HC Deb 06 November 1929 vol 231 cc1083-141

I beg to move, That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in coal mines, and is of opinion that every possible step should be taken without delay to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry. I propose this Motion, not because I think I shall be able to give any new information to the House, and not because I desire to indulge in any violent denunciation of any individual or any Government Department, but simply because I think that a discussion of this question during the present Parliament may act as an incentive to the Government to take some action on this question of accidents in mines. This subject has been discussed on a number of occasions during the last Parliament, but I regret to say that the results have been very unsatisfactory. Discussions have taken place and we find ourselves in the position that things have become worse instead of better as regards accidents in mines. I do not intend to weary the House with statistics, and I rather agree with what was said a week ago by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) that statistics are the most deceptive things in the world.

The figures I want to refer to are those dealing with the 0number of accidents for the two years prior to the commencement of the increased working hours and the number for the two following years. There is a great danger in taking figures the wrong way. The mining industry is one in which if you simply take totals you do not get anywhere and you must analyse the figures. I will take the totals for 1924 and 1925 and compare them with the totals for 1927 and 1928. These figures may appear to show that things are getting better, but when you examine them at the rate of accidents per thousand, fatal and non-fatal, you will find that things are getting worse. For the year 1924 the number of fatal accidents was at the rate of 10.85 per thousand. For the year 1925 the rate was 10.28, for 1927 10.33, and for 1928 8.91.r

Those figures seem to give the impression that we are making headway, but let us consider what has actually happened. Owing to modernisation of the working of mines, we have increased the output with a reduced personnel. Take, for example, the years 1924 and 1925. The rate per thousand is 1.11 in 1924 and 1.15 in 1925. For the two years after the Eight Hours Act was introduced in 1927, that is the year after the increased working hours, the percentage was 1.25 and in 1928 it was 1.18. Consequently you get a state of things under which the Government increased the working hours and they make things worse as regards the number of accidents. The increased working hours has resulted an aggravation of the accidents question, and the only hope of dealing effectively with that subject is to get the working day reduced to the point where it was before the last increase of the working hours took place.

Take non-fatal accidents. In 1924 the total was 11,937; in 1925, 10,622. Those are the two years immediately preceding the extension of the working hours, and the rate per thousand works out for 1924 at 158.8 and for 1925 159.3. Take the two years immediately following. In 1927 the total was 9,338 and in 1928 8,347, the percentage per thousand being in 1927, 167.2 and in 1928 170. Those figures might give the impression that we have been making headway, but let me point out that in 1924 the figures were 158.8 and in 1925 159.3. It will be seen that in those few years the rate per thousand increased from 167.2 in 1927 to 170 in 1928. This shows that you had between 1925 and 1928 an increase of 11 per thousand in non-serious accidents and the same applies to serious accidents.

4.0 p.m.

As regards non-fatal serious accidents, I want to ask the Secretary for Mines to give serious attention to the question as to whether the increased working hours in mines has not been responsible for the increase of accidents. I do not say whether the result is subsequent to the increased working hours or consequent upon it. I do not suggest that the increase per thousand in the number of accidents is a direct result of the eight hours day, but I suggest that the question of the effect of the increased working hours should be carefully examined from the point of view of the increase in the number of accidents in mines. I would like to refer to the places where these accidents have happened. When you get underground you find that the majority of the accidents happen at the coal face. Generally speaking the coal face worker is on piece rates, and the fact that the greatest number of accidents take place at the coal face suggests that there is some connection between the accidents and the paying of piece rates. I know from actual experience where the danger lies. Some of the inspectors suggest that simply because the miner has become so accustomed to his work he does not take necessary care. I do not object to that construction, but I do know that it is not the main reason for the accidents. The main reason is that the miner is paid by tonnage, and in many cases the rate is so low, and he needs such an output, that at times he takes unnecessary risks. I direct the attention of the Minister and the Government to the question whether piece rates at the coal face, as they involve so much danger, ought not to be discontinued.

I find that all the inspectors in all the divisions are now suggesting that we ought to change our supports from the present timber supports to steel supports. In some of their reports they give instances where the change has proved beneficial from the point of view of accidents. I think the Minister ought to deal with the question definitely. If it is true that steel supports safeguard life and limb, as against timber supports, there ought to be a definite instruction sent out that steel supports are to displace the timber supports. Another point that I want to emphasise is in relation to accidents on the haulage. Here we have employed boys, the majority under 16 years of age. I realise that it is difficult for the Minister to take action that would eliminate this boy labour as things are to-day, but I suggest that the question of haulage ought to be dealt with.

It was my job a few months ago to deal with the question of travelling from the working place to the pit bottom. I suggested certain action, but the management did not agree. The men, in some cases two miles underground, were compelled to stay at the working place till 3 o'clock and then had to walk to the pit bottom. The manager defied the divisional inspector. An inspector in another division, Mr. Carey, of Cardiff and Newport, in one of his reports states this: With regard to the accidents which occur whilst the men are walking out from work at the end of the shift, much has been said and is being done towards an entire elimination of this type of accident. Before I recommended the fixing of walking time and a total stoppage of the haulage ropes during those times there were as many as approximately a dozen men killed during the time. I am glad to report that the action taken in 1924, when the arrangements referred to above were made has resulted in a steady diminution of fatalities, and would, I am satisfied, have eliminated fatalities altogether were it not for the non-observance of regulations by those who were killed. Where the haulage rope is run for winding coal to the final moment, it allows no travelling time. That fact in itself may not be a temptation, but it does suggest to the man who has to walk miles underground that his working day is to be increased owing to the refusal of the management to stop the haulage. As I have said, there is one divisional inspector who has insisted on stopping the haulage to allow the men to travel.

I want to refer also to the question of shaft accidents. These are accidents which can prove to be a tremendous loss to the mine. We have had a few in Lancashire. Fortunately coal was being wound at the time. Had we been winding men it would have meant that the whole of them would have been hurled to eternity. The same inspector, Mr. Carey, emphasised another point. He has found in his division that the use of an anti-corrosive rope has saved life and limb. It has been found in Lancashire and other districts that owing to the unsuspected internal corrosion ropes have broken, although externally they had the appearance of being in good condition. What this inspector suggests is that an anti-corrosive rope would not deceive an inspector, that when an inspector examined a rope he would find out whether there was danger of internal corrosion more easily than he could do in the case of the other type of rope. He says that the anti-corrosive rope would not only save life, but would prove an economical proposition to the colliery owners.

A further question is this: You have your regulations. With regard to number there is certainly no increase. Two or three have been changed and some have been cut out because they were almost obsolete. What we have to con- sider, however, is that the safety of life and limb is not determined by regulations entirely; it is determined by the proper carrying out of the regulations. The chief person at the colliery to see to the carrying out of regulations is the fireman or deputy. A question that I ask is, Is the deputy always a man of such ability and knowledge as to make him efficient in his work? I would like to compliment the last Government for setting up a Departmental Committee to deal with this question of qualifications. It was a step in the right direction. I do not wish to cast any suspicion on the ability of the fireman of to-day, but I do think that to ensure the proper qualification of firemen is a step in the right direction. The making of such qualifications essential would in itself result in better firemen.

There is another aspect of the case. Are the managements not being permitted to add to the statutory duties of firemen to too great an extent? I can describe exactly what a fireman does from start to finish of the day. Far more time is taken up in dealing with questions apart from the regulations. The fireman has statutory duties laid down. If he is to carry out those duties efficiently the work will take the major portion of his time. The "good" fireman at any colliery is the fireman who can show the greatest output per man employed in the district that he supervises. I agree that we cannot expect firemen to be employed entirely in carrying out regulations, and that the management have a right to expect some other little work, but only when a fireman can carry out his statutory duties in a portion of his time ought he to be expected to do any other kind of work at all. Suppose that a fireman gives satisfaction on the output side by neglecting the statutory side. He is continuously employed. But let him change round and let him prove to be an efficient fireman on the statutory side, let him insist on regulations being carried out thoroughly and let him neglect the output side. You will soon hear about his dismissal. I could give the names of men, six at one colliery, who were discharged within 12 months. There was no blemish against their name, they had never been accused of neglecting their statutory work, but they were discharged because they could not show the output per man that the management expected.

These are days when in this House we are repeatedly discussing the figures of unemployment. Here you have a fireman with a wife and a number of children dependent on him. He knows that if he loses his job his boys and girls are to be handicapped and to suffer. He therefore tries to avoid taking any action that might displease the management. The danger is that if he does insist on carrying out his duties in a statutory sense he will be dismissed. The Firemen's Association have met the Minister more than once and have put forward a very reasonable suggestion, and that is that the firemen be allowed to appeal. The Minister ought to insist that the manager who discharges a man responsible for seeing to the safety of a mine be compelled to give satisfactory reasons to the Minister for the discharge, and that the man concerned be allowed to stand his trial too. We are told that this would endanger discipline. Would it? In the police force does the right of appeal to the Watch Committee endanger discipline? Has the authority of a Chief Constable been weakened at all because some officer under his supervision has claimed the right of appeal to a Watch Committee? It should not be forgotten that the policeman of the mine is the fireman. I hope that the Government will consider seriously the granting of a right of appeal to an Appeal Board by deputies or firemen who are discharged. In many cases there is no reason whatever on the statutory side for the discharge.

There is another aspect of the larger question to be considered. Apart from the injuries to the body caused by accidents we have to deal with the very serious menace to the miner known as nystagmus. At the present moment there are 9,775 men in this country suffering from nystagmus, a disease which endangers the physical and nervous strength of every sufferer. It is about time that something was done with these men. When they make a slight recovery and are able to do some light work they find themselves faced with total unemployment. They are refused work at the collieries where they were unfortunate enough to become victims of the terrible disease.

These and other questions will be elaborated by subsequent speakers. Reviewing the whole question, I would remind the House that the bulk of the Regulations governing mining life to-day were made in 1911. Since that date mining life, especially underground, has been revolutionised as a result of the introduction of mechanism—electricity, conveyers and coal-cutters—to a greater extent than ever. The Secretary for Mines and the Government might consider seriously taking legislative action to deal with the situation. They might, if necessary, appoint a committee of inquiry for the purpose of consolidating all the Statutory Orders since 1911, and then produce an up-to-date Mines Regulation Act. I should like to tell the Secretary for Mines that I have the support of the present Prime Minister in putting forward this suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on a similar Motion to this in the House on the 31st March, 1925—and, although the side of the House on which he sits has been changed, his views on this question will not have changed—said: 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 committees 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. Then he said, and I expect the Secretary for Mines will remind him of his having said it: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1925; cols. 1267–8, Vol. 182.] Here we have the support of the present Prime Minister on the question of going into the whole of the Regulations and bringing them up to date. If it be a committee of inquiry that is decided upon, I do ask that all the interests concerned be adequately represented. Such a committee would do far more good than a Departmental committee. On a Departmental committee you do not get the point of view of those actually engaged in the mining industry. I ask that a committee of inquiry may be set up and may bring before this House ere long some definite suggestions with regard to legislation or increased staffs to deal with this question of accidents in mines.

