Motion made, and Question proposed:
That a sum, not exceeding £102,727, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."—[Note: £60,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox)
In introducing this Vote, I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that there is but a comparatively small change as compared with the Estimate of last year. There is, as is right when we are trying to limit expenditure, a certain decrease. The Estimate this year shows a net decrease of £7,557, last year's Estimate being £170,284 net, while this year's Estimate is £162,727. Our expenditure is limited by Statute to £250,000, and the Committee will see that we have kept well within that limit. There is very little to be said as regards the actual figures of the Estimate. I will go through them briefly, and, if any points are raised, I will deal with them later. In view, however, of the short time at our disposal, and of the number of subjects which, I am sure, hon. Gentleman will wish to discuss, I will be as brief as possible in my opening statement.
The Committee will see that on Subhead A, Salaries, Wages and Allowances, there is a decrease of £7,757. That is due chiefly to reduced war bonuses owing to the lower cost of living figure as compared with last year. On Sub-head B, Travelling and Incidental Expenses, there is an increase of £450, due mainly to increased activities on the part of the 333 mines inspectors. Sub-head C, Telegrams, Telephones, etc., shows an increase of £1,400, but that does not represent any actual increase of expenditure; it is merely a transfer from the Post Office Vote, under the new arrangement whereby each Department now pays for its own telegrams and telephones, and shows the expenditure on its own Vote instead of on the Post Office Vote. Sub-head D, Cost of Inquiries, Arbitrations, etc., shows a decrease of £850, due to various necessary reductions in connection with the Rotherham Testing Station and the Experimental Station at Eskmeals. With regard to the amounts included in other Estimates, there is a decrease, under the head of Office Accommodation, of £4,285, owing to the removal of the Department's offices from the Hotel Windsor to our present premises in Dean Stanley Street; and there is an increase of £1,097 under the heading of Superannuation, due to the retirement of various inspectors. As regards the personnel of the Department, of our temporary male staff no less than 80 per cent. are ex-service men, and of the whole staff some 56 per cent. are ex-service men. I think, therefore, that in that respect the Department, small though it is, compares favourably with meat other Departments.
Turning to the work of the Department, its financial side has been concerned with the clearing up of the remains of control, a long and tedious process which does not come strictly under this Vote. In regard to this, I should only like to mention in passing that, although the staff which has been doing that work has cost less than £30,000 a year, it is reckoned that they have reduced the claims made against the State by no less a sum than £6,800,000. The work, therefore, has had considerable results, and has been well worth doing. I do not propose to deal with the recent controversy about wages and the Coal Agreement, because that was discussed very fully in the House a short time ago, and I think the Committee would rather that I should pass to other subjects. I should only like to say that I am sure the whole House congratulates most heartily those who have had charge of the recent negotiations on the fact that it has been found possible to continue the Coal Agreement, and that instead of—as at one time seemed possible—there being a serious and bitter cleavage on that subject, that trouble has been averted. If I 334 may say so, it reflects a great deal of credit on the tact and common sense of those who have been responsible for the negotiations.
The principal work of the Department is, of course, that concerned with health and safety. We have our inspections and Regulations, the working of which involves widespread and detailed ramifications. We have to deal with safety appliances of all kinds, with questions of ventilation, precautions against gas and coal dust, the measurements and condition of the roads, roofs and sides, inspections and reports of officials, rescue apparatus, ambulance and first aid, accurate plans and proper surveying of the mines, the whole difficult subject of safety lamps and their testing and approval, the examination of and granting of certificates to officials in mine management and so on, and conditions of health and sanitation, not only among the men but also in connection with the pit ponies. We have to carry out investigations and report upon accidents, and there has also been considerable statistical work and a considerable and increasing amount of research. The very heavy responsibility which falls upon the inspectors of the Mines Department will, I think, be generally admitted, and it is very gratifying to hear the many expressions of appreciation of their work which have been uttered in this House on several occasions. These inspectors are a most admirable body of men, who are doing their work extremely well, and, I hope, to the satisfaction of those among whom they work. In connection with this subject, I should like to refer to the very great loss which the Department has sustained in the death of a most valuable public servant, the late Mr. J. R. Wilson. He was our principal inspector for the Northern Division, and was a man of great experience and capacity. I am sure that all those who came in contact with him in his work deeply regret the loss of so valuable a servant of the Department and of the State.
I am certain that the best results are obtained by inspectors when they work in a friendly, cordial and helpful way with those among whom they are working, acting as friends first. During the year, 1922, 19,720 inspections were carried out, and of these 15,956 were underground. I 335 should like to refer, very shortly, to the question of pit ponies. As the Committee knows, a good many rather sensational stories of bad treatment of pit ponies have been circulated recently. No one can suppose, wherever the horse is in the service of man, that there will not be some cases of ill-treatment, whether it be above ground or below ground. I am afraid that that is an unfortunate fact. But I do not believe that there are any more cases of deliberate ill-treatment below ground than there are above ground. I admit that they are most difficult to follow up, and our inspectors have the strictest instructions to follow up any indications of ill-treatment of pit ponies that they may come across. I should be most grateful to any hon. Member of the House, or to anyone outside, who will give me any definite information as to ill-treatment of pit ponies which I can follow up and on which action can be taken. What I wish to emphasise is that it is useless to make vague charges People may talk and write anything they like in this vague way, and stir up public opinion, but the value of one definite case that can be traced and brought home is far greater than that of any amount of denunciation or wild writing. I think the whole Committee will agree that if we are ever to get an ideal system it will be when no animals will be employed underground and the whole thing will be done by mechanical haulage. This would be a great advantage, but we are obviously some way from that now.
I want to thank Mr. Charles Markham, of Doncaster Collieries' Association, for the very generous offer he has made, and which we are glad to accept, for a prize of £1,000 for the best design of an electric storage battery locomotive for use in the mines. We are very glad to accept this generous offer. Certain meetings have been held, five judges have been appointed, and the general conditions of the competition have been approved. It is to be a competition open to all nations—and the specification of the technical requirements are being prepared, but we are awaiting certain tests which are now being made as to securing safety in working in mines. I hope, however, that very soon the Department will be able to publish the specifications and offer the prize. As 336 regards accidents, we have had various debates in the House, and I do not wish to cover old ground in regard to this question. I would remind the Committee that although the decrease is slow, still there is a decrease in fatal and serious accidents. There has certainly been a decrease, especially in the last year or two, in serious accidents. There has, however, been an increase in the number of slight accidents. That may be explained by the fact that when wages are low compensation payments are higher in proportion to wages, and more accidents are reported, and until recently wages have been very low. We have had an unlucky period as regards four very serious explosions, which occurred at Haig's Pit, St. Helens, East Plean and Wheldale. Every one of these was more or less due to shot-firing. It is quite evident that if the regulations regarding shot-firing were thoroughly carried out there would be fewer explosions. All these accidents due to shot-firing have given the Department a good deal of anxiety and we have sent a circular to the various collieries. I am glad to say that that circular was very favourably received and welcomed, and it has been printed as a leaflet.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
It was generally sent round to all the collieries. Hon. Gentlemen and others are constantly sending in suggestions for avoiding pit cage accidents. They send U3 particulars of cage-arresting appliances. Every one of these is very carefully considered, but the Department cannot take the responsibility in a matter of safety like this of adopting unreliable devices, if they are to raise undue hopes and give a disproportionate idea of their real value. People must not be surprised, if a great many of these experiments, put forward in the best faith, have, when investigated, caused some disappointment. You must not by throwing the ægis of the Depart- 337 ment over it give an unduly proportionate value to any new device of this kind. It has got to be remembered that, though explosions and shaft accidents are the most sensational form of accidents, they are not the most frequent.
Shaft accidents have been considerably less during recent years. The greater number of accidents are due to falls in roof and sides, and also to haulage. We have recently appointed a Timbering Committee to go into this question of the roof and sides. This Committee is now at work, and I hope it will have a useful result. As regards haulage accidents, they are greater in number than we would like to see. A great many of them happen to quite young lads, which is a very deplorable fact. Haulage and blood-poisoning accidents are best prevented by the safety first campaign, and by the encouragement of lectures and the issuing of posters. Many accidents are due to recklessness. I mean the light-hearted indifference to danger which is part of the nature of this nation, and it is only by a constant campaign, by trying to make people more careful, that we can reduce the number of small accidents. A large number occur on haulage roads that really might be prevented, but at the end of all this, I do not think there is any need for us to be disheartened. There is undoubtedly great room for improvement in the matter of accidents, but we cannot get away from the fact that the mines under British management are the safest in the world. Figures that cannot be disputed show that clearly. Though we cannot say that that means there is no room for improvement, there is reason, I believe, why we should not be disheartened.
