Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £137,200, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade." [Note.—£68,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID DAVIES
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I am moving this reduction for the purpose of focussing the attention of the country on what we regard as the continuous failure of the Department to bring about a diminution in the number of mining accidents. I feel that I can express on behalf of all the Members on these benches their appreciation of any efforts made by the Department to reduce the number of accidents, but in certain respects the Department have not done all they ought to have done, and while we throw them a bouquet of appreciation we wish, at the same time, to make specific charges in other directions. If we can galvanise the dry bones of the Department into life and secure the elimination of accidents which we believe can be prevented we shall be rendering the miners a great service. I have been asked to devote my few remarks to accidents arising from explosions. I admit straight away that they form a very small proportion, about 5 per cent., of the total number of accidents in mines, but we believe that that 5 per cent. can be removed from the annals of mining casualties, and, therefore, we desire that the most acute attention of the Department, should be given to this matter. I do not know whether the figures given this afternoon by the Secretary for Mines fit in with the reply to a former question, but I understood him to say that there had 1634 been 96 firedamp explosions since 1926. On 27th November last year, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), the Secretary for Mines indicated that there had been 277 firedamp explosions from 1928 to 1932 inclusive.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If the hon. Member will not be too impetuous I will let him hear the full reply. The Secretary for Mines stated that 277 ignitions had caused the deaths of 316 people and injured 538, but what I am sure astounded practical men was his further observation :All these explosions resulted from ignitions of firedamp, but it must not be assumed, because of this, that the ventilation was inadequate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1933; col. 525, Vol. 283.]I submit to any intelligent, practical man that it would be impossible to have the accumulations of gas that were responsible for those firedamp ignitions without a violation of the regulations as to ventilation, and, therefore, we want to raise in an acute form the necessity for stricter supervision to see that Section 29 of the Coal Mines Act is carried out. If we had proper ventilation there would not be any possibility of such explosions. To that statement I will make one qualification, which is that a sudden outburst of gas may take place. That is not unknown in this country. I have been present to investigate the cause of death in connection with outbursts of gas, including the greatest ever known in this country, and in that case there was no ignition, although the amount of gas was incalculable. That outburst of gas extinguished lights a thousand yards away from where it occurred, against an air current of more than 40,000 feet. Apart from actual outbursts there is no reason why we should have ignition if a mine is ventilated properly; and it would be an extraordinary coincidence if the means of ignition were present simultaneously with the outburst of gas.
I have been intimately acquainted with all the investigations in South Wales in the last 10 years, and I have discovered that every one of those explosions resulted from failure to comply with Section 29 of the Coal Mines Act. Those accumulations had been there for some 1635 considerable time and were inviting ignition, because if the accumulations continue for any length of time the means of igniting them will occur. We regard this subject as of the highest possible importance in view of the loss and suffering which these explosions have inflicted on our mining villages. We have been accustomed to hear from the Government Bench the statement, "I am sure all Members will join with me in expressing our deepest sympathy and condolence with the relatives." We would like that to cease from to-day in connection with colliery explosions, and we believe that, if the Secretary for Mines desires, the remedy is within the realm of practical politics.
When an explosion occurs, an inquiry is set up. I am beginning to realise, after careful examination of the inquiries that have been held, that they resolve themselves into a farce. Two things are specifically intended when an inquiry is set up; the first is to ascertain the cause in order to prevent a recurrence at any other colliery, and the second, which I have always hoped for, is to prosecute and punish the people responsible for the violation of the law. We have heard from the Secretary for Mines of his intense anxiety on behalf of the miners of this country. I do not wish hon. Members to interpret my heated arguments as emanating from vindictiveness, but rather from an intense desire to eliminate what I believe can be eliminated. I will draw the attention of the Committee to two recent explosions. Hon. Members will pardon me for mentioning their divisions, but it is highly necessary for me to do so in order to reveal the lackadaisical methods of the Mines Department. In November, 1932, an explosion occurred at Garswood Hall Colliery, in which 27 men were killed. The inquiry was conducted by Sir Henry Walker, the Chief Inspector of Mines, and he discovered that the explosion was caused by inadequate ventilation. I will read from his report, on page 46 of which he says :The scheme of ventilation was bad and the manager evidently recognised that this was the case.Long before the working-out of the pillars was begun they bad seen the inadequacy of the ventilation. If the ventilation had been conducted in the manner in which it 1636 should have been, they would have had a separate scheme.The air current at the time of the explosion had to find its way as best it could along the edge of the goaf; this was not right, proper travellable airways should have been kept open either by use of chocks or stone buildings.I wish to emphasise the next paragraph in the report, in which Sir Henry Walker says :It would have been a wise thing for Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Latham"—the agent and manager of the colliery—to have taken Mr. Charlton into their confidence.Mr. Charlton is the divisional mines inspector—When they found themselves in difficulties, they should either have gone to see Mr. Charlton or asked him to visit the colliery to discuss the position.Are we to understand that the lives of the miners of this country are to be left in the hands of people who are absolutely incompetent without those people consulting a mines inspector in order to obtain adequate ventilation? I would reinforce the argument that I am advancing by proceeding to the cause of ignition. The cause, in the instance with which I have been dealing, was a defective signalling arrangement. It is well known that the signalling ought to have been in accordance with the certificate of the Mines Department. The Chief Inspector says :The signalling system in use was unsafe in the presence of firedamp,and he goes on to state that there were intrinsically safe instruments which could have been secured. There is no doubt that a spark from this defective signalling arrangement was the cause of ignition.Many types of bells are available which have been tested and certified by the Mines Department as intrinsically safe. Their safety is achieved by incorporating the bells —and so on.I want to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the paragraph in which the Inspector states :The position is complicated and not easy to understand. It is necessary that it should be cleared up and steps are being taken by the Mines Department to that end.The date of that report is 28th February, 1933. On 16th May, 1933, an explosion occurred at West Cannock, Staffordshire. 1637 The investigation, resulting from the inquiry which followed that explosion, was undertaken by the divisional inspector, Mr. W. E. T. Hartley, who discovered practically the same condition, as far as ventilation is concerned, as was discovered in the Garswood Colliery, and that the cause of ignition was the very same as had produced the ignition at Garswood. I put a question to the Secretary for Mines about two months ago, asking him how many visits had been paid by the mines inspector to that Staffordshire Colliery during 1932–33 and up to the date of the explosion. The answer showed that the inspector had paid an abnormally large number of visits. It was an exceptional number, compared with those in which we secure the services of inspectors in our mines.
If anything happened in the civil life of this country which was likely to prove a menace to the people, an S.O.S. would be sent out, warning the people of the danger. The inspector must have known the cause of the Garswood explosion, and he visited the Staffordshire colliery dozens of times, according to the report and the Parliamentary answer, and his attention had never been drawn to the defective signalling apparatus that caused this ignition. The Secretary for Mines was exceedingly dilatory. The report was written on 28th February, and the steps taken by the Department resulted in a circular being sent out on 15th May. The manager of the colliery must have received the circular on the very day on which the explosion occurred. Surely it was not necessary to have allowed the lapse of time from 28th February, the date upon which the report was signed, because there is a highly efficient and systematic inspectorate arrangement in this country, and every inspector ought to have been set going indicating to colliery companies that there was a danger, in that signalling appliances which most people thought foolproof were capable of igniting firedamp. This is what the inspector says with regard to this investigation :(1) The explosion was one of firedamp, the part played by coal dust being relatively small.(2) The presence of firedamp was due, not to an outburst of gas, but due to normal bleeding from the strata combined with an emission from the extension of 328's level beyond the engine.1638(3) The firedamp accumulated through the ventilating current on the coal face being too weak to remove it.(4) The weakness of the ventilating current was due partly to leakage through stoppings and sheets. …Then he goes on to say :(5) The means of ignition was an electric spark due to the ringing of the signal bell at the engine in 328's level, but there is no evidence to show what caused the bell to ring.(6) The bell was not of a type certified by the Mines Department, but it was believed. …They try to cover up the colliery company in every instance, and they try to put the workmen into it whenever there is an opportunity. I attended and took part in an inquiry by the Chief Inspector of Mines into an explosion at Llwynapia in the Rhondda Valley, where he stated that the ignition was due to a man striking a match to light a cigarette. He found a half-burnt cigarette in a box that contained a penny and a tram ticket in the man's waistcoat pocket, but there was no evidence to lead one to believe that that was the cause; in fact, there was more evidence for believing that it was not. Every man knows that he commits a very serious violation of the law if he smokes underground. This man was within 20 yards of the official in charge of that part of the mine, and it is not probable that a man would strike a match in the presence of a person who was likely to bring him before the "beak."; but they tried to attach the blame to the workman, who could not defend himself, and remove it from the colliery company. This signalling apparatus to which I have referred was not in conformity with the mines regulations. We have discovered from answers to questions—
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)
Is the hon. Member now referring to anything that happened at Llwynapia?
§ Mr. DAVIES
The scene of the disaster was full of gas when I got there, but at the point where the ignition is supposed to have taken place it was gas-free. There was no conflict. The difference between the hon. Member for East Rhondda and myself was only as to the cause of ignition. I argued that it was spontaneous combustion, and my hon. Friend argued that it was something else. If ever two reports were issued that showed more conclusive ground for prosecution than these, I should be sorry for it, but nevertheless no prosecution for any violation of the law has taken place. I want to repeat that, if collieries were ventilated as they ought to be, colliery explosions would disappear.
I want to direct the attention of the Committee to what I might term the philosophy of inevitability, the fatalism, of the Mines Department. They believe that accumulations of firedamp are absolutely inevitable, and, in order to reinforce that statement, I will quote from the Chief Inspector's report. In his report for the year 1932, the last that has been issued, he draws attention to the stone-dusting of mines, and refers to the anomaly, if I may so describe it, of providing protection against coal dust along the main roadways while the regulations do not demand that stone-dusting shall take place at the face, which is obviously the most dangerous place. He says :In my Report for 1929 I called attention to the potential danger of an explosion being propagated by coal dust along the coal faces in an area, which, except for the stone-dusting which has to be done before firing a shot, are not required to be stone-dusted. This potential danger is difficult to combat and until it is overcome the best available precautions are to stone-dust heavily in the vicinity of shots and of blowers or accumulations of firedamp, and to maintain a high percentage of stone dust on lengths of road next the face, especially in conveyor gates and loading places.If that is not a philosophy of inevitability, I do not know what is, because, if there were an accumulation of firedamp, I, as a miners' official, would not talk about stone-dusting, but about ventilation to remove the gas. If that is what emanates from the heads of the Department, is it any wonder that the subordinates in the districts assimilate the same philosophy, and that it is percolating through to the mine managements, who are carrying on 1640 in the same higgledy-piggledy manner? I want to keep on emphasising that ventilation can prevent colliery explosions. If every mine manager were compelled to go to a colliery where there has been a violent explosion, he would see to it that in future there would be no possibility of an explosion in his colliery. The devastation of Flanders sinks into insignificance beside some of the violent explosions that I have witnessed, and some of those explosions have happened because we have had too much science. We are suffering from the indigestion of science and doses of patent medicine, instead of taking the healthy food of ventilation.
With regard to the question of stone-dusting, I only want to say that the regulations are really farcical, apart altogether from the fact that we believe that the stone dust injures the workmen who inhale it. Experiments have proved that the coal from my division itself contains a sufficient percentage of inert matter to prevent the propagation of flame, but, in the famous Silkstone colliery in Yorkshire 65 per cent of stone-dust is required. The greater the volatile content of the coal, the greater the percentage of inert matter that is necessary to prevent the propagation of flame. But under these regulations a colliery manager may escape liability, because they lay down the proportion of 50–50. We do not want 50 per cent. in South Wales, but we are compelled to have it. They want 65 per cent. in the North to prevent propagation, whereas we have 50. That is the kind of intelligent arrangement we have under an intelligent Mines Department. Again, I say that that would not be necessary if we had adequate ventilation, and if proper provision were made for dealing with the coal dust, because, after all, stone dust is only introduced in order to deal with the danger of coal dust.
We had a reply from the Secretary of Mines the other day, which some of us knew before, showing that you want a very large quantity of dust, the minimum quantity necessary for the propagation of flame being one-tenth of an ounce per cubic foot of air. Economics ought not to count in the life of the people. Any mine in any part of the country ought not to have sufficient dust in the event of firedamp ignition to propagate flame, because it wants a very large quantity to 1641 do it. I know an area where we had a colliery explosion which accounted for 13 men, because science had provided for them flame-proof electrical apparatus, and they neglected the ventilation. Because of that, the electrician neglected his apparatus, and we had an ignition which killed 11 men.
I come to another potential cause of colliery explosions, and that is shot-firing. We are happy in the South Wales area, because we have an inspector who believes that there is great potential danger in shot-firing, and he has gone a long way to eliminate shot-firing altogether. I want to appeal to the Secretary for Mines to reduce to a minimum the use of shot-firing, because science has not yet discovered exactly every cause of ignition in a mine, and we believe that shot-firing, apart from the known presence or the possibility of seeing the gas, is capable of igniting gas. Experiments have been conducted at Buxton with regard to the adiabatic compression of firedamp. I believe it is possible for a shot to cause firedamp ignition without the firedamp being observed, and it is possible to eliminate, to a very large degree, the shot-firing which is now taking place.
I will spend a minute or two, if the Committeee will follow me, on the question of packing the gobs in the mines of this country. There are two schools of thought which operate at the moment, one animated, I believe, mainly by economy, which is the school that does not believe in tight packing, but in intermittent packing, or, as some call it, controlled dropping of the roof. I submit that where you have got in a mine the vacant spaces made inevitable by either intermittent packing or controlled dropping of the roof, you have a potential devastating cause of explosion. It is not safe to be in a mine where there is an accumulation, because we have had explosions without a person being in the pit. There is the famous Maindy Colliery, Pentre, Rhondda, where they had a very devastating explosion during a week-end, without anyone being in the pit, and the experts say that a fall of roof and a frictional heat produced by the fall is of sufficient intensity to ignite the firedamp. If that is possible, are we going to expose miners to the danger by allowing large areas of gobs to be left unpacked, thus doing two things—bringing 1642 the rubbish up to produce ugly scars upon our mountain sides and in the villages of Yorkshire and other parts, causing an enormous expenditure to private and public owners of property due to subsidence, and allowing the miner to work in inadequate ventilation with insufficient oxygen, because if you have a brisk current of ventilation it gives a man more energy, and probably prevents many accidents from other causes.
I am a believer in complete packing, and not in the intermittent or draughtboard system. Germany can show us something in that direction. Although I do not agree with all the policy of the Germans, they can show us something in connection with the packing of mines, which they do by means of hydraulics. Where the gobs are not packed, they are reservoirs and receptacles for the retention and accumulation of firedamp. You get a collapse of roof on these faces, and pressure is brought to bear on the roadway where this gas is driven out into the working face and the air current becomes charged, and where all those colliery managers believe that electrical machinery is protected and is dependent upon the human element, you find, as we have had in the past, and as will happen in the future, that the machine has been allowed to become defective, and ignition takes place. Therefore we say that that ought to be eliminated if it can be done, and we ought to turn our attention to improving the ventilation, but I suppose it is cheaper to send the rubbish to the surface. If the coalowners of this country paid some regard to the question of packing, I think that it would be profitable to them from a purely economic point of view, apart altogether from the safety point of view. It was stated in our divisional inspector's report two years ago that a colliery within four miles of where I live had adopted for 40 years complete packing. The expenditure rate, I venture to suggest, is as low as anywhere in the Kingdom. The inspector points out that the cost of production in that colliery was 1s. 6d. a ton cheaper than the cost of repairs in the contiguous colliery where intermittent, willy-nilly packing is observed, where there are millions of tons of rubbish on the mountain side packed up to such an extent that it is shoving the houses down and moving the mountains. In the first colliery there has never been an ignition 1643 of firedamp, but in the second colliery we have had one of the most devastating holocausts in this country in which 320 men lost their lives. If you want a concrete evidence of the utility of packing from the economical point of view or from the point of view of the safety of the miner, there you have it.
I want to conclude by saying that provision is made in the Mines Act that where the presence of 2½ per cent. of firedamp exists, the men must be withdrawn. You cannot get an ignition of firedamp unless there is over 5 per cent., so that there is an enormous margin between the withdrawal point and the ignition point. I wrote an article, or at least I said a few words yesterday in the "Daily Herald," and I have received three letters this morning, not from my division but one from Staffordshire, one from Yorkshire and the third from Derbyshire, in which all three complain of the conditions in their pits. One of them says that he had to work in an atmosphere of over 4 per cent. of firedamp, and when the mine inspectors came into the area a telephone message was sent from the pit top to say that the inspectors were coming. This is in a letter I have received. If the Secretary for Mines would like to see it, I will show it him, but I would not like to divulge the man's identity, because it is not safe for him. He says that there are coal-cutters working in over 4 per cent. of gas, and that a boy is being employed doing nothing but conveying lamps to the lamp-room. He says that they have 18 lamps, and this boy is—
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The hon. Member raises an issue in a letter which he promises to show me. He makes statements about a particular pit, and really I think that we ought to have had some information.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am using that only as an illustration to show that what this man has the courage to complain of in this particular pit is general throughout the coal-fields. I, myself, worked underground for 26 years at a colliery, and I worked hundreds of hours in 5 per cent. of gas where my lamp had to be placed back 10 yards from the working face because of my inability to take it on the other face. If I had groused about it, I would have got the sack, but if I had had the sense which I have later in life, 1644 I would not have done it. Providence, however, was exceptionally kind to me. If I had had a defective lamp, I should have gone to my long home years ago. [Laughter.] I am sorry that I dropped a remark which caused hilarity, because this is not a matter which ought to arouse any hilarity. It is a very serious matter when we allow the existence in this country of a state of affairs which, we believe, can be eliminated. I want to conclude by pointing out to the Minister —I know that he is not endowed with detailed knowledge of mining—that he has a great opportunity. He has got the chance of going down to posterity and of being praised by the miners of the future as a person who laid down the principle of the establishment of a system of ventilation which would make colliery explosions impossible.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I congratulate my hon. Friend on having put this Amendment down. The statements he has made are not too strong having regard to the circumstances of the case. I suppose there is no subject nearer to the hearts of Members on these benches than the question of accidents in mines, and explosions in particular. There is scarcely a miners' representative on these benches who has not at some period of his life been very close to a mine explosion. I have had the unfortunate experience of being down three pits when there has been an explosion. In one 28 men were cremated. Not a single dead body ever came out. On another occasion, in 1931, 45 men were blown away—a sight that I shall never forget if I live to be 100. I read in the Press this week-end a statement to the effect that the reply of the Secretary for Mines was going to be that deaths from explosions are only a minor matter and do not count to the same extent as loss of life from other causes. Explosions are on the increase, especially when you have regard to the fact that there are far fewer pits working to-day than there were 10 or 15 years ago, but it is true to say that the loss of life from explosions is far less to-day than it used to be. That is largely due to the fact that stone-dusting limits the area of the explosion and, therefore, you do not get the large number of deaths that you used to do before stone-dusting was common. The hon. Gentleman claimed that he has done his best to "swot" up the subject, 1645 and I think he has. When the idea of stone-dusting was first propagated, it met with a good deal of opposition which had to be surmounted before it became general. But in the last three years more than 205 lives have been lost as the result of explosions, and therefore I hope we shall not have the argument used that this is a small matter that does not count for much.
My ire is aroused when I read the reports of official inquiries as to the amount of time that is spent in trying to ascertain the causes of ignition. You have inquiries whether it was a bell wire, whether it was a filament of an electric lamp, or a spark from the pick or whether anyone had been smoking. There is a good deal of ignorance on that point. I remember being at a colliery when 30 or 40 dead bodies were coming out and a medical man flippantly said, "Men will still take matches into the pit." He said it in perfect ignorance. He did not appreciate the significance of his statement. I exercised a good deal of self control, with the dead bodies around me, in not replying to him as I might have done on other occasions. The average man does not take matches into the pit.
The Department should concentrate upon the question as to how an accumulation of gas is possible. In order to have an explosion there must be at least two factors operating simultaneously. If this Chamber were full of gas, you could not get an explosion unless you had the means of ignition. If your kitchen at home were full of coal gas and no light were put to it and someone opened the window, no harm would be done, but, if someone came along with a light, you would get an explosion. Parliament laid it down many years ago that electric apparatus underground had to be closed down if there were 1¼ per cent. of gas. It was laid down in 1910 or 1911, in Section 67, that men would not be allowed to work in any place in which there was 2½ per cent. or more of gas in the atmosphere. But you cannot get an explosion until you get between 5 and 6 per cent. We have to concentrate upon the question why these accumulations of gas are possible.