It is very important to remember what is involved. When I tell the House that from time to time men seek guidance of me who at the moment are suffering from total incapacity, who will never be able to work any more, whose income to-day, including everything, is 27s. a week, who have to keep a wife and five little children, and in order to do so have to seek Poor Law relief, the importance of this matter to miners will be realised. In addition to the physical sufferings consequent upon accidents, these men, in some cases for weeks, in others for months, in others for years, and in some cases to their dying day, are compelled to live on an insufficient income simply because they happen to have been the unfortunate victims of accidents. During the 1926 stoppage, our local infirmary had more vacant beds than had ever been known before. Because the mines were not working, the beds were empty, while when the mines are working it is not possible to get a bed there at any price. One does not want "sob-stuff" or sentiment; there is no need for it on this question; but I want the House to realise that the position of the injured miner is so deplorable that, surely, it is time that something definite was done to deal with it. The position has become gradually worse from day to day. I ask that the matter be seriously considered by the Minister, and, if necessary, by the whole Government, and that they agree at an early date to bring forward definite suggestions that will decrease the present enormous number of fatal and non-fatal accidents.


I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, I crave the indulgence of the House that has been given so generously to other new Members on the occasion of their first speeches. I know that this subject has been discussed in this House as often as any subject relating to industry. The records show that the miners' Members have repeatedly brought this matter before the House, and I know that there is very little that is new that can be said upon it; but, nevertheless, as my hon. Friend has said, there has not been any diminution in the number of accidents. Like my hon. Friend, I do not want to indulge in "sob-stuff." Both he and I, as working miners, have seen terrible things happen underground, but the experience of both of us, and of many other miners' Members on these benches, is that the time when one is really brought face to face with this matter in all its awful, tragic reality is when one becomes a miners' trade union official, and has repeatedly to deal with such cases as they arise. One then sees in actuality the things that my hon. Friend outlined in he closing remarks.

I want to repeat what he has said. I am convinced that the mines regulations are not being carried out as they ought to be, and I am convinced that they are not being carried out as they can be. I do not want to begin flinging charges first at one and then at the other, but I do want to corroborate what my hon. Friend has said regarding the duties of firemen in particular. It has often been reported to us by our own men, and the information has been brought to us by the firemen themselves, that in some cases the fireman will have as many as 30 or 40 shots to fire in a day in addition to his statutory duties. I submit that this is a point to which the mines inspectors' attention should be drawn, because, under the regulations, the mines inspector has power to take action and at least to investigate the duties which the fireman has to perform in addition to those which are considered to be statutory. If the inspectors would carry out their duties and if inquiries were made in certain instances, there would be a good deal less of this kind of work done by firemen.

We shall probably be told in reply that our opinions are not held by everybody connected with the mining industry.

Personally, I may be a bit conservative in the views that I hold on this point, but I have been convinced for some time that it would be better if electricity for power purposes were not used in coal mines. The regulations themselves recognise the danger attendant upon the use of electricity for power purposes. When the regulations lay it down that, if there is l¼ per cent. of inflammable gas present in the air, all electric current must be switched off, it shows that even the Mines Department recognise that here is a probable danger in the mines. In my opinion, there would be very few places where electricity would be used for power purposes if that regulation were strictly carried out. It is all very well for those responsible to tell us, after an accident has happened, that a screw or a bolt or a nut is loose and out of place, and that you get open sparking, and fusing, and that kind of thing. It is all very well to tell us that gas was tested for and none was present. But it is a very peculiar thing to me that the gas happens to be present just at the time when the sparking takes place. I would suggest to the head of the Mines Department that here is a reason for making some amendment as to the qualifications of firemen. My views on electricity, which I submit in all humility, may be wrong, but, if we have to have electricity in the mines for power purposes, I suggest that an extra qualification is necessary for firemen in addition to hearing, seeing, air measurement and gas testing, and that they should be qualified to supervise and take effective charge of areas in which electrically driven coal-cutting and conveying machines are installed.

My hon. Friend, in moving this Motion, referred to the question of piece rates. I do not want to dogmatise on this matter, because I suppose that both he and I, when, not so very long ago, we were working at the coal face, would have needed as much conversion to the day wage system as anyone engaged under it to-day, just because of the few shillings that one is enabled to earn above the day wage; but I have been compelled to take a different view as a result of my experiences as a trade union official. There has been only one colliery in the whole of my district which has been entirely run on time wages. I have had a miners' lodge under my charge as miners' agent since 1923, and here again I can corroborate the statement made by my hon. Friend, that the piece rate system is a possible source of aggravation of the number of accidents in mines. Only those who have worked under it know the awful risks that are taken. They know of failure to set timber on the part of the miner, who sometimes neglects it for a few minutes in order to get out a truck of coal or catch another run, and if in the meantime he has failed to set the necessary timber, he may get trapped and be seriously injured or even killed. We are not dogmatising, but are asking for an inquiry; but the piece rate system, with its hurrying, scurrying, scuffling methods, causes men to take unnecessary risks so that they do not give that consideration to the circumstances in which they are working which is really requisite.

It may be information to those Members who are trade union officials in connection with the Miners' Federation, but at the colliery which I previously mentioned, the Swan Lane Colliery, Hindley Green, piece rates have never been adopted for any of the classes of workers. They have worked 31 years, and during the whole of that time not a single man or boy has been carried out dead. That is a matter for serious consideration by us, by the Miners' Federation, by the Mines Department, and by the Government. It is true that they have had three cases of people who have been injured underground which ended fatally, but two of those deaths were caused by septic poisoning supervening at a later stage. If that be the experience of one colliery, it is, as I say, a matter worth the consideration of the Mines Department.

I only intended to speak for 10 minutes, and I do not think I will carry on any further. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I will conclude by saying that what has been put forward by the hon. Member who moved the Motion and by myself and the statistics which have been given by the Mover, warrant the Mines Department in taking action. If by the fact that this question has been raised to-day, we can get on overhauling or remodelling of some of the mines regulations, I shall be perfectly satisfied that this effort has been worth while.


The House has listened with great interest to a maiden speech from the hon. Member who has just sat down, and I feel sure that he has the right to feel that he has held the attention of the House, not only by the importance of the matters with which he has dealt, but by the cogency and lucidity with which he has presented them for our consideration. We shall all join in congratulating him on making his first appearance on the Floor of the House. If I venture to follow the hon. Member in this matter, it is because on two occasions I have had special reason to be brought into close touch with this problem. For some years I was Under-Secretary at the Home Office when the mines inspection was under the Home Department, and these matters occupied a considerable part of my time. More recently, I had the honour to be the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, which made a very close investigation of this question, which we at once perceived was of vital importance to the whole mining community.

In connection with the Report of the Royal Commission, I thought it would be interesting to make a calculation to see what was the expectation of the average miner of having to suffer, during the course of his working life, from more or less serious accidents. This calculation was put into the Report of the Commission, and I, will give it now to the House in a somewhat different form. Imagine 100 miners, who spend the whole of their working lives in the pit, going in as boys and coming out at a time when their working lives, for natural causes, are likely to be over, say, when they have served 40 years in the pit, as, of course, many miners do in the course of their lives. According to the statistics at the present time, of those 100 miners, if they suffer, according to the average, the fortunes of the mining industry, four will have been killed; 18 of the 100 will have suffered a very serious injury, that is to say, injury such as 'a fractured skull or a broken limb; 16 of the 100 will have suffered from miners' nystagmus, a very painful, distressing and often disabling disease of the eyes; 16 will have had beat hand, beat knee, or beat elbow—miners' synovitis, a disease which may disable a man for a very long period, and perhaps altogether stop his working career. So that more than one-half of the 100 in the period of their working life will, according to average, either have suffered death in the pit or serious injury, or nystagmus or those other special miners' diseases. In addition, on the average, every one of the 100 will have suffered seven accidents, involving more than a week of disablement; so that among that group of 100 men there will have been, in a period of 40 years, 700 minor accidents so-called, but each severe enough to lay a man away from his work for at least a week. That shows that there is a terrific total of accidents in this industry.

Of course, the community has long been aware of the special dangers of the mining industry, and for generations efforts have been made to increase its safety. Great results have accrued, particularly with regard to explosions. Fifty years ago explosions in the mines were, I will not say constant, but not infrequent, bringing sudden and widespread disaster to whole communities, wiping out perhaps scores, sometimes even hundreds, of human lives. These dramatic and tragic occurrences aroused the attention of the whole nation, and a very intensive effort has been made to put an end to them. That effort has been most remarkably successful. Science has brought the whole of its resources to bear on this problem of mining explosions. A great Department of State, the Home Office, through its inspectors year after year devoted its utmost efforts to the reduction of these explosions. The result has been that within the last half-century the death-rate from mines explosions has been reduced by nine-tenths. That is a most remarkable achievement, and those who minimise or do not fully realise the value of science and of State action in dealing with problems of this kind have here, in the reduction by nine-tenths of the number of deaths caused by mines explosions in half-a-century, an example and argument of great importance. So, also, with regard to shaft accidents; they have been reduced in the same period by five-sixths. That is satisfactory, and it is hoped that possibly further progress may be made in those directions.

There are, however, other classes of accidents where the situation is far from satisfactory. The total death-rate in the mines from accidents below ground remains, and has remained for a number of years, unhappily, very constant. When the Royal Commission reported, they took the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, an average of three years, as their basis for comparison. We found that the death-rate per 1,000 below the ground from accidents was 1.13; in 1927, it was 1.25, and last year it was 1.18. There has been no progress in the last few years in that respect. Deaths from falls of earth remain a constant figure. Last year was slightly better than the year before, but in general round about 500 men are killed every year from falls of earth. In haulage accidents, the ratio has remained almost unaltered during the last 50 years, and last year 230 men were killed by these accidents. Thus, there are still these vast totals, and how vast they are and how serious the question is, is proved by the fact that the mining industry every year has to pay in workmen's compensation to its own employés no less than £3,000,000. That sum has to be paid out of the resources of the industry to the men, or to their families for the loss of the bread-winner. That means an average charge of 3d. on each ton of coal produced, and it is therefore the plain interest, as well as what is much more important, the clear human duty, of the industry and the State to co-operate in reducing still further the mining accidents.

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), who moved this Motion in a very interesting speech, drew a connection between the increase in the hours of labour and the increase which he points out has occurred—according to his statistics, I have not checked them—since the lengthening of hours took place. I have no doubt those statistics are quite correct. It may be that there is an increase of accidents due to fatigue or strain, but one would expect that if the average man were below ground for a longer period, exposed to risks for a longer period, the number of accidents would be greater. To take an extreme and impossible illustration, suppose a mining community were working under ground only one hour in the day, they would suffer from many fewer accidents than if they worked eight hours. That is obvious. Therefore, if you extended the hours of work at the face from six or six-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half, natur- ally the men would have a considerable percentage of longer time of exposure to risk, and therefore there would be an increase in the number of accidents. Correspondingly, if it were found practicable to reduce the hours of work, pro tanto accidents would be reduced.

The hon. Member said that the only right way to make this calculation was according to the number of men employed. I do not quite agree there, for the reason that if in one year the men are working full time they will have more accidents than if the same number of men are working short time, for the same reason as that which I have just given, namely, that if the men's general working time is three days a week and 1,000,000 men are employed, and if in another period 1,000,000 men are employed five days a week, you will have more accidents in the latter period than in the former. Therefore, the Commission found that the only right basis for the calculation of accidents was the number of man-shifts. They multiplied the number of shifts by the number of men, and based their statistics on that. I hope that the Mines Department in future will, so far as possible, present their statistical tables on that basis, because it is the only basis which eliminates extraneous considerations and thereby gives really comparable statistics.