As regards research, that is being carried on by the Safety in Mines Research Board, which is doing invaluable work. An opportunity has been given of considerably enlarging this work by financial help which has been received recently from the Miners' Welfare Fund. Under the Miners' Welfare Scheme it has been possible to allot certain sums to the increase of the research work and the Committee are making good use of it. I want to thank the many who are serving on this and other Committees for the whole-hearted and splendid work which they are doing to further the welfare of those engaged in this great 338 industry. The Board has just been reconstituted. We have invited several distinguished scientists to join the Board to strengthen the scientific side of it. The former Chairman, finding it difficult to carry on his work in the Department and also to act as Chairman of the Committee, asked to be relieved of this position, and we have now got Sir Edward Troup, whose distinguished record in the Home Office is well known to Members here, to agree to act as Chairman of this Committee, and the Department is to be congratulated on having secured his service.
There are special Committees of the Research Board which deal with such questions as timbering, explosives, and technical appliances. The work of the Board is specially to inquire into the causes of and means of preventing accidents, and to investigate questions which affect health, such as miners' nystagmus, and matters relating to dust, temperature, and so forth. I was recently approached by the Miners' Federation, who suggested that a prize should be given for the best safety lamp. I think that the competition which exists should be sufficient to secure the best type of lamp, but whether that competition should be stimulated by a prize being offered, I do not know. I am considering the matter. At any rate, it is clear that the man who can invent a lamp which will not be too heavy for use and at the same time will have enormously increased illuminating power, will be conferring a very great benefit on the miners which will be deserving of the utmost recognition.
The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me about certain experiments which are being conducted at Eskmeals. I have been arranging a series of illustrations of the effect of coal dust explosions, which will be coming off every Sunday up to the end of September. There are groups which will be invited from various districts, and there will be experiments as to the effects of coal dust under conditions as near as possible resembling the conditions in the mines. All those who have had an opportunity of seeing them will realise the benefit to be derived from these experiments. The groups in the various districts will deal with coal in their own districts and will have an opportunity of seeing the experiments 339 carried out and asking questions and making suggestions. Every district has had an opportunity of being represented on this Committee, and if the hon. Member will give me any instance of a district which he thinks has not had an opportunity I will look into the matter.
I come now to the Miners' Welfare Fund which is founded on the rate of 1d. per ton on every ton of coal raised under the Mining Industry Act, and is intended for the improvement of the welfare of miners. That has been worked by a Committee under Lord Chelmsford, and I would like to draw attention to the most valuable work which he has done in starting the Miners' Welfare Fund. We are to be congratulated on having found a man of his great industry, great tact, and real love of his subject, to take up this matter. There have been innumerable instances of a small kind of the good work done by this Committee in conjunction with various local committees. These committees are staffed by men of the most disinterested character who have given up a lot of their time and done most valuable work on these various committees all working for the common good, and the way in which the whole matter is being dealt with reflects the greatest credit on all concerned.
District schemes have been approved of, and there is only one district, so far as I know, which has not got its scheme. The majority of the schemes are for recreation—for institutes, parks, baths, grounds, libraries, and so forth. There are 380, which will cost £733,000; there are 59 schemes dealing with health, at a cost of £284,000. For instance, in Ayrshire there is one very large scheme which has been adopted by the whole district, at a cost of £50,000, for a convalescent home; and in South Wales there is also a scheme, costing £80,000, in connection with which large numbers have combined together to form one big scheme. Also there are schemes of medical and nursing service, and in some few cases schemes for assisting the development of pithead baths. As regards pithead baths, we are very much behind every European country. Abroad they are used very largely. In France the State insists on pit-head baths being in- 340 stalled at every big pit, though their use is optional. In Belgium they are compulsory in the case of all mines employing more than 50 men, though their use is optional; while in Germany, not only do they insist on the pit-head baths being there, but they also insist on the men using them.
No one can deny that the German system is an extraordinarily efficient one and is working extremely well. I do not wish to put this as a matter of luxury. I look at it from the point of view of its value to the women and children. We often hear people say: Think what it means if there are two or three men who work in the mines bringing their wages into the same house, but we never hear people talk about what else they are bringing in. When it comes to three or four people bringing in pit clothes, which are, perhaps, wringing wet, and bringing in pit boots, and requiring baths in very small houses with limited accommodation, it is obvious that it must be extremely difficult for the woman who runs the house to keep it as clean as she would like under such conditions. To do that, and also to do what the men want is extremely difficult. You cannot insist on a scheme until you have educated the owners and men to want the baths, and that educational process has got to be carried on. When you have got a mine which is partly worked out, and which has only a short life, you cannot possibly impose on the owners the enormous expenditure which this would mean. At the same time, I do hope that that educational process will go on, and I welcome the increasing demand that has been made, and it is with the idea of stimulating that that I have mentioned the matter at greater length than I intended.
If I may, for one moment, deal rather more with the present condition of the industry, that will be all I have to say. Of course, in talking about mining, we think chiefly about coal, but there are a good many other forms of mining. I am glad to say that the tin mining industry seems to have considerably improved; better prices are being obtained, and as a result more is being done and there is a better output. I hope there will be further developments as time goes on. As regards lead, the position has also improved, and better prices are being 341 obtained. Zinc and Barytes, I am sorry to say, have not improved so much. As regards iron ore, the situation there is that there was a greatly increased output in 1922 over 1921. In 1922, the output was 6,825,233 tons, which was only half the output of a normal year before the War. At the same time, it was double what it was in 1921. In the last quarter of 1922, it came up to a scale which represents 8,546,680 tons for a whole year, which shows that the output is steadily increasing.
As regards the general prospects of the coal industry, there is this to be said, that though wages have been low employment generally has been steady, and there has been no long stoppage. At this moment, there are 64,000 more men employed—that was in June, 1923—than there were before the War. The increase in exports in 1922 made up partly for the loss of home demand owing to the great slackness of trade, but whereas our foreign exports in 1920 were only 24,922,000 tons, in 1921 they fell to 24,661,000 tons. In 1922 they rose again to 64,198,000 tons, and for the past six months they have risen to 40,000,000 tons, which represent, of course, for the total year, about 80,000,000 tons—a considerable increase, while in 1913 the total foreign export was 73,400,000 tons. A good deal of this has been absorbed by the increased demand owing to what has been happening on the Ruhr, and we have got to think of what will happen when the Ruhr trouble comes to an end. I know that is not quite within my purview, and perhaps it is more a subject for the President of the Board of Trade, but it seems to me that when the trouble on the Ruhr is settled there will be a very great chance that the general trade of this country will improve. If the home demand for coal improves at the same time as the foreign demand falls, then I hope there will be no serious loss to the industry. The home demand has been gradually expanding, with the slight improvement such as there was in trade this year, and I think there is no reason why, with better prospects outside and a general improvement in trade, that that demand should not steadily increase.
As regards coke, there was a very sharp rise in the price for export when the Ruhr trouble began, and there was cer- 342 tainly a shortage for home industries here. That was not entirely due, as many people assume, to the foreign demand. It was partly due to the fact that there was a great shortage of production, and that-many coke ovens had not been started again after their stoppage, and that the coke was not there. The people who were responsible for the production of coke, however, did their best not to be tempted by foreign prices, but kept the home industries going; and now the supply, I think, is ample for all requirements. That is all I wish to say at the moment. I have tried to make it as short as possible, and if there are any points which hon. Gentlemen may raise in the course of the Debate I will do my best to answer them. I should like to say that I do not think any hon. Member has given me definite notice of any particular question which he wished to raise, and that is the way to let the Minister know what he wants. It is always better to assume in this House that the Minister knows very little about his subject, and therefore if an hon. Member wants to make quite certain he should give the Minister notice.
