§ Mr. GEORGE HIRST
I beg to move,That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in mines, and is of opinion that every possible step should be taken without delay, whether by legislation or otherwise, in order to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry.Hon. Members will see that the wording of my Motion has been somewhat altered as compared with the wording which appeared on the Order Paper this morning. Before proceeding further, I should like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Harrison) for kindly standing aside as regards his Motion, which stands first on the Order Paper, and allowing me to move this, the second Motion on the Paper.
Before speaking on the Motion, I should like to make sympathetic reference to the deplorable accident which has occurred in the Scotswood mine in Northumberland. Everyone will deplore that accident, and it is not that only this one accident has occurred, but these accidents occur year after year and month after month. Hon. Members will see from the newspapers today that it is supposed that in this disaster between 30 and 40 men and boys have been entombed in the mine, and anyone who has followed mining throughout his life, as I have done, having worked in the mines for 16½ years and having worked in and about the mines for 40 years, can readily understand what is taking place round the mouth of that pit at the present time. We are told in the Press reports that men, women and children have been standing round the mouth of this pit ever since the disaster 1225 occurred, waiting to see whether they can learn something of their loved ones who are entombed in the pit. According to the Press reports it is very unlikely that any of these entombed people will be got out alive.
I have been going into the statistics with regard to accidents for the last 20 years, including explosions and disasters of this description, and I find that the death-roll from such disasters has amounted, since 1901, to 1,955 lives that have been lost. That figure, however, only relates to disasters where the death roll has been 10 and over, but there are dozens of disasters of this description which only involve the lives of one, two, three, or four, up to eight or nine, and those would probably add more than 1,000 to the 1955. I have taken out the accident figures for the years 1920 to 1924, and I find, in the first place, that in those five years the fatal and non-fatal accidents have been accumulating all along the line. Instead of legislation being introduced with a view to reducing the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents in pits, no legislation has been introduced, and, as a consequence, the number of accidents has steadily risen year by year.
Perhaps it will be as well to give the figures for fatal accidents, including explosions. In 1920 there were 1,103 fatal accidents in Great Britain. In 1921 we had a lock-out extending for about four months, but even then the death-roll was 756. In 1922 we had a still higher death-roll than in 1920, namely, 1,105; and in 1923 it was still further increased to 1,297; while in the Report for 1924 we find that the death-roll was 1,293. Therefore, during these five years, including 1921, when we had a four-months' lock-out, the total number of fatal accidents that occurred in the mines was 5,554. When one conies to consider a death-roll of that extent, one sees the necessity of bringing the matter before the notice of this House to an even greater extent than has been done in the past. I find that the last time this Motion was introduced in the House, namely, in 1923, it was moved by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker), and it was carried after a Debate which lasted from 8.15 until 11 o'clock. But we find that nothing whatever has been done to 1226 carry into effect that decision of the House in 1923, over two years ago.
Dealing now with the non-fatal accidents which have occurred in the same period, from 1920 to 1924, we find that the non-fatal accidents in 1920 were 116,930. In 1921, when there was a period of four months during which no work was done, owing to the lock-out, we find that the non-fatal accidents were 86,145. In 1922 there was a great increase, the number being 185,115. In 1923, the figure was still higher, namely, 211,598; and in 1924 it was 211,610. That means that during those five years the non-fatal accidents numbered 811,298. One cannot realise, simply by hearing of these accidents which come to our knowledge day by day, the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents in the mines. One has to gc through the statistics as they are compiled year by year. These 811,298 nonfatal accidents are only those cases in which the men who were injured were off work for seven days or more. If we took the minor accidents, where a man is off work for two, three, four, five or six days, we should find that the number would be more than doubled.
In my opinion this is a very important Debate, because we are asked from time to time whether something can be done to improve the Coal Mines Regulation Act with a view to minimising accidents. We say that one respect in which an improvement could be made would be to have shafts sunk nearer together than they are at the present time. At present as far as travelling underground is concerned, there is nothing in the Act to stop any colliery company from going any distance they think fit, whether it be one, two, three or four miles underground, without having extra shafts sunk. We say that, if the shafts were more numerous than they are at present, that would to a certain extent prevent explosions and also accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, to those working at the coal face. It would have a tendency to prolong the life of the miner and make his occupation more healthy. There would be better ventilation if we had shafts sunk more frequently than is the case at present, and there would be less accumulation of coal dust, which has a tendency to contribute to these terrible disasters that we have to suffer from time to time On the other hand, we find that the 1227 biggest total Of accidents arises from falls of roofs and from falls of sides. We say that if our suggestion is carried out there would be a tremendous length of road which we should be able to cut off, and, therefore, there would be no accidents in the districts that we should be able to close.
I know that there are plenty of mine-owners in this country who are studying this thing at the present time. I believe the matter has been brought before a Committee. If we could only keep more of the rubbish which is coming out of the pit at the present time in the pit gob, and stored in the gobs and in the old gates that are turned off from time to time, there is no doubt that we should be able to minimise the accidents that take place. That would have a tendency to do away with many of the falls which take place, and it would have a tendency to do away with the dangerous places where men and boys have to travel to the coal face. Further than that, the pony drivers who are taking the tubs to the men working at the coal face would be safeguarded. It would have a tendency to alleviate or minimise the accidents in mines which are taking place to such a terrible extent at the present time.
After the Sankey Commission, after all the evidence had been taken from all the experts that it was possible to find, Mr. Justice Sankey in his Report stated that the present system of mining stands condemned, and that something else should take its place. Nothing has been done as far as the Governments have been concerned since 1919, when the Sankey Commission reported, up to the present time. The Report of the Sankey Commission was simply read when it was placed on the Table of the House of Commons. We maintain that the Government ought to take action as speedily as possible with reference to improving the Coal Mines Acts of this country, with a view to doing something as a preventative to accidents. A Compensation Bill was introduced a week or two ago, but you cannot pay adequate compensation for the loss of the valuable lives of breadwinners, who have lost their lives through causes which might be minimised to a very great extent. We do not know whether the coalowners are carrying out the Clauses in the Acts in their entirety, but someone ought to know. 1228 Someone ought to try to get to know whether the Clauses in the Coal Mines Acts are being carried out.
Take Clause 21, with reference to the abandoned mines. That Clause states that plans should be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State three months after the abandonment of any workings of mines where the pits are closed, so that the people who are working coal and working the barrier up to the abandoned mine can have some idea as to how far they are crossing these old workings, which may be filled with water or other liquid. On the other hand, you have Clause 68 which states that as far as approaching old workings are concerned, instead of taking the old face of the coal, when you are within 40 yards of it, you shall drive up a bord, or a narrow head, eight feet wide, and that in the centre of this eight feet heading you put in a bore hole of not less that five yards, and keep that in advance of the working of the coal. That is in a straight-face heading. Then you are to put in two flank bore holes, one on each side, of not less than five yards, so that you will have some idea when you are approaching the old workings.
We want to know, when this inquiry takes place, whether these rules are being carried out in their entirety. If this rule is carried out, and you put a small bore hole five yards in advance of your working base, no inrush of water or accumulation of gas can burst through five yards of coal. It appears that when a man was working on the coal face and he struck the face with his pick, the water suddenly burst through, with the result that it gave the people in the workings not the slightest chance of escape. I hope that whilst this matter is being debated the Government will take some steps to improve the Coal Mines Regulation Acts of this country, so that we shall be able to minimise to a great extent the accidents that occur in the mines from time to time.
§ Mr. GRUNDY
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to associate myself with the thanks that my hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Harrison) for kindly allowing this Debate to take place. It is taking place under the shadow of a very great sorrow. I am sure that all Members will send forth their 1229 sympathy to the relatives of those who are entombed in the pit in Northumberland. That accident has added to the necessity for this Motion. This Motion has been put down for many years. Whenever the mining Members have had an opportunity by the luck of the ballot, they have never missed that opportunity. One well remembers on the last occasion when the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) moved this Motion, and how he eloquently appealed to the House, strengthened with all the facts and figures which were available at that time.
I will not attempt to quote the figures that have been given by my hon. Friend to-night, with the exception of the figures for the last two years. I quote them in order to draw attention to the magnitude of the figures. In 1923, we lost in fatal accidents 1,297 lives., and we had of nonfatal accidents 211,598. I would ask the House to grasp the meaning of these stupendous figures, and to visualise, if they can, the amount of sorrow, pain and suffering that has been brought to the members of our industry. In 1924, we lost 1,127 lives. I have not the figures respecting the non-fatal accidents for last year. These figures require consideration. I am not trying to bring in any recriminations. I am trying, if possible, to put forward such a case as will impress upon the Government the fact that something must be done, whether by inquiry, legislation, or regulation, to deal with this great question.