The hon. Members who have spoken from their practical knowledge have pointed out that the increase of machinery in the mines—mechanical traction and transport, and the increase of electricity—tends to increase accidents. It certainly introduces new dangers which have to be guarded against, and I am sure the Mines Department is constantly on the watch to keep pace with any development in the industry in that direction and to introduce the necessary safeguards. It would be taking a very extreme course to say that, because electricity induces accidents or may cause danger, therefore electricity should be discouraged, and excluded from the coal mines. I doubt whether the economic position of the industry would permit of a measure of that character, but it does call for the most careful and scrupulous measures to prevent an increase of danger. I think, so far as I can judge, that the Mines Department is fully alive to that. As a matter of fact, the num- ber of accidents directly due to electricity is, up to the present, rather remarkably small. There is need for close inspection; there is need, of course, for continuous care on the part of the miners themselves, and there is need for that for which the hon. Members have pleaded, the maintenance of a high qualification among the firemen and other sub-officials of the mines concerned with these matters.

Lastly, the hon. Members have mentioned miners' nystagmus. There, I think, the situation is very far from satisfactory and it is disappointing that so little progress has been made in dealing with this distressing and, as I have said, disabling disease of the eyes. I was responsible more than 20 years ago when at the Home Office for drafting and carrying through Parliament the provisions which, for the first time in any country in the world, brought industrial diseases on to the same footing as accidents and provided compensation for the workers who suffered from those diseases, and we included nystagmus in our schedule as well as the other miners' ailments which I have mentioned. The number of cases of nystagmus has shown an immense increase in recent years. The disease is found to be due mainly to insufficient lighting. Although the figures now are somewhat below the peak figures of seven or eight years ago, still last year there were 2,500 new cases of nystagmus—700 more than the year before. That is a very serious fact. Instead of our coping with this question successfully, as we have done with explosions and with shaft accidents, here the last year is far worse than the year before.

There are in the industry to-day nearly 10,000 men suffering from this disease of the eyes, and I am much surprised to find in the report of the Chief Inspector nothing at all about nystagmus, not a word. It is true that there is a committee sitting on the subject, but nothing is said as to the work of that committee, as to the results, as to the measures which are being taken, and I trust that the Secretary for Mines when he replies will not fail to tell us what is being done in connection with this most important matter. In general, I feel sure that every one in the House will agree that the Mines Inspector is the miners' best friend. He works very hard, very loyally, with great skill and energy, to safeguard the life and limb of the miner. This House should, and will, I feel sure, most cordially, in every way support the efforts which have been made by the Department and its officers in this direction, and, I cannot doubt, will unanimously pass the Motion now being submitted for its consideration.


I rise with diffidence to address the House on this subject when I look round and see so many of my hon. Friends who have spent their lives in the coal mines. But, owing to the fact that I have in my Division 5,000 or 6,000 miners who are in the anthracite district, I think that it is only right for them to be heard in this House. I had the advantage on Saturday of hearing what they think and what they would say if they could stand up in this House and address hon. and right hon. Members. The first point which they raised was the question of inspectors in mines. They are of the opinion that the inspectors are sufficient in number if only they were taken from their offices and made to do the work which they are primarily intended to do, namely, to inspect the mines. The miners feel that too much of their time is now occupied in office work; in being employed, so to speak, as clerks. The miners in this little village in West Carmarthen made the rather subtle suggestion that it would be far better if the inspectors, when they come down to the mines, instead of going straight to the office, would go straight to the lamp room, so that the men in and around the mine would know that the inspector was present. I feel that the miners do not want more inspectors in mines, but that they want an extension of the work of Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act, namely, an extension of the number of workmen inspectors. Under the present system, if the workmen require a mine to be inspected, they have to pay for the inspector. They also suggest that when an inspector comes to a mine he should be accompanied in every case, not only by an official of the colliery, but also by a workman. We have it stated by the inspector in almost every report from every district what splendid work these workmen inspectors do. For instance, Mr. Carey at Cardiff, reported: Advantage continues to be taken by the men of the facilities granted them under Section 16 of the Act to inspect the workings of the mines, and much good is done by these periodic inspections which are welcomed by many managers. Five hundred and twenty-five such inspections were made at 69 mines. I have also a report of the inspector of the Swansea district which is couched in similar terms. The miners feel that after inspection has been made the inspector's report should be available for every man in the colliery, and that it should be placed in some common place on the colliery premises where every man could see exactly what the inspector has reported. I agree entirely with every word which has been said about the importance, or, if you like, the change of direction of the work of the firemen. They are now engaged more in speeding up the supply of coal than in doing the job for which they are paid, namely, safety work.

There is one point on which I found that the miners at this conference were particularly keen. It is the question of packing in the gobs. They say, that where you have poor packing you have poor ventilation and a greater danger from accidents. I find that Mr. Carey, again in his report, has observed two collieries—colliery "A" with good packing at the gobs, where you had no fatal accidents at all over a period of five years and six non-fatal accidents; and colliery "B" where, he says, over the same period with indifferent packing there were four fatal accidents and 10 non-fatal accidents. I most respectfully ask the Secretary for Mines to see to it that inspectors of mines should be directed to make a report as to the state of the gobs in every pit.

I think the hon. Member who introduced this Motion referred particularly to the question of steel rings. The Inspector for the Cardiff district pointed out in his report the advantages of these steel rings from the point of view of cost. I am told that it costs from 12s. 6d. to 15s. to put up a set of timber, and that this is the cost roughly of the same work in steel. I am told that experiments have been carried on for a distance of about 50 yards of airway which have been timbered and over 50 yards of airway where steel rings have been used, and that over a period of five years the use of steel rings has proved to be 30 per cent. cheaper. The important thing to be considered by the House and particularly by hon. Members on this side of the House is that where you have an extension of steel rings you have fewer accidents.

There is an additional point which has been touched upon. It is the question of machinery. In the Swansea district, there are at present 68 coal cutting machines producing 463,000 tons of coal. In the Cardiff area, there are as many as 333 coal cutting machines producing 2,754,000 tons of coal. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that there are no expert men to go round examining the machines. The only men who have anything to do with them are the coal cutters themselves, ordinary colliers, who are not expected to know much about the machines.

There is one aspect of the accidents and diseases caused in the mines which touches hundreds of men in my Division. It is the question of nystagmus. It has been stated in this House that there are 9,775 men who suffer from this disease. I think that much more money should be spent in order to try and do something to deal more effectively with this disease. A medical friend of mine is firmly convinced that the cause of this disease is due to gas and not to the position of working in the mines. I would suggest that the work of the committee, to which reference has been made, could be speeded up and that the men should know exactly what has been done in order to find out the causes of the disease.

I should like to refer to another problem. I have here the papers dealing with a collier in my district who suffers from anthracosis. Here are papers showing that he has made a claim for Workmen's Compensation and has been refused. He has been examined by five doctors. Two of them say he is suffering from silicosis and the other three say that he is suffering from anthracosis. What is the result? He gets nothing. We know that when a doctor makes a post mortem examination of the body of a man and finds that the lungs are black, he is prompted at first to say anthracosis, when, as a matter of fact, it is impossible to say whether the man has suffered from anthracosis or silicosis until the lungs are burnt, and it is found that there is silica dust in the lungs. This is not all. If it is found that a man has died from silicosis, it must be shown that the stone contains 50 per cent. of silica. I think that this is a matter which the Minister ought to put right at once. Does it matter anything at all whether the stone contains 5 per cent., 50 per cent. or 90 per cent., if, in fact, the man has died through breathing this dust in the mines or in any quarry. Many things have been tried in order to prevent spontaneous combustion, including stone dusting, but I am quite aware, that where you have stone dusting in collieries you have a bigger percentage of chest complaints.

5.0 p.m.

There is a further question to which I would wish to draw the attention of the House. I have in my Division a colliery now in liquidation, called the S.R. Colliery at Cross Hands, in Carmarthenshire. What is the result of it being in liquidation? Here is a colliery which took upon itself the responsibility of providing workmen's compensation. There are over 41 cases of men there who since August of this year have not had one penny piece of compensation. On Saturday, I saw men there with one eye, one leg or one arm, and men who were totally disabled, and yet, because this colliery has failed, they have not a penny piece. The same thing applies to the International Colliery at Blaengarw, in Glamorganshire. I think that is a question which the Minister should look into.

Hon. Members on this side of the House will welcome a shortening of hours if for no other reason than that we know that with shortened hours there must be fewer accidents. In 1928, there were 1,009 fatal accidents, and 161,790 non-fatal accidents. Let us try to visualise what this means. It means a procession 35 miles long, four abreast and 1½ yards apart; at every 14 yards you have an ambulance, and at every 60 yards you have a hearse. The fatal accidents average on this basis over-two a day, and the non-fatal accidents 443 every day, 18 every hour, and one every three minutes. I speak in this Debate, not only because I represent a Division which is largely made up of collieries, but because, if the House will pardon me for saying so, it is the fact that all my relatives are working colliers. I myself had an uncle killed, a cousin crushed to death, and another cousin who is stone deaf through working in water; and I would beg the House to concentrate on this most vital matter for the safety of the lives of thousands of the very best men in the country.


I cannot say that I am an expert on coal mining, but in my earlier life I was for several years practising in a mining district, and I had very intimate associations, which I have in many ways kept up ever since, with the conditions obtaining in mines and their effects upon the population. There is no doubt at all about the enormous incidence of accidents, both fatal and otherwise, upon the mining community. I remember that at the first Labour Conference to which I went, I was sitting opposite to the mining delegation; I could see 11 or 12 men, and there was not one of those 11 or 12 men who had a whole pair of hands. It is a curious coincidence perhaps that they were there together, but, of those 11 or 12 men opposite me, every one had a missing finger or a smashed wrist or some other effects of something which had happened in a coal mine. I have also, when I have been passing through colliery villages, noticed the effects on the minds of the inhabitants of the constant fear of the happening of an accident: even the backfiring of a car in the road will bring every woman from her door to see what that noise may mean.

As I say, I am not in the least expert in the management of the mines, but I do know one thing. Large numbers of the men and practically all the wives of those men say that the piece rate system is the very largest contributory cause of accidents. It is the necessity of working at top speed, which means the omission of many precautions which might have been taken, which brings about a good many of those accidents of which it is afterwards said that they were brought about by the omission of precautions on the part of the men themselves. I have also found in my fairly long experience that in many other trades piece rates are responsible, not only for accidents, but for ill health on the part of the worker and for a great deal of indifferent work. I wonder whether it would not be to the advantage of the whole country if competitive piece work were abolished in all trades, or at least in trades which, like this, involve danger to human life.

On the question of hours, the workers in every trade with which I am conversant—and I know a good deal about the conditions in many of them—always say that accidents, carelessnesses and other things of that kind occur late in the working day. In fact one worker put it to me quite definitely, "After five o'clock we are only just spoiling the stuff." I think that is true, and it means that one ought to consider very carefully the effects of over-long hours in such a laborious, difficult and dangerous trade as this. An hon. Member opposite spoke of the £3,000,000 of compensation which is paid. It is a terrible thing to think about, that we should be spending £3,000,000 a year in compensating people, and only partly compensating them, and indeed very insufficiently compensating them. Nothing at all that we can do will rectify the practical ruin and the lack of opportunities which are inflicted upon families as the result of such injuries, but it is a terrible thing to think that such an amount of compensation, and insufficient compensation, should have to be paid for accidents which I believe any real effort which did not take into consideration first and foremost and last the actual financial cost, would be able to prevent.

I cannot speak about electrical affairs. Of course, electricity is responsible in a number of ways outside mines for an enormous number of accidents. That is no reason, I believe, why electricity should be excluded, but we have to learn to take much more effective precautions, and certainly those precautions should not be scamped or skimmed or minimised in cases where the results of an accident are so widespread and so devastating.