I have been down a few pits since 1931. The conditions in some of the pits to-day are worse than I have ever known them. 1646 There is a hurry and scurry to get the coal out, and some of the deputies are almost afraid. They have to get output, and when there is from 2½ to 3 per cent. of gas they have to take risks. They have to wink at it. There is no one on these benches who has not worked in more than 2½ per cent. The deputy ought to be devoting the whole of his time to the condition of the mine apart from getting coal out of it. When he is told that his job is to inspect a district in accordance with the Act and that he is also to see that he gets a good output, he is worried and anxious. He is not at liberty, and he is not in the frame of mind always, to pay the same attention to the district from the point of view of the danger of explosion. Explosions from shot-firing are on the increase. I have a summary of a report of the last eight or nine explosions, and some shot-firers have admitted that they have too much work to do and have not sufficient time to examine the places that ought to be examined before they fire the shots. When you get an examiner stating at an inquiry that he had 22 shots to fire in a shift which would take him 5½ hours to go round, he could not pay sufficient attention to each place that he had to examine before he fired the shots. These are two questions that ought to have attention paid to them : why the gas is allowed to accumulate; and why the shot-firers are overworked.
I want to put a question to the Secretary for Mines, and I hope to get an answer. I put the same question 12 months ago but got no reply. Is a miner entitled to know when he is working in gas? It is a fair question. The Mines Act lays it down that a man must do certain things, and it implies that he must have the means to ascertain if he is working in gas. But there are pits in which there is scarcely a single oil lamp—nothing but electric lamps—where a man has no means of ascertaining what percentage of gas he is working in. Will the hon. Gentleman answer that blunt question? We have a right to know. You have whole districts in a pit with no means of testing for gas, and you have to wait three or four hours until the deputy comes round to ascertain whether you have 2½ or 3 per cent. The hon. Gentleman informed me in December last that he proposed to make some kind of gas detector compulsory, and we cheered 1647 that statement. I asked the other day when the inquiries are going to be completed on the point, and he told me he is meeting the Miners' Federation to morrow. I do not want to prejudice the discussion with the Federation but I should like to put one or two questions to the hon. Gentleman. Paragraph 2 of the regulation says :From time to time the manager of the mine shall determine the number of detectors to be provided and shall determine also the place in which they are to be used, subject to the condition that in the course of each shift there shall be at least one detector in use.Are we to infer that, if this regulation is made compulsory, if there is one detector in the district, that complies with the regulation? I know districts that you could not walk round in an hour. I know districts in which you have 200 men working. Are we to take it that, if those men have one detector in operation, that satisfies the Department? Then, in case of a dispute, have the workmen no rights in the matter? The regulation suggests that the manager shall be the person to determine the kind of detector. Suppose he says that in his opinion a flame safety lamp is best and the men say, "In our opinion it is not. We ought to have an automatic gas detector which indicates gas without the human factor coming in." What will happen? Have the men to be satisfied with the manager's opinion? In case of dispute, ought not the workmen to have some say as to which is the best kind of detector? I hope that in his discussions on the matter the hon. Gentleman will keep in mind that this suggested regulation is totally inadequate. To suggest one for each district is ridiculous. He should also have some regard to what is going to happen in case of disagreement between the two sides.
In answer to a question to-day the hon. Gentleman said there were about 100 automatic detectors in our pits. I notice a statement in the "Nottingham Guardian" that the Staveley Pit is being equipped with automatic gas detectors which have been approved by the Mines Department for six or eight years, which have passed through all kinds of tests, and have had to get over prejudices, the like of which one has scarcely ever previously known. Here we have the manager of the Staveley Pit with courage and fore-sight 1648 enough to equip his pit with 100 detectors. What is the Mines Department doing to encourage the use of automatic gas detectors? I take it from the reply given this afternoon that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the owners of the Staveley Pit are doing the right thing, and I ask him : what are the Mines Department doing to encourage them? They have had advertisements in their annual reports in which the divisional inspectors have advocated these automatic gas detectors. Are the Mines Department doing anything to encourage the different districts to put them down? We have a right to expect an answer to these pertinent questions. Is the Secretary of Mines satisfied that his inspectorate is large enough adequately to inspect the pits of this country? I hope he will not tell the Committee that what my hon. Friend said about the telephone bell working is not true. It is true. Bless my life and soul, I could always tell when the inspector was coming. It was wonderful how quickly the people at the top of the pit telephoned underground and how the news was passed on. It is almost the same to-day.
There is another kind of inspection permitted by the Coal Mines Act which, I am sure, all will agree is very necessary. The miners for years, long before some of us were born, advocated workmen's inspection. The 1887 Mines Act laid it down in a limited fashion, and under Section 16 of the 1911 Act, the workmen at a colliery could appoint two persons to inspect the pits at least once a month. It is a very valuable section of an Act, but is one which has almost fallen into disuse owing to the poverty of the men. Here is a good supplemental method of inspecting the pits, and, like my hon. Friend, I know the value of it. The workmen appoint two men as inspectors who do not go down on their own, but with the agent of the colliery, or the under-manager, and sometimes the manager. They go round, and are able to point out certain things which need doing. They have to send in a report, and they can test for gas and do a wonderful amount of work from the point of view of safety. Unfortunately, the miners to-day, at many of the pits are too poor to continue to pay these inspec- 1649 tors. I suggest that if anything can be done to permit the miners at a pit to have the autonomy under Section 16 of the 1911 Act to appoint these inspectors, some means should be found to provide the wages of these inspectors and also to prevent them from being victimised in any shape or form.
We speak very strongly on these things, because we feel very deeply. We have been brought up very close to the mining industry. We do not charge the Secretary for Mines with being callous, or charge the owners with deliberately being callous and indifferent with regard to accidents. We know too well from our own experience that sometimes the economic condition of the pit enters into these questions. When we talk about ventilation of places I am reminded that even in some well-equipped pits you have to crawl through airways and literally pull yourself through them. That has very largely been brought about by the fact that within the last two or three years when faced with depression the management have cut down the oncost men and have said to the day workers, "There will be no work for you on two days next week." They have eliminated as much of the cost of the production of coal as possible, and the effect has been to neglect roadways and the cleaning of roads and things of that kind. Therefore, we urge upon the Secretary for Mines to do whatever he can to try and reduce the accidents in mines.
In discussing explosions, we are not unmindful of the other accidents which are to be referred to later in the evening, but good lighting is also essential, and you cannot separate one from the other. If you have good lighting on the coal face, you give a man the means of detecting a break in the roof which he may not otherwise see. There is a score and one different things which can be done to the advantage of those who work underground at our pits. I sincerely hope that the Secretary for Mines will give definite answers to the specific questions which have been put to him, and that we shall receive from him some indication of what the Department are doing. We are not charging the Department with not inquiring; they inquire continually. I charge them with procrastination. There was an overwinding accident in Yorkshire last week, and there has been a committee sitting for 13 months discussing precautions 1650 in regard to overwinding. The Departmental Committee was only appointed after 16 or 17 persons had lost their lives. We have these inquiries, but we get very little action. We get a good deal of research and a good many promises. When does the hon. Gentleman expect to take a decision with regard to the compulsory use of gas detectors? I understand that he is to meet the Miners' Federation of Great Britain to-morrow. Is that the last body he has to consult? May we expect in the course of a week or two a definite answer to this question? A statement was made last December and it is now the middle of May, and the Committee have a right to know when the hon. Gentleman is likely to reach a decision on this point. I hope that he will give us definite answers on these points and that he will continue to do what he can to reduce the accidents from explosions and other causes in our British mines.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
I hope that the Committee will excuse one who knows something about the mining industry saying a few words upon accidents in mines. I have listened to the two speeches with great interest. My reason for rising is not to give any detailed examination or estimate of the cause of accidents—that I am not competent to do—but I have taken some interest in automatic firedamp detectors, and I want to put the result of my conclusions before the Committee. My interest in these firedamp detectors is not pecuniary or personal, for I have none, but as a Member of this Committee I want to do what I can to try and prevent the terrible accidents which occur in the pits. I believe, though I may be entirely wrong, that accidents occur which are preventable. I speak entirely as an outsider, but, as an outsider, I see very great advantages in the automatic detector. It is always on the spot. It has not to come round like the deputy at intervals of some considerable time. The automatic firedamp alarm which I have in mind—the Ringrose automatic firedamp alarm—shows the presence of gas by an electric light burning red, and, therefore, it is a very distinct indication to the men working. Thereupon, they can either cut off the electric current or leave the working-place before an explosion occurs. The automatic 1651 firedamp alarm can be set to any percentage of gas and can indicate as low or as high a percentage as the law requires. The Ringrose detector is set to a percentage of 2½, which is the statutory percentage.
I saw it mentioned in the Press that accidents from explosions were, in the last 10 years, only one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the fatal and non-fatal accidents below ground. That may be so, but the figures are most misleading, for fatal accidents, non-fatal accidents, and slight accidents are all lumped together. In the case of an explosion, unfortunately, there are no slight accidents and the proportion of accidents to deaths is small, whereas if you take accidents like haulage accidents or falls of roof you get an enormous number comparatively of slighter and smaller accidents. Taking the figures for 1932, the last year they are given in the current issue of the Colliery Year Book, I find that the number killed by explosion was 77, and that the total number killed in all accidents below ground, explosions, falls, shaft accidents, haulage accidents and other accidents, was 742. Therefore, the number killed by accidents caused by explosion was nearly 10 per cent. of the total.
The Ringrose firedamp alarm was tried out in three collieries, and the reports of the trials were laid before this House. A good deal of the criticism of the Ring-rose apparatus was hostile, and the reports cannot be taken entirely as being of a favourable character. But on reading the reports—and I claim to have read them pretty carefully—it seems to me that the main case for the Ringrose automatic firedamp alarm is proved. First of all, it was a term of the inquiry that all alarms that were found unsatisfactory or defective were to be sent to the Safety in Mines Research Board, and I understand that no lamps were so defective. Secondly, I could find no case in which the firedamp alarm did not show gas. The firedamp alarm is there to detect the presence of gas, and I found no case in which it did not show gas. Although there is dispute on the point, and I do not regard it as absolutely conclusive, I do not say that it showed gas where gas did not exist. I believe that the firedamp alarm found gas, and properly found gas, because gas was there and not 1652 suspected. Before it can be said that it has shown gas when gas was not there, you have to prove that gas was not there, and until that is proved I prefer to believe that this firedamp detector has shown the existence of gas.
There were complaints about the fusing of filaments, and it was said that that was a defect. It is a defect, but I believe the filaments fused because of the presence of gas. I think that more than a certain percentage of gas was present and it caused the filaments to fuse, and before that can be put down as a defect in the apparatus it must be shown that the defect was not caused by the very danger which the instrument was there to detect. It is no argument to say that a certain percentage of filaments had fused, and to leave it at that. If this particular instrument is not perfect, I believe it is now in such an efficient state that it ought to be tried out. If the Secretary for Mines has other suggestions, if he thinks that something else ought to be installed, or if he thinks that the time has not come for installing this particular detector, I hope he will be able to give us convincing reasons, because a great many of us are rather uneasy at the delay that has taken place.
We recognise to the full that my hon. Friend, the Secretary for Mines, is a man of ability and sincere humanity, and I am certain that he is as anxious as anybody, in fact more anxious than anybody to prevent this terrible loss of life in mines. I am certain that he has those qualities and I am also certain that, perhaps from a less lofty standpoint, he would like to go down to history as the man who installed some apparatus in mines which really had diminished death by explosion. I do appeal to him whether now he could not go a step further than the regulations show. I agree with the last speaker with regard to the regulations. Here, again, I speak as an outsider. The regulations might go much further. They do not define the type of detector which is to be used, and they do not do what I should have thought the Ministry ought to have done, namely, leave the decision to the Ministry as to what the type of detector ought to be, subject to consultation with the owners and the men. If the Ministry would lay it down that some form of automatic firedamp detector was to be installed, more progress would be made.
1653 I am impressed with the account that I have read in the newspapers of the installation of detectors in the pits of the Staveley Coal and Iron Company, Limited. They have been installed voluntarily there, I suppose because the management think that they are useful and that they will save life. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, whom I have known well for some years and whom the Committee knows well, to to something further in regard to this matter. The last speaker said, very truly, that he did not, attack my hon. Friend or the coalowners but I, like the last speaker, am rather disturbed at seeing all this time go by and all these accidents occurring. We have enough unfortunate things in the world that cannot be prevented, and it behoves us all the more to prevent those which we can prevent. I believe from my own investigations and from what I have learned that death from explosions in mines can be largely diminished, and I hope that the Secretary for Mines will take the step of making the installation of automatic firedamp detectors compulsory.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) said that he once represented a mining constituency. I have the honour to represent that same constituency, and it is rather a pleasing coincidence that I should now follow him in this Debate on a matter of such tremendous import and interest to the many thousands of people who were at one time his constituents, and are now mine. I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) when they said that this is one of the most important Debates that could take place in this House. It is not only desirable but imperative that every possible step should be taken to reduce to an absolute minimum the distressing mining fatalities and injuries that take place. One has not to be in touch very long with a mining village before he is forced to realise what a spectre of tragedy haunts the mining communities of this country. In spite of all the advantages of modern science, in spite of all the precautions which have been taken, in spite of all the research work which has been carried out, and despite 1654 the fact that we are now supposed to be living in an enlightened age, terrible explosions and ghastly fatalities continue to occur with monotonous regularity, plunging whole communities into depression and gloom.
It is not for me to attempt to apportion blame. All that I can do is to add my voice to the voices of those who have already spoken in calling upon the responsible Department to give this problem of mining accidents increasing and unremitting attention. I believe that we are far ahead of many of our Continental competitors in the matter of preventing mine accidents, but there is still much remaining to be done. We cannot, however, rest on our oars or delude ourselves into believing that all is well when no fewer than 130,000 people are killed or injured in this industry every year. Mention has been made particularly of explosions. I have not made the very exhaustive study of this subject that has been made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd, but I have taken the opportunity of looking at the report in connection with the Garswood Hall and the West Cannock explosions, and I am struck by the remarkable fact that in those two cases the question of ventilation was involved.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd and the hon. Member for Wentworth laid great stress on the question of adequate ventilation. I find that in regard to the Garswood Hall explosion, Sir Henry Walker, His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines, reported that the scheme of ventilation was bad, that it should have been remedied earlier, that the signalling system was unsafe, that the electric bells were not properly insulated, and that a spark resulting from this improper insulation of the wires attached to the bells was capable of igniting firedamp. In regard to the West Cannock explosion, His Majesty's Divisional Inspector said that the firedamp had accumulated through the ventilating current at the coal face being too weak to remove it, and that ignition was caused by an electric spark from the ringing of a signal bell. Although I am not as well versed in these matters as some of my hon. Friends opposite, I think that these are preventible accidents, and in that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon. I therefore would urge that additional steps should be taken 1655 to attend to the very vital question of ventilation, and to ensure also that accidents of this kind should not occur because wires connected with electric bells have not been properly insulated. That can only be prevented by proper and adequate inspection, and I hope that that will be done.
I should like to deal with a rather significant point which arises from a rather brief analysis of the figures contained in the 25th Annual Report of His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines, which only came into my possession this afternoon. I find that in 1908 there were 154,219 people injured in the mines of this country, and that in 1932 there were 125,874 people injured. I am not able to state to what extent the number of people employed in the industry had fluctuated in that time, but it would appear that the injuries to persons employed in the mining industry had decreased by 28,319 in that time. The significant thing, however, is that in 1908 the number of persons injured per 1,000 employed was 148.1, whereas in 1932 it was 152.1. There you have an increase in the percentage of injuries. In 1931 it was 161.3 as against the 148.1 in 1908. The only conclusion I can draw is that in the 25 or 26 years since 1908 there has been no improvement so far as accidents in the mines are concerned, at any rate so far as injuries as distinct from fatalities are concerned. In fact, the movement has been retrograde rather than otherwise.
Those are the distressing features of the figures contained in this report, and they represent an aspect of the matter to which I would direct the attention of the Minister. I can only think that perhaps the number of accidents in the mines to-day is to some extent due to the increased competition of the men to keep their jobs. It is a great pity if in this year of grace 1934 we are to secure an increased output per man at an additional risk of injury to those who are employed.
Passing from that, I would direct attention to another feature of these accidents. It may be that one can derive some advantage from study of the type of accidents sustained. I find that in 1932, out of a total of 116,423 injuries sustained, no fewer than 31,897 were injuries to the 1656 hands of the men employed, while only 9,461 were injuries to arms. It would seem, therefore, that you have 31,897 accidents which to a large extent might be prevented, say, by the wearing of a proper type of glove. I do not know whether it is compulsory for men engaged below ground to wear gloves, but surely a large proportion of those 31,000 accidents to hands alone could be prevented if the men wore gloves.
From inquiries I have made I know that there is a definite and perhaps deep-seated objection on the part of many of the men to the wearing of gloves at their work. Much of it is foolish objection. Miners who are steady fellows and very masculine, resent the idea of adopting the somewhat effeminate practice of wearing gloves. But one has to break that prejudice down as far as possible. What possible objection can there be to the wearing of gloves? Surely it is no more objectionable and no more effeminate than the wearing of goggles by an acetylene welder, or the wearing of a crash helmet by a motor cycle T.T. racer. Perhaps something might be done in the direction of an increased use of gloves by the men underground.
A few weeks ago I put a question to the Minister asking for particulars of accidents to on-setters and people assisting. It transpired that it was not possible to give the information desired, but the figures that the Minister gave me revealed that there was a proportion of accidents to on-setters. I do not know whether hon. Members fully appreciate the distressing nature of an accident to an on-setter, which in the majority of cases involves his being precipitated to the bottom of the shaft. Inquiries and inquests are held as to the causes of these accidents to on-setters, but as in the majority of cases the on-setter is killed and dead men tell no tales, it is impossible to get at the cause of the accidents. In the majority of cases, however, I think it is capable of proof that many of these fatalities to on-setters result from some misunderstanding of the signalling between the on-setter and the winding man. I suggest that something might be done to insure a uniform type of better signalling apparatus from the on-setters to the shaft head. I believe it is the case that in some collieries they 1657 have a dual system of signalling, by sound and by light. I do not know whether it is compulsory that there should be dual signalling at all collieries, but, if it is not, I urge that something might be done in that direction.
A few days ago Professor Louis, of the Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, had the temerity to say that the miners' calling is not a dangerous one. He said :There are dangers in every calling in which a man pits his intelligence against the great forces of nature. The aviator pits his against the air and the sailor against the forces of the sea.He suggested that the miner's calling was no more dangerous than that of the sailor or the airman. In reply I do not think I can do better than read the words which appeared in a leading article in the "Durham County Advertiser," which circulates over the Durham coal-field. In commenting upon the remarks of Professor Louis the paper said :Professor Louis there makes bold to say that of these three occupations, mining, air and sea, mining is the safest and calls for the least number of victims. The aviator and the sailor have this advantage over the miner, that they can see the danger that threatens and can usually take some measure to avoid it. The aviator has his parachute and the sailor his lifeboat and lifebelt as a means of escape. On the other hand the miner works frequently in dark and extremely confined spaces, where he cannot always foresee the danger that threatens and has no time to avert it. Huge masses of stone may crush the life out of him in the twinkling of an eye. There are different degrees of courage required to meet the risk of the three callings mentioned, but the palm must surely be accorded to the man who hourly risks his life in the mine in the fight with forces which are largely incalculable.It is in the fight against these forces that the brave body of miners should have the full benefit of all that science, research and organisation can give. Here is the task for the Minister of Mines. Many tributes have been paid to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and I would like to add mine to them. The hon. Gentleman possesses in full measure virility, energy and ability, and I would urge him to use some measure of his considerable abilities for securing a reduction of mining accidents to an absolute minimum.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Sir WILLIAM JENKINS
I do not want to follow the hon. Member in the 1658 arguments he has just used, because I understand there is an arrangement that we should devote the first part of this discussion to the question of explosions and the second part to the question of accidents. I want to say that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction amongst the mining population against the Mines Department on the ground that it is not taking the active part that it should take, particularly with regard to ventilation. That is one of the most important points we have to consider. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) stated a very excellent case on behalf of the mining population, and I want to impress upon the Minister the importance of his taking very active steps in this matter. There are regulations in connection with ventilation, but those regulations are not insisted upon. In order to save lives the regulations must be enforced. It is no use saying, "Well, those things are being attended to," when we know that they are not being attended to. I have not had experience of as many explosions as the hon. Member for Pontypridd, but I have spent many years underground and I do know something about ventilation, and how the mines are being worked. As far as ventilation is concerned there may be plenty of air going down the shafts but the way it is distributed underground may be very defective indeed. You may get districts with plenty of ventilation and others with little or no ventilation at all, because of lack of proper distribution.
I agree that a good deal more attention should be paid to packing underground. If you have a wide area for the distribution of ventilation, and there is not proper packing, there must be a considerable waste of the ventilation. Then you get an accumulation of gas that cannot be removed, and men work in gases in which they ought not to be working at all. It is the duty and the responsibility of the Mines Department to see that men are not working in that gas and that the ventilation is properly distributed. My hon. Friend referred to the question of intakes and return airways. That is a very important matter to which not as much attention as one would like is being paid. I have seen return airways through which I could hardly get. I have been through airways 18 inches high and 18 inches in width, and hundreds of men have been dependent 1659 on the ventilation going through that small airway.