The time is opportune for some attempt to be made to lessen the number of mining accidents. It is a public duty which we owe not only to the miners, but to the whole of the working classes of this country, that this appalling record should be made known, and public attention directed to the astounding figures of the mining accidents. I would ask hon. Members who have never been at an explosion to try to picture the scenes at the pithead. The last occasion on which I visited a pithead in connection with an explosion was at the Maltby disaster in July, 1923, when 27 men were hurled into eternity. Twenty-six bodies in that mine have not yet been recovered, and probably never will be. If Members could see the sights at that pithead they would all be determined that whatever could be done should be done at once to minimise these accidents. I was there, and if I were 1230 to go into the question of pleading, which I am not going to do—I say that we demand this as a right—if I were to take you into that pit office when the first rescue party came out, that had striven with all their might to get at the entombed men, you would agree with what I say. They had been in the pit office less than a quarter of an hour when the expert engineers gave a definite time for another explosion, yet those men said that a second attempt must be made to reach their comrades. You may talk about heroism. It was not confined to any one class. There was no braver man than the managing director, but every man in that office wanted to go down. The party was made up, and they went again to face what appeared to be certain death.
I merely mention that to draw attention to the class of men with whom we are dealing. There is no class of men in Great. Britain that faces such hardships and dangers and that shows greater courage in the face of great calamities. If it was only for the fibre of the men this House ought to give some consideration to this question of how to minimise the number of accidents. I will not deal with the Redding pit. I am sore that some of the men from districts close by will refer to it, as I am sure that the Member for the district where the present calamity has occurred will deal with that matter. But there is one point which I wish to impress upon the Secretary for mines. We had an accident at the Nunnery pit. It was not reported as a great accident, because there were only seven men killed, though there were 50 men injured. It was caused by the breakage of a rope in a- pit-, when the men were being taken to their work. We found at the inquiry that there was no period of life for a rope in this mine, no period when a change should be made. They could use a rope, as, indeed, after evidence, was shown to have been done in the case of that rope, until it broke. I. would ask the Secretary for Mines to at least make a note of this, because it may become more in use for the taking of the men in and for bringing them from the face. When they get their long working day the men are exhausted with a long walk, and all up-to-date managers in our mines to-day try their level beet to carry the men up to the face, and to bring them back in that way. So there 1231 is great reason for taking into consideration as to whether there should not be a period of life to a rope, so that we may avoid accidents such as I have to describe.
There are other matters with regard to such things as the boreholes, and we should like to be quite sure that all proper precautions are taken. Then there is the question of the deputies, firemen, or overmen, as they are called in the various localities. We call them firemen, or deputies, in Yorkshire, and we should like to be certain that these men, while seeing that a man sets his props in accordance with the distance allowed, and does everything which is prescribed by the Act of 1911, do always give a true and faithful report I made that statement at a meeting which was attended largely by deputies. I said, speaking from my experience of going into the mines as a lad, and working at the pit, it was my opinion that in many pits the deputies did not give a fair report. Let me say for the deputies that they told me in language more forcible than polite that it was not true, but it is a very strange thing that I have had letters from representatives of the Deputies' Association asking that they be engaged by the State, which would lay down their qualifications, and that they should be paid by the State, so that they could give unreserved and thoroughly honest reports as to the state of the mines as they find them. I am only putting the point: Are you perfectly sure that these men do give a faithful, honest report in respect of the state of some of our mines? I do not put this in any sense as something derogatory to the deputies. I know something about the conditions of labour, and these men are very similar to other men. They have their livelihood at stake, but it is a question whether or not, in the interest of the safety of the men in the pit, these men ought not to be separated from the manager and the employer, so that they may, if any instance of danger occurs, be able to give an honest and faithful report.
I want also to put this point. Have we sufficient mining inspectors who have had practical experience at the coal face? I contend that we ought to appoint inspectors who have had not less than five years' practical experience at the coal face. There is good in knocking about 1232 the roads as an education in the pit, but the real experience gained at the coal face is the thing that it is necessary for every inspector to have. I ask the Minister to take note of the suggestion. The great and growing mortality in the industry points to the fact that the time has come when the men themselves should have a greater control of the industry. It may be said that when the 1920 Act was being discussed we refused Part II, which would have given us some control in the mines. The world moves, and it is to be hoped that we progress with it, and I think the time has come when reconsideration ought to be given by the Department to the suggestion that the miners should have some share in the control of the industry. The figures given by the president of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain bring more vividly before the country than I can do the toll of accidents in the mines. The number of men killed in 1923 could be stated in this way—that on every day the pit worked five men were killed, and that every five hours by the clock a life was lost. There were 211,000 workers injured in that year. They were non-fatal accidents and the men concerned were absent from work for more than seven days. Every working day in the pits 580 were injured. The statement goes further and is put in a way that I think would appeal to any man. It always appeals to us miners because we have been down the pits and we know. The statement says:Marshalled in a procession, four abreast and 1½ yards apart, the procession of injured would be 45 miles long, and in the procession every 15 yards there would be an ambulance with an injured worker in it, and every 61 yards a hearse containing a dead comrade.In face of the figures that have been given, I ask the Secretary for Mines to consider whether something cannot be done in the way that I have attempted to describe, by inquiry, by legislation or by Regulation, to lessen this growing mortality in the mines, and so to prove that, while on many occasions we have felt that the House of Commons has not dealt fairly with the miners—far from it—at least in this matter some consideration is to be given to our case.
§ Mr. WARNE
I want, to make a few observations on the Resolution, and particularly to try to be somewhat 1233 helpful in the position to-day, having in mind the fact that a sad calamity has happened in my constituency, an accident which I am sure has touched the hearts and sympathies of the whole House. I am one of those who believe that the Mines Act as it now exists, if properly applied, will remove many of these sad fatalities that occur year after year. I am sure that the Mines Act, 1911, was a big step forward in mines regulations. It was based upon the experience of the mining industry in years preceding that date. In any reference that I make to the sad fatality that has just happened, I do not want to be taken as prejudging the situation. An inquiry will be held, and it will bring out the facts as far as is possible, and when the facts are known action may be taken to prevent the recurrence of such accidents. To-day I went into the Library and read the evidence taken by the Commission that was set up in 1905 to inquire into accidents in mines. I found in the Commission's Report something which may be helpful, and as justification of the statement I have made that if the Mines Act, 1911, were properly applied many of these accidents would not occur.
The individual accidents that mount up into their thousands do not seem to grip the conscience of the country like, the explosions and the terrible floodings of pits which carry 40, 50, 100 and sometimes 300 men into eternity. As far as this House is concerned, I might be called the last man out, for I left the coal face only two and a half years ago. The miner is quite prepared to take risks in his work. He is driven on because he wants to make a wage sufficient to keep his wife and bairns in decency. He sees his mates killed one by one as the years go by, and he somewhat accepts the view that even in the best regulated industries accidents of that kind must happen. But what the miner does not like is to be caught like a rat in a trap through flooding or explosion which he thinks is due to the neglect of duty by someone else. I find that the Commission, although the subject was not specially referred to them, went into the question of accurate plans being kept, as far as the colliery workings are concerned, and proper surveys on which those plans were based. They found that many of these actions had occurred where accurate plans had not been kept. 1234 We know that 50 or 60 years ago the status, technical skill, and scientific knowledge of the mining surveyor was nothing like what it is to-day. The Commission to which I refer found that sometimes mere amateurs were put on to draw up these plans. I wish to state that to-day, at any rate, that cannot be said about the staff surveyors. This is how the matter appears to that Commission. They sayAs regards the risk of accidents, the need for accuracy is most apparent when a mine is being worked in the neighbourhood of other workings, more especially old workings which have been abandoned for some years and are likely to be full of water or to contain an accumulation of gas.9.0 P.M.
