Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £143,804, 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, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."—[NOTE.—£120,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
This is the fourth time that I have had to present the Estimates for the Mines Department to the Committee, which is for a longer consecutive period than that of any of my predecessors. It is also being done in a Session in which, I think, more time has been devoted to 2744 the problems of coal than, perhaps, in any previous year. This House has had some aspect of the coal problem before it on 22 previous Parliamentary days, and it is, therefore, not easy to be very new in anything that I have to say. For that reason, I do not propose to keep the Committee very long, because the object of the Debate is rather to permit hon. Members to place before the Committee and the country their views, which I can assure them in advance will be carefully scrutinised and sifted by myself and my Department in order that we may all contribute something to the common pool.
It is unusual in a Debate of this kind to make any personal references, but I do not think I should let the occasion go by without saying with what very great regret His Majesty's Government have accepted the resignation of Lord Hyndley, who for over 20 years was the honorary commercial adviser of my Department. He served successive Governments, successive Presidents of the Board of Trade, successive Secretarys of Mines of all political parties, and he was during all that time of great assistance to myself and my predecessors. Pressure of other business has led to his resignation, and His Majesty's Government would like to place on record their appreciation of his services rendered for so long. The year has also seen in my Department the resignation of the Chief Inspector of Mines, Sir Henry Walker, who for many years served the industry well, and I am sure we all wish him health and happiness in his retirement. So much for those in official circles; but, again, I think the Committee would like me to make a passing reference to the death of one who was a great figure in the mining world, Mr. Herbert Smith. It is futile for me to pretend that on all occasions I agreed with everything that he said or did, but we have to recognise that he struggled hard in what he himself thought were the best interests of the men that he represented for so long. Like so many of them, he died in harness, in the middle of a shift, at his own desk in his own office, and I am sure that all of us hope that the dust will lie quietly on his grave.
My Department has two chief functions. It is an administrative Department and it is in many ways an advisory Department. We do not run the coal industry or the export trade, but we have constant 2745 contact with the industry, we are concerned in many negotiations on many different occasions, and it is, therefore, customary to make a general review of the trade situation on this Vote. Hon. Members will recollect that I have already done that on one of the two previous occasions on which coal has been before the House. I have really nothing to add to the statement I made on the Board of Trade Estimates on 24th May last, except to say that I can bring up to the date some of the figures I then gave, so as to include the first six months of the year.
In case it may be of interest to hon. Members I may say that during the first six months of this year, as compared with last, the output has increased in only two districts, and there to a very small extent, namely, in Durham and South Wales, but that over the whole coalfield there has been a decrease in output of the nature of something like 3,500,000 tons, which, of course, is a considerable drop from the very high figures of last year, but is nothing like the figure of output, say, in 1933. In fact, for six months of this year we have been producing over 2,000,000 tons a month more than in that year. Coal shipped as cargo has dropped in the six months by 1,000,000 tons; we exported 17,500,000 tons instead of 18,500,000 tons. The biggest drop has been in exports to France, a drop of about 1,000,000 tons. On the other hand there has been an increase in the case of Italy, Germany and Spain. Employment for the first six months averaged a considerably higher figure than for the same period last year; it was up by 17,500. Coal was won on an average of seven fewer days. On the other hand, for the first three months the average cash earnings per shift were over 11s., and at that figure 5½d. more than the average for the whole year 1937.
It is difficult, of course, to give any accurate reason for this drop in exports, but I am advised that the probability lies in one of several directions. We have to recollect that over the whole of Europe the winter was a mild one, and there was probably a good deal of over-stocking last year owing to the difficulty then of getting supplies; in certain countries there has been a decline in industrial activity, and as regards France, of course, there was the problem in connection with the franc. But if we have dropped in our export 2746 trade, other countries have also done so. The decline of German coal exports in the first five months of this year was nearly 2,000,000 tons, or 13 per cent., a higher percentage and quantity than ours. Certainly at the moment there is a weak situation as regards exports, and I can assure hon. Members that the Government are very carefully watching the situation and are in the closest touch with those most concerned.
There is one further point on which I would like to say a word, because it may have some importance for the future. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) is not here, because what I am going to say anticipates a question that he has on the Paper for to-morrow. Hon. Members may know that in February, 1937, I convened a conference of all the technical interests and people directly concerned to see whether some considerations could not now be given to the use of coal in the Mercantile Marine in order to try and check the onslaught that oil is making. I was asked to nominate a chairman, which I did, in the Under-Secretary for Mines. As a result of that Conference, representative bodies sent delegates, a committee was formed, the matter was investigated very carefully, and a unanimous report was arrived at, and will be available very shortly—it is now in the printers' hands. While on this occasion I do not want naturally to detail all that they have to say on the subject, it is of interest to know that they found there was some possibility of a return from oil to coal in certain classes of shipping, more particularly large tramps, cargo liners and intermediate passenger liners of shaft horse powers ranging from 1,500 to 8,000, and they recommended that further steps should be taken in the way of experiments in that direction.
I pass to the more directly administrative responsibilities of my Department. First of all we had a good deal of work in connection with the Coal (Registration of Ownership) Act which we passed last year, to provide for the registration of ownership of coal properties as a preliminary to the Coal Bill. I shall merely indicate the volume of the work which has to be done by saying that up to the middle of this month 19,000 applications for registration have been received, that up to that date draft particulars 2747 despatched were over 7,000, that 5,310 were settled, and 3,053 holdings had been registered. There was some misunderstanding during some part of the Debates on the Coal Bill, when these figures, or smaller figures, were quoted as indicating that we were wrong in our estimates of the probable number of royalty owners. It should be remembered that this is a registration of properties, and that some persons or corporations, for example, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, have hundreds, if not thousands, of separate properties to be registered. But the work is well forward.
Another department deals with oil, and the granting of prospecting licences is, of course, an arduous and complicated piece of work, defining the areas over which licences are to be granted and the like. Since the Vote was taken last year 20 more such licences have been issued, which makes the total 89 since November, 1935, when I signed the first licence. They cover at present nearly 13,000 square miles of our island, and the holders of the licences are firms and companies which have great, and, indeed, worldwide experience in exploration and development work, and not only geological surveys but most up-to-date geophysical methods for this purpose.
Five shallow borings have been put down, making 18 in all, and there have been 14 test wells drilled. Drilling is now going on at these wells in various parts of the country, and from one in Midlothian a small production of oil has recently been recovered. It is quite impossible to say now whether there will be any good results from that or not, but one can say that those who have undertaken this prospecting work are anxious to get the experience and to decide whether there is any likelihood of oil or not. There is another problem connected with oil, the oil from coal question. We have already had some discussion on the subject during the passage of the Finance Bill. All I can say now is that I think the Committee and the country have a much better appreciation of the problem both as a result of the report of the Falmouth Committee and the report which some hon. Members opposite were concerned in drawing up—not that I agree with all of the latter, but there was a great deal of common ground between it and the report of the Falmouth Committee, 2748 to whom we are all very much obliged for the work they did.
Then, curiously enough, the Factories Act has brought a tremendous amount of work to the Department, because when it came into operation quarries which were 20 feet or less had to be taken over and come under the general quarry law. That has meant that something like 2,000 more quarries have come within the scope of mining legislation, and we have had to draw up and get approval for new general regulations dealing with these quarries, laying down all sorts of requirements with regard to safety, health, sanitation and so on. Again, the coming into force of the Factories Acts affect metalliferous mines, because factory law no longer applies to pit banks in so far as such places are engaged in any processes such as dressing and preparation for sale of these minerals. That, of course, required an immense amount of labour, but with the help and co-operation of representative bodies of all kinds concerned both with quarries and metalliferous mines these have now been brought into effect. There is one group of regulations still not completed and that is the group of electricity regulations dealing with quarries. There was some objection taken and we are awaiting the award of the arbitrator.
The work of scientific research, of course, is never ended. I know it is disappointing to hon. Members opposite, as it must be to everyone who considers these subjects, how often in many cases there is a time lag between some discovery by research and its practical application afterwards. It is one thing to discover that certain events bring about certain results, but it requires a great deal more work than that to be able to make practical or immediate use of that discovery, whether from the point of view of health or safety. But I particularly commend to everyone who is interested in these problems the Annual Report of the Safety in Mines Research Board. It is quite true that the appendices are pretty technical and probably are above the heads of many who read them, but the body of the report and the illustrations are perfectly simple and easy to understand. This year there are some very interesting photographs as well as discussions on some experiments made in the Yorkshire coalfields with regard to double packing. For this work both Buxton and Sheffield as research stations are very fully occupied.
2749 I would like to repeat what 1 have said before, that if any hon. Member cares to go and see what is being done at Buxton, I shall be glad if he will let me know and I will arrange for a visit. But I warn hon. Members that most of the demonstrations are on Sundays and they may not be able to go on that day for one reason or another. During the year more than 6,000 workmen and boys go there and see the demonstrations. They are well worth seeing, and every facility will be put at the disposal of hon. Gentlemen in order to see them. Unfortunately, because the men who go there are in work, the demonstrations must take place on Sundays. Sometimes something can be arranged on Saturdays, though not so easily.
In all this research work a great deal of co-operation goes on with research workers in foreign countries. Last summer there was an international conference of directors of research at Brussels where it was possible to exchange views on many common problems. Hon Members may recollect that, largely as a result of a suggestion thrown out in the House, I sought, through the kindness of the French Government, permission to investigate certain problems in the French coalfields with regard to explosions. While it is difficult to comment on the report of the deputation because the conditions in different coalfields are not the same, it was obviously very valuable information for us to secure, particularly as the Royal Commission is considering these problems; and I have no doubt that they will take into their consideration what was reported by this deputation.
This work is largely financed through the Miners' Welfare Fund, and the report of the Welfare Committee is certainly one which everybody can be recommended to read, because I do not think there can be many fields of work of such enormous importance to the community which it sets out to serve. That, of course, is particularly true when it comes to pithead baths, the programme of which is going rapidly forward. At the same time, we ought not to forget that, apart from official research a great deal of work is done by all sorts of technical bodies, such as the Institute of Mining Engineers and others, who are constantly making investigations and discussing them at their meetings. I was interested when at Manchester last 2750 week to hear that at the annual conference two papers dealt with nystagmus and noise. Noise seems to me to-day to be one of the urgent problems that have to be considered. I know from speaking to them that a great many miners feel that with the coming of the machine they do not hear the natural noises which in the past acted as warnings to them. A lot of research can, therefore, be done into this problem.