Very often these airways are neglected for long periods because it is very costly to keep them in repair, but if we are to have proper ventilation and carry out the regulations, it is necessary that they should be constantly attended to. It is possible to get huge accumulations of gas about which we know nothing. Sometimes we get a report that gas has been found and it is passed off, but men are working in the mines every day in accumulations of gas. I myself have seen, within the last 10 years when I have gone to mining districts, men actually working in an accumulation of gas, in a sufficient quantity to justify their removal out of the mine, but, because of circumstances which I will not describe, they have been allowed to continue and in some instances have been compelled to remain at work. Under Section 16 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act the men have the right to examine the pits for themselves, that is, they have the right to appoint some of their own colleagues to inspect the mine. On account of the smallness of the wages they are earning to-day it is impossible for them to do this. How can you expect a miner earning 35s. or £2 or £2 5s. to afford to pay someone to examine the mine on his behalf?
I say that it is the duty and responsibility of the Mines Department to see that the men have an opportunity to make this examination, and if they have not the means themselves, then the Department should see that this provision of the Coal Mines Regulation Act is carried out. With some financial aid from the State such an examination on behalf of the men could be carried out by a foreman, who would be freed from any other duty and be able to confine himself to looking after the ventilation, the health and safety of the mine. The men are not in a position to provide this examination for themselves, and that is why we have had so many explosions. The question of ventilation has been neglected. That is the cause of explosions every time, and we say that the Government should take immediate steps to see that it is put right. When a report is made by an inspector that there has been default, that something has not been properly carried out, I wonder what action has 1660 been taken by the Mines Department to see that the defects are remedied. They may be put right for a day or two, but I think it is the responsibility of the Department to see that there is a continuous inspection, because gas can accumulate in one night, indeed in a couple of hours. We expect a good deal more in this way from the Mines Department than we have had in the past. It is no good carrying out an examination after an explosion has occurred. They are serious and are increasing, although they are not attended with the great casualties which have attended them in the past, because there has been a considerable improvement in lighting and other things which have insured greater safety, but I still urge that the Department should bring pressure to bear to get a better and improved system of ventilation.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
I want to thank the hon. Member for his willingness to reply twice during the Debate. It suits our convenience to call special attention to explosions and then deal with the general question of accidents, and the Secretary for Mines has agreed to that course. Anyone who has listened to the Debate must have been impressed by its solid and substantial character. Whoever deals with explosions in the coal mining industry could harrow the feelings of his audience anywhere, but I have been impressed by the studied attempt of hon. Members to avoid anything of that kind in order to tell the Government what is worrying the mining industry and the general public. The thoroughness of the Debate will compel the Secretary for Mines to tell us what the Department intends to do in order to eliminate or, at any rate, to reduce to a minimum explosions in the mining industry. I have also been impressed by the general agreement as to the causes of explosions. The Secretary for Mines will agree that in nearly every case the cause of the explosion has been due to some defect in ventilation. It may be that explosions in mines do not take away as many miners as do general accidents. The Minister of Transport the other day said :I am amazed at the continued lack of public interest in the tragedies of the road. As many as 20 people on an average are killed daily in this way.1661 That may amaze, and ought to amaze, the Minister of Transport, but sometimes we are apt to forget that our roads are used by 40,000,000 people while the number of miners is only about 750,000. The number of accidents shows that the percentage of accidents in the mines is larger than on the roads, though that is far too large. Much has been done to try to reduce explosions to a minimum. No one will say that the Mines Department have not done a great deal. The Secretary for Mines listened to a rather fierce attack by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) and was a little perturbed as to whether we really appreciate what has been done. I can assure the Secretary for Mines that we do appreciate what has been done. It is a difficult problem, but we think that more could be done, and the purpose of this Debate is to try to get that little more done.
As regards the causes of accidents, we have always divided them into primary and secondary causes, and I fear that hitherto the Department has been emphasising the secondary cause, and disregarding the primary cause. To us the primary cause of explosions is inadequate or disadvantageous ventilation of the mines. The hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) was quite right. You may find a strong current of air passing through airways, but you will also find places in need of ventilation. It is the lack of direction which is the trouble. The regulations says :An adequate amount of ventilation shall be constantly produced in every mine to dilute and render harmless inflammable and noxious gases.If that were done, we should get no explosions. But that means something more than a strong current of air passing through the roadways. The term "adequate" may be interpreted differently by different officials. If on the coal face there is a strong current of air they may say that the ventilation is adequate, whereas it may be that just off the coal face, a few yards away, you will not find any ventilation at all. It is at such points as these that explosions originate. The hon. Member for Pontypridd referred to several explosions. May I refer to just a few more? There was an explosion at Haig Colliery, Whitehaven, where the air was conducted for 500 yards to the point where ignition 1662 took place by the brattice cloth method. Those who have worked in the mines for some years know that the brattice cloth, as a method of directing air to a given point, is very ineffective indeed, and to try to do it for a distance of 500 yards is asking for trouble. There was the Wath explosion in Yorkshire. Between the last working place where ignition took place there was only one door that was constantly being opened for the passing of horse haulage. When the door was shut the passage for air into the last working place was so small that the deputy could only creep through. It was a place through a half yard fault. I am not concerned with the quantity of air in a mine; that will not prevent an explosion. I will not refer to the Bentley explosion, but there were two explosions which took place quite near to where I live. In the Lyme Pits Ex at Haydock, a few miles from my house, the ventilation was shockingly bad, and Sir Henry Walker could tell the Secretary for Mines all about it. There were only four swinging brattice cloths separating the return airway from the intake.
That is where the trouble lies. There is not that provision which ought to be made for the air to get to the point where the air is necessary. Until the Minister and the Department realise that the general provision is insufficient and that there must be some special provision, ventilation will not be attended to and explosions will take place. Then there was the Edge Green explosion which again is in my division and near my own house. The hon. Member for Pontypridd dealt at length with it and I do not think I need to add much except to say that when I went down that mine on the day of the explosion I found that the mine was well ventilated and one would not have imagined that an explosion could have taken place. Indeed, it was surprisingly ventilated. The ventilation impressed me more than anything else except the heroic efforts of the rescuers. Yet there was in that mine a terrible explosion taking away 27 lives which goes to prove that general adequacy is not sufficient.
Though both the manager and the agent are good friends of mine. I say that if ever there ought to have been a prosecution, it ought to have been in the case of the Garswood Hall Colliery No. 9. If ever there was neglect of duty it was 1663 there and Sir Henry Walker agrees with that in his report. I cannot understand the Department allowing the manager and the agent to get away with it as they did. We have no desire to see futile prosecutions but we desire action taken which will prevent such catastrophes. Drastic action is needed with managers who neglect their work and thereby endanger hundreds of lives. Indeed in such cases action cannot be too drastic. I do not know whether the Minister would say why he did not take action in that case. I do not know whether I am entitled on this occasion to put that question to him but, if he cares to say so when he is speaking, we shall be pleased to know why such a glaring neglect of duty resulting in the loss of 27 lives was allowed to go without the manager and agent being prosecuted.
Before leaving the subject of ventilation, there is another factor to which I wish to draw attention. The carrying out of the regulations is in the hands of the colliery officials in general and particularly the deputy or fireman. We sometimes doubt whether those officials are in a position to do so. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has stressed that point. What we have to find out is whether those officials can discharge their statutory duties effectively, and also discharge the other duties put upon them by the management in the course of the day's work. I know districts in which a fireman has almost to run round the district each day in order to make the two inspections. I doubt whether two inspections per day are sufficient. If the work which is added on to the official's statutory duties takes up so much time that he is unable to do even the two inspections adequately, there is still greater danger. The fireman who won the praises of the manager at every colliery where I worked in Lancashire was the fireman who could show a good output per man per shift. He might have neglected his statutory duty but he was considered a good fireman and was the man chosen for promotion. To us on this side the good deputy and the good fireman is the man who discharges his statutory duties efficiently.
In 1929, when Sir Ben Turner was Minister of Mines, I pressed upon him that he should consider the question of the State employing deputies. I was 1664 turned off in Sir Benjamin's inimitable way with the statement that the Department were inquiring into the matter. If such inquiry has been made, what has been the result? Have the Government decided that deputies in future should be under the State and not in private employment? We are quite satisfied that if that step were taken it would assist, in this sense, that those deputies and firemen would then attend to their statutory duties more fully and effectively than they are able to do under the present arrangement.
Coming to the second cause of accidents which has been mentioned, namely, shot-firing, I have my doubts despite what the hon. Member for Pontypridd said as to whether the elimination of shot-firing could be carried out at an early date. If the explosive order were carried out, as laid down, in the case of all shot-firing, there would be no explosions from that cause. But no shot-firer employed in any colliery can do his duty as a shot-firer and do it in accordance with that provision. I was astonished at the modest figure of the number of shots mentioned by the hon. Member for Normanton. My experience is of something more like 40 to 50 shots being fired by one shot-firer in one day. The Minister is probably aware of the experiment made in Scotland, in the presence of an inspector, as to how long it would take to fire a shot in accordance with the regulation. It was found that it could not be done under 11 minutes for one shot and in some cases it took 20 minutes. The Minister is enough of a mathematician to know that if those minutes are multiplied by a figure of from 30 to 50 you get a result which shows that no shot-firer on earth could do his statutory duty and fire those shots in one shift.
I do not like to refer again to the explosion which took place a fortnight ago in my division. I know that an inquiry is being held to-day and, the matter being sub judice, I do not make any reference to it, but I have been assured that shot-firing was the cause and, furthermore, that it was due to the shot-firer there being overworked. I know this colliery company better than anybody in this House and I know from what I am told the way they have of slave-driving and I say, frankly, that it will be found out that it was the over- 1665 working of the shot-firer which accounted for the shot being fired under conditions under which it ought not to have been fired. Only a few months ago two very courageous and determined colliers in a colliery not three miles away from where the explosion took place said to a shot-firer, "You are not firing that shot." He said he was going to do so, but the colliers repeated, "You are firing no shot under these conditions." The Minister knows what happened. Those two men were victimised for having taken a stand against what would have caused an explosion at that colliery. They were told that they were over-riding the official in charge and had no right to do so. All I have to say is "Would there were more men who would take that action." It is difficult for the collier to do it. Not only his job but his wages depend upon it. Many a time I have been anxious that a shot should be fired even when the conditions were not what they ought to have been, because I knew it meant a few shillings more for me. When I find colliers not only willing to forego that but willing to risk their jobs in order to safeguard the lives of their fellows, I say that they should be encouraged by the Department. In this case these men were certainly not encouraged.
One could go on at length dealing with this question especially when one has lived among these men. The men involved in the Garswood Hall explosion, the whole 27 of them, were personal friends of mine and finer men never lived. Their lives could have been saved had that manager done his duty. They lost their lives solely and entirely through a neglect of duty. I do not want the present Secretary for Mines to encourage managers in any collieries to neglect their duty. I know the difficulties which exist for anyone who is transferred to that Department. No one could have assimilated more quickly or more thoroughly than the present Minister the knowledge necessary to discharge the duties of his office, but it is a difficult task. He has to deal with men who have been in the Department for years and he cannot challenge their information when a point is in question. His knowledge is not such as permits him to do so. He has to be guided by them. But I want the hon. Gentleman to believe that we on this side are not indulging in carping criticism. The loss of life in this industry 1666 is not a subject for carping criticism. We are, however, anxious that this Debate should have such an effect on the Minister and the Department that they will in future take a greater interest in this question.
It is no use saying that the regulations are there and that if they were complied with there would be no explosions. Has the Minister considered that it might be advisable to overhaul the regulations? Most of them were made in pre-War days. There have been alterations here and there and alterations are continually taking place, but the basis of the regulations was laid down prior to the War and there has been a revolution in methods of coal production since then. I often wonder whether the extensive use of machinery does not liberate noxious gas to a larger extent than hand hewing ever did. Is the Minister satisfied that the thorough carrying out of the regulations would of itself obviate explosions? Does he not think that the time has come for a general overhaul? In 1929 I raised this question also, and again I was told that the matter had been considered for years and was still being considered. I quoted then, and I propose to quote again—because a good thing cannot be quoted too often—some words from the present Prime Minister. Although the Government have changed, it is the same Prime Minister, and on 31st March, 1925, this is what the right hon. Gentleman said :I do not think that the regulations are quite as good as they might be, and one of the disappointing things in the speech of the Secretary for Mines is that he does not seem quite to have made up his mind about legislation; he told us that there might be some legislation—he was not sure. Surely, he ought to be sure. Since 1911 there have been scores of committees and inquiries into mining conditions, explosives and explosions and all sorts of things. Does my right hon. Friend mean to tell me that as a residium from those committees and inquiries he has not discovered a very great necessity for the alteration of mining legislation in some important respects? I know his predecessor thought, in view of his experience gained since the 1911 Act, that there was enough to justify this House in spending some time in amending it and bringing it up to date. … Therefore, I do beg my right hon. Friend and the House as well to realise that these monthly figures of accidents in mines, fatal and non-fatal, impose upon this House a responsibility which it cannot fulfil, unless it steadily works away at the whole question of the causes of accidents and produces legislation, administration, staffs, or whatever is necessary in order to increase the 1667 security of our miners' lives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1925; cols. 1267–68, Vol. 182.]That was put in a very effective way by the present Prime Minister nine years ago, and there has been a still greater revolution in coal-getting and coal-conveying in those nine years. Processes have been introduced in that time which have brought further dangers, and I want to know whether the Minister's Department has ever thought over the advisability of going into this question of a general overhauling of the regulations. In our opinion, it is very necessary, but let us remember that that is not the only thing that is necessary. I do not want the Minister to tell us, "We will do that," and to expect that we shall be satisfied. We should not be satisfied with that alone. We should be pleased with that step if it were taken, but we think, in addition, he must consider all the other points that have been put forward in this Debate.
I do not desire to support any special automatic gas detector. That would be entirely wrong, and I think the Minister is right in his stand there. We on this side are not out to advocate any special invention, but we feel that it would be a help if the Minister were to act in this matter. We realise the difficulty. We know you could not have detectors at every working place, but we feel that it would be an indication that the Ministry did mean business on this question of explosions. Our only purpose in putting explosions separate from the rest of the accidents is that, while we know they cause only a small percentage of the lives lost in the mining industry, yet the possibility of explosions does create a feeling of dread and horror in the minds, not only of the miners, but of their families as well. They may have heard of explosions in neighbouring collieries, and that possibility is still there. We want the Minister to take such action as will remove the possibility of explosions in mines.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I am obliged to hon. Members opposite for putting their case as vigorously as they have done, although I wish the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) had not referred to the reports of the Chief Inspector. In effect, he said that the reports 1668 were becoming farcical. There at once I join issue with him. As I listened to that sentence, my mind went back over nearly 100 years of mine inspectors' reports.
§ Mr. D. DAVIES
I made no reference to the inspectors' reports, but to inquiries into the cause of explosions.
§ Mr. BROWN
I will leave it there. As I was saying, my mind went back to the first report, made in 1842, by Tremenhere, and I have taken such spare moments as I have had in a busy two years of office in looking into this question. I think few things have tended more to improve conditions in the mines from the point of view of the miners' safety than the long series of reports from Tremenhere to the long series of the present Chief Inspector, Sir Henry Walker. If there be misunderstanding there, I am sorry, but no one can object to anyone feeling strongly about this question. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) must understand, of course, that I am not responsible for paragraphs that may have appeared in the Press, and that he and his friends too might be called to account for paragraphs that appear in the Press. A diagram or chart was drawn up in the Mines Department after a report by Sir Henry Walker, a copy of which I sent to every Member of the House, giving the proportion of accidents due to various causes. I want to say one other thing.[...] It is really a mistake to suggest that there is any one infallible cure for explosions in mines, and I say that emphatically at the beginning of my speech.
May I turn now to the actual facts, because I understand that this question is not raised with any particular personal reference to myself, but, as Secretary for Mines, I am responsible. It so happens that last year's toll of explosions was smaller than usual. Let me take the last 60 years. The number of deaths from colliery explosions in that period shows a large and progressive reduction. In the six 10-year periods the deaths per 100,000 persons employed averaged 65 per year in the first period of 10 years, from 1873 to 1882, and six per year in the last period of 10 years, from 1923 to 1932; and last year it was again six in the single year. The corresponding figures for the intermediate periods of 10 years 1669 were 32, 18, 17 and 10 per year respectively.
§ Mr. BROWN
We all agree. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) must take it for granted that there is no division of opinion on any side about that. There is no division of opinion inside the industry about that, and there is no lack of appreciation on the part of the Mines Department about that. One of the most difficult hours that the Minister of Mines has every week is when he gets the weekly total of accidents.
§ Mr. BROWN
I hope hon. Members will listen. We understand that they feel strongly, but they must not come to the conclusion that we do not feel strongly too. They would take certain steps, and I will outline as best I can the attitude of the Ministry of Mines and of our inspectors to the problem and where I think some of the general statements made, especially in the first speech, are rather over-statements. Let me give the Committee some figures in order to get the question into focus. To take the 10-year period from 1923 to 1932, the average number of persons killed per year by explosions was 52, and the average number of persons killed underground each year from all causes was 933. The deaths from explosions were thus 5.5 per cent. of the total deaths underground. In respect of the non-fatal accidents, the average casualties each year from explosions were 100—some of them very slight indeed—and the average casualties underground each year from all causes were, in round figures, 150,000. I think it is necessary that these figures should be known, for there is still in the public mind, as was made clear this afternoon, an apprehension that explosions are one of the chief causes, if not the predominating cause, in mine accidents.
I want to say also that it must not be taken, because I have quoted those figures, that there is any complacency in regard to this problem on the part of the Department or in the minds of those responsible for this matter The fact is that any fair analysis of the last 100 years will show that there is no subject that has received greater care and greater 1670 thought, about which more research has been done, and which has received more attention at the hands of those responsible for administering the law than has the question of explosions. Indeed, I was asked by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) some weeks ago as to the amount of money that was being spent on research into the various causes of accidents, such as explosions, falls of ground, haulage, and so on. It was then pointed out that, considering the figures, the deduction might be drawn that too much had been spent on research into explosions—I do not agree with that at all—and not enough on the other causes. I stress the point, because I do not want the Committee to go away with the impression that there has been any lack of attention given to this matter, and on my own behalf I want to say emphatically that there is no lack of attention now and that there is no procrastination in dealing with the problems that occur from time to time with regard to this grave and tragic matter.
There has been a big reduction in the number of deaths from explosions, and that has been mainly due to the application of stone-dusting in mines. There was, as hon. Members know very well, a great conflict of opinion about the causes of the explosions in mines, and the proof is quite clear. Indeed, we have at Buxton, under the auspices of the Safety in Mines Research Board a reproduction of a mine where, from time to time, demonstrations are made of an actual coal-dust explosion. I wish every hon. Member from a mining constituency could go to Buxton and see an actual demonstration. They would then see with their own eyes the precise effect of that very extraordinary discovery and that most effective remedy—stone-dust on the roadways and in the mines. The hon. Member raised a point about the proportion of 50–50. Let us remember that the regulations were drawn up in 1920. As far as my information goes, we have received no complaints about them up to this time, and the issue has never been raised in this House in that period, in the time of office of any of my predecessors. I have noted the point, and I can assure the hon. Member for Pontypridd that I shall give it my consideration.
§ Mr. D. DAVIES
That is one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), that if you have proved by experiments at Buxton and at Sheffield that it requires 40 per cent. of inert matter to prevent explosions in my area, while it takes 65 per cent. to prevent them in silkstone seams which have high volatile contents, there ought to be a new regulation to meet it.
§ Mr. BROWN
I cannot agree with that. All would agree that the prime need is ventilation, but may I call attention to this fact, that there was a single firedamp explosion recently which involved the loss of over 50 lives. That was at the Marine Colliery in 1927; and in 1931 at Bentley there were 45 deaths, but the fact is that the ventilation there, at Bentley, was as nearly perfect a system of ventilation as it was possible to have. Nevertheless, the explosion took place, and that is why I am anxious to make it clear that the statement made in such sweeping terms by the hon. Member for Pontypridd ought not to go out as a solemn statement of fact.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the hon. Member will allow me, I listened to him very carefully, except on one point, when I thought it was necessary for accuracy's sake to interrupt him, and he might do me the honour of listening to me on this very serious problem. Some labour representatives say that the presence of gas in the mine working in explosive proportions is proof of inadequate ventilation and a breach of the law, and consequently that an explosion ought in itself to be a criminal offence against the management, the directors and the owners. I am quoting a question put by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Grundy) in the House a fortnight ago. In the judgment of my advisers, this argument is untenable. There are times and circumstances in which it is impossible to prevent a temporary accumulation of gas; that is to say, the ventilation may be impeded temporarily by a fall, or there 1672 may be a sudden blower or outburst of gas. In the last three years disastrous explosions have occurred in close proximity to longwall faces along which the quantity of air passing at the time was many thousands of cubic feet per minute. That was the case at Bentley. The scheme of ventilation was as near perfect as it was humanly possible to make it, and the explosion was in the waste and not at the working face. More than that, in the article by the hon. Member for Pontypridd he quoted only part of Section 29. The article says :Under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, Section 29, it is laid down that an adequate amount of ventilation shall be constantly circulated to render harmless all inflammable and noxious gases. If this was properly observed, firedamp explosions would belong to the past.The hon. Member goes on to argue that this is always so, and I would point out to him that in the Bentley case, for instance, as giving some idea of the mode of ventilating a large colliery, the following particulars may be of interest. The total amount of firedamp passing out of the colliery is about 2,500,000 cubic feet per day of 24 hours, equal to the total consumption of gas of towns the size of Burnley and Middlesbrough with populations of 100,000 to 130,000, or approximately twice the amount of gas used in Don-caster with a population of over 60,000. To remove this vast quantity of gas, the total amount of fresh air circulated is 350,000 cubic feet per minute. There are 16 miles of intake airways and 17 miles of return airways. It will, therefore, be understood that the problem is not so simple as would appear in the general statement made by the hon. Member opposite. It is a very complicated, difficult and large problem—
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
The Minister has given us figures showing that the volume of gas liberated every day requires approximately 40 times as much fresh air. The hon. Gentleman has given us figures which are infinitely in excess of that proportion. Therefore, that quantity of air which is available at the outset is not circulated in that mine.
