), who received the Bill in a very sympathetic manner, so far as its general proposals were concerned. He referred to the Clause under which, as he quite truly said, a daily compulsory bath would be necessary. I do not know whether or not that Clause is to be modified. For my own part, I desire to appeal to the hon. Member for the Walton Division and to the Government, to reconsider it with reference to the housing accommodation that exists in so many of our mining districts. I should like to remind the House of the grave words of the Royal Commission in connection with housing accommodation in so many of our mining districts. My hon. Friend who spoke for the first time in this House yesterday knows how degraded and unhealthy those conditions are in many parts of Scotland, which were es- pecially referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission. With regard to the searching of miners, referred to by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick), I may be wrong, but my reading of the clause leads me to think that if that search is to be carried out in the way desscribed by the regulations of the Secretary of State, I see no difficulty in the search being carried out at the pit-head under the Bill as drawn. However, I may be wrong in that respect, but if so, surely the Bill is capable of amendment in that direction. To my mind the mining population of this country has been extremely patient. The miners of the country carry on one of the most risky of all occupations—a risk peculiar to their work, and unique in the industries of this land. I rejoice in the introduction of this Bill, because it takes us towards an ideal which I believe every Member of this House, and every party in this House, desires to attain—an ideal under which this great industry shall be carried on under conditions which make for the entire health and safety of those engaged in our mines.


I have just as great and earnest a wish to see this Bill go through as any Member of this House. I have not had much time to read the provisions of the Bill, and I have not had an opportunity to send it down to experts in my own constituency, or in the mines with which I am associated myself, to get their opinion as to how the provisions could be applied in different localities. One thing which has struck me is that it will be rather difficult to make miners take a bath every day, and Clause 76 I think will receive a severe handling. As to research in order to find out the causes of and guard against explosives in mines, there is a certain amount of research going on in the country by private individuals, who are trying to find out whether there is any connection between the effects of earthquakes and the subsequent explosions in mines. It has been thought that where an earthquake takes place, almost in any part of the globe, there is such a disturbance of the crust of the earth as to produce cracks through which the gases escape into the mines, thus causing explosions. It would be very interesting, and most necessary, I think, to find out if the times of these earthquakes synchronise with the lowering of the barometer at the mine itself. All who have anything to do with mines know that the barometer is really not much of a safe- guard against explosions, because an explosion takes place almost at the same time as the barometer falls, and there is no time to get the men out of the mine. I would ask the House to consider whether it is not the duty of the Government to spend some money in research for the public good, and that they should, in gaseous mines, where the thing is particularly applicable, start what is called the seismograph, an instrument which records earthquakes, and also instruments to record the height of the barometer at different times, and to watch over cyclones and to see whether such cyclonic conditions affect the rise or fall of the barometer, and whether those synchronise with actual times of earthquakes, and to see if something could not be done to give warning to the mine owners so that they could be able to withdraw the men out of the mines before an explosion takes place and so avoid accident.


Speaking as the representative of the Constituency in which the last disastrous mine explosion took place, I thank the Home Secretary for introducing this Bill. I am not going now to dissect the various Clauses, many of which will be of immense benefit to the mining community. I am not quite sure whether it would not be possible for him to deal with the question of explosives as applied to gaseous mines, that is mines which show a certain percentage of gas. I believe there are hydraulic cartridges whereby it is possible to get coal quite as quickly as by means of explosives and which if used would do something to prevent accidents. If steps were taken to deal with that question, possibly many accidents would be avoided. In connection with the last big accident, we had a mine that was supposed to be a model mine in mines of this description, but I am not quite certain whether a certain amount of carelessness does not creep in, owing to the idea that they are perfectly safe. With the object of preventing explosions, in my opinion the best way is to make the firemen Government officials. When all is said and done, the cost would fall on one particular industry. Then you could have the records of observations properly kept. Sometimes records and reports are lost at a very critical moment. If my suggestion were adopted the interests and the safety of the men would be safeguarded. I know there is a clause giving them power to deal with this matter themselves, but as the alternative to the Government taking over the mines, we ought to do all that we possibly can to safeguard the lives of the people working in the mines. The step I have mentioned would help to do that. If hon. and right hon. Members had only seen the haggard looks on the faces of the wives and the fathers and the mothers of those who perished in the Hulton explosion they would not, I feel certain, hesitate at any cost to safeguard the lives of the workers. While I am prepared to do all possible to pass the Bill I hope full consideration will be given to the various suggestions. The question of a compulsory bath is a secondary matter, as it is the lives of the people we have to consider. I believe this Bill is a step in the right direction, and being such I shall give it my hearty support.


On the first occasion I have the opportunity, I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, for my interruption to him a few moments ago. There are questions in this Bill which, as a mine-owner myself, I cannot possibly pass by without sincerely hoping that adequate discussion will be given to the whole of the Bill. There are matters in this Bill which are of vital importance to everyone of His Majesty's subjects, whether mine-owners or workers in mines. Hon. Members opposite will recognise that we who are mine-owners have the same humane and humanitarian ideas as anybody else on the question of life in mines and the precautionary measures to be taken, and that our responsibility is as great as that of those who represent the working population. For that reason, particularly, I wish to say that from three o'clock to five o'clock is an absolutely inadequate amount of time in which to discuss this Bill, and I sincerely trust the right hon. Gentleman will give us the greatest possible time he can for discussion both in the House and in Committee, so that the measure may be thoroughly considered.

ADJOTJRNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now Adjourn."—[Mr. Churchill.]

Adjourned accordingly at Two minutes before Five o'clock, till Monday next, 20th March.