I mention this because, when all is said and done, we are in the midst of a technical revolution in mining with the coming of the machine, and I do not think that even the mining community itself appreciates how big a revolution it is. With industry as a whole the machine came a hundred or so years ago, but in mining it has really not come for more than about 20 years. Whether the maximum has yet been reached I do not know, nor does anybody else, but I will give a few figures to show the extent of the increase. Last year, 137,000,000 tons of coal, or 57 per cent. of the output, were cut by machine, as compared with 80,000 000 tons or 38 per cent. of the output, five years before. That is a big increase, but nothing like as big as the increase in conveying by machinery. A total of 123,000,000 tons, or 51 per cent. of the output, were conveyed by mechanical means, whereas five years ago it was 53,000,000 tons or 25 per cent. That is to say, it has more than doubled in five years. The production from pneumatic picks was trebled over the five-year period, that is to say, it has gone up from 4,000,000 tons to 13,000,000 tons.
That involves vast changes and all sorts of complications on the purely technical side. It has, too, some other reactions. One of these, which is obvious, is that it has led to a reduction of the horse and pony population of the mines. I would like to say how gratified everybody connected with the industry must have been at the wonderful display which was shown at the Royal Show at Cardiff. I have heard from all sorts of quarters nothing but admiration and praise of the conditions of fitness of the horses which were shown there. Of course, the horse inspectors have a great deal to do and we get a certain number of complaints, which are investigated, as all complaints sent to us are. One of the most recent, which was found to be groundless, was 2751 sent with a covering letter which said that a thousand more cases could be produced as bad as that one. If anybody has a thousand cases, or ten, or even one where investigation should take place, I appeal to them to let me have the details, because no one wants any possibility of malpractice or cruelty to take place, but vague statements of that kind really carry us nowhere. From all the reports I have I am satisfied that the contrary is the case and that those who look after the horses and ponies in the pits are their best friends and do the best they can for them.
As regards the inspectorate, I have already said that the Chief Inspector has retired during the year. Last year I announced my intention of appointing 16 more junior inspectors. Only 10 of these posts have been filled so far. The object of the increase was largely to increase the inspection of afternoon and night shifts. I am sorry it has not been found possible to appoint the full number yet. The reason is that the number of candidates who had the necessary qualifications and experience was disappointingly small. That may be a surprise to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is so. The selection committee nominated only 13 to go forward for the examination. That has led me to consider the question of examinations a little further and see whether it might not be that men who were qualified by having first or second-class certificates of competency had perhaps left their scholastic experience so far behind that a written examination was more difficult for them than it should be. Therefore, the experiment is being made of appointing sub-inspectors by selection. The selection committee is one which, I am sure, has the confidence of everybody. It consists of representatives of the Civil Service Commission, my Department, workmen and employers. Perhaps in that way we may be able to fill the gap. The whole question of the inspectorate, its powers, duties, and numbers, is one of the most important which are now before the Royal Commission, and I am not in anything I am saying cutting the ground from under their feet. It was in order to try and get more inspections on the afternoon and night shift that I suggested this emergency increase. In spite of the difficulties, those inspections have gone up during the year by over 90 per cent. 2752 They are being made at the rate of 345 a month as compared with 175, so that we have succeeded in getting something of what we wanted done.
I would like once again to try and persuade hon. Members opposite and those in the mining areas that the inspectors' visits to pits are made without notice.
§ Captain Crookshank
I will try again to give reasons why they should. Inspectors have the strictest instructions that their visits should be made without notice, but there are two conceivable sets of circumstances in which notice is given. The first is when an inspector wishes to see a particular person in a pit. The inspector is a busy man with big responsibilities, and he cannot go a long distance on the off chance of seeing Mr. A or Mr. B. He has, therefore, to make an appointment, and that is only reasonable. The second case is where, perhaps, the inspector has been invited to go to a pit either by the management or by representative workers. They would then know when he was coming. It is conceivable, too, that in order to answer some question in the House I have to call for a report on a particular subject, and the inspectors go to five or six pits to ask a specific question about this point, and it may be that some of the other pits in the neighbourhood would hear he had been about and would think that he would soon come to them. I think it is really because of factors of that sort that this idea has developed, but hon. Gentlemen can take it from me that the inspections are made entirely without notice. I am sorry that I do not seem to have convinced some hon. Members, but they will later be able to explain why they think I am wrong. These are the facts. It is also true that if an inspector turns up at a pit the news may be telephoned round the place, but I do not think hon. Gentlemen will suggest that all telephones should be cut off as soon as the inspector arrives. If everything could be put in perfectly good condition before the inspector got round there would not be very much wrong. I hope hon. Members will themselves dispel this impression, because it is very hard on the inspectorate.
I turn to the accident record of last year, and I am sorry to say that the number of those killed has gone up as 2753 compared with the previous year. I always dislike using any adjectives in this matter. I merely note that in 1936 the number of persons killed underground and on the surface was 790, which was at the rate of 3.36 per million tons of mineral raised. That was the lowest figure which has been recorded. In 1937 the number killed rose to 859, and the rate per million tons of mineral raised rose to 3.47, which, as I have said, is higher than that of the year before, but apart from that year was the lowest figure on that basis.
When dealing with accidents we must recollect that there is, perhaps, a divided responsibility. In the first place, there is the responsibility of the Government for those who draw up the regulations and for the inspectors whose work it is to see that the law is carried out. That is one set of responsibilities. Then there are the responsibilities of the management of the colliery undertakings, and there are, further, the responsibilities of the workman himself. They are varying responsibilities, and I do not say that they are the same in degree and kind, but failure on the part of any one of the three groups may involve an increase in the accident list. I am sure that hon. Members opposite, who have great experience, will agree that it is no use for me to pass and to publish a regulation if afterwards it is not observed. Some regulations have to be kept by the management and some more kept by the workmen, and I think that if everybody connected with the industry went through the reports of the divisional inspectors and marked the facts, the figures and the information which struck him he would be amazed at what a lot there is which needs to be carefully heeded.
The inspectors give much advice, for example, as I said in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) just now, the divisional inspector for Scotland has made certain proposals in his report which I hope those in that area will carefully consider and put into practice. Those are what I may call extra-statutory recommendations, but they do help good mining practice. On the other hand, if anybody were to read the report of the inspector for the North Midland area he would be distressed to find him stating definitely with regard to a very large category of accidents that no 2754 fewer than 16 of those accidents would not have resulted if the men concerned had fully carried out Clause 2 of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order, which deals with the precautions to be taken to shelter oneself and to see that men in the neighbourhood have taken shelter. It is very tragic that he should have to record that, because the regulation is clear and, one would have thought, fairly easy to carry out. Therefore, I say there is joint responsibility on all in the mining industry to try to reduce the number of accidents.
Though the figures for last year show an increase on the year before, I have to say, with the deepest sorrow and regret, that for the first six months of this year the figures are worse than for the same period last year. Whereas up to 16th July last year there had been 471 deaths from accidents this year the figure was 535. Of course, one has to bear in mind the terrible Markham disaster, which helped to swell this year's figures, although in the early part of last year there was the Holditch disaster which to some extent, though not to the same extent, helped to swell last year's figures; but the fact does remain that during the last year the record of accidents has been very bad, and I think I am not going too far in saying that the industry must be prepared for a drastic strengthening of the precautions. I am not prepared to say here and now what they will be. We are awaiting the advice of those who have studied the matter intensively during the past 2½ years, but I cannot help thinking that as a result of those figures it will be necessary to take a great many steps which are probably not foreseen at the moment. One is in a difficulty in discussing this matter by reason of the fact that the Royal Commission has been set up to advise upon it and has taken every kind of evidence from all the interested parties.
§ Captain Crookshank
Not in view of the questions they have to consider. If the hon. Member refreshes his memory he will find that a previous Royal Commission dealing with the same sort of problem took two or three times as long as this particular Commission is likely to take, if my information is correct. One curious thing I would merely mention 2755 in passing. Six months is too short a period for a trend to show itself, but it is remarkable that this year the figures of accidents in Scotland, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire—the northerly coalfields—show the considerable increase of 63 deaths, whereas in the same period the southerly coalfields—South Wales, the Midland and Southern area—show a reduction of 40. One can say that from the fact that these are accidents there is in them that element of uncertainty for which one cannot account, but it is really remarkable that there should have been this great increase in the North and a satisfactory, if I may be allowed to use the word, reduction in the South.
While speaking about accidents I should like to say a word about boys. In their case the figures still remain deplorable, in spite of everything that has been done, and let us not minimise that aspect of the matter. The Yorkshire coalfield was the first, I think, to launch into a great campaign of safety classes, and that movement has been taken up practically everywhere else, though I must admit that there are one or two districts which are not as far forward as I should like to see, notably South Wales and Northumberland and some of the smaller coalfields. Great impetus has been given to classes for boys on safety subjects. Last year we had a record of 28 boys under 16 killed, compared with 29 the year before. The number of those injured is very high. The rate per 1,000 employed—for injuries lasting more than three days—worked out last year at 204, which was actually one point under the previous year, but above the 1930–35 average. I have said before on many occasions and I repeat it that figures of this kind for accidents in general, and also for accidents to boys—which make a different kind of appeal—are a challenge to everyone concerned to see what can be done. Interest in the safety classes shows no general falling off. At 358 centres something like 14,000 boys were enrolled in safety classes, and more than half of them received badges. The number of boys under 18 employed is about 73,000.
