HC Deb 23 November 1911 vol 31 cc1428-35

(1) The workmen employed in a mine may at their own cost appoint two of their number or any two persons, not being mining engineers, who are or who have been practical working miners of not less than five years' experience, to inspect the mine, and the persons so appointed shall be allowed once at least in every month, accompanied, if the owner, agent or manager of the mine thinks fit, by himself or one or more officials of the mine, to go to every part of the mine, and to inspect the shafts, roads, levels, workings, air-ways, ventilating apparatus, old workings, and machinery, and shall, where an accident has occurred in a mine of which notice is required under this Act to be given, be allowed to go together with any legal representative of the workmen, or with a mining or electrical engineer selected by the workmen, accompanied as aforesaid, to the place where the accident occurred, and to make such inspection as may be necessary for ascertaining the cause of the accident.

(2) Every facility shall be afforded by the owner, agent and manager and all persons in the mine for the purpose of the inspection, and the manager shall on demand produce to the persons appointed the certificates to all firemen, examiners, or deputies employed in the mine, and the persons appointed shall, except where the inspection is an inspection for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of an accident, forthwith make and sign a full and accurate report of the result of the inspection in a book to be kept at the mine for the purpose; and the owner, agent or manager shall forthwith cause a true copy of the report to be sent to the inspector of the division.

(3) If the owner, agent or manager or any other person refuses or neglects to afford such facilities as aforesaid, or if the owner, agent or manager fails to send a true copy of the report in accordance with this Section he shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1) to leave out the words "at least."

I think the wording here does not express what is intended. The workmen in a colliery in South Wales took the view that they had the right to inspect the colliery every day, and that would not seem to be inconsistent with this Clause as at present worded. In that particular case the inspector of the district upheld the view that the men were right. They did appoint one of their body to make a daily inspection, but owing to their not having appointed two as laid down in the Act it was not able to work. Then other difficulties arose and the thing was dropped. The incident, however, shows that it is quite possible for them to appoint two of their number and keep on inspecting the mine every day and several times a day if they thought fit. Surely everybody, including the Labour representatives, will agree that that is not what is desired or intended, or would be desirable, because if officials have to accompany these men on inspections every day or several times a day going round the workings with them the safety of the mine would suffer very much. I trust that the House will see the reasonableness of the Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I am afraid we should be guilty of a serious blunder if we listened to the appeal of the hon. Baronet to delete these words from the Clause. If they were deleted the effect would be to confine the men whom we represent to simply one inspection a month. There are collieries where it is desirable on occasion that there should be inspection more than once a month. The Clause is not what the men would like to have had, and what my colleagues and the men worked and argued for in the Committee, but we accepted the Clause as it at present stands as providing a kind of compromise, and I hope the Under-Secretary will not commit himself or allow the House of Commons to commit itself to a proposal which is against inspection being undertaken more than once a month. Within my own experience I have known collieries where it was proper that there should be a further inspection after the lapse of a short time in order that it might be seen that all was right in the mine. If we accepted the Amendment of the hon. Baronet it would prevent a second inspection from being made. This provision is supposed to be for the safety of the men. No expense is put upon the employers; the men pay their own expenses. Under this Clause the miners have a right to make a second inspection if, from the standpoint of the safety of the men, whose lives are at stake, a second inspection is necessary. I hope the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary will not accept the Amendment.


I would like to know what would happen under Sub-section (2) of this Clause if the Amendment were accepted. Sub-section (2) provides for inspection in the case of an accident. If the Amendment were adopted would it not prohibit the seat of the accident being examined by the men's representatives? Under Sub-section (2) that inspection is provided for, but if you say that the inspection is only to be once a month would not that prohibit inspection after an accident? I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider seriously what the effect would be of accepting this Amendment?


I am advised that the omission or inclusion of these words makes not the slightest difference. The only obligation, whether these words remain or do not remain, is that the manager shall allow the workmen to inspect the mines once a month, and the rest is an act of grace on his part. I am also advised that it would have no effect on inspection dealt with under Sub-section (2) as to accidents. On the other hand, this has been in the Clause since 1887. I have not heard that it has done any harm; therefore, I see no reason, unless stronger arguments are advanced, why the words should be struck out. I fall back once more upon the argument I used again and again in Committee, that when we are re-enacting a long and complicated measure, which has been worked for thirty years, we should not make alterations unless it is specifically shown that they are necessary.