With regard to nystagmus, I think most members of the medical profession—I cannot speak for the whole profession—do agree that it is the posture and the lighting conjointly which are the cause of that terrible disease, and it seems to me that it would be possible by concerted action to get real disinterested evidence upon that and to take measures—and it is for the national benefit that measures should be taken—to put an end to a disease which is I am sure quite preventable so long as we consider the lives of men and women and children and the national advantage of good health, instead of the narrow financial aspect of the matter which precludes enough money being spent on the prevention of the disease and on the experiments which will bring about that prevention.


The House will, I am sure, agree with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Islington (Dr. Ethel Bentham) on what I understand was her maiden speech, and we can all sympathise with the warm sympathy which she showed throughout the whole of that speech. I am certain that when she next takes part in our Debates her speech will be listened to with great interest.

I am in this difficulty in this Debate; practically all the hon. Members who have taken part in it are practical miners, but I myself am not one. I can speak only as a representative of a mining district, from personal knowledge of miners, and from personal knowledge of a great many people who get their living in the mines. But there was one point which did appear to me to open up a vista of profitable debate, and that was a point made with regard to steel props, which I thought was really important. Every inspector, I understand, now tells us that these props are a means of safety to the workers. If anything can be done to lessen the casualties which occur in mines, of course it ought to be done, and here we are touching upon one of the biggest causes of casualties in the mines. Although steel props may in fact be safer, the plain fact is that the men themselves do not like them very much. To start with, they are awkward things to set; they take a lot of time; and then—I do not know whether rightly or wrongly—the men themselves think that these steel props give no warning when anything is going to happen to the roof. Men who know tell me that when there is going to be a fall of stone or earth, you will get a, sound from the roof itself, and not by the cracking of the wood pit props, but still that superstition that you get a warning from wooden props still goes on; the men think that that is so; and therefore I join with the Mover of this Motion in asking the Secretary for Mines, if he is satisfied that steel props are a safety factor for the miners and do prevent falls of roof, to make it known throughout the country by every possible means, and so eradicate this superstition.

That is my first point. There is one other about which I should like to ask for some information from the Secretary for Mines. The last time I spoke in this House on a mining matter was just after a very deplorable accident which happened in Northumberland, when water from an old mine broke through into a working mine and drowned a great many men. I know that when you are working in a valley where you suspect that there may be other workings full of water, you have to proceed with appliances in front of you to let you know where the water is. There are regulations for the safety of miners working in those areas; but there can be nothing which will be satisfactory unless we can get hold of the plans and maps of all the workings round about a mine. I know, of course, that it is difficult. I know that at the present moment it is by law compulsory to have those plans. I understand that if a mine closes down, all its working plans and so on are deposited with the Mines Department; but I know that there has been an effort by the Mines Department to get hold of maps and plans of old workings which were abandoned before it became compulsory to have plans, and I should like to ask whether, as the result of their efforts, the Mines Department have been able to find out the whereabouts of old and disused mines in the various minefields, so that this danger may be diminished? Nothing, of course, can be more distressing than the state of affairs in a mine when the water dashes through and floods it. I myself was present at the pithead after the flooding disaster near Newcastle, and saw the distress and anxiety of all concerned, and, of course, one would do anything one possibly could to prevent such a state of affairs arising again. Those are my two points; and I wholeheartedly support the Motion which is before the House.


While listening to the speeches to-day I have been wondering how times have changed. Some hundred years ago a Motion like the one now before the House would have been regarded as out of Order, because in those days it was not considered to be the duty or purpose of Parliament to in- terfere with underground conditions. Later, as the result of a series of unfortunate explosions, coupled with the efforts of two or three Committees, one known as the Sunderland Committee and the other a committee of South Shields gentlemen, pressure was brought to bear upon the House, and in 1851 Parliament recognised the right of the Government to interfere so far as inspections of underground workings were concerned.

Statistics are inevitable in a Debate of this kind, but statistics do not tell the tragedy behind accidents in mines. When the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was speaking and dealing with statistics, my mind turned to statistics, and I would like to quote some in order to emphasise the progress which has been made in certain directions, and to show the work that lies before us in other directions. In 1880, roughly 50 years ago, 499 lives were lost through explosions of fire damp or coal dust. In 1928, the figure had fallen to 36. In 1880, through falls of ground, 493 lives were lost. Last year, through falls of ground, 496 lives were lost. In addition, 230 lives were lost last year through haulage accidents. Science, in its very useful research work, the experimental work that has taken place and the growing knowledge so far as chemistry is concerned, has done much to make the mines more safe from the point of view of explosions, and the direction of our efforts must largely be towards reducing the falls of ground. Last year, of the 496 lives that were lost through falls of ground we find that the number of lives lost at the coal face were 326 and the number of lives lost on the roads, 170.

There are a good many difficulties in explaining exactly what is the real cause of the loss of life at the coal face. Miners, as a class, are looked upon as being very conservative. You cannot have men working for two generations under timber suddenly converted to the idea of steel props. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken put forward certain objections which I have heard time and time again. The inspectors do not advocate the general use of steel props at the coal face. It might be well to quote an opinion as to the position regarding steel props, in order to indicate the view of the inspectors.

The report of the divisional inspector for Yorkshire, Mr. Hudspeth, says: It may well be that conditions which are suitable for the use of wood props need variation if steel props, particularly those of a rigid type, are introduced. Generally, steel props show to best advantage where faces are moving rapidly and systematically. I agree entirely with that point of view. If the idea of steel props is to be propagated, and if the miners working at the coal face could become convinced that they were essential to safety, it would be a good thing if colliery managements would invite their workmen to discuss these matters with them. Since last I addressed the House I have been engaged for four and a half years in dealing with the many problems of one part of the mining industry, and I have had to attend a number of pits where steel props have been introduced. So far as the use of steel props is concerned, a big body of mine workers are still unconvinced of their utility and value. Another phase of the question might be take into consideration, and that is the question of some payment for the extra work involved.

Let me give an example of the position. In the Yorkshire coalfield we have always looked upon a wood face bar as being worth 6d. Some three or four days before corning down to the House this Session I had to deal with negotiations at one of the largest pits in the country, where steel props and corrugated bars are generally in use, but when it came to the question of price, the most that could be extracted from the management was 3d. in the case of the steel bar, whereas at neighbouring pits nearly double that sum was paid for wood. I suggest that if some managers were not quite so mean when prices are being fixed, it would help towards making their mines a little more safe. While there may be controversy regarding steel props there can be no doubt of the value of steel arches. I wonder how many lives would have been saved and how many accidents would have been avoided if we had had a more extensive use of steel arches. Anyone who has been inside a pit—I believe the late Secretary for Mines (Commodore King) availed himself of the opportunity of inspecting the inside of a pit, and I am extremely pleased that he did so and I wish other people would do the same—must admit that steel arches are of considerable benefit. Not only do they give extra protection to the sides and the roof but they make for better roads, so that the haulage lads can move about more freely. A good road makes for safety and speed. I would urge those colliery managers who have not seen steel arches in operation to avail themselves of the opportunity of doing so. There ought to be more attention paid to the use of steel arches than has been the case in days gone by.

With regard to supervision, economy in production has largely resulted in the district firemen and deputies having more work to do. I would like to see the time come when the deputy or the fireman was absolutely independent of both sides, and when the men would be able to carry out their duties without the slightest risk of victimisation. In using the word "victimisation," I know what I am speaking about from the fireman's point of view. These men ought to have the fullest opportunity to carry out their work, and no man ought to be penalised for carrying out the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act. In regard to the method of inspection mentioned by one hon. Member on these benches, the workmen's inspection, I believe that something could be done in that direction. In 1872, when Parliament gave to mine workers the right to make inspections at their own cost, they limited the inspections to men employed in the particular mine. In 1887 and again in 1911 Parliament widened that provision and made it possible for mine workers to appoint any two persons who had practical knowledge, providing that they were not mining engineers. Section 16 of the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act has been productive of a great deal of good, but to-day that Section is nearly a dead letter, due to no other cause than that the miners are too poor to be able to pay their own inspectors. I suggest that where it is not possible to provide finance to enable workmen to appoint inspectors to do their work thoroughly, it might be possible to modify Section 16 by permitting the appointment of one inspector instead of two. If the workmen had the right to appoint inspectors in that way and the men were able to do their work thoroughly there would be fewer accidents in coal mines.

The House will, I am sure, pass the Motion. Anyone who knows anything about mining always deplores the loss of life and the injury to limb, but when we come to apply the remedies and to consider what is the best thing to do we usually differ. If there is one thing upon which we all ought to co-operate it is the promotion of safety. Every man and boy who goes into the bowels of the earth to work ought to have the satisfaction of knowing that all that scientific research can do is in operation to make life and limb more safe. The question of machines for coal getting has been mentioned, and electricity was also referred to. It would be advisable if on machine faces, where compressed air or electricity is used, there could be a more general use of automatic gas detectors. The object of the Motion is to lessen the number of accidents; therefore we ought to be prepared to put into operation anything that will reduce the accident rate. Where machines are being used for coal getting there is always a greater tendency towards an outbreak of fire-damp, and therefore I suggest the more extensive use of approved automatic gas detectors. I thank the House for their patient hearing. This may not be the last time that I shall have the opportunity of speaking on mining matters. I sincerely hope that the Motion will be carried and that action will be taken that will make the mines safer places in the future they are to-day.


In intervening for a few moments in the Debate I should like first of all to congratulate the hon. Member who has succeeded me in the office of Secretary for Mines on the tone of the Debate. I did not hear the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, but the Debate so far as I have heard it has been very excellent in tone. My recollection of similar Debates during the past 18 months is that a certain amount of heat was engendered, but although that was the case I always asked for the cooperation of hon. Members who were then in opposition on all questions of health and safety. Many of them are practical miners and know the ins and outs of the underground workings of a coal mine. I always asked for their co-operation; and I must always say that on questions of safety and health it was most freely offered to me. I daresay I shall have to disagree with the Secretary for Mines very strongly on matters of policy, but not on matters of safety and health, because everyone who realises the dangers which miners have to face will be glad to co-operate in preventing, as far as it is possible, the dangers and accidents in mines.

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. T. Smith), because he was following a line which I considered very carefully when I was Secretary for Mines. A considerable amount of money has been spent on research. The Miners' Welfare Fund Committee provide a certain amount of money each year for the purposes of research, and the general trend of research has been in regard to explosions and fires below ground, certainly a great danger which has to be faced by the working miner. I was glad, however, that the Miners' Welfare Fund Committee decided early in the year that part of the money now devoted to that research should be diverted and set aside for the purpose of research into the dangers arising from falls of ground and haulage accidents, to which no doubt a large proportion of the fatal and nonfatal accidents in mines are due. They are the most fruitful causes of accidents, and I welcome the change that has been made by the Miners' Welfare Committee in devoting a portion of the money to this side of research work. It is true that His Majesty's inspectors and the staff of the mines go most carefully into the cause of an accident, but if you have a sum of money set aside for research into the cause of these accidents they can be examined more thoroughly, and I feel sure that in this way we shall be able in time to reduce the heavy death rate which is due to these two causes.

The hon. Member mentioned steel arches and better roadways in mines. I had the opportunity when I was head of the Department of going underground in various mines—certainly under different conditions. It ia perfectly obvious that a good road is the best means of preventing haulage accidents. I have been down mines where one has had to go for half a mile or a mile on a narrow roadway about 3 feet high, full of holes, and with 6 or 8 inches of water. It is obvious that accidents are far more liable under such conditions than in other mines, such as the mine of one company which I went down where they had steel arching for miles capable of carrying two sets of lines, good roadways, well lit and along which one could walk almost as well as along the streets of London. It is obvious that such improved conditions are bound to lessen dangers and the number of accidents from haulage and road causes, and I hope that this side of the problem will be considerably developed by the research which will be undertaken by the Miners' Welfare Fund Committee.