§ Mr. GAVAN DUFFY
I am met at the outset by two obstacles. The first one is that this is the first occasion in the history of this House when the representative of the Cumberland iron ore miners has had the privilege of putting their case to the House. One can therefore quite realise that I am bound to experience some difficulty in compressing that case within a time limit which will not infringe upon the indulgence of the Members of the Committee. The second obstacle before me is due to the fact that I have to criticise the administration of an Act which has not been altered in any way since it was passed by this House over 50 years ago. While I have to deal with the administration of that Act, I am warned by my hon. Friends that I shall not be allowed to suggest any new legislation. The thing that is perfectly clear is that the Act, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now administering, has got no application to the industry at any single point. One would hardly recognise that it belongs to the industry at all. May I give two quotations from the Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872, as it stands on the Statute Book to-day. One is as follows: 343A week shall be deemed to begin at midnight on Saturday night, and to end at midnight on the succeeding Saturday night.That is the law to-day under this Act. Another portion of the same Section says:Where the engine, windlass, or gin is worked by an animal, the person under whose direction the driver of the animal acts shall, for the purposes of this Section, be deemed to be the person in charge of the engine, windlass, or gin, but such driver shall not be under twelve years of age.9.0 P.M.
The Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872, is on the Statute Book to-day, and we are bound by it. I do not for a moment argue that silly provisions like that which I have quoted obtain to-day. The onward march of civilisation, the leavening of humanitarianism in industry, have made the alterations which Parliament failed to make. Still the fact remains that the iron ore mining industry has been a forgotten industry—the Cinderella of all industries. The mere fact that to-night the Secretary for Mines, merely by way of incidental reference in the concluding part of his speech, mentioned the metalliferous mines, shows there is no real knowledge of the iron ore mining industry. I am sure it was through no discourtesy on the part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself that the reference was so slight. Those of us who have had to approach him officially know that it is quite impossible for him to display any discourtesy. He meets our questions with readiness and geniality, and I am not blaming him. I am only pointing it out as an example of the policy which has gone on before, and which it is my purpose to-night to try to break down. The iron ore mining industry had an affluent time during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It got a nodding recognition during the Boer War. Then it lay under a tombstone, as it were, until it was re-discovered when the Great War broke out in 1914. When it was re-discovered, the order went forth that no iron ore miners should be recruited, and iron ore minors were even brought back from the trenches in order that they might carry on their work of getting the ore. So much was known about the hematite ore workers of Cumberland that in the first official list of exempted occupations the West Cumber- 344 land hematite ore workers were scheduled under the heading of "Agriculture." It was really believed by the people who issued that Order that Cumberland hematite ore was a kind of patent manure for dressing the land, but there was someone who knew rather more than that—Sir John Randles, who was for some years a Member of this House and was also the chairman of a large iron and steel company in Cumberland. I heard him addressing a mass meeting of iron ore miners, and he told the men that they were as surely serving the cause of the country by getting iron ore as if they were in the trenches. I only mention these matters in order to indicate to the Committee that some importance attaches to this industry. I question whether after all, having regard to the facts that iron ore is the raw material for the war sphere of mechanical production, the iron ore industry is not practically the oldest industry in the world. There may be a quarrel on that point between myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie), because he will ask if my claim is right and the iron ore industry is the oldest, where did they get the coal with which to smelt it? I admit it would be a matter of difficulty for me to meet that point.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
I hope the hon. Member is coming to something that the Secretary for Mines can do, or ought to do, or ought not to have done.
§ Mr. DUFFY
I thought I should not go very far before getting myself into trouble, but I promise to keep myself as much in order as I possibly can. The one point I wanted to emphasise was that the iron ore industry cannot live by wars alone and that the demands of peace should be at least equal to those of war. The figures which the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave as to the output of ore ought, I think, to be corrected to this extent, that the figures which he gave are figures relating to ironstone and not to iron ore. In order to realise the scope of this industry let us consider the figures for a normal year. I think the year 1920 was practically normal and the number of men employed was 8,166, while the output for that year was 1,262,414 tons. In 1921 unfortunately we fell back to practically one-half, but the men are still there ready for 345 work and willing to do work when they can get it. It is a common idea that these men simply take iron ore out of the side of the mountain as they do in Spain, but that is not so. They are actually underground workers and some of the mines are over 140 fathoms in depth. The shallowest which I know are 60 fathoms in depth. and many of them have only one shaft which causes great difficulty in times of stress or accident as regards escape and interferes materially with the process of ventilation. Many of the mines are heavily watered. some to such an extent that the miners say they have ceased to be miners and have become divers. The effect of working both in these hot places and these wet places is an undoubted factor in the causation of respiratory diseases, a subject to which I know the medical research Committee attached to the Mines Department is at present devoting a good deal of attention.
Then the iron ore miner has to handle and use explosives. The quantity of dynamite used in 1920 was 583,864 lbs. They have to prepare their charges with dynamite and fuse and caps, they charge and fire the holes they bore, and they have to dress down the roofs and sides of their workings after each explosion. These are mere elementary facts, but they need to be stated in order that the Committee may recognise that day by day, and every hour of each day, while these miners are at work they have to face all the risks and danger unfortunately inherent in the occupation of the miner. While it is true to say that iron-ore miners are free from those terrible fire damp and dust explosions which carry death and dismay to the doors of thousands of coalminers' homesteads, the fact still remains that in proportion to the number employed the accidents to iron-ore miners are almost on a level with accidents to coalminers. From the standpoint of health, their position is worse. Those are two very material statements, which I think ought really to receive the serious consideration of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Let me point to the statement made on page 51 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Metalliferous Mines, namely:It will be seen that the death-rate from accidents in metalliferous mines is much the same as that in coal mines, in spite of the fact that metalliferous mines may be said to be practically free from the special 346 dangers of firedamp and dust explosions to which coal mines are exposed. It should, on the other hand, be remembered that proportionally very much more explosive is used in metal mines than in coal mines, and the liability to shot-firing accidents is consequently increased.A page or two further on, the Royal Commission declare that the percentage of accidents in the iron-ore mines is one in 17. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will turn to page 282 of Dr. Arlidge's famous work on the diseases of ocupation, he will find the statement that—
iron and coalminers occupy the same favourable position as regards the development of phthisis, but in the matter of diseases of the respirtory organs, namely, chronic branchitis and asthma, iron miners exhibit a greater prevalence. This corroborates the impression among the men themselves, which also my own experience confirms, namely, that iron mining causes severer bronchitis and asthma than coal mining and is altogether a more unhealthy occupation.That statement, coming from so eminent an authority as Dr. Arlidge, surely ought to carry some conviction to the mind of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. All this indicates the need, not merely for inspection, but for separate inspection, and despite the antiquity, the grey hair and the long beard, attached to this Act of Parliament, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is still empowered under this Act to appoint such inspectors as he may deem to be necessary. May I point out that at the present time, and since 1921, we have had no inspectors of metalliferous mines in the County of Cumberland. From 1886 to 1921 we had an inspector there who had been in turn an iron ore miner's labourer, an iron ore miner, and an iron ore mining manager, and yet for 27 years he had been the inspector of metalliferous mines in Cumberland, Westmorland, North Lancashire, and the Isle of Man. Let me say that, although he was compelled to retire in 1921 through the age limit, in 1919 he was very properly appointed a senior inspector of mines, and I have not the least hesitation in saying now that if he had not reached the age of 65, he would be senior inspector of metalliferous mines in Cumberland to-day. Why has he not been replaced? Why has no further appointment been made? I can find no excuse at all for the failure to fill up that vacancy.