They were then referring to the necessity for keeping accurate plans, and I am sure the House will see how important this matter is. The evidence which the Commission took showed that in January, 1893, in the Wheal Owler Tin Mine in Cornwall, 20 lives were lost through an inrush of water. An inquiry was held and it was found that the accident occurred because the plans had been based upon an inaccurate survey. In December, 1895, in the Dungannon Colliery in Ireland, there was an inrush of water, and six lives were lost. The water broke through a barrier between the mine and some old workings, and again in this case the plans were found to be inaccurate. In January, 1895, at Audley in Staffordshire, 77 lives were lost through flooding from old workings, and again the plans were found to have been inaccurate. On 9th December, 1896, the River Level Colliery at Abernant, in South Wales, was subjected to an inrush of water from another colliery, and six men were drowned. Again the plans were misleading, and it was found that the coal had been worked by one colliery beyond their legal boundary, and when the workings of the other colliery reached that point there was the inrush of water which cost the lives of six[HON, MEMBERS "A very common thing!"] Yes, a very common thing in the mining industry, and I know in my own experience a number of cases where mine-owners on one side of a royalty have been so greedy because there was a good seam of coal that they have worked into the royalty of another mine-owner. Roadways and all necessary preparations may have been made in the other mine on a Saturday in readiness to start work on Monday morning only 1235 to find that the rival company had already got all the coal out. These things lead to accidents, and they should not take place. In December, 1902, in the Deep Navigation Colliery, Parkend, they had an inrush of water, and four lives were lost, and on 26th January, 1906, just after the Commission was appointed, there was in the Caradog Vale Colliery, Glamorganshire, an inrush of water from old workings, and the inquiry revealed that the plans were wholly unreliable. The point to which I am working is that it is on this evidence the Commissoners based their recommendation that something should be embodied in the new Mines Regulation Act—the Act of 1911—dealing with this matter. Section after section appears in the Mines Act relating to this question and I desire the Secretary for Mines to see whether these requirements are being complied with. In Section 19 9.0 P.M. we find notices are required of opening and abandonment of mines which is very important to the mining industry. Section 21 lays down that there is an obligation upon the mineowner or manager to see that plans of abandoned mines are deposited with the Mines Department. Sections 19, 20, 21 and 22 all deal with the question of the plans of abandoned mines being properly recorded, and I am not satisfied that we have not suffered, and are not suffering, with regard to the accidents which I have just recounted and those which have happened since the Report of the Commission down to the accident of Monday morning last, owing to the fact that these things have not been properly recorded. I am satisfied that danger is looming in many thousands of cases and it is urgent that the matter should be raised. In this very same district I find there have been mining operations since 1649. The whole place is honeycombed with old mines and, close to the very pit into which this inrush of water has taken place, I find, from the records in the Library, that Denton Old Colliery was worked more than a hundred years ago, the old plan having been deposited in the Crown Office as far back as 1803. I wonder if that is where the water was lying which has, unfortunately, burst out and taken 38 comrades of ours into eternity. We cannot bring these men back, but we can see that all the powers 1236 in the Mines Act are exercised, and it is for the Secretary for Mines to see that his Inspectorate is kept on the alert. There should be no waiting for accidents to happen, but the inspectors should investigate the dangers which they think may be looming ahead.
§ It was left to the County of Northumberland to mayke that terrible sacrifice which is known in the history of the mining industry as the Hartley misfortune, in the year 1862, when about 243 men and lads were trapped in a pit because the beam of the pumping engine had fallen down and closed the shaft, and there was no other outlet for them. The sacrifice then made meant a blessing to the miners of the future, because provision was made that two shafts—two outlets—should always be provided. May I hope that the sacrifice that these men have made may be compensated for in that something will be done in order to prevent such a calamity overtaking any other miners living at the present time or those who are to come in the future? My suggestion is that the Departmental Committee which is already inquiring into these waterlogged areas should be speeded up by the Secretary for Mines, and when their Report is in hand the Secretary for Mines should put his inspectorate on—and if the inspectorate is not large enough for the purpose it should be increased—so as to have all these old mining areas properly explored and surveyed in order that the present colliery companies working them and the miners may know exactly where this terrible danger of flooded pits are liable to arise. If they do that, I am satisfied that this House will have lone its duty, and it is because I feel that one is doing the only thing one can possibly do that I urge the Secretary for Mines, now that we all feel so deeply that there should be 38 men and boys lying in a pit—and we do not know whether or not their bodies will ever be recovered, because we have men in the county of Northumberland who were overtaken by an inrush of water similar to this, whose bodies are still in the bowels of the earth—that something should be done in order to reduce as far as possible this terrible sacrifice that is going on year by year in the mining industry.
§ Major CLIFTON BROWN
I rise to associate myself with what the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Warne) has 1237 just said, as a fellow Northumbrian Member, in regard to our sympathy for the relatives of those who have lost their lives in the mine. I want to deal for a moment with this accident, and to say a word about the owners, because I think that in many ways this was a very unfortunate occurrence with these particular owners. They are not of the usual getrich-quick type; they are an old family concern, and have looked after their men well This pit, although it was not an easy one to work, had been kept on, giving employment during the recent slump, and I know perfectly well that they would not have spared any money, if there was any question of saving any of the lives of their men to be considered. One of the partners in this Montague Colliery happens to be an officer under my command, and therefore I know the family from start to finish. I wired him to-day, when I heard of the accident, to see if there was any news to be had, and if the House will allow me, I would like just to read a short telegram recording the sympathy which I know they feel. It is as follows:Directors and Benson family express their deep regret at the loss of valuable lives in the accident at Montague Colliery, and tender their deepest sympathy to the relatives of those caught by the inrush of water. Every effort, humanly possible, is being made to win a way into the workings.I am afraid that last sentence carries very little hope, because, although they and the men with them, working all to gether, are doing their best to win a way, I am afraid there is no chance now. May I deal for a moment with one question which, I am afraid, is really out of order, but a great many people throughout the country are always very anxious to know what happens to pit ponies in these accidents. Could the Secretary for Mines tell us when he replies? I pre-slime that the pit ponies are perfectly safe, but we should like an assurance on that point.
May I deal now with the subject generally? First of all, I am not a miner, and my ignorance, really, is deplorable. I live in a mining district, and every day, though I take a great interest in the miners whom I represent, I really feel ashamed of myself, because I do not know more about them than I do. I have been down their mines, and I know a certain amount, but what I 1238 have to say will appear to be absolute A B C to those who know, but please remember that there are a great many people in our country who have never had the advantage of living near mines, and certainly do not know even the beginnings of the A B C, and I think, therefore, if a few elementary remarks can be made by me, it may be of some assistance to them. The great feature about the mining industry, to my mind, is that the mine owner has to take a great deal of responsibility, and his decisions very often carry with them the lives of men. The mining industry is one in which men have to face death very often. I know very well how it felt in France when one had to go over the top; one felt just like a pawn in others' hands. Later on, I had to give some orders myself, and I am not quite sure, thinking back now, whether it was not easier to go over the top than to give those orders. One knew that those orders carried with them the lives of men, and one thought every way to see whether, by some safeguard or other, one could not save the lives of the men under one.
That is true of the mining industry to a large extent. There was a late Member of this House, a recent Member for Durham, who died. I was talking to him one night, and he was very worried. He told me that the trouble with his pit was—or one of them—that if he went in for some kind of development work, he might make a great success of it—it might be financially a very good thing—but he was very afraid indeed, in spite of the mining regulations and everything else, that there might be a disaster if he carried on his concern. As a matter of fact, he did not carry it on. He made up his mind that he would not risk the lives of his men, but there is always the difficult problem, from the directing point of view, that if you do not sometimes run risks, the mine may close down, and you may throw a great number of your men out of work.
I leave that to come to some of the fatal accidents. The hon. Member who opened the Debate quoted the figures of the fatal accidents for 1924, and the hon. Member who seconded the Motion did the same. The fatal accidents in connection, as the Mines Department puts it, with falls of ground—we know what that means, I think—in the year 1923 were 1239 586, and the total for 1924 was 604, or a rise of 18. The total fatal accidents were given by the Mover of the Motion as 1,297, and I thought I understood that the number for 1924 was 1,199, or a decrease of 98. As far as the total figures are concerned, they show a decrease, which is to the good, but as far as these falls of ground are concerned, they show an increase, which is bad. These falls of ground are, as we all know, about 50 per cent. of the fatal accidents, and is it possible—and this is a matter on which I should be very glad of any assistance—by regulation to improve them to any extent? Many falls of ground occur at the face, where really it is impossible for there to be supervision. Men are working on their own, and one knows quite well that as a rule in these cases it is the young men amongst whom the most of these casualties occur. As an outsider, so to speak, I am driven to the conclusion that there is not very much in this way one can do by regulation. What saves the man is his experience. Therefore, the older men do not sustain so many accidents.
As to what lessons may be drawn from the question which we have just been discussing to-night, I agree with every word which the hon. Member for Wansbeck Division (Mr. Warne) has said about the necessity for accurate maps. There is no doubt that somehow or other shifting goes on in some unknown workings about which there is no accurate map. There was, however, one thing which interested me more, for in his speech the hon. Member for Wansbeck told us how sometimes barriers were reduced, and an inrush of water possibly followed. Is it not therefore, when many people are talking about the waste of coal by barriers which have been left in the mines—is it not a little dangerous, I say, at the present time to think of reducing those harriers until, at all events, one gets such accurate maps that one can be quite certain there is no water behind? Take another point—and this is the last point that I am going to raise. In a district full of old workings such as this, it does happen where the old disused mine has been full of water that the water runs dry. What happens? Naturally there has been some subsidence, there has been some disturbance of the ground, the water has not evapo 1240 rated, the ground has shifted and the water gone right away and deposited itself in some other old working or centre. It may be a matter of a few yards, it may be a matter of very much more than a few yards. Therefore, it shows how urgent and important it is when you are near old workings of any sort that you should take every precaution in case there is a necessity to save yourselves.