I was glad to hear several hon. Members mention the work done by His Majesty's inspectors. Everybody connected with the mining industry, not least the miners themselves, realise the great work which His Majesty's inspectors do for them in regard to safety and health. I had opportunities of seeing the work they do, and I was very impressed by the conscientious way in which they carry out their duties. I know that in the case of accidents they make their investigations very thoroughly, and every miner knows that almost the first person on the scene is His Majesty's inspector for the district. They go there not only for the purpose of seeing how the accident occurred, but how life can be saved if it is in danger, and sometimes they do so at the risk of their own lives. In recent months several inspectors of mines have actually lost their lives in trying to rescue miners who were in danger. I think that they are deserving of all the honour paid them in this House or outside. During one of the Debates last year I raised a point, which has not been raised to-day but which I will mention again even at the risk of getting the reception which my remarks received last year. I refer to the Safety First propaganda. I remarked some 12 months ago how concerned I was in reading the reports of a number of accidents which might have been avoided if the miners themselves had shown more care and acted on safety first principles.


They would be starved to death if they did that.

Commodore KING

I think the hon. Member will agree with me that I am dealing with it in a perfectly fair way and am only speaking in the interests of the miners themselves. Throughout London and in the large cities in the country there is a Safety First movement, under which the ordinary person in the street exercises his own judgment and keeps his wits about him in order to help himself from the dangers of the traffic. I am only urging this in the interests of the miners themselves. It has been supported by many members of the Labour party and is being pressed throughout the mines only in the interests of the miners themselves. The Safety First propaganda in London is not for the special benefit of the inhabitant, but for the benefit of the community as a whole; that they should try to do what they can to save themselves from danger. I think a great deal can be done if the Safety First movement is brought home to the miner.

I know miners well, not only from my eighteen months association with the Department. I knew them in the greatest test of courage during the War, and I look upon them as the most courageous body of men I have ever met. That is one of the chief dangers; they are almost contemptuous of danger. They are working under dangerous conditions the whole time, and a man who is working face to face with death, as the miner, gets contemptuous of danger and does not exercise that ordinary and proper care which another person might exercise. I will not stress the point but I feel sure that the Secretary of Mines will certainly support me in the remarks I have made, that a great many accidents might be avoided if we could get the miners themselves to exercise due care in carrying on their work. In many cases it is excessive zeal; they will take unnecessary risks in order to get the work going without any delay. It is not a question of blaming them; and I am not disparaging them at all. I am saying this in the interests of the miners and in the hope that those interested in the mining industry may still further impress upon them the need for helping themselves to avoid accidents. I have no criticisms to make on my successor at the Department and I assure him that as regards safety and health in mines he can rely upon me to give him any support he needs. I hope his efforts will meet with great success.


Like most other hon. Members who have preceded me in this House, over a long number of years, I have spent a good deal of time wondering what ultimately would be the subject upon which my first effort would be made, and I shall feel happy to the end of my days in knowing that my entry has been made on a subject of great human importance and that the few words I may be able to contribute to the Debate have been offered in the direction of saving life. I do not rise because I know anything technical regarding the mining industry. I do not rise even because I have miners in my own constituency; but no particular question will foe settled, either in the mining industry or the textile industry or any other industry, if we only hear the views of those who are interested in the particular industry concerned. It is exceedingly good for the miners to-day to hear the views of ordinary working folk in other trades, saying that we feel as they feel about it and that we want every possible ounce of energy that can be given towards making good this ever continuous inroad into the lives of those who are working in the bowels of the earth for our benefit.

As an ordinary coal user I have been perturbed almost from my earliest thinking days by the tremendous industrial handicap under which miners have to labour; they have this added difficulty, the tremendous risk so far as life and limb are concerned. I do not want to be flamboyant about it at all. I merely want to squeeze what I feel into one short sentence. As a coal user I want to feel at the earliest possible moment that there is no blood on the coal. I want to feel that every possible thing which can be done has been done to minimise the great toll of life represented by the figures given to us this afternoon. As a layman I was rather interested in piecing together from the statements which have been made those improvements which have taken place in particular directions in various parts of the country. For instance, we were told by the Mover of this Motion that one colliery management stopped haulage in order to give time for the workmen to get to the foot of the shaft and had thus minimised the risk of accident. We were told that in another case the introduction of a non-corrosive type of winding rope had mini- mised accidents. The Seconder of the Motion informed us of a pit where the experiment of day wages had been made and there again we were told a tremendous difference in the number of accidents had resulted over a particular period of weeks or months.

I suggest that if the best that is now in operation in some pits and in relation to some points, could be put into operation in all pits and in relation to all points—by compulsion if necessary—there would be some probability of arriving at the stage of greatly reducing the accident figures which are before us to-day. I have not the slightest desire to enter into phases of discussion which are closed on this occasion or into which I ought not to enter, but I cannot help feeling that the present ownership arrangements in the mining industry are not the best, to say the least of it, for securing those conditions in regard to the lives of the workers which I am certain we are all desirous of securing. While not taking the opportunity of my maiden contribution to these Debates to tilt at private ownership, I desire nevertheless to say that in any particular industry or service—and personally I like to think of coal mining as a service rather than an industry—where the element of private gain has to enter so largely as it does under the present system, concern for the lives and well-being of the workers obviously cannot be the first consideration. I am anxious and I am sure all those in favour of the Motion are equally anxious to ensure by some means that the well-being of the workers shall actually be the first consideration in this case as in any other case, which we may have under review.

I thank the Mover of this Motion for putting it on the Order Paper, because by so doing he inveigled me into spending a week-end in much closer contact with the mining industry than I would perhaps have been able to achieve otherwise. I had with me two reports which probably have come into the hands of other Members during the last few weeks. These reports impressed me particularly because they refer to the Midlands area with which I have a close connection. One is the report concerning the accident at the Maryhill Colliery, Kidsgrove, North Staffordshire, on 17th January, 1929, and the other is the report on the fire at the Coombs Wood Colliery, Worcestershire, in March last. I was perturbed as an ordinary layman, as an ordinary worker if you like, by looking into the conditions under which these miners were working and were losing their lives. In the case of the Maryhill Colliery three men lost their lives because of an inrush of water from some old pit workings, and I discover in the report of the deputy chief inspector of mines the following paragraph which is to me, alarming: Although the actual cause of the accident is likely to remain unexplained several facts regarding plans of abandoned mines emerged upon which recommendations with a view to avoiding a similar accident in future can be made. That would not have been too bad if it had not been followed up by the statement that, although information as to old pit workings ought to be recorded under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, yet in this case this information was so vague as to have little or no value from the safety point of view. In that case, as well as in the other to which I propose to refer, I feel that as the coal mining industry has been carried on for a very long time there must have been innumerable accidents regarding which the same report had to be made, and in regard to which it might be said that if only something had been commenced earlier, if only something had been done sooner, in all probability lives would have been saved. There must be a tremendous feeling of agony to the relatives of the victims of mine accidents in the thought of that ever present "if." If something had been done perhaps these bread-winners would not have been taken. The Coombs Wood accident was a case of fire. It was caused by a damp sheet taking fire and the result in a very short time was a total of eight deaths. In the evidence at the inquiry and in the report, questions were raised as to the quality of the damp sheet which was the part cause of the accident. According to the deputy chief inspector of mines I learn that: many of the witnesses at the inquiry who were questioned on the matter, agreed that non-inflammable cloth was desirable, but all seemed to be doubtful whether any really satisfactory non-inflammable brattice cloth could be obtained. I would suggest therefore that there is room for investigation and research in this direction. I desire respectfully to submit that if, in some circumstances it had been necessary to discover a non-inflammable cloth for war purposes during the War years, such a cloth would have been discovered and probably if we, as a community, really took to heart the seriousness of this question of the death roll among miners, it would not be found beyond the capacity of science to discover a non-inflammable material for use in such circumstances. But the most disheartening and alarming portion of this second report is the following paragraph: Although as I have said above the accident was due directly to the use of naked lights, and inflammable brattice cloth, in my opinion, there would have been no loss of life but for the unfortunate position in which the damp sheet in the Manor Road was hung. It seems to me lamentable that in a report dealing with an accident in which eight lives were lost, a record should have to be made that the position of a particular thing in that particular mine was responsible for those deaths. It seems to me that the mining industry has been going on long enough to enable sufficient consideration to have been given to organisation, or at least possibilities of organisation in this respect, and for the discovery of the best place in which to hang a damp sheet in a mine. Surely the loss of eight lives was not necessary in order to discover all the circumstances of the case. I cannot enter into technicalities because I do not know them, but I, at least, have tremendous joy in being able on this occasion to raise my voice on this question of the safety of my fellow workers in the mines.

6.0 p.m.

Miss LEE

An hour ago I would have been very surprised if told that I would now be addressing the House but in my judgment some essential facts have been omitted in this Debate and I rise to draw attention to those points. I am not going to harrow the feelings of the House by stressing the human side of the accidents in the pits. We know them. No one has attempted to deny the fact that the rate of accidents is not decreasing, but I was very surprised at the speech made by the late Secretary for Mines during the more positive and constructive side of this Debate, when he said, "What is there that we, as a House of Commons, can do to lessen the acci- dents in the mines?" Then I took note of the main points in his speech. He made reference to the increase of research work being made by the miners' welfare people. It is most admirable, and we all support their efforts. He also made reference to the work of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. We all agree that they are doing their work very admirably, but I would like to call his attention to the fact that His Majesty's Inspector is only a rare and passing visitor to the mines, that he usually arrives in a motor car, is introduced to the main officials in the colliery office at the surface, and that a 'phone message telling of his arrival can be sent from the surface down to the workings underground. Although I am not a safety man myself, I have lived for 25 years with a safety man, so I think I may claim to know a little of how these things work. Therefore, with the best intentions in the world, I think there can be no doubt at all that the stage is rather set in many particulars before His Majesty's Inspector of Mines actually reaches the mine face where the men are working.

But we must not forget that the main burden of inspection does not lie on this occasional visitor, but that it lies on the deputy in the pit, and I believe that if this House is serious in the, sympathy it has expressed with the miners, it must give careful attention to the position of the deputy in the mine. I believe that from this point all our thought and all our plans ought to start. Up to the present moment the deputies in the mines are under-officials, below the managers, and below the under-managers, paid by the company, controlled by the company, and used by the company very often not simply to carry out their work as safety men, but to speed up output and to do all sorts of jobs that do not fall within their specific purpose. No person with any knowledge of the mines will deny the fact that the present position in the coalfields is such that if a deputy refuses to carry on those extra duties, if he is not in many instances a good slave-driver, helping to get the maximum of output, that deputy is dismissed, or at least he is dismissed from his particular job. So let us turn our attention to the problem of how we can ensure that the deputy is really doing his job, and that he is doing it without any fear of in- curring the displeasure of the manager by sending in some report which shows that something is wrong underground. The remedy is very simple. It is to realise that it would be very much better to have the deputy paid at the post office instead of at the pit-head, or at least to have the deputy definitely paid directly by the State, and responsible to the State, in the same way as His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines are responsible. Then we could at least be sure that these men who are entrusted with the duty of looking after safety in the pits were giving their whole attention and their skill disinterestedly, without favour or fear of victimisation.