I quite accept what my hon. Friend has said, but the reason why the Amendment has been proposed is that it has been already claimed by the workmen in a certain colliery that under this Clause they have the right to make a daily inspection. They have appointed one of their men with a view to making that daily inspection, and the inspector upheld them in their assertion that they have this right under the Clause. There you have an instance where they claim, and obtain, the permission. I would further remark that in Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary promised that he would amend this Clause in this respect, and he gave an undertaking to that effect. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no."] I certainly understood that it was not the intention that the men should make a daily inspection, and that the hon. Gentleman undertook to put it right on the Report stage. I must really press my hon. Friend to fulfil the undertaking, which I certainly believe he did give. It really is a matter which will cause the greatest trouble and difficulty in the management of collieries if inspections are to be made daily.

Mr. W. ABRAHAM (Rhondda)

I hope and trust the Under-Secretary will not accept the Amendment, and the reason why the words should be left in is that the workmen should have a right to more than one inspection a month.


I am prepared to alter my Amendment by adopting the words "at reasonable intervals." The inspections certainly ought to be at reasonable intervals.


The hon. Baronet's Amendment would curtail the right of the workmen to inspection once a month if the words "at least" were deleted. The hon. Baronet does not always show his hand, but it is quite evident that it is his intention to limit the inspections to one a month. If hon. Members read the evidence which was given before the Commission, they will find that the complaint all over the kingdom was that the workmen were not using the Clause as well as they ought to do. The employers considered that the examinations made by workmen were of enormous value. I have often noticed, where an inquest has been held after an accident or an explosion, that there is always introduced into the inquiry the report of the inspection made by the workmen, in order to prove how good and how safe was the condition of the colliery. That in itself constitutes a sound reason why my hon. Friend should preserve the advantage derived from these inspections, and why he should not accept the Amendment. Hon. Members on the other side, I am certain, will not accept any suggestion which would have the effect of curtailing the right of workmen, under all circumstances, to simply one inspection a month.


I remember on the occasion of the Grand Committee that the Under-Secretary undertook to consider this point, but I must admit that the Amendment is rather of an unsatisfactory character. We are all agreed upon the point that the last thing we desire is anything in the nature of factious inspection, but I think what is wanted is that some words should be introduced which will permit of inspection at reasonable intervals. To omit the words "at least" would, to my mind, confine the men to one inspection a month. I think that would not be satisfactory, and that some words should be introduced which would allow the miners, at reasonable intervals, to inspect the mines.


I cannot help feeling that there is some misapprehension in the minds of my hon. Friends below the Gangway as to the effect of the Clause as it stands, and it is very important that they should bear in mind what the Clause now does. I fear that they will be under an entire mistake if they imagine that the Clause as it now stands, if it were passed, would give them the right to inspect the mines more than once a month.


They have the right now under the same Clause.


However this Clause has been acted upon in the past, it provides nothing but the minimum obligation, which is cast upon the manager, and once that obligation is discharged, there is no breach whatever if a second inspection is refused. The words of the Clause are that the workmen may appoint two of their number who have certain experience to inspect the mines, and those people being appointed they shall be allowed once at least in every month to inspect the mine. Suppose they have inspected once in the month and they require to inspect-again and are refused, and that then they say they have the right to inspect under this Section, the answer to the men by the manager would be, "I have complied with the terms of the Section, because once at least I have permitted inspection, and I am under no statutory obligation to do anything further." Therefore, as the Clause stands, I feel quite certain that the men have no statutory right to anything further than the one inspection a month. None the less, it seems to me the deletion of the words "at least" might be unfavourable, because whatever the obligations cast upon the manager, these words have led to the practice of inspection more than once a month, and if once you take out of the Clause the words "at least," the argument would be very strong indeed that this House intended that there should never be inspection more than once a month. In the interests of the men the words should remain, though hon. Members interested in this matter should not believe that they give the men an actual right to further inspection.