The hon. Gentleman who moved and the hon. Member who seconded the Motion spoke about these borings. I think myself that the Regulations are not very clear on this subject. I think myself that this is a matter which the Secretary-of Mines should very closely look into. If there is no danger of water, I believe you are not obliged to put up these boards. As I tried to point out, if you are near old workings you may think there is no danger at all. Is it, however, not more than likely that there is danger, as this sad accident has proved! I should venture to conclude by following up the suggestion to my right hon. Friend that one lesson to be learned from this accident is to see if he cannot tighten up these Regulations about boring for water. On this side of the House I can assure hon. Members opposite there will be no failing in our desire to do everything we possibly can to safeguard the lives of the miners. I have lived amongst them, and I know, and anyone who knows me will know that I desire to be earnest in this matter. For my part, I can only hope that while such a sad loss of life has taken place, out of this loss may come better safeguards in the future of real benefit to the miners.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I only wish to intervene for three or four minutes, among other reasons because I feel that it is only decent that Members of the House who do not claim to speak with special knowledge on this subject should put aside other engagements—as I have been very willing to do to-night, and I see that the Prime Minister also is present, and I am sure with the same intention—in order that we may really come to the House of Commons to express our concern and our deep regret at this most terrible accident. I myself have a second reason which, perhaps, I may be permitted to state to the House in a sentence. Ever since I was at the Home Office, 10 years ago, at a time when 1241 the Home Office had, amongst other things, the responsibility of administering the Mines Department, I can, I think, claim for myself that I have taken a very close interest, without any very special or expert knowledge, in this terribly important subject. The administration of the Department is now in the hands of a separate Minister, to whom we are most anxious to listen and hear what he has to say to-night. I recall very well how by a previous Government of which I was a member the Act of 1911 was passed. There is no doubt that that Act did, so far as any legislation can do it, effect many very substantial improvements. I do not think anybody disputes that in actual administration and operation it has effected improvements. But there are, to my mind, two very important questions which, perhaps, the Secretary for Mines can deal with in his reply. The first is this: After all, 1911 is now 14 years ago, and a great deal has happened since then. A great deal of accumulated scientific and practical knowledge has been acquired, and it seems, on the face of it, extremely reasonable to take the view that it is high time Parliament took another step forward. The Act of 1911 was based on the Report of the. Royal Commission of some 10 years before. Many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission were unanimous. Whatever may be the controversies in the coal trade, there is no doubt about this, that when it comes to the actual business of trying to devise means of rescue, there is a sympathy which runs through the whole of the coal trade; this, indeed, was borne testimony to in the very moving terms of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Wansbeck Division.
The second question which arises is this: Legislation on this subject is one thing, and the administration of the law is quite another thing. It is no good legislating in. the most magnificent terms unless we can really be satisfied that the administration of the law is not only what we know it to be in this connection, upright and devoted, but it is adequate and it is sufficiently under control. Take, for instance, this very question which every speaker in turn has dwelt upon in this Debate—the particular danger which arises in our own country owing to the fact that part of the coal areas are riddled with disused 1242 workings. I suppose, though I speak quite without expert knowledge, that coal mining was so early developed in this country—for in some senses we were the pioneers in burrowing in the ground for this purpose—and it has probably made some of our coal areas more riddled by disused workings, many of them very old, than any other country in the world. Could not the Secretary for Mines give us some definite information upon this question? I do not want to read out a category of interrogatories. Nothing is easier. I only want to concentrate, if I might, attention on two or three perfectly limited practical points.
For instance, could he tell us to what extent is the inspection which is organised by the Mines Department an inspection which is really specially concentrated on areas where it is known that there is this very special and grave danger from disused workings and waterlogged sinkings? I think I am right in saying that there are 3,000 coal mines in the kingdom. Would the Secretary for Mines tell us what, on the average, is the number of inspections in a given coal mine in the course of the year? I have got some figures, but I do not wish to put them forward. I should like to know what is the official answer to that, and whether he regards it in the circumstances as adequate. A second question I would like to ask is this. Nothing has been said in the Debate so far suggesting comparisons between the methods followed on the Continent and the methods followed here. I have no doubt it is true that in some respects the British coal miner is better off than his Continental colleague. He is undoubtedly better off in the matter of wages, broadly speaking: but there are a great many people—I think I can give some authority for this—who are rather under the impression that, both in the welfare work at the pithead, and also in the actual operation of inspection and supervision below ground, there are areas on the Continent which, according to modern practice, could exhibit to this country and to the Mines Department an example which ought to be followed.
It is asking too much of a Minister on the Treasury Bench, who always speaks, and of course loyally speaks, for a body of officials who cannot speak for themselves, to criticise his own administration. 1243 or to suggest that it is in any way inadequate; but, without doing that, would the hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to tell us what is his own information in the Mines Department as to the comparison between Continental methods, say in Silesia and possibly in the Ruhr, and the methods which in fact are followed here? An hon. Friend of mine who sits on these benches, and who took part in a recent Debate connected with coal, has assured me to-night, and he has since been talking about it with one or two others, that he has the strongest reasons at least for suspecting that, in the Silesian coalfield, and it may also be in the Ruhr coalfield, the methods which are in fact being employed there may be, from the point of view of human safety, methods which are well worth while for the British Department to consider. I think there are probably hon. Members in this House who will remember how, when a unit was called out of the line in France it not infrequently happened, if they found themselves brought back to one of the coal areas of Belgium or France, that the troops themselves were called upon for instance, to wash, and things of that sort, in the pit-head equipment—baths, shower-baths, and so on, at Bethune and places like that. I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind, though of course not from very complete information, that there were cases known to our soldiers in France and Belgium which showed that the pit-head equipment for those things was actually in advance of what is to be found in many collieries in England. I wish to put a practical point to the Secretary for Mines. What is the view which the Department itself takes of a comparison between Continental methods and our own in this all-important matter of the efficiency of inspection?
The last point I want to make is this. It is very easy to heat the air and to be eloquent, or at any rate rhetorical, immediately after a mine disaster. Nothing, I think, has more impressed this House, and I am quite certain nothing will impress the country, more than the dignity and the moderation with which the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway have dealt with this tragedy to-day. They have not been beating the air. They have been using the language of soberness and restraint, and their argument, if I may 1244 presume to say so, is the more effective on that account. But do let us for a single moment face the actual broad fact—because I cannot help thinking that it is a broad fact—so familiar to hon. Gentlemen who know this subject so well, but one which many of us do not always carry in our minds. We have had a figure given us to-night of accidents, apart from fatal accidents, in a single year of 211,598; and those are accidents limited to accidents which incapacitated a man for seven days or over There was an answer given in the House on the 12th March last year by Mr. Shin-well, which included a whole table, and I have been studying it. It shows figures which in their mere magnitude are quite appalling. Whatever figure you take for the people engaged in the mining industry, different estimates may be made according to whom you include, but call it between 1,000,000 and 1,200,000. If it is really the case that in this country, under the existing law and its existing administration, you have to face over 200,000 accidents, each incapacitating a man for more than seven days in a single year, you are in the presence of a most terrible thing. The real truth is—and I think there are many hon. Members who will hear me out in this -that before the War a terrible accident like the accident that is in the evening papers to-night, or the accident in the Lowlands of Scotland not so long ago, would really have shaken the country. People would have thought of it at breakfast and in the IA am and in the omnibus possibly for days. I do not say—God forbid—that there is not really a deep and real sympathy with the sufferers in an accident of this sort now, but it is certainly true that since the experiences of the War there is a certain want of sensitiveness in the presence of a disaster, and undoubtedly a habit of shifting your attention from one thing in the evening paper to a quite different thing the next evening, which makes it the more important for the House of Commons to call attention to this subject. It is not a subject, I am sure every body will agree, on which any of us desire to make any particular party claim. It is a thing which touches one of the most important industries of the country. I admit most fully that my own knowledge of the subject is, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Major Clifton Brown) himself said just now, is 1245 merely A B C, though it is one in which I take a great interest; and I would ask the Secretary for Mines, when he makes his answer, to deal among other things with those two points: first of all, how far is he able to assure us that his inspection is sufficiently frequent and sufficiently concentrated upon the areas that are riddled with old dis-used working; and, secondly, what is the view of the British Mines Department to-day comparing the actual operations of inspection and safeguarding on the Continent with the operations which are relied on under his supervision? If he is able to give the House the assurance that he thinks the time has come for another step forward to be taken, 14 years after the Act of 1911, he will I think do a good deal to reassure the anxieties which are widely felt.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
My mind carries me back to the terrible explosion which took place in the Blantyre colliery in the year 1877. From that time down to the present I have had more or less personal and close knowledge of nearly every great disaster which has taken place in the mines of this country. I have been engaged in, probably, 30 or 40 inquiries into large and small colliery disasters. I would like to amplify what one of my hon. Friends said, that it is a remarkable thing that every catastrophe which takes place, in which 10, 15 or hundreds of lives are lost—as in the case of the Sengenhydd or Blantyre accidents—produces a wave of sympathy throughout the nation, and right from the Throne down telegrams of sympathy are sent to the relatives of those who are taken away; but the chair rendered vacant by a single accident brings as much suffering and misery into a home as the loss of a life in a great disaster. It is our duty to deal with mining conditions, not merely when a great catastrophe lakes place, but to deal with the ordinary and normal conditions in the mines in order to prevent those disasters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir John Simon) has stated that the loss of life in mines, and probably in other great disasters, does not seem to shock the nation as it used to do prior to the War. I take it he means we have got so used to slaughter during the War that we are not so easily shocked now. If you take a period of 70 or 90 years in the history of Great Britain prior to the War, 1246 you would find that a larger number were killed and injured in the mines than were killed and injured in all our battles during that time. The slaughter has gone on all the time.
