§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [13th February] to Main Question [10th February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ Most Gracious Sovereign,—
§ We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Walter Roch.]
§ Which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "But humbly regrets that no mention is made in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech of the serious and increasing number of accidents in mines and on railways, and that no action for dealing therewith is promised."—[Mr. Brace.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added." —Debate resumed.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, when replying last night to the very strong case made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), deprecated the fact that the proposal which I am now supporting not only separates the question, but necessitates two particular Departments dealing with the situation. 475 We, on these benches, have long deprecated that fact. Indeed, part of our case is that in consequence of the anomaly that now exists of having the Home Office dealing with accidents of one character and the Board of Trade dealing with accidents of another character, there is neither consistency nor method in dealing with the situation. Inspectors from the Home Office can visit certain places where railway workers are employed, and if satisfied that there is danger to either life or limb the inspectors can insist upon an alteration being made. But if they step outside the factory or workshop to the permanent way, and are satisfied not only that accidents may happen but have happened, none of these inspectors have any power to enforce any recommendation. As to the Motion which we submit to-day, I recognise quite frankly that it is not sufficient for us merely to make the statement that a large number of accidents has taken place. I admit frankly that the responsibility of justifying our Motion involves our showing, not only that there is an excessive number of accidents, but that the accidents occur in circumstances which are preventable and that the number of accidents is increasing. Taking the period from 1902 to 1912 I find that there have been no fewer than 4,923 railwaymen killed in the execution of their duty. Covering the same period, there were no less than 224, 115 injured. I submit that those figures in themselves are sufficient to justify the Government in saying that there is need in this matter for a searching inquiry. But the most alarming situation, from the standpoint of the men, is not only the large number killed and injured, but the extraordinary increase that has taken place in recent years, which increase, we allege, is primarily due to the speeding-up system now in operation on our railways, and the absence of power on the part of the Board of Trade to insist on recommendations that they make. Let me first take the position of capstan men. In 1904, I out of every 9 men employed was injured annually; in 1912, 1 in 8 was injured. Taking the carriage cleaners, in 1904, 1 in 33 was injured; in 1912, 1 in 21–an increase of 50 per cent. Taking the goods sheds and taking the grade of checkers, in 1904, 1 in every 50 was injured; in 1912, 1 in every 11, or an increase of 325 per cent, in eight years. Take the engine-cleaners in our locomotive sheds, in 1904, 1 in 40 was injured; in 1912, 1 in 12, an increase of 220 per cent. 476 Loaders and sheeters, 1 in 25 in 1904, and 1 in 5 in 1912. Porters, both goods and passengers, were 1 in 19 in 1904, and 1 in 8 in 1912.
I submit to the House that those figures not only prove conclusively that there is a tremendous increase in the number of accidents, but it at least proves that it is necessary for some inquiry to be made as to the large increase which I have already indicated. But while we allege that this increase is due primarily to the speeding-up on our railways, it is the case that in 1910 the railway companies of this country carried millions of tons more merchandise and millions more passengers than they did in 1907. The Board of Trade figures prove that this large increase in the volume of traffic was carried with the aid of 13,000 men less than were previously employed by the railway companies. Therefore, we are justified in suggesting, and the railway men of this country are firmly of opinion, that this increase I have already indicated in the number of accidents, and the decrease in the number of employés have a real connection with the unnecessary risk that they are called upon to run. But the Government, towards the end of last Session, appointed a Royal Commission to consider all questions of railways and their relations to the State. By the terms of the reference the question of accidents and labour were expressly excluded, but on the first day of the sitting the Chairman, Lord Loreburn, announced that they were prepared to receive evidence on the question even of State ownership of railways; and immediately that announcement was made, the organisation for which I speak, which represents the organised railwaymen of the United Kingdom, communicated with the Prime Minister and asked him this simple question: Surely, if this Commission are prepared to consider the question of a transfer of the railway system from private ownership to the State, and they are prevented by the terms of reference to consider the question of accidents of labour, the whole position of the railwaymen must necessarily be prejudiced; and we suggested, that in order that a fair statement of the case might be heard, so that we would be able to put the railway-men's point of view, there should be set up another Commission or Committee of the same kind, in order to consider the two questions which were expressly excluded from the terms of reference to the other Commission.
477 It is true that certain inquiries have already been made by the Board of Trade in connection with certain accidents. But, speaking for the railwaymen, it is hardly necessary to say that no one deprecates accidents, fatal to the lives of passengers, more than we do; no one deprecates the increase in recent years of railway accidents more than we do, and we do submit that it is not fair to us, that it does not show an interest in the railwaymen, to have a special investigation affecting railway passengers alone, when there is that large increase affecting the railwaymen that I have already described. It is perfectly true that the gentlemen who investigated these railway accidents came to the conclusion that in practically every case one of two things happened: Either the engine-driver ran by a signal, and that was the primary cause of the accident; or, alternatively, the signalman had two trains in the section, and that was the cause. It may be true, as it was in the Aisgill disaster, when the suggestion was made that the driver ran by the signal, but we submit that a Government Department investigating an accident of that description, and when there is an attempt made to fix the responsibility of this accident, that it is not sufficient to send an engine-driver to prison for two months for simply running by the signals, without touching the men who were responsible for giving him the coal to enable him to do his work. It was not sufficient to excuse the men who deliberately allowed this train to go without the engine he ought to have had. It was not sufficient to allow the railway company to shelve their responsibility on to this individual whom they knew that in running that express train left his engine, as he was compelled to leave the footplate to oil the engine. They knew as well that he had been threatened with punishment if his engine went off during the journey. What is to be said for a state of things that happen at this very moment?
With a full sense of responsibility I say that every driver running those express trains with the same class of engine that driver Caudle had, leaves the footplates every day, regardless of the consequences, in order to oil his engine. That is happening at this moment. The company know it is happening, and why is it happening? It is because the men are faced with this difficulty, that if they get their engine off they are punished, and they have to choose between losing their job or running a risk which involves them being sent to prison, and passengers being killed. Therefore, I 478 say, that in an investigation of that description, it not only ought not to be necessary for me to state that it is not a complete investigation which merely deals with a detail of the case, but that there ought to be a thorough investigation into the whole situation in which those men work. Let me take the case of the signalman. A signalman was blamed because he allowed a boy to do what the Government inspector said, and the railway company said, was his work. That was the case of the Liverpool disaster, where a number of passengers were killed. The Government inspector said the accident would not have happened were it not for the fact that a boy was doing what a man ought to have done and what he, the signalman, ought to have done himself. He was condemned, and had to take the responsibility, and the public generally assumed that the responsibility for that accident rested with him But what did he say in his evidence, which the company admitted.
Over twenty years ago he had asked not only his inspector, and not only his superintendent, but the general manager, for a man to be placed in the box and not a boy. He repeated the application years after, and then in twenty years time those people are killed, as the Government inspector reports, in consequence of a boy doing what a man ought to have done previously. We say again that it is not sufficient to simply condemn this humble man, but it is the duty of this House to say that under circumstances of that description there ought at least to be an attempt to bring the people to book who not only deliberately refused to answer the request, but who, themselves, day after day, week after week, and year after year, knew this was taking place, and did nothing until the accident happened, except to try to shelve the responsibility on to the innocent signalman. I go further, and I say that the railway companies of this country have deliberately ignored and defied the Board of Trade. In the Camlachie accident, where four platelayers were killed, and one injured, the chief inspecting officer investigated the case, and I will now quote, not my summary of the case, but the language of Colonel Yorke himself, who investigated the case, and said in his report:—Kennedy (the man who was in charge) had a rule book in his possession, but as he is unable to read, he might just as well have been without it. He was given no instructions by the Foreman Connolley as to where he was to stand, or what he was to do in case of fog. 479 If a watchman had to be selected for the protection of valuable property, it is certain that a dull-witted man, lethargic man such as Kennedy, would not have been appointed for a position or such responsibility, and it does not seem to me unreasonable to suggest that where mens' lives are at stake, at least equal care should be taken to provide a suitable person to look after their safety. Moreover, such a watchman as I have referred to would be provided with a whistle or other means of giving alarm, whereas Kennedy had neither whistle nor horn. It must be admitted that a considerable number of accidents appear to be due to the men's own want of caution. This only proves the men are so helpless, perhaps in some cases reckless, that it is all the more necessary to protect them, and not turn them on to a railway like a flock of sheep without a shepherd to guide them.That is the language of the chief inspecting officer of the Board of Trade. What was it that was involved in the case? The Board of Trade in 1907 recommended the railway company that they should supply every platelayer in their employment with a whistle, the cost of which, wholesale, would not be more than 2d. or 3d. Forty-four companies agreed to accept the recommendation of the Board of Trade, and thirteen said that they would supply the whistles to gangers, foremen and assistant gangers, but not to the whole of the permanent way staff. Forty-seven, including this company, absolutely refused, and said in substance, "we are more concerned to our directors for the cost of those whistles than we are as to the lives and limbs of those humble platelayers." I submit that in a case like this, where the the chief inspecting officer himself uses language of that description, where he is satisfied, after a long experience, that accidents of this description could be avoided if precautions were taken, we are justified in saying that, when the inspecting officer makes recommendations and the railway companies refuse to carry them out, the Board of Trade ought to be in a position to enforce them. That is not all. That is the North British Company. Let me come to the Midland Company.
The Midland Company had an accident at Royston in November, 1911–two platelayers were killed, and Major Pringle conducted an inquiry. We, as representing the organised railwaymen, have always condemned propelling. We have said that it is dangerous both to the men and to the travelling public, because it prevents everyone from having a good lookout as to the exact position of the line. Major Pringle came to precisely the same conclusion. He said that in his opinion it was a dangerous method, and its dangerous character was proved by the fact that two men had then been killed and one 480 injured. Representations were made in this House by myself; the Board of Trade was written to. The recommendations of Major Pringle were conveyed to the Midland Railway Company, who absolutely refused to take any notice of them, saying that in their opinion there was no need for an alteration. At Doncaster, on 25th September, 1912, a porter took a barrow-load of meat from one platform to another. When returning with the empty barrow he was knocked down and killed. Mr. Armitage, of the Board of Trade, conducted an inquiry, and came to the conclusion that platforms situated as these were were dangerous to the men. This, again, was proved by the fact that one man had been killed. He recommended that the company—this is the Great Northern Railway Company—should adopt safer methods for dealing with this class of traffic. From that day to this nothing has been done, and probably nothing will be done until someone else is killed, and then we will get the same recommendation, and, so far as the railway company is concerned, the same result.
I now come to the Caledonian Railway. In 1906 a Government inspector visited Kirtlebridge Yard on a moonlight night. The men had complained that they could not do their work properly, and that it was dangerous owing to the bad lighting of the yard. The inspector reported that there was nothing necessary to be done. Prior to that, in 1904, a man had been killed, and the Government inspector had then recommended that lights should be provided. Nothing was done. In 1912 another man was killed in precisely the same place and under the same conditions. The sheriff then recommended that something should be done; but from that day to this the men are working in precisely the same conditions as they were prior to the accident. When we can put cases of this description, fortified not only by one's own opinion but by the reports and documents of the chief inspecting officer, we are justified in submitting that if the Board of Trade feel that they have not the powers to compel railway companies to adopt their officers' recommendations, it is their bounden duty to come to this House and obtain the necessary powers. If the Department responsible, as the Board of Trade must be held responsible, for accidents of this description, find themselves flouted by the railway companies, I feel satisfied that there would be practical unanimity in all quarters of the House in 481 giving them the necessary powers which they apparently feel they do not possess to-day.
There is another side of the question. If a careful examination of the Government inspectors' reports were made, it would be found in a tremendous number of cases that the blame for certain accidents is placed upon the men themselves. We do not deny that men are sometimes careless. We would be hypocrites if we pretended that working men do not make mistakes as well as other people. We do not put that forward at all. What we do nay is that if a working man, dependent on his employment for his living, having in mind the fact that if once he is discharged he will be thrown upon the unemployed market, has to choose between two rules, one of which may land him in a prisoner's cell under a coroner's verdict, as Caudle was landed, or the other cause him to be blamed by his officials and perhaps dismissed, our experience is that invariably the man will break one rule in order to keep himself right with the railway company. That, again, was proved in the Ditton Junction disaster when fifteen persons were killed, including the driver and fireman. Colonel Yorke, who investigated the case, said in his report:—The rules relating to the duties of guards are so-and-so.He quotes both rules, and then goes on to say:—These rules are mutually contradictory, in that a guard on a busy part of the line, and when the train is running at high speed, can hardly give careful attention to the luggage, parcels, etc., and at the same time carefully watch the signals.That is to say that, first, there is a rule which says that the guard must attend to the luggage to see that everything is in order, to sort up and locate it as the train is running; at the same time there is a rule which says that the guard must be well on the alert in order to watch the signals and assist the driver. The guard has to choose between one or other of these rules, and when an accident happens he finds himself, as he did in this case, blamed for a situation for which the railway companies are themselves responsible. I submit that in view of the case I have presented to the House I am justified in assuming that the Board of Trade will at least hold the balance fairly as between both sides. It does, however, appear to me, and to every Member on these benches who has considered the question, that the Board of Trade has in the past possessed powers that they have not fully 482 exercised. Take, again, two very serious accidents. How many Members of the House realise that if there was a railway accident to-morrow on one or other of the trunk lines of this country that the representatives of the men involved are not only not allowed on the premises, are not only not allowed to visit the scene of the accident, but in consequence of their presence the Government officials have to hold their inquiry in an outside place, or in a public-house. Take a great trunk line like the London and North-Western. When the Shrewsbury accident happened I myself was the representative of the men. I had been an engine-driver. I felt, as I feel now, that I knew something of the practical difficulties of the men, because I knew certain things that happened. Here was an accident in which, I believe, over twenty people were killed. It was one of the most serious of modern times. I had to go to Shrewsbury in the middle of the night, unknown to the railway company or their officials, and try to have a look at the scene of the accident, so that I should have some of the facts when the inquiry took place in order to represent the case of our own men. I might say in passing that although the Government inspector held in that case that in his opinion the engine-driver was asleep, that as a result of visiting the spot and going underneath the locomotive, I discovered that the lever was reversed. This was the best proof that when the accident happened, and this man was killed, he certainly was doing all he could to stop the train. I have reason to believe that one of the railway companies at the present time is coming round to a sense of their responsibility on this point, and may give way and allow a visit to the scene of an accident by the representative of the men. On the other hand, I submit that it has always been in the power of the Board of Trade to see that so far as railway accidents are concerned any duly accredited representative of the men with expert knowledge and practical experience not only ought to be given every facility to assist them in conducting the inquiry, but that he ought to be given every assistance to make the best defence he can for the men he represents.