§ Mr. BROWN
I was pointing out that it was known that there were 28,000 cubic feet of air per minute going through the face. Hon. Members must understand that what is required is a sufficient quantity of air current, but if the current of air is too strong, the danger is that it might give rise to spontaneous combustion. There are two sides to the problem. Therefore, I say that the hon. Member for Pontypridd is not wise either in his speech in the House or in that article in stressing that point too strongly, and in suggesting to the mining community that good ventilation is all that is required. Let me go further and point out that when the hon. Member quotes the Act and calls for a prosecution in case of negligence, he forgets that it is not quite as simple as the part he quoted. He overlooks Sub-section (1, b) of Section 29 which says :No person shall be liable in respect of any contravention of or failure to comply with the provisions of this section if he shows that the ventilation was interrupted in consequence of an accident, and that no persons were employed in any part of the mine in which an adequate amount of ventilation was not being produced, except such persons as it was necessary to employ in that part of the mine for the purpose of restoring the ventilation.The problem arises there. May I say in regard to the Lancashire case quoted by the hon. Member for Pontypridd and the hon. Member for Ince that it is not really proved that there was any procrastination. Something happened in regard to the electrical apparatus that had not been suspected. As soon as the report was made, it was considered and the moment the right solution was arrived at we circulated it, but unfortunately the pamphlet circulated only reached the management of the West Cannock colliery the day on which the explosion took place. I want to rebut the charge of delay. It is one thing to sit down to a complicated problem of that kind full of grave difficulties and to say that this and that should be done. It is another thing where these technical problems are involved to be quite sure when you are issuing regulations and instructions or circulating pamphlets about the problem to be sure that you have the right solution which will be applicable throughout the whole of the mine fields. I cannot plead guilty on behalf of the Department to the charge of procrastination in that case.
1674 There have been few things that have given me more anxious consideration than whether prosecutions should be made in these particular cases. The Sub-section which I read raises issues which are not always easy of determination. I understand that hon. Members would not argue that a prosecution in the mine should be a matter of routine. If that were so we should alter the whole atmosphere. When prosecutions are undertaken on behalf of the Minister of Mines they are regarded very seriously by all concerned in the management of the colliery. More than that a great deal of care is taken with the defence. I assure hon. Members that as soon as the facts about any of these tragedies are revealed, as soon as the evidence is weighed with the strictest impartiality, my mind is made up as to whether there ought to be a prosecution in order that, if the law has not been obeyed, due punishment shall be meted out, and, what is often much more important, that we shall get a clear understanding so that we may prevent any recurrence of accidents from similar causes.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
Is it the hon. Gentleman's contention that there are managers escaping prosecution who would be prosecuted and probably punished if the law were strictly applied?
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
In regard to Garswood Hall Colliery explosion, Sir Henry Walker in the most definite terms condemned the chief manager and the agent for neglect of duty in clear terms. We want to know why in that case a prosecution was not taken in view of the opinion of the chief Inspector of Mines.
§ Mr. BROWN
I had better give my considered answer again. It is :The inquiries showed that the explosions in question resulted primarily from defects in ventilation. The reports of the inquiries were published. These and the available evidence were carefully considered at that time and I came then to the conclusion that I should not be justified in taking proceedings against the managements concerned under the Coal Mines Act. It was also concluded from both inquiries that the immediate cause of the explosions was incendive sparking from an unsafe signalling system. Precautions had been 1675 taken, but they were not effective; this was due, however, to lack of understanding of a very complicated and difficult problem. Within a fortnight of the publication of the report of the Garswood Hall Inquiry, I published an explanatory memorandum, of which I am sending the hon. Member a copy, to make this problem easier to understand, and I have since taken other steps to simplify the position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1934; col. 332, Vol. 286.]
§ Mr. MACDONALD
We want to know, in view of what Sir Henry Walker said in his report in regard to the mismanagement and neglect of the manager and agent, why the Minister did not prosecute.
§ Mr. BROWN
In view of all the circumstances and of all the issues involved, I came to the conclusion that I would not be justified in prosecuting in that case. That is the answer, and the hon. Member must be content with that. It is assumed that these cases of prosecution are plain sailing. They are not plain sailing by any means. The Sub-section which I read just now provides very wide scope for defence. For instance, the problem arises as to what is an "accident" in connection with that Subsection. These prosecutions are by no means plain sailing, and since 1920, out of 100 charges laid, 29 were dismissed and two withdrawn because, in effect, they had failed. Although ventilation is one of the most vital and onerous statutory responsibilities of the management, directors and owners, other people, both officials and workmen, have a vital responsibility as well. Ventilation has not only to be provided in general; it has to be directed by means of doors, canvas sheets, pipes and so on, into every working part and corner of the mine : the provision and supervision of all necessary means is the imperative duty of the management, but the effective application and maintenance of all these means, from hour to hour and day to day, is the vital duty of the officials, particularly of the firemen and the deputies. More than that, the workmen themselves must see that in carrying out their work they do not derange any of these means of ventilation. The firemen and deputies 1676 have continually to be on the alert. They have to use their knowledge and experience constantly to get the ventilation right; and it would not be a fair statement of the problem of ventilation unless it is realised that this is a problem not merely for one party but the responsibility lies on the management and on the officials. It also calls for a joint effort on the part of all concerned in the mines.
The question was raised in regard to shot-firing. In the ten-year period 1924–33 shot-firing resulted in 132 deaths and 154 case of injury. The number of explosions causing injury, however slight, was 47. The number of shots fired in the same period in mines where there may be a risk of explosion is of the order of 300,000,000.
One hon. Member asked whether any improvements had been made in this matter. The first thing to be said is that sparking from electrical firing apparatus has been rendered innocuous as the result of investigations by the Safety in Mines Research Board, and the use of a safe type of apparatus approved by the Mines Department is now compulsory. Then there has been a development in the substitution for clay stemming of a stemming consisting of a mixture of sand and clay which is less liable to be blown out of the shot hole. I ought to say that the prime mover in this work under the auspices of the Explosives Research Committee, a Committee of the Research Board, has been Professor Ritson of Leeds University. He has given some demonstrations, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) knows, because he was with me a week or two ago, to show how extremely valuable that improvement has been. May I also say that there has been a development of substitutes for blasting explosives, such as percussive picks and the liquid carbon dioxide cartridge. In the stage of practical pit trials there is the development of explosive cartridges fitted with safety sheaths composed of chemicals which will quench the flame of the explosion. These are the material improvements in recent years, but again I must emphasise the fact that, despite what the hon. Member for Pontypridd said, the care and skill of the shot-firer is the vital element. The human element must be taken into account as well as all the scientific and material factors.
1677 With regard to electricity, in the 10-year period mentioned there were 85 deaths and 102 causes of injury. There are some who contend, although I have not gathered that contention this afternoon, that electricity is too dangerous to be used in areas where it may cause the risk of explosion. Under Section 60 of the Coal Mines Act the use of electricity is in effect prohibited, except with the acquiescence of the divisional inspector, and every case is considered and decided on its merits after the most careful consideration and with a due sense of the heavy responsibility involved. There are hundreds of mines where electricity is not taken into the coal face area, and that abstention is in most cases a voluntary act on the part of the management. There have been several improvements in this connection about which the Committee may be glad to hear. As mining Members know, an official testing station has been set up for explosion-proof electrical apparatus and more than 100 types of apparatus were tested and certified in 1933, and a memorandum explaining the constructional requirements for apparatus and the nature of the tests applied was published a couple of months ago. The four additional electrical inspectors appointed in the time of the last Labour Government are now devoting their whole time to making the use of electricity safer in the mines. They made nearly 1,000 inspections of electrical plant in 1933. There has also been a great improvement in the safe design of electric bells and signalling apparatus. As the Committee are aware, there were two or three explosions from this cause recently, and that led to the issue of the circular to which I have just referred.
May I raise one other point which so far, has not been brought up? In the ten-year period from 1924 to 1933 there were 56 deaths and 611 cases of injury attributable to the use of naked lights. The total number of explosions during that ten-year period was 471. Most of them were very slight and few of them involved more than one or two persons at a time. It is also true that they occur in mines where normally little or no gas is found, but nevertheless they do occur and the majority of them, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) knows, occur in Scotland. Here, again, it is not easy to take action, 1678 because there is a very strong feeling against the use of safety lamps, not only on the part of the management but also on the part of the men. That raises another problem which throws light on the situation. Some of the explosions arise from natural causes, others owing to either a lack of ventilation or to a faulty distribution of ventilation, and some arise from defects in mechanical appliances, but no fair examination of this problem is possible unless it is remembered that the human factor has to be considered, from the management down to "the man at the face." Human nature; is fallible, whether it be the human nature of the mineowner, the manager, the deputy or the miner.
I do not refer in detail to the problem of explosions caused by matches and smoking, because I do not want to stress it, but I would like to give the Committee the figures. In the ten-year period 1924 to 1933 there were 47 deaths and 59 cases of injury from those causes. In connection with explosions set down as "inexplicable," that is, where after the most careful examination by all concerned, the cause could not be brought to light, or coming under the heading "other series of causes" spontaneous combustion fires have been responsible for 47 deaths and five cases of injury. It is true that the number of explosions was only four, but it is also true that in one of them, to which I referred earlier in my speech—at Bentley—it was tragically the fact that there were 45 deaths.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
Before the hon. Member leaves the subject of pipes and smoking, will he accept it from this side of the Committee that we have never admitted those figures? We all have in our own recollection instances where the explosions were attributed to smoking when that could never have been the case.
§ Mr. BROWN
I take that to be the hon. Member's view, but I have given the figures, because that is the opinion of my advisers, and I am bound, in fairness to the mining community and to the Committee, to give them all the facts.
Let me say next a word or two about inspections. An hon. Member opposite makes an interjection which is unwarranted. He very often makes interjections 1679 which are unwarranted. He often makes interjections which read into other people's minds what is not there. He says that what I am trying to do is to shift the onus. I am trying to do nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
If the hon. Member is going to allude to one, he might do the Committee the honour of repeating what I said. I said, "That shifts the whole question on to ignition"—meaning the cause of the explosions.
§ Mr. BROWN
If I misheard the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) I am very sorry, but I certainly understood him to say that. The duties of inspectors are to enforce safe practices as laid down in the Coal Mines Act and the general Regulations and Orders made thereunder, and that they do regularly. They investigate all the accidents and they carry on a continuous oversight of the mines. We have had a good deal of talk about the number of inspections, and I will read the figures. I was asked by the hon. Member for Normanton if I thought the inspectorate was large enough. He will remember that there was an enlargement of the inspectorate in 1924. At the moment it numbers 111, including eight special inspectors who devote the whole of their time to pit ponies. In 1924 the six inspecting divisions were increased to eight. That decision was made on the mining figures of 1922, and in 1922 the number of mines under the Coal Mines Act was 2,911, and the number of persons employed was 1,162,754. Last year there were 2,126 mines and 789,091 men. It will be seen that there were considerably more mines and more men when the enlargement was made, and I think it can be taken that it is my considered opinion that the inspectorate is sufficient for its duties.
Inspections have increased in frequency. In 1922, the number of inspections of mines was 18,941, and in 1933 it had increased to 22,801. There was an increase of 20 per cent. in the number of 1680 inspections, and a decrease of 27 per cent. in the number of coal mines to be inspected. There was an increase of approximately 65 per cent. in the average number of inspections per mine. Every mine which was working in 1933, with the exception of two small ones, was inspected at least once, many of them were inspected several times, and more than 1,211 mines were inspected throughout in every part. In 1933—and I quote these figures because some incredulity was shown over an answer which I gave on this point—the average number of inspections per mine was 8.6 underground and 2.5 on the surface. Those figures include the inspections of horses made by the horse inspectors, which numbered 2,359. It must be borne in mind that a number of mines are very small ones, which need little inspection, and where the inspection takes up little time, and it follows that the larger mines are visited on the average about once a month, and some of them, which require special attention, more frequently still. I do not think it can be held, on the facts I have given, that the Government inspection service can go much further without assuming to itself the actual duties and responsibilities of the management of the mines. It is often said, and apparently it is an ineradicable belief, that the inspectors give notice of their visits, but that is not so.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
That is not exactly our complaint. Our complaint is that when the inspector arrives at the colliery telephones are used to inform the officials underground.
§ Mr. BROWN
I want to make quite clear what the practice is so far as the Department are concerned. I do not know whether anyone would be unfair enough to charge me, or the inspectors, or the Department with using the telephone. It is not our telephone. Our inspectors are instructed that their visits must be made without notice. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. One exception is in cases where the presence of the manager or some other person is essential for the purposes of the visit. The second 1681 exception is where an inspector visits the mine by invitation of the management or the workmen's representatives. These two exceptions affect only a small minority of cases, and the vast majority of visits are made without notice. It is understood how this general belief occurs. It may occur in this case. After a fatal accident, everybody concerned knows that the inspector is bound to come, and news of the inspector's arrival at a colliery often precedes him below ground. The workers know that he is there, long before they see (him, and that sort of thing is unavoidable. I cannot control it any more than I can control the use of the telephone by anyone upon the surface who may learn that an inspector is on his way.
I am asked about workmen's inspections. The Committee may be interested to have the figures, which do not quite bear out the argument that has been used that there is a general desire for these inspections. Although Section 16 has been working for some years, there are only two areas where it is working to any considerable degree, Cardiff and the Forest of Dean, and the northern divisions.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
Section 16 of the Mines Act would be worked more than it is if the men could afford to pay for the inspections.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am coming to that point. I understand that. Let me give the number of inspections, so that the Committee may get the matter in focus. I did my best to prepare ahead, but I was not aware of the actual points which would be raised, and I have done my best to meet each point as it occurred. The figures of workmen's inspections to which I referred show that in 1927 the number of those inspections was 2,728, and the number of mines inspected, 320. In 1928 the respective figures were 2,547 and 294. The figures kept at about the same level until 1930, when they were 3,631 and 363. In 1932 they were 2,882 and 329. The average remains at about the same level.
§ Mr. BROWN
That I do not know, but the inspections may be once in every month, and the inspectors are accompanied 1682 by the manager and the officials of the mine. Where a notifiable accident is concerned, the inspectors may take a legal adviser or an electrical engineer, and the colliery manager must, under Section 16, give them every facility. I want to stress the fact that I am anxious that the Committee should believe, that the Department are aware of the importance and the desirability of these periodical inspections. It is not so easy to answer when I am asked that they should be paid for by the State. The whole idea is that the inspections should be independent. Already the State bears the cost, in the legal inspections, of the inspectorate staff and all concerned. It is the first time in my period of office, as Secretary for Mines, that the question has been raised as to whether workmen's inspection should be paid for by the State. We have given careful attention to this. The workmen concerned would lose their rights if the State or anybody else undertook to pay the piper, because whoever it was might desire to call the tune. I shall read with care and in detail what has been said on the matter, but all my predecessors have come to the conclusion that it was not possible to take that step.
§ Mr. D. DAVIES
In regard to workmen's inspections, a regulation lays down that they are to be recorded in a book in the office and submitted to the divisional inspector. Will the Secretary for Mines tell us whether his inspectors have had their attention drawn to the accumulations of firedamp revealed by the examinations made by the workmen's representatives?
§ Mr. BROWN
I could not answer that without notice. I will take note of the question and will make inquiries into it, and will let the hon. Member know. With regard to prosecutions I need only say one word, and that is that the mineowners and managers take very seriously any possibility of prosecution by the Mines Department and the cost of accidents is in excess of the penalties to which they might make themselves liable. I throw out that point for the consideration of hon. Members who take the other view, especially the view which was expressed by the hon. Member for Rother Valley. It would be a great mistake to blunt the weapon of 1683 prosecution by using it irrespective of the gravity or the character of the offence. I assure the hon. Members that the evidence is most carefully weighed, and that no consideration of any kind is allowed to enter into our judgment except as to whether or not a prosecution would effect the end which we all desire, of making the mines more safe. There is one other point. I think that I have dealt with all of them except one, and that is the problem of the automatic detector.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I asked the hon. Gentleman a specific question as to whether a miner is entitled to know that he is working in gas. Another question is as to when the consultations are likely to be completed in regard to the compulsory use of the automatic detector?
§ Mr. BROWN
First of all, about the detectors. Hon. Gentlemen will know that it is a matter which has given successive Secretaries for Mines a great deal of anxious thought and care. They also know that I have considered the matter very carefully and have caused draft regulations to be issued about detectors. I have seen and consulted with the deputies as to their views, and to-morrow the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation are to come to the Mines Department to be seen as to their views upon the regulations. At the moment it would be unwise of me to add anything more. When I have heard what the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation have to say, I shall give the regulations careful consideration, to see whether any alteration is desirable. In regard to detectors. One of the detectors is the Ringrose alarm, but there are others. There has been a good deal of feeling, because the Ringrose alarm has had the largest attention in public discussions. I will not go over the whole story, but I would like to point out that there are the Gulliford detector, which is now in use, and the McLuckie and the Thornton detectors, which are being tried out. I think it right to mention this, because some hon. Members may think that there is only one kind of detector. All the approved alarms are contained within the ambit of the regulations to which I have referred. The hon. Member for Normanton asks me whether a workman is entitled to know whether he is 1684 working in gas. The answer surely is that you cannot expect every workman to be equipped in that way. The regulations will attempt to provide that there shall be a minimum of one lamp in each ventilating district. The figure which was quoted is not a maximum, but a minimum.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
The hon. Member has entirely missed the point. I was referring to the hon. Gentleman's draft regulation. With reference to the compulsory use of detectors, the point I want definitely answered is : Has a mine worker the right to know that he is working in gas? I would like a definite answer to that, apart altogether from the question of detectors.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the hon. Member will allow me, I will give him a definite reply. I have one drafted, but I cannot just find it among my papers. I will give a definite reply when I answer at the end of the Debate. I am sorry to have detained the Committee for so long on this question of explosions, but it is a very great problem. It is not a matter of expressing sympathy merely in words; the sympathy is felt not merely on all sides of this House, but throughout the country, and I assure the Committee that whatever can be done to lessen the explosions is being done, and will continue to be done by the Department for Mines.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I have taken part in nearly every mines Debate since 1919. On this occasion we have made a new departure, because we have divided accidents in mines into two distinct and separate parts. The first was indicated in the question asked this afternoon about explosions in mines. As an old miner and miners' Member, I have been very pleased at the discussion that has taken place. Hon. Members on these benches have put their case in an excellent way and have used their practical experience and knowledge, and they have furnished a good deal of information with regard to the cause of explosions. When an explosion takes place and a number of men are instantaneously killed, a wave of sympathy goes through the country. I believe that it is a genuine wave, caused by horror that men should be lost in such circumstances. Unfortunately, it soon passes away, and we find ourselves getting 1685 back into the old method of thinking that nothing can be done to prevent loss of life.
The Secretary for Mines is the responsible person in his Department, and when we make statements it does not mean that we are making a personal attack upon him, but it is because he happens to be Secretary for Mines. Every Secretary for Mines has been attacked in that way. It is my business now to introduce the discussion in regard to what we call "accidents from other causes," that is, other than explosions. Those accidents are larger in number and a bigger loss of life is sustained in them than in accidents from explosions. That does not mean that we have to lessen our activities in trying to find means of preventing explosions. Accidents from other causes are a great tragedy. In 1931 there were killed from falls of ground 418 miners, from shaft accidents 20, from haulage accidents 174, and from miscellaneous accidents 71, a total of 683. On the surface there were 69, making a total of 752 deaths in 1931 from accidents other than explosions. In 1932 there were 446 deaths from falls of ground, 41 from shaft accidents, 174 from haulage accidents, and 81 from miscellaneous accidents, making a total of 742 underground. There were 74 on the surface, so that the full total was 816.