347 I will say that a separate inspector is needed, and in this I am confirmed by the Report of the Royal Commission. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember that a few years ago his predecessor in the office of Secretary for Mines, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Home Secretary, appointed an Advisory Committee to go into the whole question of the metalliferous mines. They took the Report of the Royal Commission section by section, and they made recommendations, which have not yet been carried out. This Royal Commission was appointed in 1910. It worked seriously and carefully and ably for four years, and reported in 1914. In that year we had, as we know, the great world catastrophe, and everything had to drop, but from 1918 up to now there has been ample time in which to get that measure of justice which we think these men ought to have. The Royal Commission made recommendations which ought to carry some weight, at all events, with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. On page 22 of the Report it says:The question, however, of what provision shall be considered adequate for the inspection of metalliferous mines and quarries cannot be decided on these grounds alone. Though the number of workmen affected is comparatively limited, we shall have occasion to show in the sections of this Report devoted to accidents that they are exposed to considerable dangers in the course of their occupation, and it has already appeared in the course of our general introduction that each of the numerous industries with which we have to deal has its distinctive features, and that most of them present individual and local problems which demand special treatment. We think, therefore, that this branch of the general scheme of Government inspection calls for special attention.In another short paragraph it says:On the other hand, in the chief centres of the metalliferous mining industry, where there are many mines at work and difficult mining questions are constantly arising, the position is different, and some further provision seems called for.I need not read the specific paragraphs, which may probably be known to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but the Royal Commission in 1914 reported that for the metalliferous mines alone there should be appointed a senior inspector attached to the Home Office, that there should be two senior inspectors working in the metalliferous mining districts, that there should be two junior inspectors, 348 and that there should be a number of working men inspectors appointed in addition. The Advisory Committee, to which I have already referred, also recommended practically on the same lines as the Royal Commission, with this addition, that the inspectors, when appointed, should have a practical knowledge of the minerals of the districts in which they were appointed to act as inspectors. We thought that a very reasonable proposition, having regard to the fact that there is no mine inspector in our district to-day, and, having regard to the fact that one is absolutely needed, we urge upon the hon. and gallant Gentleman to take this matter seriously to heart. After all, for what are we asking? We are not asking for a new naval base at Singapore. We are simply asking for the appointment of a junior inspector of mines, according to the scale of salary laid down. He would receive £300 a year, rising by £15 a year to £500; so that for the present time, and for years to come, the cost of maintaining that inspector, for which we have been begging and praying for the last few years, would absolutely be less than £1 a day, and I really believe that, despite our keen desire for economy, despite the number of axes that have been flying about, the financial stability of the British Empire could withstand even the addition of that £1 a day. It may be said that there are not many men at work. That is just one of the reasons why we want the new inspector of mines to start work now. There are hardly two workings in an iron ore mine alike. In many of these mines you cannot see the roof. I remember, during the War, we had 400 or 500 of our Scottish coal-mining friends come to work there, but they were absolutely terrified with the idea of working under a roof they could not see.
Therefore, I urge, at a time when the work at the mines is slack, and at some mines has stopped, that it is just the time for a practical man to make himself acquainted with all the workings of the mines. There is rather a good precedent for recommending it. In the last annual report of the late Mr. J. R. Wilson—and I join with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the well-deserved tribute that he paid to Mr. Wilson; we all knew him, and we all appreciated him in every possible way—in the last report that Mr. Wilson sent out, in the concluding 349 paragraph of the first page, dealing with the question of the treatment of pit ponies and horses, he wound up with this sentence:While the pits were off work, advantage was taken to make a very thorough examination of the horses.Quite rightly, too. They knew perfectly well, that while the pits were idle, they could do their work more thoroughly than they could in all the hurly-burly of mine work going on. The same with regard to the appointment of a new inspector of metalliferous mines in Cumberland. At the time when the mines were idle was the time to qualify himself for the position.
One of the points upon which we wish to lay special stress is the absence of Regulations in regard to the working of the iron ore mines in Cumberland. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not forgotten the enormous powers that are conferred upon him under the Mining Industry Act of 1920. Under that Act, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is entitled to make such Regulations as he may decide, to safeguard the health and the safety of the men who are employed in or about any mine, but whether it is owing to the absence of inspection, or to absolute indifference, we find one mine in Egremont, Cumberland, where all the pit is worked with dry-rock drills, and the old hammer and jumper, that had been the principal tools of the industry for generations, have been dispensed with, and a new type of man has been introduced called a shot-firer. My hon. Friends here who so worthily represent the coal-mining industry know better than I do that the shot-firer in a mine is a man who has to have his certificate, who has responsibility imposed on him. In this mine at Egremont a new system is introduced with the shot firer, and 80 or 90 holes, containing at least 100 pounds of dynamite, are exploded at one time in that one mine. I will not pledge myself to the figure that was given to me, but it was to some extent proved, and it is sufficient for me to say that 100 pounds of dynamite are exploded in a comparatively contacted area at one time, and the men are forced to go in among the fumes of dynamite, with the result that there has been an intensive and excessive amount of illness.
As a matter of fact, through being forced into the dynamite fumes, men. 350 have had to leave their work and report to the employment exchange as having left their work voluntarily, and those men have had their money paid to them, because it was felt that they were justified in leaving a place that was little more than a veritable hell. We say, therefore, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot know these things unless he has an inspector who will give him the information that is necessary. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told me, in reply to a question some time ago, that there were no regulations at all in connection with the use of dry rock drills in the iron ore mines in West Cumberland. The hon. and gallant Gentleman went further, and said that a local inquiry as to the effect of dust on the health of the workers was made in 1919 and it did not disclose any such effects as would call for official action. I cannot imagine where the hon. and gallant Gentleman got his idea from. I remember that inquiry in 1919 exceedingly well because I was present at it and put the case on that occasion for the workmen who were represented there. It was practically instituted by Mr. W. T. Anderson who invited Dr. Collis to come down. Dr. Collis came down. He looked interested, he probably was inspired; being a specialist he looked as wise as he could. He went down one mine in West Cumberland, probably one of the best mines at that time in West Cumberland, and he proceeded to form his conclusions afterwards. He says:After seeing the process carried on underground I am of opinion that dust is undoubtedly generated in sufficient quantities and in sufficient minute size to cause pulmonary trouble if the dust were composed of injurious material.Then he says:Mr. J. W. MacDonald was, I found, well acquainted with the dust position. He has throughout his life made a hobby"—a hobby!—of petrology, and has knowledge of the pathological conditions which follow on the inhalation of various dusts.Mr. W. MacDonald is President of the Cumberland Iron Ore Miners' and Kindred Trades Association, he is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and if Dr. Collis knew as much about dust he would find it a very remunerative hobby. I am perfectly certain that Mr. MacDonald has nothing to learn from Dr. 351 Collis in regard to the dust problem. The recommendations made were six in number. I am not going to deal with them all, but only very superficially with one, because it was suggested that we ought to get a number of our men and have their chests radiographed. We got these men, and sent them to Liverpool. I even had the opportunity to pick these men, and we picked those who were physically the best. We did not want to have the stamp of rottenness placed on our industry, and the men were a credit to any country. Yet what happened? I will only take a few moments more, but I want to emphasise this point because it is an important one. There was one man, W. R. Hamilton, and the plate says:This is that of a fairly normal chest, but there is a suspicion of abnormal mottled shadowing at the apex, slightly more evident on the right side. Has worked one-and-a-half years on the machine.Then there is Tom Wilkinson.There is fine mottled shadowing in general over both sides of chest and all over the lung area. This is slightly more marked on the right side than on the left side. Has worked for eight years on the machine.Then there is Laurence Murray.Fine mottled shadowing all over both lungs, blue shadows slightly exaggerated. Has worked ten years on the machine.Laurence Murray was a man 6 feet 4 inches high and 44 ¼ inches round the chest. Laurence Murray to-day is a man absolutely broken down, with miners' phthisis. Another man, named Moody, is also broken down, with miners' phthisis. When a man named Walls died, not more than seven or eight months ago, the doctor was compelled by another doctor to change the death certificate. First of all, the doctor said it was bronchitis, but the other doctor said that was not-true, the man died from miners' phthisis, and the certificate had to be changed. I am grateful to the House for listening to me so long. I do not want to transgress on that generous indulgence which it always grants, but this subject is one of intense interest to me, and should be of intense interest to the Minister because there is a huge problem here to be solved. The fact that these men are few in number is no justification for their being neglected. They are bound by an Act of Parliament, and let that Act of Parliament protect them. In his closing re marks the hon. and gallant Gentleman 352 said that the condition of affairs in the Ruhr had dislocated the iron and coal industry in this country. It is true. It has dislocated the industry of the iron and steel trades in Cumberland, but the Cumberland iron trade has a very remarkable history. The oftener it dies the longer it lives. Consequently, I feel quite sure that if we can only get in this interval the hon. and gallant Gentleman interested in the appointment of this £300-a-year inspector, in the making of Regulations that will govern and safeguard the lives and interests of the workers, if he gets the question of dust; silica, and all these things considered, he will do something to restore confidence in the mind of the workers without which no industry can in the end succeed.