I go further, and I say that there has been, as there was in the Aisgill disaster, a deliberate attempt to exclude the men's representatives. The House will remember that the Midland Railway Company not 483 only got hold of the men, not only intimidated them, but they actually locked me in a compartment to prevent me seeing where the accident had happened. That could convey no other impression to any honest or impartially minded man than that they were themselves deliberately trying to hide something, and to burke their responsibility. I am sorry to have troubled the House at this length, but we feel as railwaymen that our case is an unanswerable one. We say that railwaymen are prepared to take all the risks necessary in performing our duties. We say, as the railwaymen of this country say, that they are prepared to face death day after day and week after week in the discharge of their daily duties. We are equally emphatic in stating that they ought not to be exposed to unnecessary risk.
As an organisation we are determined to have a change in this matter. We are determined to put a stop to it. We feel that we are sufficiently strong ourselves to stop it. We feel that the full power of our organisation is such that we could stop it without the intervention of this House. But my opinion and my actions are sufficiently well known to the House that they will believe me when I say that we believe we ought to settle this matter on common-sense lines. It ought not to be necessary to resort to brute force. This is a responsibility that devolves upon the Government itself. We have stated our case. We request, first, that the Board of Trade shall use to the full all the power that they now possess. In the cases that. I have enumerated where the railway companies defy their authority they ought immediately to come to this House and obtain the necessary authority to deal with the situation. We suggest that in view of the gravity of the situation, in view of the serious indictment that we make, that the Government should here and now say that they are prepared to appoint a Commission or Committee of some kind immediately to investigate the whole situation. We are satisfied if they do that that we can prove our case. We ask for no favour. We ask for no special treatment. We submit that when there are to-day men maimed who might be earning their own living there is a case for immediate consideration. We say where there are homes desolate, wives bemoaning the loss of their husbands and children bemoaning the loss of their fathers, that if these things can be prevented, money ought not to be the first 484 consideration. I wish to thank the House for their consideration in enabling me to present this case, and I urge the Government to recognise the seriousness of the situation, and to do something at least for the railwaymen of this country, who I submit are an important part of the community as a whole.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I should like to say a few words upon the subject of railway accidents. I cannot claim to be an expert in the matter. I am merely the representative of a large number of railwaymen and a great industrial community which does a great deal of railway travelling. I cannot help thinking I voice their opinion in saying that I regard these accidents, to servants engaged in the handling of the traffic, as most deplorable and to a large extent unnecessary. Nothing could persuade me that if the Board of Trade displayed a little more vigilance and activity, and if railway directors displayed as much zeal and energy in providing safe apparatus as they do in cutting down expenses and making profits, we should see a different state of things. I do not believe there is much chance of the railway directors adopting mechanical devices for the saving of life and the prevention of accidents, and I do not see much chance of railway directors adopting safer methods in regard to the handling of traffic unless the Board of Trade gets much larger powers than it already has. Take, for instance, those accidents that arise from railwaymen missing their signals. I agree with the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) that too much emphasis is laid upon the failure of the human machine. It is assumed far too often that these accidents are due entirely to the carelessness or negligence of railway servants. To my mind, not enough consideration is placed upon the great strain these men have to undergo under the modern conditions of working the lines. Travelling is much faster, the boilers of engines are higher, and the funnels are lower, and the engines are very often enveloped in smoke and steam which makes it very difficult for the driver to distinguish his own signals. That being so, I cannot help thinking that the time has arrived when some mechanical device should be adopted as a protection against the failure of the human element. Our railway directors should take active steps to investigate this matter. As far as one can gather, their whole policy is to 485 keep the railway inventors at arms length. Of course, it would be ridiculous to ask the Board of Trade to adopt devices themselves and force them upon railway directors, but I cannot help thinking that they might get power from Parliament to lay down a time limit, and if they did that we should very soon see railway directors adopting a more enlightened policy towards new inventions.
The hon. Member for Derby has alluded to the treatment of driver Caudle—I agree with him, and I cannot help thinking that that driver did not receive justice. The Board of Trade assumed that it was absolutely unnecessary for him to have left his engine. Is that really so? I have seen it stated that the receptacle for oil, for engines of the type of his, was from motives of economy filled up, and he was running with a mere auxiliary receptacle for oil, which only provided for a run of 30 miles. That being so, he was forced in order to prevent his engine running hot to leave the engine and go round and oil the axles. That was carefully hidden in the report of Major Pringle. I must ask the Under-Secretary to the Board of Trade for a little more information on the subject, because I think as this fact was hidden this man received very hard and unjust treatment. I should like to say a few words about the shunters and the permanent way men. The hon. Member for Derby in talking about them put his finger on the spot when he said that accidents are caused by the increase of traffic and the diminution of men, or in other words by a policy of economy and hustle; and also, that if the men were given a better chance there would not be so much carelessness, because that carelessness is caused when men have to get through a certain amount of work. The only hope I see for better conditions for the men engaged in shunting and on the sidings is that the Board of Trade should have the same power as the Home Office to say, that such and such a piece of machinery is dangerous and ought to be guarded and made more safe. And if the Board of Trade had the power of saying that a place is unsafe which everybody knows is unsafe, and that the railway companies were under the obligation of putting it right, I think that is the only hope of getting safer and better conditions for the men engaged in handling traffic. The President of the Board of Trade is not here—if he was, I should have congratulated him on his new appointment 486 and expressed the hope that he would show a little more sympathy with the working men of this country than his predecessor has done, and that the policy of sitting in the pockets of railway directors would be abandoned, and that we should have an active and vigorous policy of safeguarding, not only passengers, but the railwaymen as well.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
As my hon. Friends below the Gangway are aware, my right hon. Friend is absent to-day through the pressure of a whole set of circumstances. He was here last night, and was prepared to speak in the Debate. It is a pure matter of accident that he is not hero to speak to-day and that I have to take his place. The Noble Lord opposite will allow me to deprecate very much the suggestion that he made, that my right hon. Friend, the previous President of the Board, ever showed any lack of sympathy with the people on the railways, or in any other service, and he must permit me to protest against the use of the expression "sitting in the pockets of the railway directors." I do not think that that can be said of the Board of Trade, considered as a Public Department, or the policy of my right hon. Friend, the late President of the Board of Trade. As regards the general case made out by my hon. Friend, there is only too much justification in respect to the fact that the statistics of railway accidents last year are lamentably heavy. The number of passengers killed was 141, of which 33 were killed in train accidents, which was higher than for seven years previously. The number of railway servants killed, 420, was higher than for six years. That fact alone in my opinion is a justification for raising the question as my hon. Friends have done. I am not sure what weight was meant to be attached to the point of the hon. Member for Derby when he spoke of the fact that the Home Office deals with mining questions and the Board of Trade with railway accidents. My hon. Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire seemed to be speaking to the same effect. Is it suggested that there is anything essentially wrong in that connection?
§ Mr. THOMAS
The Board of Trade inspector has no power to enforce regulations, but the Home Office can enforce them, and so prevent accidents.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is merely a question of the extent of the powers, and that is simply part of my hon. Friend's general argument. While I grant this lamentable fact as to the increase of accidents last year, I would deprecate the expression my hon. Friend used to the effect that accidents are largely on the increase. That suggests a worsening state of things. As a matter of fact, the statistics do not prove the general increase any more than the lamentable catastrophe in the case of the "Titanic" proves increased danger at sea. In the case of railway accidents the figures show a steady decline. If you take the figures from 1875 onwards and take them by decades or intervals, we find a steady decline, with a few fluctuations, and there is almost a continuous decrease in the number of men killed, and not merely in the percentages. In 1875 the number of railway servants killed was 765, and that-made 1 in 334. In 1880 that number had been considerably reduced, the figures being 553, or 1 in 554. Since then the decline has been very nearly continuous, fn 1910 the figures were as low as 377, or less than the half of the actual number killed in 1875, and only 1 in 1,615 as against 1 in 334 in 1875.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
My hon. Friend afterwards elaborated the point, and when he spoke of accidents I was afraid the House might be under a false impression. While there has been a decided and undeniable increase in the number of non-fatal accidents recorded within the last few years, the general movement in the railway traffic is towards increased safety for life, both for passengers and servants.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I admitted that last year there was this regrettable increase in the figures rising from 377 fatal accidents to servants in 1910 to the distressingly high figure of 420, but apart from such fluctuations as that I think the number holds good. My hon. Friend pressed the point that last year there was an unusual amount of traffic with a considerably reduced staff. I do not dispute that that may have had some real connection with the increased number of accidents of which he spoke. I do not know that I am really at issue with regard to a number of special points 488 he raises, in so far as he really makes them grounds for an appeal for an official inquiry. I think, however, it would be unjust to the Department, and also unjust to the railway companies, if I were to give the House to understand that I assent in detail to all the propositions my hon. Friend has put forward. For instance, the effect of his arguments with regard to the Aisgill disaster was to suggest that the inquiry did not go into such matters as coal and oil, but the inquiry did go into those matters, and a full investigation was really made. I am not suggesting that the practice with regard to these inquiries does not need overhauling, but I demur to the suggestion that there has been anything like the suppression of investigation or the avoidance of vital points in inquiries which the hon. Member seemed to suggest had taken place with regard to the Aisgill disaster. When my hon. Friend suggests that the companies defied the recommendations of the Board I am very doubtful indeed as to the basis of his argument. I am not denying that it may be useful for the Board of Trade to have fuller powers, and make more easy the employable powers they possess at present, but this wholesale suggestion of defiance of the Board of Trade Regulations by the railway companies cannot be accepted by me, and it would really be misleading to the House.
My hon. Friend spoke of one case in which he said the Midland Railway Company defied a recommendation of the Department in regard to the matter of propelling vehicles before an engine. Of course, I did not know that my hon. Friend was going to raise that point, and I can only speak from recollection, but so far as my recollection goes there was no complete defiance, although there may have been incomplete compliance. I do not think anything occurred to justify the expression "defiance." Slackness in compliance is a very different thing from defiance, which the hon. Member spoke of. With regard to the case of lighting to which my hon. Friend referred, that goes back to 1904 and would need a special investigation to enable me to give a specific reply. I think my hon. Friend will agree that there is a distinction between slack compliance and absolute defiance, and the instances he has given are hardly a justification for the suggestion that defiance of the regulations of the Board are common. As regards the question of the admission of representatives of the 489 men to inquiries in case of accidents, I think my hon. Friend's aspirations are in the way of being met. The hon. Member used an expression which shows that he is aware that the one company particularly concerned will not in future put such difficulties in the way as in the past. That being so, I do not need to labour the point farther. Of course the question as to who are the accredited representatives of the men is one that might occasionally be of some importance. I do not know that I need deal with my hon. Friend's argument that money should not be the first consideration in dealing with these problems and with questions of the further safeguarding of life in all railway matters.