That is one thing I would like to bring to the notice of the late Secretary for Mines. He must forgive me if I go on to say something about his remarks on safety first in the mines. I agree with him that accidents in the mines are sometimes caused by the negligence of the miners themselves. I have discussed this problem many a time with miners, and they have not attempted to deny it. I have discussed it many a time with deputies, who go round the pits seeking to maintain the working places in safety, and one and all of them have said to me that their chief difficulty is to get the miners themselves to stop working and to take time to ensure that the pit props are put up correctly, that there is no damp accumulating, and that generally the position is safe. The late Secretary for Mines referred to the heroism of the miners. I think, with all due deference, I can say that that is a cowardly way of getting out of the problem, because if the late Secretary for Mines had as intimate a knowledge as I believe he has sincerity in his outlook on this question, he would know that it is no foolhardy, misplaced heroism that makes miners lose their lives. It is simply that the day is working on, that they want to get the maximum amount of money to take home, that they know that even when they are working their absolute limit they are still going to have an inadequate amount. Therefore, when an inspector comes along and says, "You must stop attending to output and attend to your props, and to the conditions in which you are working," the miner turns on the deputy with a curse at times, because he is thinking, not only of his own immediate bodily safety, but of the safety of his home, the health of his home, the wellbeing of his home, that cannot be maintained unless he is taking home an adequate amount at the end of the week.

Therefore, in one respect it is heroism that makes the miner often neglect safety, but it is not heroism in the sense that the hon. and gallant Member opposite meant it, but that rather, in spite of all the difficulties put in his way by the late Conservative Government, the miner is still trying to carry on the impossible task of earning an income that can keep his home going. There is no use in debating a subject like this unless we have some practical solution to offer, and I have a practical remedy for this, as I have already indicated. It is simply to remove some of the economic pressure from the shoulders of the miners, to remove this fear of want, and then the miners will have time to attend to matters of safety; and if, in addition to getting better wages in the pit, we can at a very early date reduce the length of the working day in the pit, we shall be making a very real and great contribution to safety in the pit, and not be merely expressing good intentions that we do not intend to honour. I was very interested in the references to nystagmus. I come up against many such cases, and I can only say that in reference to that disease and many others I hope the outcome of this Debate will be to focus our attention on the need for the whole of our compensation machinery with regard to accidents in mines being overhauled.

There is one other point I want to stress. The House will hear me on this particular point again, so I hope that I may to-day simply arouse preliminary interest, and I already have the assurance of the sympathy of the House in all parts. This suggestion is that pit-head baths, instead of being the exception in the collieries, ought to be legally compulsory at very pit-head. I have visited some splendid pit-head baths and have found there not only provision for the men cleaning themselves and drying their clothes, but first-rate ambulance rooms and first-aid rooms. I want this House to remember that when accidents do occur—and in spite of all our best endeavours there will be accidents in the future as in the past, unfortunately—very often the collier is carried home to a single end or to a butt and ben, carried home very often to a house without water or proper sanitation. The woman of the house is so upset that she can do nothing. The neighbours have to run and boil water, they have to run and get old sheets or towels, or something to clean and bandage the workman. Sometimes, I admit, he is taken straight to hospital, but sometimes he is not, and the conditions in miners' homes, apart altogether from the stress of the woman's anxieties, are not such that men ought to be taken home for first aid. I hope that this House will make the outcome of to-day's Debate a determination to show that we are in earnest in our speeches, that we do not merely want to get cheap credit for being people with nice natures, but that we will accept the five main points I have put forward in my remarks.

I want independent deputies; I want those men paid at the post office, instead of at the pit heads; I want better wages and shorter working hours for the men, which will remove the most acute economic pressure and also remove some of the fatigue of the last hour of the working day, when the maximum amount of accidents occur; I want the compensation machinery overhauled; and I want pithead baths at every colliery. I ask all hon. Members in this Chamber to take the earliest opportunity to make these things not merely vague good intentions, but the law of the land. Then the shadow of the coalfields will not fall so heavily over places such as this, and the conscience of the nation will at least to some extent be satisfied that it is making an honest endeavour to do its duty to what the late Secretary for Mines has described as the bravest body of men in the country.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ben Turner)

All who have listened to this Debate will be convinced of the seriousness of the subject, and it is very evident that it is a non-party question in every sense of the word. I thank my predecessor in office for the very kindly words he used in connection with the work of the Mines Department. It is very desirable that it should be free from any party bias, because life is too sacred to be the plaything of any party. I have lived most of my lifetime in a semi-mining district and in a mining country. Many of my neighbours have been men who have borne the black marks and bruises of the miner's life. I have seen men brought home with broken backs, and I have known men cut to bits by the coal-cutting machine. I have seen scores of miners being brought from a pit after an explosion. Therefore, I may speak with more feeling than is perhaps expected to be aroused in a Secretary for Mines. I, of course, have my feelings aroused every Monday morning, because, as my predecessor knows, a return is given to me of the number of deaths and accidents in the pits, and it really is a heartbreaking record that is presented each week at the Mines Department when you read, as I read every Monday, about 20 miners being killed—that is, outside quarries—and about 100 persons being seriously injured.

When we read in the newspapers about a man being killed at this pit or that, it does not seem to affect us unless we know the person. When we read of a man being hurt at this pit or that and taken to the hospital, it passes us by unless again we know him. But when it comes to an explosion or a big accident, the sympathy of the whole people is aroused, although it may not affect as many persons as the weekly total as presented to my Department. We want the same sympathy to be aroused for all those persons who are killed or injured as is aroused by an explosion which takes perhaps a score or more persons away. The recorded accidents in 1928 were less than in the years before, but I have no such comfort to offer for this year. Up to this year, the numbers were the lowest since 1899, but during the first nine months of this year we have gone back to the old mark of over 1,000 persons killed a year. Then it is certain that there are many unrecorded accidents. All of us know that many accidents do not come into the list of recorded accidents; because of stress of family circumstances, belief in home remedies, and many other causes, a man does not have every blow which he receives in the pit recorded, and many of them are overlooked for the sake of the man's bread and butter.

It is said, and it is true, that the death-rate in our pits is less than in America or in Germany. That may be statistical comfort, but it is no comfort for those who lose their breadwinner, and from that point of view all parties in the State are anxious, if possible, to assist in the reduction of these accidents. I wonder sometimes if the unsettled economic and other conditions in the coalfields have added to the heavy loss of life and limb. I am quite certain that there has been no slackness in the Mines Department in connection with protection, well-being and safety in the mines. But the rate is so terrible that we cannot afford to be complacent about it, and every effort must be made to bring about a great reduction.

With regard to inspection, the duties of inspectoral are to enquire into all accidents, to make investigations about fatal and non-fatal accidents, and to try and find out the causes of accidents. Perhaps their most important work—which is quite a proper work—is in advising and discussing safe practices with the object of securing the best safety methods. Although I have had only five months experience, I am certain that the impartial and independent position of the inspectors and their highly technical training has been of great service to the mining population and to the industry.

The present strength of the inspectorate is 106, including eight special inspectors who devote the whole of their time to the inspection of pit ponies. In 1924, my predecessor enlarged the number of divisions from six to eight, and 12 new inspectors were appointed. This was done because of the question which we are discussing now. The number of mines in 1922 was 2,911, and the employés 1,162,754. Last year the number of mines was 2,539, and the number of employés 951,000. Therefore, there has been a considerable reduction in mines and in persons employed in mines, but the inspection of mines has increased. In 1922 the number of inspections was 18,941; last year it was 21,748. Every coal mine which was working last year was inspected at least once, and many were inspected more than once, while several mines were inspected throughout every part. A full inspection of a mine takes a considerable time. My predecessor and I have been joy-riding in coal pits in our terms of office; of course, there is no joy riding in pits, for it is all hard, dark, dangerous, dismal, dull work and an inspector going through a pit to examine it com- pletely must take a very considerable time. The average number of inspections of every mine per year was 7.2 underground and 1.5 on the surface.

Some people might say that the inspectors themselves have certain views, and that in addition to that there are not enough of them. I am certain that the new electrical development in mines calls for more skilled electrical inspectors. The inspectors have some knowledge of electrical work, but they are not specialised, and the specialist staff needs enlargement. In 1908, when the use of this new agency was brought into mines, the Department appointed a highly qualified specialist in this section, but since 1912, when 500,000 horse power was being applied to pits, the amount has grown until it is now 1,750,000 horse power. There is great risk in the use of this new agency and it requires attention. The chief cause of accidents from the use of electricity and of much inefficiency in the use of electrical power below ground, is that the standard of maintenance of the apparatus is not sufficiently high. This arises from several causes, including a lack of knowledge. It is my pleasure to say that to relieve the situation I am going to appoint additional electrical inspectors of mines, whose duties will largely be those of actual inspection below ground, as it is believed that such inspections, in addition to their value as a check against misadventure, would have a considerable value in education among managements and electricians, and in time do a great deal to reassure the miners.

Commodore KING

How many is the hon. Gentleman going to appoint?


I hope four, including one at the head office.


What is the use of four?


Four is four times more than one, and it is a good addition for the present. A point was raised by some of my friends with regard to the 1911 Act. There are 100 pages of general regulations, and 127 sections of the Act, and the question has arisen many times whether there should not be a revision of the Act. There have been, and are now, a considerable number of committees under the Goal Mines Act who are reporting on the amendments and extensions which are desirable, and I do not think that it would be possible for a single committee to examine all the sections covered by the 1911 Act and the regulations. It has been sectionalised into certain specialist committees on which some hon. Members of this House are members. One committee is dealing with qualifications of colliery officials, another is dealing with lamps, and another is dealing with plans. The hon. Gentleman who spoke on the question of keeping plans of abandoned mines can be assured that every day that matter is receiving attention from the departmental officials. Anyone who cares to go into the cellar of the Mines Department will see a tremendous number of these plans, and they are kept as far as possible up-to-date. You cannot, however, go back to the days of Adam for every plan, and we are doing our best to bring them up to the mark. Another question was raised by an hon. Member about wire ropes. That is a very good suggestion, but again we have a committee specially dealing with it as a question which requires all possible care.

The difficulties of revising legislation are twofold. In the first place the various sections of the industry are all too pre-occupied with labour and economic conditions to give it the detailed attention and constructive criticism which the Department needs. In the second, the Government are so fully occupied with prospective legislation in this and other matters, that the delay, although it may be condemned, is after all impossible at present to overcome. In connection with the code of regulations for first aid and ambulance work, I have a notion that the question has been held up, not by the Mines Department, but by a procedure which seems to be not as speedy as it should be. In the regulations which we have been trying to get for ambulance work and first aid, the practice has been to send the draft regulations to the Mining Association; then it comes back from the Association to the Department and then it is sent to the Miners' Federation. This policy has meant inordinate delay and I do not see any earthly reason why we should not short circuit it, and why the two sides of the industry should not meet together and argue out the best regulations, instead of passing the draft backwards and forwards and losing many months of time. I know that many owners and men have been worried with economic and other difficulties, but, it may be asked, why should the Department wait for one side or the other. I think the best plan is to try to arrive at general agreement rather than impose regulations. I would rather wait a little longer, though with much regret, than thrust regulations down the throats of the men and the owners.

Many accidents could be avoided with more care and expenditure, care on the part of the management, the officials and the men, and expenditure on the part of the owners. In the reports presented to me weekly I find that here and there blame is cast upon workmen or deputies. In some of the cases the men who can tell the truth are dead, and the real story cannot be learned by any process of scientific deduction. I do not like to find always that the dead workman has the blame for his death cast upon him, but that should not, of course, blind us to the fact that owing to workmen being inured to accidents, acclimatised to them, the care which ought to be displayed is not always used. There is also another point, which was referred to by an hon. Lady, namely, that the management have a costly infatuation for the god of output, which is responsible for many accidents in our mines. There has been a complaint, which I have heard for the past 45 years, that when His Majesty's inspectors visit a mine or a factory the management know about it, and inspectors are suspected of having informed pits beforehand of their coming visit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I do not believe it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not believe it.