6.0 P.M.


The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary promised to consider this Amendment, and he stated that his intention was that inspection should take place at a shorter interval than once a month. The hon. Gentleman opposite has put the matter most clearly, and I think everybody must understand that if these words are left in, legally the men only have the right to inspect the mine once a month. I am not a mine owner, and, therefore, I do not express an opinion upon the merits of the case. I am not attempting to argue whether there should be an inspection once, twice, or thrice a month; but I do want the Bill to be made as clear as possible, so that there shall be no possibility of misconception. I understand that there has been misconception in the past, and that the workmen have been under the impression that the words "at least" cover a meaning which they do not possess, and that under those words they have the right to more frequent inspection than once a month. If that be so, the best thing we can do is to remove the misconception. If it is necessary to have inspections more than once a month, then put in words which will allow them once a fortnight, or once in three weeks, or whatever the necessary period might be Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite must know how often an inspection should be made. I do not pretend to say. If hon. Members opposite state that there should be an inspection every fortnight or every three weeks I, for one, shall support them, but in order to avoid misunderstandings or disputes between masters and men, words should be put in to make the point as clear as possible.


I hope that the Government will stand by the words as they are at present. I do not understand the alarm of the hon. Baronet even if an inspection were going to be made every day, because I do not think that the colliery owners have anything to fear from it if they are doing what they possibly can to keep the mine safe. I worked at a colliery for thirty years, and it is not long ago since the managing director asked the men to make one of those inspections. It is a very extensive colliery, and I believe there were seven or eight men, instead of two as mentioned in the Clause, making the inspection; which occupied them seven weeks. The managing director since then has actually asked me to use my influence to request the men to make another inspection. He pointed out to me that if at any time I received a complaint from the men that they could make an inspection at any time.


After the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman I am quite willing to withdraw.


We have had the position as it seems at present explained by an hon. and learned Member who in the near future is likely to be a Law Officer of the Crown, and under those circumstances we ought, I think, to be very careful as to what we do. I always understood that the men had the right under the Clause as it stands to make any inspection when they liked. I think the hon. Member who spoke last referred to a mine in which I gave him authority to make an inspection any time he liked. That has been done in all the collieries with which I have any connection. I believe that the owners are anxious to have these inspections, and if there is danger it is much better that the men should know. As there is some doubt about it, and after the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Buckmaster), if this Amendment is withdrawn I will, in order to make the matter perfectly clear, move to delete the word "month" and to insert instead the word "week." If the men were taken to the Law Courts by some cantankerous individual and were placed in the position that they could not make an inspection more than once a month I think that would be disastrous, in the interests of safety.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "month" and to insert instead thereof the word "week."


I would much prefer the Amendment moved toy the hon. Baronet. Suppose the examiners, in going round to-day, find gas all over certain sections of the mine, and the officials say, "We must have time to clear it," and the men say, "Before we shall have parties of men working in this section we must have another examination," then, in that case, there would be another examination the next day. If the word "week" is put in would it prevent the workmen having that second examination on the second day, so as to be quite sure that the gas is cleared and that the place is such that the men can go down safely? I look upon it as vital and important that the men shall at their own expense be at liberty to protect themselves in this direction.


I would ask the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) not to press this suddenly sprung Amendment upon us. This is the law as it stands at present and as it has stood for thirty years, and the only alteration we make is to enable two persons to be appointed regularly. No one imagines that the inspection will be made in a day; it probably may not be made in a week; and I think that is the answer to the hon. Member for Glamorgan. Some of those inspections go on for ten days or more. As explained by my hon. and learned Friend, as a statutory right you can demand an inspection every month. That does not mean one day in the month. An inspection might go on for the whole of the month. By retaining the words "at least" we also suggest that it may be desirable to have more than one inspection, and the great majority of the managers and inspectors are quite prepared to allow the men more than one examination.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In Sub-section (1), at the end insert the words "subject, however, to the provisions of this Act requiring the place where an accident has occurred to be left as it was immediately after the accident."—[Mr. Masterman.]

In Sub-section (2), leave out the word "to" ["to all firemen"] and insert instead thereof the word "of."—[Mr. Harmood-Banner.]

Returns, Plans, Notices and Books.