Falls of ground are very serious matters indeed. I feel that I ought to pay a tribute to the Safety in Mines Research Board, although it may seem to come strangely from me, because I myself happen to be a member of the board. On that board, however, there are some of the most capable men connected with mining, and they devote their time and energy to trying to find ways and means of preventing accidents. Some three or four years ago we appointed a man specially to take charge of the finding out of ways and means to prevent falls of ground and haulage accidents. One of His Majesty's inspectors, a man of very high qualifications, was appointed, and he has men under him in nearly every district in the mining areas. But in spite of that we find that the accidents are not diminishing very much. As the Minister has pointed out this afternoon, there has been a big reduction in the number of men employed in the mines, and, in addition, during the last two or three years there has been a good deal 1686 of lost time owing to pits not being able to work for lack of trade. Therefore, taking the number of men working, I am not sure that on a percentage basis there has been any reduction in accidents during that period.
Experiments have been tried in regard to the prevention of falls of ground and sides, and also in regard to the use of ropes and chains for haulage purposes, and certain ideas have been involved by the Safety in Mines Research Board which in all probability by degrees will be put into effect. The one complaint that I have to make against the Mines Department is that it lacks, not ability, but courage. I think that the Department ought to be more pressing in compelling owners and others to put into operation these new suggestions. If the Department has not that power, the sooner a new Act is introduced to give it that power the better it will be for everybody concerned. It is true that the Safety in Mines Research Board are not under the jurisdiction of the Minister; they can only make suggestions and recommendations; they cannot enforce their proposals on any colliery, and they are not allowed to undertake inspections. Moreover, I find that the inspectorate under the Mines Department can only suggest to colliery managers how things should be done, unless there has been a definite breach of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. Therefore, it appears to me that the House ought to consider whether we should not give to the inspectors of mines more power than they possess at present. I think that that is worthy of consideration, because at present, if an inspector goes to a mine, while he may suggest something, he has no power to compel the manager to put it into operation, or even to try it, unless the inspector is satisfied that there has been a breach of the Coal Mines Regulation Act.
Coming to the question of accidents other than fatal accidents, I find that in 1932 the number of men who sustained accidents from falls of ground was 44,703, shaft accidents 222, haulage accidents 34,538, and miscellaneous accidents—I do not really know what that means—36,526, making a total underground of 115,989. On the surface there were 9,541, the grand total for the year 1932 being therefore 125,530. In 1931, the total number 1687 was 141,014, so that it might be said that the investigation with regard to the prevention of falls of ground and sides is producing some results. In the mining area from which I come, and in which I have taken a very keen interest ever since I could do anything at all in life, I find that in that small county, in 1933, there were 16 fatal accidents, although fewer than 5,000 men are employed in that coalfield to-day.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Could the hon. Member say how that compares with the figures of, say, seven years ago?
§ Mr. CAPE
I am sorry to say that I cannot give comparable figures, because in that area there are now only about 10 pits working, whereas seven or eight years ago there were about 20; but, calculating on a percentage basis, there is probably no diminution at all. I want to suggest to the Secretary for Mines two or three things which he has probably heard before, but which may be worth while repeating. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) in 1929 advocated in the House the payment of deputies by the State. I think I can go back further than that, for ever since I have been in the House we have been advocating the same thing, and we have never retreated from the attitude that we took up long years ago. The reason for our attitude on that matter is that the deputy is the key man in the mine. Certain powers are given to him by Act of Parliament which no other miner has. He has to examine the working places and all the districts and roadways in the pit before the men go in. During the shift, when the men are working, he has to make two other examinations—he has to examine for inflammable gases and see that the airways are in perfect order, and he has to see that the roofs and sides, as far as he is able to discern, are safe. He has to examine everything except the machinery. Therefore, he is the one man who has to say whether the pit is safe or not, and whether the working place to which men are to be sent is safe. Moreover, as the men pass into the mine their lamps are examined by the deputy to see that they are in proper order; he can search the men, if he likes, for matches or anything of that kind; and he has to tell them that the working place is safe and in proper order.
1688 Therefore, as I have said, he is the key man. But what happens? I cannot speak from any actual case that has come to my knowledge, because in my county the deputies are not members of our association, but I have been informed that, when certain deputies have made reports which were not to the liking of the manager, or have withdrawn men from working places where they have found an abnormal percentage of gas, a successful effort has been made to get these men removed from their positions, and they have been either dismissed or put into other positions. After all, these men are human, and they have to take into consideration two things. They have to consider their duty as it ought to be carried out under the Act, and they have to consider what is going to happen to their wives and families if they get dismissed; and very often the economic conditions of to-day make men hesitate to do their duty for fear of the consequences. Therefore, so long as the deputy is dependent for his existence on his pay from the owner of the colliery, so long will he be kept in a subordinate position. It will only be when he is a free man, when he is paid by the State, when he is neither the slave of the employer or the workman, that we shall get real inspection in the mines, and the men will stand out boldly and see that the Coal Mines Regulation Act is carried out in its entirety.
When I was thinking about this Debate, a sort of silly notion came into my mind that it would not be a bad thing if the managers also were paid by the State. After all, the manager, the inspector, and the deputy are the three men on whom the workmen have to depend; but two of these three are not free men—they are agents of the colliery company, and have to take into consideration the economic conditions. You may have the best manager in the world so far as knowledge, practical experience, humanity and everything else is concerned, but, unless he can show for his colliery an economic situation that is acceptable to his employers, it stands to reason that in all probability he will not be very long there. Therefore, my suggestion, silly as it may seem, is that it is worthy of consideration whether the manager should not be under the State as well. I know that that would be a 1689 step towards nationalisation, but I should have no fear of that if it would mean safety for our men. I do not minimise the desire of all Members of the House for the safety of the men. I know that they have that desire intensely, but I do not think it can be as intense in others as it is in those of us who have worked down the mine for many years. I have done 25 years as a working miner underground. I have seen nearly every explosion that has taken place for 40 years; I have seen men buried under falls of earth and, although hon. Members may sometimes think they are wiser than I am, I have some right to beg them to employ every means they possibly can to secure safety for our men.
We have to consider this question from many angles. First of all, we must consider the suffering of the man who meets with an accident. Many times I have seen men carried away bruised and maimed and in such a condition that one would think they could never be put together again, suffering intense agonies. There is also the impoverishment of the man's family, the expenses of his convalescence, and the debts that have accumulated during his illness. From the national point of view, moreover, it is meet and right that everything should be done to prevent accidents, for, while a man is lame and unable to work owing to an accident, the nation has lost the output that he would have made if he had not suffered the accident. From every point of view, therefore, it is essential that each Member of this House should concern himself in doing all that he can to encourage and help the Ministry; he should implore the Minister of Mines and his Department to try to do everything possible, and he should insist that they do it to prevent accidents in the mines.
This is an old request of mine. It was mentioned this afternoon, and my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) mentioned it last year in Debate, and I did so as well. I wish to mention it again to-day, and to add my voice to the voice of the hon. Member who preceded me. It is time that we began to consider an absolutely new Coal Mines Regulation Act and not an Amendment of the one at present in existence. The present Act has been in force since 1911, and many regulations have been made in 1690 regard to such matters as explosives, lamps, machine-minding and the use of electricity. I wish, however, to remind hon. Members that this Act stood from 1887 until it was amended in 1911. Twenty-five years passed by during which a revolution took place in mining. More machine-minders were employed than anybody ever dreamed of. I am wondering whether the time has not come when the Act should be overhauled in order to give the Mines Department more power than they now possess to put safety measures into operation.
One of the reasons why we have not seen the diminution in accidents that we ought to have achieved through scientific research is the speeding-up which has taken place. In the old days I should never have thought of a price-list of less than half-a-crown a ton, but to-day the miner is faced with one of 10d. a ton, because of the number of machines and the quantity of coal that he has to get out. Conveyors are going all day, machines are going all night; there are no intervals between the two shifts; everything is in a turmoil, with men dashing hither and thither. There is no chance now of seeing, as we did in the old days, whether the roof above us shows any signs of what we call "working"; we have no time to examine, as we did in the old days, the sides of our working, the roof or the boring. All that is gone; it is a question of getting out coal as fast as we possibly can by means of all the new mechanical devices that have been introduced and which were enumerated by the hon. Member in his speech, such as the pneumatic pick. I suggest to the Minister that he ought to put before the Cabinet the request from this side of the House to appoint a Committee to consider the possibility of a new Mines Act with a view to tightening up the regulations to meet modern requirements and to give the Mines Department more power than it now possesses. I feel sure that the Minister will make a note of some of these matters, and other things that my hon. Friends may say during the Debate, and convey them to the proper quarter, and that every Member of the Government will do all he can to reduce the number of accidents which take place in mines.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. EVANS
All those who have taken part in this Debate to-day, except 1691 the Minister himself, have been miners at some time or another and now directly represent mining constituencies. I can well understand the anxiety they have shown in their speeches for the tightening-up of the regulations relating to the working of mines. Their anxiety is not, however, confined to those who are now direct representatives of miners. There are other hon. Members in this House who have an intimate knowleldge of mining affairs and who have a few miners among their constituents. Somehow or other, although the percentage of fatal accidents caused by explosion is relatively small, that type of accident in a pit has a singular poignancy to those of us who have lived in mining areas. We know something of the horror which haunts the wives and families, and if there has been an explosion in a district the memory remains vivid for at least a generation. I well understand the special emphasis which has been laid upon the necessity for the most stringent regulation of mining conditions in order to minimise the possibility of explosions.
My hon. friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) has perhaps given more time and study to the technical problems than most hon. Members in this House, but I was somewhat astonished at his comment that mining to-day was suffering from a surfeit of science. He followed that remark by another astonishing statement, that to-day, even with all our research, there were probably conditions leading to combustion and to ignition of which we knew nothing. I feel that research is still one of the clamant needs, but the coalowner has a psychology entirely his own. It is part of his heritage. In the old days individual coal owners operated on a small scale; they were entrepreneurs, daring people willing to take big risks, working largely in an emotional partnership with their workers. These people were astonishingly independent, frightfully conservative, and the last people to accept interference from outside. That mentality persists even to this day. I have no doubt that, if it were possible to have in this House the testimony of the inspectors of the Ministry, we should find them telling us of the extreme diffidence and reluctance of many mine-owners to accept new ideas.
1692 This is a theme on which I should like to fasten for a moment. In most areas there are now safety in mines research committees. These, though perhaps inspired by the Ministry, are largely of indigenous growth. One of their real difficulties is to pass down the product of their investigations from the Olympian heights of the fuel research laboratories to the ordinary mine manager, the small man in control of one mine or his subordinates. Considerably more attention might be paid to the work of these local safety in mines research committees. We have one in South Wales, and I happen to know that it has done an extraordinary amount of good work, but none of its results have been published. It has frequently to beg permission to investigate. There are intelligent managers and coalowners who will get through to Cardiff and ask for the services of the one or two experts employed by the research committee; it may be a problem of the structural formation or some phenomenon in the mine which has not been accounted for, such as an accumulation of gas despite experiments in ventilation. Such things are obviously matters needing the attention of experts. I am told, however, not without some authority, that in some cases a great battle has been waged to allow these experts to give their opinion.
It seems to me that too little is known of the work of the safety in mines re search committees, and they might secure a somewhat higher status. Their reports ought to be made public. I believe that one of the reasons for their giving an undertaking not to publish their reports was to overcome the diffidence and reluctance of mineowners to accept their advice. If it were known that no reports, were to be made on some phenomenon manifesting itself in a particular mine, the owner or manager would, it was thought, be more willing to accept the advice. Here is a possible line of action. We want to make an effective channel through which the intelligence of the Government Research Departments may flow down into the mind and come to the knowledge of the ordinary mine manager. He may have his certificates, but we all know that advances are always taking place, new discoveries are always being made, and new developments are always being launched, and the old-fashioned type of mine manager is often completely 1693 oblivious of the new knowledge that is within his grasp.
I wish to invite the attention of the Minister to an aspect of the miner's life which has not been touched upon to-day; the side which is related not so much to accident as to disease. We have to-day had the figures of fatalities as a result of falls of ground, and so forth, but no mention has been made of the very considerable incidence of disease in the mining community. Unfortunately, an inadequate number of diseases to which miners are peculiarly susceptible come within the scope of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. You have nystagmus, you have silicosis, and I have no doubt that they are the main diseases to which miners are particularly subject.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
Order. I invite the advice of the Minister on this point, but my impression is that the scheduling of diseases arises from the Home Office, and not on the Order of the Mines Department.
§ Mr. EVANS
That is true, and this is not the first time that I have made a protest against the very unsatisfactory position. More than once I have raised the problem of silicosis on the Home Office Vote and have been fobbed off with the reply that it is a matter for the Mines Department, and when I raise it on the Mines Department I am told that the Order is a matter for the Home Office.
§ Mr. BROWN
There are three responsibilities. There is the responsibility in regard to certain matters of research in connection with this disease, and there is the responsibility with regard to the law of compensation, which are matters for the Home Office. The prevention of disease can be raised on the present Vote.
§ Mr. EVANS
My only point is that, were these compensationable, we should find that the number would be greatly increased in the returns of the Minister of Mines. Obviously, I cannot discuss silicosis except within very narrow limits, but I should like to ask the Minister if he does not think the time has come to insist on the medical examination of all new entrants into the mining industry. I am certain that some have a much greater 1694 susceptibility than others to industrial diseases. I have discussed the matter with people who have had a considerable amount of experience. We have to-day a new technique for the study of lung troubles. There are methods of ray photography, and I am assured by research students, some of them people of great distinction and achievement, that you can estimate the susceptibility of lung tissues to fibrosis. It seems to me, in view of the fact that silicosis is a disease that is spreading, and in view of the horrible suffering that ensues from it, the time has come when a test should be applied. Anyhow, it is a matter for investigation. I have studied the papers submitted by the experts of the Welsh National Memorial Association, than whom there are no greater authorities on lung diseases, and I am convinced that a technique has been developed by research students which will enable you to estimate whether one man has a greater susceptibility to lung trouble than another. It is certainly a matter worthy of inquiry. Take nystagmus. Is there a particular eye formation which, when its possessor enters a mine and works in darkness or badly lighted chambers, creates for him a greater susceptibility to the diease? With the mining industry shrinking, it is possible to exercise a much greater power of selection, and, in view of the spread of the diseases and the horrible consequences of being afflicted by them, it might be possible to insist upon the medical examination of new entrants.
There is another point with which I should like the Minister to deal. We have now in South Wales an internal commission investigating a suggestion made by one of His Majesty's inspectors into the possibility of draining away the accumulations of water in disused workings. Mines are closing down, and I was glad to see from the Minister's report that last year there were no casualties as the result of the irruption of water. In the previous year it was .2 or something infinitesimal. But there are mining engineers who feel that, with the closing down of more and more mines, this may well become a menace. In South Wales we have known something of the horrible tragedies of flooding. One of the most horrible disasters that ever hap- 1695 pened in the history of mining in the Rhondda happened as a result of flooding. I have no doubt that here again technical knowledge has improved. There is to-day a voluntary commission investigating a suggestion made for the draining away to the sea of these vast accumulations of water, and I want the Minister to give us an assurance that the work of this commission will receive his sympathetic attention because it has a direct relevance to safety.
I should like to re-emphasise the appeal that has been made for the codification at least of these regulations. I agree that a new Coal Mines Act is needed, but anyhow from statements made to-day there is a considerable amount of vagueness among mine managers concerning the regulations. The development of machinery and new developments in lighting, steel arches, steel props land so forth —these changes are of such a character as to need a small committee being set up either to codify and modernise existing regulations or to fashion a new Coal Mines Regulation Act. It is, I think, a reasonable plea, and I hope it will be heeded by the Minister. We who come from mining areas know something of the tragedy of the people's lives. Their outlook is a pretty hopeless one, their earnings are low, and their future is uncertain. The flame of hope has long died out in their eyes, and, if we cannot provide all with work, we ought to provide all those who do find work with reasonable conditions of safety.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
I wish to emphasise the request that has been made with regard to the imperative need of a new Coal Mines Act. We were reminded by the Minister of Labour this week that 36 Measures have been introduced since 1911 dealing with unemployment. Those of us who represent mining constituencies think that we need in 1934 at least an amending Act having regard to the fact that the existing Act and the regulations issued in pursuance of it have been in operation for a quarter of a century. The codification of regulations would solve very few problems, because the regulations apply to conditions which no longer exist.
Many Members sympathised with the Minister because of the numerous interjections, 1696 interruptions and interventions during the time that he was replying to us, but no interruption was of such a callous character as that made by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) last week when one of my hon. Friends put a question to the Minister as to the number of explosions that had taken place within a certain period. After the answer had been given, the hon. Member asked how many explosions had happened during the two years of Socialist Administration? No one can understand the mentality of a man who will seek to secure some political notoriety out of such a tragedy as an explosion. But the Minister has no right to complain of interruptions, because on one occasion when I addressed the House he intervened no fewer than seven times in the course of my speech. Therefore, the Minister himself is an offender so far as interruptions or interventions are concerned.
I have no desire to make any reference to that part of the Debate which has been exhausted other than to say this. The Minister made reference to a pit where an accumulation of gas was to be found in the gobs. That is a part of our case, that measures should be taken to compel coalowners to stow the gob. I have here an extract from a report of the head of the inspectorate in South Wales. He says :The improvement in the ventilation that is bound to follow the complete closing of the wastes is a point upon which I cannot lay too much stress. Two explosions, due in my opinion to defective ventilation, have occurred within recent years in this division and in both instances the packing of the wastes had received but scant attention, enabling cavities to be formed which subsequently filled with firedamp. There is a further aspect of the matter worthy of note, that is from an underground fire point of view; if tight bastings are desirable to seal off a fire, they are surely desirable as in the form of tight packs in preventing the initiation of a fire.It is very difficult to claim originality for any contribution that a Member can make in a Debate of this kind, but such a, disability should not deter us from availing ourselves of the opportunity to discuss such accidents, whether they occur in mines, factories or workshops, with a view to taking measures to prevent their recurrence. I should like to draw attention to an observation in the "Colliery Guardian," which I think will not be 1697 accused of bias towards the miner, in the issue of 20th April in reference to an explosion at Grassmoor :We have several times recently expressed the view that the ventilation of many British mines does not reach the standard which in the interests of safety is desirableWith some practical knowledge and experience of mining, I have no objection to quoting authorities who are sometimes referred to as experts, especially His Majesty's inspectors. My complaint is that the advice that they tender is rarely, if ever, acted upon by the Mines Department, and that in my opinion constitutes a considerable waste of time.
Before dealing with the main cause of accidents, I will refer to a few of the minor causes which can be remedied with little inconvenience to anybody. One of the questions which I have raised on more than one occasion is that of the length of conveyor faces. It is deplorable that consideration is not given to the fact that in many mines of Great Britain, especially in South Wales, you have conveyor faces varying in length from 40 to 150 and even 180 yards. There is no hope for a person who meets with an accident due to a fall of roof at the top end of a conveyor face, and, from many points of view, even from the point of view of saving costs, it should be made compulsory upon the owners, apart from the question of safety, to insert roads at various places in the conveyor face.
There is another difficulty as a result of the introduction of conveyors. The noise at the conveyor face is deafening, and I leave it to the imagination of Members of the Committee who have never worked in a mine to realise the considerable disadvantage of noise which is even more deafening than the noise in some of our factories. The lives of men depend upon being able to detect a crack in the roof when they are not able to test it by sounding it with one of the tools which they use for the purpose. There is no need to have conveyors which make this enormous and terrible noise in the pit. Conveyors have now been introduced which are almost as noiseless as some of the typewriters that are to be seen in offices, particularly in this City. If we are to consider safety, what objection can there be to compelling an owner to realise that he must have some special regard to the safety of the men he employs, 1698 and, in view of the fact that there are noiseless conveyors available, I see no reason why pressure should not be brought to bear upon the owners to introduce conveyors that would obviate the deafening noise to which miners are subjected during the course of their occupation.
There is another minor cause of accidents. Since the introduction of steel props little if any regard is had to the kind of strata in which those props are used. In many collieries in my Division the steel props in use are similar to the large steel rails upon which the trains of this country run. No provision is made in the construction of such a prop to prevent it penetrating the roof and causing large crevices. The steel prop should be so constructed as to make it possible to fasten a lid between the prop and the roof to prevent the prop entering the roof, and in some instances to enable a lid to be fitted to prevent the prop from piercing the bottom.
There is another matter which is a source of annoyance to our workmen. I am not disposed to argue that the inspectors of mines deliberately inform the mine management when they propose to pay a visit to a particular mine, but I know that after an accident the inspector is sent for, and, in some instances, when the workmen anticipate an accumulation of gas in the mine. The mine inspector visits the mine. He submits a report to the Ministry of Mines, but we cannot secure a copy of the report for submission to the workman whose safety is involved. What objection can there be to a mines inspector submitting a copy of his report to the workmen on whose behalf he has been summoned to a particular colliery?