I think I can say that money has never been made the first consideration in any sense that would justify any kind of reproach against the Department. It is true, if you have a speculative theory put before you as to some invention that would revolutionise railway plant and traffic, and it is admitted that invention would be very costly indeed and would involve an enormous application of capital, and it is really problematic whether there would be any reduction of accidents, that one does use the argument of money; but as regards all natural and practicable proposals arising in the ordinary progress of invention, and as regards all suggestions that have been made by the Department to the ' companies, no penurious consideration of money has ever been allowed to arise. The Department fully recognise the importance of life-saving as against any other consideration whatever. The Noble Lord opposite (Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck) rightly said that in cases of accidents in which blame had been put upon a driver or a signalman it was always well to inquire whether the railwayman in question might not really be a sufferer from an overstrain which was an evil in the system for which he could not be properly held responsible, and the Noble Lord argued that great attention should be given to the question of mechanical controls, of substituting as far as possible an infallible mechanical control of signals, and so on, for that mere power of attention of individual workmen which was capable of being overstrained. I do not know that it would be fitting that I should attempt to debate the details of the particular case into which the Noble Lord went, but in so far as he raised the point as to whether the driver in question could or could not have dispensed with visiting his oil box, I can 490 only say that so far as I am aware, if that box had been full when the engine started on its journey, there certainly should never have been any necessity for his leaving the footplate to visit it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The driver denied that himself both at the Board of Trade inquiry, at the inquest, and at the trial, and he went further and said that on every engine of that class they had to leave the footplate or they could not do the journey.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH - BENTINCK
The point is that he was running with merely an auxiliary receptacle for oil which could not carry him more than thirty miles.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
It is obviously a matter for full investigation, and I can only deprecate the suggestion that this matter was carefully hidden by the inspectors at the investigation. There can be no question as to the impartiality and vigilance that are applied by our inspectors in all these arduous and responsible duties.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Even if the Noble Lord has the contrary impression I doubt whether he is justified in suggesting that the inspector carefully hid a thing which ought to have been investigated. I can hardly give an answer on that point at this moment, but I do not admit for a moment that such an accusation against the inspector would hold good. The point may not have been adequately brought out, and it may be one that justly calls for fresh investigation, but I think the Noble Lord himself must see the impropriety of suggesting anything but a desire on the part of the inspector to do his work. With regard to the use of mechanical devices, a point to which the Noble Lord alluded, I may say that steps of considerable importance have already been taken. In point of fact, one of the most serious sets of fatalities last year was a series of accidents of very much of one type—that is, cases in which a train or a light engine which had been brought to rest was run into by a following train. In connection with that kind of accident in which a number of lives were lost, our officers were making individual recommendations, but the matter was felt to be of such 491 importance as to call for a systematic inquiry by the inspecting officers of railways as a whole. It was felt that they should consult together and make a systematic representation to the Board on the subject. The officers did go into the circumstances of those accidents very fully, and they drew up a memorandum making various recommendations, and copies were sent by the Department to the railway companies and to the trade unions to which the railway men belong. Both parties were invited to offer any suggestions they might have to make and to discuss the matter with the Board of Trade. I may say that representatives of the companies have discussed the matter with the Board of Trade, and the Board have good reason to hope that their conferences are leading to some really valuable measures being taken. Experiments are in fact being made in connection with the recommendations, and I think I may say that the companies have shown a sense of responsibility in the matter and are quite ready, so far as I have been able to test, to act on the recommendations made. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) made, as he was well able to do, a further very strong case with regard to the lamentable number of accidents to platelayers, men working in the permanent way. I am bound to admit that the number of fatalities under the last heading does seem to me really shocking. In the last three years the figures have been: 102 killed and 150 injured; 67 killed and 96 injured, and 70 killed and 91 injured. That, of course, is a type of accident in which the proportion of fatal results is always very high, and that alone, I am free to say, justifies my hon. Friend in making application for something in the nature of an inquiry. I can only make clear what I think my hon. Friend has partly shown that in February of last year the companies decided to amend their rules so as to make the duties of ganger and look-out men clear, and to provide that no man should act as a lookout man until he has been passed by the engineers' department of the railway company concerned; and further, they amended the rules so as to remove any doubt in regard to the responsibility of ceasing work in fog and falling snow. My information is that all the companies decided that all platelayers employed in the permanent way should be supplied with whistles and horns.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I clearly showed that in 1907 the Board of Trade recommended these whistles. Forty-four companies, or whatever number I read out, said, "Yes, we will agree," and another number said, "We will not give it to all." Forty odd said, "No, we do not believe in it, and we will not give whistles to anybody." Among that number was the company on whose line four platelayers were killed, and Colonel Yorke said, in regard to that, the words I have quoted to the House, showing that had the railway company adopted the Board of Trade's suggestion, the lives of these four men might have been saved. The company may have adopted the suggestion since, but the fact remains that they delayed doing so for a period of five years, and, in the interval, five platelayers lost their lives.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The point I was putting was whether my hon. Friend knew of any case since February, 1913, wherein a company had failed to act on this recommendation. I trust there are no such cases. I endorse all the hon. Member has said as to the previous unwillingness of certain companies to adopt this course. I do not question the accuracy of his statement that lives which have been lost might have been saved. I merely wanted to make sure that there is no evidence of dereliction of duty on the part of any company within the past year, since they have been understood to have absolutely agreed to take this precaution—a very small one, I admit.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
The hon. Gentleman gave us the figures showing the number of men killed and injured on the permanent way during the past three years. Will he kindly state what is the proportion to the total number employed?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I cannot off-hand give the proportion, but I can get the facts for my hon. Friend. The figures I quoted were: 1911, 102 killed and 150 injured; 1912, 67 killed and 96 injured; and 1913, 70 killed and 91 injured. In view of all these facts, in view of the shocking number of casualties among men engaged on the permanent way, in view of the alarming series of accidents of a special kind in the last year, and in view also of the undeniable increase in the number of non-fatal accidents—an increase which may partly be attributed to the more complete reporting of accidents since 1906, when new regulations came into effect, with the result that slight accidents 493 which in the past have not been notified, are now recorded—in view of the fact that the increase of the number is really considerable—
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Yes, and may not he fully accounted for by the operation of the new conditions of reporting—in view of all these facts, I am forced to admit that my hon. Friends have made out a real case for an inquiry. I do not think they would suggest, nor indeed would my right hon. Friend be prepared to propose, the setting up of anything in the nature of another Royal Commission, which should have complete authority to inquire into every possible matter in connection with railway control. In the first place, any such inquiry as that would have the effect of suspending the valuable and important experiments now actually being made. If it were proposed to revise the whole matter of railway control, all the experiments now being undertaken as a result of the recommendations I have spoken of, would necessarily be suspended. But I think it is possible to have a practical and useful inquiry, which could go on without any prejudice to those experiments now actually in course of being conducted. I cannot very well to-day undertake to define the nature of the inquiry, but I think I can meet the appeal made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) last night, and by the lion. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) to-day. They spoke of the Railway Employment, Prevention of Accidents Act, 1900, and suggested there should be an inquiry into the working of that Act, with a view to seeing whether any amendment is required. I think such an inquiry as that would really meet the case. That Act was passed fourteen years ago. A great many things have happened since, and a great deal of new experience has been acquired. It is, I would suggest, a reasonable thing to make inquiry into the working of the Act, with a view to settling whether any improvements are necessary. I dare say it will be argued that some of the powers conferred by that Act are so framed that it is rather difficult to exercise them. That is a point which should be inquired into. If my hon. Friends agree that that is the kind of inquiry desired, perhaps they will accept my undertaking that we will set on foot such an investigation, without asking me to define, exactly the nature of the inquiry, and will be content with 494 the statement that it will be an inquiry into the working of the Act of 1900, with a view to seeing whether it requires any amendment, and, if so, what amendment.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Is it quite clear in the mind of the Board of Trade that this inquiry will deal particularly with the question of the powers possessed by the Board of Trade under the Act?
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The powers of the Board of Trade with regard to railway accidents. I take it you do not want to limit the inquiry in that respect?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Yes, all the powers in so far as they are covered by that Act. I may explain to the hon. Member that if it is contemplated to have a very wide inquiry as to a possible reconstruction, with all kinds of powers, giving them new and unheard of powers, and if the inquiry is to be an exceedingly elaborate one, which would hang up the experiments actually in course of being made, I think that would be very undesirable. But as regards the operation of the Act, and the question whether or not the powers conferred under it are sufficient, or ought to be extended, that, I think, should be provided for in the inquiry.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Would it be an inquiry into the question whether the Board of Trade should have fuller powers? My hon. Friend has admitted that the present powers are insufficient.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Obviously the question whether the powers ought to be extended would arise in the course of such an Inquiry.
§ Mr. COOPER
The earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's speech filled me with dismay, because I gathered that, in his opinion, the responsibilities of the Board of Trade with regard to accidents on the railways were, on the whole, being fairly adequately carried out, and further that, owing to the larger number of men employed on the railways, there was not quite that call for alarm in the increased number of accidents which apparently some hon. Gentleman had suggested earlier in the Debate. But I was 495 very glad indeed to hear the hon. Gentleman say, at the end of his speech, that he does realise that the Board of Trade are in duty bound to try and ascertain whether something more cannot be done in the interests of men employed on the railways. I venture to suggest to him, whatever the nature of that inquiry may be, that in some form or another there should be some representation of the railwaymen themselves upon it. It is most desirable that we should have an inquiry which, when concluded, should carry the fullest conviction in the minds of railwaymen themselves, and that can only be done by giving them representation on that inquiry. I desire to raise one brief point which has not so far been mentioned in this Debate. I do it because I regard the position of railway servants generally at the present time in this country as one of very grave anxiety. It would be out of order for me to enter into the general causes that have created a grave unrest in their minds; but there is a very close connection between the grievances of railwaymen and the question of accidents.
I mention it because it has been represented to me, and I understand quite truthfully, that any man who is employed on the railway must in the ordinary course of his life expect to be injured at least once in twenty years, because the proportion of accidents is about one in twenty. Naturally these men, quite apart from the question whether the wages they are getting at the present time are reasonably adequate for the work they do, feel a very great grievance that this risk is so much on the increase, and that they are justified for that reason in appealing for a higher rate of remuneration. This is not the occasion on which to carry that argument any further, and I merely raise it because it is closely connected with the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman himself must have a little anxiety in his mind as to what will happen this year on our railways. We were threatened quite recently with an outbreak on the part of the railwaymen. The latter part of his speech and the promise of this inquiry, if it is carried out on bonâ fide lines with which nobody can find fault, will go some distance to satisfy what I regard on the whole as the legitimate grievances of the railway men in this country. In that sense the hon. Gentleman and the Government for whom he speaks are doing this country a service.
§ Mr. W. E. HARVEY
I desire to take part in this Debate, because of the fearful list of fatal accidents and minor accidents in mines. The Home Office which deals with the question of mines have more difficulties to face in the future than they have had in the past. It is to secure the safety of the men who are left that we bring the question before the House. The mines of to-day are not the class of mines that existed thirty years ago. The top seams have nearly all been worked out, the shallow seams, where you found very little gas have also practically been worked out, and we are going to deeper depths. We have higher temperatures, and are having to contend with forces and factors our fathers knew very little about. When I worked in a colliery, a pit employing 300 or 400 men down below was considered a large colliery, and a daily output of 500 tons was considered a rather large turn-out for the mines of Great Britain. What are the facts to-day? A 500 tons daily output is considered a small affair, and the employment of 300 men down the pit is rare in any district to-day. We have collieries to-day where there are practically 2,000 men down the pit, and we have collieries where the output is not 500tons, but 4,000 tons per day. I have one colliery in my own county whore there are three pits with an average output of 11,000 tons per day. The men who are working in these deep mines have to do so in a temperature rising from 98 to 100. The men are working in the mines to-day practically in a nude condition, owing to the extraordinary heat with which they have1 to contend. The Home Office are bound to take into calculation the difference in the state of affairs to-day from what it was some years ago.
I have come to the conclusion in my own mind, and I am supported by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, that the day has arrived when we should make an appeal to this House for a Minister of Mines. We have over one million employés working in the pits to-day, going-down into the depths of the earth, working under the conditions I have stated, yet the Home Office is left to deal with these things and a great many more things that take up so much of their time. The mining industry is so important that I think we have a right to claim that the whole time of one man should be spent in attending to the well-being of this number of men. That is for the future. With regard to the Home Office, I am not finding any fault 497 with what they have done. I have appealed to the Home Office not once, but a dozen times, on behalf of these men, and I am bound to say I have been met with the greatest consideration, but they have not sufficient time to deal with all the other questions of importance and this one as well to allow them to give to this great question of mining, which is changing from day to day and from hour to hour, the consideration which it deserves. Something has been said about inspection. It has been proved to demonstration that the present system of inspection has entirely failed to satisfy the men who work in the mines. There may be a wrong suspicion in the minds of the men with regard to the inspectors. We have had it in evidence, during the last month, that where there are four districts in a mine and there is only one intake with various returns, an inspector has gone and has visited one district and has never gone anywhere near the other three. It is a merciful thing that that explosion at Senghenydd was stopped in its devastation of human life simply by an open shaft, where the force went up for 500 or 600 yards, and was sufficient to blow a man's head off at the top of the pit mouth. If it had not been for that shaft there would have been 400 or 500 more men lost in that mine. II only shows how vast are the workings of an explosion.
We need more inspectors. I am glad France is leading us in this direction. The French Chamber has appointed additional inspectors. If I wanted greater proof it has been given me on Tuesday last. The men they depend on to warn them of danger and to give them satisfaction of safety, the firemen, men who go round and examine cavities and holes, looking for this lurking foe, should be independent men. What has happened? You have seen in the papers, because I have asked Members in this House if they have not seen it, and they have always said "yes." The firemen have found an explosive mixture, which means that there has been over 2½ per cent. of gas. They have said in evidence that they have found it, yet they did not report it. They reported it as diluted gas. The history of this will be written and those who read it will find how often "diluted gas" occupies the pages of this inquiry. When pressed by the cross-examiner, it was distinctly proved that it was through fear of dismissal that they did not report this explosive mix-turf. I should like the hon. Member (Sir Clifford Cory) to have been present. 498 I listened the other night, when we were dealing with Home Rule, to a speech from him about liberty and freedom, fearing that Home Rule would destroy some people's liberty and freedom. He had better turn his attention to home—to the class of men we have employed in our mines. We have it now in evidence, clear and unmistakable, that gas was found as an explosive mixture, and was not reported in the book, and the men who go down the mine and depend entirely upon these firemen for the safety of the mine did not know the condition of the mine at the time they went in. This is the kind of thing that presses us to ask for independent firemen. I heard last night, very likely I shall hear it again to-day, and perhaps to-morrow, "Who is going to pay the cost of this, who is going to find the money for the State to pay for this independent inspectorship which is so essential in our mines?" I do not care who pays for it. The pits must be inspected—lives must be saved, the men's homes must be protected, and children must be prevented from being left orphans. The life of outworking men is more sacred than money and property. Add it, if you like, to the cost, of production. Let the Government see that it is done and make the owners pay the money, but give us independence of inspection, and with that independence of inspection you give a warrant to every man who goes down the pit that he is not going into an explosive mixture, and into danger, but as far as human skill is concerned, he is protected by experience and ability. Regulations are of no use unless they are enforced. I speak from the experience of an actual miner having worked for twenty years at the coal face, and I am not ashamed of it. Therefore, I know what I am speaking-about, and I will say that if the men realised the seriousness of some of these mines, which are nothing less than gasometers, you would have no coal got. There would be a scarcity of the commodity that is so essential to the well-being and prosperity of this nation. It is because familiarity breeds contempt that men go into such places. The time has come when there must be more attention paid to it, no matter what the cost may be.