§ Captain Crookshank
The hon. Member must not overlook the point that some 2756 of the elder boys have been to classes last year perhaps and have got their badges, or went the year before, so that the actual number of 14,000 in the classes in one year does not represent the total of those who have attended classes. Here I have some information which I think will interest hon. Members. I have had an investigation made in Yorkshire—and we are going to extend it further—to try to find out whether there was any diminution in the number of accidents among boys who had attended the classes and had got badges as compared with those who had not attended. This sample investigation, which covered about 5o per cent. of the boys in Yorkshire, showed that it has certainly been of great advantage to the boys to attend classes and gain badges. We found that the rate of injury last year per thousand of those employed below ground was 207 among badge holders under 16 and among non-badge holders 319. Among those working on the surface the rate for badge holders was 38 and for non-badge holders 78. If that is representative of the general position all over the country it does show the very definite value of going to the classes and acquiring sufficient information to qualify for a badge.
§ Captain Crookshank
No. As far as I know, it was a general inquiry among 50 per cent. of those working above ground and underground. I am not claiming anything remarkable for this investigation. It was only a test to see whether there had been any effect at all, and it looks from those figures as though there had been beneficial results. But whether that be so or not it does not alter my opinion that the greater the number of boys who go to these classes the better. Again, I think we must always remember that attendance at the classes is not the end of the whole story. That is only a preliminary. Knowledge, skill and ability to avoid danger can come only with practical training, and the boys have got to be looked after when they go into the pits. Attendance at these classes is only a preliminary; after that there still remains a great deal to be done. Training, supervision and discipline all have to play their part when 2757 they go to work, but these classes, as far as they go, are an important preliminary.
There is one final aspect of mining conditions which always interests hon. Members and that is the use of protective equipment. Its use has gone ahead very considerably in the last year, I am glad to say. All who have seen some of the hard hats which have been dented, where the dent has meant a man's life saved, will recognise their value. Last year 147,000 hard hats were supplied to miners, making a total of 435,000 in three years. Of course I do not take into account, because I do not know, what proportion of these may have been replacements, but I do know that there are some mines in which every workman wears one. Safety boots are also increasing in numbers. One firm alone supplied 100,000 pairs last year. In one area 47,000 pairs of gloves were issued. Goggles are gradually being used, but not in the numbers which I think they will ultimately attain. The use of shin-guards has not gone very far. No doubt hon. Members were amused by a remark in one of the reports that while a professional footballer would not think of going on to the field without shinguards a great many miners whose risks are far greater do not use them. We have tried to ensure, with the experience we are now getting, that the hats come up to some proper standard of safety. An official test has now been formulated and there is certification, and a trade mark has been registered under the Trade Marks Act. As soon as sufficient experience has been gained similar action will be taken in the case of other protective articles. In this matter one has to keep in touch with the British Standards Institution, and I am glad to say that the National Safety First Association have helped the mining industry very greatly by their services of posters and special bulletins dealing with particular difficulties. I think that under this heading some satisfactory progress has been made.
My speech has been largely a statistical and factual report of a number of topics which I know hon. Members opposite will want to elaborate. I purposely cannot give any estimate or guess regarding what the developments may have to be in regard to safety and health until we know what is recommended by the Royal Commission. No doubt it will show that great progress has been made. I finish to-day 2758 almost back where I started, by referring to the marketing, the preparation and the cleaning of coal. Last year about 44 per cent. of the coal mined was cleaned. If anybody has any doubt about this matter, let him see exhibits in the Glasgow Exhibition of the remarkable work which is being done by the industry in this direction. In the session of Parliament which is now coming to an end the coal mining industry is being given a great deal of power on its organisation side, and great opportunities; all that remains now is for it to go forward in an efficient manner for the benefit of everybody concerned in it.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that in moving this Amendment I have no lack of recognition of the strenuous work which he and his Department have done during the last 12 months, and I join with him in expressing regret, and appreciation of their services, respecting the gentlemen who are resigning from the Mines Department. I think it is not out of place that I should also mention Mr. Herbert Smith, who came up from the pit, socially, to live a life of great usefulness and service in his native country, and who has passed away, leaving memories of great work done. A great debt is owed to him by the mine workers of this country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the frequency with which he had appeared before this House in the last 12 months. He told us that his Department had occupied 22 days in the last Session. As I looked at him I thought that he must be approaching his Parliamentary century this Session, and I noticed how gracefully he carried his bat and took up his position before the wicket. If, in the course of the day, he is caught out, it will not be because he is wanting in lightness and deftness of touch, but because on this side of the Committee we should like a little more enterprise on his part sometimes, and bolder strokes, aimed at the boundary.
He has raised many points which, I think, are highly important, and I shall endeavour to refer to them as I go along. I am glad that he has opened out a very wide range, as Secretaries for Mines do on this occasion. This opportunity is given to us once a year to consider the relationship of the Secretary for Mines and 2759 his Department to the very important industry with which he is associated, and for which he is responsible in a very direct way, regarding the day-by-day conduct and manifold operations of this fundamental industry. We are glad that he made a comprehensive speech following the example of last year, when he referred to the search for oil in addition to the production of coal, and gave details of employment, working conditions, research, accidents and health.
Since we last discussed the Estimates, the House has given, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman truly said, much attention to the mining situation. The Coal Mines Bill, to which I will make a passing reference, takes note of the fundamental changes now being carried out, and which have been referred to as an industrial or technical revolution. This revolution has required a new organisation of the coal industry, and the Coal Mines Bill, taking account of the changes in the structure of mining organisation, provides legislative changes for the future operation of the industry. None of the changes will be independent of the Department. The more we legislate for the mining industry the more intimate and vital will the connection be between the industry and this House. When the Coal Mines Bill passes into law and puts forth its full effect, it will be seen that the responsibility of the Government in relation to coal will be considerably increased.
The Secretary for Mines has given us almost a surfeit of statistical detail. He was very well pleased on the whole with the figures, and took far more comfort from those carefully selected statistics than we take. I cannot share his satisfaction and his optimism. We do not find that encouragement, because there is much cause for disquiet in all quarters of the industry, whether in production or distribution. Only the most purblind would fail to realise that the form of mining organisation has changed in every direction. I might summarise the main direction of those changes by saying that while aggregate production has increased slightly, the number of mines in operation has declined in 18 years by 35 per cent. There is a concentration upon the number of units in production. There have been few new sinkings of shafts and no new developments in the industry in 2760 this respect. Many old mines have been permanently closed, with the result that the average output from each mine is far higher than it formerly was. The output per man has gone up by 20 per cent. The individual output has been rising year by year in recent years, and is now 10 per cent. per man per annum and 15 per cent. per man per shift higher than in 1913. The Secretary for Mines may take much consolation from the figures which tend to show that increase of production, but we are not so happy about it. In the period since 1920, more than 500,000 men have been driven out of the industry, and there is a fall of 40 per cent. in the aggregate number of employés. Against this the individual output has risen, and the gross output has thus been maintained.
The depression has been far more severe in some quarters than in others. The areas which have suffered most heavily are South Wales, the North and the North-East. Only half the number who were employed in South Wales in 1920 are now in employment; the total of 273,000 in 1920 has declined to the present total of 132,000. Like old soldiers, many old colliers have ceased to exist officially because they do not appear on the lists of the colliery offices or of the Employment Exchanges. They are neither among the living nor among the dead. They are existing on meagre pensions and upon public assistance. Others are not old enough to get old age pensions and have to be maintained by their sons, daughters or other relatives. Even the Unemployment Assistance Board looks upon them with disdain. Men in the fifties who are too old to get work and too young to get pensions have been turned out to make way for the machines which are invading the mines. Here is a revolution, as the Minister truly said. The machines have been taken down into the pit with the sole object of increasing production and lowering wages costs. There is no social purpose in their use. The process of machine mining has been successful in regard to output, because fewer men are necessary to produce a given output and less wages are paid per ton produced.
Unemployment is the result of technological progress in all coal mining industries throughout the world. More than 20 per cent. of the former number of coal workers of the world have been displaced 2761 in this way. More machines mean less men, and lower industrial costs mean more destitution. In 1936, which is the last year for which we have complete figures, 55 per cent. of the coal mined in this country was cut by machine. In the United States, 79 per cent. of coal was machine mined; in France, 92 per cent.; in Germany, 97 per cent.; and in Belgium, 98.5 per cent. Greater production has not raised the standard of miners' wages.
In regard to wages and the standard of living, the Secretary for Mines gave us the figure of 5½d. per day as the improvement in wages during the last six months over the corresponding period of last year. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see at once that the cost of living has increased to a greater extent than that small addition to the nominal wages. We have the audited figures, which tell us the simple, subtle and plausible story of the ascertained prices and ascertained costs. Year by year we have been told in those ascertainments of colossal losses. These mechanised statistics and ascertainments appear to confirm the suspicion which all miners have that coalowners are the most hardy people on earth, because they thrive on losses. Although wages have been slightly more in the last few years, the miner's proportion of his production is less than it was in 1934, because his output has been increasing. We are not satisfied with the system of marketing. A committee is investigating the disparity between the prices at the pithead and those paid by consumers. We are not satisfied that those prices are correctly reflected in the audited accounts. The statement of costs covers a multitude of sins. There is no check or disclosure of the enormous hidden sums which are shared in the profits of distribution.
The Minister is responsible to the extent that he has approved of a selling scheme, and his Department has far more responsibility in regard to export prices than is apparent. The world export markets for coal are no longer free. Governments play their part, and this Government has played its part in negotiating particular agreements with one country and another. I would like the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he winds up the Debate, to explain why the Board of Trade has not been able to maintain our share in foreign markets. He said that we have not suffered as great a decline in these last six months as Germany has, 2762 but, if he went back three or four years, he would find that Germany has vastly improved her share of the world markets. It is difficult to understand why prices have been allowed to rise—and in saying this I make no complaint against fair prices—even in the export trade, when the competition of foreign producers is so keen.
We hear much of subsidies, with regard to which fantastic figures have been mentioned, as an explanation of the large German and Polish exports. I have always distrusted those figures, but it has been urged that subsidies should be granted in this country in order that we may find a level ground of competition with the German and Polish merchants. I have looked at the figures, and I would like the Minister to give us some explanation of the immense increase in the prices of export coal. I find that in 1934 we exported 39,600,000 tons of coal, of a value of £31,800,000, or a price per ton of 16s. rd. In 1935, the quantity exported was 38,700,000 tons and the value £31,500,000, the price per ton being 16s. 4d. In 1936, we exported 34,500,000 tons, of a value of £29,200,000, the price per ton being 17s. In 1937 our export was 43,300,000 tons, its value £37,600,000, and the price per ton 18s. 8d.; while in 1938 the price per ton has stood at an average of 21s. 6d. Why has there been an increase of 5s. 6d. per ton in the price of export coal if competition from foreign countries is as keen as it is said to be? The volume of exports has been maintained for four years, during which we have raised our prices steadily to a level which is 5s. 6d. per ton higher than it was at the beginning of that period. We should like to be told why subsidies are necessary, and whether they are to be given to the British producer regardless of profits or world prices, or whether they are to be given to the manufacturing consumers abroad, who will be competitors with our manufacturers in the markets of the world.
I have here the ascertainments for the March quarter of this year, which show that in that quarter 11,000,000 tons of coal were exported, at greatly improved prices, and every producing district in this country, every single coalfield in the country, showed a profit, ranging from 3s. 2d. per ton in one of the Midland districts to is. id. per ton in South Wales 2763 and Monmouthshire, or an average of 2S. a ton on all coal commercially disposable. Have these high profits been necessary or justified, in face of the assertion that foreign competition in the markets abroad is as keen as it is said to be?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that the miners' organisations in this country and abroad have no desire to carry on this cut-throat competition between the mineworkers of the various coal-producing countries of the world. We are tired of all this competition, which has brought down the miners of all countries to a level of starvation and destitution. The Secretary for Mines knows the great concern of the Miners' Federation and of the workers' organisations in all countries, and their desire to prevent a return to the cut-throat competition which has inflicted so much hurt upon the workers all round. He has tremendous influence in this connection, and can do much to promote international confidence and raise the material conditions of the workers by comprehensive measures of agreement. He knows that, unless some international agreement is brought about soon, unless there is some understanding, there will be a fresh outburst of competition. The French miners and the Belgian miners, working less hours than we are working in this country at the present time, will be pressed to give up their short hours and extend their working day, and so the cycle of competition will be revived once again, to the detriment of each and all of the countries. Why does not the Minister take the mine-workers' representatives into consultation, and work with them and with the mineowners in an endeavour to build up a sane system of price regulation which will be fair and equitable all round, without discrimination for or against any class of consumers, so that prices shall be based always on the primary principle that all the workers in all the producing countries have decent, healthy and honourable conditions of work and living?
I do not want to criticise the coal agreements. The figures for the first five months of 1936, 1937 and 1938 indicate clearly that the exports to the countries with which we have agreements have been maintained in more than full volume, and that prices have more than correspondingly advanced. The one exception to this is in the anthracite trade, which has 2764 suffered a loss of demand from Canada amounting to 150,000 tons as compared with 1936, and a loss of nearly £187,000 in revenue from this source. Would the Secretary for Mines try his hand at bringing about a satisfactory settlement with Canada—a coal and bacon agreement or a coal and wheat agreement, exchanging coal for wheat, exchanging coal for bread and meat, and cutting out all those who play with prices and lose markets at their will?
I come now to the domestic responsibilities of the Secretary for Mines at home. He is in charge of a large system of administration which deals intimately with the conditions under which the work of mining is carried on. He has regard to the lay-out and the number of shafts, the provision of suitable machinery for winding, lowering and raising men, the condition of the mine atmosphere, the enforcement of the law and the supervision which the law requires from the owners and managers of mines. Virtually he has the power and authority almost of a dictator in many respects in the conduct of this industry. The owners have their responsibility; they invest their money in the mines; but generations of workpeople have lived on the coalfields and have invested their lives in the hardy enterprise of mining. For more than 100 years the House of Commons has laid obligations on the mineowners in the interests of safety. Managers, deputies and other officials are appointed to fulfil various duties laid down by law, and there are His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. It has been said that the inspectors have no contact with the colliery companies until they arrive on the spot, but some of us know differently. If such contact has ceased entirely, there has been much change. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must be aware that the preparations which are made the day before, and the week before, indicate that it is known that the inspector is to visit the colliery. If all that is changed, it is all for the better. He asked us whether we would like the telephone to be stopped once the inspector appears at the pit-top, so that nobody below could obtain information about his visit. But we had a wireless system in the coal mines which worked infallibly long before there was any wireless on the surface, and I do not think it is possible to prevent the sending of these communications round the mine.
2765 His Majesty's inspectors are being sent to all mines to inspect and advise on methods of maintaining health and safety, but nevertheless it is a disturbing fact that we have not been successful in making the mines safer from the dangers which are incidental to work below ground—work carried on in conditions of utter darkness, broken only by artificial light of limited range, where all the travelling ways and working spaces are excavated beneath a roof weighed down with enormous pressure over the space where the work is carried on. The methods of work vary according to many factors and elements that are present in the mines—the nature of the roof, the thickness of the coal seam, its inclination; all these things play a part in determining the method of exploitation of the coal. Methods have undergone a general change following the introduction of machinery into the inmost workings of the mines. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said quite truly that the coal-mining industry was late in its application of mechanisation to the actual work at the coal face, but, now that we have the machines there, he will find that the horse power of machinery in proportion to the number of men employed is almost the highest of all industries in this country, and there is this astounding fact, that, for every man who works in the mines of this country at the present time, there is the equivalent of more than 5o men's labour in the machines which accompany him in his work. More than 5o times the manual labour is employed in the machines driven by electricity, compressed air, and steam. Electricity and compressed air now do all the underground pumping and hauling, and more than 50 per cent. of the cutting and conveying is done by power-driven machines.
These changes have altered materially the lay-out of the working places. There is immense concentration of men and mechanical power, which results in much noise, dust and smoke; and, with greater specialisation and co-ordination of labour in the various shifts into which the men are divided, new disturbing factors have neutralised or negatived whatever advantages might have ensued from a more symmetrical plan of operations for coal getting. Those who are most familiar with the new conditions are highly apprehensive of the effect upon general safety. Machines have been introduced into the 2766 working face, with miles of electric cables and all kinds of appurtenances for insulating the high-potential energy which is sent through them to work the machines. There is no absolute guaranteee of safety; new sources of ignition of gas have been placed in close proximity to the places where gas has been drained off as the mine workings proceed. I am not exaggerating the dangers; they are brought to notice elsewhere. It is clear that we are courting too greatly the risk of explosion and fire unless we are adequately equipped with technical safeguards and a highly trained supervisory staff, and, above all, with the highest possible standard of air supply—air free from inflammable gas or dust—in addition to the most perfect machines and accessories for use below ground.
The Secretary for Mines has much responsibility for and much authority over all these things. He is in charge of the vast task of administering and regulating all these various conditions. He himself has referred to his power under official regulations—power to make the law, power to initiate regulations making changes in the law, and to impose new conditions after consultation with the industry, without the detailed authority even of the House of Commons. His success in these matters is not all that we should desire. We have reports of accidents which echo within this Chamber. From time to time the terrible blast of explosions of gas or coal dust comes to us, sitting in this Chamber, as a startling reminder of the dangers of the mines and the responsibilities of Ministers and of Members of the House. No one here is free from responsibility; each and every one of us, in whatever part of the House he sits, shares in the responsibility.
We regret to note that we have fallen behind other countries in this matter. More lives are lost from explosions in this country than in any European country. France has had a clean record for seven years; no ignition of gas has been reported there, and not one single life has been lost. In this time we have lost 700 lives. Holland, Belgium and Germany have made more headway against this risk than Britain, yet all these have more mechanised coal getting than we have here. Mechanisation is not solely responsible for this added danger. This is what 2767 Major Hudspeth, who went to France, said of the inquiries he made in Paris:Whilst not in a position to make a full comparison between mines in France and Britain as regards either the liability to gas or the standards of ventilation in practice as judged by the percentage of firedamp in the returns, I am satisfied (a) that there are mines in France where the liability to gas is high—as high as in some of the more gassy mines in this country; and (b) that while at the large majority of the mines in Great Britain the ventilation is up to, or better than, a 1 per cent. return standard, at some (and not all of them with exceptionally high rates of gas emission) it is not. In the absence of more detailed information the evidence is not, and perhaps cannot be, conclusive, but it would appear that the comparative freedom from explosion in France is not unconnected with the high statutory standards of ventilation.Forty-five years ago I began working underground. From the very first day I took an intense interest in the question of safety and working conditions. I obtained my manager's certificate more than 31 years ago. I have held publicly on every appropriate occasion that it is not necessary that an explosion should take place in any mine in this country. I have said it is possible to avoid explosions. France has shown us the way, and what France has done we ought to be able to do. In the past we have prided ourselves on our progress. Speeches made in this House may be quoted to show the pride taken in our superior record in this regard, but we are now behind other countries. We are sacrificing far too many men. Accidents are declining in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in Belgium and in France; and it is a shameful thing that we should sacrifice so many young lives as are being sacrificed for the toll of accidents about which the hon. and gallant Member has spoken. Several Members can speak of conditions in their own districts. I would be happier not to have to say that the total of men injured has increased. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that more than one person in five is injured through being struck by a fall of stone or in some other way and has to remain away from work and to receive compensation.
The increase in the number of men killed in explosions is still more disturbing, and we ought to pay it the most immediate attention indeed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to certain explosions reported recently. I am not 2768 at all happy about the explanations which have been given, which may become the official explanation of the occurrences in those cases. I feel some difficulty in speaking on this matter, because the Secretary for Mines was good enough in 1936 to appoint me to serve on the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines. The Royal Commission has been investigating the circumstances in which accidents occur. It is not my intention to speak on the progress we have made. I sincerely trust that we shall make our report before the Recess ends. I believe the House will be convinced of the urgency of the recommendations we make. It is not possible for me to suggest legislation to-day, but the situation calls for effective measures. The Secretary for Mines is at the head of this administrative system. Neither the Secretary for Mines nor the House can afford to make the mistake of thinking that nothing can be done. Something must be done. The administration must be tightened up. There is an immense field for administrative action without delay. The mines can be made far safer and more conducive to health under the existing law. There are 750,000 men at work in our mining industry. Eighty per cent. of these are employed underground. They are doing work which is vital and essential to the general life and industrial prosperity of this country. These mines are being mechanised. Temperatures are high, and becoming increasingly so as the work is carried to greater depths.
There was a question on the Order Paper to-day, that was not reached, in the name of one of my hon. Friends from Lancashire, which shows the concern of my Lancashire colleagues with this question of temperature. Men descend 3,000 or 3,500 feet—and I believe that in one part of one mine they have burrowed below the 4,000 feet limit—with a temperature of 100 degrees. These are industrial conditions, which produce ill-health. There is the question of accommodation which the body has to make, not only to this increasing temperature and increasing flow of perspiration, but to the increased atmospheric pressure. Each day's descent means four inches additional barometric pressure. Immense pathological changes are involved each day. We do not know what injury is caused to these men. Years ago in this 2769 House I pleaded for more attention to be given to silicosis. I said that thousands of men were likely to be affected by this disease. That was an under-estimate, and not an over-estimate. Let us see that we do not cripple our men further by this compulsion to work in high temperatures. Conditions are becoming more onerous all round. The record of explosions, with heavy loss of life, is a reproach to all of us. There is a greater strain on the nerves and bodies of the men. Dust plays havoc on the men exposed to deep mining. I trust that to-day's Debate will quicken the interest and the practical sympathy, so that our responsibilities can be discharged and the utmost amelioration in mining conditions can be achieved.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
One is tempted to follow the rather wide survey of the Secretary for Mines every time he speaks, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has done it so well in some directions, I shall resist the temptation to follow on the same lines. I was pleased that the Secretary for Mines told the Committee that he did not intend to allow the fact that there was a Royal Commission sitting on the questions of health and safety to prevent his doing certain things. I have had some fears for over two years that he was sheltering behind this Commission on every occasion possible. I remember in 1935 three colleagues of mine, at Question time, put certain questions to the Secretary for Mines. Those three colleagues have now passed away. They were Mr. D. L. Davies, Mr. John Potts and Mr. George Hardie. The Secretary for Mines readily sheltered himself by saying that he was sorry, but since the questions they asked were being considered by the Royal Commission, he had better leave it there. He has done that on many occasions since. He has never failed to take full advantage of the setting up of the Royal Commission. I appreciate the fact that setting up a Royal Commission does put him in a special position, but he has taken too much advantage of the fact. I always understood that Royal Commissions were set up in many cases for the shelving of difficult problems, and I suspect that that is so in this case.
We were told by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower that this Commission 2770 will make its recommendations some time before November, and I am told that it will take 12 months for the report to be considered before anybody can make specific suggestions on it. I ask the Secretary for Mines to realise that there is a lot he can do in the meantime, and I hope he is not going to continue to shelter behind the Commission. He possesses immense power—sufficient power, I think, to remove many of these evils. There are many questions I could raise in this Debate, but I shall confine myself in particular to three, and I shall deal with them mainly from the Lancashire point of view. My hon. Friends who are mining Members from Lancashire have decided to abstain from the Debate in order to allow all districts to have a voice. I hope that you, Colonel Clifton Brown, will see that so far as possible every district will have a voice in the Debate.
The first question to which I want to refer is that which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has, with a persistence that this House always expects from him, dealt with on many occasions—the question of hot and deep mines. I resented very much the hint that the Minister gave on 5th July, in replying to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, when he said that this matter would have to stay over until the Royal Commission reported, since it was one of those that the Commission had dealt with. If he appreciated the conditions in these mines, he might not suggest waiting another 12 or 18 months before this matter is dealt with. I have here a report by some of my colleagues on conditions in two mines in Lancashire. These facts and figures ought to be put on record. It deals with an inspection of the Patsonage Pit, Arley Colliery, Leigh, Lancashire, on 29th July, 1937. The shaft is nearly 1,000 yards down. The east brow is nearly 3,000 yards in. The depth of the coal face from the surface is over 3,500 feet. The temperature is 102 degrees Fahrenheit dry, and 81.5 wet. The section—the thickness of the coal worked—is 3 feet. The noise at the coal face is deafening. You cannot hear anything. The men work naked. These three colleagues of mine were down this mine for less than four hours. One of them lost 7 lbs. in weight in that time, the other 4 lbs., and the third 3 lbs. The men who 2771 work in this mine average 11 lbs. loss of weight every day they go down.
I was astounded that the late Divisional Inspector of Mines for our district, in his evidence before the Commission, should give a hint that because the men were acclimatised it did not matter if they lost 11 lbs. in weight per day and regained it over night, and experienced the same thing the next day. Does anyone suggest that men can work in these conditions without suffering injury later. Is the health not bound to be undermined sooner or later? The Secretary for Mines must realise that he cannot afford to wait for 18 months before this is dealt with. As regards the other pit—the Pendleton Pit—things, if possible, are even worse. It is a deep, and a hotter mine. Speaking on 4th December, 1935, Professor K. Neville Moss referred to these conditions. He said:If you want to slim take a tip from the miner, who slims as he works. He can lose as much as 18½ lbs. a day.Tests I carried out on 53 men in a Pendleton (Lancashire) Colliery showed that the loss of weight from perspiration varied from 18½ to 9 lbs. a day.He goes on in humorous vein—I do not know why he was humorous on this issue. The report says:And if you want to be bright and active after the day's toil here is another miner's secret Professor Moss has discovered:Drink 12 pints of salted water a day. The salt cures cramp, removes any acute fatigue, and banishes inertia,I hope that the Minister will realise that this question ought not to have to wait to be dealt with. He has power to deal with it now. I ask him to request one of his junior inspectors—I realise that the senior or divisional inspector is rather busy—to visit these mines and to submit a report to him. I realise that reports from the workmen's side and even from the employers' side may be looked upon as prejudiced and biased, but he should obtain a full and detailed report from a member of the inspectorate. I was rather surprised that the divisional inspector himself made no reference to this matter. His predecessor Mr. Chorlton made rather a brief reference to it, but the present divisional inspector, Mr. Fraser, apparently sees no reason to make any reference to it. I looked anxiously through his report to find a 2772 reference, but the matter was not mentioned. Conditions like these ought not to prevail in any coalfield without the divisional inspector knowing about them and making some reference to them in his report so that the Minister may have official information about it. It should not be left to Members of this House to bring the matter to his notice.
I know that it is difficult to deal with the question of hours in this Debate, but I think that something could be done by agreement. I am not sure that output would suffer by reduced hours. Last Saturday a miner's agent responsible for one of these collieries said that he had to meet the management on this issue because some men had left their working place a little earlier than they ought to have done. He had to plead with the management not to deal harshly with the men. These men had become exhausted and felt they must leave their work. Men who have to work under such conditions ought not to be chastised, and the Minister ought to take some action on the lines I have indicated. Mr. Fraser mentions the question of overtime in a sentence in his report. He said that five complaints referred solely to overtime, and that is all he had to say. The Minister may ask us not to be suspicious as regards the inspectors and not to think for a moment that they are sympathetic to the point of view of the owners. Suspicion has never entered my nature, and I do not desire that it ever should, but the Minister must realise that the actions of some of the inspectors of necessity create suspicion.
Overtime is a very serious matter in Lancashire. We called a special conference of the county in February in order to deal with it, and yet when we received the report of the Inspector we found only the reference that five complaints had been made, and no more. I wish to give to the Committee some facts which were produced at the conference called to deal with this matter, and if the Minister can rebut them in any shape or form, I hope he will. The men who made these statements are not in the habit of making wild statements. I will not mention the name of the colliery, otherwise there might be victimisation. One statement says: "On Monday there were 170 men down after 3.30 p.m.; on Tuesday, 183 men down after 3.30, the last man being down until 2773 5.50 p.m.; on Wednesday, 146, and on Thursday 184." That is the record for the week. It is no use the Minister saying that we must bring specific cases forward and give the times and the work the men were employed on, and that he could not take proceedings without these particulars.
I know that it is difficult for the Minister to take legal proceedings without specific information, but there is much he can do to prevent this sort of thing continuing. When I find that his inspector dismisses this in one sentence in his report, I am myself compelled to be somewhat suspicious as to where he stands with regard to overtime. I am not sure that the inspectorate are trying to prevent overtime, or whether they are not allowing a certain amount of work to come inside the Clause which was never intended by this House. I am not certain that he was correct when he said five complaints. I sometimes think that he may have overlooked one or two. A colleague of mine at that same conference—he is a very reliable man, who in the days to come will probably find himself on the Floor of this House to voice his grievances here—said:During the last six months we—one of the biggest branches in Lancashire—have actually dealt direct with Inspector Fraser, sent him dates, times, shifts, etc., and the men concerned are objecting to being made the scapegoats. When a new face is opened out those men are missing, because it is suspected that their names, together with times and dates, have been sent on to the colliery company.I do not suspect Mr. Fraser of doing that sort of thing. I put him far above using names submitted to him in the colliery office. I do not think he would do it; I sincerely hope not. Whatever confidence he may have in colliery managers, I have not much. Those men spoke with some experience and knowledge of the conditions there, and seemed to suspect that men who made reports were not getting the same treatment as men who did not make reports.
I ask the Secretary for Mines to send an inspector to some of these collieries. If he would like the names of the collieries, I will give them to him later. He should send an inspector frequently towards the end of the shift so as to see what is happening and find out for himself. This sort of thing is occurring everyday, 2774 and I hope that the Minister will have it investigated. I have no doubt that other hon. Members who will follow me may have further evidence of overtime being worked in other pits. This inspectorate are far too lax on this matter, which is not dealt with as it ought to be.
Another question which seriously concerns Lancashire is that of flooding. I have already put a question down to the Minister who will have a chance of replying to it on Friday, though if he can reply to me on this question to-night, I shall be glad to withdraw my question for Friday. The question relates to the closing of Lancashire pits because of flooding. At the moment there is a case in the court where two colliery companies are engaged in litigation on this very issue. If the amount of money they are spending on litigation had been spent previously on adequate pumping machinery there would have been no difficulty between the two companies. We were told by the Minister a few days ago that this matter is being closely watched. I often wonder what this term means, as it is used so often by Ministers at that Box. The Minister must realise that colliery companies are out for financial gain and no other purpose. There are times when they come in contact with water, which is a tremendous menace in the coal mines. They often say: "It is no use, we cannot deal with this difficulty of water that has now arisen. It will be far better to close the mine, withdraw and dismantle the plant, as we cannot continue." I can understand that point of view. I do not suggest that a colliery company ought to continue working at a loss. If I did, they would not do it.
One of the colliery companies involved in litigation does not confine its operations to Lancashire. It owns great tracts of country in Nottinghamshire. It is exploiting the coal mines of Nottingham on a large scale, and I can imagine this colliery company saying, "It is no use continuing here. We have to meet the difficulty of water. It is a tremendous job, and we cannot continue operating in Lancashire at a loss. We will transfer to Nottinghamshire, where we do not have to meet the same difficulty." It is all right for a colliery company to say that sort of thing, but the nation has an asset there, in some cases millions of tons of coal. The Minister should be in a position to take some action in order to enable 2775 these collieries to continue. It may not matter to the colliery company, but it does matter to the nation. We cannot afford to close a single colliery. Central pumping machinery would have kept thousands of miners at work in Lancashire. In the absence of central pumping machinery, we have lost many mines in Lancashire, and we shall lose other mines. Something must be done along these lines. I implore the Minister to take some action to call together the colliery companies in Lancashire as well as in other districts in order to take steps to deal with flooded mines, which involve great loss not only to the collieries, but to the nation at large.
Having been rather suspicious of our divisional inspector, it is only fair to him to refer to a painful question which he has obviously in mind, namely, the prevalence of accidents among boys. The death rate among boys is almost as high as that for all other persons working in and about the mines, while the serious accident rate is considerably higher, a most undesirable state of affairs. I listened to the suggestions as regards classes. I do not undervalue their importance; in fact, I think they are very important. I have worked in the mines, as have many of my colleagues, and I am beginning to think that there are many difficulties, and whether all our boys are put to the safest jobs. The question is whether many of our boys are not put to work under difficult and dangerous conditions simply because it happens to be cheaper to have them than to put on somebody who is a little older. A boy of 16 or 17 will cost less than a young man of 20 or 21, or an older man. We know how anxious managers of collieries are to keep costs down. I should be glad if the Minister would look into this matter along with his inspectors.
How many of these accidents are due to the fact that the jobs are done by boys when they could be done more safely by men of 20 or 21? After all, a boy is only a boy and subject to boyish pranks. There are certainly some jobs that could be better done by older men, with consequent saving of life and limo. Perhaps the Minister would consider the question from that standpoint. It is not necessary to lose so many boys' lives in the mining industry, and the House ought to see that all possible safeguards are provided. I 2776 am sure that the consumers of coal would have no hesitation in paying the little extra price that might be necessary if these dangerous jobs were done by men instead of boys. The increased cost on the coal would not be much.
We have spent a considerable amount of time this Session in discussing foreign affairs, not too much time, because they are vitally important, but we are to-day dealing with a subject equally as important as any foreign affair. The future of this nation very largely depends upon the mining industry, and I would ask the Minister to see that mining affairs are administered in such a way as to safeguard life and limb among those who toil under very difficult circumstances in the interests of the country.
§ 5.48 p.m.
I should like to preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend on the work of his Department during the past year. I do not necessarily always agree with him, but I think the majority of the Committee feel that the Department is administered in the best interests of the men and the owners, without fear or favour. That is what we desire in any Government Department. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and I should like to say, from the small amount of personal experience I have had, that on any occasion when I have called the attention of my hon. and gallant Friend to certain aspects of work in the mines I have always found his Department very ready to examine any question which I thought required attention. I find almost greater alacrity on the part of my hon. and gallant Friend's Department than in any other Government Department.
It is of great interest to know that anonymous complaints with regard to safety, overtime and other matters in the mines are examined by the Department. Men who are dependent for their livelihood on work in certain collieries and who give information, naturally do not want their names to be known, and it is not in the best interests of the mines that they should be known. Therefore, it is a very good thing that anonymous complaints, whether in regard to illegal overtime, disregard of safety regulations, or the condition of ponies working in the pits, are followed up immediately by the 2777 Mines Department, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking and congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend on the steps that he always takes so readily in regard to any complaints that may be put before him.
I am, however, bound to say that sometimes I wish that general questions of administration underground could be dealt with a little more quickly. I am speaking only from my inadequate experience, but going back over a period of years I am surprised that certain key men who work underground have not been subject to periodical medical examination. The human machine is a very difficult thing, and one knows sometimes what a tremendous amount of effort we have to take to keep ourselves as fit as possible, and that it is not an easy thing. Therefore, I am the more surprised that key-men who are responsible perhaps for the lives of hundreds and thousands of men underground have not been medically examined periodically in order to see that they are absolutely in first-class condition for carrying out the very important work which they have to do.
There are two points that I wish specially to mention. I apologise for not having heard the whole of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech, but I gather that he did not mention in his survey the question of the voluntary agreements which have been entered into in regard to holidays with pay. I do not think there is anybody who has not appreciated the steps which have been taken for putting into operation these voluntary agreements. I should be interested to know whether my hon. and gallant Friend could say what the voluntary agreements are as between one district and another. It is very difficult for the ordinary backbench Member to know the different agreements made, say, in the Midlands, South Wales and Durham. It is essential in the interests of the men that we should get, if possible, a comprehensive voluntary agreement.
I want to stress the point that I think it would be worth while discussing with the owners and the miners' leaders how far it is possible to give the man who has a low wage an adequate wage in order to encourage him to take a holiday. The whole point of the holidays with pay system is to try to ensure that people 2778 should leave home and take a holiday; but if a man is on a low wage, even if he gets a full week's wage, it would be inadequate for him to take his wife or family away for a holiday. A very interesting experiment was carried out before we developed the voluntary agreements in the mining industry by a colliery company in the Midlands, the Bolsover Company, which initiated a scheme that gave to every man and boy employed a week's holiday with pay. Their system was, irrespective of the wages that were drawn by the individuals, to give one wage to a married man, a single man and a boy, and try to make the bonus such that they would be encouraged to go away. Statistics for this year were examined and it was found that 75 to 79 per cent. of those who drew the bonus had taken advantage of it and gone away for a holiday. I am sure that that scheme would receive the support and approval of hon. Members in all quarters of the House. When these voluntary agreements are being negotiated it would be helpful to know exactly the terms of the agreements. Perhaps they might be embodied in an official report or in a White Paper. We ought to try and encourage the development of these agreements in such a way that there will be an adequate holiday allowance that will enable all those concerned to get away and have a real holiday.
There is another point to which I should like to refer, but I must be careful in regard to it because I am not allowed to discuss legislation. A very interesting Departmental report was issued recently on certain questions arising out of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Some very important recommendations were made in the report in regard to the payment of compensation for men injured and to the dependants of men who are killed, and also in regard to compensation for miners' nystagmus. As that is a Home Office report I should like to know whether discussions are going on behind the scenes, between the Mines Department and the owners and the miners' leaders, to see how far the proposals are acceptable, and to ensure that all the preparatory work is being done so that when Government time is available the proposals will be given legislative effect. When the report was issued I rang up the Home Office and they said there had not been sufficient time to consult with all the 2779 interests, so that they could not say what the Government's attitude would be towards the report. After the Recess, if I put down a question perhaps all the preparatory work will have been done so that we shall not have to waste any more time before legislation is brought in. I cannot imagine that it would be a controversial Bill. Certainly it ought to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
I should like to know whether the Mines Department has been in contact with the Ministry of Health over the condition of miners' houses. In going round my part of the country I have noticed—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
There is nothing about miners' houses in this Vote.
Perhaps a note may be made of the matter, seeing that I have mentioned the word houses. We have had lots of discussion on the Ministry of Labour Votes and also on the Ministry of Mines Votes in regard to men who have been skilled workers in the pits and who have been out of work such a long time that, although they have a certain amount of skill left, they are not given the opportunity of getting back into work. You cannot send a man down a pit to-day to do hard, skilled, manual work if he is not in first-class physical condition. Representations have been made to the owners asking whether they would consider starting the men on lighter work with a view to getting them physically fit, so that they would be able to take up their occupation again. To deal with a matter of this kind becomes more difficult in bad times, when there is not a demand for skilled workers, but it ought to be easier when skilled workers are required. I do not think the coalowners have been nearly as progressive as they might have been over this matter. It is a question on which my hon. and gallant Friend might very well stimulate the Mining Association, in order to see whether they cannot really tackle the problem. These men have done yeoman service in the past and they are prepared to do yeoman service in the future. It is a matter of administration and being able to look at the problem in its widest and broadest aspect. If my hon. and gallant Friend could stimulate them as well as he did over the Coal Mines Bill we should get good results.
2780 I have said everything that I want to say, and I conclude by congratulating the Secretary for Mines on the year's work. I am glad that the Royal Commission has been set up, and although my hon. Friends opposite rather regret that so much time has been lost—we all regret that—the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If we get the proposals contained in the Royal Commission's report on to the Statute Book we shall have achieved more in the time than did hon. Members opposite when they were in office.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
I hope the Secretary for Mines will be able to satisfy the hon. Lady on the various questions she has raised. In regard to workmen's compensation, we shall be pleased if the Minister will give her a definite answer. We have put questions to the Home Secretary and to the Prime Minister but so far have received no reply, and we know how serious is the position in the mining industry with regard to nystagmus cases. We fully appreciate the agreements which have been made in regard to holidays with pay, but if the Committee is under the impression that they are regarded as being perfect I must disabuse their minds of that idea. On Friday morning I saw in an hon. Member's possession a letter saying that a man had received a postcard from his employers stating that as he had lost two days work the previous week one-sixth of his holiday money was being deducted. That kind of agreement is not entirely satisfactory. We have been trying to make the best of the situation, and while we appreciate the agreements which have been made we still think the men are entitled to something better. While the hon. Lady went round all the Government Departments with the exception of the Foreign Office, we on this side of the Committee are more directly concerned with matters appertaining to the mining industry, and I propose to follow the excellent example of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). He refused to give any general survey of the economic position of the industry.