There is the question of the withdrawal of steel props, an operation which no miner should be allowed to undertake, especially in view of some of the Regulations which still operate in the mines of this country. One of the Regulations provides that there must be a safety contrivance before props are withdrawn, but the danger is considerably increased by the introduction of the steel prop. A workman can, in certain circumstances, withdraw a wooden prop with a certain amount of safety, but there is all the difference in the world between releasing 1699 a steel prop and releasing a wooden one. No workman should be allowed to withdraw steel props unless he belongs to a special class of men who do nothing else but withdraw these props. When they are withdrawn from the wastes or from the gobs, no workman should be allowed to do the work unless, at the same time, he is under the supervision of a fireman.
There is the question of lighting in the mines, which is a cause of accidents. I readily admit that there has been considerable improvement made within recent years with regard to the lighting of the mines, but the lighting can still be considerably improved. We believe that certain costs or expenses would be involved, and that to some degree would prevent an improvement in the lighting of the mines. There is another point which affects us as workmen's representatives. The districts which are under the supervision of the firemen or deputies should be considerably reduced. Imagine what large districts there must be in a pit such as that mentioned by the Minister where there are 17 miles of roadway. An enormous number of firemen must be required. As far as possible I would make it compulsory for these men to attend to the safety of the mine only and not be called upon during any part of the day to take account of, or to look after, the question of increasing the output. Another minor cause of unpleasantness among our men is the fact that the colliery manager, according to certain Sections of the Coal Mines Act, has the right to prosecute workmen for violations of the Act of Parliament or for contravening some of the Regulations. If it is right that the owner should prosecute the men, what reason is there that the workmen should not have the right to prosecute the coalowner or the manager? They have not the same general powers to prosecute a manager as a manager has to prosecute them.
I now wish to deal with what we describe as the most important cause of accidents in the mine, and in this connection I would quote an observation of Sir Henry Walker to be found in one of the reports just before 1932, which is evidence that I am not opposed to accepting the information of some of the experts. He says : 1700Accidents from falls of ground, unlike explosions of firedamp and inrushes of water are not sensational, and it is perhaps not always realised that they constitute about one-half of the accidents which occur in mines.One has to be very careful in acting in accordance with the advice of the Minister of Mines who, in a Debate recently, said that we should put these questions in their right perspective. I want to do that in connection with explosions, and what I consider to be the main cause of accidents in the mines. I cannot, whatever may be said about other Members of the Committee, be accused of deliberately attempting to minimise the effect of explosions in this country owing to the fact that I have lived for a number of years in close proximity to a place where a very large explosion took place, namely, at Ebbw Vale. If you take the number of deaths due to the inrush of water, shaft accidents, and explosions, involving in each case a loss of more than 10 lives, you will find that from 1901 to 1932—a period of not less than 31 years— they were 2,335. If you take the deaths due to other causes, not during the period of 31 years, but a period of only 10 years, from 1920 to 1930, they were no fewer than 11,452. The number of accidents which rendered men idle for three days or more were no fewer than 1,743,000. In comparing those figures it will be found that there were five times as many deaths from falls of roof and other causes in one-third of the time, or, in other words, five times more deaths in 10 years than there were deaths from explosions in 31 years.
I hold the opinion—and this again is shared by the experts of the Mines Department—that not only is a refusal on the part of the owners to stow the gob the cause of explosions in particular, but it is also an important factor in causing accidents in general. Here, again, is an illustration showing that the mines inspector's advice is not acted upon. Captain Carey is continually drawing attention to the need for the stowing of gobs in his annual report. Here is an extract from a report submitted to the Department 11 years ago, which shows that there must be some fault somewhere. If the Minister has not the power to issue regulations to compel the owners to stow the gobs, he ought to seek powers in view of this repetition on the part of his inspector in demanding that these wastes or gobs should be stowed. The report says : 1701The packing of the goaves is too often neglected or carelessly done, and should receive far more care and attention than is at present given to it.That was in 1923, and in 1932 he again says :I am more convinced than ever that the true solution of the problem of falls in the steam coal collieries depends upon the introduction of tight packs throughout the faces of work, so as to maintain the roof in an unbroken state.In his report of 1931 he says :I am still of the firm opinion, so often expressed in the past, that the only solution to the problem of the prevention of accidents from falls of roofs, is to maintain a system of tight packing, so as to retain the beds overlying the coal seam to be extracted in as unbroken a condition as is humanly possible.Why is it not done? If the Minister has not the power, what prevents him from seeking the power, in view of the repeated recommendations of one of his mine inspectors and one of the experts of his Department? Even from the point of view of reducing the cost, a tremendous lot could be said in support of the suggestion of the inspector. In his report for 1927 he says :It prevents the possibility of cavities being formed in the back area to become receptacles for accumulations of gas; it causes less repair works to be necessary on the roadways behind the working faces, and finally it ensures that the bulk of the ventilation is kept up to the coal face itself, resulting in the freshly given off gases being carried harmlessly away and physiologically rendering the human machine at work there more efficient.One would think that from the point of view of the amount of money that it costs to give compensation in the case of accidents, that the owners would do that, but there are many instances upon record where they would not have introduced steel props if it had not been for the fact that they were saving in some instances no less than 9d. a ton. I am forming the opinion that the coal owners will do nothing, even in order to secure the lives of the mine workers, unless it pays them to do it. If that is their attitude, there is no reason why they should not be compelled to do these things.
Take the question of compensation alone? From 1921 to 1932, a period of 11 years, £38,000,000 were paid in compensation to mine workers in this country as a result of accidents. I should like again to give an extract from Captain Carey's 1702 report, in which he deals with a new phase of a number of the accidents that are occurring in the mines. He said :I cannot account for this rise in the accident rate other than to suggest that low wages may have had an effect upon the vitality and consequent alertness of the men. I myself have personal knowledge of the fact that some men were going to their work insufficiently nourished and such a state of things will not conduce to that state of vigilance which is necessary to those conducting haulage operations.Although the question has been raised in this House on more than one occasion I question whether hon. Members realise the extent to which the wages of the miners in this country have been reduced during the last few years. The reductions that have taken place since 1921 are certainly unbelievable and incredible. In Great Britain in 1920 the total wages paid to mine workers were £265,000,000, last year, £84,000,000, a reduction in 13 years of no less than £181,000,000. If we take the average earnings per annum per person employed in 1920 in Great Britain, the amount for mine workers was £223, compared with £110 last year, a reduction of £113 in that period. I leave it to the intelligence of hon. Members whether there is not a lot to be said for Captain Carey's observations and whether it is possible for the miner to receive the food that he requires to undertake arduous toil on a paltry £113 a year.
The same position prevails in South Wales. In 1920, the total wages paid to mine workers were £65,500,000, compared with £15,500,000 last year, a reduction of £50,000,000. If we take the average annual earnings of miners in South Wales the figure in 1920 was £252, not a high wage for a man who runs such risks for 12 months, and last year the South Wales miner had to be content with an annual wage of only £114, a reduction of £138 in 1933 compared with 1920. The reduction would have been much greater but for the fact that in 1920 there was a stoppage for three weeks. A total wage of £15,500,000 for all the workers after working for 12 months in the mines of South Wales, and yet in this country we buried a man last year who left no less a sum than £30,000,000. He left twice as much as was earned by all the miners in South Wales in a whole year.
There is another phase of this problem to which we might give Consideration. The machine at the present time is setting 1703 the pace for the miner in Great Britain. Previous to the introduction of the machine the miner set his own pace, but to-day it is a question of the machine and it makes a considerable difference to the mine worker. No less an authority than Mr. Eric Palmer, investigator to the Industrial Health Research Board, stated recently that :Fatigue was one of the causes which scientists had to investigate, for a tired worker was specially liable to accidents. It was difficult to separate the part played in accidents by fatigue from the part played by speed of production which was possibly a more important factor under modern industrial conditions.The extent to which the mining industry has been revolutionised by the introduction of machinery constitutes a part of our case for an amended Coal Mines Act. Let me give a few figures. The number of coal cutting machines in the mines of this country in 1913 was 2,897 and in 1932, 7,137, an increase in 19 years of 4,242. There was a similar increase in the number of conveyors. In 113 the number of conveyors was 359, and in 1932, either at the coal face or elsewhere in the mine, the number was 4,120, an increase in the same period of 19 years of 3,761. Coal cutting by machinery can also be emphasised by taking other figures. The amount of coal got by machinery in the mines of Great Britain in 1921 was a little over 23,000,000 tons, while last year the amount cut by machinery was almost 88,000,000 tons, an Increase in 12 years of 65,000,000 tons, or an increase from 14 per cent. in 1921 to 42 per cent. in 1933.
We submit, and I think the experts again would not disagree with us, that in view of the changed conditions in the mines of this country we need an entirely new Coal Mines Act. The present Act is a quarter of a century old and such a Measure is largely if not entirely obsolete to deal with 1934 conditions. The production of coal in the mines of this country has been completely revolutionised since 1911, and we want new powers to meet new methods of coal production. I should like to conclude my observations by again emphasising the need of a new Act of Parliament.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
This is technically a Debate to move a reduction in the 1704 Minister's salary but, of course, no one wishes to bring any personal loss upon the present Minister for Mines, because we all recognise that he brings to his duties an enthusiasm which would be to the public good if it were transmitted to his Department. Whatever the Minister of Mines tackles he always tackles with enthusiasm and with purpose. I can assure him that after he has sat so long on that bench if he cares to take the opportunity of going to another place for refreshment I shall not regard it as a personal slight.
This subject of safety in Mines is one of the very few subjects which we discuss in this House without any controversial spirit, because not merely in the House but throughout the country there is one desire and that is to eliminate as far as possible the accidents in mines and in industry generally. It is astonishing and disappointing in view of the general desire to secure and to promote safety in mines, in view of the research which has taken place in the last 50 years and the general advance which has been made in the arts of the industry, that we should make so little progress with the elimination of accidents. I cannot claim, and I would not like to attempt to claim, any great knowledge or authority on this matter comparable with the technical knowledge of hon. Members above the Gangway, who speak from practical experience which one cannot hope to achieve. Nevertheless, because of one's desire for the welfare of the mining community and representing a mining division, I may be permitted to make a few observations upon the subject generally.
We have heard to-day from various speakers, as well as the Minister, a good deal of information about explosions in recent months. Undoubtedly it is the duty of the House to take very careful note of the explosions which have taken place and to use opportunities such as this Debate provides for bringing them to the notice of the Minister and the country, not merely in order to see that the rigours of the law are brought to bear upon negligent persons, but so that the Department itself may be kept wide awake as to the possibility of learning of these accidents and how to prevent others. Although an explosion in a mining area is always the subject of sympathy 1705 and serves to bring to those who live away from the mining districts a sense of the impending tragedy which can hardly ever under any circumstances be expelled from the home of the miner, the real tragedy is not nearly so spectacular. The real tragedy in the mining industry is the steady repetition of accidents from day to day through a number of minor causes which are continually taking toll of those who work in the industry. If one without any technical knowledge merely glances at the figures contained in the report of the Department, they will see that over 125,000 people were injured last year in following the course of their occupation in and about the mines.
I am sure that public opinion will be encouraged and assured by such speeches as we have heard from the hon. Member who, being a member of the Research Committee itself, paid such a great tribute to his fellow members in their desire to decrease and prevent these accidents. But, however much you engage in research, however stringent you make your regulations, you cannot get away from the fact that the human element has its part to play. I was struck, in looking at the Report of the Chief Inspector, to see the figures given in respect of accidents in haulage alone. If I understand the figures aright, during 1932 there were 723 people killed or seriously injured from that one cause of haulage—717 accidents involving 723 people, and 173 of those accidents were fatal accidents and involved the death of 174 people. I read with amazement the statement of the Chief Inspector about those accidents. Here is what he said :There were 173 fatal accidents in which 174 persons were killed. I have examined the details of each of these accidents and consider that half of them were due to carelessness. This, I admit, is a callous description, for it includes not only accidents which resulted from an obvious lack of care, but also many which were due to a too great faith on the part of the persons killed that nothing would go wrong. What those who work and travel on underground haulage roads need, and not only they but many other people as well, is a frame of mind which might be expressed in a new slogan 'Ha'e your doots,' or 'Have a care.' If in a great many cases the person killed had had a little less faith and a little more doubt and had acted accordingly, he would not have been killed. People forget that the unexpected sometimes happens. About one-1706 third of the accidents may be said to be due to the conditions under which the work is being done. Improvement in haulage roads is taking place, but progress is slow.One wonders why progress should be slow when the cause is productive of so many accidents. I merely call attention to this matter because the whole trend of this discussion has been based on the supposition that if the regulations are tightened up, if the Secretary for Mines will do this and will do that, accidents will disappear. I think that a public service is given when one calls attention to those very ominous remarks of the Chief Inspector. I was interested to see that 50 accidents happened from that one cause in the county of Durham. It seems to me to be a very serious thing that one accident per week should be caused from a particular source which could be eliminated without any increased regulations and without any alteration of the present law.
Depite all our constant vigilance in the matter of safety, we take a pride in the fact that in this country we have conducted so great an industry—upon which it is not an exaggeration to say our industrial greatness has been built—under such conditions as to have made our mines safer than the mines of any other country; but it would be a tragedy indeed if the sense of safety itself were productive in due time of further causes of injury and accident. This discussion has been carried on in a spirit of perfect good will. None of us has any differences on this matter. The purpose of the Debate is really the purpose which Parliamentary government in this country always serves, that is by discussion to keep at a point of efficiency the whole of our administration. I can only express the hope that this discussion has served that very useful purpose. If by our discussion we can so urge public opinion on this matter that whatever can be done will be done, then we shall have done a good service to the nation.
I would only add a few words to what was said a few moments ago about the accumulation of water in underground workings. The hon. Member who spoke oh that subject approached it from the point of view of safety in the mines, but I invite the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the fact that it has another aspect. Possibly the economic conditions of the industry could be improved 1707 if pumping arrangements for a number of collieries could be consolidated. In my own part of the country I am told by those who know best that the fortunes of a great number of collieries have been diminished by a lack of concentration on the matter of pumping. If now we can add to the economic argument the argument of safety, I am sure that the Minister will respond more quickly to that than even to the economic argument, because I am sure that we are all anxious to unite in one great endeavour to conduct this industry from the point of view of safety rather than of profit, from the point of view of protection of human life rather than the promotion of industrial efficiency.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
It is very difficult at this stage of the Debate to say much without recapitulating the arguments used by previous speakers. Of course one is prevented in a Debate of this kind from talking about what my hon. Friends would call first principles. We think, of course, that most of the accidents that occur in mines are due to the fact that the miner is not specifically engaged to mine coal but to mine profit, and that if he was engaged to mine coal for power production in this country we would have very few accidents. But I am prevented from developing that aspect of the argument. Yet that is really the salient feature, or should be the salient feature, of this Debate. I concurred with the remarks of the last speaker, when he said that many people desired that safety should be placed first and profit second. But that remark comes strangely from one who believes in the economics of the present order.
The main thing I desire to stress is this : I do want the Minister to weigh up carefully every word that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) in opening this Debate. I am sure the Minister will take it from me when I say that if any accident involving a number of lives occurred in any mine in this country, and I had to decide whom I would select to conduct the inquiry and ascrtain the facts, it would be my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the Chief Inspector would welcome his assistance, as he did at a recent explosion and has done on other occasions. 1708 My hon. Friend has been an inspector of mines for some years, but instead of being engaged by the Mines Department he was engaged by the miners. For many years he conducted most of the inquiries on behalf of the South Wales miners. I wish to impress on the Minister the need to weigh up every word that has been said by my hon. Friend in opening the Debate.
The first section of this discussion has related to explosions, and I want to say quite frankly that I am not satisfied with the reply that we have had from the Minister. It is impossible to have an explosion if you have adequate ventilation. The Minister endeavoured to stress the accumulation of gas in the gobs. But that is what we impress on the Minister as needing to be put right. The need is to see that the gobs are properly stowed. Then there would not be an enormous waste of ventilation, there would not be the accumulations of gas that are taking place and making explosions possible. I want the Minister to think again over that matter. I do not wish to recapitulate word for word what others have said. They used figures to show that it was necessary to have 5 per cent. of gas in the atmosphere before it is possible to have an explosion, and that men should be withdrawn when there is 2½ per cent. in the air current. It is impossible to upset those figures because they conform to facts. We are prepared to admit that accidents would occur at all times in the mining industry, and that it is impossible completely to eliminate accidents.
Nature bas varying moods. Sometimes she is very kind, and at other times very unkind. Men are working in the depths of the earth in varying temperatures, and the fact that we are faced with an enormous number of accidents from falls of roof suggests that we should apply some system of systematic timbering which would obviate a substantial number of the accidents. Personally I do not agree with the policy of pulling in the roof. It may lead to a greater output. You may throw the pressure of the strata on the coal face, which is necessary for freeing the coal, but at the same time it must create enormous chasms which must be filled by gas, and it upsets the essence of good mining, that is, to give a constant ventilating current. A substantial number of falls of roof are due to bad ventilation. As a practical miner of many years, I shall be corroborated by 1709 every mining engineer, you get a high temperature in a mine which rots timber, and one is not conscious at every moment that the timber is rotting. The bark may be sound, but immediately it is touched it will not stand the pressure which timber is expected to stand, and an enormous number of falls of roof are due to that fact.
I have made the charge before that rotten timber is put in. The Secretary for Mines did not like the statement. But timber that has already been used is used again; it is second hand timber. I speak from practical knowledge and as one who has had occasion to look into this matter for some years and on occasion has had to reprimand both men and management for putting in timber which has already been used. It is also a constant complaint on the part of the men. If one could speak on the question of systematic mining I should come to what would be agreed is the essence of good mining. A mine before it is worked is not properly planned, a return upon the invested capital is expected so speedily that the shortest cut must be taken to get the highest possible output. If the policy was adopted of securing substantial dimensions for airways and for roadways as a means of egress the enormous number of accidents which now take place on the roadways would be avoided. It is the small dimensions of the roadways which cause a number of accidents; it is the want of packing in the gobs which cause a side squeeze. Packing, good lighting, systematic timbering and sound ventilation, are all matters with which the Secretary for Mines could deal administratively, and in the aggregate, if properly attended to, would remove 50 per cent. of the accidents which take place to-day. Under a profit grabbing system very little notice is taken of accidents in mines by the public except when something of a dramatic nature takes place, flooding or an explosion, or some disaster, when a few persons are complimented for their bravery and certificates on vellum are presented by certain societies. All the time bravery is there in the saving of individual life, in what appears to most people to be minor accidents.
We think that the Government should give the Secretary for Mines greater scope in this regard. The Minister of Agriculture is attached to the Cabinet. I do not 1710 know that agriculture, valuable as it is, is more valuable than mining. The Minister of Agriculture designs policy; we think that the Secretary for Mines ought to be given power comparable to the Minister of Agriculture. There are 750,000 persons engaged in the mines and with their dependents they make a large aggregation of population. Whilst great profits are made out of the mines the miner is not adequately fed, and those who have read the reports of research societies will know that this has a definite bearing because, unlike most industries, the miner must be constantly alert and able to see with more than his two eyes. He must be able to hear things afar off, he must be able to hear the slightest fracture that takes place in the roof. His life depends on his senses being constantly on the alert. And yet the mining is the Cinderella of the industries of this country. There is no slave in the world in a worse state than the miner. They are in the bowels of the earth, working in dark galleries, faced with constant dangers, in an arduous occupation, for a mean, miserable pittance, less than any labourer engaged by any corporation or private employer in any industry throughout the country. These things are pressing upon the minds of the men in the industry, and because we have a profit-grabbing system the mineowners will not co-ordinate, will not listen to re-organisation reports of any kind. They will flout practically every suggestion that is made to them.
I wish to pay a tribute as other hon. Members on this side have done to what is being done by the Research Council and also to compliment the Mines Department on endeavouring to secure the adoption of preventive measures with regard to silicosis and other matters. But I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that something is needed beyond all that. We hold inquiries after accidents have taken place. I often wonder whether better results would not be achieved if half the energy and half the knowledge displayed in connection with those inquiries were applied to making certain beforehand that there was an adequate flow of ventilation through the stall-headings and levels of the underground galleries and to making certain that there was sound timber, sound packing, good lighting, good roadways and good airways. Good airways are essential to good 1711 ventilation but because the airways are not used for coaling purposes, because they are not used for getting the output out of the shaft, they are of the smallest possible dimensions. It is impossible for a fan to create the necessary vacuum to enable the air to spread speedily through the mine if the airway is of small dimensions.
