§ In every mine, unless the floor, roof, and sides of the roads are naturally wet throughout,—
- (1) arrangements shall be made to prevent, as far as practicable, coal dust from the screens entering the downcast shaft; and in the case of a mine newly opened after the passing of this Act, no plant for the screening or sorting of coal shall be situated within a distance of eighty yards from any downcast shaft unless a written exemption is given by the inspector of the division;
- (2) the tubs shall be so constructed and maintained as to prevent, as far as practicable, coal dust escaping through the sides, ends, or floor of the tubs;
- (3) the floor, roof, and sides of the roads shall be systematically cleared so as to prevent, as far as practicable, coal dust accumulating;
- (4) Such systematic steps, either by way of watering or otherwise, as may be laid down by the regulations of the mine, shall be taken to prevent explosions of coal dust occurring or being carried along the roads;
- (5) The roads shall be examined daily, and a report (to be recorded in a book kept at the mine for the purpose) made on their condition as to coal dust and on the steps taken to mitigate danger arising therefrom.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, after the word "throughout" ["are naturally wet throughout"], to insert the words, "or unless it is a mine in which, and in the district of which, inflammable gas is wholly unknown."
I believe I am correct in stating that the only mines in England in which inflammable gas is unknown are the mines situated in the Forest of Dean. I believe again I am correct in stating, though on this point I am not quite certain, that the mines in the Forest of Dean are small mines run by small people, and do not employ a very large number of men in each mine. It would not be the desire of the House to impose upon those mine-owners and miners burdens which are unnecessary. Therefore if I can prove, as I shall endeavour to do, that this Amendment would not involve any great opposition, I think the House will be inclined to accept the Amendment. I am informed that the mine-owners and the miners in the district have lately come to an understanding to the effect that they desire these words inserted in the Bill. I do not think there is a dissentient voice among the men employed or the employers upon this question in the district. I understand that the reasons in favour of this Amendment are that there is an entire absence of explosive gas in all the mines in the Forest of Dean, and that one of the greatest dangers in connection with explosions—that arising from coal dust—is eliminated. I believe that the seams in the district are very hard, and that there is little or no coal dust even at the 1605 coal faces. The dust found in the pits is largely composed of shale. If one looks at the Bill, one sees that the question of dust is a very important one in this matter. Clause 61, Sub-section (4), says,Such systematic steps, either by way of watering or otherwise, as may be laid down by the regulations of the mine shall be taken to prevent explosions of coal dust occurring or being carried along the roads.Sub-section (5) says,The roads shall be examined daily and a report (to be recorded in a book kept at the mine for the purpose) made on their condition as to coal dust and on the steps taken to mitigate danger arising therefrom.4.0 P.M.
Therefore, the chief danger contemplated in relation to explosions arises from coal-dust, but, as I have pointed out, the dust in the roadways in the mines in the Forest of Dean consists largely of shale. A witness who was examined before the Royal Commission stated in answer to a question that, on instructions from the Home Office tests of coal dust were made by His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, the samples of dust being collected from a number of seams in the respective mining districts. The experiments made with dust from the Forest of Dean resulted in no explosion whatever being obtained. The experiments proved that in that district the main constituents of the dust came from shale. I have come to the almost irresistible conclusion that there are no arguments against the Amendment which I have brought forward. If hon. Gentlemen oppose the Amendment, they will have to show that there are no mines where inflammable gas is unknown. At any rate, within no reasonable time, say the last ten or twenty years, no such thing as inflammable gas has been found in these mines. I confidently hope that the Under-Secretary, who has shown a conciliatory disposition during the discussions of this Bill, will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. WEBB
I rise to second the Amendment. I have received authority from my Forest of Dean constituents in the shape of a resolution passed at a joint conference between the masters and the men to say that they are of one mind in urging me to ask the Government to give them the advantage of this Amendment. In the Forest of Dean coal pits, inflammable gas has never been discovered, and 1606 there is not a single pit in the whole district which at the present time contains a single vestige of the presence of inflammable gas. During the recess I made it my business to go into as many pits as I could, and I was careful to make an examination of the coal dusts found in the various workings. I naturally looked for coal dust where you would expect the lightest dust to accumulate—that is, up against the roof and on the timbers, and I am quite sure it would be impossible to manufacture anything in the nature of an explosion with dust of the kind that was found. In the Forest of Dean we can claim that there is no such thing as inflammable gas, and that it is quite impossible to discover coal dust of such a nature as to cause explosions. I hope that the Under-Secretary will grant this concession.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I regret that the Government is unable to accept the Amendment so cogently and ably proposed by the hon. Baronet, whom I can congratulate respectfully on his study of the subject. We do not say that inflammable gas of necessity is dangerous in mines where inflammable gas is unknown, but we say beyond all shadow of doubt that it is proved that coal dust alone is sufficient to cause an explosion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shale."] Shale may mitigate it. I learned from the chief inspector lately that he has had experiments carried out in connection with the very mine which the hon. Baronet is chiefly concerned, and the results show that dust of freshly crushed coal from that field is of a highly ignitable quality. The Royal Commission is conclusive on this point. The Report says:The witnesses who included those best qualified from scientific or practical experience to speak on the question, were generally agreed that coal dust is liable to explode, with or without the presence of fire-damp, in the condition at present to be found in most coal mines of the country.Those who have been following this subject will remember a very remarkable instance of an explosion in 1908 in a Somersetshire colliery where inflammable gas was never present, and where none was discovered on investigation. We are more and more coming to see that the real danger in mines is far more due to the presence of coal dust than to the presence of gas. In order somewhat to mitigate the harshness of this verdict to my hon. Friend, I will point out that the terms of Clause 61 are sufficiently wide to cover any adjustments that may be necessary. Sub-clause (4) gives power to make regulations, 1607 and no doubt they will demand a more stringent clearing of coal dust in dusty mines than in any others; but we cannot part with the general provision.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that the hon. Member has later on an Amendment in his name excepting any mine in which inflammable gas is totally unknown, thus showing by his own words that there are districts in which inflammable gas is unknown, and, consequently, refuting himself the arguments which he has just brought forward.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If he is going to insert those words in Clause 63 it shows that there are districts in which inflammable gas is unknown. I am only acting as deputy in this matter, and I do not know what my hon. Friend would like to do. If the hon. Member opposite, who seconded the Amendment, desires to go to a Division, I place myself in his hands, as he knows more about the matter.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and negatived.
§ Colonel HICKMAN
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "passing" ["after the passing of this Act"], and to insert instead thereof the words "coming into operation."
This is the same Amendment as I moved the other day, and it is not necessary that I should explain it.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
This is different from the other Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who will probably withdraw it. The Clause reads—"and in the case of a mine newly opened after the passing of this Act, no plant for the screening or sorting of coal shall be situated within a distance of eighty yards from any downcast shaft." That is a provision for safety which is regarded as necessary after the passing of the Act. There does not seem to be any necessity for any exemption.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: At the end of Sub-section (2), add "but any tub which was in use in any mine at the date of the passing of this Act may, notwithstanding that it is 1608 not so constructed, continue to be used in that mine for a period of five years from the said date."—[Mr. Masterman.]