§ Captain MOREING
I wish to criticise the action of the Mines Department from another point of view. I must pick a bone with my hon. Friend who has just sat down for referring to the iron ore industry in Cumberland as, possibly, the oldest in this country. I represent the tin mines of Cornwall, and they, certainly, have worked from prehistoric times. I wish to refer to the crisis through which that industry has just been passing, and to ask for an explanation from the Minister of the action of his Department during that period. I may remind the Committee that, amongst the other activities that were foreshadowed when the Bill instituting this Department was introduced, was that of being useful for the development and expansion of the mining industry in this country. That part of the activities of the Department appear to have been lost sight of. It is not necessary to go into the causes of the crisis in the tin mining industry in the West Country, except to say that they were the direct result and consequence of the War. As evidence of that, I would remind the Committee that we shall be asked later on to vote a very considerable sum of money for the protection and continuation of an industry established in Brighton, yet when the tin mining industry of Cornwall two years ago asked for a sum approximately the same, we were told we could not have this money because if we could not get it from private enterprise the State should not be asked to undertake a liability which private enterprise refused. I am 353 very glad to say that private capitalists have since come forward, and with the assistance in two or three cases of the Trade Facilities Department we are, I think, shortly going to re-establish the industry in Cornwall in something like its former glory. My particular quarrel with the Department is that during the whole of the two years which have just elapsed they, apparently, gave no sign of any real understanding or sympathy with Cornwall in its distress. The issue at stake there was not merely the saving of a few individual mines, but the whole economic life of a very considerable population which is entirely dependent on the mines of that part of the world for its livelihood. I think the people of Cornwall could reasonably expect that a specially constituted Department such as the Mines Department would at least have given some indication of their appreciation of the position of affairs. And when, as I say, not only is there no assistance of any kind, but when it is contemplated that some would go abroad under the impression that the mining industry was finished, and that the only hope for some of the miners and their families was emigration, and that there was no chance of the mines of Cornwall being reopened in the future, even then the Department did not express any opinion, but kept silent and allowed all these stories, that they must have known, following their examination of the conditions in the country, were not correct, to go, and apparently took no interest whatever to contradict them, or to give any indication that they themselves had any hope or faith in the future of mining in that part of the country.
Personally I think their action is due to what is frequently a defect in Government Departments, namely, excessive timidity. My hon. and gallant Friend had nothing to do with it at that time, or I feel confident that some action would have been taken. Now, however, that the necessity is passed, I do not think that the action of the Department should be allowed to go without some protest from those representing that part of the country. I sincerely hope that there may be no need to intervene, but if such a situation should arise again I trust we shall see a more sympathetic and careful consideration of the facts of the situation than apparently has been 354 received in the past. There may be, there is probably, a satisfactory explanation from the Department, but I am bound to place on record that the people of that part of the country are far from satisfied with the action then taken, and what they considered the callous treatment which their industry was subjected to at the hands of the Government and the fact of the Mines Department, which was the responsible Department, taking no action, either with information or otherwise, to help the people of that part of the country in what was to them a very very difficult period, and one which threatened at one time to completely submerge them.
§ Mr. ROBERT JONES
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The principal Statues regulating quarries are the quarries Act, 1894, the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, the Notice of Accidents Act, 1906, and various special Rules established by the Secretary of State. The Quarries Act is 29 years old. In June of 1910 a Royal Commission was appointed amongst other matters, to enquire and report upon the health and safety of persons employed in metalliferous mines and quarries. I shall only deal briefly with the quarries, and with the Report presented after long inquiry on 12th June, 1914. I should estimate that that Commission must have cost the, State from £32,000 to £40,000 and a fairly good Report was presented. Legislation had not followed that Report up till 1918—doubtless due to the War. Nothing has yet been done for the safety and comfort of the quarry workers. The number of quarries in the kingdom coming within the direct authority of the Mines Department—quarries 20 feet high and over—exceeds 6,000 with 70,000 workpeople approximately employed. The chief products are limestone, clay, igneous rocks, ironstone, chalk, sandstone, slate, flint, etc., and the industry is widely distributed all over the kingdom. As far back as January, 1920, the Department consulted the National Joint Industrial Council for the quarry industry as to the establishment of new special Rules.
In February, 1921, the Safety Committee of the Council had a Conference with the Minister of Mines, and the Chief Inspector then stated that he proposed to submit new rules for the consideration of the Committee. That was done in 355 December, 1921. The Safety Committee of the Industrial Council submitted to each section which composed the Council the rules sent to them, and on 10th December following—and this shows how careful are the Mines Department—a communication was received from the Department hoping that no unnecessary delay would be incurred by the Council in transmitting its views to London. The Council naturally came to the conclusion the Department intended seriously to establish a new set of rules for all the quarries. A further conference took place in 1922, when the work was practically completed, so far as the industrial council was concerned. But although the representatives of the employers and the representatives of the workmen concerned agreed that rules should be established for the safety, health and comfort of the quarry workers generally, no attempt has been made by the Department to bring the rules into force. The present position is this: We have consulted our legal adviser and have discussed with him the numerous accidents that have been in our section of the quarries—that is the slate quarries. We are advised to this effect: that though the present special rules in force are inapplicable and out of date they cannot be enforced at any quarry where a change of ownership has taken place since they were established, unless they are re-established. So far as I am aware the re-establishment of the rules has not taken place at any quarry in the kingdom, at any rate within the ambit of my society in North Wales, although a change of ownership has taken place two, three, or four times, with the result that the workers of those quarries—if our legal adviser be correct, and I have no reason to doubt he is—are deprived even of the protection of the present special rules, inadequate as they are, and out of date. Take the slate quarries section. The number of non-fatal accidents represents 12 to 15 per cent. of the persons employed. In quarries generally it works out at 4.68 per cent. In the coal mines the percentage is 7.3; in slate mines during the first six months of this year it was 8 per cent. and the average for slate quarries is 10.5. In the slate quarry district the rate of accidents is much below what it is in the two largest quarries, where they have every oppor- 356 tunity for safe working and plenty of space. But the precentage here is 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. for this year. I have no figures for the other section. Slate has to be split into thin pieces, and therefore it is much more liable to break, and consequently the people employed in this industry may be more liable to get their hands cut even then. I submit that accidents here are much too frequent.
The Mines Department does sometimes get a tinge of conscience. Last summer certain officials of the Mines Department came out to North Wales on a holiday jaunt, and they inspected some of our quarries on Sunday, and we thought they were going to do something for us at last. Two or three inspectors went round those quarries where most accidents took place, but we never had any result from their visit. The quarry industry as a whole has been simply neglected by the Mines Department. Take, for example, the hard stone or granite quarries. I can say from my own observations in North Wales that there is very little protection for the people employed in the crusher.
This is a very unhealthy occupation, and even in the case of the people who live 100 or 200 yards away from the crusher the fine dust gets into their houses. It is dust coming from a very hard stone, and it is generally admitted that if it does not exactly bring about phthisis or silicosis it is not healthy. It does not do any good to people to inhale this dust. There is very little protection for the people engaged near or in the crusher, and they come away just as if they had come out of a flour sack. The quarry industry has been very much neglected by the Department, and very little attention has been paid to it in the past by the Mines Department. I suggest that metalliferous mining and quarrying should be separated from the coal-mining industry and not treated as being subsidiary to it. The quarry industry has very little in common with coal-mining, and it does not follow that experts in coal-mining—I do not say a word derogatory about them are qualified to deal with metal mining and quarrying.
Up to the present we have only had subordinate officials of the Mines Department, and I do not think that is fair to the quarry industry. The coal inspector 357 is an expert in his own particular industry, and in its science and technique, but that does not make him qualified to deal with metal mining and quarrying. Our miners are industrious people with vast experience in their work, and under your present system you debar them from taking up the higher positions in your inspectorate because they have no experience in coal mining. This is the first chance the quarrying industry has had of saying anything about their work for many years. I hope the Minister for Mines will expedite the establishment of the special rules, which have been agreed upon by employers' and workmen's representatives, as a first instalment of the requirements of the industry, and take some action in the near future on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and other suggestions, with a view of instituting a policy that will grant to these hitherto neglected industries the interest and supervision which those engaged in them are entitled to expect from a great State Department.
I do not wish to put any unnecessary expense upon the industry, and it is not required but with good will and sincere efforts great improvements are possible. As it is the good managers are not helped but hindered through inefficient and insufficient Regulations. They are compelled by the commercial side of the business to carry on operations in an unworkmanlike manner in order to take advantage of the present laxity in Government administration to turn out a larger amount of marketable commodities. In claiming better rules for the regulation of the quarrying industry, I am doing so on behalf of clean, thrifty, industrious and intelligent men who are the best class of workers in the whole Kingdom.