I stress these points, perhaps in a rather disjointed form because I desire to avoid recapitulation. But I hope that good results will arise from this Debate. I hope that the Department's experts who have heard what has been said on these matters will pay regard to the opinions expressed by men who have had long experience of the industry, who have applied themselves for many years to the problems of practical mining and, if I may say so with some diffidence, who have also made some study of the technical aspects of mining. I am sure that the Minister will weigh up the facts and suggestions contained in the splendid speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd and in the contributions of other hon. Members on this side. I hope he will also give special regard to the figures brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar). If those speeches are weighed and considered as they ought to be this Debate will not have been in vain. If the Minister is induced to put as much vigour into dealing with the questions raised as he puts into his speeches and to give as much time to studying the problem of preventing explosions and other accidents as he does to accumulating material in the preparation of those speeches, this Debate will not have been in vain. The last word I would say in this Debate is that most explosions and other accidents in mines are attributable to bad ventilation, to unsystematic and bad stowing. If the Minister concentrates upon those things, he will do something for which the miners will have cause to thank him.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
I wish to express my sympathy with the Minister of Mines. I have been in the House during nearly the whole of this Debate and all that time the hon. Gentleman has been sitting opposite to me. If he did not take in an extra supply this morning at breakfast I am inclined to think he will 1712 be more than ready for supper before this Debate concludes. While expressing my sympathy with the Minister I would also draw attention to the array of empty benches. That is a measure of the sympathy and attention of hon. Members on this question. When there is a mine explosion or a big accident in a mine, scarcely a Member on this side can make his voice heard, there are so many in other parts of the House anxious to let the world know how much they sympathise with the miners. They do not, however, show a very high regard for those who represent mining constituencies in this House and who have themselves been miners. Perhaps that is why so few have seen fit to attend this Debate. Had this discussion been on a question of wages or hours in the industry I fancy that we would have had a great number of experts from the other side telling us a great many things about the industry.
I do not pretend to be able to produce constructive proposals, for eliminating accidents in mines. I do not think that anyone on this side suggests that accidents can be eliminated from mining. But we believe, particularly those of us who have had experience of the working of mines, that a great many of the accidents which take place could be avoided. I do not make any complaint against the inspectors and I do not think that there is any Member on this side connected with the mining industry who would make any complaint about the work of the inspectors. Generally they do their work satisfactorily. Our complaint is against their employers. They themselves have sometimes cause for complaint against those employers. Their employers do not give them the power and authority which they ought to have. I would like the Minister to take note of the request which has been made to him to-day. If, under the powers which he himself possesses at the moment, he cannot give the inspectors a little more authority than they have, he might try to influence the President of the Board of Trade who is I suppose his superior and who represents the mining industry in the Cabinet, to give him the necessary powers. I hope he will also pay regard to the suggestion that the time has come for new legislation dealing with the mining industry.
I have long held the view that this industry is of sufficient importance to war- 1713 rant its representative in the Government being a Member of the Cabinet. I do not believe that we should have secondhand legislation handed out to us and that is pretty well what has been happening since I came to this House 16 years ago. In that respect I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams). I do not expect the Minister will reply to this, because it is rather personal, but he might speak to the Prime Minister or whoever is responsible, because the Prime Minister knows my views personally on that matter, and express the hope that in any reorganisation of offices it may be found possible to find a place in the Cabinet for the Minister of Mines, so that he would be responsible for the industry in a direct way rather than only in an indirect way, as at present. While we have not anybody rich on this side, we do not care for a secondhand place or for secondhand information in this matter.
A lot of figures have been given to-day, and I suppose we cannot deal with this subject without making some reference to figures. I am sure the Minister himself, when he replies, will hand us out a whole series of them, and I have a few here of my own. I find that during the 12 years from 1921 to 1932 inclusive, during which we had nearly 12 months' stoppage of work—though I will give full credit for the 12 years in working out the averages—according to the reports presented by the Minister for Mines annually there have been no fewer than 6,550 persons killed in England; and I may remark that if this had happened 300 or 400 years ago, I do not suppose we should have been very sorry—I am speaking now as a Scotsman—whereas at the present time we look upon that as to a large extent a waste of very valuable life. There were 2,799 Welshmen killed in those 12 years, and 1,545 were killed in Scotland, making a total for Britain of 10,894 men killed underground, which works out at an average of 908 annually. During the two periods of stoppage in those 12 years, there were considerably fewer killed. One of the advantages of the mining industry, one of the means by which the miners can secure safety, is to go on strike. The longer they are on strike, the fewer men are killed or injured in the mines, so that if there had been no stoppage of work 1714 during the years 1921 and 1926, the number of persons killed in the mines would have been very considerably higher.
I want to draw attention to this rather remarkable figure, that no fewer than 1,164,417 men were injured for more than two days in the mines in England alone, and that there were 387,549 injured in Wales, and 181,300 injured in Scotland, making a total of 1,733,266 persons injured from 1921 to 1932 inclusive, which gives an average of 144,439 persons injured in Britain for more than two days in that period. I remember that when the Minister was replying to the case that was put up on the question of explosions he drew attention to the fact that there was a larger number of men employed in the mines in 1923 than there is at the present time. That is perfectly true, and as a matter of fact, unfortunately, for every 100 men employed in the mines in Scotland in 1923, there are only 57 employed now, so that you have 43 per cent. fewer men working in the mines of Scotland now than there were 10 years ago, but the number of accidents has not decreased proportionately.
I am not going to suggest that the blame is upon the Minister of Mines, nor that it is entirely the blame of the Department. I am, however, drawing attention to a serious list of accidents which I do not think have been referred to yet. In the returns for the same period, 1921 to 1932, there have been 1,219 persons killed on the surface, land 147,643 injured in addition. That is a class of men who, from the point of view of remuneration, are very much worse circumstanced than miners underground. The vast majority of these men have to depend upon a subsistence allowance, and not only are they working under poverty-stricken conditions such as ought not to exist in a civilised country such as we claim to be, but they are engaged in a very dangerous occupation as compared with other industries. The complaint that I have to make against the Minister of Mines—and I do not know whether it is quite correct to make it, but it is as well to say what I think—is that when we want to improve the conditions of work, hours or wages, he, acting as the spokesman for the Government and for the great bulk of the experts in the Tory party, who are not present in their places just now and 1715 have not been since this Debate began, tries to find all sorts of excuses to justify the Government or that particular party standing up and defending the employers in the mining industry.
Something has been said against the managers and the firemen, and one hon. Member talked about the weakness and the smallness of mind of the colliery owners. I can remember when a colliery owner was a man whom you could meet much more frequently even than the manager in some cases. If you were dissatisfied with the conditions under which you were working, and had failed to get satisfaction from the manager, you could almost invariably meet the owner of the colliery himself. Generally he knew the men who were working in the colliery. But they are all experts in the mining industry now, all big men who are supposed to have a heaven sent knowledge about everything. They know every interest from which they can draw further wealth. The oversman has to do what the manager tells him. He has to work the part of the pit for which he is responsible at the least possible cost. That means that he does not supply the best or all the materials that he himself believes to be necessary in the interests of safety. The manager is under the control of what is supposed to be the coalowner, who is in most cases under the control of a big banking fraternity like the Bank of England and other organisations of a similar kind, which have neither god nor conscience and believe in neither the one nor the other, and who look upon the mining industry as the means by which it is possible for them to add material to their present wealth. I have no hope that there will be any chance of the mining industry and of safety being brought into the mines until we have a Government that will eliminate that particular element entirely and will become responsible for the management and control of the industry.
One of the means suggested is that offered by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), namely, that the managers should be free from the fear of carrying out the law of the land in regard to the working of the mines. Somebody said that that would mean nationalising the managers. For as many years as I care to remember we have 1716 advocated that the firemen should be employed by the State and be independent of the managers and owners. That would not mean in any sense that explosions would not occur or that the ventilation would be as it should be. It would not mean that the fireman would be any better than he is as a man, but it would relieve him of the fear of victimisation. That fear is a prevalent one among the firemen in every colliery district. It is understandable. The man who has qualified to act as fireman gets a job with a fairly regular income. He is a wee bit higher than the ordinary average mine worker. He sometimes lives in one of the favoured houses of the concern; he is looked upon as one of the officials, and he looks upon himself as a bit of a superior person. He would not be any better man for being employed by the State, but he would be free from the fear of victimisation. The same thing is true of the manager, much more true perhaps than of anyone else. There is no man engaged in industry to-day who is more hedged round by Acts of Parliament and statutory rules and regulations than the manager of a coal mine. He has to be not merely a manager, but a lawyer as well. I often have sympathy for him in the difficult position in which he finds himself, but I have none for his slavish-ness. At the best he is a mean man; he is unwilling to fight against the people who are imposing unreasonable and unfair conditions upon him. His condition would be very much better if he were absolutely free. Certainly, so far as the provisions for safety are concerned, if the manager, the fireman and the oversman were entirely free of any victimisation, there could be a considerable reduction of accidents in the mines.
It does not necessarily follow that you must nationalise the three persons to whom I have referred. The Minister of Mines could give them an assurance. I have met the inspector on cases of men who have been dismissed because they were attempting to carry on their work in accordance with the Statute. They were dismissed and had no choice, and there were no means by which they could get the matter put right. The inspector was sympathetic, but he could do nothing. He could not compel the employer to re-employ the men who had been dismissed, or to lay down conditions that would ensure that the men who took 1717 on those particular jobs would be free of victimisation. I belong to the party which never looks forward to any constructive suggestions from the Government. I am rather proud of it at the present time. The Government are not entitled to expect us to tell them how the mines should be run, but we are entitled to tell them that there are too many accidents, that they can be materially reduced, and that it is the duty of the Ministry, so far as it is within their power, to endeavour to compel the owners of collieries to take the necessary steps to ensure that the safety regulations are carried out much more effectively than is the case.
I hope this discussion will enable the Minister to submit arguments sufficient to satisfy the Cabinet that there is a need for bringing up to date the Mines Act, 1911. It is 23 years old, and as my hon. Friends have pointed out, the conditions in the mining industry to-day are very different from what they were when that Act was passed. In my own county four out of five tons of coal produced are produced by coal-cutting machinery and by conveyors. I have already stated to the Minister that there is no part of the world where mining engineering has been carried to such a high state of perfection as in Lanark. That has meant a very considerable addition to the number of accidents, although it has also meant a great many more men being employed, as I am willing to admit. We on this side are willing to admit any reasonable case which may be put forward, even for the coalowners. We are not denouncing them merely from a dislike of them as individuals. That is not the purpose for which this Debate was instituted, though we do not want it to be understood that we act here as defenders of them in any sense whatever. Neither are we defenders of the Government or of the Minister. We think the Minister could do a great deal more if he had greater power, hut we recognise that he has not that power from the Cabinet, and we think this discussion should he of sufficient weight to influence the Cabinet to regard the question of safety in mines as of greater importance than it has been held to be in the past.
§ 8.66 p.m.
§ Mr. G. NICHOLSON
I should first like to say, in this mining Debate, how much I appreciate the attitude of the 1718 Secretary for Mines, and that I congratulate him on his achievements during his tenure of office. I refer particularly to the way in which he secured an unprecedented degree of unity among the owners by the use of the last Coal Mines Act, and I would like to express the hope that his tenure of office will be marked by an increasing degree of unity in the direction of this great and vital industry. Only so far as the industry acts together and has a degree of self-government, with power to enforce its decision upon its own members, will it progress as it ought to progress in the modern world. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) gibed a little at National Members representing mining constituencies for not being in the House. For my own part, most of this afternoon I have been engaged in matters connected with a Bill which very closely affects the interests of the mining population. I want to be perfectly frank. Most National Members who represent mining divisions have not worked underground, as mining Members on the Labour benches have, and when we go to our constituencies we are frequently told that we are amateurs, and that we do not know anything of what we are talking about; but I express the firm conviction that when the history of this Parliament is finally summed up it will be found that National Members who have represented mining constituencies have done just as good service, and in many cases better service, for their constituencies as have Members of other parties.
There are one or two small points to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister. I believe that a great many accidents, as has been said to-day, can be avoided by more pertinacious research. I have already drawn attention to the fact that by far the greater part of the money devoted to research is applied to research into explosions. The Safety in Mines Research Board seems to be mainly in the hands of chemists. The deaths and injuries arising from explosions form a very small proportion of the total number of deaths and injuries, because by far the major part arise from falls of ground, accidents connected with haulage operations, and work on the surface. I suggest that it is perfectly possible, in a well-organised Department, to devote research to those other sources 1719 of accidents. There is room for a survey into falls of ground in each separate geological district, if not in each separate pit. I believe that there should be no more winding accidents : I do not think it is beyond the realm of human invention to devise some absolutely foolproof gear for the prevention of overwinding. As far as props are concerned I do not like to express an opinion, but there is room for research to find out where the truth lies in that matter. In general, I wish to urge the Minister to direct the attention of the research department to the more humdrum and less romantic and less scientifically-interesting causes of accidents.
Arising from the question of accidents, I would direct the attention of the Minister to a matter which is outside the realm of his Department but upon which, I believe, he can exercise considerable influence. I refer to the partially-disabled men who are receiving partial-disablement compensation. Their situation is one of the most tragic things in the mining industry. In my own constituency, which is an important mining centre, I am very much struck by the fact that certain managers seem to be able to find employment for all the partially-disabled men at light work, whereas certain other managers can find employment for only very few. I beg the Secretary for Mines to set on foot inquiries to see whether those interested in the industry cannot be induced to find suitable employment for as many partially-disabled men as possible. At the present moment their situation is very terrible indeed. One or two other matters which I would like to mention do not properly come within the scope of this Debate. Personally, I have never been satisfied with the ascertainment rule, but as that is outside the range of this Debate I shall not touch on it.
Finally, may I say that I came into touch with the mining industry all of a sudden, with no previous experience. I was elected for a mining constituency almost in a night, as it were. I expected to find that mining politics were infected with a peculiar bitterness and animosity, but what has struck me is the extraordinary amount of koodwill in the mining industry. I have talked to numbers of Members of the Opposition in this House 1720 who are connected with mining, and they are all willing to run down the owners, except those owners with whom they have come into personal contact. They all say : "As a matter of fact, in my district they are not such a bad lot—but as a whole they are outrageous." The moral which I draw is that with a little more give and take most of the bitterness and hatred in the mining industry can be eliminated. I am all in favour of severe and deep differences of opinion in political matters concerning mining, but I think we shall get further along the lines which we have followed during this Parliament, lines of reasonableness and mutual goodwill, than we ever shall along the old lines of strikes and bitterness.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
It is unusual for me to intervene in a discussion on the mining industry, generally leaving it to my colleagues who are experts in it, but I think it is well that someone who is not in the mining industry should speak in this Debate, in order to show that the problems of that, industry are not a domestic matter between miners and mineowners, with the Minister of Mines as a kind of referee, but deeply concern the whole community. The problem of the accidents in mines concerns every one of us as much as that of the accidents taking place on our roads. We cannot separate the mining community, and think we can shake ourselves free from responsibility. Anyone who has heard this Debate will agree that my colleagues from the mining areas have put their case with great knowledge and with great restraint. It would not have been in the least difficult to indulge in sentiment and emotion or in what is called "sob stuff."
It is difficult to make figures live. We read in a statistical table that 800 or 900 men have been killed. Everybody will recognise that those figures live far more vividly to hon. Members on these benches than they can to anyone else in the House, because they are the figures of actual men whom those hon. Members have known and with whom they have worked. We have the figures of 120,000 or 130,000 miners injured, and they represent living human beings. Each group of deaths in an explosion means the decimation of whole communities. That tremendous toll of suffering and loss lends itself to emotional treatment. The miners' representatives have not stressed 1721 that aspect to-day. In fact, miners do not stress those things.
I was first brought very closely into touch with miners during the War. When I went into the Army, I was in command of a company which consisted mainly of Lancashire miners. I well remember when those men first came under shell fire, and how extremely little they seemed to be affected by it. I remember thinking : "Of course, the fact is that these are miners, who are always in the presence of sudden death." They were inured to conditions that were entirely new to us. We have become accustomed to deaths in the mines every now and again when there is a great disaster, but as has been pointed out, the toll from explosions is not as great as the daily toll from other accidents. It is rather like the accounts that one received during the War. There were events with great casualty lists, and the rest of the time it was "all quiet on the Western Front," but that meant widows and orphans being made daily. The same thing happens on the mining front; wounds are inflicted hourly.
One or two features have impressed me in this Debate. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) stressed an important point in regard to the effect of under-nourishment and strain upon the rate of accident. I am not conversant with the details of mining, but I have read a good about the incidence of accidents in industry, and there is no doubt that under-nourishment, strain and long hours are responsible for a higher accident rate than is necessary. Another thing which one must notice is that in these post-War days the strength of resistance on the part of miners to breaches of the law is less than in pre-War days. I would refer to a book written by one of my colleagues here, in which there is a vivid picture of mining life before and after the War. Before the War a miner could normally get another job, but today there is a great mass of men waiting outside employment for an opportunity. Again, wages are much lower.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) pointed out that a shot about to be fired may be dangerous, but such is economic pressure that a miner will not like to refuse to fire the shot. Coupled with that is the influence of the economic conditions of 1722 the industry, which increase the pressure to get coal quickly and cheaply and inevitably lessen the readiness to spend money on safety. I do not mean that any of my hon. Friends have endeavoured to draw an indictment against the mine-owners as being insensitive to suffering. Like all persons engaged in industry, they are the sport of economic circumstances. Intense pressure of competition inevitably means that they will do less than they would, and in some cases there will be actual breaches of the law. Looking back, I think what a pity it is that in the days when the industry was prosperous, in the 19th century, when we stood upon the industry as the basis of our whole prosperity, the law was not tightened far more, and the necessity of inspection was not far greater—in fact, that the whole industry was not controlled.
Another thing which struck me as remarkable in the speeches of my hon. Friends was the background of the industry in relation to accidents, that is to say, the home front of the women waiting with the possible shadow of disaster resting over them. I do not want specially to stress the responsibility of the Minister, because I want to stress the responsibility of all of us for those conditions. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) made an extremely able speech. There may be disagreements on this or that point, but I think he showed quite clearly that many accidents are preventable and that remediable measures can be taken. Why is not more done? Successive Ministers have probably found it difficult to enforce upon an industry which is suffering from a slump the sort of conditions they would desire if the industry were prosperous. One has always heard that excuse, and it has often been made when the industry was extremely prosperous. One was always told years ago that if you were not allowed to work young children, or if you had to fence machinery, you would kill the industry.
I want to consider for a moment the position of the mining industry in the national economy. We are not yet in the habit of looking at industry as a whole, and not merely as a collection of individual firms. We still think of industries as profit-making concerns for individuals, rather than as to how they work in with the national economy. I want to suggest 1723 that, if this community of ours be regarded as a family, the mining industry is literally one of its principal breadwinners. Taking the figures of what we have paid for our wheat during the postwar years and what we have got for our export coal, it will be found that they almost balance, so that in the national economy, regarded as an economic unit, we have paid for bread with coal. That is a very vital service to our country, and makes it all the more necessary that we should see that we do not buy our bread at the price of the lives of miners. Beyond that, the mining industry is, after all, the basis of most of our economy, or almost all the things with which we buy our food and our raw materials from abroad—our iron and steel, our ships, our transport, our railways, our power, our electricity. Is it right that we should have built up our industry on the miners without taking full care to safeguard them? Our nineteenth century prosperity was built up on coal. The nineteenth century was the coal age, and it was also to some extent, if not wholly, the complacent age. This is the age of a more aroused social conscience with regard to industry, and a greater conception of the need of the community as against that of separate individual profit-making undertakings. Can we correct this fault in the future? I am going to suggest one or two things to the Minister of Mines.
I would suggest, first of all, that he should do a little advertisement, that he should talk about the mining industry. I should like him to take a leaf out of the book of the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture makes speeches in the House and all over the country pointing out the vital position of agriculture in the national economy. He comes down to the House and says, "All you townspeople have to pay up. You must not mind taking a bit of extra burden on yourselves in order to make our agricultural industry prosperous, because agriculture is vital to the national economy. Night after night for months we have dealt with eggs, tomatoes, cabbages, and every kind of agricultural product. Unceasingly the Minister is acting, and few Ministers appear more frequently in the Press. I am hoping that we may see the features of the Minister of Mines decorating the pages of our newspapers as he undertakes a 1724 great campaign for getting the nation to realise that, because there is a superabundance of coal in the world, there is no reason whatever why the conditions of the miners should be worse than those of other workers in this country. That is precisely the position which is taken up by the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture says that there is no reason why the British farmer should go down because there is a superabundance of wheat in the world. We do not agree with him in all his details, but he believes in an organised community, and has quite departed from the 19th century policy of laissez faire. No doubt the Minister of Mines, since he left the benches below the Gangway, has left behind the old doctrines of the Leader of the group of Liberals who sit on those benches.
I would also like to see him taking a line from the Minister of Transport. The Minister of Transport has been talking a great deal about the toll of the roads, and has been taking active steps to bring down the figures of this daily massacre. The hon. Gentleman also has a daily massacre, less impressive, more concealed, not the talk of the papers, but none the less amounting to a huge number of deaths every year and an enormous number of wounded. The Minister of Transport does not say that this must be left to the industry itself. We provide at the cost of the State any number of policemen to direct the traffic and try to prevent these accidents. One of my hon. Friends has suggested that in the mines, where these accidents take place, the officials should be servants of the State, engaged in looking after safety first and profits only later. Looking at the matter from the broad point of view, we have to recognise to-day that we have departed far from the 19th century attitude. We recognise the problems of the mines—not merely the problem of accidents, which we are considering to-day, but the problem of wages and the problem of the derelict areas. We know that, if we are to do anything with the mining industry, it has to be dealt with industrially, it has to be dealt with regionally, it has to be dealt with as part of our national economy. Therefore, I hope that the Minister of Mines from this day forward is going to boost himself.