On Friday last we were pleading on behalf of the mining community for a living wage. I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines will not make the same statement to-night that he made in his reply on Friday. He said:I appeal to hon. Members to think very-deeply before they support a scheme which obviously has not been thought out by the hon. Gentlemen who bring it forward. It merely represents a demonstration which they feel hound to make to their supporters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1925; col. 900, Vol. 182.]I sincerely hope he will not accuse us of making this demonstration on behalf of safety in the mines in order to please our supporters. We live among those people. We see the ambulance wagon out in our mining districts day after day. More than that, on these benches sit men who, like myself, have their sons employed today in coal mines. Two of my lads are, working every day in a mine, and naturally I want their lives to be as safe as it is possible for legislation to make it. I was one of those who took part in the Accidents in Mines Commission, which gave rise to the latest mining legislation. There I had the opportunity of examining witnesses from all over the country, and of taking part in the framing not merely of the Act itself but of the special rules under the Act, which took up the attention of ibis House for a considerable time. That Act did not go nearly so far as the miners desired to go at the time, or as the three mining representatives on the Commission desired to go.
It need not astonish anyone, and especially it need not astonish the Mines Department, if from time to time there are accidents through inrushes of water. Three years ago a deputation visited the Secretary for Mines to call his attention to the dangers existing in Lanarkshire, where a colliery had been stopped. That colliery had been pumping water for years and years, and draining the surrounding collieries by their pumps, but they found that it cost them so much to pump the water for the whole district that they could not go on any longer, and they had to stop that mine, and leave the 1247 water to rise in it. The other mines had no provision for pumping, and when the water rose in the mine which had been stopped it naturally became a danger to the surrounding mines. In three or four of the surrounding mines the miners became afraid, on account of the accumulation of water in that mine. We called the attention of the Mines Department to this serious danger threatening our people. We stated that in some cases the miners desired to stop work, as they were afraid to go down in the mine. I understand that the Mines Department—after the Redding disaster, arising from a similar cause, waterlogged mines—it was not until after the Redding disaster that we got some attention paid to the matter. I believe the Mines Department finally put themselves in communication with the colliery owners who own the mines about the Hall Side Colliery, the one which has been stopped, and endeavoured to prevail upon them, cooperatively or jointly, to pump the water out of the mine lying at the lowest part of the coalfield, but I understand that agreement could not be secured, and no action has been taken down to the present time.
Had action been taken by the surrounding colliery owners, the cost would have been borne by the mining industry, and a large part of it, would, under the wages agreement under which they work, have fallen upon the miners—87 per cent. of the cost would have come out of the miners' wages. But there are some of us who think that in a matter of this kind it should not be the mine owners or the miners who should bear the cost of unwatering the coalfield in order to provide tens of thousands of pounds for the owner 'of the royalty rents, who should not be called upon to pay a single penny for unwatering the coalfield which he owned. If the unwatering were not done, he would lose the royalty rents, and in a matter of this kind I am sure the Mines Department might very well call on the owner of the royalty rents to bear all, or a share, of the unwatering costs, because he is going to derive special benefit.
The Redding disaster took place after the attention of the Mines Department had been called repeatedly to the state of affairs at Hall Side, in Lanarkshire, 1248 and at Carluke. It was known to everyone that for miles around the Redding Colliery there was a waterlogged area where the coal had been exhausted generations before and where previous inbursts had taken place and lives had been lost. But the Redding disaster came. I had the opportunity of attending the inquiry, and I have not the slightest compunction in saying that I believe that disaster would not have occurred had proper precautions been taken under the Mines Act, even as it stands. This is a rather remarkable thing. We speak about the plans of old collieries being secured in some way. I feel that it is the duty of the Mines Department to call for and get copies of all the old plans of mine workings in this country, and we should have at the Mines Department plans of all the old workings. In the Redding disaster we found that the water came from a waterlogged area that had been worked out many years ago. In this case the colliery company who owned the mine had not the old plans in their possession and were not aware that old plans existed. It was afterwards discovered that there were plans of the old workings, but they were in the office of the Duke of Hamilton, the royalty owner, and they had been there for some 60 or 80 years. They had to be sent for there before the inspector could be made acquainted with any of the old workings. I say that the Mines Department ought to have all the plans that it is possible to get, because that is the place where the technical knowledge is required.
Since that time attention has been called to a mine not far from Glasgow where the workmen threatened to strike because of the fear of an inrush of water. We believe that they had good grounds for that fear. It was admitted that there was an accumulation of water in the rise of the mine. One colliery was stopped and the water rose, and consequently the workmen were afraid. We called the attention of the Mines Department to this matter and they immediately took action, and advised the owners of the colliery not to keep working because of the danger that had arisen. The inspector served notice upon that company in regard to the danger. May I point out that under the Mines Act and its regulations a company is not bound to shut down even when the chief inspector warns them. The owner is entitled to go on 1249 working that colliery and risking the lives of the workmen, and he can claim arbitration on the question whether he is right or the Mines Department.
That was done in this particular case. They went on working the mine and went finally to arbitration against the Mines Department. The party called in to arbitrate knew nothing about mining, and knew no more than a large majority of the Members of this House know about mining. In the end the decision went against the Mines Department, and the mine is still being worked. Would it be too much to ask that when the Mines Department, with its skilled mining engineers and mine inspectors of long experience, make up their minds, after examination and inquiry, that a mine is unsafe for the workpeople, it ought to be stopped pending the appeal being carried to another Court? Surely that is the very least we are entitled to ask for. I have attended over 100 inquiries in the case of mine disasters. In most cases I have been down the collieries after the explosion has taken place, and I feel convinced that in the. vast majority of cases of explosions leading to inquiries which I have attended, that probably legislation and, even, the existing legislation in many cases would have prevented some of those accidents.
I want to appeal to the House upon this question of inspection. This subject has been raised in regard to Germany. Those who care to examine the Report of the Royal Commission which has been mentioned here to-night will find that the three mining members on that Commission put forward a strong plea that we should adopt the French system of workmen's inspection. I am sorry to have to say that for the last 100 years every piece of mining legislation intended for the safety of life has been opposed by the colliery owners. In France the miners can appoint two inspectors from their own ranks, and they devote their whole time to the work in addition to the Government mine inspectors. They are workmen's inspectors and men with an actual knowledge of mining. The workmen appoint those inspectors, and they are responsible to the State and paid by the State, but the colliery owners are called upon to contribute to their wages. I have been told by the French miners' leaders than this system has had 1250 an amazing effect in reducing the accident rate in French mines.
Surely we should not be behind any other country in Europe in this matter. We have probably the most skilled mining engineers to be found in any country. Unfortunately again one is sorry to say that it is not always the highest skilled and most earnest mining engineer manager who has sole charge of the mine, and he is often only the scapegoat to bear the responsibility when anything goes wrong. There is very often an agent placed above him, and the manager is not always free to carry out the many improvements he would like to see. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines has ever thought this question out. May I point out to him that we are not pleading for our supporters but we are now pleading for the lives of our people. We believe that without any very large increase or addition to the cost of coal the lives of a large -number of our people could be saved. I heard a statement made last night with the authority of the Cabinet that the Government would spare no expense in experimenting on the carbonisation of coal at low temperatures in order to make coal of greater value to the nation. I suppose I may take it that the Government will spare no expense and will probably be willing to spend £100,000, or £200,000 in experiments on the-carbonisation of coal. I ask the Government riot to spare any expense on a much more important thing than that. I want the Government to say that they will spare no expense either by legislation or administration in endeavouring to make the lives of our mining population safer than they are to-day.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane-Fox)
I hope the House will forgive me rising rather early. I know a good many other hon. Members would like to speak, but there is a good deal I should like to say and a good many points I want to answer and I hope to be given an opportunity of doing so as fully as possible. I should like, first of all, to repeat what has been said by a good many speakers, how grateful I am sure the whole House is to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Harrison), who very courteously and considerately stood out of the way and allowed his Motion to be taken off the Paper in order to give the House an opportunity, which I am sure 1251 that they fully welcome, of not only expressing their real and deeply felt sympathy with all the cases of accidents generally which hon. Members have been putting forward, but also with particular reference to the terrible disaster which has only just occurred at Newcastle. I only want to refer in passing to what the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) mentioned about something I said on Friday. We were dealing on that occasion with a very different subject when I said something about demonstrations. On this occasion I can say without hesitation that we are dealing with a subject on which the whole House is agreed, and we all want to attain the same object. There may be differences about the means of getting it, but we all wish to reduce, as far as we can, the number of accidents, although I think the picture has been painted rather more blackly than was necessary. [Interruption.] I will show what I mean later on. This subject of accidents is the chief and the most important duty of the Department over which I preside. I often think, and have often said that the general British public, the ordinary well-to-do person who puts his coal on the fire, little realises the amount of hardship, suffering and risk which many people have gone through before that coal comes to him or her. Every now and again the public is suddenly shocked when there comes along one of these terrible accidents and then for the first time, a great part of the British public realises what is meant by the conditions of the mining industry, and yet as the hon. Member for Morpeth rightly said, the conditions which are shown in perhaps one aspect by some big accident, are going on all the time, and the miner who is getting the coal for the country is working under conditions of risk involved by fire, water, gas, explosion, the fall of roof, and all, if not in total darkness, under conditions of very inadequate lighting. Surely these conditions deserve our greatest interest and sympathy, and when the public realise what this really means, I only wish their sympathy would be extended still further, and that they would realise that these conditions are the general conditions under which these risks are constantly being run.