§ Mr. J. ROBERTSON
The Secretary for Mines made a most interesting statement with regard to the activities of his Department, and indeed he touched upon many subjects in which one might be tempted to follow in the discussion. He dealt with the question of miner's welfare and while he gave credit to a certain gentleman—and we do not want to take credit away from anybody—the probability is that the credit for the success of miners' welfare work ought to be given to the Miners' Federation and their activities. The Minister referred to the question of miners' baths, but in 358 this matter we are 100 years behind. I would advise anybody who disputes my statement to study the history of coalmining, and he will find that it is close upon 100 years since the bath was introduced in the coal-mining industry. The Minister for Mines seems to be enamoured with the German idea of making baths compulsory. I would like him to begin by making the provision of baths compulsory.
It is only four months since we had a very interesting discussion on the question of accidents in the mines of this country, and a Motion was unanimously passed calling for immediate legislation dealing with those accidents. During the four months which have elapsed, valuable lives have been lost, and I want to know what the Ministry of Mines have been doing in the interval to safeguard the lives and limbs of the men engaged in our mines. We were told that mining is not so dangerous an industry as the miners' representatives would lead the country to believe. We were also told, during the discussion I have referred to, that it is not an unhealthy occupation and not such a dangerous occupation as that of the men who go down to the sea in ships. We were further told it was not so dangerous an occupation as that of the men and boys who are engaged on our railways. I am sorry the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) is not in his place. I would have liked him to be here while I was dealing with this question. We were told, and we may be told again to-night, that British miners in rich mines are much more safe than the men in the mines of other countries. These were the arguments used by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff, and again I have to say I regret his absence, for he made in this House during that discussion a most extraordinary charge against the miners of the country, that the miners of this country always deliberately injured themselves so as to get compensation, or that they feigned injury for the same purpose. These were the words he used:There is a deliberate intention on the part of the lower paid workmen to take advantage of the Workmen's Compensation Act in order to obtain an additional allowance.And later on he said:It has been said by someone that God Almighty cannot cure a man of weak back when he is in three clubs.359 10.0 P.M.
I am glad hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite deprecated very strongly such language. I do not believe there can be half-a-dozen hon. Members opposite who will endorse that statement by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff in regard to the mining community. The comparison as between seamen and railwaymen and miners has nothing to do with our case. The comparison between accidents in mines in Great Britain and in mines in other countries has nothing to do with our case. I would advise the hon. Member for Central Cardiff to spare the spurtill he can sit the saddle. In the mines of Great Britain, in 1922, there were 1,100 men killed, and there were 4,287 seriously injured. From 1900 until 1920 there were 117,000 men injured in the mines of this country who were not working for more than seven days. I want to emphasise these figures. They cannot be sufficiently impressed on the Government and on the House—a thousand men killed in the mines of this country every year, and in the period I have mentioned 120,000 men injured and unable to work for more than seven days. That is the problem we have to face. I would like to deal with the different classes of accidents, and I propose to confine myself to two. I want to deal with those referred to by the Secretary for Mines where an increase has taken place. It was denied by his predecessor when I raised the question in the House two or three years ago that the more serious accidents were increasing, but the figures have since justified my statement. I think, broadly speaking—I do not want merely to make a debating point on this—the figures I have given will prove what I have said, and that is a sufficiently good argument to call for energy in dealing with this question. We were told that only 40 men were killed by shafting accidents in 1922. At any rate, it was 40 too many. It is a remarkable thing that the Minister for Mines to-night made, and I am putting it in the most charitable manner, less reference in his stat to accidents and to the activities in operation for preventing accident by falls of roof and sides. Reference was made to the experimental stations and other things for dealing with shot firing and with explosions, but the most fruitful 360 cause of accident was entirely left outside the statement of the Minister.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
I said I left out of my speech several of these subjects in the interests of brevity.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I hope that may satisfy hon. Members that the Department is working in the direction of dealing with that class of accident. You cannot deal with these problems without understanding what the difficulties are. In 1922 there were 1,029 men killed in the mines. Where were these men killed? In what part of the mines? Five hundred and forty-eight of them were killed by falls of roof and sides. I do not want to minimise the danger of explosions by fire-damp and coal dust, but only 73 men were killed by these and 123 seriously injured. Then we find that of the 1,000 men killed, 212 were killed on the haulage roads. When we further analyse these figures we find that the comparison is still greater between fatal and non-fatal accidents by falls of roof and sides, because the non-fatal accidents from these falls only include accidents when the men are off work for seven days. The accidents from explosion or fire-damp include every kind of accident, even supposing an individual does not lose a single moment's work.
In order to minimise the accidents in the mines of this country, the activities of the Mines Department and the intelligent work of the Mines Department must be concentrated upon the question of reducing the accidents that take place by falls of roof and sides, and on the haulage roads. Reference was made to the young lads. I have not the figures before me, but, speaking as a practical miner, I believe that the bulk of these accidents to young lads happen in the haulage roads or on the drawing roads where they are engaged. That makes my plea all the stronger when I come to put my proposals before the Committee. Science can do little to lessen the accidents through falls of roofs and sides. The miner of to-day has to safeguard himself against these accidents as did the miner of a thousand years ago. You may have science and invention in every direction, but I believe that every practical miner will agree with me that there is not much change in the method of preventing accidents by fall of roofs and sides to-day compared with 1,000 years ago. This 361 class of accident has been reduced in recent years, but it has been due to closer supervision of mines and more systematic inspection. I firmly believe, as a practical man, that an extension of inspection and supervision would prevent 30 per cent. of the accidents that take place in the mines.
In putting forward this claim for supervision and inspection, let it be clearly understood that I am not making any suggestion or complaint against any of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. I believe that miners have the utmost confidence in the ability and integrity of these men. These inspectors, as far as lies in their power, have the safety and welfare of the men at heart. I know that no hours are too long for them to work and no personal risk too great for them where the safety or welfare of the miners are concerned; but with the best will possible these men cannot supervise and inspect the mines as it ought to be done. I want to come to grips with the Secretary for Mines upon this question. We have a class of inspector who are the real inspectors; they are known as deputies, firemen or examiners. The value of these men as inspectors lies in the fact that they are always going their daily rounds, and that a mine is not like an engineer's shop, for a place may be safe at one moment and unsafe five minutes afterwards. Men working in the pits are not able to recognise danger so well as a fresh man who comes in. The value of the deputy or fireman really consists in his daily inspection with a view to discovering danger.
The difficulty at the present time is that unlike inspectors who are employed by the Government these men are employed and paid and controlled and dominated by the colliery companies. The Secretary for Mines has said that if these men were taken over by the Government it would mean dual control. If Government inspectors means dual control, then we have dual control now. The deputy does not carry out his duties under the control or supervision of the manager. He carries out his duties under the Coal Mines Acts. When we have pleaded for closer and more systematic inspection in the past, the cost has been argued. It has been said, "We cannot increase the number of His Majesty's inspectors without increasing the cost, and we cannot get any extra money from the 362 Exchequer!" You have a system of inspection in operation. These men are efficient men, and they are being paid, and it would not cost the country one single penny more in the aggregate than it costs now if they were taken over by the State. You would have then a system of inspection which would reduce the accidents by 50 per cent.
§ Major PAGET
Does the hon. Member suggest that the deputies, because they are paid by the colliery owners, do not do their duty in protecting the lives of their fellow miners?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
If my hon. Friend will wait, I am coming to that. I leave that to the deputies themselves. By resolution, over and over again, in conference, they have declared that, and they have come as deputations to the Ministry of Mines and have asked to be made State servants in order that they may be able to carry out their duties. I am not going to say that it is the case in every mine. Thank God, there are good employers and good managers, who look after the welfare of the miners, but the process of legislation is to bring the bad up to the level of the good, and that is the difficulty with which we have to contend. No Department that stands for the safety of the mines can ignore statements made publicly by a body of men like the deputies, made in conference by resolution, and face to face with the Department, that they are not able to carry out their duties because they are employed and paid by the colliery companies.
Three years ago we were successful in getting an arrangement that accidents should be published in the reports according to the number of shifts worked. There may be three mines in a particular district working the same seams and contending with the same strata and at two of these mines a serious accident very seldom happens, while at the third mine the ambulance is scarcely away from the colliery. We ought to be able to lay our fingers upon the mines where these accidents happen, and I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that we ought to have the accidents published showing where the accidents happen, so that the inspectors can concentrate upon those mines, and public opinion may be brought to bear with regard to the working of many of these collieries.