1725 He may boost himself into the Cabinet, and our colleagues on these benches will not mind, provided that in doing so he makes the nation realise what it owes to the mines and to the miners—what it owed to the miners during the 19th century, and, let me add, what it owed to the miners in the War. Anyone who served in the War in the early days knows the way in which the miners flocked to the Colours and had to be sent away, the magnificent service which the miners rendered then, and the service which they render in peace-time to-day. Any Member who comes from a mining area knows that in the mining communities we have some of the finest of our citizens. We do not want to see those wasted, either by bad conditions and unemployment or by neglecting the means of safeguarding their lives and limbs. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman during the course of his tenure of office will signalise himself as the man who has done more for saving the lives and limbs of the miners than anyone else.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I am sure I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the speech which he has just delivered. It is not for me to discuss the suggestions which have been made that the Minister of Mines ought to have Cabinet rank, but at any rate the hon. Gentleman has lived up to the speeches of his friends, and has given this Debate Cabinet rank by appearing and making Ms speech. I am indebted to him for doing so. No man from outside the industry need make any apology at any time for talking about it. To my mind the rule that the industry is best left to those who understand it and take part in it does not take account of the fact that some of the very first steps which were taken with regard to safety did not come from the industry itself, but from outside it. My mind went back, for instance, to the year 1813, when the Sunderland Society was formed, not by mineowners or miners or anyone connected with the industry. If I remember rightly, the chairman was a barrister to begin with. As a result of their work the services of Sir Humphry Davy were secured, and that led directly to the invention of the safety lamp. Then, later on, I remembered as I sat listening —I had not intended to say so when I got up, but I have been provoked to do 1726 so, and I beg the indulgence of the Committee—that some years afterwards it was a society formed in South Shields, outside the industry again, which directly led to the appointment of the first inspector of mines. There is, therefore, no need for any Member of this House, whether he represents a mining seat or not, to apologise for taking part in the Debate, whatever his natural modesty or his feeling that so many hon. Members from mining constituencies as a rule want to take part that others should not deprive them of the opportunity.
I come to my own experience. I had experience of miners in the War. I had a company, not of Lancashire miners, but of Durham miners. Great men they were, too; one of them was the bravest man I ever met, and that says something for the character of those men. The hon. Gentleman can take it for granted that I shall do all I can to make coal mining safe. Indeed, I can say that the whole Ministry is doing its best to that end. I have spoken on the wireless about the safety problem for boys. The unfortunate part of this is that those who direct the headlines perhaps do not take much notice. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have lost, and will lose, no occasion for directing the mind of this country to the vital problem of our coal mines. It has, therefore, been an advantage that the official Opposition have asked that this Debate might be held to-day on the Mines Vote for the purpose of discussing this problem of accidents in mines. If they so wish, they may give us another day when we can discuss the whole problem on the lines indicated by the hon. Gentleman in the last sentence of his speech. I felt rather guilty last year when, at the one opportunity I had, I felt bound to direct the attention of the House to the problems of production and to try to make a survey of the issues I saw. The passage in that speech directed to health and safety was far shorter than the gravity of the issue deserved.
The hon. Gentleman said one or two other things to which I should like to reply at once before I deal with the other points. I can assure him that everything that can be done will be done to do away with every unnecessary accident of every kind. I assure him that a constant effort is being made. Debates 1727 of this kind, of course, provide an opportunity for those who are in close touch with the industry in their constituencies from week to week to put their points of view as vigorously as they wish, so that not only the Minister but those who are charged with the administration of the mining law in the areas, and the inspectors themselves, may have their minds directed to the points to which attention has been drawn. Incidentally, it also provides another opportunity, of which I am glad that the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) especially took full advantage; that of bringing to light in detail the very wise and forceful suggestions made by the inspectors themselves in their admirable annual reports not merely the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector, which is always bound up with the Report of the Secretary for Mines, but also the reports of the district inspectors, which are available for hon. Members.
Before I deal with the main issues of other types of accidents than explosions, I will reply to my hon. Friend. He asked the direct question whether every miner is entitled to know whether he is working in a safe place. The answer, of course, is a double one. As a matter of principle—or indeed of ethics, if you put it on that ground, the general answer is "Yes"; a man is entitled to know when he is in danger. I would, however, add that when we come to apply this principle practically we have all to recognise that unless every workman is to use a flame safety lamp, each workman individually cannot be provided with a gas detector. Some of the workmen must act in a representative capacity on behalf of the others; in other words, some of the workmen should have gas detectors. It is that application which is made in the regulations to which I referred. I said just now that I did not propose to discuss them in detail, because the Mining Association is coming to the Ministry tomorrow. The matters are highly technical, and we wish to hear what they have to say before we discuss the draft regulations. I wish, however, to make this very clear. Those regulations do not say that one detector in each ventilating district is sufficient; they say that that is the minimum. I also wish to make it clear that "ventilating district" is defined 1728 in Section 122 of the Act of 1911 in the following words :'Ventilating district' means any part of a seam having an independent intake airway commencing from a main intake airway and an independent return airway terminating at a main return airway.I will also add that the workman will have statutory power to make proposals for increasing the proportion of detectors provided if he thinks that the proportion in a particular pit is not sufficient for the purpose.
May I now turn to the wider subject? First of all, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), who speaks with very great knowledge of the work of the Safety in Mines Research Board, made—as he always does—an admirably balanced speech about this problem. He referred to the total rate of accidents. I should like to give the House one or two figures about the difference that has taken place. There is, of course, a 50-year table in the Annual Report. That has been quoted in many parts, and I will not give extracts from it; hon. Members will find it on page 162 of the Annual Report for 1932. I wish, however, to give the Committee one or two facts. The first is that the number of fatal accidents in 1933, last year, was the lowest recorded for a normal year in this century. That is a fact worth emphasising. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. I). Graham) said, when there are disputes there are fewer accidents. As an expert said to me the other day, there is only one way to make a pit safe, and that is to seal it up. The total, however, was 39 less than the previous lowest figure, that of 1931, and it was 61 less than in 1932.
Let me turn to the fatal accidents rate. In 1933, it was 1.03 per thousand persons employed. That has only been lower twice in the last 10 years. The fatal accidents rate per 1,000,000 tons raised has only been lower in one year in the last 10. When, however—to give the whole picture, as I always try to do— the accidents are related to 100,000 manshifts worked—we must have that figure as well for the comparison is not so good —the 1933 figure is 0.43. This has been equalled twice and only exceeded twice in the last 10 years. So that Members will see, when they note the fact that last year was the best of the century, they have to do that with the qualification 1729 that it is taken in regard to a smaller number of manshifts. The number of persons seriously injured in 1933 was the lowest on record, namely, 2,924. That compares with 3,212 in 1932, and it has never previously been less than 3,000. On that we may take some small satisfaction. The number of persons killed in mines was 215 in the first quarter of 1934, compared with 214 in the corresponding quarter of 1933. On the tonnage dealt with it happily shows a small reduction. May I give two other figures? In 1933, 55 per cent. of the 820 fatal accidents were due to falls of ground and 20 per cent. to haulage accidents. May I give these figures for the period since 1924? I will take 1924 and 1933 as the beginning and end of the period. If hon. Members would like to have the full table, I will try to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Fatal accidents in 1924 amounted to 1,201, and in 1933 to 820. Serious accidents in 1924 were 4,808, and in 1933, 2,924. I will not quote accidents over three days, because they are not available for 1933, but I will give the figure for 1924, which is 195,423. Fatal accidents per 1,000 employed in 1924 were .98, and in 1933, 1.03. Fatal accidents per 1,000,000 tons raised in 1924 were 4.36, and in 1933, 3.87. Hon. Members will see that, although we have a very serious problem to face, there has been progress made in some directions.
A great deal is being done about it. A great deal is being done with regard to research. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) raised especially the point of the money spent on the Mines Research Board. I have the responsibility of certifying that expenditure. Analysis of the figures shows that, while it is true that in the earlier years, naturally, more money was spent and more thought was given to explosions, in recent years more and more money is being spent on research in regard to falls of ground and accidents of that kind. The hon. Member for Workington analysed the main accidents in this form—falls of ground, shaft accidents, underground haulage—and then he asked what the miscellaneous accidents were. I have had them analysed in this form. They are due to explosives, machinery, electricity, underground fires, suffocation by natural gases, and again, a whole number of 1730 small causes which we can only classify under "other accidents."
The first line of strategy that is being carried out by the Department, by the Safety in Mines Research Board, by the Education authorities and by owners and men engaged in the industry is a series of classes for training boys. I think it will be agreed that that is the right end to start. For a long-term policy the best strategy is to make the young miner safety-minded. I should like to give the Committee certain facts about this, first of all, because I think recognition ought to be paid to those who are doing the work of education for us, the miners in the pits, the deputies and firemen, the inspectors, and may I say a special word about some very fine work that we have had from certain colliery owners who have been among the pioneers in this work. It is an important thing, not merely as a matter of strategy but as a matter of immediate tactics, because in 1929 the fatal accidents to young boys under 16 were 42, in 1930, 30; in 1931, 27; in 1932, 19; and in 1933, 20. Disabled for more than three days : in 1929, 8,336; in 1930, 7,483; in 1931, 5,580 and in 1932, 4,400. I have not the 1933 figure available at the moment. So we are beginning to see the fruits of this work.
As I said in my earlier speech, I wish every mining Member could go one weekend to Buxton and see the demonstrations that are made there. I went myself one year to present badges to boys who had passed their tests in a certain district. I hope to go twice this year. The chief inspector went also. The hon. Member for Workington will not only know what has been done on the explosion side but the other work that is being done by the Safety in Mines Research Board, and, most of all, the extraordinary interesting demonstrations of the right way to pack. There is no difference between us and hon. Members opposite there. It is common ground that good packing will go a long way. The only point that I stress is that complete packing is not always possible, but it is a very fine thing to go to Buxton and see the best type of packing and how packing is demonstrated in the research station.
The Yorkshire Safety Badge scheme was started in 1931 and in the first two sessions 2,881 boys were enrolled, 1,293 took 1731 the test and 1,158 secured badges. For the current session 53 centres had classes in Yorkshire, and in November it was reported that there were 1,326 boys in attendance at these centres. In Nottinghamshire classes were started in 1932 by the Notts Education Authority at 19 centres. This course covers a period of 20 weeks, the lessons occupy one and a-half hours each week, and the course generally is similar to that carried on in Yorkshire. A valuable feature of this particular scheme is that the classes are taken regularly to the local pits for instruction under conditions which show the boys the real thing. In Lancashire, where a course for boys lasting 10 weeks was inaugurated, I had the pleasure of being present, as the right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know, at St. Helens last year, in January. Out of 186 boys enrolled, 153 completed the course and qualified for badges. These classes have been continued, and I understand that similar classes have been started by the Education Committee of the county borough of Leigh, and I hope that Lancashire will go a good deal further with this admirable scheme. In the Northern coalfields in Northumberland, Durham, South Shields and Sunderland the education authority inaugurated classes at 48 centres and two sessions have been held. The first had 1,766 members, and the second had 1,388, making a total of 3,154 in this coalfield. Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Education Authorities have already started classes. Derbyshire classes are held at 22 centres, and 1,100 boys were enrolled by the end of 1933. It is a 12-week course, and it is hoped to have a second course in Derbyshire before the end of the session.
In South Wales the idea has been taken up in a number of mines, and fortnightly classes have been arranged and have been attended by 300 boys. I hope that there will be a very large extension of the scheme in the South Wales area in the near future. With regard to Kent, a class was started at Aylesham this year. In Scotland, I regret to say, the result is not so good. The Fifeshire County Council have had for several years a scheme in which boys in advanced schools in mining areas are given a series of talks on the subject of safety in mines, and I 1732 understand that the Lanark County Council are considering safety courses for young boys, and I hope that courses will soon result. Members will see from this that we have begun this problem at the right end with the boys as a whole by teaching them what to avoid. At one of the courses I attended the mines inspector gave a lecture with a series of slides showing how to couple and uncouple tubs, and how to deal with props and how not to deal with props, and it was interesting to see the reaction of the boys when shown how to handle them and how not to handle them, as shown on the screen. It is valuable work, and we are doing all that we can to cover the country with classes of that kind.
I should like to say a word about the research question. It is in this matter— Members of the Committee may not be aware of the fact—that the Safety in Mines Research Board is really trying to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. R. T. Evans) was asking to be done, namely, to make the research available in popular form. I have brought with me to the House to-day six booklets already published explaining in as clear and simple language as is possible some of their main conclusions. The first one is a general discussion of "safety in coal mines; some problems of research," covering the whole ground. The second deals with "Gas and flame"; the third "How some firedamp explosions are prevented"; the fourth "The safe use of explosives in coal mines"; the fifth "Explosion-proof electrical switch gear"; and the last, which is the most popular one and has already had a circulation of over 20,000 in the coalfields "The problem of accidents through falls of ground."
I would like to say that when the hon. Member for Morpeth asks for money to be spent on this work his words fall on ears which are alert to give sympathy to the plea, but I would point out to him that the research into such things as the stress which particular kinds of material will bear, into the structure of the roof, and into those strange and weird secrets that nature herself presents in every coal pit, is research into problems of which it is hard to find solutions, but when you come to make practical experiments, as we are doing at Sheffield at the University, and at various other mining centres, and at our station at 1733 Buxton, it is a very expensive form of research. I can assure him that the Safety in Mines Research Board is applying its mind with vigour to the problem of accidents from falls of roof in order to recommend the material appliances which they think best fitted to deal with one or other of those particular forms of accidents, which, as a Committee, we have been told form the largest proportion of accidents. Let me go further and point out that the Safety in Mines Research Board is not merely carrying out this experimental work and the work of training and education, but is really doing a most valuable work in providing a series of technical papers for technicians. I can assure the Committee that the work of the board is receiving the closest attention of the managerial side of the industry as it is of the leaders of the miners in various districts and those who are responsible for letting the knowledge filter through to the rank and file.
I should like to call special attention to one particular point. It is an interesting one and rather a new development. It is a practical one and it is being carried out under the direction of Major Hudspeth, the mines inspector, whose services have been set aside for the Safety in Mines Research Board. He has been exceedingly busy applying his mind to the problem of finding protective equipment in order that a large number of the accidents which occur to the head, the hand, the foot and the eye may, if possible, be avoided. Experiments have been made by the board and demonstrations have been made with gloves for the hand, goggles for the eyes and special boots for the feet. I only wish that I could say that with regard to those three classes the appliances had been more widely adopted than they have been. We are doing all we can to bring the researches to the knowledge of those engaged in the industry. With regard to protective headgear, the report is rather more favourable. I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that there are now nearly 20,000 miners going down the pit every day with special hats designed to save damage to the skull from splinters falling from the roof or other causes. In one of these pamphlets, if Members will procure a copy, they will see an illustration of the actual cap of a particular miner where the dent is shown made by 1734 a fall which would obviously have killed him if he had not had this particular kind of headgear.
§ Mr. BROWN
In various places. In some districts they are taking up the matter more largely than in others, and, of course, in some districts we have ingrained prejudices to overcome both on the part of the management and of the men. It is not all easy going in boosting safety for mines, as every mining Member knows, but I want to say a special word about this work, because I hope, as I am sure the Committee would hope if they had studied not only this report, but the other reports of the Safety in Mines Research Board, that it will have a large expansion. I hope that what has happened in regard to the hats will also happen with regard to goggles, boots, and gloves. It would not be fair to the Committee if I did not point out that one of the difficulties in the way is the question of who should bear the cost.
Several other points were raised by hon. Members to which I should like to reply. Different hon. Members who have spoken have raised the question of a new Mines Act. I cannot deal with that question, because it would require new legislation, but I would say to the hon. Member for Abertillery—because he was the first in my tenure of office as Secretary for Mines to raise this question—that when he raised it originally his speech did not fall on deaf ears. I noted it and I am giving it most careful attention. I can only say that the Mines Act dates from 1911, whereas the Factory Act dates from 1901. I may express the hope that it will not be 10 years before we get a new Mines Act. At any rate, I will give the most careful attention to what has been said about the matter. No one can apply his or her mind to a consideration of the problem of the mines at this time without realising that the coming of the machine has raised a great many new problems and difficulties, in regard to some of which we are not quite sure what the correct solution may be.
The hon. Member for Workington raised the question of State payment for deputies. I can only say to him what my predecessors have said, that we cannot see our way to recommend to the 1735 Government that they should make the payment of deputies a State charge. It is not only Members of the present House who have raised the question. It has been raised continuously in this House since there has been a Secretary for Mines, and the answer has always been the same. It has also been raised continuously when the Firemens' and Deputies' Association have come to see me. They have always come forward with unquenchable optimism, but I have never been able to give them any more (hope than any predecessors have been able to give them on this matter.
§ Mr. BROWN
I can assure my hon. Friend that it is not for lack of consideration in the Department that this answer has been given. It is because it has had consideration from every point of view and because there are, as the hon. Member for Workington knows, none better, very grave difficulties in applying that principle, that we have had to give such an answer.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen raised the question of industrial disease, and I was glad that he did so. May I say on that point that on the 16th June a safety conference will be held at Swansea for the purpose of discussing and explaining the problem of silicosis? Hon. Members would have been startled, as I was startled, by the last returns of the board that certifies this disease. We found that of 432 cases which had been certified since the board began to operate, 385 were in South Wales. That was a fact which called for attention. I may explain to the Committee that we have one inspector, Captain Hay, who spends his whole time dealing with this matter, and Dr. Fisher also spends a great deal of his time in connection with it.
We have invited the mining Members of this House from South Wales to the conference, over which I shall preside. We have also invited the owners and the men to co-operate and to come. There will be a speech from the owners' side and a speech from the men's side, and questions will be limited, so that we hope to make known not merely the effect of the evil, but also some of the contrary 1736 opinions of the experts. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen mentioned one expert. My trouble is that I have to take into account not only the opinions of one expert in connection with this problem but the opinions of many experts. One theory is held by Dr. W. R. Jones, of the Royal School of Mines. He rejects the conception that the disease is caused by the inhalation of silica particles and suggests that it is caused by the inhalation of fibrous mineral, sericite. Again, the experts differ about that. I can say, however, that this problem will have unremitting attention. It will not be allowed to fall into the background merely because the experts differ. We shall attempt to get an agreement as to what may be done and hon. Members may be sure that anything that can be done in the matter will be done, and as speedily as may be.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Seeing that the question of silicosis is also a matter which affects the Home Office so far as the payment of compensation and the question of Orders is concerned, can the hon. Member say whether the Home Office is collaborating and co-operating in the conference?
§ Mr. BROWN
In this case, we are not discussing compensation. The conference was called because the point was put to me about the difference in expert opinion on this problem. Recently some hon. Members expressed some very strong views about the use of water-fed drills. There was a demonstration at the Pyrene works to see how dust will not go through the fluid. It is facts of that sort that we want to bring out. We are in touch with the Home Office about the question of compensation, but I cannot discuss that matter now, because it is a Home Office affair. The Minister of Mines, however, is in the closest touch with the Home Office, and at the moment certain discussions are going on. More than that it would not be right for me to say on this Vote. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carmarthen for raising the issue
The problem of lighting was also raised. I think I can help hon. Members a little more about that. For some years now the Mines Department, the mineowners and a committee have been discussing new regulations about lighting. There are many views about the cause of nystagmus, but it is agreed that one of the reasons for nystagmus is poor lighting. 1737 Better lighting would help to eliminate that disease. We have prepared new regulations with regard to lighting, but I will not discuss them tonight, because they have to be laid for 30 days on the Table of the House, and appeals to arbitrations may be made. By the 30th of this month I hope to be able to give an answer to one of my hon. Friends on that point. I can assure hon. Members that, although more delay was sought, I made up my mind that it was time for a move to be made forward, and regulations have been made with that object in view. When the time limit which is legal has elapsed we shall get regulations into operation as early as may be. It is not only with the question of better lighting in the mines that the regulations deal. The regulations with regard to whitewashing underground, which is practised by some of the most far-seeing mineowners, will now be made generally applicable, as will regulations for similar work above the surface. With regard to that point, I think I may fairly claim that I have made some progress.
The hon. Member for Hamilton referred to the question of hours and wages, but, if he does not mind, I would prefer to leave that for special discussion of the productive and economic side of the industry when we have the Vote again. I assure hon. Members that the Department is fully alive to the need of doing 1738 everything by administration by research, by suggestion in every possible way, and by enforcing the regulations to the full to lessen the toll from disease and accidents. More than that, personally, I shall do all I can to fall in with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and to make what has been established by the very valuable researches of the Safety in Mines Research Board available to the whole industry and to all those in the industry. I am very grateful to the Committee for their patience.
§ Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £137,100, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to. [Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.