HC Deb 03 December 1930 vol 245 cc2241-97

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 urges the Government to take every possible measure for the protection of those engaged in this dangerous industry. This question has been discussed in this House almost every year for the past few years, and one wonders whether there is much more to be said on the subject, but at least there is something to be said on the question that the number of deaths and accidents is on the increase every year, and not on the decrease as we hoped they would be. My hon. Friend the Member for the Ince Division of Lancashire (Mr. G. Macdonald) went very fully into this matter of accidents in mines, and I do not intend to go into the large number of figures which my hon. Friend gave last year. I want to mention certain figures with reference to the increase in deaths and accidents during 1929, and the 10 months up to now in 1930. His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, in his report of 1929, says quite plainly that 985 persons working underground were killed, and this shows an increase of 100 persons over the previous year. The number of persons injured underground, as shown by the Inspector's report, was 162,230, or an increase of 13,098 on the previous year.

I put a question to the Secretary for Mines the other day asking for the number of deaths which have taken place up to date in 1930 in order that I might hate some idea as to whether the number of deaths for 1930 was on the increase. The Minister, in his reply, stated that over 800 deaths had occurred in the mines during the 10 months of 1930. Therefore, in the present year we do not seem to be making any progress in the direction of reducing the large number of deaths and non-fatal accidents in the mines of this country. A large number of committees, I understand, are set up in different Departments in connection with the mining industry, and they have been inquiring into this matter for some years past, but, unfortunately, as I have said, not much progress has been made; in fact, we seem to be going back instead of forward.

In the report of His Majesty's Inspector of Mines for 1929, reference is also made to the surface workers. There were 12,651 persons injured on the surface, or an increase of 837 as compared with the previous year. I am not going to suggest that the present Secretary for Mines is responsible for this increase, but I hope that at least he will inquire very seriously into this question of deaths and accidents, and see whether the methods that have been adopted for many years past are not the wrong methods altogether, and whether some new methods ought not to be put into operation with a view to decreasing this terrible tragedy that we have in the mines from day to day and from year to year.

One wonders whether the amalgamations of collieries, the mergers, and the rationalisation that have been taking place during the last few years have had anything to do with the increase in the number of accidents. One knows that where amalgamations take place, whether of collieries or in any other industry, there must always be hurry on the part of the management with the men in those industries, and, in view of the amalgamations of collieries, the rationalisation, the putting in of coal cut ting machines and conveyers, and the application of electricity, one wonders whether these operations have not had something to do with the increase in the numbers of deaths and accidents during the past two or three years. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary for Mines will look very carefully into that question.

There is one class of deaths and accidents to which I want to refer very particularly, because, to my mind, it is a tragedy to see the large number of boys in our mines who are killed and injured from year to year. We have in the mines of this country 29;000 boys under 16 years of age working underground. The Chief Inspector of Mines gives certain figures, in his report for 1929, in relation to the number of persons killed and injured per 1,000 persons employed, and he classifies them as follows. Last year the number of boys under 16 years of age who were killed or injured was at the rate of 251 per 1,000 boys employed. In the case of boys between 16 and 18 years of age the rate was 230 per 1,000 employed, and, of those between 18 and 20, 223 per 1,000 employed. In the case of those aged 20 and over the rate was 209 per 1,000 employed; while for all ages it was 212 per 1,000 employed. I think that everyone in this House will agree that, if there is a tragedy in this country, it is the large number of these boys under 16 who are killed or injured from week to week in the mines. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says that we ought to keep them at school and save them. At any rate we in this country ought to be, if not better, at least as good as they are in Germany, where it is illegal for any boy under 16 years of age to be employed in the mines.

I hope that the Secretary for Mines will make a note of these facts. I know that legislation would be necessary, but is it not time that the by-laws which are made by the Mines Department were consolidated into one Mines Act? We have not had a great Mines Act in this country since 1911. I hope that the Minister will consider very seriously the question of these boys. In my opinion, they ought not to go down the mine when they are under 16 years of age, and at least we ought to try to protect the lives of such boys. I know that the Secretary for Mines would like, if he could, to do something in the direction of preventing the terrible waste of life which is entailed by this inhuman system of keeping boys underground.

4.0 p.m.

I want to give a few general figures to show what has been gradually taking place in the mines of this country during the past eight and a-half years, from 1920 to 1929. It must be borne in mind that for seven months in the year 1926 the mines of this country were not working, and, in fact, some of our men with whom I have spoken from time to time say that the only time when there are no deaths or accidents is when they are having a play-day. During these eight and a-half years, the numbers of persons killed, and the nature of the accidents, were as follow: Falls of ground, from roof or coal face, 5,193; haulage, 2,268; surface accidents, 1,003; shaft accidents, 406; explosions of firedamp or coal dust, 389; miscellaneous accidents, 1,181. Thus, in eight and a-half years, some 10,440 persons were killed in the mines of this country, or an average of well over 1,000 per year. The numbers injured during that time were: From falls of roof or coal face, 543,826; miscellaneous accidents, 515,691; haulage accidents, 387,993; surface accidents, 130,267; shaft accidents, 8,232; explosions of fire-damp, 1,321. In these eight and a-half years, therefore, 1,587,330 persons were injured in the mines, apart from the 10,440 who were killed. Something ought to be done by the Mines Department. I do not want to weary the House by reading the speech of the Chief Inspector of Mines at Newcastle, where my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines was instrumental in arranging the Conference on Safety in Mines last. Saturday, at which, unfortunately, owing to pressure of business, he was not able himself to be present. There were 3,000 people—miners, firemen, colliery managers, colliery owners—all meeting together for the purpose of discussing how they could best prevent this great loss of life that is taking place from time to time in the mines of this country. His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, in his remarks, mentioned that something might be done if they could adopt steel supports instead of wooden supports. He said that he knew he was standing in thin ice, but he concluded his remarks by suggesting a greater use of steel and more attention to supports and made other suggestions. Many people at that conference gave their opinion as to how they thought deaths and accidents could be reduced. Therefore, I do not intend to trouble the House this time with that question. His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines, however, in his annual report says:

It is quite true that many accidents occur due to the contravention of the law, to carelessness, and to persons taking foolish and unnecessary risks. But whilst these causes of accidents may, to some extent, be met by stricter discipline"— He used the same words on Saturday, apart from his report, but he said that he did not mean military discipline— and better education, there is no use disguising the fact that mining is work that cannot be carried on without taking risks. I think that anyone who knows anything about the mining industry knows that quite well. I have attended hundreds of inquests, unfortunately, on men who have been killed in the mines in the district that I used to look after as a miners' agent, and the coroners generally used to remark that the men were too courageous and perhaps took much risk. But when it is remembered that miners are accustomed to danger all their lives, sometimes when they think that they are safe, they may go a little too far, and take a little too much risk. It is not only the miners. The management also take risks many times. When it is remembered that the miner, speaking generally, is paid by results, he wants to get as much coal out as possible, so that he can take a reasonable wage home at the week-end to his wife and family. I am one of those who have always been opposed to piece rates altogether. Pay a man a day's wage for a reasonable day's work. I have seen many of these men bullied because they were not able to get as great an amount of coal as the management thought they ought. I hope that the management, and the men as well, will take as much care as possible in trying to prevent these accidents. There was an explosion at Blantyre some little time ago. I have a cutting here from one of the newspapers giving a report of the inquest. The question was asked: 'Were you surprised when the explosion took place? '—' No, we were all expecting it for months past, because of the bad ventilation and the presence of gas.' This was the remarkable statement made by John Smith, a miner, at the resumed inquiry at Glasgow to-day into the cause and circumstances of the Blantyre pit disaster. Six men lost their lives in the disaster And nine others were injured. In the explosion at a colliery in Lancashire, the Lyme Colliery, Haydock, 13 miners were killed and 10 injured. After the inquiry, criticism was made in respect of the supervision of the mine. The Inspector states: I feel confident that if visits to the working by superior officials during the afternoon and night shifts had been the custom in this mine, better discipline would have been maintained, and the probability of detection would have kept the fireman from disobeying the very definite orders that he had received. The report mentions that the afternoon and night shifts were supervised normally only by the fireman or firemen who happened to be on duty, and no official superior to a fireman visited the working during these shifts. The Inspector recommended supervision by a higher official as being necessary. I have seen firemen at work, and there is not the least doubt that they have a great amount of work to do. They are not to blame, in my opinion, for many of these accidents or negligences. They are pushed along by their superior officers, and if they do not hurry and scurry the men, and even hurry and scurry themselves, they have got to go sooner or later. They have to look at the economic position, and many times they become a little negligent when they ought to be more efficient. If we had more workmen inspectors paid by the State and not by the colliery owners, these men would be able to supervise the workings, and give more efficient service than they do at the present time. In conclusion, may I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to look into this matter very carefully, particularly the case of the boys, and consider the tragedy of the parents when these deaths are happening from day to day. I would ask the hon. Member to consider this matter seriously, and, in the hope that he will do so, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.


I beg to second the Motion.

One thing that has appealed to me while I have been listening to my hon. Friend has been the attention given by the House to a Member who speaks with sincerity and modesty. The Mover of this Motion has brought forward these particular qualifications. He speaks with conviction on a subject with which he has been in close touch all his life. That conviction gives him sincerity, and, therefore, he is able to put before the House a picture as vivid as anyone could desire. This subject comes up constantly before the Members of this House. Most of them, I expect, get weary of the repetition. If the accident rate were reduced, I can well understand the non-necessity of bringing this matter forward, but I find that over a long period it is slightly on the increase. I have looked up the Samuel Commission's report of 1926, because some time ago I found that they had made inquiries covering a long period. This is what they say: Coal mining is admittedly amongst the most dangerous of occupations. They state that in the period of three years, 1922 to 1924, the annual death rate from accidents among underground workers was 1.13 per 1,000. Then they gave the comparison over a period between 1873 to 1882, the annual death rate for which period was 2.57. The report goes on to say that since then the dangers had been greatly reduced by precautionary measures until it was less than half. That shows a progressive line all the way through. I find that this year we have gone back on that progressive rate. The figures for 1929 show an average death rate of 1.29 per 1,000, or an increase of 16 per 1,000 over the period of 1922–24. Therefore, there is a progressive increase in the rate of accidents, and we feel justified this afternoon in calling the attention of the House once more to the terrible conditions which prevail. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain have this matter constantly before them. It is composed of men who are facing this danger every day, and, naturally, we are in the best position to inform the House of what particular precautions we think ought to be taken. In regard to ventilation, we make a strong point. We say that if the rule or the law is carried on with regard to ventilation, many of the accidents occurring from that cause would be prevented. I will read Section 29 to show how good it is if carried out:



(1) An adequate amount of ventilation shall be constantly (a) produced in every mine to dilute and render harmless inflammable and noxious gases to such an extent that all shafts, roads, levels, stables and workings of the mine shall be in a fit state for working and passing therein, and in particular that the intake airways up to within 100 yards of the first working-place at the working-face which the air enters shall he normally kept free from inflammable gas."

If this were carried out in its entirety it would prevent explosions, because explosions cannot, in my opinion, be created unless there is a certain amount of firedamp present. If this were done, there would be none of these terrible accidents. I put this question to the Secretary for Mines yesterday: How many explosions of fire-damp causing loss of life there have been during 1920; and how many of them have been caused by shot-firing or by electricity?

This is the reply: During 1929 there were 13 fatal explosions of fire-damp, and they caused a loss of 34 lives. Three, in which 13 lives were lost, were due to shot-firing. One, in which nine lives were lost, was due to electricity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1930; col. 1955, Vol. 245.]

There were 13 explosions, and 34 lives were lost. I would ask the House to visualise what this would have meant if the explosion had taken place where a large number of miners were working. As long as explosions can take place, one must have in mind the possibility of one of those terrible disasters which shake the country every time they take place. Therefore, we lay particular stress on the question of ventilation. If the air current is passing out of a roadway five feet high by four feet wide, we get an area of 20 feet. As it gets along the coal face, and has to make its way hack to the return airways, it has to go through a narrow aperture, and there is insufficient air to make the gas non-inflammable. It may be asked, Seeing that the air is going along the main airway, must it not be going somewhere? So it does, but it is making its way back to the main return airway by other ways, where it ought not to be. That is caused many times by insufficient stowage or packing of the roadways leading to the coal face, with the result that instead of diluting the gas and making it harmless, we find at the coal face many times pockets of gas that cause an explosion. I want to call attention to this very serious state of things, because if we could get this Section of the Act carried out, many lives would be saved. At the explosion to which my hon. Friend referred, one witness was asked whether the ventilation was sufficient, and he said: He was not satisfied that the ventilation was sufficient, but it was as good as it could be in the circumstances, as the inlet was barely sufficient to give a good quantity of air for a time.

That is the point that I want to impress on the Minister, that, this Section, if carried out effectively, would do all that is necessary to render the mines safe from explosion, but if the return airways or the outlets are not big enough, it is impossible for the work to be done efficiently. I may be asked, Why is the Section not carried out? I would reply that the fireman, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend, and whose job it is to see to this work, is many times over burdened by other duties. The Act of Parliament is quite clear on that point, however, and I have no fault to find with it, if only it could be carried out properly. Section 14 of the Act reads as follows: For every mine there shall be appointed by the manager in writing one or more competent persons (hereinafter referred to as firemen, examiners or deputies) to make such inspections and carry out such other duties as to the presence of gas, ventilation, state of roof and sides, and general safety (including the checking and recording of the number of persons under his charge) as are required by this Act and the regulations of the mine. (2) A fireman, examiner, or deputy shall be required to devote his whole time to such duties as aforesaid.

The point that arises is, Does he devote his whole time to these duties? I am satisfied that he does not, but here is a duty that rests with the mines inspectors, and I want severely to criticise the mines inspectors on this point, because in this Section provision is made as follows: Provided that any duties assigned to or undertaken by any fireman, examiner, or deputy in addition to his statutory duties shall not be such as to prevent him carrying out his statutory duties in a thorough manner; and, if any question arises whether any additional duties are such as to prevent him carrying out his statutory duties in a thorough manner, that question shall be decided by the inspector of the division, whose decision shall he final.

I want to ask the Minister of Mines if he or any previous Minister of Mines has had any complaint from a fireman that has been redressed by an inspector, and, if not, has he ever taken it upon himself to make inquiries as to whether a fireman has had too much work to do? I feel satisfied that in this question of the work of the fireman lies one of the greatest dangers in the mines. The Act further states: The district of a mine assigned to a fireman, examiner, or deputy shall not be of such a size as would prevent him from carrying out in a thorough manner all his statutory duties.

If that Section were carried out efficiently, it would go a long way towards helping us in the saving of life in the mines. Here is a further statement made by a witness at the inquiry into the explosion that was dealt with by my hon. Friend: On Wednesday, William Anderson, fireman, said that he fired a number of shots. He did not test for gas beyond the immediate vicinity of the shot-holes and he did no stone-dusting. He had to fire 22 shots which would have taken 5½ hours. Other duties would take an additional hour to perform. On the day shift he had too much work to carry out the statutory duties of a fireman under the Act. He had complained to the assistant manager that the work was too much for one fireman to per- form. Specifically, he complained that he had to assist lads who were loading coal at the road head. On 15th August he stopped the night-shift from going into the section because of an accumulation of gas, but took no steps to measure it. Witness also stated that after he had submitted his report of the explosion to the Mines Department, he was dismissed from the colliery. Mr. Jemmell told him he could no longer employ his as a fireman, but offered him work as a roadman. He suggested that the reason was that he had stopped so many men.

That is the main cause of this difficulty, and I am speaking now from personal experience, as one who has witnessed this kind of thing. When we have seen gas at the working face, we have known very well that the fireman fare not report it. He has had to do all he could to get it clear, but we know very well what it would mean if one of us was persistent in such a matter. It would mean that we would be thrown out of work, and therefore the fireman is in the same difficulty. He dare not report these things, or he would have to go, as this man had to go, and the only way to deal with this matter is to remove the fireman from the grip of the employer by making him a State servant. The job of a fireman is the most important position in a coal mine, and I feel satisfied that the fireman, with his attainments and knowledge, if relieved of that economic fear, would have no hesitation at any time in saying, "There is something that wants attending to, and I will see that it is put right." Much hangs on the work of a fireman, and although we may not be able to get the trouble remedied to-day, I trust that the Secretary for Mines will see that this matter receives his most careful attention.

I want to deal with another important point. I have been trying to find out at what part of the mine accidents mostly occur. The number of fatal accidents underground in 1929 was 1,076, against 989 in 1928, or an increase of 87. I tried to locate where the majority of those accidents happened, and I found that from falls of roof at the coal face the increase was 67, so that out of the increase of 87, 67 were in one particular spot. In this way we are able to localise a particular point in the mine to which attention should be directed.

Rationalisation has brought certain improvements into the mines for getting out coal, such as coal-cutting machinery and conveyors. Along the coal face are conveyors, which make a terrible row when carrying the coal along. There is one thing which is inherent in a working miner, and that is what I might call a second sense that knows when great danger is near. The practical collier always seems to sense when a roof is going to give way, and it is wonderful how he can find that out, but he has to have a certain amount of silence in the mine for the exercise of this faculty, and with this coal-cutting machinery working, that second sense, which means so much to the miners, is lost entirely, with the result that very often the working face at the moment when the men go in, gives way and buries a number of them. I do not know how we are going to regulate that state of affairs under present conditions, but it is a question that is well worth attention, and if something can be done to remedy it, I feel sure that much will be done to reduce the number of accidents at the coal face. I would urge the Secretary for Mines to ask his inspectors to watch closely this kind of thing, in order to see if something cannot be done, it may be by getting machinery that will not give off so much noise.

Another point that is raised by the Miners Federation is the question of the number of gateways leading into the coal face. Before the advent of machinery, there would be gateways, say, every 10 or 15 yards, but now, owing to having a long length of coal face, there may be 200 yards length of face, with one gateway leading into the main road, and another gateway at the top end, or 200 yards of face without any other means of outlet. If a fall takes place there, a man has to chance which gateway he can get to, whether at the top end or at the bottom end, and in the interests of safety we want additional gateways so as to allow the men to get out when these falls take place. There may thus be a chance for them, so that they will be able to get away if there is a means of doing so. That again requires attention from the Minister.

In putting all these things forward, we realise that we are all the time up against the economic position. Many lives would be saved but for that kind of thing, if it were not for the hurry and scurry and the necessity of getting out returns. If that could only be dealt with, many lives, I am convinced, could be saved. I want the House to realise what this question means to the nation—this loss of life and limb among our people. First of all, there is the number of lives that are lost. Then there are the men who lose arms or legs; and beyond that there is the loss to the nation through the loss of man-power.

I want to call the attention of the nation to these things. We know that in times of war, when these things happen, the nation realises that something should be done to stop them, but this is war in the economic sense, and it ought to receive the attention of the nation in an endeavour to prevent it. I have had a letter from a friend telling me that a mines inspector has been round giving a lecture on safety in mines. This man is a practical working collier, and he put the question to the inspector: Did he not think that if more attention was paid to safety, rather than to output, lives could be saved, and that the men should not be blamed entirely? The inspector refused to answer. It is firmly fixed in the minds of the miners that many lives are lost because of the pressure exercised by employers to drive them all the time, and I say to hon. Members opposite that those of us who speak on these questions speak with conviction and feeling such as can only be expressed by men who have had experience of these matters. In conclusion, I do ask the House of Commons to do all that it can in helping us to put down the number of accidents in the mines.


In the first place, I desire to thank the two hon. Members who have spoken for the very clear and explicit way in which they have placed the Motion before the House. It is one that must commend itself to all parties without distinction. When we spend our evenings at home, or even in some of the rooms in the House of Commons, and enjoy the comfort and the glow of a bright fire, it should appeal to us that the coal that enables us to enjoy these comforts has been got through a good deal of risk to life and limb on the part of the men employed in the mines. I agree that there does not appear, at any rate in the last few years, to be any substantial diminution in the number of accidents. When one looks at souse of the graphs that appear in the reports of the Mines Department, covering a large period of years, one realises that, although perhaps there has been a reduction as compared with, say, 50 years ago, there is no indication at present of any reduction, but that graph fluctuates, sometimes going down and sometimes rising.

Having regard to the fact that for a large number of years attention has been devoted to the question of safety in mines, one naturally asks what is the reason why there has been no substantial diminution in the accidents. I am certain we all agree that, if one accident can be avoided, it is one too many. I do not know whether we always appreciate that this is really the most hazardous occupation in the country. We are frequently disposed to pray for those in peril on the sea, but the occupation of mariner, except in the few remaining sailing ships, is not nearly as hazardous as that of coal mining. Although the fatal accidents in shipping are slightly more than those in the mines, on the other hand, non-fatal accidents in mines are practically three times as numerous as non-fatal accidents among seamen, and, if you take all the industries, the number of fatal accidents in the mines per 1,000 men is three times, and the number of non-fatal accidents 2½ times.

That being the case, it certainly seems that every effort should be made to find out what is the reason behind the incidence of accidents in the mines and whether there is a possibility of reducing this great toll upon the life and limb of the men employed in the industry. Reference has been made to the figures of the last few years, and particularly to the figures of accidents to boys of 16 and between 16 and 20. I see that a writer in the last edition of the Encyclopoedia Britannica, who has gone very carefully into the question of accidents in mines, says that 72 per cent. of fatal accidents, so far as fans of earth are concerned, and 45.6 per cent. of other accidents are unavoidable. To put it in the reverse way, 28 per cent. of the fatal accidents connected with falls of roof or face are avoidable and 54.4 per cent. of all other accidents. It comes to this, that in the opinion of this writer, who has made careful research into the matter, one-third of all the fatal accidents are avoidable. That means that, if we could deal with these accidents, 300 lives could be saved every year. I also observe, not only from the figures in this article but also from the reports of the Mines Department, that 50 per cent. of all the accidents are due to falls of roof. Fortunately, not for a very large number of years have there been in the district with which I am connected any accidents due to gas except in one case. The accidents have been almost entirely due to falls of roof, or haulage, or on the surface. I have within my own knowledge a large number of cases where men were crushed under falls of roof, where fracture of the spine or some similar serious injury was sustained, arid many of these men had to spend what can only be called a living death, confined to their rooms in many cases for several years. It is in connection with this type of accident that one hopes something can be done.

The Secretary for Mines, who was also Secretary for Mines in July, 1924, issued a circular to owners, managers and officials, and to the secretaries of the various organisations of officials and men throughout the country, dealing particularly with this type of accident and indicating the opinion of his inspectors as to what were the matters of the highest importance which should be kept in view. It would be interesting to know the result of that circular and whether anything took place in the direction of improving conditions so far as falls of roof are concerned. I also notice in the reports of various inspectors of mines recommendations with regard to this matter. Reference was made by the Mover to the possibility of using steel props. In the report o the Secretary for Mines for 1928 the following words were used: Steel props should be used in much greater numbers than at present. It is curious how deep is the conservatism of everyone connected with mines. I do not know whether that may not be one of the reasons why there has been no improvement in this connection, but both officials and men are loath to make any new departure. There are instances where steel props have proved themselves to be safer"— Here is a point which must surely appeal to mineowners— and more economical than timber, and yet no steps appear to have been taken to introduce them into other collieries owned by the same firms. The Inspector of the Lancashire, Cheshire, and North Wales district referred, either in this year's or last year's report, to the position of the collieries in that area, and, as far as I could gather, very little in the way of the introduction of steel props has taken place. Incidentally, is not this a matter that should appeal to all connected with industry 4 The introduction of steel pi ops instead of importing timber would mean that some of the other industries of the country would benefit.

I should like to dwell for a few minutes upon the experience I have had in a certain connection with fatal accidents in mines. It has been my duty for considerably over 30 years to hold inquiries into all fatal accidents in mines in the county which I represent. It is very rarely that I have been forced to the conclusion that there has been anything in the nature of gross negligence. I do not say there were not cases where there was negligence and sometimes, though very rarely, negligence of a gross character, but, on the other hand, I am satisfied that in a very large number of cases the accidents should not have taken place.

I might possibly divide these accidents into two main categories so far, particularly, as falls of roof and sides are concerned. The first and the most common reason for accidents was the failure to use an adequate number of props. In many instances, the men had complied with the directions of the management and props were placed with the maximum distance allowed between then. Having regard to the nature of the grouting, the props should have been placed very much closer than the maximum distance, and had that been done it is conceivable that in a very large number of cases an accident would not have happened. I do not know whether occasionally even the old miner may not be to blame, having regard to the fact that he is anxious to get as large an amount of coal out of his working place as possible, for his neglect of the use of safety devices for withdrawing timber. Time after time men have admitted that, instead of using safety devices which are available to them, they have simply taken one of their tools to deal with a prop, and then, where the ground has not been safe, a fall has taken place. This is a type of accident which, I am satisfied, is not due to anything in the way of gross negligence but to taking risks. We all must realise that it is desirable and necessary that every effort should be made to deal with the situation. The first essential in this connection is a closer cooperation between coalowners, the management, and the employés.

The Act of 1911, which I would remind hon. Members on the other side of the House was passed by a Liberal Government, contains a large number of provisions in the interests of the miners. Take Section T6 which deals with periodical inspection on behalf of workmen. This was the very first occasion, I believe, on which workers in a coal mine were in this way brought into closer relationship with the employers, and where they were entitled to appoint two persons with a practical knowledge of mining to inspect the mines once every month, and also after an accident. There is a penal Section under which, if the facilities asked for are refused, the management or the official who refuses those facilities is liable to penalties. I believe that in certain parts of the country the men employed in the mines have availed themselves of this provision, but I regret to find from the reports of the mines inspectors that in some parts of the country very little, if any, use has been made of the provision.

A recommendation was made by the Commission over which Lord Sankey presided for the appointment of safety inspectors whose main and primary duty should be to visit the mines and deal with this one aspect and this one aspect alone—the safety of those employed in the mines. Lord Sankey went as far as to suggest that there should be one inspector for every 5,000 men employed in the coal mines of the country. The coalowners, in that part of the report which they signed, also recommended an increase of inspectors, and greater attention to research and investigation and to the provision of safety appliances. In the interests of safety in the mines' it is of the utmost importance that as far possible the inspectors who are brought into close touch with the men who are at work should be men who have themselves worked at the coal face and who know by their own working experience the risks of the men.

There is a point which is not without importance in coal mines in parts of Wales where Welsh is almost exclusively spoken. An English-speaking inspector going to those mines, either after an accident or to inspect a place with a view to seeing whether it is safe, is not in a position to enter into conversation with the men and to appreciate their views as to the conditions under which they are working. Recently I had an occasion to investigate an accident at a mine, and, unfortunately, the inspector who appeared to assist me was absolutely ignorant of Welsh. For a large number of years there had been a Welsh-speaking inspector in the area, and it was remarkable how he was able to assist in sifting the more technical evidence in respect of which I was not able to act with the efficiency of a qualified man. When Welsh witnesses appeared before an English-speaking inspector difficulties arose which would not have occurred if the inspector had been conversant with the Welsh language.

I would ask the Minister whether it is not possible for him to arrange for steps to be taken to impress upon local education authorities the importance of having evening classes for the younger men employed in the mines. In one of the towns with which I am associated, where there are a number of coal mines, the local education authority arranged classes in coal mining, with the result that a number of the young men employed at the mines were able to attend those classes and get a good theoretical knowledge of biology and of mining, which was of considerable service to them in the mines. In passing, I would ask: Is it possible for grants to be made out of the Miners' Welfare Fund specifically for dealing with the question of safety in the mines I This is a matter which we cannot impress to frequently and too seriously upon all men who enter the mines. If when the men first went into the mines they received instruction in this aspect of the difficulties with which they would be faced, I am certain that it would ultimately assist in reducing the number of accidents in the mines of the country. I hope that the House will adopt the Motion and that the Mines Department will explore every possible avenue with a view to dealing with what is, after all, one of the most serious blemishes upon the industries of this country.


I desire to support the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Sutton). It is, I am sure, to be expected, and it is quite fitting, that one so lung and so honourably associated with the life of the miner, whose welfare has been his chief concern for many years, should bring forward for discussion in this House a Motion seeking to minimise accidents Li the mines. At the same time, I feel that he will be the last person to claim a monopoly of sympathy for, or interest in, that body of men whose daily occupation causes them to face the perils which are part and parcel of pit life. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) that the question is on 3 which must necessarily appeal, not only to every Member of this House, but to every right-thinking man and woman in this country. The desire to minimise accidents as far as is humanly possible is On e which we all possess, and the only differences that can accrue are in relation to the methods to be adopted whereby such accidents can be defeated. And yet—it may be due to the rapidity with which events follow each other in this quick-moving age—it is not until some great disaster occurs involving tremendous loss of life that the public conscience seems to be aroused and public attention focussed upon the dangers to which, from day to day, these men are exposed. I would remind the House that hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, accidents, fatal and nonfatal, are occurring in the mines of this country: men are slain, and the homes of our mining people are rendered desolate.

5.0 p.m.

I know that much has been done. Acts have been placed upon the Statute Book, and it is fair to say that the inquiries which have taken place from time to time in regard to accidents have been fruitful of much good and have resulted in much being done for those concerned. I do not know whether it will be any consolation to us or not, but it is at least reasonable to congratulate ourselves upon the fact that the accidents which occur in this country per thousand persons employed, are very much less than those which occur in Germany and the United States of America. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint that that ought not to be a reason for us to give up our vigilance. It ought to urge us to make greater efforts further to minimise the accidents which happen from time to time. As has been said, if only one accident happened in the mines in 12 months that could have been avoided that is one accident too many. I believe very much good has accrued and that accidents have been lessened by the appointment of divisional inspectors and the inspections made by them. It should, however, in my opinion, be compulsory on mineowners to provide each official with the divisional inspector's report, and it should be incumbent upon the officials to read the report and make themselves conversant with the contents.

The hon. Member who spoke last spoke of the appointment of local inspectors by the miners themselves. I believe that has had a good deal to do with the minimising of accidents. The fact that. inspectors are selected from the ranks of the men themselves, men who know from experience the peculiarities of mining life, must be of inestimable value in the avoidance of accidents; but I believe that a still more beneficial service could be rendered if inspections were made not only at the time of fatal accidents but at other such periods as could be arranged; and made jointly by divisional inspectors, workmen's inspectors and the mine managers concerned. I think that would have great effect.

Then there is the necessity for appointing pit committees. There is at least in one colliery in Durham already, I believe, such a committee formed. Those committees should comprise the colliery manager, the under-manager, and the workmen's representative. They should meet periodically, discuss the various phases of mining life, especially from the point of view of safety, and, having done so, they should hold periodical meetings to which all the men in the colliery were invited, so that they could have the benefit of the findings that had been reached through consultation. I know that there is still a certain reluctance on the part of managers to have any interference from workmen in the working of the mines. I have personally had the experience of having made suggestions to a manager and being told that my duty was not to think but to produce coal. That is not conducive to good working. A little less egotism on the part of such managers would be very beneficial not only from the point of view of safety but also from the economic point of view.

I want to emphasise what has been said regarding one of the greatest causes of accidents. Those who have practical experience can have no doubt that the rush and hurry of mining at the present time is in a very large measure the cause of very many accidents. Piece-men paid by results, however much the results may be, get very small pay, and they naturally seek to produce as much as they possibly can. It is peculiar, but it is a fact, that many of the accidents occur at the latter part of the shift when men are about to cease work. Those who have had practical experience know exactly what that means. There is a little extra hurry end exertion in order to get a little extra coal to earn a little extra money, and the result is that men take risks that in other circumstances they certainly would not take. Somebody has said that it is the pace that kills, but pace is simply an effect; behind the pace is the anxiety because of low wages and the pressure brought to bear upon the men. These things are conducive to making people take risks that they ought not to be called upon to take. That does not apply only to piece-workers but to day workers also. Under the manager we have officials whose duty it is to see that a certain amount of work is done, and one of the obligations placed upon them is to cut down costs as far as possible. That results very often in men being hurried, and plays a part in the number of accidents.

It has been said that our deputies who are responsible for safety in mines have too many districts to look after and too many men under them. That, I think, cannot be denied. I have been personally in districts under certain conditions and looked at the deputy's report. To say the least of it, knowing the district and comparing it with the report given by the deputy, it made one wonder as to the fallibility of human testimony. The man is dependent for his employment on the mine manager or owner, and he is reluctant to complain lest he should be charged. The only remedy, as far as I can see, is that these charge men should be under the supervision of the Mines Department and should be independent of the mine-owners and the men.

The old system in vogue in Northumberland made it possible for the coal-getters to go down two hours before the transport hands and other workers descended, and they were able to get coal ready for transport. Now all the people—the hewers, the tillers, the transport hands—go down together ready to start at one moment, and the rush and hurry and bustle begins from the commencement of the shift and lasts to the close of it. In a small county like Nurthumberland 52 men and boys have been killed this year. Many also have been injured, and one of the alarming features in that county is the number of spine accidents. The men who suffer such injury will work no more, and I believe in many cases, if they could make a choice, they would choose death.

I was glad that the Mover of the Motion emphasised the necessity for something being done to avoid accidents to boys. In the 10 years from 1920 till now, out of every 1,000 boys employed in the mines of Northumberland there have been annual injuries to 389, which is the biggest percentage in the country. What is the cause of that? Before the Act of 1926 we had at least something to say as to the conditions that prevailed. That Act gives to owners power, which they ought never to have been given, and boys have been called on to descend mines at all hours of the day and night. I speak without exaggeration when I say that I knew cases where boys who go to the mines are away 12 hours from the time they leave home till the time they return, not during the day but during the night. What can we expect when we ask boys of 14 and 15 years of age who ought to be asleep to go down to the bowels of the earth at night? Can we expect to avoid accidents Do we wonder that their eyes become heavy from lack of sleep and that they are not as alert as they ought to be? We have a boy on one of our collieries working at the machine face and he was killed after being only two weeks down the mine.

I trust that these things will have the attention of the Secretary for Mines. Cost has played a part in the avoiding of accidents. It was not until after the great disaster of 1862, where the loss was between 200 and 300 souls, that the public conscience of this country was so awakened as to demand that there should be two ways out of a pit. Prior to that time there had only been one way out, although it must have been obvious to anyone who cared to look how great was the danger that existed where there was only one way out of a mine. Avoidance of cost ought to play no part or a very small part when it comes to the question of saving human life.

It has been argued that many accidents are avoidable. With that statement I am not going to disagree. I believe that, in given circumstances, many accidents, fatal and otherwise, could be avoided, but to get that caution and that necessary care that are essential for the avoidance of accidents, we must. first of all remove the causes. The chief causes that exist to-day are long hours, especially under the emergency Clause of the Eight Hours Act, the low wages that at present prevail in the mining industry, and the hurry and bustle connected with mining operations. The rush to cut down costs is responsible for nullifying the benefits that would otherwise accrue from the provisions of the Mines Act. If it were not for this rush and hurry the provisions of the Acts would result in a much less chapter of accidents. Therefore, in order to remove accidents I suggest that we ought to try to remove the causes, remove the necessity for the rush, hurry and scurry of present day pit life, and give to our people a decent chance of working under decent shifts, which they have a right to expect.


It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Shield). We both come from Northumberland and with much that he has said I entirely agree. I would remind my hon. Friend that mining, quite apart from the hurry and scurry, is a very dangerous occupation. I doubt, even if there was no regard to expenditure, whether we could prevent many of the accidents which so sadly happen to-day. The hon. Member very wisely pointed out that the great bulk of accidents are not big disasters, but that the daily accidents are the real killers in our mines, although they are less in this country than abroad. We have not had in this country, to my knowledge, a disaster so great as that which occurred recently in Germany, a disaster which every minowner and miner deplores. These big disasters come as lessons, and very often they teach us something which had been obvious before. If we could only exercise eternal vigilance, that would be the best provision for safety against disasters. I know that the bustle under present day conditions in the industry are responsible for many accidents on the part of the management and on the part of the workmen. Compensation from the management point of view is a serious financial item. Therefore, if the management can do anything to reduce the accidents it means not merely adding to the safety of the mines, but it is to their financial advantage. In these difficult clays the financial factor is one which might well be considered from that point of view.

I usually say something in these debates about the disaster at the Montagu pit, many years ago, and I should like to know from the Secretary for Mines whether the plans and the volumes in regard to waterlogged workings are steadily progressing. I think that the volumes are being issued steadily and I trust that the mines that are waterlogged in their workings are now being pretty well covered. It is important that we should proceed with the work of planning the mines that have been closed down, so that 100 years hence, when the mines are filled with water, we shall know exactly where they are. The trouble at the present time is to find the mines of 100 years ago which are lying underground, under water. We have a very hazy idea where they are. I am interested in any old plans that are coming to light and I should like to know whether the Secretary for Mines is satisfied that the charting of waterlogged areas is proceeding satisfactorily.

One hon. Member spoke about steel props. Falls of ground are the cause of most accidents in mines. We are told that steel props are safer than the wooden props, hut many of my mining friends tell me that they prefer wooden props. They say that they can hear the wooden props crack, and therefore they know when danger is coming. As the hon. Member who seconded the Motion pointed out, the miner has a sort of sixth sense. He realises when trouble is coming. But the hon. Member also pointed out that in these days of modern machinery and the noises caused by coal cutters, coal conveyors and so on, a man has no time to utilise that sixth sense and cannot listen to any pit props cracking. Therefore, if steel props are more safe, as I believe they are, I hope that everything will be done to make known the benefits of steel props. I notice that Sir Henry Walker, in the excellent conference at Newcastle, said that the mining industry ought to have the slogan: "Use more steel." Let us by all means have that slogan.

I congratulate the Secretary for Mines on the conference at Newcastle. It was a first-class idea and must have done a tremendous amount of good. Those of us who do not know much about mining sat up and took notice of some of the things that were said at that conference, and we now know a great deal more than we did before. One of the inspectors who addressed the conference, Mr. Greenland Davis, spoke of shot firing and confessed that it often passed his comprehension how many shot firing accidents occurred. He declared that if the rules were adhered to the majority of accidents could not possibly happen. He instanced some almost incredible acts done by even experienced shot firers which had resulted in accidents, and suggested that one necessary step was to see that the deputies were not saddled with too much shot firing in addition to their statutory duties. I have been wondering whether there are any means throughout the mining industry of getting more education and more discipline in regard to these matters, not the discipline which comes from a rigid code of King's regulations, but discipline based on knowledge and experience, whether that could not be brought home to the workers and whether it would not be possible in the near future to have something akin to "safety first" throughout the mining areas. Many other industries have adopted "safety first" with very remarkable results, and it is worth consideration that "safety first" should be made a slogan throughout the mining industry, so that equally desirable results might be achieved for the sake of safety.

There is common ground between both owners and men in the matter of safety in the mines and there is a desire, which was expressed at the Newcastle conference, that they should co-operate. I believe that many men are very anxious to co-operate, but they are sometimes apt to be choked off by the management, who say: "We can manage this business ourselves without your interference." In certain ways that particular management may be right, but there may be one case out of 100 where just a word in time might have put them wise, and where an accident might have been avoided. Then there is the inefficient management, where the men are hum-bugged all the time. There is great scope from the owner's point of view and the point of view of the men for co-operation in regard to "safety first." That would lead not merely to greater safety in the mines, but to greater prosperity for all who are concerned in the industry.


I rise to support the Motion and I take the earliest opportunity of congratulating the Secretary for Mines on the fact that so soon after taking office he has attempted to get at the facts in regard to safety in mines. I refer to the conference which he convened at Newcastle. It was a great gathering. Some 2,500 persons attended, representing employers, workmen and the inspectorate. I am not certain whether all the expectations with regard to co-operation and good will will eventuate, but I readily agree that if we can have the scientific knowledge on the one hand and the practical experience of the workmen brought together, good results may accrue. The conference revealed facts and gave publicity to things that could not otherwise have been revealed and made public. As a result of the conference at Newcastle, certain facts emerge which merit the very careful attention of the Secretary for Mines. These facts were brought out by responsible men, experts in mining, and the Secretary for Mines will find sufficient evidence to warrant him introducing new legislation in order to carry out the suggestions which were put forward, if he has not sufficient power to do so at the moment. But the Secretary for Mines must act upon the facts which such conferences bring out.

It would be idle to pretend that in a competitive system, where every nerve is strained to increase output, that risks are not taken which ought not to be taken. Very often, when we refer to such risks, we are thinking of the workmen, but I suggest that not only are risks taken occasionally by workmen, but that in some cases safety is sacrificed to production. My first suggestion to the Secretary for Mines is that all men in the pits who are responsible for safety ought to be divorced from production. They ought not to be associated with the getting of coal. They ought not to be responsible to the manager for the safety of the pit and also for production, because it follows that if a man is responsible for production his judgment may be seriously warped and biased. On examining a place he may feel that there is some little danger there, but that he ought not to stop the working at that place because of the output. The men responsible for safety ought not to be responsible for production.

The two main causes of accidents in mines are falls of ground and accidents upon the haulage roads. These are the two factors upon which we might concentrate. At the conference at Newcastle the Inspector of Mines said that these two prolific causes of accidents could be dealt with and the number curtailed. One tragic feature of the accidents upon the haulage roads is that they are most of them boys. During last year two boys out of five employed in the mines in Northumberland and Durham were injured. The actual figures were that out of every 1,000 boys employed, 399 were injured last year; and these accidents were largely avoidable. Sir Henry Walker, when referring to haulage accidents to boys, said that by improving the haulage roads there would be a considerable reduction in the number. There are lower roads, and narrow roads: and he also said that better clearings could be made. The boys are congregated at certain spots on the haulage roads, it is definitely known where these accidents occur. if the Secretary for Mines will examine the evidence given at the conference he will find ways and means of reducing the number of these accidents although it may require legislation.

The next main cause of accidents is falls of ground, falls of roof and of sides. Sir Henry Walker showed that on a long wall face of 120 feet, 24 out of 26 accidents on an average occur right in the centre of this long wall face. That fact shows that if the owners were compelled to pay special attention to the centre of this long wall face, the number of these accidents could be minimised. It might be a little more costly, but not much more, and not nearly so costly to them in money as the loss of lives. In the centre of the long wall face, where most of these accidents occur, it is shown beyond all reasonable doubt that by the use of steel supports or by extra precautions at that point that a considerable number of these accidents might be avoided. I congratulate the Secretary for Mines on having convened this conference and taken the first step to get at the facts. Having got at the facts it will require a considerable amount of courage and resolution on his part to deal with them. I am not averse, indeed, I am sympathetic, to co-operation between employers and workmen and I hope it may be possible not only in these conferences but in pit committees, but I have some little doubt knowing as I do the relationship which has existed in the past. In the meantime, until these co-operative efforts can take place I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he must rely more on the evidence produced at these conferences than upon the good will which may he shown.


I understand that the Secretary for Mines has an important engagement at a quarter to six, and I am sure he will be doing better work there than in listening to my speech. May I join in the chorus of congratulations which has been showered upon the Mover and Seconder of this Motion, not only upon their good fortune in the Ballot but on the excellent way in which they have expressed their views. The views of practical men will always be listened to in this House with great attention. The Mover of the Motion apologised for introducing a subject which was debated as recently as 12 months ago. I do not think he need apologise. The more this question is de- bated the better for all concerned. There are two advantages in these debates. In the first place, it allows the Secretary for Mines to inform the House of Commons of any new methods for the prevention of accidents which may have been discovered, and it also advertises those methods to the men who are working in the coalfields and who will have to adopt them.

We all agree that the number of accidents in the mines to-day is far too high. I have not had an opportunity of looking at the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines. The reason I suppose is that the Mover of this Motion knew that he was going to speak on this subject before I knew that I was going to speak, and I understand that there is only one copy of this publication in the Library. I am quite prepared to accept the figures he has extracted from that publication. He said that in 1929, 985 persons were killed in the mines, and 162,230 injured; and he told us that both those figures were an increase on those of the preceding year. That means that nearly three persons are killed every working day and over 500 persons injured every working day. One curious point in connection with these accidents, fatal and nonfatal, is that only an average of 4 per cent. of the deaths have been due to explosions over the last 10 years. If those 985 deaths in 1929 had been due to one or two explosions the country would have been awakened to the dangers of the mining occupation to a far higher degree than is the case at present, when they are spread probably over 500 or more accidents.

There is no discussion in this House which creates more difference between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side than a debate on policy in regard to coal. It is therefore refreshing that to-day when we are discussing the subject of coal, not the policy of coal, we find ourselves absolutely united in support of this Motion. I have never had the ill-fortune to work in a coal pit except as an amateur. I have, of course, had many opportunities of seeing other people at work, and I have miners in my own constituency for whom I have the highest regard. A more determined and hard-headed—I know that to my cost—larger-hearted, generous and certainly a more courageous set of men do not exist.

I wish to make one statement which I hope will not be misconstrued or misunderstood. ft has already been made by the Mover of the Motion, although he used language rather different from that which I propose to use now. We know that familiarity is apt to breed contempt, and I have often wondered whether the miner, accustomed as he is to working in a most dangerous occupation, always takes the necessary care. Therefore, I say that miners cannot be too frequently reminded of the necessity for care in the interests of the safety of those working around them. I emphasise the point about the safety of those working around them, because they will take a than deal more notice of that reminder than of a reminder that they may be running the risk of their own lives by carelessness. They think more of the lives of other people working in the pits than of their own safety.

The next question is: How can we help in any way to achieve greater safety in the mines? It has been said that steel props and arches are safer than wooden props and arches. I have heard, however, that, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown) pointed out, there is something to be said for the retention of the wooden props. Of course, I realise that the time has gone when miners are likely to hear the cracking of the wood as they used to do before machinery was installed to such an extent in the pits. Nevertheless, I think it is an open question whether the wooden or the steel prop is more conducive to safety, and I wish to ask the Secretary for Mines to state, approximately, what is the proportion of wooden and of steel props at present in use in this country? If he considers, as a result of representations made to him or of knowledge obtained from experts in his Department, that steel props are on the whole safer than wooden props, then what action can he take to see that a larger number of steel props are installed?

The late Commodore King, when Secretary for Mines, set up a departmental committee to deal with the qualifications of firemen, a point on which a good deal has been said this afternoon. Such a responsible position should undoubtedly have attached to it three main qualifications: first, a full and, if possible, a practical knowledge of the working of a mine; second, a complete knowledge of the regulations made as the result of Acts of Parliament and of the administration of the Mines Department; and, third, a fixed and firm determination to see that those regulations are carried out. It is a great deal more necessary now than it has ever been that those firemen should also have a fairly complete knowledge of electricity since that form of power is so frequently used both in coal-cutting and for haulage purposes. I wish to know if a knowledge of electricity is one of the qualifications required in the appointment of firemen.

A tribute has already been paid to the inspectors of mines. They are, it is admitted, conscientious in the discharge of their regular duties. There is apparently some doubt in the minds of hon. Members as to whether one set of those duties does not conflict with another but in the main I think it is agreed that the inspectors themselves are conscientious as far as time allows, with regard to their regular duties in respect of safety in mines. I am sure it is also agreed on every hand that they carry out their investigations promptly and efficiently. We must also pay a tribute to them for the bravery which they show in descending mines after explosions not only to carry out their investigations but to help in rescue work. I agree that the fullest possible credit should be given to them.

I have only one practical suggestion to offer in this debate and it is one which has already been touched upon by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham. I have often wondered whether there is sufficient propaganda in connection with safety regulations, not only among the owners and managers of mines but also among the miners themselves. Everybody connected with a mine ought to know how to work the latest appliances whereby danger may be averted and they should also have a full knowledge of all the appliances used in connection with rescue work. It has been wisely said that money spent on propaganda and on other methods of saving life is money well spent, and nobody in this House would dream of curtailing money spent in this way, in the interests of the miners, if they were satisfied that the expenditure would result in a saving of life. I once more congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution on initiating this debate and I assure them, if such assurance be necessary, of our full sympathy with them in their desire to make mining a safer occupation for those who are engaged in it. We on this side will give our full support to the Resolution.


A debate on this subject has taken place in this House practically every year for the last few years and there is scarcely a side of this subject which has not been touched upon in those debates. I desire, however, to mention one aspect which I think has not been referred to so far in this debate. This Motion while dealing with the heavy loss of life owing to accidents in mines, also refers to the large number of nonfatal accidents in mines, and the disease known as miners' nystagmus comes under that head for the purposes of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. I wish to urge upon the Secretary for Mines the necessity for dealing with that phase of the question. This scheduled disease is very serious in the coal-mining districts. For the year ended December, 1929, there were no fewer than 2,577 cases of nystagmus and this, added to a total of 7,261 already existing, means that at the beginning of this year there were 9,838 or practically 10,000 miners suffering from this dreadful disease. I know that, already, the best medical evidence that can be obtained has been taken on the subject and I suggest that just as the Secretary for Mines called the recent conference to ascertain new methods for the prevention of accidents in mines, so likewise, steps should be taken on similar lines in relation to this disease.

I wish to mention one aspect of the safety conference held at Newcastle. Everyone who has attended conferences can understand the difference which exists between an ordinary conference on any industrial or political subject and a conference which has to deal with a question of this kind, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who officiated as chairman of that conference readily appreciated that difference. The very first point put forward by the Chief Inspector of Mines, that there was too much haste in the mines to-day, was accepted by all parties to the conference as indicating a side of the question which has to be understood. Hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the House this afternoon have naturally expressed a desire to obviate as far as possible the danger of accidents in mines from which there has been such a terrible death roll. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) mentioned the differences of opinion which always arose when we came to discuss policy in connection with the coal industry. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they will find in the very large number of accidents which has just been recorded a result of that change of policy which was brought about by them when they occupied the benches on this side of the House.

It ought to be made clear that when shareholders and directors are urging upon managers and agents that the proceeds of a colliery this year are not as large as they were last year, indirectly they are helping towards that haste which has resulted in the tremendous death roll already mentioned. It may be true, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown) has declared, that compensation plays a tremendous part in cost but we must realise that there is another aspect of that question, if the item of costs is to be brought forward in relation to accidents. I ask hon. Members, using the ordinary method of deduction from the facts, to take, for example, the case that the life of a boy in the mines, on the basis of compensation costs, is only valued at £15. Looking at the matter in that way we may be inclined to say that that fact accounts for the tremendous number of boys' lives which have been lost. I suggest, when hon. Members talk about cost, that it should not be said that the price which is being paid in relation to the loss of a boy's life is a price which is used simply for balance-sheet purposes.

6.0 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley suggested that there might be too little care on the part of the miners, or that they did not take just that care in regard to their own safety which they took in regard to the safety of others. In reference to that point I may tell hon. Members of an actual occurrence. I remember an instance of two men working in a pit on different shifts. When the back-shift man came in his fore-shift man was going out, the latter said, "Take care Jack" and his "marrow" replied, "I will make that seven-eighths of my shift." The next day when he saw by the tokens that his mate had not produced as much as he had produced previously, he wanted to know what had happened and the reply was, "I have been taking your advice. I have been taking care." There is no question about it—if the miners did take heed to all these things, and if all the regulations were strictly carried out, production would be at just about the stage at which it is in Scotland at the moment. It is not a question of regulations. One speaker at the conference, speaking from the other side, said that he was afraid there were too many regulations. It is a question not only of too many regulations, but of too little time to digest them and to carry them out. I hope that these debates on accidents in mines will not be taken as mere hardy annuals. When an accident takes place in a mine, we know how easily expressions of sympathy come in on every hand. We on this side are absolutely convinced in regard to the point mentioned by practically every speaker in relation to what are known as foremen or deputies, and feel strongly that this is a question which must be dealt with in the law of the land. In this conference there was universal agreement that the deputy ought to be removed from the area of conflict, and that he ought not to be responsible to the management, but be a State official.

There is another point that I want to put forward with regard to the attitude inspectors ought to adopt towards complaints, When a complaint is sent to the inspector of mines for a division, he informs the manager of the pit concerned that he is going to inspect the pit on a particular day. Perhaps he gives 24 hours' notice. We suggest that when a complaint is made, the management ought not to be notified by the inspector that he. is going to inspect the pit. If it is, the management know all about what is going to take place. The inspector ought to adopt the position that the police often adopt when they enter premises for a particular purpose without making any notification. If the inspector adopted that policy, it would remove the suspicion in the minds of the miners that this sort of thing is all pre- arranged. When the inspector comes along, everything that is lying in the roads is put on one side, and the place is made as respectable on occasion as this Chamber. If the inspector came along at other times, he would find a different set of circumstances.

One hon. Gentleman said that a big attempt should be made to impress on everyone concerned how essential it was that the knowledge of the various regulations should be obtained. In the Chief Inspector's report, we find that last year 15 lectures were given by inspectors in different parts of the country, and that eight of them were in relation to safety. Lectures are not so much needed as a tightening-up of the processes that are already in operation, and the adoption of practical suggestions. What is the use of hon. Members on the other side saying how pleased they were with the speeches of the Mover and Seconder and of other practical men, if we never get practical suggestions adopted? We want to see some of these suggestions adopted and made the law of the land, and we hope that when they become the subject of Bills, hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side will be just as desirous of seeing them carried out as we are, and will not complain that a suggestion may cost a halfpenny or a penny a ton, but will agree that they are efforts towards making mining, as far as is humanly possible, as safe as we believe it can be.


I have had the opportunity of listening to debates on this subject on many occasions, and I never fail to be struck by the sincerity and deep feeling with which hon. Members who have been intimately associated with the mining industry have put forward their views and with the sympathy that is generally displayed in all parts of the House towards the Motion. should like, as representing a Scottish Division in the county of Fife, which has a large number of mines and over 20,000 wage-earners, to deal with one or two points that have been raised as they refer specifically to the situation in Scotland. Mining has been described as pioneering work which cannot be carried out without taking risks. The duty of this House is to see how we can minimise those risks. I should like to adopt the words of the Chief Inspector of Mines in a recent report: Taking of risk is in reality anxiety to get on with work and in order that it may be taken with the best chance of success, the conditions should be for the person, and not against him. Although great progress has been made in certain directions, there is a serious case to be dealt with, and we ought not to satisfy ourselves with the progress that has been made, but to declare the necessity for getting much further forward. I agree with the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Lawther) that this is the time when we ought to deal in a frank fashion with the situation with which we are confronted. As we look at the increase of the number of accidents in England and Scotland, it is clear that there is still a great deal to be done which can be done in order to avoid accidents which are preventable. I do not adopt the phraseology which is often used in this House about a percentage of accidents being unavoidable. A very large number of accidents which are considered unavoidable, could be avoided by better organisation and preparation and by better provision against the risk which has to be run.

In Scotland, during 1929, there was a regrettable increase in both fatal accidents and accidents resulting in serious injury, as compared with 1928. There is an increase of 31 persons killed and of 18 seriously injured. The non-fatal accidents resulting in disablement for more than three days show an increase of over 1,600. When we turn to the greatest cause of danger and of accident in mines, we find that the increase is reflected in the figures relating to underground haulage accidents and falls of roofs and sides. I have gone into these figures as affecting Scotland, and I find that under both heads there was an increase in 1929 as compared with 1928. When one considers the causes of these accidents, one finds abundant evidence, even in the reports of the inspectors, as to the necessity for further action being taken to avoid those accidents which are preventable. The report of the Chief Inspector in Scotland in regard to the underground haulage accidents, says: If roads were made and kept of adequate height throughout, this kind of accident"— referring to an accident caused by crushing against a low bridge of roof— this kind of accident and a great many others as well could not happen. Then he goes on: Roads can be made of adequate size and steel arching will keep them to such a size better than anything else I know. If we refer specifically to the causes under which such accidents happen, we find that quite a number would have been avoidable if the management had met the requirements of the situation. I am glad to think that in connection with haulage accidents, the Safety in Mines Research Board have appointed a special committee to deal with them, because it is one of the most urgent problems. In the last 10 years, 2,268 persons have been killed, and 385,725 injured in connection with haulage alone.

Turning to the falls of roof and sides, I find that in 1929 in Scotland there was a substantial increase, which was reflected all over the country. In Scotland, the increase included 20 persons killed. There was also a larger number injured from this particular cause. I should like to urge upon the House the responsibility which rests upon the management for setting out the methods of working the seams, and arranging for sufficient and proper supports in order to avoid, as I believe they can be avoided, a considerable proportion of the reducible percentage of accidents from this cause. The Inspector of Mines for Scotland lays special stress upon this point, and points out that the responsibility for avoiding this class of accident lies heavily upon the management, and requires both thought and experiment to determine the best methods to meet the conditions. I find that in a number of these accidents the cause is to be found in something which might have been prevented. With regard to explosions, Scotland is more subject to these than other parts of the country. In 1929, 31 out of the 50 explosions occurred in Scotland, and there might have been an even greater death rate considering the risk. I should like to support the Seconder of the Motion in his plea that something should be done to secure improved ventilation in the mines. This can be done in such a way, and with inspection and discipline, as very considerably to minimise the risk. It is a duty imposed under Statute which, I believe, could be carried out much more effectively. In some cases blame is attached to those engaged in the industry because they refuse to use the safety lamps. I would like to see some form of safety lamp and electric lamp provided which would be an even better substitute for the naked light than the lamp at present in use. Better lighting of the working face would also do something to prevent the spread of nystagmus, which is an important point to keep in view.

I heartily support the suggestion that there should be an addition to the numbers of mines inspectors. Last year we were promised an addition, and four inspectors were appointed to deal with electrical machinery, which is now so much in use in the mines; but as there are 2,419 mines under the Coal Mines Act there is need for increasing the slumber of inspectors, and especially of practical inspectors who have a thorough knowledge of the working of mines. There are many practical men who are well equipped for the position of inspector, and I should like to see a larger proportion of them obtaining the job. Regarding firemen, I remember taking part in the debates on the Coal Mines Bill in 1911 and supporting the view, which has been again expressed this afternoon, that as far as possible firemen ought to be in a position of complete independence. A strong case could be made out for the contention that firemen should not be dismissable without an appeal either to a special board or to the Department. There is a great deal to be said for the suggestion that the firemen should be, to a large extent, independent of the management of the mine. In many cases they are grossly overworked, they have arduous duties, and it is due very largely to their efforts that there are not a great many more accidents in our mines.

I would say a word on two aspects of the problem which are sometimes rather left out of account. The welfare of miners themselves has a most important bearing upon the safety of the working of mines. Everything which tends to improve the health of the men renders them less liable to accidents. There is need for an improvement in their housing conditions, and they should be afforded greater opportunities for recreation. Pit- head baths might also be provided to a larger extent than has already been done. And not least is the need to provide a sense of security and of settled employment, so that men will not always feel that they must take risks in order to make up their wages. They ought to feel certain of a fair wage for the work which they undertake. Disputes in the mining industry cannot fail to create a feeling of worry and unsettlement, which reacts upon the men. Fatigue and mental depression, which may be due either to indisposition or to anxiety about obtaining sufficient wages to maintain a family, all have their effect in depressing the vitality of our miners, and are to a considerable extent the cause of accidents.

The other point to which I wish to refer is the need for a closer association of the workers with the conduct of the industry. That was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, of which the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was chairman. The Commission stated that there ought to be closer co-operation between the employers and the workers in what was, after all, a joint enterprise, and that while provision was already being made for the representation of workers on conciliation boards, advisory committees, the central welfare fund, and other bodies, there should he a still further development of co-operation through pit committees to deal with questions of safety and health and improvements in working methods, and in the provision of awards to men who make suggestions and the appointment and promotion of workers to responsible positions. In a spirit of co-operation much could be done to enlist the interest of all the workers in providing for safety in mines. Much can also he done by research work.

I hope that as a result of this debate it may be possible for the Minister to come forward with some fresh proposals. He should satisfy the House that another effort will be made, that we are not going to allow things to stand as they are. Really, we are going back at the moment. The revelations made this afternoon, particularly as to the younger boys engaged in mines, ought to stimulate the Minister to take a step forward. I have the deepest admiration and regard for the miners as a body, having had the privilege of working amongst them and having also represented a mining division of Lanarkshire for eight years, and I would add my special appeal to those we have already heard that we should make it our duty to see that this large total of preventable accidents shall not continue from year to year as is the case now. We do not want to meet next year in similar circumstances to find that nothing more has been done. In the interval there should be a fresh effort to solve this problem.


One feels that hon. Members must be getting weary of these repeated discussions about accidents in mines, but the facts are that in the 12 years which have elapsed since I first took part in the proceedings here accidents have increased rather than decreased; and the plea we make is, therefore, just as urgent as it used to be 12 years ago. At least we can be thankful for some things that have been done by Act of Parliament. We have swept away some of the dangers which at one time used to lead to those terrible explosions which made widows and orphans in such large numbers. Those explosions do not come so frequently now, but in other directions accidents have increased very much indeed. sometimes think I must have been a very fortunate boy. After working 2½ years at the surface, cleaning coal, I entered the mine at 12 years of age. It was practically a new mine. My job was to drive a horse, which stood about 10 hands high, inside the mine. When I went to the coal face with the empty tubs I could get inside them quite safely, and when I was returning with the full ones I could get on to the top of the tubs and ride quite comfortably to the point where I had to take the coal. I worked in that mine for many a year, and gradually I saw the haulage roads becoming narrower and narrower and decreasing in height, until at the present time a pony standing only nine or 10 hands high has enough to do to get along, and the tubs can barely clear the roads, either in the matter of height or width.

In these conditions accidents must occur to the boys, especially if we take into account the terrible hours they are required to work. A boy who has been at school and whose mother has been getting him to bed at 9 o'clock at night, in order that he may be up in time in the morning is taken on at the pit and finds that he has to start work at a quarter of au hour before midnight. An incident was brought to any attention last week in which a boy had done a little more than he was asked to do. It is well known that men and boys descend the pit together, and this boy went down with the first lot of men. When he arrived below, the appliances he required were not ready for him, because another boy was still using them, and he sat down and fell asleep. Can we wonder at it? Because of these inhumanities boys are not as agile as they ought to be. Nature refuses to carry on in such conditions. If those are the conditions tinder which cheap coal has to be won, it is up to the inspectors to see that the mines are made as safe as possible for all working in them. The conditions ought not to be such that a boy who falls from a tub may lose his life owing to the narrowness of the roads. More height must be provided for the haulage roads. I should add that there are boys who go into the pit at 8 o'clock at night and leave it at 3 o'clock next morning; and there is another shift working from 10 till six or half past six in the morning. All these conditions should he taken into serious consideration, for, after all, nature will play her part in the case of these boys.

I am not surprised at the accidents arising from falls of roof. Under the old conditions the working places were narrower and it was easier to keep the roofs safe, but when 120 feet of coal has been undercut for five feet there is certain to he some "give" on the part of the roof. Yet men are working at the coal face there to load that coal. My very last day in the pit was spent in an effort to find out what should be a reasonable price for this kind of work, and I had to scramble along on a conveyor to get to where the men were working. Something must be done for these men who work under conditions such as those which have been described. There ought to be more co-operation amongst all those concerned in mines in order that the number of accidents may be minimised as far as possible. We have been told what has been done up to the present, but there is plenty of room for the adoption of further safety methods, although there is more safety in mines than there used to be when I was a boy, nearly 60 years ago.

Steps have been taken to increase the production of the mines without paying proper regard to the safety of human life, and I would prevail upon hon. Members of this House to consider seriously the risks which these men undergo while working in the mines, and remember the miserable wages which they are paid for undergoing many risks which can be avoided. I know the risks that I have taken myself, but I am pleased that the precautions I also took were always sufficient to secure my own safety. I have done my share of that kind of work, but I am very anxious that every possible step should be taken to reduce the number of avoidable accidents. There are still a great many more accidents than the figures show that could be avoided under a proper system of supervision and care. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will take up this matter, and do all he can to reduce the terrible loss of life and the number of accidents which occur so frequently in the mines of this country. I am sure the total can be brought down and minimized, and I trust that the Members of this House will listen to what practical miners have to say as to what can be done in the direction of reducing the number of accidents in our mines,


I have listened in this House to debates on this subject every year for the last nine years and I wish on this occasion to make a special appeal to hon. Members. It has been said that the inspectors do their work extremely well, that the deputies perform their duties equally well, and that miners, generally speaking, have not deliberately thrown their lives away. Nevertheless, there must be some reason for this constantly increasing number of fatal and non-fatal accidents. All this indicates that one of two things ought to be done. Either the existing regulations are not being carried out or, if they are being carried out, they are not sufficient to achieve their abject. I would like hon. Members to bear in mind that of the total amount of compensation paid for fatal and non-fatal accidents, no less than 40 per cent. of that sum goes to the families of miners or mine workers, and I think that proves that there is something sadly wrong with a system which imposes upon one particular section of the community such a large number of fatal and non-fatal accidents.

These accidents can be largely identified with defective ventilation in the mines, and if sufficient care were taken in regard to this question, the ventilation of the mines would not be impeded as it is in many cases to-day. I know that raises the question of cost. The deputies in various parts of the country have such large districts to cover that it is physically impossible for them to carry out their duties as they ought to be carried out. Again, I believe that the number of accidents could be considerably reduced if the regulations relating to timber were carried out more rigorously, and all the inspectors report in this sense. They know that the regulations are not carried out and consequently the appeal, instead of being made to Members of this House, ought to be made through the secretaries to the inspectors of mines urging them to insist upon the regulations being carried out in every part of the country.

Haulage roads are another cause of accidents. The height of the roadways is quite insufficient to enable boys and young men to perform their task with any degree of safety. Here, again, it becomes a question of the cost, and lack of supervision on the part of the deputies, who find it is physically impossible to do their duty in seeing that every regulation is carried out. Another cause is the danger of shot-firing, and that is a considerable item. The result of shot-firing in the county of Durham was considered at a conference which took place on Saturday last initiated by the Secretary for Mines. I have here a letter from the district local inspector of mines who knows what he is writing about on this question of safety. I want to bring before the notice of the Secretary for Mines, who is unfortunately absent on more important business, the suggestions which this local inspector has to make after listening to all the speeches which were made at that conference. Mr. Greenland Davies, the Northern Inspector of Mines, declares: In a number of mines the deputies and shot-firers had far too many shots to fire, and a person carrying out the regulations could not fire a shot in less time than from eight to 12 minutes. That is the opinion of a local inspector of mines who has made a report to the Government inspectors in which he says: Compare this with eases I have reported in fire-damp pits where deputies have had all the other statutory duties to do and also fire up to 50 shots in a shift. These men, in addition to performing the duties of a deputy, have the dual responsibility of firing 100 per cent. more than the maximum number of shots which any individual ought to be permitted to fire in any single shift. Therefore, this inspector makes the following suggestion: That the manager at each mine should fix the maximum number of shots which an individual should fire, and enforce that by limiting the detonators given out to that number. The same inspector proceeds to make the following suggestion: That the qualification in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, Section 14 (2, b) which exempts Durham and Northumberland deputies from devoting their whole time to their statutory duties should be cancelled or annulled, and that they should devote their whole time to statutory duties. In a number of mines where electric safety lamps are used, the workmen have no means whereby they can tell if the atmosphere contains fire-damp, and they have to depend upon the deputies' examination with an ordinary oil safety lamp. On this point the inspector says: Professor Wheeler suggests that it was only when there was 5 per cent. fire-damp present in the general body of the air that you had an explosive mixture. That was a wrong inference to give, and he knows quite well that von can have an explosive mixture in a cavity near the roof where an explosion could originate, and yet no-one could say that there was anything like 2½ per cent. in the general body of the air which is the danger point when men have to be withdrawn. I ask how a deputy would he able to detect 1¼ per cent. with an ordinary safety lamp, I was told that it would take an expert. All these explosions which occur close to an electric coal-cutting machine could he obviated if the regulation were carried out. This local inspector proceeds to make the following suggestion:

  1. "(1) That the workmen should know when there is an explosive mixture present.
  2. (2) That the human element should not be saddled with the responsibility of detecting 1¼ per cent, of fire-damp.
I suggest that some form of automatic gas detector should be made compulsory at certain specified points. I wish to make particular reference to this phase of accidents in our coal mines. It is true to say that the loss of life due to explosions in mines has been decreased tremendously during the past 50 years, but the loss of life, as distinct from the number of explosions, has not materially changed during the last 20 years. For instance, from the years 1910 to 1919 inclusive there were 137 explosions involving loss of life to the extent of 1,419, but in the last 10 years, from 1920 to 1929, there were still 134 explosions, although the loss of life in that period was only 389. What I suggest is that as a result. of the research and the experiments which have taken place, the danger of the spreading of an explosion when it actually occurs has, to a very large extent, been minimised by the use of stone-dust, but the total number of accidents remains where it was 20 years ago.

I want, therefore, to remind the House that not only is the demand that the use of an automatic gas alarm should be made compulsory being made by local miners' branches in all parts of the country, but the present President and the ex-President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, who have attended more inquiries into the causes of mine explosions than any other two men in the country, have been compelled to recognise that the cause of these explosions has been the presence of gas which was known to the officials and which could have been removed; and it is because of their accumulated knowledge that this is and constantly has been the case that they insist upon the necessity for making some form of automatic gas alarm compulsory, so that the ordinary workmen may not be dependent, as is the case at the moment in a large number of collieries in this country, upon electric lights, with which they cannot detect gas at all. Where an accumulation of gas does happen to occur at present, and an accident takes place, the men are blown to smithereens, and it is not known what happened to them.

If we try to examine the position in relation to this phase of mining life and mining disasters, we readily see what the situation is. My hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Sutton) referred to the evidence in the case of the Blantyre disaster. In that case, not only the miners but the officials knew of the existence of gas for long periods, and, indeed were actually anticipating an explosion. Similar evidence was given at the Haydock inquiry. In the case of the recent Scottish disaster, the deputy who submitted his report to His Majesty's Inspector was dismissed by the colliery company for his trouble, because he dared to give a true report to His Majesty's Inspector. That is only one case, but it indicates the fear of the mine worker to leave his working place when he discovers that 2½ per cent. of gas is present. The law is broken every day because the men fear victimisation.

At almost every inquiry conducted by the Chief Inspector of Mines for a number of years, it has been proved that the men knew of the presence of gas, and that the colliery officials knew of the presence of gas, and yet nothing happens until an explosion takes place, when there is a page in a Blue Book, many departed friends and that is all. Decently, the Hebburn Coal Company, of Wallsend, were prosecuted on 26 counts, and the prosecuting counsel, in opening the case, said that he did not think that the fact that fire damp and gas were found in the pit was disputed. Mr. Edgar eraser, His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, said that during his inspection of the pit he found accumulations of explosive gas, that he impressed upon one deputy the seriousness of making inaccurate and untrue reports, and that the manager had every chance to know that the reports were untrue, as he countersigned them. Therefore, not only did the men, the deputy and the colliery manager know that gas was present in this case, but His Majesty's Inspector of Mines knew that gas was in the pit; but nothing happened until an explosion took place and two men were sent up in the air. In the case of the recent explosion in the South Wales coalfield, where nine men were sent to their doom, the coroner summed up the situation in the form of question and answer as follows: Was the explosion gas, or coal dust, or both?—Gas. Where did the gas come from and accumulate?—On 'B' conveyor face. Was the explosion purely an accident?—No Was the explosion the result of a negligent act or acts, or omission or omissions, and what were they?—Insufficient ventilation, defects in the coal-cutter, and faulty supervision. In that case nine men were sent to eternity. The decision at the inquiry was that the accident was due to faulty supervision and bad ventilation, and that in no way had the Mines Act been carried out. Therefore, I suggest that we have had ample proof, in almost every inquiry that has taken place, that the cause of the explosion was fire damp, and that, if the men had dared to leave the colliery when they knew of an accumulation of fire damp, no lives would have been lost. At the inquiry into the Wath Main colliery explosion, the coroner, after all the evidence had been given, stated that: The impression left on his mind by the evidence was that the tests made for the detection of gas by colliers and the deputies might be improved on. Another point was whether the system of testing for gas by the flame lamp was sufficiently up-to-date, and might not be added to or improved upon by the addition of mechanical safety devices. The coroner was supplementing the evidence given by the colliery manager, who himself said that, if three persons tested for gas in one place, the results of all the tests would be different—that, if the tests were made by colliery agents, the results would be different, and if they were made by miners' agents the results would be different; and he said that any automatic gas alarm which would remove the possibility of explosion would be very useful indeed.

In 1928, the then Secretary for Mines gave his approval to what is known as the Ringrose automatic gas alarm, after extensive pit trials. It was again approved in 1929, and various tests have been made with it, both in laboratories and elsewhere. I should like to ask my hon. Friend the present Secretary for Mines whether he does not think that those tests have now proceeded far enough to enable him to take the lesser risk by insisting upon the use of this apparatus in minimum numbers, rather than allow a continuance of the explosions which take place year by year with unfailing regularity. It has been said that there might be some risk in making compulsory an automatic gas alarm before it has been made absolutely perfect. All that I have to say on that point is that we are taking the risk of not using an automatic gas alarm at present, and we are losing approximately 40 lives each year. Any day we may be losing 250 lives, and then there will be that national wave of sympathy which means nothing to those who are made widows or left orphans.

If there is one of my hon. Friends who has both the courage and the determination to do the thing that he thinks necessary, it is the present Secretary for Mines, and I hope that, after the tests which have been made, both in the laboratory and in various coal mines, he will analyse the two risks, and will finally make up his mind that the lesser risk will be to insist upon the use of gas alarms, which will always stand on guard and tell the workmen whether gas is present or not. That will eliminate the possibility of victimisation of mine workers, and will probably save very many lives by obviating future explosions; and it will also give effect to the continual promises that have been made from 1922 to 1929, that everyone would do everything possible to bring about more safety, instead of which there are more deaths and non-fatal accidents to-day than ever before. Therefore, I appeal to my hon. Friend to look into this automatic gas alarm from all points of view, and to give it his favourable consideration.


I should like to supplement by a few words the remarks of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I have a great interest in this subject, because as a boy I lived in a mining district and went to school with miners' sons, and I know a good deal about their difficulties, and also their sorrows when the bread-winner of the family has been killed in an explosion in the pit. I agree that since that time there have been vast improvements. I myself, within the last. 18 months, have visited one of the most up-to-date pits in the country, and I can assure those practical mining Members who have been speaking to-day that was astounded at the difference between the up-to-date mine of to-day and those I visited in my early days in the West Riding of Yorkshire, many of which are now closed down.

Some time ago, with other Members of the House, I attended a meeting upstairs to witness a demonstration of the ap- pliance of which the hon. Member for the Don Valley has spoken, and it seemed to me that it was indeed a very efficient appliance. The decision of that question had, of course, to be left to people more expert that myself, but I did feel that the inventor of that apparatus was not getting a fair chance from the Department, judging by the statements made at that meeting, and also by answers given to questions in this House. I am glad to say that the latest information I have received is that the Secretary for Mines has taken an interest in this matter, and has authorised 25 tests of this apparatus during the last few months. I understand that those tests have been highly satisfactory, and, as the Miners' Federation have declared emphatically that the last three explosions could have been prevented if such an apparatus as this had been in use, I think an overwhelming case has been made out for at any rate something more than mere experiment in this matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give some information about the tests that have been made, and tell us whether he intends to do something more than merely approve of the apparatus.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Shinwell)

I hope that the House will forgive me for having taken leave of absence, but I had to attend a very important conference on an aspect of the coal industry which at the present moment is calling for our urgent attention, and, therefore, I was unable to listen to some of the speeches in this discussion. Notes have, however, been handed to me of the points raised, and I shall endeavour to deal faithfully with the questions which have been put.

7.0 p.m.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Sutton) on the rare ability with which he stated his case? He need not reproach himself for submitting this Motion, with which I am in hearty agreement. I am just as anxious as any miner or other Member in this House to promote the well-being of the mining industry and the safety of the miners, and I desire, as a line of approach to a solution of the safety problem, to secure the co-operation of both sides of the industry, and to focus the attention, not only of mining officials, but of miners themselves, on the various aspects of this problem, more particularly in relation to the proper observance of the regulations laid down by the Department. Hon. Members have used figures which I do not seek to question. I am more than familiar with statistics relating to the mortality rate among miners, and the remarkably high accident rate. I confess to being deeply concerned about the matter, and more particularly because I detect in recent years not a diminution but an increase, however slight, in the rate. A perusal of the figures over a period of years—for example, from 1924 to 1929—convinces me that, although progress has undoubtedly been made in the direction of promoting safety, we cannot regard the existing position with complacency. Perhaps I may be allowed to submit certain figures to the House. In 1924, the accident rate per 1,000 persons employed above and below ground was 158.85; in 1925 it was 159.29. It is quite useless to give figures for 1926. In 1927 there was a further increase, the figures being 167.20, in 1928 a further increase to 170.01, and in 1929 it was 181.39. As regards the mortality rate per 1,000 persons employed, it rose from 98 in 1924 to 1.11 in 1929.

That is a remarkable state of affairs. I am far from complaining about the orthodox methods which have been employed by the industry, and, indeed, by the Department in recent years They have all tended to promote greater safety, but, relatively speaking, we find in the figures I have just presented a higher accident rate and a higher mortality rate, and in my view much too high a rate in the circumstances. If we are to approach this problem with a view to—I will not say a complete solution—as complete a solution as can be found, we must, in my judgment, first ascertain the cause of the accidents. To do that we must study the nature of the accidents. I have recently, in my spare time, found it possible to analyse the principal types of accidents occurring in the mines. I find that the majority of accidents occur from falls of ground, falls of roof and side. The second main cause of accident, which applies equally to the mortality rate, is haulage. The third is due to explosions of coal dust or fire-damp, and these are relatively low. It is true, as the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) said, explosions are spectacular and focus attention on the need for promoting greater safety in the mines of the country, whereas, every day in the mines, there is a frequency of accidents which excite no particular comment, but which are just as dangerous and just as fruitful of dire results to the miners and to their families as the accidents which are accompanied by explosions.

Much can be said about the methods now in use. I do not desire to stand at this Box defending the existing methods, in face of the challenge presented by hon. Members and the challenge frequently presented by those in the industry outside. I am not concerned about these challenges or about the adoption of orthodox or conventional methods, or, for that matter, about defending what is now being done, except to say that I believe considerable progress has been made, and that no complaint can be laid at the door of the Inspectorate of the Mines Department. What I am concerned about is how to find a remedy. Seeking for a remedy, I decided that the first thing required, in the circumstances, was to secure the greatest measure of cooperation in the industry. I succeeded in sonic measure. Although both sides in the industry occasionally have little disputes and come to grips about wages, hours and matters like that, there is no difficulty at all in securing co-operation and the most complete harmony in relation to this problem of safety.

As far as the employers are concerned, there is every reason why they should cooperate. It so happens that they are responsible for the payment of compensation, for the mining industry undertakes compensation risks in large measure. I find that they paid in 1928, the year for which I have figures, in compensation £3,026,678, and I understand that is almost 50 per cent. of the total amount paid in workmen's compensation in the seven great groups of industries in this country for which returns are obtained under the Act of 1925. It means something like 3d. per ton of coal. When we speak of the burdens resting on the coal industry we might consider that particular burden. Therefore, it is very natural that the owners should seek to co-operate with the others in the industry with a view to removing that burden, and not increasing it. I ventured, therefore, to ask the Miners' Federation to meet me and discuss the problem. As a result, they agreed to set up a sub-committee to act with officials of my Department. That sub-committee has already dealt with a variety of subjects.

Perhaps I may deal with a number of the subjects discussed by the joint committee, because it refers to matters raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I secured the appointment of the Committee only recently, and they have already discussed—although I have not found time to attend the meetings, I have had reports—emergency exists from conveyor faces, and I understand have found considerable difficulty in coming to a decision on that point They also discussed accidents at road heads, maintenance of electrical coal-cutters, signalling along conveyor faces, support of roof and sides at gate-ends, the lighting of conveyor faces, a subject to which I hope I may have time to draw attention later, the Ringrose Fire-Damp Indicator, on which I hope to have something to say later, shot-firing devices, accidents at the coal face, and the strength of the mines inspectorate. We leave nothing out. They can raise any question they like.

Then we asked the Mining Association to co-operate with us. I am bound to say that they responded most readily and cordially. I had no difficulty whatever in securing their co-operation. They set up a sub-committee. We have had only one meeting to date, because it was set up rather later than the joint committee associated with the Miners' Federation. They have dealt with silicosis, the proposed amendments to the compensation scheme—although the Mines Department has nothing to do with compensation, it has something to do with the investigations relating to silicosis—underground haulage accident research, pit ponies, the activities of animal welfare societies, humane horse killers, magneto exploders for shot-firing, a most important question in relation to the number of accidents attributed to shot-firing. This co-operation will continue. I do not know how long it will go on before definite results are reached. It seems to me that, if we attempt to hasten a decision we shall destroy the co-operation which is so essential if we are to secure fruitful results. I do not want at this stage to press either side unduly in the direction of reaching decisions, although where-ever we see points of agreement, we shall utilise them. I am not only hopeful that I shall secure the co-operation of both sides for the purposes to which I have referred, but I hope to get them meeting together and discussing these matters across the table with the officials of the Mines Department.


Are the non-ferrous mines like tin and lead represented, or only coal mines?


We are dealing with coal mines alone. The Mining Association and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain do not deal with these non-ferrous mines, but I should be very happy, if they requested me, to give consideration to the non-ferrous mines. Arising from this co-operation, I think it desirable to have more education in relation. to safety. Some references have been made to the conference held at Newcastle on Saturday. I was grievously disappointed at not being able to be present. I understand the conference was of a most enthusiastic character, produced very useful contributions in relation to safety questions, and was of great value to the officials of my Department. I am hoping later to promote similar conferences in other parts of the coal fields in the hope not only of focussing attention on the primary need for ensuring greater safety in the mines but—I say it with the greatest care and tact which are required it such matters—in the hope of inducing miners to exercise rather more care themselves.

There can be no doubt that one cause of accidents in mines—it is not the primary cause, but is only one of the causes—is the familiarity with the conditions. I know that men have to earn a living and are to some extent compelled, because of the piece-rates operating or for other economic reasons, with which many of us are familiar, to hustle and take undue risks. Some day I hope the industry will be so prosperous, and living in such a state of complete harmony, that there will he no need for men to hustle and bustle in order to earn a living in the mines. But it is essential to promote greater care, and I hope that this Conference will in effect, if I may say so to the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown), who raised the point of a Safety Week, to some extent take the place of such an organisation and do a great deal of good. At all events, I hope very shortly to receive complete reports of what occurred at the Conference and to take careful note of the discussions that ensued upon the speeches made by the officials, and, if I detect in the discussions any points that might be used by the Department for the purpose of promoting greater safety, hon. Members may rely upon my support in such a case.

I want to come to rather more constructive points. It may be said, "This is all very well; you are only doing what has been done before"—that is true in a large measure—"but what about new regulations? What about the consolidation of the Mines Acts?" I have given that question a certain amount of attention, but it is impossible at this stage to promote further mining legislation. I have a shrewd suspicion that the House has had enough of it for the time being, but if, later on, we find that the House is in a mood to stand a little more, I am quite willing to consider that matter. As regards consolidating the Mines Acts, I would remind hon. Members that the best approach in that direction is to secure the co-operation of both sides. If we secure that, we can be assured of support.

We have succeeded in taking a definite step in one particular direction. I refer to more efficient illumination in the pits, and I approach this aspect of the subject by making particular reference to that most painful disease, prevalent in the industry, called nystagmus. About the facts I shall not speak, but so far as research has gone, although there is a difference of opinion, it is generally agreed that nystagmus cases are attributable to deficient lighting. It has been suggested that to some extent they may be due to the stooping posture adopted by miners, and the gassy condition of the pits. That may he so, but the bulk of scientific opinion on this subject holds the view that inefficient lighting is the primary cause. Therefore, we are devoting some attention to the question of better illumination, and I want to read to the House very shortly—and I take this opportunity of making the announcement for the first time—a summary of the draft Order that we propose to submit to the industry for their discussion and, we hope, for their endorsement.

These new proposals in relation to mine lighting aim at a general improvement in the standard of lighting in three principal directions. First of all, there is the raising of the minimum candlepower standard of miners' safety lamps—not only the flame lamp, but the electric lamp also. Then we propose to provide a relaxation in the present drastic statutory restriction upon methods of lighting other than safety lamps. That is a subject that is full of difficulties, because there is, as everybody familiar with mining is aware, a dispute as to whether the use of electricity in the pits is desirable, and I am speaking of electric lighting. Then we propose to secure, if we can, definite provision for a reasonable standard of surface lighting, which hitherto has not been regulated by law, except for railway shunting operations.

I have not the time to give the figures now, but we are faced with a considerable number of accidents and fatalities on the surface, many of them due, no doubt, to faulty lighting. We propose to proceed at once with this draft, and to submit it to the industry, hoping for their consent and support, not only with a view to dealing with the accidents that are due to faulty lighting on the surface, at the coal face, and on the main roads in the mines of this country, but also with a view to making a definite attack on the problem of nystagmus; and I hope we shall receive, when the matter comes before both sides in the industry, a very large measure of support.

I want to deal with a number of questions that have been raised, and consequently I am unable to proceed, in the time at my disposal, to all the other constructive measures that we propose to put into operation, but, briefly, we propose to deal with the qualifications of colliery officials. That answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) that we must raise the standard of technique and that we must raise the qualification of mine officials generally. It is proposed to consider, and possibly to adopt, the majority of the recommendations contained in the report presented by Sir Thomas Holland's Committee, and I hope to be able to do something on those lines very shortly.

There is a further point, in relation to the question of the Inspectorate. It is alleged that the Inspectorate is not sufficiently numerous and that we ought to add to it. I can only remind the House that in 1924 I appointed 12 additional inspectors, and I understand that five extra inspectors have been appointed since, but in my judgment, instead of appointing new inspectors at this stage, we ought to relieve them of some of their present work which has no relation to safety at all. Take, for instance, the constant investigations in relation to overtime. I am hoping, as a result of setting up new machinery in relation to overtime complaints, to relieve the inspectors of many of their present functions in that connection and that is the general line that I hope to take as regards the Inspectorate, but, if I find it necessary to appoint more inspectors for one purpose or another, I shall, of course, give the question very careful consideration.

There are one or two other points that have been raised, but the most important, in my view, is that relating to the employment of boys in the mines of this country. I confess, frankly, that if I had my way, I would prohibit the employment of boys in mines, certainly under the age of 16, but I must remind hon. Members that there are economic causes operating which cannot be ignored. It is perfectly easy to say that Northumberland shows a very high rate of accidents among boys—most objectionable and most appalling it is, and I do not seek to defend it for one moment—and that we should prohibit the employment of boys in that particular area. Apart from lack of time and the difficulty of securing legislation at this time, it is the fact. that boys have to he found some employment. When you come along and increase the school-leaving age, it is another matter, but for the moment boys who leave school at the age of 14 must secure employment of some kind, and the only employment to be found in mining areas is mining employment. To say to these boys, "You must not go into the pit at that age" is simply to place them on the street, doing nothing, a hindrance to themselves and to their parents.

I propose to take another course in the meantime. I believe that it is possible to train the boys, and, in response to the point raised by the hon. Member for Clayton, as regards the prohibition of the employment of boys under 16 in. Germany, I think he was hardly accurate. I happen to know the facts. The Rhenish Westphalian Syndicate hat, an apprenticeship scheme which provides certain work on the surface for boys between 14 and 16, but, generally speaking, throughout Germany boys are employed at the age of 14 onwards, and indeed there is a minimum in a Convention that has been accepted by Germany under which the same condition applies. I hope to consider very shortly the possibility of establishing some form of training for boys, but I cannot do that without he full consent of the owners, and therefore it is all the more reason why we should attempt to secure co-operation.

There is a variety of other matters that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint asked that more money should be spent on research arising out of the Miners' Welfare Fund. Last year there was spent out of the Miners' Welfare Fund by the Safety in Mines Research Board more than £50,000 on research. There is research into explosions; we have an experimental station at Buxton; we have extensive laboratories at Sheffield; there is all the work that is being done—some through the universities—under the supervision of Professor Wheeler and Dr. Coward; we have new investigations into falls of roofs conducted by Major Hudspeth, one of the most eminent mining engineers in the country; and we have investigation and research into wire ropes and haulage generally, and there is a considerable improvement as a result of these research investigations.

In the last minute of my time I will deal with the question of the use of gas detectors. A number of detectors have been placed before us for our approval, but I can only speak of one. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). As a result of a conference with the Ring-rose Detector firm, and the officials of the Safety in Mines Research Board, I succeeded in settling the difference between them in relation to the testing of the Ringrose Detector. I am glad to say that the Safety in Mines Research Board have now agreed to apply further tests. These have been referred to by one of the speakers to-day. I shall do all that I can to see that practical tests are secured at the earliest possible moment, and I can assure my hon. Friends that if I find that the Ringrose or any other detector can be used to benefit the miners, and to secure greater safety in the mines of the country, either by a compulsory order or by inducing the owners to accept it voluntarily, I shall certainly take action.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of nonfatal accidents in coal mines and urges the Government to take every possible measure for the protection of those engaged in this dangerous industry.