363 In spite of what may be said to the contrary, mining is a dirty, disagreeable, and dangerous occupation, and it is not in money alone that an adequate reward can be given to the men and boys who toil in the mines. We want brighter surroundings for them, and every care for their health and safety. The miner's right to health and improvement has too often only been recognised when the world has been shocked by a great disaster. I appeal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to recognise that the toll of accidents through falls of roof and sides, and on haulage roads can only be minimised by systematic inspection, control, and supervision. If he does recognise that, he will earn the gratitude of the miners. I want to make another suggestion. On the last occasion on which I made this proposal I was told that it was the thin end of the wedge of nationalisation. I am not afraid of nationalisation, but, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is afraid of dual control, or of the possibility of this proposal working detrimentally, why not take some mining area and make the experiment? Why not select a district where accidents are known to occur, put the deputies there under the control of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, and see what the results are? It is worth while making the experiment, and I believe that if it were made the results would warrant the inspectors and deputies throughout the whole industry being placed under the control of the Inspectors of Mines, instead of under the colliery companies as at present.
The mining community is often abused and misunderstood and grossly misrepresented, but in spite of that the miners as a class are brave, warmhearted and generous. These qualities, however, are lost sight of because of the rough exterior that only hides the gem within. I sincerely hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will pay no attention to such statements as those about miners deliberately injuring themselves to get compensation, but will face the facts as set forth in the Reports, and take the opinions and advice of practical men. If that be done, I am confident that it will be possible to make the mines more safe than they are at the present time, and so win the 364 admiration and gratitude of the mining community.
§ Mr. HANCOCK
I desire to associate myself with the expressions of regret that have fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman and from the hon. Member who spoke first for the Labour party, at the death of Mr. Wilson. I only knew him as a member of the Mining Examinations Board, but I got to know him well there, and, while it is perfectly true that we shall probably be electing, on Friday week, an admirable man to succeed him, we shall be doing that with a clear knowledge of the fact that the whole industry is much the poorer for the passing of Mr. Wilson.
At the outset of my remarks, I want to express my sincere appreciation of the very clear, able, interesting and genial way in which this Estimate has been presented to the Committee. If my memory serves me, and I think it does, this is the first mining Estimate that has been presented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I think I shall carry the whole Committee with me when I say that the genial and humane manner in which he has presented it has won the admiration of us all. I do not propose to go into the figures of the Estimate. I have already gone into them fully, and they do not seem to me to lend themselves to much criticism. I should be failing in my duty, and in fairness, if I did not note with real pleasure the reduction in the total amount of this Estimate, as compared with last year's Estimate. In these days of exceptional financial stringency, when trade is bad and there is a large amount of unemployment, when people are finding it difficult to make a living at all, and when there is unexampled taxation, such as no other country in the world is paying, it seems to me desirable to cut down in all Departments to the lowest point, consistent with National and Departmental security and efficiency. I confess, however, that one finds in these Estimates items showing slight increases over those of last year. Taking telegrams and telephones, and what is true of them is true of other items, there is increase, but I also see that the explanatory notes concerning most of these items are fairly, if not fully, satisfactory. Consequently, it leaves no room for criticism.
365 Perhaps, however, a word of explanation may be advisable regarding inspectors coming under the heading of the temporary staff. There we see a considerable increase of expense, although apparently the number of inspectors has been reduced. To me, and to all outsiders, it will appear incongruous that while the number of inspectors has decreased the expenses have increased. I note also an increase of £500 in the travelling expenses and subsistence allowances. Although, as an old member of the Mining Examinations Board, I have a fair idea of how a considerable part of that money has been spent, still I think some detailed information from the Secretary for Mines on that point would have been very acceptable, seeing that the enormous sum of £24,500 is involved.
Passing from the figures of the Estimate to the industry itself, it will be within the recollection of the Committee that the Secretary for Mines, in the first place, referred to wages. I am glad that he did, because if we look at the industry generally we should find that in some respects at any rate it is far from being satisfactory or reassuring. Perhaps there is no respect in which we have more solid ground for fear than we have with regard to wages. Wages is one of the most important, if not the most important, factor in industrial life. If there is one more important factor, it is safety, but it is only safety that would come before wages. Nothing is so disastrous and so dangerous to communities and to industries as low wages for the workers, and the inability on their part, because of low wages, to meet their economic needs. At the time when last year's Estimates were presented wages had been going down for a considerable time, and in some districts we were told they were down to the extent of some 10 to 12 shillings per day. Those are very serious reductions, but in addition to those general reductions there were local reductions.
There were mining districts where it was found that certain local reductions were necessary to enable the pits to be worked, and the men had to choose either to accept a reduction in wages that was local, in addition to the general reduction, or to see the pits close and themselves thrown out of work with little or no probality of getting in elsewhere. In a number of cases they chose the leaser of two evils and accepted the local reduc- 366 tion. In the Midlands, from which I come, the reductions at that moment had not been so great as they had been in other districts. Wages continued to fall after last year's Estimates were presented, for in the month of August last we in our district were down to the minimum which was 32 per cent. on the 1911 rate. Fortunately at that time trade was very good. What would have happened if the men had been working only two or three days in the week I cannot say. At that particular time the "Board of Trade Gazette" showed that our men were working five and a quarter days a week, and though our district—it is Nottingham—is the top-wage district in the Kingdom, even the best paid men in our district had the greatest difficulty in paying their way. I know very industrious, capable, experiencd men who, after working hard and earning the top wage, had to draw heavily upon their resources and upon the provision they had been making for old age and infirmity in order to pay their way at that particular time.
I have known the industry all my life. It is 55 years since I began to work in a pit. I have been a trade unionist all the time, and a district leader for nearly 40 years. I have no hesitation in saying that the economic condition then was nearly as bad as it has been at any time during the last 50 years. Dissatisfaction was intense, and the position was a very serious one. I admit that since then wages have improved, but to-day wages in our district—what is true of our district is true very largely of other districts also—are not 30 per cent. higher than they were last August. Some of us are looking with a little trepidation to the next month or two. When the next ascertainment of wages is made they may then go below their present level, although they are not so high now as they ought to be. I should like to have said something about the present method of regulating wages, but I will not go into particulars in regard to it, because I know other Members wish to speak. I will say this, that I neither can nor will condemn that method. I do not say for a moment that its ratios are equitable. I bear in mind the fact that there are old and experienced miners' leaders in the Committee at this moment; men with whom I have worked officially for 30 years, and for whom I have the highest regard.
367 I know that some of those men are very anxious to terminate the present method of regulating wages. I hold no brief for or against it. I had nothing whatever to do with drawing up the Regulations, and I had very little to do with the administration of it. It may not be all that one would like. I have never approved of the sliding scale method of regulating wages. I have never approved of the prices of coal being the only determining factor—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Because—and this has always been our objection—the prices are fixed by the employers; the men have no voice, and no vote; they have no influence at all in fixing the price of coal, and their wages ought not to be controlled by prices fixed absolutely by the employers. There are other difficulties, perhaps, in the present agreement, but still, I am bound to say, it has some very valuable features. I will pass from that, by saying that I earnestly hope my colleagues will not end that agreement until they have some carefully thought-out, some well-drawn, and some improved agreement to put in its place.
I should like to have said something with regard to safety, but I am not going to do so. There is the question of welfare, and also that of pit ponies. I will be excused if I say a few words with regard to the impression created in the public mind on that question. It was my good or bad fortune to commence my coalmining career as a pony driver, and for some years I drove a pony in the pit, and I know that there was no more cruelty below ground than there was above ground. The drivers, generally speaking, had a real kindly feeling for the ponies they drove. It has been my unhappy experience more than once, as a magistrate, to have fined boys who have been charged with cruelty to pit ponies, but I am not convinced that the ponies in the pits are treated any less humanely and kindly than animals above ground and I think the mining community ought not to rest under such aspersions as are being cast upon them by people who are talking about a matter of which they know very little. I understood when the Estimate for last year was presented it was admitted that the condition of things in regard to the experimental station was not satisfactory and that there was some idea of pur- 368 chasing a much larger piece of ground and erecting more efficient plant for testing purposes. We have heard nothing about that to-day and I should be very pleased to hear if anything has been done towards carrying out the undertaking which was then given.