But we know it.


It is the easiest thing in the world, either in a pit or in a factory, for news of an inspector's visit to get round. Within two minutes of the inspector entering the mill yard or the pit yard the news is switched round. But the inspectors do not notify the management when they are going to visit the pit, unless there has been some previous incident there which causes them to have to notify the inspector.

Miss LEE

The statement was that, although the management did not know the inspector was coming, there are telephones at the pithead, and that before the inspector was out of the office the news was right round the whole of the underground workings, and there was ample time to get things put right.


I know that many a time the inspector must go to the office to look at the books and to check records, but I have a great faith in the integrity of our inspectors and of our Civil Service in general, and I have a bigger faith in the independence of our workpeople, who dare speak to an inspector, who dare talk back to a manager and show some independence. If we take the view that the workers in the pits and the mills are craven spirits, we are not doing justice to our own people, and I have too great faith in their character to support that suggestion.


On a point of Order. If the miners dare to speak—


The hon. Member is not rising to a point of Order.


It is a point of correction.


Undoubtedly, there are in mines as in mills undermen who are little overmen, who will do mean things, but I think the Paul Prys and the Uriah Heeps are fading away. I hope a workman will not be afraid to write to the Inspector or the Department. The names of such workmen will not be divulged. I would prefer, however, that they should send their complaints through their trade unions, because that would be more orderly, and probably the complaints would be better checked and be more substantial. But our inspectors do not go about seeking whom to prosecute. Their object is to prevent accidents, and to frame the best and safest methods. Accidents which may be loosely termed non-preventible may continue, however, longer than many of us can look forward to. Accidents arising from falls of roof and from haulage are the heaviest in each week's return, and this has caused the Department, through the Mines Research Board, to decide to appoint a highly qualified specialist to organise and superintend further experimental work on these subjects, and, generally, to assist the Safety in Mines Research Board in regard to these important mechanical problems in coal mines.

I think my predecessor raised a question as regards propaganda. The De- partment is certainly doing very much propaganda work, and I hope my hon. Friends and the miners will take advantage of the red books which are now being issued to promote safety, because it cannot interfere with the independence of a man to receive guidance as to how to conduct himself in his mining work.


I asked the hon. Member a day or two ago what action he had taken with regard to riders in pits, and he told me that if I would give him information he would cause inquiry to be made. May I say, as bearing upon the question which he has just raised, that I cannot tell him where the pit is. The information I received was anonymous, and it was anonymous because the man who wrote it dare not allow his name to be known on account of the terrorism that exists in the pits; but I am assured by men that there are cases where miners are compelled to ride on tubs travelling at 12 miles an hour, whereas the law says the speed is not to be more than three.


One of the illnesses that affect the coalfield is that known as nystagmus.


Does that affect the Department as well?


This is too serious a subject for a comic artist. I have seen a large number of cases in my own area. Lamp makers have been trying for a long time to get the right kind of light for both safety and eyesight. There are many electrical devices both for roadways and for the use of the miner. It is a subject for the experts, and in recent months I have seen many sorts of lamps in British collieries as well as at our testing station at Sheffield. I was told by a firm on Saturday night that they have found the ideal lamp, and other firms are making similar claims, and I hope that science will succeed in helping to produce a lamp giving a safe light with a bigger candle power, which will preserve the miner's eyesight and help to make his production better.

The question of steel props and steel girders has been raised to-night, and the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. T. Smith) dealt with that fairly fully. It is said in connection with this matter that owing to the high cost of steel props they must be recovered and used over again, and in some cases that makes their use too costly. Further, in the mining world itself, both among coal managers and coal-miners, there is a very stout objection to steel props. Science must tell us what is to be done and whether steel props or steel girders are the better. I can visualise steel girders being used in a coal pit which I went down the other day. I walked for a distance of 1,380 yards along a road where it was fairly easy to go; it was better walking there than crossing Parliament Square. But I can also imagine other pits where there are not such good roads, where the way is narrower, and where it will be much more difficult to introduce steel girders. It may be possible to use them in one place and not in the other. The inspectors of the Department are looking into this matter very fully. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wallhead) raised the question about wheelless tubs. Am I right in talking about wheelless tubs?


No, it was the riders of whom I spoke.


Since the accident in Somerset there has been a general improvement in certain collieries in Somerset, and prohibitions as regards the "guss" have been put into operation. A Departmental Committee in 1927–28 inquired into this matter. Here again I have to be guided by experts. Then there is the question of the pit cage gates in Somerset mines. An inquiry has been made into that question. The inspectors of mines are doing their best to see that the locking device for the cage gates is made as secure as possible. I have seen a dozen interlocking or locking devices which do not seem to me as a layman to be as protective as they ought to be, but the Department is doing its best in this matter. I have been told in the course of this Debate that work people have not the same right of prosecution—they never had—as owners, managers and inspectors. I am advised by the legal department that this view is based on a misunderstanding of the law. The worker or any other person has the right to prosecute a colliery owner, manager or official for any offence against the Coal Mines Act or Regulations committed by the person who is charged. That is legal advice and there is no limitation there. [Interruption.] I am giving the advice of those above me, and therefore I am quite certain in saying that there is a right to prosecute a person who commits an offence.


Will the hon. Gentleman say under what section of the Act?


Section 102 paragraph 5.


Is an aggrieved person in a position to prosecute the deputy or the official or the colliery company as such?


The prosecution has to be against the owner, the manager or under-manager of a mine. That is the legal wording of the Clause. There have been many attempts to deal with mechanical devices and the use of certain things has been made compulsory, including detaching hooks, overspeed preventers, and drags and stop blocks on inclines; and the Mines Department does its best to add to the list of these things.

In conclusion I would like to say that all the questions which have been put to me shall have careful examination so as to see how best to promote safety and comfort in the pits. No one can deny that we lose too many of our best folks in the mines, and far too many are lamed and injured. Miners are a brave body of people, and they never fail the test in times of disaster. I am thankful that they get us our coal. In my prayers each night I pray for their safety and well being, their happiness, and their comfort, for they add to our happiness and comfort by their labours. For one third of their lives they are hid away from sunshine and free air, amidst danger and dirt, and often ruled by economic considerations and circumstances. I do not want to injure the trade, the owners, the managements or the officials, but I do want those who face the greatest danger to have the utmost protection.

I sometimes wonder if it is possible for owners and men to work more in consultation with each other. I sometimes wonder why the owners and men's associations do not meet together more frequently to consider what are the best safety plans, what is the best way to economic restoration, and what is the wisest way to win that co-operation in all things that may be good for the industry. Joint industrial councils in other industries in these days of attempts of mutuality meet together free from past tradition and trammels and hammer out problems of well being and safety, work out plans for production and progress, and I would suggest to the two sides in the coal industry that they should use all their co-operative good will to arrive at the changes that will make coal mines more safe from accidents than they are to-day.

Miss LEE

Will the Secretary for Mines reply to my suggestion about the deputies?


That question is having careful attention.


This subject has been dealt with by previous speakers very fully, and I approach it with the greatest diffidence. I hope I shall not transgress the Rules and Regulations of the House, but, if I do so, I shall greatly appreciate being corrected. I have had 25 years' experience as a miner, and, in addition to that, I represent a mining constituency in this House. I have noticed since I have been a Member of this House that when certain observations are made by new Members from these benches the retort is sometimes made, "They emanate from a new Member." I would remind hon. Members opposite that we claim to be familiar with many of the subjects which are discussed in this House, and we are very much concerned about the enormous loss of life which takes place every year in the mines of this country. According to the statistics of the Mines Department, the number of young persons under 16 years of age who met with accidents in mines in 1927 in South Wales was 1,392. In the year 1928 the number was 1,287. For the whole of Great Britain the number of young men under 16 years of age who were injured in 1927 was 7,635 and in the year 1928 7,216. The number of young persons, 16 years of age and under 18 years of age, who met with accidents in South Wales was 2,211 in 1927 and 2,254 in 1928.

When we come to examine the number of persons of that age employed in pits we find that in the year 1927 there were over 11,000 young men rendered idle as a result of accidents in mines. In 1928, which is the last year for which the statistics are available, over 10,464 persons were injured in the mines, and in my opinion that is a terrible price to pay for the production of coal. In discussing this problem regard must be paid to the fact that the method of producing coal in the mines of this country has been completely revolutionised during the last 10 years. We have had and we are still having an increasingly large amount of machinery introduced in the mines, including coal-cutting machines.

While it is true that explosions in coal mines are not as frequent as they have been in the past, those of us who live near the place where the last explosion occurred have been daily reminded of that catastrophe, and as a result of our inquiries we contend that stowing should be made compulsory in every mine in Great Britain. At the present time the management of the mines are under no legal obligation to fill up disused roads. In my opinion those roads constitute a potential reservoir for gas and no one can deny that at any moment there is a possibility that the gas will leak out. May I also call attention to the subsidences which are constantly taking place in mining villages and which destroy the homes of the miners?

I want to remind the House that the escape of gas in mines is no theory of mine. Before coming to this House as a miners' agent I have had to descend the pit at 2.30 in the morning on account of a constant outburst of gas. As a result of changes in the ventilation of the mines very often that gas has been removed, although nobody could say what was the actual cause of the escape of the gas. In many cases not even the colliery agent can account for the constant outbursts of gas which completely block the ventilation sometimes to the extent of 100 yards of the main roadway. The miners claim that the only effective safeguard is the absolute stowing of disused roads. While no hon. Members will be disposed to say that rather than have regard to the safety of the miners these roads should not be stowed we claim that the necessity for this being done is an important factor and these vacant spaces should be completely filled with rubbish. Hon. Members are well aware that instead of the rubbish being retained in the pit it is taken out and thus constitutes a disgrace to many mining villages where you often find large heaps as high as mountains. We contend that the rubbish should be retained in the pits. It is sent to the surface in many instances because that course is cheaper and more economical.

7.0 p.m.

Coal-cutting machinery has already been referred to. May I point out that in many instances there are large conveyor faces extending as much as 180 yards? I contend that it is the duty of the Mines Department to see that large lengths of conveyor faces should not exist and that mineowners should insert an additional road in order to guarantee that the men's lives shall be protected when they are producing one of the most valuable commodities used in this country. Reference has been made to the introduction of steel supports, and there appears to be some confusion between the miners' officials and the mineowners in regard to steel props and steel arches. Without hesitation I assert that there is no opposition in a single pit in Great Britain to the erection of steel arches. They are used to maintain the roads, and steel supports are in actual daily use by men employed in the cutting of coal. Some persons have referred to the steel supports as being steel rails, and it is true to say that in our part of the mining area they are absolutely identical with the steel rails over which the ordinary locomotive travels. That is the steel support which is used in almost every colliery in one of the largest combines in South Wales. I agree with the speaker who suggested that, in view of there being some opposition to the introduction of the steel supports, there should be conferences held which could be attended by the men themselves, by mining managers, and, also, by representatives of the mines inspectorate. While I realise the importance of the attitude taken up by the mineowners in introducing these steel props, I am not convinced, as a practical miner, that they can be introduced regardless of the nature of the roof and of the bottom. There are some measures developed in South Wales where the steel prop will be an advantage, and there are other measures developed there where the steel prop would be a disadvantage to the men from a safety point of view.

I also hold the opinion that there should be an increase in the number of what we call workmen's inspectors. By that, I mean, persons entirely distinct from the workmen's examiners referred to in the Collieries Act, 1911. We also urge that the mines inspector, when called upon to examine a particular mine, should be placed under a legal obligation to submit his report to the men on whose behalf he has paid a visit to the particular mine. While it is not bearing directly on this point, we feel, too, that a man who is 60 years of age should be given a pension which would be an incentive to him to leave the mines and allow the younger men to undertake the arduous task of mining coal.

May I refer for a moment to the observations of the late Secretary for Mines? I am not disposed to question his sincerity, but I submit that there is no comparison between the principles of safety first in travelling in the streets of London and the principles of safety first in the mines of this country. There is, too, no comparison whatever between the eight-hours working day that existed in this country before we had the seven-hours day, and the eight-hours day that is now being worked. As a result of the introduction of the seven-hours working day, the process of producing coal was speeded up. Our men are still working at that speeded-up rate, although at the present moment they are compelled to work eight hours. The number of accidents cannot be reduced by the methods employed by the late Government, namely, an increase in the working day and a decrease in the wages paid. I come from a division where since 1920 no other question has agitated the minds of the coalowners than to decrease wages, notwithstanding the increase in the number of hours worked. One fact which can be borne out by statistics, namely, the large number of accidents that occur at the end of the shift, warrants us in assuming that the increase in accidents is largely due to the speeding-up process, consequent on the increased working day. The men are compelled to work hard and work longer hours in order to receive a wage that will permit them to make at least an attempt to live a decent life. The safety of our mines and a decrease in the number of accidents cannot be obtained by an increase in the number of hours or by a decrease in the wages paid to our people.


I would like, first of all, to compliment the hon. Member who has just sat down on the contribution he has made to the Debate this afternoon, and I feel sure I am echoing the sentiments of every Member of this House when I say that we hope to hear him many times in the days to come. I want to speak on this subject for a short time and not from the humanitarian point of view of the question. If I had to do that I could do it with as much effect as any Member of this House as it has been my unfortunate lot to have come in contact with probably more mines explosions than any Member of this House, not only in rescue work and investigations, but also in attending several inquiries on behalf of the Federation in other counties than my own. At present in my own coalfield there are 14 men lying behind a sealed stopping in Whitehaven as the result of a colliery explosion. I want to direct my remarks to the reply we have received from the Secretary for Mines. I heard it with somewhat mixed feelings. Some parts of his speech made me feel rather pleased; other parts were rather a disappointment. We have had an intimation to-night that he is about to appoint four additional inspectors for electrical purposes alone. That is a step in the right direction. He proves by the figures he quoted that electricity is one of the developing agencies so far as mining life is concerned. Up to the present it has not got the attention that it ought to have from the Department of Mines, and I was very glad to know that the Secretary for Mines was directing his energies in that way.

In regard to the statement that he made about inspectors of mines, I do not think anybody is going to question that they are impartial and independent. So far as the inspectors of mines with whom I have had to deal in my district are concerned, I have always found them ever ready to attend any pit or any mine when I have requested them to do so. The hon. Lady who represents North Lanark (Miss Lee) put a problem to the Secretary for Mines which is difficult to deal with. An inspector might come to a mine without intimating to the colliery company that he was coming—and it is a difficult thing to convince the miner that he does not do so, though I assume that he does not—but generally and invariably when he arrives at the colliery, the first place he makes for is the colliery office. I wonder if he could not find out the colliery workmen's representative to find out certain things which it might be worth his while to inspect while he is there. It is possible that the colliery manager may telephone down the mine to the under officials to tell them that the inspector has come, and it is wonderful what a transformation can take place in a coal mine in a short time. How to stop that happening is a problem, but it is worth considering. When the mines inspector arrives at a mine, could it not be made one of the conditions that he should immediately get into touch with the workmen's representative and that the workmen's representative should have the right to accompany him in his inspection of the particular part of the mine he is going to inspect?

The Minister gave us the number of inspectors appointed and the number of inspections made, but, when you compare the number of inspections with the number of pits and remember the wide area that some of these pits cover in their underground workings, it will be seen that, notwithstanding the large number of inspectors appointed, they are still inadequate to meet the requirements of a full inspection of the mines of the country. The Minister talks about some of the pits not being inspected in a day. I was a workman's inspector for a while and could not inspect some of the pits in the Cumberland coalfield within three days. I do not know one inspector who put in a day's inspection. He makes a flying visit, puts in an hour or two below ground and the remainder of the time he spends in the office, looking at books and so on. The Secretary for Mines might direct his attention to increasing the number of inspectors appointed and also increasing them in the direction indicated by the last speaker, that is, by appointing what one would call workman's inspectors, inspectors who would be living in and about the mines in their particular locality and who could inspect the mines by themselves and accompany. His Majesty's Inspector of Mines when he visits the mines. These are all points of vital importance to the mining community. I believe that the House is sincere in its sympathy and I endorse the request made by the hon. Lady to give practical effect to that sympathy. Let us, first, have some more workmens' representatives.

I was disappointed when the Secretary for Mines told us that nothing could be done so far as mining legislation was concerned for safety in mines. We are satisfied that the time is now overdue for an overhauling of the Mines (Regulations) Act. The regulations to-day do not meet the conditions of the mining world as we know it to-day. The Minister told us that there were committees sitting reporting on safeguards and a variety of other subjects. These committees have been sitting for a considerable time. Surely, a good many of them must have reported by now, and, in the case of those who have not reported, their reports ought to be speeded up.


May I just say that many of them have reported partly, and their recommendations have been adopted by the inspectorate and by the Department?


That helps me in my contention, because it shows that there is all the more need for the carrying out of my suggestion, and I think the Minister would be within his rights in setting up a Committee, not to investigate what these Committees have been investigating, but to consider ways and means for including desirable reforms in a Bill to be presented to Parliament. As to the other causes of delay, we are all cognisant of them, but, even so, I think it should be possible for the necessary Bill to be passed through this House.

Another point that the Minister made was that, when these regulations were about to be made, they were sent to the Mining Association and then back to the Department, and were then sent to the Miners' Federation and again back to the Department. I quite agree with that, because I have had something to do with some of these regulations when they have come to the Miners' Federation. The Minister made a very good suggestion, but I can assure him without hesitation that the Miners' Federation would not decline to meet in joint conference the representatives of the coalowners with a view to framing these regulations. I want to say emphatically that any delay in that regard is on the other side. It seems strange to the Minister that we cannot get the same harmony and good will in the mining industry that exists in other industries as regards the holding of these joint conferences, but to-day we have had an example of what occurs. If I have read the evening Press aright, the Government have made an attempt to bring the two sides together on vital and important questions, but one of the sides has absolutely declined, as far as I am able to gather; and this is the very attitude that they take upon every other question connected with mining. So long as that spirit exists, there is no hope of harmony and good will in this vital industry. I entirely agree with the Secretary for Mines that it would be a good thing for everyone concerned in the mining industry if that good will could be brought about between the two sections.

With regard to another statement made by the Minister, as to men not daring to complain, I want to tell him, speaking for my own district alone, that I do not find many men in my district who are afraid to complain either to the manager or the inspector, or even to the owner. But there is this about it, that, owing to the economic conditions in the mines to-day, the man that dares to be a Daniel in these matters very often finds himself wending his way either to the Employment Exchange or to the Poor Law guardians. We want more freedom in regard to men being allowed to express themselves without this fear hanging over them. It may be said that their trade union can protect them, but, supposing that the trade union is bold enough to call a strike to protect these men, the whole population in the locality holds up its hands in holy horror at this attempt to force the manager to restart a man who has dared to complain.

I believe I am right in saying that a miner can write anonymously to the Inspector of Mines, and that, if the Inspector gets an anonymous letter, he must attend to it. But even if a man does that, or if he goes to his trade union, he has to give the Inspector an indication of where he should inspect, and nine times out of 10 that enables the management to put their hands immediately on the man who has made the complaint. If a man is complaining about a certain area in a certain district, or about want of timber in a certain district, or about other things in a certain district, he must name the district, and, consequently, it is quite a simple matter to trace the complaint to the individual place in that district, and even to the individual man who is working in the district. We are glad to know that the Minister is considering the question of State-paid deputies and one or two of the other points that were raised. I listened to his peroration with rapt attention, and was very pleased to hear it, and I feel that it was a sincere expression of his sympathy and desire to do something to ensure safety for the miners; but I want him to be courageous and bold in taking steps and in using his Department with all the power and force that he can during his term of office, for the purpose of doing his best to modify to a considerable extent the accidents that are now occurring in the mines of this country.


The question of accidents in the mining industry is one of the most important that we have to consider. In confirmation of what has already been said, I would point out that, while the number of employés in the mining industry is going down, the; proportion of deaths and accidents is increasing. In the year 1925, there were 1,102,442 people employed in the mines, and the number of people who were laid off work for three days or more owing to injuries was 179,602. But mark the contrast between that and the year named by the Mover of the Motion to-night. In 1927, the number of employés had gone down to 1,023,885, while the number of accidents in the industry remained almost stationary, being 175,028, or only 4,574 less than in 1925. There is, therefore, an actual increase in the proportion of accidents to numbers employed. Taking the numbers actually killed, the figures are 1,072 in 1925, and 1,040 in 1927; so that, while there were 78,557 fewer people employed in the industry in 1927 than in 1925, the number killed was only 32 less. It is most essential that the Secretary for Mines should set to work to deal with this matter as quickly as he possibly can.

I should like to make one correction. It is not that the Minister does not know the actual facts of the position, but it is simply owing to the way in which those facts may have been put to the Minister, and, consequently, put by him to the House. With regard to prosecutions under the Mines Act, it is not the fact that workmen in the mines can bring prosecutions against the management of any colliery company. They cannot do it; it can only be done, according to the Mines Act itself, through an inspector. If you have a case against the management, you can report it to the inspector, and he can bring a prosecution, but no workmen can bring a prosecution against a colliery company or its officials. On the other hand, it is provided m the Act that a colliery manager can bring prosecutions against workpeople. The Minister's statement on this point will certainly be reported in the newspapers, and it ought not to go out in the form in which he put it to the House.

I am very pleased to hear that the Minister is giving consideration to the appointment of inspectors, and is going to give a lead in that direction. I should like to point out to him that we have been arguing to my knowledge for 40 years for the appointment of a number of inspectors from among practical men working in the mining industry itself. At the present moment only certificated people can be appointed inspectors, and I hope that the Minister will remove that barrier as soon as he can, so that practical men may be appointed. I do not suggest that they should all be practical men. That cannot be, because there must be some men with the qualifications indicated by certification. But it is not necessary that 50 per cent. of those who are appointed inspectors of mines should bold first or second-class certificates; we want a majority of practical men with a knowledge of mining, who know what accidents happen and what causes them, and whose work it would be to investigate the mines by inspection day by day, which cannot be done by the inspectorate as it exists to-day. That would reduce the number of accidents, and assist in tracing their causes.

I happened to be a member of a Commission, which included representatives of the employers, appointed to investigate the question of timber in the industry during the War. We investigated the use of timber, concrete, all kinds of pipes inlaid with concrete, and so on, but the decision we arrived at from practical experience was that timber was the most useful thing that could be used. In the main roads it is possible to use steel, but, as a practical man who has been negotiating for some 40 years between owners and workmen, I know that timber is essential and is better than steel so far as the coal face is concerned.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in coal mines, and is of opinion that every possible step should be taken without delay to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry.