HC Deb 24 November 1911 vol 31 cc1570-6

  1. (1) Every travelling road shall be of adequate height, and if the height of any such road appears to the inspector of the division to be inadequate he may require that the height be increased to such extent as he thinks proper, and the manager shall comply with the requisition unless he disputes the reasonableness thereof, in which case the dispute shall be settled in manner provided by this Act for settling disputes.
  2. (2) Every road on which a horse or other animal is used underground or by which it has to pass to get to its work shall be of sufficient dimensions to allow the horse or other animal to pass without rubbing itself or its harness against the roof or sides or the bars or props supporting the roof or sides.


I beg to move, in Subjection (2), after the word "without" ["to pass without rubbing itself"], to insert the words "the possibility of its." The Sub-section will then read, Every road on which a horse or other animal is used underground or by which it has to pass to get to its work shall be of sufficient dimensions to allow the horse or other animal to pass without the possibility of its rubbing itself or its harness against the roof or sides or the bars or props supporting the roof or sides. The reason why I move this Amendment is because of an experience which I had underground two months ago. I was visiting the underground workings of a mine in the Forest of Dean, in company with the manager, and as I passed a horse with some tubs behind him, the horse brought its head with a crack against one of the roof timbers, and at once the horse appeared to be stunned, and, of course, stopped dead. Th manager appeared to be surprised that the tubs had stopped, and he called out to the man in charge, "What is the matter? Why don't the tubs move on?" and I remarked to the manager, "This horse has just received a severe crack on the head owing to the lowness of the roof." The answer was, "That was very stupid of him. He ought to have lowered his head." If this Clause reads as it is drafted it will exactly apply to the case of a horse such as that, which could pass such a roof-timber if he lowered his head. We all know that the conditions in mines do not admit of a horse using that degree of intelligence which he might in the full daylight above ground, and I am quite certain that in this particular case this horse, considering the poor light in which he was moving, could not have seen this timber and have avoided getting the serious blow on his head which he actually received. It is a very reasonable Amendment. I ask to have it so amended as to ensure that the roof shall in every case be high enough to prevent the possibility of a horse reciving a crack on the head owing to the roof-timbers being as low as they were in this particular case. As the Clause reads at present it would be perfectly possible to admit the case of which I was a witness coming within the four corners of this Bill.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I really, with all the best wish in the world, could not accept this. It adds nothing to the Clause, and in practice it would be quite impossible to enforce. Every one of these items which have been put down imposes a contravention if it is violated. On what kind of evidence could a Court determine whether there would be a possibility of an animal rubbing itself against the side? It is an offence for an animal to rub itself under the Act.


All you have to do, as was done in this particular case, is to measure the height of the roadway and the height of the horse.


The Amendment only deals with the possibility of a horse rubbing against the side. The Bill goes much further than the Amendment when it says if a horse rubs itself against the side it shall be a contravention of the Act.


The result of the Amendment would be that there could not be any underground passages at all. There is always the possibility of a horse rubbing against the side, if there is a side, so that there could be no side underground. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member, and I hope the Home Office will insist on this being carried out, but I do not think we can ask more than that the animal in its normal position shall have a free passage. I quite agree it should not be expected that the animal should lower its head, but the passage should be high enough and wide enough that the animal should be able to pass through.


The Amendment is rather complicated, and I am not quite certain whether it will achieve my hon. Friend's object, but the case he has made out is such a good one that some means should be taken to meet the difficulties which he has shown us by practical experience do occur. Of course, it is perfectly evident that under the Clause, if it can be proved that a horse can get through a particular passage provided everything is all right, there can be no offence under the Act. When a horse pulls a heavy load his head is used as a lever, and, especially where there is a gradient, it is inclined to go up and down. If that is so, it might be perfectly possible that the horse could get through without rubbing itself, but in throwing his head up he would hit the roof. I hope we shall alter the Clause in this place, and not put our trust in the House of Lords, as the hon. Member opposite is too much inclined to do.


With every possible desire to protect the horses which work underground, I am sure the House must be very careful lest they create an untold difficulty for animal labour underground. To insist on the construction of roadways underground for horses to travel like the hon. Baronet's horses in Hyde Park is simply to prohibit at once the whole of the horse traffic that I know of—that is, for a horse to be able to throw its head up and as high as it can without touching the roof. In nine-tenths of the roadways where horses are working at present there is not room for that. Horses are very intelligent animals, and they become accustomed to stoop as the colliers do, and you will never see a colliery horse put his head up. He invariably goes with his head in a line with his body in any colliery roadway that I know unless it is some main haulage roadway. It is simply out of the question to do that. The roadways are not constructed for that purpose.


I think the case which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Bathurst) referred to is a very real case. Anyone who has walked along a road in a mine in a bad light knows, with all the intelligence that a man has, how difficult it is to avoid striking one's head against the timbers. You put some wretched pony in this bad light drawing a heavy load of tubs, and provide a road for him to go in which is, ex hypothesi, too low for him to pass along without striking his head. I think that is an evil which ought to be, if possible, abolished. I suggest some such words as these "the possibility of striking its head against the roof and without"


Suppose the pony jumped.


Supposing it did jump, will anyone tell me that a manager should be prosecuted for an offence, because of something of that sort. Of course, you can make anything ridiculous, and I think that is an attempt to make this proposal ridiculous. I want to treat the matter in a serious way. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the way in which these ponies work in the mines. In low roads in going in the ponies—[An HON. MEMBER: "Horses"]—well, if the horses are too tall for the road, then I think the owners ought to got smaller horses. What is provided by this Amendment is that when you are working a horse or a pony in one of these roads the dimensions of the road should be sufficiently high to allow the horse or pony to pass along without striking its head against the roof. Some hon. Members suggest that the horse is too tall for the road. Surely common humanity requires that if you have a low road you must have a low-sized pony. You must adapt your horse to the road. I cannot think that the Under-Secretary when he considers the effect of this Amendment will refuse to accept it. I propose to insert in the proposed Amendment the words "striking its head against the roof and without"


I should like to say one word with regard to my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion. There may be a little difficulty in interpreting it. Bearing in mind that the whole House is desirous of meeting the particular case to which attention has been called, I think the Amendment would read in a simpler way by leaving out the word "dimensions" altogether and substituting the word "width." It would then read, "Every road … shall be of sufficient width to allow the horse or other animal to pass without rubbing itself or its harness against the sides or the bars or props supporting the roof or sides, and of sufficient height to allow it to pass without lowering its head."

2.0 P.M.


I do not know whether hon. Members who have spoken on this matter have ever been down a mine. Really the hon. Member opposite does not seem to know how a pony works in a mine. Injuries to ponies are not generally caused by striking the head against the roof. The bulk of the injuries are not sustained on the head at all; they are sustained on the sides and the shoulders. In most modern mines a skull-cap is provided for the horse. Those who are familiar with the working of mines know that the horse throws the whole of its weight on the forelegs, and, in point of fact, in practice the head, of which we have heard so much, is carried, not high, but nearly on the ground. This seems a curious thing to those who are accustomed to see horses working in the open in their natural position. When a horse goes into a mine it keeps its head near the rails all the time. There is another point to which I would direct attention. I have myself knocked my head against a roof on account of my own carelessness. Having gone along a road in a mine, I have found, on coming back, that in the interval the bars have been lowered. I remember once going along a road one way, and, on returning within three or four hours, owing to a heavy weight coming over that part, the roof had lowered, and the first intimation of this I had was when I received a thundering crack on the top of the head. Are you going to say that a mine-owner or a manager is to be liable to prosecution because a road which half-an-hour before was of sufficient dimensions happened to have lowered? All this nonsense that has been talked about the horse's head will be apparent when I state that there are cases in Wales where, in the general working of the mines, the horses are fifteen hands high. It is only in the North of England that ponies of thirteen hands and smaller are worked. All the talk about roads being sufficiently high is sheer nonsense. The proposal of the hon. Member opposite is absolutely impracticable.


I wish to corroborate what has been said by the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Markham). I wish to point out to my hon. Friends on this side of the House that the roofs are very often timber. I would ask hon. Members opposite who know what it is to be down in a pit: What on earth are you to do in such a case as has been mentioned by the hon. Baronet, where the timber falls down? Supposing before the fall a pony went along the road when it was perfectly safe, and then, when coming back a short time afterwards, hits its head—[An HON. MEMBER: "Withers"]—well, hits its head or withers, that is exactly what this Amendment means to make impossible. I do not object to the whole Clause at all, but I fully support the proposal of the Under-Secretary. I think that if hon. Members would go down a pit as often as I do—


I am much more often down pits than you are.


I do not know how my hon. Friend can possibly tell that. It may be perfectly right—I do not say it is not—but I am perfectly certain that people who are interested in collieries are just as good men as the hon. Gentleman himself. It would not pay a colliery proprietor to have roofs in such a way that a horse or pony would hit either its withers or its head. I hope the Under-Secretary will stick to his guns, and I, for one, will support him.


rose to continue the Debate.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

The hon. Member has already spoken.


I only seconded the Amendment formally.


I am afraid that by so doing the Noble Lord is precluded from speaking now.


May I appeal to the Government to accept something in the nature of this Amendment? By the wording of the Clause they already try to prevent a horse rubbing itself or its harness against the side of the way or passage. All we seek is that they should also put in some words which shall ensure that the passage along which the horse is called upon to work shall be of sufficient height. What my hon. Friend opposite suggested was that there should be such a passage as will allow the horse to go along without lowering its head. Surely the Government might meet this case.


The hon. Member knows that we met him very freely on this question of the horses in the Committee. We went into it in great detail and accepted a large number of Amendments which he proposed and which the society that he represents advocated in the interests of the animals. I submit that the House should accept the suggestion of the Committee and should not occupy its time in such details as this. It is quite clear that the passage must be such that the horse must be able to go clearly through without bowing its head or shoulders, but if we are asked to raise the level of every mine so that the horse could toss its head in the air, that is really asking something that cannot be granted.

Amendment negatived.