1252 I should like to remark on one thing that these terrible accidents bring out in the most remarkable way. To my mind there is nothing more lovable in the miner—and I have a good many mining friends in my part of the world—than their wonderful spirit of comrade ship. There is no time that 10.0 P.M. brings it out more remarkably than these occasions. It is not only the great courage shown by men who often risk their lives. It is wonderful courage which extorts the natural admiration of everyone. But there is another side to it, which is always brought out in a most remarkable way, and that is the way the whole community see that parents, widows and children shall not suffer more than is necessary.
§ I ought to allude to the particular accident which we are all thinking of, and I wish it was possible to give the House a little more information than I have hitherto given. I am sorry to say that up to now there has been nothing very encouraging to give. It is reported this evening that the water is only rising at the rate of two inches per hour, whereas last evening it was rising at the rate of 18 inches per hour. The pumps are being fixed, and we hope they will be working to-morrow, and that the head water may be reduced. Of course, it is impossible, and no one would wish to attempt it, to apportion any blame at this stage to anybody. In this Debate everyone has very carefully avoided attributing unfairly any blame to anybody up till now. It is interesting and encouraging to know that, as far as we can tell, this is a company which has always taken great care of its people, and also they were under the impression that they were working a virgin area of coal.
§ In dealing with this question, I agree with all that has been said about the necessity of getting plans, but I wonder how many who have spoken have really considered how they would do it. Since 1872 it has been made compulsory that all plans must be deposited with the Mines Department, or the Home Office as it was then, and that is rigidly carried out. If any case occurs of an old mine being abandoned without plans being deposited we have power to prosecute, and we do 1253 prosecute. If anyone can tell me of any case, I will most certainly have inquiries made and action taken.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
Your office had no plans of the old workings at the Redding Colliery. The first time the chief inspector saw the plans was at the colliery.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
The hon. Member has not understood what I was saying. I said that we had the powers since 1872. In the Redding case, the workings were begun long before 1872.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
You mean the plans of workings since 1872?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
§ Mr. SMILLIE
This in-rush of water came from workings which had been worked out long before.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
That is exactly what I said. Plans of workings which were abandoned before 1872 we have no power to demand, and the difficulty is to get them. There are some hon. Members who think you have only to legislate and you get everything. The plan that I propose is to send out an appeal, which was decided upon before this accident occurred, to those who have any plans, to let us have those plans. We have no power of demanding them, and the only chance of getting them is to ask for them. That is the only way I can see that we can get those plans. It is absolutely vital that, as far as we can, we should get them. But, supposing we do get all the plans that can be found, there will still be a very large number of disused workings, of which there can be no plans, and probably never have been.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
There are records of the mines having been worked in every mining county in Britain for hundreds of years past, and there are bound to be plans of these old workings in the possession of the owners of the land at least, as was the case in Redding.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I hope the hon. Gentleman will give me every assistance in the appeal I am making to the public to let us have these plans, and I am sure the general public will do their best to let me have them. For instance, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Warne), whose very powerful speech, I am sure, 1254 the House appreciated enormously, mentioned—and it is undoubtedly the fact—that in the neighbourhood of the pit where the disaster has just taken place, there was mining going on in 1649, and I can mention a case of working in 1803. Even the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) would hardly find me a plan of workings in 1649, or even 1803.
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I say these plans were deposited in 1803?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
The hon. Member evidently knows a great deal more than I do.
§ Mr. HARDIE
They are in the Library of this House, and I will go out and get them if the hon and gallant Gentleman wants them.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
If the hon. Member will give me that assistance, I shall be very glad. I should like to point out that this House sometimes talks rather glibly about legislation. With regard to what the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said, I would point out that it does not follow, because there has been no legislation, that, therefore, there has been no amendment in the working of the Coal Mines Act, because the Coal Mines Act gives power to the Secretary for Mines, or rather to the Home Office, to amend by Regulations, to amend existing Regulations and to make new Regulations, where necessary. A great deal of that sort of thing has been done, and a good many recent Regulations have been made dealing with most vital points arising out of accidents which have occurred. Therefore, it is not legislation, in many cases, that is necessary. I agree that what is wanted is strenuous and able administration, and that, I maintain, is being done by the officials of the Mines Department. In the effort to reduce accidents, a great deal has been done by research and by public opinion. Accidents are not always due to wickedness on the part of anyone, but are very often due to ignorance, and much can be done by constant research and the publication of results. By that means the Department has done a great deal. In addition, we constantly issue circulars, pamphlets, and literature of all kinds, give advice and, if necessary, instruction, which is, 1255 I think, very often more useful even than passing Acts of Parliament.
As regards inspection, inspectors can do an immense amount. Our present inspectors are an extremely competent, able and excellent body of men, and the warnings and advice which they are able to give in the various pits they inspect are very often of very considerable service, and do often reduce the number of accidents. In addition, of course, there is the possibility of education. A good deal has been done in the way of improving the education of all sections, and, in particular, in carrying on a branch of education which is most desirable, namely, the "safety first" campaign, which the Mines Department is always promoting, and by which, I hope, by degrees, men are being led to realise that, by exercising a little care, a, little less—I will not say carelessness, but a little less, shall we say, recklessness, and a little more care of themselves, comparatively small accidents, which may lead to disastrous consequences, may be avoided. Several hon. Members quoted figures, and I am glad to say that the figures which my officials give me, and which I am certain are correct, do not, at any rate, make the position quite so bad as some people are inclined to make out.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is leaving the question of inspection, would it be possible for him to answer the question I put as to the number of inspections that take place on the average per year?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I have got the point down, but I will give it now.
§ Mr. G. GRAHAM
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman be kind enough to give us his views as to the decision of the Court of Arbitration?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am going to deal with that, but I would rather take it in the order I intended. With regard to the question the right hon. and learned Gentleman put, I should like to couple with it his suggestion that the inspection abroad is more effective that in this country.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I only said that was an impression.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I think the best test of the efficiency of the inspection we 1256 have is the fact that the figures show that accidents in the mines of this country are considerably lower than in any other country in the world, and of all the European countries, we can show a considerably lower death rate than they can. Therefore, I may take it our death rate shows that our inspection is better. As regards the number of inspections, there are some pits, of course, which are well known to be run on very excellent lines, and, therefore, do not require so much inspection, and, obviously, some pits require a great deal more inspection, but I am assured—and these are very rough figures—that, including all pits, the average number of inspectors' visits paid during the year is something like five, which means that some pits require very little inspection and others a good deal more. I should now like to deal more closely with the trouble of water, which is at the moment more particularly before our minds in view of the disaster at Scotswood. This trouble is serious—
Lieut. - Colonel WATTS - MORGAN
Does the figure which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has just given in regard to inspections mean that the whole of the pit is examined each time?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I cannot say anything about the details of the inspectors' visits. The inspector may go to one part or another of the mine, but I cannot say that he necessarily goes into every corner of the pit. I cannot give any assurance as to that; I must leave it to the inspector to do what he thinks is necessary in each case.
I only want to make it clear that he may only go to one district out of 12 in one given pit.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I should like to go into this question of the water danger, because there is no doubt that it is one of the most, if not the most, serious of all the troubles with which the mining industry has to deal at the present time. It is quite obvious that, as mining goes on, this danger is liable to increase. As the number of disused workings increases, so there arise more opportunities for danger of this kind. Several hon. Members have asked what the inspectors are doing in regard to it, but I would 1257 point out that this is a particular difficult matter for the inspectors to deal with, because they cannot have local geographical knowledge of every pit. What they can do is to go down and attack any particular abuses that may be going on, or any breach of the regulations, but, as regards knowing the exact history of the whole of the workings in a pit, that is not a matter that can be easily dealt with by the inspectors.
The recent case of the Blackhill colliery illustrates the difficulty under which the Department is working. At the Blackhill colliery the divisional inspector reported that there was danger, and he was so much impressed by it that he served a notice under Section 99 of the Act, requiring that all the men should be withdrawn. This the management considered was not necessary, and the case went before the arbitration court. As the hon. Member for Morpeth has just told us, the decision was given against the inspector and against the Mines Department, and we not only had to pay the costs, but were told also that the case was one which ought never to have been brought. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Morpeth as to the Judge being necessarily a man who knew nothing about mining, because he was a man who had the power of weighing evidence, the evidence was brought before him by both sides, and I would say that it was perfectly possible that he may have been right and the inspector wrong, though I do not express any opinion as to that. At any rate, a legal decision was given, and it was given against us, and nothing more was done. If, however, the charge is made against the Department that sufficient action is not being taken, I can give that, at any rate, as one piece of evidence that, so far from the inspectors not doing enough, in that case the inspector was held, according to law, to have done a great deal more than he need have done.
Let me now come to the other case which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Morpeth, and it is one that gave us a great deal of trouble—I mean one case of the Hallside Colliery, in Scotland. Before I left the Department at the close of my previous tenure of office, I myself paid a visit to that area in order to get to know the lie of the land and consult the people on the spot, and I am sorry 1258 that during the past year the matter has not got any further forward. The hon. Gentleman, however, was perfectly correct in the account that he gave of the proceedings that were taken. We did try to get the owners to agree to a scheme, and when they objected, and the Black-hill case arose, it was obviously not of very much use for us to go forward in another case in which there was considerable doubt as to whether there really was danger or not. In such a case it would have been very unwise, and possibly disastrous, to go forward and again be stopped by a legal decision of this kind.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
The same manager as at Blackhill, and the same company.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
That has nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It has a lot to do with it.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
The point I am trying to make is that it is far better that we should try to make an arrangement with these gentlemen, who are now, I hope, likely to meet as to a very considerable extent. I do not like to say too much about it now, but I hope that in the near future a satisfactory arrangement, or as satisfactory an arrangement as we can get, may be arrived at, by which this danger may be, if not absolutely taken away, at any rate very much minimised.
I think one of the last things I did before I left office was to set up a committee to deal with the question of water dangers. Here again, I would point out that the setting up of a committee does not mean that nothing has be-en clone. It is necessary in a case like- this to really get to know all the details of the very intricate problems with which you are dealing. The problems vary in every case. The Committee have been working extremely well and extremely conscientiously. Thy have travelled over a good many water-logged areas, and have succeeded in getting satisfactory arrangements made in a good many districts, by the advice they have given and the knowledge which they have. Among other districts which they have visited is the Cambuslang district, which is the only one in which they have not succeeded in getting a settlement arrived at. They have carried on a general inquiry, and 1259 they have been getting valuable expert advice, and I hope that before long, in view of the accumulated knowledge which they have acquired, we shall have a clear line on which we can legislate, if we consider legislation necessary.
The Section of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which deals with this matter is not, per haps, an absolutely satisfactory one, and when the Committee reports, we shall have to consider whether or not this Section requires Amendment. This is one of the cases in which I think it is possible that some amendment of the Coal Mines Act may be necessary. The Section provides thatWhere any working has approached within 40 yards of a place containing or likely to contain an accumulation of water or other liquid matter, or of disused workings (not being workings which have been examined and found to be free from accumulations of water or other liquid matter) the working shall not exceed eight feet in width, and there shall be constantly kept extending to a sufficient distance, not being less than five yards, in advance, at least one bore-hole near the centre of the working, and sufficient flank bore-holes on each side at intervals of not more than five yards.In view of the difficulties that have recently been met with, it is a question for consideration whether or not that Section ought to be extended, and whether in view of the fact that it has been clearly proved that on several occasions disused workings have existed without being known whether that method ought not to be made compulsory in every case or, at any rate, in very many more cases.
I should like to illustrate the danger of hon. Members making suggestions that the Mines Act should be amended. An illustration given by the hon. Member for the Bother Valley (Mr. Grundy) showed that he had not acquainted himself with the legislation which he was criticising. He dealt with a case in a certain pit where a rope broke and the train broke away and there was a very serious accident. He said it was an old rope and that there ought to be legislation on the matter.
§ Mr. GRUNDY
I said that there was no provision as to the life of a rope of that class, and that it appeared that these ropes could be used until they broke. I did not say whether it was an old or a new rope.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member. He now says there is no specified life for a rope, and he suggested that there should be legislation setting forth the life that a rope ought to have. The present Coal Mines Act provides that every rope has to be examined once a week, and that particular rope had been examined, I think, every day.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
What is suggested is done in the case of the winding ropes.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
Is it not far better to have regular inspection of ropes? If you establish a particular life, it is suggested that the rope may be used for 10 years or 15 years, or whatever the period of life suggested may be. The effect is, that during that period no particular care is taken.[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]I If you demand, for the purposes of security, that there shall be a constant daily or weekly inspection, you are much more likely to secure safety than by merely establishing some period of time for the life of the rope.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that, in the case of winding ropes, you have both a daily examination and a time limit for the life of the rope?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that depending on a period is no safeguard, if you can ascertain by careful and definite examination the condition of the rope. I would like now to indicate some of the activities of my Department. From some of the suggestions made, it would appear that the Department is doing nothing, and that because it has not brought in some big Bill nothing happens. I would like to suggest one or two forms of activity which are to its credit. I do not say that they have all been done by myself—I have only recently returned to it. Some of the things of which I speak were done by my predecessor. One of the topics that have been referred to is inspection, and already the suggestions made have been carried out to a large extent, and I give full credit to my predecessor in my Department for what he has done. Between us, at any rate, these things have been carried out. Two new divisional inspectorates have been created, one in South Wales, which has 1261 been divided into two, and the other in the Yorkshire district. In addition, nine sub-inspectors under the Coal Mines Act and one new sub-inspector under the Metalliferous Mines Act have been appointed. In addition, a temporary medical officer has been appointed to go round and report and advise on first aid and ambulance work. I think that the work which he has done has been much appreciated and will be of considerable value.
In addition, there are many matters in which legislation is not necessary, and far more can be done by Regulations. Several Regulations have been amended in a way that will be of considerable importance and value in the future as a means of preventing accidents. The Regulation relating to shot-firing has been amended. I cannot quite remember whether I actually brought this Regulation forward, but I can certainly claim to be its parent, for one of the things on which I spent most time during my previous tenure of office was the elaborating of this Regulation. The Regulation secures that the qualifications of shot-firers, as regards age and experience, and so on, shall be increased, that there shall be a definite examination for gas before a shot is fired, that no shots be fired within 20 yards of an inaccessible break or cavity, that stone dust should be carried right up to the coal face before the shot is fired, and that two shots should not be fired together. That amendment dealt with cases which had arisen in several disastrous accidents that occurred inst before or just after I previously came into office, and I think the change will be of considerable value.
We have had an amendment of the stone dust Regulation, and here again I can claim to have had a great part in the introduction of that Amendment. It abolished the qualification of being wet throughout. That was obviously a most unsatisfactory qualification. The provision made is that there shall be tests taken of the coal dust in every colliery, whether it be dry or wet, and only on the result of those tests shall it be decided what course is to be taken. Those tests are to be taken not only generally, but specifically from the roof, floor and sides respectively. Also a record has to be kept in each mine of the results of periodical tests of coal dust. There has 1262 been a Committee set up to deal with mining explosives, a Committee to test and improve explosives. On their advice explosives from this country were sent to the United States, because it had been suggested that our tests were not as severe as those in the States and that our explosives were not as safe. As a result of that experiment it was found that our explosives stood the test better than those in the States, and, on the whole, it was proved that our explosives were safer and our tests as complete as, or more complete, than those of the United States. Everybody knows that larger numbers of accidents are clue to the falls of roofs and sides. As regards timbering and supports a Committee was set up, and that Committee has already traversed a great part of the United Kingdom. It has reported on South Wales, and is now preparing a Report on Scotland. As regards research we have held investigations into coal dust explosions, fire-damp explosions, spontaneous combustion, electrical failures, and so on, and arrangements are being made for a new station which will be more central and, therefore, of more value to the mining community as a whole.
Before I sit down I must refer to a point which I omitted from the earlier part of my speech. I said that hon. Members opposite had painted the accident picture rather more blackly than it need be painted. The hon. Members for Rother Valley talked about growing mortality. I am glad to say it is not quite so had as that. I admit the figures are far higher than anyone wishes to see them. Nobody wishes to see them maintained at anything like as high a level as they are at now, but it is satisfactory to know that we are in a better position apparently than any other country in the world, and it is more satisfactory still to realise that the figures which hon. Members have quoted about last year are not, as I am informed, accurate. The figures of last year as regards fatal accidents, and still more so as regards the less serious accidents, are better than they were in the year previous. The figure of fatal accidents for the year 1922 was 1,105. For 1923 it was 1,297, and for 1924 it went back to 1,199. If we take all the figures over a long period of years we find there has been a slow but steady decrease. I come to the minor accidents. There I wish to point out that there is now a difference in the manner of calculation 1263 which makes the figures which I am about to give oven better than they appear to be at first sight. The minor non-fatal accidents for 1923 numbered 212,256, which is indeed an appalling figure.
§ Mr. BATEY
Those figures differ from the figures given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman in answer to a question.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am not conscious of any difference in the figures, but these are the figures which are given up to date.
§ Mr. BATEY
I took my figures from the printed list given in the form of an answer in this House, and it shows the Lumber of accidents for 1922 to be 211,598.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
And those are the figures given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman to me in an official answer.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I will have that matter investigated. As a matter of fact, the difference is a very small one, but if the figures are incorrect I will have the matter looked into. What is the figure given by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey)?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
My figure is bigger.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I only wish hon. Members to see that I am not trying to ender-state the ease. Let me give the figures I have here. They show that the number of non-fatal accidents in 1923 was 212,256 and in 1924 the figure was 195,423. Since 1924 these figures include accidents which have caused a man to be off work for anything over three days. That, I think, is a very good alteration. Formerly the figures referred only to accidents which kept a man off work for seven days or over and the new figures will therefore be still more striking.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am only pointing out that under the new system if a man is injured in the course of his occu 1264 pation and the injury keeps him off work for three days he is qualified to go into this list. Previously, a man had to be off work for over seven days before being included, and therefore the figures are even more reassuring than they appear at first.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
The point was that there were not so many people working during 1924 as during 1923.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
We are bound to take one year with another, and I have taken the whole of the year 1924, and I do not think the proportion of unemployment makes a considerable difference to what, I hope, will be welcomed by hon. Members opposite. This is not a party case, and I think it is very satisfactory that there has been some improvement. I should like to say, in conclusion, that I always welcome any suggestions which any hon. Member opposite may make, and if at any time they have any to make as to improvements in Regulations, or anything which would prevent accidents or generally improve the position, I am always most glad to receive any suggestions of that kind. They know quite well that if they come to my room in the House of Commons or to my office, I am always glad to talk to them and to hear what they have to say. After all, in many cases there is political trouble, and there are difficulties about the coal industry on which we cannot agree, but on this matter we can all most cordially agree. I am certain that the whole House is united in wanting to do its utmost to reduce this deplorable list of accidents, and I am glad to think that it is not increasing, but that, on the whole, it tends to decrease, and anything that this House can do, or that any Member of it can do, to cause that tendency to continue, I am sure we shall always be most ready to do.
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I do not intend to detain the House for many minutes, but I think that a sentence or two must be spoken and a comment or two made on the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines was, I think, perfectly justified when he said, towards the end of his speech, that his door downstairs or at his office elsewhere is always open to hon. Members of this House or to other interested parties who desire to consult him on matters relating 1265 to the mining industry. Our experience of him has certainly borne out that claim on his part. It is perfectly true that this Debate has been raised under the shadow of the deplorable misfortune that has happened in Newcastle, but I think the figures that have been published from time to time about fatal accidents and non-fatal accidents ought to have been a warning to us, quits apart from any of these dramatic events that move our hearts, as our hearts have been moved today and yesterday. I am not quite sure what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he said that the figures, for instance, of fatal accidents showed an improvement. I do not find that in the figures which he gave, and which are published in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 24th February this year—I have them here—from 1900 down to 1924. Of course, you get annual variations, a variation from 1,201 in 1918, say, to 1,089 next year, to 1,060 the next, and so on, but then in 1923 you get 1,151.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I think the right hon. Gentleman forgets that the number of those working in the pits is steadily increasing.
I am not quite sure of that. It is true that there have been increases in certain of those years, but am certain that, if he would work them out mathematically, he would find that the result would not be very materially to alter the face value of those figures. There may be just a slight percentage of alteration, but, taking them as a whole, let us put the most favourable view we like upon these figures, they are certainly not satisfactory. Nobody can say—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not say—that they are satisfactory.
In 1924 there were 1,127 fatal accidents. In 1923 there were. 1,151. In 1922, 1,026; and so on. That is fatal accidents. Non fatal accidents bear out exactly the same thing. I asked that certain figures should be made out, and this is the form in which I had them given to me. Take the two years 1919–20. The average for these two years is 117,000 non-fatal accidents. Take 1922–23 together, and the average is 200,000 non-fatal accidents, an annual average increase of 83,000 non-fatal accidents. Working it out in another form, it means that one in six employed above 1266 and below ground at the mines suffered injury. It is simply terrible. Supposing hon. Members who are here to-night considered that before the 1st of April of next year one out of every six would have met with an accident serious enough to keep us away from work for seven days. [An HON. MEMBER: "Seven years in some cases!"] It varies between that and a fatal accident. It hardly requires a dramatic representation of what all this means to move an assembly like this. These figures are published month by month. I do not at all object to the right hon. Gentleman taking the opportunity for a sort of general survey of the work of this Department on an occasion like this. I think he is quite right. He did it in self defence. It is the sort of speech that we would have expected if his salary had been under discussion. But a general survey like this ought never to obscure this specific point of accidents in the mines. That is why really I bring the House back to a sense of its responsibility. These are the figures which the right hon. Gentleman quoted. What are we to make of these figures? I do not know. I am not prepared with any explanation. Has the right hon. Gentleman inquired into and investigated concurrent circumstances? For instance, has he investigated what effect the seven-hour day has had on accidents? I am not sure that the figures I have got out will bear absolute scrutiny, but it almost looks as though when the seven-hour day was instituted the accident risk went down to a rate equivalent to something like 30,000 to 40,000 accidents per annum. That is one very important point. Is his Department working out the explanation of accidents in that way?
I will make another suggestion to him. I hope hon. Members will not make me put more emphasis upon what I am going to say than is necessary, but there is a good deal of ground for believing, by an examination of those figures, alongside of an examination of wages figures, that the curve of increasing wages and the curve of arrested or diminishing accidents coincide. Is not the Department working out those sort of problems? Again, I am told that one of the reasons why the accidents in 1919–1920 kept down was that the miners in those years were having pretty good wages, were going fresh and active, and muscularly and mentally fit, to their work, well nourished in body and 1267 well nourished in nerve, so that they went to the pit as first-rate craftsmen, whose risks to accidents were reduced to a minimum, not on account of legislation, but on account of their own internal capacity to look after themselves. Whereas in 1922–23, when the average rose from 117,000 to 200,000, an increase of 83,000, wages had been reduced by at least 30s. a week; and also at that time, in 1922–1923, not only when the reduction had taken place, but when the accidents were increasing at the greatest ratio, miners had been longest subject to a seduction of wages. So that the assumption is that the miner went to his work imperfectly nourished, and not perhaps sufficiently calm in his mind, having more worries to disturb him than he had before when times were brighter and more prosperous with him.
Those are the problems which the Government Department should work out. I remember how in 1906 when I was a much younger Member of this House than unfortunately I am now, we used to bother the Home Secretary of the day to work out factory accidents from their psychological point of view and their psychological bearing. That has been done very largely owing to the pressure which a group of us in the House put on the Department in 1906, and owing to our having kept pegging away at this phase of the problem. We have got some most interesting, and in some respects somewhat elaborate, reports upon the psychological causes of accidents in factories. I hope the same thing is being done in respect of mines. I do not believe the inspection is adequate. The individual inspector, I believe, is a most efficient person, but I do not think his staff is adequate to fulfil the responsibilities. I do not think the regulations are quite as good as they might be, and one of the disappointing things in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is that he does not seem quite to have made up his mind about legislation; he told us there might be some legislation—he was not sure. Surely, he ought to be sure. Since 1911 there have been scores of committees and inquiries into mining conditions, explosives and explosions, and all sorts of things. Does my right hon. Friend mean to tell me that, as a residuum from those com 1268 mittees and inquiries, he has not discovered a very great necessity for the alteration of mining legislation in some important respects? I know his predecessor thought, in view of the experience gained since the 1911 Act, there was enough to justify this House in spending some time in amending it and bringing it up to date. The plea I really do put in is this: As my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) quite truly said, when we have these terrible accidents like that which occurred on Monday, we get into a state of interest and excitement, our hearts get softened and our desires are very eloquent and very sincere but as the days go by we go back again into the old rut, and nothing is done. Therefore, I do beg my right hon. Friend and the House as well to realise that these monthly figures of accidents in mines, fatal and non-fatal, impose upon the House a responsibility which it cannot fulfil unless it steadily works away at the whole question of the causes of accidents and produces legislation, administration, staffs, or whatever is necessary in order to increase the security of our miners' lives.
§ Question put, and ageed to.
That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in mines, and is of opinion that every possible step should be taken without delay, whether by legislation or otherwise, in order to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry.