HC Deb 21 February 1934 vol 286 cc473-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir F. Thomson.]

11.17 p.m.


I desire to raise a question relative to deep mine working. On 6th February I asked a question of the Secretary for Mines regarding Parsonage Colliery in Lancashire which had attained a depth of over 4,000 feet, and in which workmen were complaining of the excessive heat. The Secretary for Mines, in his reply stated that no complaints by workmen had been brought to his notice. With regard to the depth, the answer given by the Secretary for Mines on 14th November was that the deepest pit was 3,750 feet. On 6th February, in reply to this question, he said that the depth of the Parsonage Pit was 3,850 feet. It had increased in depth by 100 feet since the previous answer. The information I have is that this pit is more than 4,000 feet in depth. The shaft itself is 1,000 yards deep. Then there is a brow of 1,800 yards which dips one in five, and calculating on that basis, it puts the depth well over 4,000 feet. The coal face extends further. That is the vertical depth from the surface to the underground worker. The previous Commission said that 4,000 feet was the limit of practical working, and that at that point it was almost impossible for men to work with any degree of comfort. Therefore, they gave the opinion that when that point was reached something ought to be done. The position is that at that depth, without any ventilation, the temperature is 115° Fahrenheit. With all the artificial conditions prevailing at the present time—and they are doing the best that can be done at that colliery, and one is not complaining about that matter—on 12th October last year, when the pit was not as deep as now, we got a measurement there of 103° Fahrenheit, and the top measurement was 103° Fahrenheit. Therefore, one can get an idea of the conditions under which the men are working.

Let me give some idea of their complaints. It was through my going round the constituency and getting various reports from the men who actually work there that I asked permission to go down the mine myself. I went there on the 12th October, and was able to see the conditions prevailing at the time. I will try to describe them. The men were working naked, covered with sweat and dirt, and it was impossible to distinguish who they were. One thought that it was almost impossible for them to continue their work. It was on the coal face where we made the measurement, and there there was a brisk current of air. One can imagine what the conditions would be when the men were doing packs, away from the direct current of air. I brought this question forward in order that we might see what could be clone. There must come a depth beyond which men must not be allowed to work, if the conditions are as unfavorable as I have pointed out.

I have had a letter to-day from a man who is working at the mine, in which he says that the men have to retire from the coal face from time to time in order to rest themselves, and to get a little more air than they can obtain at the coal face. He also makes the complaint that lads are working there, and he wonders why conditions are allowed to prevail under which lads work in such circumstances. In this country we are behind other countries in dealing with this matter. Other countries have laid down conditions as to temperature. In Spain, if the temperature exceeds 91 degrees, the men are not allowed to work more than six hours. In Holland persons under 20 years of age have not to work in an atmosphere exceeding 86 degrees, and even then adults are not allowed to work more than six hours a day. In Germany they must not work more than six hours if the temperature exceeds 82 degrees, and in France the limit is six hours if the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.

In those countries they have done something to meet the conditions, but in this country we have never examined the question properly because we have not been going to the depths which exist at the present time. I want to give the Secretary for Mines a chance to reply, and I will say nothing further. My object in bringing the matter forward is that I want the Mines Department to pay close attention to what is taking place and to have reports made to the Department from time to time. If the hon. Member feels, as a humane man must, that the conditions are such that the men cannot work with comfort, then I want the Department to take some action, either by reducing the time during which the men are allowed to work and slave there, or, if that cannot be done, then to close the mine because it is unfit for the men to work under such slave conditions.

11.24 p.m.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)

The House might assume, from what has been said by the hon. Member, that nothing has been done in regard to this matter. There have not been many problems affecting mines in this country about which more, and more varied, work has been done, starting from the Royal Commission of 1907. I am very sorry that the matter has arisen in this way. The hon. Member did put two questions to me on this matter, and on both occasions I said that I should be very glad to discuss the matter with him. I am very sorry that he did not take that opportunity, because there is a vast amount of information which throws an entirely different light on the problem as it has been presented to-night—in all sincerity, I admit—by the hon. Member. First of all, we get the statement about the degrees. All the scientific evidence points out that the temperature that matters is not the dry bulb temperature but the wet bulb temperature as related to that and the current of ventilation. This is a highly difficult and technical matter, and since it has been raised in a somewhat startling manner by the hon. Member I am entitled to all the time that is left. This is very important from at least two points of view. It is important from the point of view of the health and comfort of the workers, and also, as the hon. Member has said in his rather startling sentence, from the point of view of the continuance of the industry itself. There are many workers in this mine, and there are also men in other areas where the shallow seams have become extinct and where it has become necessary to go deeper for coal. The Royal Commission in 1907 considered this matter and in their report they made it clear that— On the whole we do not think that any good object will be served by prescribing a limit of wet bulb temperature for carrying on work in mines. That is not the temperature of 103 to which the hon. Member refers. The wet bulb temperature at the moment to which he refers was 82 degrees, not 103 degrees. After that report was issued, a great deal of special study was undertaken by that great scientist, who has probably done more for the mines and miners of this country than any other person, Dr. J. S. Haldane. As a result of very close study and also the work carried on by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and other bodies, a special committee was set up to deal with this question. As I pointed out in my first answer, they have issued no less than 17 different reports, and I would beg the hon. Member to read some of them. Take Number Six by Professor K. Neville Moss, dealing with the effect of high air temperature on the miner. They made an exhaustive examination of the problem. If the hon. Member would read this report, and the other 16 reports, he would see that so far from there having been any slackness in the matter, there has been the most intense and scientific research. Let me say this, in fairness to the managers of this particular mine, that they have done all they can to make the conditions as favourable as possible.


I said that.


I say it also. These reports have been issued by Dr. Haldane and his assistants. I was hoping the hon. Member would come to me and ask me to discuss the matter with him, and in preparation for that I wrote to Dr. Haldane asking him to give me some notes about the subject. In his letter he says that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) relates quite correctly that the temperature at which he found men working in the colliery was about 103 degrees. He says: This is much hotter than the shade temperature ever reached on the surface in England, but not so high as is often the case in warm climates.


What about the pressure?


I hope the hon. Member will allow me to give him, not my own information, but the information of a man who is incomparably the ablest and most distinguished judge of this matter in England, who has given months and years of his life to a study of the matter. Dr. Haldane goes on to say: In the Report of the Royal Commission on Health and Safety in Mines, 1909, the question is carefully discussed as to whether it is desirable to place (as was and still is the case in certain continental countries) some limitation on the temperature permitted in coal mines. It was pointed out that it is not the air temperature, but the temperature shown by a wet bulb thermometer that is important, other things being equal, to the men working in a coal mine, also that European miners, at any rate, always stop work before their temperatures rise to any injurious extent. He also points out that: On the whole we do not think that any good object would be served by prescribing a limit of wet bulb temperature for the carrying on of work in the mines. With regard to the hon. Member's statement about the 4,000 feet, the point there is misunderstood. The committee which dealt with this problem was a committee which dealt with the question of coal reserves in this country and working facilities. They did not draw a definite limit of 4,000 feet, but in their report say that they took the previously fixed level of 4,000 feet, which was in the report of 1871, as a kind of datum level.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.