There is another point I want to refer to—it is the question of falls of roofs and sides, which are a most prolific source of accidents in mines. When a catastrophe such as Senghenydd takes place, and 400 499 men are swept away, the national purse strings are opened. It is a trait in our English character that we all admire. I am glad that even the Lord Mayor of London has thought it well in his wisdom to take part in this great system of sympathy and help. But there are nearly 1,300 men killed, not by explosions, but by falls of roofs and sides. What is to be done with this class of accident? They work with a lamp. We can have a better lamp than we have now if colliery owners? will only be magnanimous and prove that they have the interests of the men at heart. I know there is a danger. It will necessitate an extra lamp here and an extra lamp there, but there is an electric lamp which gives four times the light of the present lamps with this defect, that you may work with this lamp in an explosive mixture and it will show no sign of it. That is a very great danger. There is another thing. I do not think this House has heard of it. I think they have never listened to this tale of woe. We never heard it from an employer. Owing to the bad light thousands of men suffer from an affection of the eye, and the time has come when consideration must be given by the Home Office to this matter. The roof is the last place you can see with a lamp. You can see the sides and the floor with a lamp, but, not being able to see the roof, how are men to protect themselves against the dangers which exist in that part? An explosion occurred the other day in this way. A cavity was being examined with a lamp attached to a six-feet stick. I was there, and the chief inspector was also there. The chief inspector said he could not see it, and certainly I could not see it. That is the way you examine a roof to find out whether it is broken or likely to fall.
You would not think these things existed in these modern times. I would not like to class all employers or all districts alike. I am glad to say there are some colliery owners and managers who do all they can do and spare no cost to make mines safe for the men engaged in them. But there are mines owned by limited companies, and they have no soul. It is a bad job for this country that we have lost private employers—men with whom I have talked and associated. We now find a state of things in connection with mines owned by limited liability companies which is to be regretted. The provisions made for the inspection of roofs and sides should be 500 altered and improved. Every practical and expert man knows that it is dust that feeds an explosion, making it more terrific in its travels through a mine, and yet we find that the regulations are not being carried out. I speak on behalf of those men who descend the mines every day, and whose lives are dependent on the firemen and the officials reporting correctly to the management. In cases where neglect can be proved, the law should be set in motion. In the Senghenydd disaster there were swept out of life not ten or twenty, but hundreds of miners. I would appeal to the Home Office for very generous consideration of the matters to which I have referred, so that the accident list may be lessened. There are a million men working in the mines, and one in five meets with an accident every year. It is sad that on the railways one in twenty of the workers meets with an accident; but, serious as is that state of things, it is much less serious than in the mines. Surely the time must come when we should do all that can be done to lessen the death rate from accidents. I sincerely trust that we shall have the sympathy of this House, and that the Home Office will decide that the time has come to appoint independent inspectors, because our first consideration must be for human life.
§ Mr. JOHN WILLIAMS
I rise to support the Amendment, and at the outset I desire to express my regret at the absence of any reference in His Majesty's Gracious Speech to the terrible calamities that have occurred in South Wales during the past few weeks. I refer to the Senghenydd disaster and also to the calamity which occurred at another colliery in the Principality. At both of these collieries there was a large death roll. The chief object of the Amendment is, in my opinion, to ask the Government to devise ways and means of preventing the occurrence of such terrible catastrophes. I speak from a practical standpoint, as I have a right to do, having worked for many years below ground. I have been associated with colliery work for a period of over forty years, so that I am entitled to say something upon these terrible accidents. Personally, I believe these explosions are preventable. I believe it is quite possible to make these things impossible. You cannot have an explosion without gas or coal-dust. These are the two chief factors in colliery explosions. Xo one has heard of an explosion below ground where there is an absence of pulverised 501 coal—death-dust as we call it—and gas. But with the presence of these two awful agencies of destruction an explosion is possible. I believe that these two agencies can be dealt with effectively. There is no reason why gas should be allowed to accumulate in collieries to such an extent as to make the collieries a danger to life and limb. There is no justification for these accumulations, and I regret to inform the House that I believe that if the provisions of the present Coal Mines Regulations Act and the regulations contained in the statutory orders, were observed and enforced, we should enjoy an immunity from these awful catastrophes. You cannot have an explosion from gas without some other element of ignition. You may have gas present in a large bulk, but so long as it does not come in contact with a spark or flame or some other agent of ignition, it is absolutely harmless. But you do not know the moment that the gas will come into contact with a flame or spark. So long as you have no gas everything is safe, but when you have gas in large quantities at the collieries you must pay close attention to the regulation of the gas and see that it does not come into contact with a spark from overhead, or from the rope, or from a fire, because of spontaneous combustion. You must watch all those things.
Is that watch carefully kept? Is there a close eye kept upon the operations of the gas in collieries? I say not, and I am sorry to have to say so. The number of inspections made during the last ten years is very small. I do not wish to speak disparagingly of our inspectors, but the only inspections of value that are made and that are worthy of the name are made by the workmen themselves, and often under conditions which I do not like to describe to the House. You may have an explosion when a spark ignites the gas. Care should be taken that no spark should be allowed to be emitted, and that no spontaneous combustion should take place. I have never known an explosion to take place where you have good ventilation. There must be something wrong with the ventilation to have an explosion, but I am sorry to have to state from observation, from experience, and from evidence adduced at our last conference in Cardiff, that there are collieries in the United Kingdom at the present moment through the returns from which a man cannot crawl. That is a very unsatisfactory state of things, and one that creates a want of confidence in the minds 502 of the workmen as to the management of the collieries. Why should collieries be kept in this condition? If the provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Act were observed rigidly such a state of things as I have described could not exist. I hope that something will be done to remedy it when the matters which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Glamorgan last night are brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Take, again, coal-dust. You may have an explosion from coal-dust but not from coal-dust itself. Something else must happen. The coal-dust must lie violently disturbed by some other agency before you have an explosion. For instance, the coal-dust may be disturbed by a gas explosion or by a shot. In those conditions it is impossible to say when an explosion may take place. The object of this Amendment is to make it impossible for explosions to take place by asking for further legislation in the direction indicated by the Amendment.
But it may be said that it is impossible to keep a colliery in such an ideal condition as I would like to describe to the House if time permitted. Suffice to say that I believe that there are the means of eliminating these two elements from underground by dealing with the gas in the manner in which it should be dealt with. I do not mean to say for a single moment that we shall be able to clear every particle of gas from the collieries, but I believe that with great precaution, care and observation, the gas can be kept under control to such an extent as to make it safe for the workmen to work in the collieries. Then if it is not possible to get rid of the gas as we should like, we surely can get rid of the coal-dust which is on the main roadways, the main intakes. There is no earthly reason why an accumulation of two or three hundred tons of pulverised coal-dust should be allowed to remain on the main inroad. I hope that the Under-Secretary for the Home Office will take a note of that and bring to the notice of the employers forthwith that that is a state of things that could be remedied. Why should this auxiliary agent of destruction be allowed to remain to accumulate on the main roads? It is only a matter of small cost to remove it. I would like to see those roads absolutely cleared once every week. Then, if a gas explosion takes place, it has no other agent to help it in its course of destruction. Again, when we speak about gas in cavities, it may be said that 503 that cannot be dealt with. I believe that in these cavities, in which gas exists all the year round, you cannot have a current of air right up to the top of the cavity. But this gas can be dealt with and made absolutely harmless by a process of hermetically sealing the cavity, by brickwork masonry, and by arching the cavity in such a manner as to make it impossible in a time of atmospheric depression for that gas to exude through the archway, and come down to the main intake and into contact with sparks and defective lamps. I hope that the Home Secretary will try to do something in that direction.
The next point with which I wish to deal is this: At the present moment the whole mining community is absolutely dissatisfied with the existing system of inspection below ground. The duties devolving upon a mine inspector to-day are numerous and onerous. Let me describe to the Home the duties devolving upon an inspector. He has to deal with a huge amount of correspondence, a great mass of clerical work, he has to attend inquests, examine working places, travel by train, coach lawyers, and do a host of other things. These duties make it physically impossible for him to perform his work efficiently. I should like to see two classes of inspectors—one class consisting of the present chief inspectors and sub-inspectors, whose duties in my opinion should be, first, organisation; secondly, supervision; and, thirdly, to deal with only fatal accidents. Another class of inspectors I should like to see would be a class who could devote their whole time solely to the inspection of collieries. Let me describe the duties performed in the Welsh coalfield by an inspector in the course of a week. Are we to be told that the inspection of our collieries can be carried on efficiently and thoroughly under such conditions as now obtain? We will assume that on a Monday morning the inspector receives a telegram notifying him of a fatal accident at a place sixty miles from where he lives.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Gramorgan stated last night to the House, the trains in that district do not run at express speed, so that it takes a whole day to travel there and back. One can judge, therefore, of the amount of time that is left to the inspector to examine the place where the fatal accident occurred. When he returns home he gets into touch with the coroner, and he 504 arranges for the injured. He attends the inquest. The inquest may last two days, sometimes more, or sometimes less; but suppose it lasts two days, and the result is that the coal company is found to have committed a breach of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, the inspector then writes to his superior and also to the Home Office. He notifies the Home Office of the fatal accident, reports thereon, and asks for instruction as to whether he is to engage a solicitor. The instruction is sent on to him, with the result that he goes next day to a solicitor and coaches him for the prosecution. Next day he receives notification of another fatal accident. What is to become of the inspection of the collieries? The inspector has been daily engaged in this other business, so that the collieries are not systematically inspected at all, and there is no time allowed the inspector to make systematic, thorough, and efficient examination of the collieries.
I hope that the two suggestions which I make, along with the list of suggestions given by my hon. Friend the Member for South Glamorgan last night to the right hon. Gentleman, will be taken into serious consideration by the Home Office. I can assure the Under-Secretary for Home Affairs that the workers at the collieries, and also the railway workers of this country are fully entitled to whatever protection or assistance the Government can give them. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to take immediate steps to prevent, so far as is humanly possible, those catastrophes. The miners of this country are fully entitled to all that can be done for their protection. A large number of delegates assembled at Cardiff a few days ago, and they drew up those suggestions which have been submitted. They drew up many other suggestions which will come on in due course. They are waiting anxiously to see what will be the result of this appeal. It has often been stated that the colliery districts of this country are the centre of our industries, and that coal is the most important and greatest national asset we possess. Let me point out to hon. Gentlemen that they must know that it cannot be our greatest national asset, for the greatest national asset we possess is human life, and it is for every hon. Member of this House to do all he possibly can to preserve that invaluable asset.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
No one who has listened to the speeches delivered by hon. Members below the Gangway can fail 505 to sympathise with their object in drawing attention to the risks to which the miners of this country are exposed, and to the desirability of safeguarding as far as possible those who work underground. But to censure the Government as this Amendment proposes to do, is a very different matter. I think no class of industrial workers in this country owes more to the present Government than the miners. I can make that proposition good by referring to the various measures passed by the present Liberal Government dealing with the case of the miners—the extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act dealing with industrial diseases, the eight-hours day which was secured to them in 1908, the minimum wage of 1912, and the Coal Mines Act of 1911. I am very glad indeed to find that those who raised this question do admit freely that the Government is entitled to considerable credit for the work they have accomplished in passing the Mines Act of 1911. The hon. Member for North-East Derby, who spoke, said he personally had no fault to find with the Home Office in regard to their attitude in carrying out the provisions of the Act of 1911. I am bound to say that the attitude of the Home Office, as expressed yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman himself, was an extremely sympathetic one, and that he has shown on every occasion his desire to meet any case and any grievance which was put before him. I have no doubt whatever that the House listened with great satisfaction to the view he expressed, both in regard to the increase of the staff of inspectors in the future, and to his desire to legislate in regard to other matters which pressingly require to be dealt with at a very early moment.
I submit that the Coal Mines Act of 1911 deserves a trial. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it was passed by agreement between all those who represented not only the miners of this country, but the mine owners and others who were placed on the Committee which considered it to secure the safety of the workers underground. Those of us who were on that Committee are not likely to forget the many months we spent in the consideration of the provisions of the Act, and, indeed, my recollection is that on one or two occasions even the Government was defeated by a combination of those who represented the miners and mine owners acting together in what they conceived to be the interests and the safety of the workers underground. I do think that we have secured in that Act some very valu- 506 able provisions. The period has not yet elapsed which would enable us fully to gather the improvements which will result in the administration of that Act. There is no doubt whatever, that, taking them alone, the provision securing that in future the firemen shall devote their whole time to the work, and that referring to shaft ventilation, are of the very utmost importance in securing the safety of the miners. It is suggested that there is a constant increase in the death rate from accidents underground. I do not think the facts warrant that suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman, in the figures which he submitted to the House, has proved that there has been a decrease in the death rate from accidents within the last decade as compared with previous decades. If you look to the figures with regard to Scotland, in the Report for 1912, the last available, you will find that there is a decrease in the number of fatal accidents of twenty-four, and in lives lost of twenty-three, compared with 1911. The national strike probably accounts for some of the decrease but not for all.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I am now referring to the figures for Scotland in the Report of last year. When I was referring generally to the terms of the Amendment, I was referring to the fact stated by the right hon. Gentleman that the figures showed a decrease, but in particular years they had gone up owing to lamentable disasters which occurred in those years. I think it is perfectly clear that there still remains to be dealt with a lamentable and preventable loss of human life in our mines which ought to be considered, and which I trust will be considered, by the Home Office, in order to introduce immediately further safeguards. I confess I am in full sympathy with some of the proposals which the hon. Member for South Glamorgan (Mr. Brace) submitted to the House. Hon. Members below the Gangway are sometimes inclined to suggest that they have a monopoly of interest in the workers. [An HON. MEMBER: "So we have."] My hon. Friend says he is quite certain of that. I can only say this, that the workers and miners of North-East Lanarkshire have preferred to have as their Member one who sits above the 507 Gangway and is a supporter of the Government. That being so, I feel I am justified in saying that I have an equal right to speak on their behalf. I have done so before, and will continue to do so, in order to show the keen interest which I have in their affairs. One of the proposals which the hon. Member for South Glamorgan referred to dealt with the position of the firemen. I agree it is cine of the most important questions which can be considered from the point of view of the safety of the men. He was very strong on the necessity of having independent firemen. I confess that if he means independent in the sense that they are not to be the subject of victimisation, I am entirely with him. I proposed an Amendment in the Committee on the Bill of 1911 which would have given to the fireman the right of appeal against dismissal by his employer, an appeal which I think he is thoroughly entitled to. I do not see why our school teachers in Scotland should have the right to appeal against their dismissal and be put in a better condition than firemen upon whose character the lives of the miners depend. I regret very much that that proposal was not accepted by the Committee. I think it would have been the best solution of the difficulty.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Derby referred to independent firemen, and said that he wanted to see them independent in every sense of the word, I would like to remind him that at the present moment the firemen in Scotland have formed an association of their own. They are anxious to be independent, and yet it appears that every possible pressure is being put upon them by the Miners' Union to force them to join that union. If there is to be independence in one sense, I submit that there ought to be independence in all, and I think my hon. Friends who are pressing that point forward ought to see to it that when the firemen form their union, they are allowed to manage their own affairs. There is another suggestion which the hon. Member for South Glamorgan made, and that was with regard to the building up of disused workings, and holes which were, as he properly described them, gasometers which created great danger to the workers. I have always maintained that the best way to deal with that matter would be by means of hydraulic stowage. That has been carried out with great success in 508 France and Prussia, and also in a colliery in my own Constituency, the Broomside Colliery. Recent experiments in that direction show that that would be the means of preventing, very largely, any gob fires or danger arising from gas accumulating in disused workings, and that it would largely increase the safety of the workers also in the prevention of falls. I hope the Government will keep that in view. Why should the miners in this country be in a worse position than the miners of Prussia and of France, whose interests have been considered in this matter and where this scheme is a great success. I would also like to point out that the reports of the Government's own inspector state that that system is working well where it has been tried in Mother-well, and that it might very well be adopted elsewhere. I agree with what has been said on the subject of inspection. We have had far too few inspectors in the past. The right hon. Gentleman has, I am glad to say, made it perfectly clear that he is disposed to consider as to further appointments in the future, and I hope that he will make them at a very early date. Our staffs of inspectors in Scotland have far too much work to do. I would like to pay my tribute to them: they have done their work extremely well. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) and all those who have knowledge of what they have done, will agree that this is so; but they want other men to assist them in the very heavy burden of duty which is thrown upon them.
We have recently had two lamentable disasters in the collieries of this country, one in Wales and one in Scotland. I do not propose to deal with the Welsh disaster, as the matter is still the subject of inquiry, but I would like to say a word or two with regard to the other disaster, to which reference has tlready been made in this Debate. I regret, extremely, the attitude which has been taken up by the coalowners of Lanarkshire with respect to the provisions of rescue apparatus under the Coal Mines Act, 1911. It is a story which is not at all creditable to the coalowners of Scotland, and of the West of Scotland in particular. I would remind the House that the Rescue and Aid Act, 1910, was passed to meet a very urgent case as to the necessity of providing rescue apparatus at every pit head. After the Order under that Act was issued in the year 1912, abundant opportunities were given to all coalowners to make provision of the 509 necessary apparatus. What was done in Lanarkshire? I have called the attention of the House to the position of affairs on several occasions. The Home Office had on different occasions brought the matter very sharply before the notice of the coal-owners. One of these occasions was on the 8th April, 1913, when the chief inspector called attention by circular letter to their failure, and intimated what the requirements of the Home Office were. No immediate action was taken. Instead of that, the Association of Coalowners wrote a letter, dated 19th April, 1913, advising their members that they should at once take steps to give effect to all the sections of the Order, other than the one which related to the provision of breathing apparatus. The exact words arethat they should at once take steps to give effect to the annexed sections of the Order, which are obligatory, irrespective of the more important questions of rescue station, and the kind of breathing apparatus required to be provided to comply with the Order.In a subsequent letter of 22nd April, 1913, the same association, in communicating with their members, expressed the view thatthe question of 'Rescue and Aid' was not one of urgency in the interests of safety.and that they were of opinion that for mines within the association smoke helmets and bellows apparatus would be found to be the safest and most suitable, and that they complied with the Section. Not only did the Coalowners' Association come to the conclusion that this was not a matter of urgency in the interests of safety, but they went on to say that they regarded the provision of smoke helmets and bellows apparatus as the proper construction of that Order. But they did not make any provision as required under the Order itself. They failed to provide the smoke helmets which they themselves said were a proper compliance with the Order. I think that that is conduct of which very serious notice ought to be taken. I have on different occasions asked the Home Office to take steps in reference to the action of the Lanarkshire coalowners, and I am glad to think that as a result of the pressure which has been put upon them some have now provided not only smoke helmets, but the self-contained apparatus which is necessary to comply with the Order itself. But the Cadder disaster intervened, and it was in reference to that matter I wanted specially to speak. The hon. Member for West Fife, in his speech yesterday, said that if proper rescue apparatus had been provided the lives of 510 the men would have been saved. That is not the view which the Commissioner who held the inquiry, Sir Henry Cunynghame, took in his Report, and I think my hon. Friend, in order not to mislead the House, ought to have read that passage when he was reading other passages from the Report. Sir Henry Cunynghame took the view that there had been no breach of the regulations which led to the loss of life in the Cadder disaster. He said:—I do not think it is the least likely that a rescuebrigade would have saved the lives of any of those who perished.Earlier in the Report he says:—It is, I think, as certain as any fact can be that depends on circumstantial evidence, that before the first alarm of fire was given upon the surface, about 7.55 p.m., Reilly and all the men who worked in No. 1 machine section and at the pumps were dead. As to the men who had been working in No. 2 machine section, I do not think that a brigade, even if it had existed with the necessary apparatus at the mine, could have been got together in time to save them.I think the House ought to be in possession of that statement. The coalowners have taken refuge in the last resort in the construction of the Order itself. I do not think that that was a very worthy attitude for them to take up. Looking to the interests of the miners themselves, I think they should have recognised, as coalowners in other parts of the United Kingdom recognised, their duty and responsibility in the matter of providing what they thought was proper apparatus at the earliest possible moment. The fact remains, however, that some of them have now provided that apparatus. I am glad to think that they have come to their senses, that the Cadder Company have provided self-contained apparatus, and that some of the other Lanarkshire coalowners have taken the same view. There still remains, however, the necessity for bringing it home to all concerned that the requirements of this Statute make it necessary that self-contained apparatus shall be provided. I am glad that the Home Office have seen fit to issue amended regulations to make this point absolutely clear in the future, and to bring all into line. We are all aware that when the coalowners desired delay in this matter, they could raise the question in our Courts. That is a long and tedious process, involving waiting some considerable time for a decision, and the Home Office have taken what in the end will probably be the shortest and most convenient step to secure the best results by amending their regulations. I am glad to think that the amended regulations are 511 now under consideration, and I hope they will not be met by further opposition on the part of the coalowners. All I can say is that, after the warnings they have had, there is everything to show that they are wrong in their view that smoke helmets are sufficient. The accident at the Cadder Colliery proves that. I am glad to think that there has been no loss of life due directly to default in this respect, and that we may look for the matter now to be remedied in such a way as to bring all the coalowners into line in the future, so that they may obey the provisions of the Statute and see that those provisions are carried out in the form desired. I have spoken at some little length upon the general case, because I regard it as one of considerable importance. I trust that my right hon. Friend in his reply will make it abundantly clear that the situation to-day is absolutely safeguarded, and that the Home Office, who have had great difficulties to contend against in the administration of this Act, are determined to see that the law is to be obeyed, and that in Lanarkshire no exception shall be made. The honourable obligations on the part of the coalowners, apart from Statute altogether, one would have liked to see fulfilled. I trust that there may be no further opposition to the carrying out of the provisions of this Act so as to secure the safety of life in all our Scottish mines.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I am certain that no one can have listened to this very interesting Debate without feeling that the party below have been amply justified in bringing forward their Amendment. Personally, I am grateful that they have done so. As regards that part of the Amendment relating to the accidents to railway servants, I am glad to know that we have had assurances from the Government that they immediately will institute an inquiry with a view to seeing how the powers of the Board of Trade may be strengthened, in order to control the railway companies better in the future than they have been able to do in the past. In respect of the accidents in mines and to miners, I cannot help but regret that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, whose sympathetic attitude we all wish to recognise, was not in a position to give more precise and satisfactory assurances than he seemed able to do on behalf of the Government as to future action. The case put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Glamorganshire seemed to me to be an 512 overwhelming one. It is so familiar to the House that I really need not trouble hon. Members toy going into any elaborate figures. Here we have the fact, admitted by everyone, that in the last two years, 1912–13, two years, by a strange coincidence—though it is merely a coincidence—after the passing of the Coal Mines Regulation Act in 1911–the excellence of that Act I quite allow—we have had the largest number of fatal accidents—and I believe the largest number of accidents of all kinds—that have ever been known in the history of the mines of this country. We had no less than 1,724 fatal accidents in 1911, and 1,726 in 1912. We had something like 300,000 serious, non-fatal, accidents. These figures seem to me appalling. They are a grim commentary on the boasted progress of our science, and also a grim commentary on the powers of the Government to interfere to protect the lives of mine workers. I think, with all due respect to the speech of the hon. Gentleman above to which we have just listened, that I cannot agree with him that at the present we have any right to say that the Government have done all that is necessary, and that no further—
§ Mr. MILLAR
I said that there was a great deal more to be done, and I gathered yesterday from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman below that he recognised that.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I certainly do not wish to misrepresent my hon. Friend, but I understood him to say that he was quite satisfied with the speech made by the Home Secretary last night. Speaking for myself, I certainly cannot feel at the present time that in this matter the assurances we have had, considering the seriousness of the situation, are satisfactory. What does the Mover of this Amendment demand? First of all, he demands, as I understand, a large addition to the inspectorate, so as to see that the regulations passed by this House are carried out in a way that they have not hitherto been carried out. In the second place, in certain particulars which he gave, and into which I need not go, he asked for amendment of the law. As regards both these points the Home Secretary, as I understand, made a reply that was in tone absolutely sympathetic. He feels, as we all must feel, that it is a scandal that reflects upon the Government, and that reflects upon all classes concerned with the mines, that these preventable accidents should go 513 on year after year. The Home Secretary feels that, and we all feel it. When, however, I look at the details of his speech I look in vain for any precise assurance as to what he is going to do. The hon. Member for South Glamorgan demanded in the appointment of inspectors that a definite standard should be observed. Might we not, he said, have at least a standard of the inspectorate to give one inspector for every 5,000 men employed in the mines? That does not seem to me to be an unreasonable number to aim at. He further asked that they might have the assurance that every mine or colliery should have a visit by an inspector at least once a month. That, again, seems to me, considering the enormous risks of this industry, to be a not very preposterous request. The Home Secretary, in his reply, said:—If the inspectors really had placed upon them responsibility which he bag put to the House, not ninety inspectors, nor, as he suggests 200 inspectors, but 5,000 inspectors would be required." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1911, col. 450.]That is the sort of argument of which we are rather tired. The argument of the Home Secretary is, that what you have to do is to bring home the responsibility in the matter to the coalowner, and that, therefore, it is useless to go on appointing new Government inspectors, because even 5,000 inspectors would be insufficient in order to totally prevent accidents in the mines. The number of 5,000 is preposterous. Nobody suggests it; but because 5,000 inspectors might be wanted in order to entirely prevent accidents, it does not follow that a demand for an increase in the inspectorate from 90 to 200 is at all an unreasonable demand. The Home Secretary says that he has increased the number of inspectors. I agree. We all of us are willing to allow that he has done his best. But this Amendment is to the effect that, although there has been an increase of inspectors within the last two years, for which we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, that still the number of inspectors is altogether inadequate for the duties they have to perform. I think we might have had a more satisfactory assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that in the future the number of inspectors of mines would be increased. I think we are entitled to complain, and I hope the Undersecretary when he replies, will be able to give us rather more precise assurances upon this point than his chief has up to the present done. The Mover of this Amendment—I need not elaborate the particulars—thinks that we ought to have 514 an amending Bill. On this point, too, the Home Secretary made what is ordinarily called a sympathetic reply. He quite admitted that the law is not quite satisfactory. We have discovered that. We did our best in 1911 to pass a good Act. We spent a lot of time upon it. We got all authorities agreed. We passed, probably, the best Mines Act that has yet been passed.
He went on to say that he agreed that in 1914 there are many points in the Act of 1911 with which we are not satisfied, and he said that he was going to introduce a Bill this year for dealing with one or two points, but as regards most of the points there would not be time to deal with them. Again, he said there is a limit to the time of Parliament, and there is a limit to the willingness of Parliament to devote itself to one topic and one topic alone. I am getting rather tired of the reply that we have not time to deal with this or that question. My experience is, if the Government want this time for any matter which is sufficiently important in their judgment, they can always find it, and I do not think now, when this House has returned from a holiday of no less than six months, when faced with facts of this sort, and when we are told that improvements in legislation might be made which would tend to make the lives of these men safer than now, we ought to be told we have not time to deal with the matter. We have the machinery of standing Committees, and a lot of Members of this House are only too glad to devote their time to questions of this sort. I think my right hon. Friend would do well, when he introduces his Bill to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1911, to make it a complete and comprehensive measure for improving that Act. The statements made by my hon. Friends were very precise, and, as I think, were very reasonable, and I think the Government would have done better if they could give us an assurance that when this new Bill is introduced it will be, as far as possible, a comprehensive and up-to-date measure. At any rate, I press upon the Under-Secretary the importance of being able to assure us, as far as possible, that the various points raised in the course of this Debate are going to be satisfactorily dealt with.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I wish to refer for one moment to the question of accidents on railways. The admitted facts in this Debate show, to my mind, the absolute necessity for some form of inquiry, and by 515 no means a limited form of inquiry, into the cause of these accidents, and the possible methods of preventing them. The figures given us are sufficiently alarming. Last year the number of fatal accidents to railway servants was 420, which was higher than for six years previously. The number of non-fatal accidents last year was over 28,000, showing that the number of non-fatal accidents in the last ten years has multiplied by two. In 1902 they were not 14,000, and in ten years they are up to 28,000. Then we have the facts as to the accidents to permanent-way men, and the Under-Secretary very properly admitted that the numbers showed a strong case for inquiry. He was not able to give me the exact proportion between the number of accidents and the number of men employed, but the number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, was of a sufficiently alarming character. In these circumstances we are very glad to receive an assurance from the Under-Secretary that we will have an inquiry. But the question to-day is whether the form of the inquiry promised is sufficiently wide or not. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to tell me whether the inquiry will meet the points I am going to enumerate.
In the first place, the inquiry ought, I conceive, to go into the general question of accidents on railways, and more particularly into the working of the 1900 Act, and ought to report whether the Board of Trade has sufficient powers at present, under that Act, to ensure its proper enforcement; but I do not think the inquiry ought, to stop there. It think it ought to go on to ask whether the Board of Trade ought not to have further and additional powers outside the 1900 Act, and, if so, ought to report whether further legislation is necessary in addition to the Act of 1900. That is a point which I want to make perfectly clear: that the inquiry will not be limited to the working of the 1900 Act and the power of the Board of Trade, and whether further powers should be granted, and whether we ought to have further legislation upon the subject. There are two points to which I want to call attention I suppose it will be within the scope of the inquiry to report as to the sufficiency of the inspectors. It is not the slightest good having regulations under the Coal Mines Act, and so on, unless you are perfectly satisfied that the number of inspectors are sufficient to see that the regulations are applied, because the Board of Trade may be what you like, but if the 516 facts are not brought to their attention by means of their inspectors, their powers are practically a dead-letter. Therefore, one of the most important things this body could inquire into, would be the adequacy of the inspection as at present constituted.
There is one other question on the subject of railways. There is some reason to believe that the present high rates of speed on railways in this country, though possibly not so high as in past years, tend to increase the risk of danger, not only to the travelling public but to the members of the running staff. It is perfectly obvious that very high rates of speed must increase the strain upon drivers and firemen, and if that be so, and if the Committee inquiring into the matter finds these high rates of speed do increase the risk, then I think this House might be fairly called upon to put some limits upon these high rates of speed. I agree that is a technical matter, but it might be possible to so schedule the times of the railways that they should be such as to admit of the companies running their trains without unduly raising the rates of speed. These are two points—the inspectors and the rates of speed—to which the inquiry should give attention, and I would ask the Under-Secretary if he would be good enough to give me an assurance that the inquiry should be of the wide character I think it ought to be, and should be able to inquire into these matters, so extremely necessary, in order to diminish this appalling list of killed and wounded in the railway services of this country. One final word. I believe it is true that the number of accidents upon the railway systems of this country compares very favourably with the number on foreign and Continental railways. I believe that to be true, and I think it is a matter that has given satisfaction to the railway companies in this country, to the staff of the companies, and to the public, but while the figures remain at the high rates that we get to-day. I think there is ample ground, and indeed absolute necessity, for inquiry.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Yes, that they should be laid down by Parliament, or, if you like it better, that there should be power given to the Board of Trade to lay down regulations for limiting the rates of speed, or of scheduling times for the railways, to compel them not to exceed a certain speed that might be considered dangerous.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Before the hon. Member answers, if he is going to raise those points perhaps he will also make some comparisons between the accidents on American railways, which I believe are enormously greater. Everybody will sympathise with the object of the Mover of this Amendment, but it is most unfortunate that reflections should be made on British companies which they by no means deserve. The case of Driver Caudle has been tried and retried and I cannot help thinking that the travelling public by no means excuses his conduct.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
On a point of Order. I wish to ask whether, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to address the House without being first called upon by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? In the guise of a question to the hon. Member opposite the hon. Member submitted a question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and then he followed his question up by a speech. I wish to ask if that is in order, and whether it is not in defiance of the rights of other hon. Members?
§ Sir J. D. REES
I had really finished my question. I regret the hon. Member should have taken any exception to it, and it was only for yon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and not for the hon. Member, to express any opinion upon it.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I have already given an undertaking for an inquiry into the working of the Railways Act of 1900 to consider what Amendments are necessary, if any Amendments are necessary. I have stated already that that seems to me clearly to cover the question. I think any inquiry of the kind will inevitably raise the question whether the powers of the Board of Trade should be made larger or not. I think that answer meets the demand of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Butcher) as regards the main part of his speech. In reference to the specific proposition that the inquiry should go into the question of speeds, I cannot give any undertaking. If I were at this stage to give an undertaking that inquiry should be made into other matters, I might be asked to specify fifty different things. All I can say is that it will take tin the whole ground covered by the Act of 1900. I am not prepared to say that the question of speed will be specially 518 gone into, although it may be. The question of inspection would naturally arise. The question of a comparison of our statistics with those of other countries is one which I think need not come within the scope of the inquiry.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I desire to call attention to the condition of affairs which exists to-day in Mid-Lanark in connection with the working of the Mines Act, a state of things which also exists to a large extent throughout the county of Lanarkshire. The position is so amazing that I think it is almost difficult to credit that it should have gone on so long without drastic action having been taken. Very briefly, the facts are these: The Mines Regulation Act was passed by this House in 1910, and it placed upon all mine owners the duty of maintaining rescue apparatus and rescue brigades in connection with every mine or group of mines in this country. Provisions of that kind were put into the Mines Act in 1911, and until the end of last year the provisions of that Act relating, both to the supply of rescue apparatus and the maintenance of rescue brigades, were ignored and defied by the whole of the mine owners of Lanarkshire. In the early part of 1912, after having made the necessary inquiries, the Secretary of State for the Home Department issued his regulations defining the nature of the apparatus and the brigades and their numbers which were to be maintained at those mines. The regulations issued by the Home Office were loyally accepted by the great body of mine owners throughout the country. The co-operation which they had given in connection with the consideration of the Act in the Committee rooms of this House was continued when the Act came into force, and the great body of the mine owners of the nation loyally carried out the regulations made by the Home Office; but the mine owners of Lanarkshire were an exception, and they defied the regulations.
It was my duty last October and November to again inquire into this matter, and realising how urgent was the nature of things in Lanarkshire, I addressed the Home Secretary, and placed before him facts which he already knew well enough in regard to the position of affairs due to the defiance of the Act in Mid.-Lanark and Lanarkshire. The Act came into force in 1910, and the regulations were issued in the early part of 1912, and the Board ought not to have allowed them to 519 be defied by any section of the mine owners without drastic action having been taken. I can well realise, and I am wholly conscious of the special difficulties of the case that confronted the Home Office in this connection, but the fact remains that, although the Act had been nearly four years in operation, the mine owners were, successfully defying some of its most important provisions. My feeling is that as four years have elapsed since the passing of the Act and two years since the definite regulations were issued in regard to rescue apparatus and brigades, it would have been better to have brought matters to an issue by taking criminal proceedings against the mine owners in default. I am given to understand, and, indeed, I know, that the Home Office have for a long time under consideration the desirability of taking criminal proceedings against the mine owners who were defying the law. The Home Secretary decided not to take criminal proceedings, or, at any rate, not to take them at this stage, and he decided instead to issue a new regulation. The mine owners had contended that it was no part of their duty to provide self-contained apparatus. They did, I know, offer a worthless substitute in the shape of a smoke helmet which depended upon being fed from a tube, and which prevented the men wearing them from being a mobile force or being able to penetrate far into any mine. The Home Office refused to recognise the provision of that worthless article as being the satisfactory carrying out of the provisions of the Act.
The Home Office decided to issue a new regulation, and that draft regulation has been issued, defining in terms that a self-contained apparatus must be provided. I understand that the mine owners have given notice of appeal against that regulation, and that the matter has now come to a referee in accordance with the terms of the Act. The position at the present moment is this. The Act is still defied in a great number of the mines, and the latest regulation issued by the Home Office is now the subject of appeal, and until that appeal has been heard no further steps can be taken. I am bound to say that I take the gravest possible view of the present position. Many references have been made to the Cadder disaster, and it has been urged from these benches that the loss of life which occurred in connection with that disaster was not due to the 520 absence of the apparatus insisted upon by the Home Office. If that be true, it does not affect the degree of culpability of the mine owners, and I would remind the Under-Secretary of State that, when certain men in the Cadder Colliery, who were at that time believed to be alive, were attempted to be reached by the rescue party, the only apparatus available were the smoke-helmets to which I have already referred. It was found that they were entirely useless in this attempt to reach men then believed to be living, and self-contained helmets had to be obtained from Cowdenbeath.
The Commissioner appointed to inquire into the circumstances of the disaster stated that apparatus of the smoke-helmet type was not safe or suitable or sufficiently portable to be of use in an accident such as that at the Cadder Mine, and their use-lessness had been frankly admitted by the manager of the colliery. It is abundantly clear that had it been possible with proper apparatus to reach any man alive in the mine at that disaster, it would have been impossible to have made the attempt in time, owing, as has been proved, to the absence of such apparatus. I desire, therefore, to put the following questions to the Under-Secretary of State. I desire, in the first place, to ask how many mines since the Cadder disaster have ceased their defiance of the Act and have placed in connection with their mines the apparatus insisted upon by the Home Office. I want to ask, in the second place, how many mines, with the relative number of miners affected, are to-day still without any apparatus such as approved of by the Home Office. I want, thirdly, to ask what is the provision with regard to the institution of rescue brigades. Are there at this moment any adequate rescue brigades in existence in the county of Lanark. There were no such brigades in existence last year, and there have been no such brigades in existence for practically four years since the passing of the Act. What is the position to-day with regard to that matter?
Lastly, I desire to ask the Under-Secretary whether he has considered the position which will arise if the referee, who is to hear the appeal of the mine owners against the latest draft regulation issued by the Home Office, gives a decision unfavourable to the Home Office? If the decision—and I should like to know whether it is to be expedited in view of the gravity of the case—is given against the 521 Home Office, the position then will be more serious than ever, for the mine owners will not only have successfully defied the Act of Parliament, but they will have been confirmed in their resistance by the referee, and there will be no immediate means of securing these elementary means of protection and of safety to the miners of Lanarkshire. Those of us who gave many months of strenuous labour in the Committee Rooms of this House, in the years 1910–1911, in order to bring to the miners of this country all the safety that the teaching of science and experience could suggest, little calculated, I think, that, in one great country, embracing one of the most important coalfields in Great Britain, the provisions enacted in this measure for the safety of the miners would be disregarded and flouted, and that the mine owners of that country would be successful in this resistance for a period which has now extended nearly four years. I should like for my part to hear from the Home Secretary himself that he will leave no stone unturned and will not fail, if necessary, to seek further Parliamentary powers in order to bring an end to the condition of affairs, which is not only a very great scandal but which also threatens the lives and safety of many thousands of men doing the most laborious and yet the most necessary work in the community.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have had an extremely interesting Debate in which many useful and practical suggestions have been put forward and pressed upon the Government, and I think that most of us on this side of the House will be glad to have heard the sympathetic reply given by the Home Secretary, and at the same time will be hopeful to hear further from his colleague at the Home Office in respect to the other questions which have been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse). I do not intend to cover the ground with which both the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark and the hon. Member for North-East Lanark (Mr. Milar) have dealt. With their views and opinions I in the main agree, and in so far as they differ I must express my agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Lanark. My hon. Friend for Mid-Lanark has asserted that the Homo Office were in fault in not instituting a prosecution against the Cadder Company for their default in regard to rescue appliances. I agree that there would have been under the Order then 522 existing very little probability of obtaining a conviction in such a prosecution, and had proceedings been taken there would have been extremely lengthy and expensive litigation, which would rather have postponed than accelerated the working of the Act which we all seek now to speed up. I have been very interested, in listening to the whole of this Debate, to observe what is the nature of the charge which is made against the Home Office on the part of hon. Members in front of me.
I have during the course of the past autumn, both in my own Constituency and in other constituencies, had to meet criticisms and attacks on the Home Office—serious criticisms and serious attacks which, if they had been true, would have justified a Vote of Censure in this House. The Government has been accused, not in the course of this Debate, not by any speakers here to-day or last night, but they have been accused, in respect of the special rules which they have made, of preferring the profits of the mine owners to the safety of the lives of the miners. I read what was said last night, and I have listened to what has been said to-day, to see if that particular proposition—if that attack based on that regulation—has been repeated. Six hon. Members have spoken from the Labour Benches and not one has referred to the regulation in respect of which this charge was made. It is a regulation dealing with a return intake airway in mines. Under that special rule exemption is given, not to mines but to seams which, from special circumstances, cannot be worked with profit if such an intake airway is insisted upon. This exemption has been misrepresented and misconstrued. It has never been mentioned at any time that there was an arbitration upon this particular matter, and that the independent referee (Lord Mersey) gave his decision that that particular exemption was a reasonable one.
After all the essential thing is this, that here, on the floor of this House, where there is an opportunity for a reply to be given to the charge, where the Minister can defend himself against what I cannot but describe as an outrageous charge, when this opportunity is given, not a word has been mentioned. It is not only individual Members of the Labour party who have made the charge; the official organ of that party, of which the Chairman of the Labour party is a director, has ventured to print this disgraceful charge, and to publish it free gratis to the electors of 523 North-West Durham, yet it has never been mentioned in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Read."] I have the paper here. One paragraph is headed, "The Slaughter in Mines," and the only special rule referred to in regard to "slaughter in mines" is this special rule which has never been mentioned. There is, too, a message which was sent by a Scottish gentleman, a gentleman who has been rejected every time he has presented himself to a constituency as a candidate, and this is what he says:—That the Government and those responsible have given more consideration to the profits of the coal owners than to the lives of the miners, cannot be denied. … I ask you to get a copy of the Special Rules and you will find under Clause 79 (which is by the way the wrong Clause) that there is no second main intake airway unless the employers can make a profit out of the mine When a deputation from the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, myself among the number, waited on the Home Secretary he refused to withdraw this most outrageous proposal that the profits of the coal owners were to get consideration before the safety of the miners.Why does not any hon. Member of the Labour party now rise in his place and repeat that assertion, or attempt to justify it in any way? Why has the charge not been brought against the Government to-day? Why has not the hon. Member for Glamorgan mentioned it?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
There have been six speakers representing the party. I am bound to say on behalf of my hon. Friend who has interrupted me, that I have read a great many of his speeches, and I have never found mention of this charge in them. The hon. Member for Whitehaven, and the Junior Member for Merthyr Tydvil have made the charges, but they are both conspicuous by their absence now. I hold that surely an occasion like this, when the matter can be ventilated on the floor of the House, when the Government has an opportunity of stating its case, and when the Home Secretary is able to announce what was done in respect of this rule, and to defend himself against misrepresentation, surely this is the time to make the attack. But it has not been done. It is usual for hon. Gentlemen to say in the country that the Home Office is in the hands of the mine owners, that the Home Office, in passing legislation and in its administration, is solely influenced by consideration for the profits of the mine owners. Those who were Members of the Committee on the Mines Bill—I had not 524 that privilege, but I know I am speaking the experience of my colleagues—know that in the discussion regarding particular Amendments, Liberal Members and those who sat for mining constituencies were persistently excluded when matters were determined by private conference between the miners' leaders and the representatives of the mine owners. They did not know how their Amendments were to be treated after those deliberations. It is, in o many cases, an alliance between mine owners and the miners' leaders that prevents progress in mining legislation. There is an inquiry going on just now regarding the most recent disaster in South Wales, and in the course of it one witness said, in reply to a question, that the Government were prevented from taking action because they were in the hands of the mine owners. He added that many improvements might be brought about were it not for the influence of the owners over the Government. The Commissioner remarked "Sometimes there is an unholy alliance between you and the owners, so that the poor Government has not a leg to stand upon." It is the view of the Commissioner who is investigating this particular matter that in many cases improvement in administration is impeded, not by the slowness of the Home Office, but by agreements come to between representatives of the trade unions and the mine owners themselves. For this reason I wish to protest against the attitude taken up by hon. Gentlemen, not here, where they can be replied to, but in the country, where wild statements calculated to influence votes can be easily made at a time when no reply is possible. I wish to protest against their action, and I hope I have succeeded in exposing the complete hypocrisy of a party which speaks with one voice in the House of Commons and another voice in the country.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I really do not know what the last sentence uttered by the hon. Member has to do with the Amendment before the House—the reference to hypocrisy. He may be qualified to speak for his own party, but I venture to suggest that the quality of hypocrisy is not the1 special possession of the party which I represent. It is not the special possession of the Labour party. With regard to the.1 particular point to which the hon. Member has specially referred—the charges made-in a certain paper, and by certain Members, outside this House, I have not a word to say. He has done me at least the favour 525 of saying that I myself have never been associated with any such charge. He referred to the whole party as having been involved in such an accusation. There are three-fourths at least of this party who know nothing at all about the statement to which he has referred. Many of my colleagues on these benches are associated with other industries, and have not the slightest knowledge of the point about which he has thrashed himself into such a fury. I have nothing to say on that point in addition to what has been said. The man of whom he has spoken is probably very well able to defend himself, and I have not the slightest doubt he will be perfectly willing to meet the hon. Member in open debate on the matter
I rise chiefly to deal with one or two points upon which I think the House ought to be more accurately informed. The right hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Department especially concerned with the Amendment spoke last night in a tone which I am sure was not intentionally misleading, but the effect of which was undoubtedly to mislead. Hon. Gentlemen who have followed him, notably the Member for North-East Lanark, took up the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman himself. He warned us last night against taking any one single year when dealing with fatal accidents in mines, and he went on to say that the results derived from merely taking a single year would be very deceptive. He said we must take a decennial period, and then said:—We must not take the number for any individual year, because the statistics of a year might be hopelessly misleading.It will hardly be believed that the right hon. Gentleman has fallen into that very error himself. He went on to say that in the last decennial period ending 1912 the fatal accident rate had fallen to 1.17. As a matter of fact, that is the figure simply for that year, and not for the decennial period.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
In making that statement I had the Blue Book before me at the time. I quoted the figures, and gave them accurately. It is a mis-statement in the report.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Then I am very sorry for the OFFICIAL REPORT, to which poor Members like myself must refer, but I believe the general quotation cannot be wrong.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
That is bound to be right. Although the figures given in the OFFICIAL REPORT may be wrong, the general purport of them is right. Let us see what are the facts. Taking, first of all, the five-year period from 1903 to 1907, the fatal accident rate per thousand given in the statistical abstract was 1.29. The fatal accident rate from 1908 to 1912 was 1.36. Those figures, viewed merely as decimals, do not seem large, but they account for about 190 more lives during the last five years than during the previous five years—indeed, they are higher than any figures during any period of five years for the last fifteen years. When you take not only the actual loss of lives per thousand employed, but also the loss of life per million tons raised, the position is even more alarming—that is to say, as the output of coal increases there is a corresponding increase in the sacrifice of life. Surely I am entitled to say that the Government itself—that is to say, the Home Office, which is primarily responsible—should do all that in it lies to prevent this terrible sacrifice. A little later, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Glamorgan (Mr. Brace) was speaking of the necessity for increasing the inspectorate staff and the particular means whereby that staff might be increased—namely, by making the working-men firemen in the pits State officers, so to speak, the right hon. Gentleman replied that that was a matter with which the Treasury would have to deal, and that if he were inclined to make any statement at all he would reply that those who pay the piper have a right to call the tune. What does the term paying the piper really mean? There are getting well on for 2,000 people killed outright in the mines. I wonder who is really paying the piper; whether it is the people who sacrifice their lives in such appalling numbers and the people who sacrifice their limbs on such a terrible scale. The scale of accidents to passengers is nothing in comparison. There are well over 170,000 disablements in and about the mines every year, and most of them are very serious accidents, all for a week or more, while 60 per cent, of them are accidents of a fortnight or more. Considering the enormous loss of life, we are entitled to ask whether the Home Office is doing all that can be done.
Something was said by the hon. Member for South-East Lanark, who, I am quite 527 sure, spoke perfectly sincerely, about the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act, 1911, being largely agreed to. It was nothing of the kind. Upon one great matter, that of electricity in mines—how electricity should be installed, whether or not it should be installed, to what extent it should be carried, whether it ought not to be taken out of the whole of the mines altogether—there was a most profound disagreement. We, from these benches, who were upon the Committee, urged upon the Government and the coalowners of the country that a tremendous risk was being brought into the mines. We quoted the words of one of the best mine inspectors this country has ever possessed, the late Mr. Pickering, a very courageous and scientific man, that electricity was bringing, and had brought, a new danger into the mines of the country. The death rate before that was high enough, but when upon dangers which were natural and normal, which you cannot get away from and are due to the fact that you are ransacking the womb of the earth, a new danger is deliberately super-imposed, we have a right to say that the Government has not risen to a full conception of its responsibilities. It is said the danger is not proved yet, but the last ten years really, and the last five years mostly, have been the most terrible years of mining disasters of which this country or any other bears records. Our friends say that it is not due to electricity. When electricity was not used in the mines, these terrible disasters did not take place. No disaster anything like the magnitude of the recent disaster took place at all. Commencing with 1908, and going right on, almost every year right up to now every disaster that, has taken place, with one exception, has swept away the whole of the people into eternity, with no possibility of escape, and the one in which there were some lives saved was one which showed a holocaust not equalled by the total of the most terrible battles of modern times. The one at Senghenydd has gone nearly up to 500. There were some saved, but how many were lost? We have a right to assume by this continuance of terrible disaster, that there is an element in the mines which was not there before. We have a right to go back for the last quarter of a century, if we care to examine the record so far back. Modem mining may have been said to have commenced then, compressed air and 101 scientific develop- 528 ments having started about a quarter of a century ago. They have been improved as time has gone on; but a new element has been added within recent years, and it is within recent years that the most terrible loss of life of all has taken place. Are we not entitled to say, unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it is the new element that is responsible for this tremendous increase in the sacrifice of life. Of course, when almost everyone is swept away, when there is not one single person who can bear witness to the facts that existed before the disaster, when the whole place is one tomb, it is impossible to bring forward evidence and say that this or that was the originating cause, and you have experts for this side and that, experts for the men, experts for the employers, and experts for the Home Office all differing, and all at the most hopeless variance, as experts usually are. The one thing that cannot be made a matter of conjecture, the one thing about which there can be no disagreement, is the terrible loss of life that has taken place.
We fought in Committee in 1910–1911 for the exclusion of electricity from the mines, and we were told it would be impossible to work the mines. I will not debate that point. Suffice it to say that we had become, long before electricity was introduced, per head of the population, the greatest coal-producing nation in the world, and there is really no industrial reason why electricity should be in our mines. We ask that the Home Office shall take that point into consideration. We have a right to ask what is the Bill you propose to introduce. You tell us the House of Commons will be unwilling to devote its time to one particular topic. I do not believe it. I am not prepared to think so hardly of mankind in general, or the Members of this House in particular, as to believe that if we could lay before them the real cause of the deplorable loss of life that is taking place in the mines, they would not be willing to give the longest Session on record to do what they possibly could to remove these dangers. I for one have never said, and never will say, that in the operations of coal mining there are not as good men as this world contains—men who are really doing their best under a thousand difficulties to bring about the best conditions, but they themselves cannot fight against the inventions and developments which are taking place 529 in the mines to introduce a new danger. I think that the Bill that is promised by the Government might very well be widened. I think you will get the assistance of Members on that side and Members on this side. You will get the assistance of every true-hearted man in this House if you could say we intend to take the fullest possible time to widen out this measure to take in every possible cause that we believe is responsible for the horrible sacrifice of life that is taking place, and we intend to make it as comprehensive and as good a Bill as we possibly can. We will not hear of any huckstering notions of Members not being willing to occupy their time with this. I believe they would be willing. No one need say a single word as to the value of this industry to the country; it would be waste of time; but that this loss of life is taking place in a greater degree than even before is of itself a great humanitarian cry, and we call upon this House, and through this House the nation itself, to recognise that the needs of miners are urgent and overwhelming, and that widows and orphans are being made by thousands—surely these considerations in themselves are sufficient to urge upon the Government to widen out the Bill The small Bill that followed the Cadder disaster has been tremendously overshadowed by the enormous holocaust at Senghenydd. To say to us that the Bill which was promised shortly after that shall be the measure of the Bill we will give you this Session is surely not an adequate expression of the Government's honest intention. Widen it out as far as you possibly can. Throw yourselves upon the generosity of Members of the House. Say that in the interests of humanity as a whole, and of the working miners in particular, this Bill shall be made a fine, big, comprehensive measure. Ask Members from all sides of the House to come to your assistance. Throw yourselves upon their generous appreciation of the difficulties under which your office has to labour. Do not always be thinking, "I wonder can we give this time or that!" Take your courage in both hands, and say, "We will give the time; we will make this a comprehensive measure; we will do all that a Government Department can do to stop this terrible loss of life that is taking place in the mines of the country." If you put the matter before the House in that spirit, you will get the success you deserve.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Ellis Griffith)
All who have been present to-day will have listened with great interest and instruction to the Debate. It is one of those debates which reflect the actualities of life and the real experience of those who are taking part in it. Of course we all agree as to the importance of the subject, and I do not think we need quarrel as to percentages and decimal points. Whatever be the facts, there is a great sacrifice of human life in this industry. In 1913 the deaths were 1,752, and the accidents, involving seven days' incapacity, were over 150,000, and I quite re-echo the appeal of my hon. Friend that the House as a whole, independent of party, will take into serious consideration what should best be done under these circumstances. The hon. Member (Mr. Brace) last night raised nearly all the points which have been discussed, and I might remind him and the House of what my right hon. Friend said after listening to his speech. He said:—I agree with him that there are many of his points we shall have to consider. More than that, all of them we shall have to consider."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1914, col. 143]That is, I think, as far as my hon. Friend himself will expect us to go at this stage of the case. The hon. Member (Mr. Walsh) referred to electricity. As he knows that is a very controversial subject he will not expect us to give a decided opinion upon a point where all the authorities are really at variance. I need not remind him that it is one of the points that the Senghenydd inquiry has now under investigation. I am sure the House would regard it as entirely premature on my part to express any opinion on that point. It is a very great difficulty to find where to draw the line, because the experts are so much at variance, and it is extremely difficult to know exactly what ought best to be done for the sake of the safety of the men.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Surely it might be taken out pending the settlement of the controversy. You are killing the men in the meantime.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
That is the whole point. The controversy is whether, for the sake of the safety of the mines, electricity should be used or not. My hon. Friend thinks it should not, but I can assure him that a great many people take the contrary view. The Senghenydd inquiry will do something to throw light on the question.
531 Having said that, I think the only point of substance, after my hon. Friend spoke last night, was with respect to the Cadder disaster. A great deal has been said about that, and Lanarkshire is very well represented here to-day by the hon. Members who have spoken. As I understand it, the two points against us are these: First of all, why did not you take steps to enforce your regulations before the disaster; and, secondly, why did not you, after the disaster, take criminal proceedings? I think I am putting quite fairly that these were the two points. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or before the disaster, why were not criminal proceedings taken?] My hon. Friend said that the Act of 1911 was not an agreed Bill, but I would point out, in many important parts it was an agreed Bill. Many points were fully agreed between the mine owners and the representatives of the trade union. I think my hon. Friend agrees with me that it would have been extremely difficult to carry it through the House if that had not been so. I believe it would have been extremely difficult to have carried that Bill if it had not been practically an agreed Bill. You must take the Bill as it stands. Our Rescue Order was dated in April, 1912, and directly that Order was made the mine owners of Lanarkshire, and to some extent the mine owners of Northumberland and Durham, took a view rather hostile to the Order, which they were entitled to do. There was considerable time spent in discussing whether there must be a self-contained breathing apparatus, or whether a smoke helmet would answer our regulations. That discussion went on for a considerable time after the promulgation of our Order. We are asked, why did not you take steps to say, "You have not complied with that Order?" I will tell my hon. Friends from Scotland, quite frankly, what we did. Our difficulty was, and still is, the question whether a smoke helmet or a self-contained breathing apparatus was a compliance with the regulations. If we had instituted a prosecution in Scotland, a Scottish Court would have decided it. We, in the interest of the safety of the men, would have preferred to take a test case in England before an English Court, rather than in Scotland before a Scottish court. These are the real facts of the case. This went on, and the Cadder disaster occurred on 3rd August. Thereupon an inquiry took place. This disaster brought out that there were no rescue appliances in this mine, and it 532 is said that we should then have taken proceedings. A Commissioner was appointed to inquire into all the facts of the Cadder disaster, and the House will allow me to read what he says in his report:—In the present case, as I have said, I do not think that the absence of apparatus was the cause of loss of life, but if the alarm of fire had been given earlier, it might well have been that the speedy arrival of apparatus on the spot would have saved the lives of the men.The absence of apparatus was not the cause of the loss of life; and directly after the disaster the owners of the Cadder Colliery provided a complete rescue apparatus. On the 13th of October they provided for the mine in which the disaster had taken place a complete rescue apparatus. On the 25th of October, twelve days afterwards, the Report from which I have just read was published. The question then was whether we should take proceedings against the company, one of the very few companies in Scotland which had at that stage complied with the regulations that we had issued. We were advised, and I put it before the House, that if we had got a conviction, which was not at all certain, the Sheriff Courts might have given only a nominal penalty. Directly after the Commissioners' Report we published Draft Regulations making this breathing apparatus essential. Thereupon the mine owners of Lanarkshire, under the provisions of this very Act, did what they were entitled to by Statute, appealed to a referee. That appeal comes on for hearing on the 24th of this month. If my hon. Friend asks me what will take place if an adverse decision is given against us, I would rather not contemplate that at the present moment; but if that should happen, then we shall have to reconsider our position. That is the present situation. I quite admit that there has been considerable delay. This rescue work is quite new work. New apparatus had to be got. It takes a considerable time to get these new rules and regulations into force. So far as this Cadder disaster is concerned, though we were pressed to prosecute, both before and after the disaster, we thought on the whole that we were best serving the interests of the miners by not taking a prosecution. If we had taken a test case in Scotland, and if it had been held that a smoke helmet was a compliance with the regulation, it would have been a most retrograde step, and we were afraid of a decision which would have thrown back the whole matter in England also. It is unfortunate that the ques- 533 tion should have been raised upon this occasion, as there would be full scope for discussion upon the Estimate, and in view of what my right hon. Friend said last night and what I have now said I think that my hon. Friend might withdraw his Motion. We are quite alive to all the difficulties, and alive to our responsibilities in this matter. The primary responsibility of course is upon the owner, the manager, and the under-manager. We recognise to the full that there is upon us, again, a responsibility to supervise the owner, the manager, and the under-manager, and to sec that as far as possible they comply with the statutory requirements. The House can rest assured that we shall discharge that responsibility.
§ Mr. BRACE
Upon the application made by the Under-Secretary to the Home Office, coupled with the undertaking given by the Home Secretary last night, and also the undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, with the opportunity for submitting our views which we shall have when they introduce their Mines Bill, I beg, in those circumstances, to ask leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Lord NINIAN CRICHTON-STUART
I cannot possibly understand how the hon. Member for Glamorgon can possibly, especially after the very strong and well-worded speech of the hon. Member for the Ince Division, come to the conclusion at which he has arrived this afternoon. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Robertson) offered, as against this Amendment, that a certain Act passed a few years ago should be inquired into by a Committee. Anybody who heard his speech is bound to see that the only inquiry which could possibly take place must be within the four corners of that Act, and no further question would be allowed to be discussed by the Committee. Taking that into consideration, and reading at the same time the terms of the Amendment proposed by the Labour party, it surely must be obvious to the House that what has been offered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade does not in any way fulfil what is asked for by the Amendment. The Amendment itself uses the words, "Serious increase in the number of accidents in mines and on railways." Anybody who was in South Wales, as I was, at the time of the Sengenhydd disaster, 534 anyone who was at the scene of that disaster, anyone who knows and heard what I did in the office of the company, anyone who experienced the feeling which prevailed at the time, and anyone who has heard the speeches made this afternoon by several Members of the Labour party, when they spoke of the appalling position of affairs at the mine, must agree that the hon. Member for South Glamorgan should not withdraw the Amendment; but should make the position of Labour Members absolutely strong and secure by insisting, at any rate, on reform taking place and more progress being made with safety plant throughout the country. That they have not done that is to me a thing almost impossible to understand. Not only the Member for South Glamorgan, but other Members on the Labour-Benches have made speeches. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), was one of those who spoke particularly on the question of accidents on railways, and spoke of the accident in the case of the shunters. He made a very strong speech on this question of accidents on railways, and, as many people know, said there are numbers of places on the railways of the United Kingdom at the present moment which are lighted in a way which nobody can call safe for the work that has to be done. For those reasons, if for no other, and in view of the-speeches made by the hon. Member for the Ince Division, who said he realised that the Government were not rising to the fullest conception of their responsibility, I do think that the House this afternoon should take up the position, as it has a perfect right to do, of insisting upon the Government at least giving a great deal fuller inquiry into the whole of this matter. I for one can endorse what the hon. Member said during his speech, and that is, seeing that the House of Commons is not willing to devote the whole of its time, as the Home Secretary said, to one subject, there will certainly be many individual Members on this side, as well as the other, who will be only too willing to devote the whole of their time to attempting to make the work and the callings of the workpeople of this country more safe and adequate.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I desire, representing a large number of miners in my Constituency, to express the view that I do not think the reply given by the Undersecretary to the Home Office is at all satisfactory in regard to the non-prosecution of 535 the directors of mines. On the occasion of the Estimates of the Home Office last year I took the view that these accidents will not be limited until we put managing directors or managers into the dock and prosecute them, because it is evident where you get a death rate of some few thousands, and accidents totalling 170,000 in a year, there must be criminal negligence on the part of the management. Obviously the Home Office is either not doing its duty or the Home Office might as well be non-existent in this matter. At any rate, every Member who represents a mining constituency will, I am sure, be
§ only too glad to give his time, because of the responsibility and of the haunting fear which must rest with every such representative that some terrible calamity will take place in his constituency for which he might have far-off responsibility. I rise to relieve myself, as far as I can, of my responsibility by simply saying I do not think the Home Office reply on this question with regard to prosecution is satisfactory.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 73; Noes, 239.537
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.||[4.33 P.M.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Gordon, John (Londonderry, South)||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Grant, J. A.||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Gretton, John||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Sandys, G. J.|
|Boyton, James||Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Stanier, Beville|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Horner, Andrew Long||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Butcher, John George||Houston, Robert Paterson||Stewart, Gershom|
|Campbell, Captain Duncan F. (Ayr, N.)||Hunt, Rowland||Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Campion, W. R.||Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Cassel, Felix||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Colonel A. R.||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Watson, Hon. W.|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Weston, Colonel J. W.|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Magnus, Sir Philip||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Moore, William||Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Denison-Pender, J. C.||Mount, William Arthur||Wilson, Captain Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Newdegate, F. A.||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott||Newton, Harry Kottingham||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Fell, Arthur||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||Pollock, Ernest Murray||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Rees, Sir J. D.||N. Crichton-Stuart And Major Hope.|
|Goldman, C. S.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Esslemont, George Birnie|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Chancellor, Henry George||Falconer, James|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Farrell, James Patrick|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Clancy, John Joseph||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Clough, William||Field, William|
|Allen, Arthur A.(Dumbartonshire)||Clynes, John R.||Fitzgibbon, John|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P.(Stroud)||Collins, Sir Stephen(Lambeth)||Flavin, Michael Joseph|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Furness, Sir Stephen Wilson|
|Baker, Harold T. (Accrington)||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Gelder, Sir W. A.|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Cotton, William Francis||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd|
|Barnes, George N||Cowan, W. H.||Gill, A. H.|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Crooks, William||Gladstone, W. G. C.|
|Barton, William||Crumley, Patrick||Glanville, Harold James|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Cullinan, John||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Goldstone, Frank|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland)|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Greig, Colonel J. W.|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Dawes, James Arthur||Griffith, Ellis Jones|
|Boland, John Plus||Delany, William||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Gulland, John William|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Dillon, John||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius(Galway)|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Donelan, Captain A.||Hackett, John|
|Brace, William||Doris, William||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Duffy, William J.||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Duncan, C.(Barrow-in-Furness)||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Esmonde, Dr. John(Tipperary, N.)||Hazleton, Richard|
|Buxton, Noel(Norfolk, North)||Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Helme, Sir Norval Watson|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Herbert, General Sir Ivor (Mon., S.)||Morgan, George Hay||Robinson, Sidney|
|Higham, John Sharp||Morrell, Philip||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Hinds, John||Morison, Hector||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Rowlands, James|
|Hogge, James Myles||Muldoon, John||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Holmes, Daniel Turner||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Murphy, Martin J.||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Hudson, Walter||Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Seely, Rt. Hon. Colonel J. E. B.|
|John, Edward Thomas||Neilson, Francis||Sheehy, David|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D.Brynmor (Swansea)||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)|
|Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Nolan, Joseph||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Norton, Captain Cecil William||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Nuttall, Harry||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Sutton, John E.|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Swann, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E.|
|Keating, Matthew||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||O'Doherty, Philip||Thomas, J. H.|
|Kelly, Edward||O'Donnell, Thomas||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Kenyon, Barnet||O'Dowd, John||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Kilbride, Denis||O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||O'Malley, William||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Lardner, James C. R.||O'Shee, James John||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||O'Sullivan, Timothy||Wardle, George J.|
|Leach, Charles||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Waring, Walter|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Parker, James (Halifax)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Parry, Thomas H.||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Lundon, Thomas||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)||Watt, Henry Anderson|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Webb, H.|
|Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Philipps, Colonel Ivor (Southampton)||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Pratt, J. W.||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Macpherson, James Ian||Primrose, Hon. Neil James||Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Pringle, William M. R.||Wiles, Thomas|
|M'Callum, Sir John M||Radford, George Heynes||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Raphael, Sir Herbert H.||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Reddy, Michael||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Millar, James Duncan||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Molloy, Michael||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Money, L. G. Chiozza||Roberts, Sir J. H. Denbighs)|
|Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.|
|Mooney, John J.||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)||Illingworth and Mr. G. Howard.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed. Debate resumed.