We recognise that the Debate must close within a certain limit of time and that the Secretary for Mines is desirous of making a reply to the various points which have been raised. It would be folly on my part within the few minutes at my disposal, to attempt to go into the details of the case which I intended to put before the Committee, and I take this opportunity of saying that it is very unfair to the rank and file that some of us in these Debates should be squeezed out when we are desirous of raising particular matters, where the time is limited. I cast no reflection upon the Chair at all, but I merely point out that, during the Debate on the Post Office Estimates, five hon. Members occupied an average of 31 minutes each, and the same rule has applied to some extent in the present Debate. When we have only two hours and three-quarters in which to raise very important matters it is unfortunate that only a very few Members should be able to get in. I can only now refer o the matter which I was desirous of raising, because we wish to hear from the Secretary something with regard to safety and welfare. It is a very important matter, however, affecting the administration of the Mines Department, and one in regard to which there has been some complaint. It is the case of a one man concern. When the Department had the control of the mines within its supervision, the owner of this mine only employed 60 men. He worked the mine to the best advantage and he worked out what is called the thick coal. During the War he took back all the men who returned maimed and injured. Law proceedings are threatened against him unless he now conforms with what very likely is what the Act of Parliament provides in every case, but he claims that his is an exceptional case, that it is unique, and he makes an offer of some kind of arbitration. He thinks, having already provided more than £5,000 excess profit for the thick coal that he works, that in less than 18 months' time, unless something by way of compensation is 369 paid to him, the mine will be closed down, and these 60 men, a large number of whom are ex-service men, will be thrown out of employment. He has offered to go to arbitration, and he hopes that by that means he will avoid the law proceedings now threatened against him in respect of some amount of money that the Revenue officers are calling upon him to pay with regard to the working of the mine. I hope something may yet be done, to avoid any proceedings being taken in this matter.
§ Major PAGET
As a miners' representative, I want to press some views on the quarry question on the Secretary for Mines, because I feel that he does not pay quite enough attention to the Joint Industrial Council of the quarry industry. There are many county councils to-day which are going behind the agreement of the Joint Industrial Council, and are employing contractors who ignore the agreement brought about between the quarrymen and the quarry owners. If the Government allow this kind of thing to go on, and do not bring the power which, as a county councillor, I know they have, to bear on the various county councils which allow this black-legging to go on, I cannot see how any industrial peace is to prevail in the quarry industry, which at present is carried out in an admirable manner. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will impress on the Minister of Transport the necessity of stopping grants for roads which are made with stone which has been quarried under conditions which are a breach of the agreements made between the quarry owners and the workers on the Joint Industrial Council.
The only other thing I would like to say is in regard to pit ponies, and I think we ought to congratulate the inspectors of the ponies on the splendid condition in which most of them are to be found in the mines, and to thank the Minister for the repudiation which he has given of the allegation which offends every single miner, that there is any systematic cruelty by the miners to the ponies, because in my small experience the miner is devoted to his pit pony, and it will go very hard with anybody who ill-treats his particular pony, and where-ever ponies are ill-treated by the boys in any case, the men put that down very quickly with a heavy hand.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
In the short time at my disposal I may not be able to answer all the points that have been put to me, but I will do my best. The hon. and gallant Member for Bosworth (Major Paget) dealt with underpaid quarry workers, but that is a question for the Minister of Labour, with which I cannot deal. The hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) alluded to a case which he has brought before to my notice and which has been considered very carefully by the Mines Department. I can only assure him that the fullest consideration has been given to the case. As he knows, I have considered it myself. We cannot make an exception in this case, and I am sorry to say that I can hold out no hope. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Hancock) referred to the increased expenditure on telephones and telegraphs, but I thought I had explained that this is merely a transfer from the Post Office Vote, and does not indicate any actual increase of expenditure. The hon. Member also criticised the increase in travelling expenses, but I thought I had also explained that that was due to the special activity of our inspectors.. The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson) raised the question of accidents. I thought I had explained that the reason why I had not dealt more fully with the question of accidents was that we had a Debate in this House quite recently, and I was anxious to allow hon. Members as much time as possible, and therefore I did not go into that question, leaving it to hon. Members to raise any points they wished. He drew attention to the fact to which I have already drawn attention, that the greater number of accidents are due to haulage and accidents on the haulage roads. We have already set up a Timbering Committee which will investigate and carry out research. That Committee is actively working, and, I hope, will make a report as soon as possible. As regards accidents on the haulage roads, I can only reiterate the importance of the steady application of our Safety First campaign.
The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. R. Jones) raised the question of the quarries. I do not know what has happened in the past, but it is no doubt true that the quarry industry does receive less share of attention from the 371 Mines Department than the bigger and more important coal industry. That, of course, is no reason why it should be neglected, and I do not think there is any real foundation for any such suggestion; but, owing to it being a small industry, and in many ways not presenting the same problems, it does not require the same amount of attention. But if the hon. Member had only given me notice that he was going to raise this question, I could, perhaps, have gone more fully into it. Certainly the Department are doing everything they can to expedite and bring into force the rules which are now under consideration. The reason it has been impossible by any system of general regulation to bring them into force in the same way is that this particular industry was not included in the Mining Industry Act, 1920, which gives the Secretary for Mines general powers in every case over mines. Therefore, in this respect new rules can only be brought into force by application to each particular case. Had we attempted without general agreement to bring into force rules for every quarry, it would have been open to each owner in each quarry to go to arbitration, and there would have been endless trouble. If we can get, as we hope, general agreement by the various Departments on the Schedule of Rules, then we can go straight away smoothly, and I hope in a short time it will be possible to get agreement throughout the country to the Rules which we have sent out for consideration, and then to bring them into force.
As regards the speech of the hon. Member for Camborne (Captain Moreing), it is not at all fair to say that the Mines Department has neglected or deliberately failed to support the tin industry in Cornwall. It is not the function of the Mines Department to carry on propaganda to advertise any particular industry, but it is its duty to do its best to help industry. I am bound to say we have done our utmost, and have already obtained considerable grants from the Trade Facilities Committee, which have a part in the effect of restoring the tin industry, and no doubt will have still further effect later on. This Department has obtained grants under the Trades Facilities Act to the extent of £130,000 in four different districts, that being very largely due to the 372 activities of the Mines Department, which forwarded the recommendations and did their best to secure the grant. As regards the speech of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Gavan Duffy), I should like to point out that though he was quite right in quoting the Act under which metalliferous mines come as being ancient and containing out-of-date things, he was entirely wrong in suggesting that the Mines Department have done nothing to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on this particular question. At the present moment there are Regulations preparing. This is an immense business. The Metalliferous Mines Advisory Committee, which advises the Mines Department on this subject, after the passing of the Mining Industry Act of 1920, were asked to carry out the task of drafting Regulations on the lines of the Regulations which affect coal, and that is an enormous business. These Regulations have been drafted and sent out to the various district inspectors for their opinion. They are being thoroughly overhauled and considered in the Department. When that is done they will still have to be sent round to the different parties concerned in the effort to get general approval, and then I hope very shortly, by the beginning of next year, we shall be able to issue a General Code of Regulations under the Mining Industry Act, 1920. That will be the general progress made, and certainly ought to prove that there is no remissness on the part of the Mines Department. As soon as the power was granted it was at once employed in this way. As to what was said about the Inspector of Mines, it is an entire mistake to suppose that because a man is capable of inspecting coal mines therefore his capacity does not extend to metalliferous mines or quarries.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
Conditions now are different from what they were then. During 1922 the inspections in coal mines was one for every 61 men employed. In hematite mines the proportion was one inspection to 31 of the men—
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
—while in metalliferous mines, generally, the inspection was 1 in 15. I have dealt, perhaps, with all the points that have been raised, except that of dust, which, as the hon. Member for White-haven knows, is a matter of considerable dispute among medical men, and, of course, I can only be guided by my advisers in the Department. This is a matter which has been under consideration, and the hon. Member need not be afraid that it will be forgotten.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
For the few moments that are left, perhaps I may be allowed to mention two very important points dealing with safety in mines. Because of the stoppage of certain collieries in Lanarkshire there has been a considerable accumulation of water in some of the mines. The men working in the adjoining pits, knowing that there has been an accumulation of water, with considerable pressure behind the barrier of coal which divides the working colliery from the colliery that is stopped, have asked that inquiry should be made as to the thickness of the coal barrier and the water behind. The collieries being the Newton and the Dykelands collieries—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.