The predecessor of the hon. and gallant Gentleman a year or two ago said that at long last the output of coal was beginning to go up, and he compared the output of that year with the lowest output for many years, 1933, when it was 207,000,000 tons. We have heard a melancholy story to-day from the 2781 Secretary for Mines. He has told us that the output for 1937 was 241,000,000 tons and that for the first six months of this year it was 3,500,000 ton less than for the first six months of last year. It would appear, therefore, that by the end of the year instead of getting 241,000,000 tons e are likely to be back at an output of 230,000,000 tons to 235,000,000 tons. That is very unsatisfactory. I think it is necessary to make real comparisons. I agree that no Government is entirely responsible for the decline in the demand for coal, but we are entitled to make real comparisons to show how serious is the situation. In 1913 287,500,000 tons were produced, in 1933 it had dropped to 207,000,000 tons, a decline of 80,000,000 tons. Last year the production was 240,000,000 tons, a decline of 47,000,000 tons compared with 1913. That has had its effect, and a very damaging effect, on the number of people employed. We have to-day 500,000 fewer people employed in coal mining than 16 years ago, and the tragic part of it is that the Government are not facing the problem of the men who have been displaced. Many of them are eating their hearts out in our various districts believing that they will never get another job, whatever happens. They have spent all their lives in the pit and have given the best of their lives to the industry. Now they are derelict; nobody wants them.
I want to deal with several matters of importance with regard to safety. It is no excuse to say that certain things cannot be done because there is a Royal Commission sitting. If the present mining Acts were carried out as they were intended to be carried out some of our pits would be safer than they are now. I quite agree that there is a responsibility on the men as well as on the management, and I notice that in recent reports of divisional inspectors the opinion is expressed that certain accidents could have been prevented if the men had only done so-and-so. It is easy to be wise after the event. I want to call special attention to one or two aspects of these accidents in mines. By far the larger number killed and seriously injured are by falls of ground at the working face and on the roads. The figures for the past half-year, January to June, show that there have been 488 killed below and above ground and 1,588 seriously injured. Out of the 488, 157 were killed 2782 by falls of ground at the working face, 49 were killed by falls on the roads, 102 by haulage accidents and eight by explosives. I make one comment on the haulage accidents. In the annual report of the chief inspector of mines it says:The fact is there has been very little variation in the death rate per 1,000 persons employed from haulage accidents since 1873; the figure for that year was 0.35 and for 1936 0.27. £ There can be little hope of improvement unless the conditions under which haulage operations are carried on are improved; unless stop-blocks and other similar apparatus are provided and maintained in working order.I have no respect for a colliery manager who allows his haulage roads to be short of stop-blocks. Take accidents from falls of ground. We have been told, and quite rightly, that there has been a revolution in mining practice. I agree. In every report you will find a reference to this revolution. The Divisional Inspector for Yorkshire says:The mechanisation of the working face continues apace. The new problems connected with it still call for anxious consideration, for side by side with the emission of larger volumes of firedamp per yard of face one finds an increase in the potential sources of ignition. Intensive mining needs intensive regulation, a subject which is discussed in more detail elsewhere.Mechanisation has to-day increased by leaps and bounds. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines has been underground. I remember one Secretary for Mines who went down a pit and said that it was worth £1,000 a year to work down there. He was quite right. Is the Secretary for Mines aware of the constant bustle that goes on; men have hardly time to get a snack, it is all rush and push. I want to suggest to the hon. and gallant Member and to the coalowners that we would have far less accidents at the working face if the prices per tonnage rates were better than they are. In Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire you find 10d., 11d. and 1s. per ton for getting coal. That means that seven, eight, nine and 10 tons per man per shift have to be got before a man earns a decent wage. If we had better rates of pay there would not be so much need for the men to hurry and bustle as there is at the present time. I wonder whether the Secretary for Mines has ever thought of the responsible position which a deputy and fireman occupy in the pit. When he talks about divided responsibility I wonder whether he would make it possible 2783 for the deputies to be better able to carry out their duties. Nobody can deny that all men are not withdrawn from the working face when there is 2½ per cent. gas, many of the deputies are afraid to do it. The deputies and firemen in their annual conference passed a resolution saying that they should have freedom to organise in a trade union. There are in some districts organisations of which firemen and deputies have to be members, but some of them have told me quite plainly that they are afraid to carry out their duties as they would like because of what might happen.
I suggest that the Secretary for Mines should look into this matter. It does not require legislation. It may be that the Royal Commission will suggest that these policemen of the pits should be paid by the State, but it does not need legislation to find out how far the restrictions on deputies and firemen joining a trade union are the cause of accidents. It came rather as a shock to some of us to find that there was a dearth of applicants for junior inspectorships. It would be interesting to know what is the age limit, the salary which is offered, and the kind of examination which applicants have to face. On the question of inspectors, the Secretary for Mines wanted us to believe that inspectors went to a colliery without anybody knowing they were going. Some of us smiled, because we do not quite believe that. There are some cases where they are compelled to go, but in my time it was remarkable how easily we got to know that an inspector was coming. When I saw a man at the pithead brushing and cleaning up the place, I said, "Is he coming?" and he replied, "Yes, he will be here at 11 o'clock." As a rule the inspector turned up. I will say this of the inspectors, that they have an almost impossible task. The pits cannot be adequately inspected with the present number of inspectors. The inspectors have a large amount of work of one sort and another, attending inquests and so on, and they cannot adequately inspect all the pits. I would like more workmen's inspections to take place under Section 16 of the Act, and I notice that in the Annual Report, the Chief Inspector of Mines rather agrees with that statement, for he says:During the year 4,739 inspections were made at 486 mines by persons appointed by the workmen employed in those mines, in 2784 exercise of their powers under Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911. Sixty-eight per cent. of these inspections were made in the Northern Division and 19 per cent. in the Cardiff and Forest of Dean Division. I regret that more use is not made of this section of the Act in the other Divisions.Hon. Members opposite may say that the miners have power to appoint two of their number, or other persons not being mining engineers, to inspect the pit at least once a month. Why do they not do that? A good many do it, but let it not be forgotten that the miners have so many stoppages and deductions, and so many contributions to make, from their wages that in some pits, particularly where there is not a large number employed and sometimes even where there is a large number, much as the miners would like to have more inspections under Section 16 of the Act, they cannot afford them. I wish to make a suggestion in that connection. Is it not possible for the Department to do something on the lines of giving some financial assistance to collieries to enable them to have more inspections under Section 16? As my hon. Friends know, the very fact that the miners decide to have a pit inspection causes the manholes to be cleaned out with astonishing rapidity. It would be worth having more of these inspections from the point of view of safety.
I want now to turn to the question of explosions, and to put one or two questions to the Secretary for Mines. In 1934, a week before the Gresford disaster, the then Secretary for Mines wrote an article in which he said that the day of big explosions was over. A week afterwards there occurred the explosion at Gresford, where a large number of men were killed. That explosion was a tragic reminder that the day of big explosions is not over, and that something still needs to be done. A question that I want to put to the hon. and gallant Gentleman is what is the attitude of the Department towards stone-dusting regulations in view of the experience of the last two years? There was the Wharncliffe Woodmoor explosion in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) and if anybody reads the report of the inquiry that was held, I think he will see immediately that the question of stone-dusting needs thinking out afresh. If I remember rightly, a sub-inspector at that inquiry brought forward a report in 2785 which, after making reference to the possible caking of stone dust and coal dust, he said:There must be other factors, and the chief of them is the change in mining methods during recent years.He went on to say that years ago stone-dusting had created the opinion that the day of big explosions was over, and he then made one or two excellent suggestions. He said:We realise that ventilation comes first. Safety lamps come second. Stone dusting must not be looked upon as the means of preventing an explosion of coal dust, and coal dust looked at in the same light as fire-damp, and every effort made to prevent it being formed.I am not speaking without knowledge on this matter. I know one or two mining engineers and divisional inspectors who are very much concerned about this subject. On Saturday I read in the Press a statement by a well-known mining engineer that he was going to press for a committee of practical men and experts. I wonder whether the Secretary for Mines can give us a definite reply as to what is the opinion of the Department. Do they feel that the present regulations are all that they should be, or do they think that, in the light of what happened at Wharncliffe Woodmoor, the time has come when a fresh committee should be set up to deal with the question of stone dust and the regulations with regard to it? Sir William Garforth did a good deal of experimental work at a colliery in my constituency, and they are still very proud of what he did there; but it is unwise to dogmatise and to say that any method is the perfect one. I should like to have a definite answer as to whether it is the intention of the Department to set up a committee to consider the whole matter.
On the question of explosions, it must be remembered, as Major Hudspeth said in the excellent report in which he made a comparison between Great Britain and France in the matter of explosions in coal mines, that to get an explosion there have to be two factors at work simultaneously. There must be an explosive mixture and there must be a means of ignition. The Mines Act states that the men must be withdrawn from the pit when there is 2½ per cent. of gas content, and in France they are withdrawn when there is 2 per cent. There cannot be an explosion at 2½ per cent.; there has to be a higher 2786 gas content than that. What has been said by my hon. Friends about electricity in pits is not too strong, and some of us hope that when the Royal Commission make their recommendations, we shall see the elimination of electricity from pits and a greater use of compressed air. There are many ways of igniting the gasous mixture. Ventilation is the first line of defence, and the standards of ventilation ought to be higher than they are at the present time.
Major Hudspeth has left the Mines Department now, and is back in the industry again. He rendered excellent service as a divisional inspector and in research work, and in the report to which I have referred he not only gives some interesting and useful information, but he makes some comparisons. He says that in the 10 years from 1925 to 1934 there were 58 deaths from explosions in France and 753 deaths in this country. Even allowing for the fact that the French production is only one-fifth of the British production, the report shows that far less people lost their lives in explosions in France. Yet it is sometimes said that we have the safest pits in the world. The interesting and useful information given in that report is worthy of careful study. I conclude by expressing the hope that the Secretary for Mines, when he replies, will tell the Committee exactly what the Department think on the question of stone dusting and what they intend to do in the light of what has happened during the last two years.
§ 6.25 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest
I wish to intervene only for a short time. The detailed points which are being put to the Secretary for Mines by hon. Gentlemen opposite are perhaps the most important detailed points that could be put in any Debate. They affect the safety of a great industry, the safety of the miners, and the economic position of the country as a whole. I regret that I did not hear the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, who opened the Debate, but I heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who followed him. The figures which the hon. Member for Gower gave about the reduction in the export trade, which mainly affects South Wales, will, I hope, receive careful consideration from the Government. Practically two-thirds of the output of South Wales goes 2787 into the export trade, and it is not only a question of the success of colliery companies, but of the mining industry in South Wales as a whole and the labour which is employed in it. Unless something is done to help the export trade, we may have a recurrence of the bad conditions which he had a few years ago in the coal districts in South Wales. It is well known that we have lost the Italian market and the French market to a considerable extent, and that the Spanish market is closed to us. Foreign countries are selling coal at four or five shillings below the price of South Wales coal, and unless something is done to counterbalance that difference in prices, the South Wales trade has not a very hopeful outlook.
I want to draw attention to one small point, that of minor accidents. Since the introduction of boots and helmets for miners, there has been a very great reduction in the number of minor accidents. I should like to see boots and helmets made compulsory throughout the whole industry, and if the men are not able to equip themselves with that protection, it should be the duty of the colliery company to provide it. The problem of silicosis is one which must have further investigation if we are to defeat that most unfortunate disease. Silicosis is bad enough in itself, but when we know that it is the first step towards tuberculosis, we cannot allow it to go on without the very greatest examination and investigation. I hope that it will receive the most urgent attention of the Government, because not only is it of serious importance—
I am sorry, but as the matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) I wanted to press the point that it should receive urgent consideration from the Government. With regard to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send (Miss Ward) about the men who have been out of work for some years, I assure her that in the case of many mines in South Wales, men who have been out of work for a long time have been taken back again, and it has been found that, by giving them a few weeks on lighter duties, they were then able to take on 2788 the heavier work. I think that a very hopeful view may be taken with regard to the men who have been out of work for a long time. I do not propose to detain the Committee any longer, and I conclude by saying that the points that have been mentioned by hon. Members opposite are practical points to which the Minister should give attention.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Before I proceed to deal with the two or three matters which I wish to raise on this Vote, I would make one observation concerning a statement in the speech of the Secretary for Mines. That is the statement, which we heard with great regret, that he has recently found a great deal of difficulty in filling places in the inspectorate. It is a matter of grave concern to the industry if we should fail to attract the most suitable and best qualified men to this very important work. I ask the Minister to give the most serious consideration to the salary, conditions of employment and prospects of promotion of this very deserving class of civil servants and to see whether it is not possible to improve the conditions in such a way as to attract the best type of men.
There has occurred recently something which has created a little apprehension in the minds of the men engaged in the industry. I understand that two members of the inspectorate recently resigned in order to take up managerial positions in the industry. I do not wish to say more about it than that if a man has spent some years in the inspectorate, and is eventually induced by the colliery companies to take a position on the managerial side in the industry, some very pertinent comments are made by the men engaged in the work in the coalfields. I know that it is a very difficult problem. I realise the difficulty of asking for an undertaking or a guarantee from inspectors when they are appointed that they will not give up their positions to go into the industry. But the fact that any do leave the inspectorate to take positions in the industry creates a certain impression in the minds of the men and comment is being made on the fact that the relationships between the inspectors and the managements just before these changes take place must be more cordial than they should be.
I wish now to deal with some of the problems of the industry which we believe 2789 can be dealt with by administration. The Minister said that in recent years the mining industry had passed through a technical revolution. That is correct. Mining has changed completely in the last few years. Those of us who have left the industry for 10 or 12 years, scarcely know it when we go back to it. I propose to deal with some of the safety and health problems which have been created by this technical revolution. That term "technical revolution" sounds very well but if we ask the ordinary miner to sum up in ordinary language what it has meant to him I am sure he would do it in this way. "For me, the technical revolution and the increased mechanisation of the mines has had this result. First, I work at greater speed than ever before; second, I work in greater noise than ever before; third, I work in greater clouds of dust than ever before." That is what it has meant to the miner—intensification of labour, greater speed of working, greater noise and greater accumulations of dust. Those factors create very serious problems affecting the safety and health of the miners.
Not only has machinery been brought into the mines. The electric spark has also been brought into the mines. Take the case of the latest explosion, which is now being inquired into—and the report on which we look forward to with interest, because it will probably prove to be the most important of all the inquiries that have been held. Here is a pit where, we are told, no explosion should take place but where three explosions have taken place in 18 months. That creates a problem and a challenge for all of us. On a layman's view I am satisfied that if what is stated be true, there is only one adequate reason and that is the introduction of machinery and the electric spark on the coal face. The Minister said he was puzzled by the fact that an analysis of the accident rate showed that the accidents in the northern division had increased in recent years whereas in the southern part of the country the rate had been reduced.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I suggest one line of investigation which might lead to administrative action in connection with that matter. I would point out that the northern division where the accident rate increased is the most highly mechanised area, and that the southern area where 2790 the rate is being reduced, is the least mechanised. A circumstance of even greater importance is that the northern area where most machinery is driven by electricity, shows an increase in accidents and the southern area where there is less machinery and where comparatively little electricity is used shows a reduction. Take the case of South Wales. Look at the record of explosions before the War. My hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) and Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards), who had practical experience of mining in pre-war days, know that explosions used to occur in South Wales with monotonous regularity, year after year. But in recent years South Wales has been the best district in this respect. That is not because they have any better arrangements or because they observe the regulations more carefully. There is only one explanation. Mining there has been very little mechanised and among the biggest companies the machinery is not driven by electricity but by compressed air.
My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has referred to the two factors in explosions, namely, the presence of firedamp, and the existence of some cause of ignition. What we are doing when we introduce electrically-driven machinery to the coal face is to introduce a cause of ignition. We come down on the poor fellow who takes in a match or even a cigarette without a match, but what about the man who takes an electric cable right down into the pit and introduces an electric machine with the tiny electric spark? I know that this is a very big subject and the Minister may reply that we ought not to try to deal with such a major question until the Commission reports. But I think that administratively much could be done now and that the Minister ought to be much more stringent in regard to this matter. The Commission cannot report for a few months, and after that it will be another few months before anything can be done. Even if the Commission reports speedily we could not have a new Coal Bill for two years—and I think that is taking a very hopeful view. But in the meantime are we to go on having Gresfords and Markhams in this country? Surely not, if we can prevent them by administrative action. I invite the Secretary for Mines to take real effective administrative action 2791 now, and if the existing regulations are not stringent enough, to issue new regulations which will prevent the introduction of the electric spark into the mines.
There is another significant fact to which I would direct attention. Reading the Press reports and the official reports of recent explosions, I find that in the cases of all those pits where explosions took place, and where electricity was used to drive the machinery, the force of the explosions was greater and more damage was done than in other cases. The last case has been the worst of all. I was interested to find confirmation of this conclusion from the United States in what appears to be a very interesting document. I have not yet read it in full, but extracts from it have been published in the "Colliery Guardian." It is a report of the Bureau of Mines in the United States, containing an analysis of all recorded explosions in the coal mines of the United States since 1839. They have worked out the average number of deaths per explosion, and I think it is safe to make the deduction that the larger the number of deaths in any particular case, the greater the force of the explosion. It is very interesting to relate the number of deaths per explosion to the causes of the explosion. In the case of explosions caused by open lights and smoking, the average number of deaths per explosion was 7.7. In the case of explosions resulting from the use of explosives the average number of deaths per explosion was 6.2. In the case of explosions the causes of which were miscellaneous or unknown, the average number of deaths per explosion was 1.8. But in the case of explosions caused by electricity the average number of deaths per explosion was 15.1. That is a matter which calls for serious consideration. I hope that the Minister will do what he can, administratively, to deal with this problem, and we look forward hopefully to having it dealt with comprehensively in the report of the Commission.
It has not merely been a question of bringing in machinery. The whole method of mining has been changed. I read very closely the reports of the inspector for the division with which I am concerned, and I read year by year the reports of the Chief Inspector. I find that haulage accidents and accidents due to falls of side 2792 and roof, both fatal and non-fatal, are increasing. I suggest one cause for this increase, though there may be others. The kind of roof support which you have in a mine depends upon the kind of packing which is used. It is not only a question of the kind of roof itself. The safety of the roof and sides depends upon the packing. Also the number of haulage accidents is related to the kind of roads which are in the mines. If you have bad roads and if the trams jump up and down as they go along, it is because the gobs are not tightly packed and therefore the roof may give way easily and the floor pokes up more easily with the result that falls of roof and side are more frequent. I have seen some modern collieries which look marvellous with steel girders but when you go along the main roadway which seems so good and safe and come to the coal face, there you find empty spaces in which you could play football. There is no packing. On the Minister's own figures in the last seven years 48 accidents have taken place in which there was stripped packing or no packing.
This is a matter which does not need any regulation. For five years in succession the divisional inspector for the Cardiff and Forest of Dean Division has in his reports urged the necessity for tight packing and I submit it is time that the Department paid more attention to this matter. Here we find the divisional inspector, the man on the job, reporting to this effect every year for five years. What is the use of appointing an inspector if you do not pay attention to his reports on a matter of this kind? I, therefore, ask the Secretary for Mines to look into this very important question of tight packing.
I would like to see an investigation made into the problems of noise and dust. I spent an interesting weekend in the Kent coalfield recently, and my host, a Derbyshire miner, who has been in Kent for several years and who is one of the most active men in connection with the Kent Miners' Association, told me that from the pit where he himself works—I will not mention the name, though I will give it to the Secretary for Mines if he desires it—from that pit alone two men in the early forties have, in the last couple of years, broken down in health. They have been in the local hospital, and they were sent to London to see a nerve specialist. They are men whom he knew, men who, like 2793 him, migrated to Kent and men who, like him, were strong, but who now, having been examined by a specialist, have been found suffering from nervous exhaustion. These are typical cases of men who have broken down from nervous exhaustion, a condition which is due to the conditions under which they work. They have been working in mechanised pits, in hot pits, in Kent, and these men are virtually dead; they are finished. I know these are two extreme cases, but there are such cases all over the country. We can see them getting old owing to the pace, the speed, the noise, the expenditure of nervous energy. It is true that the machine in some ways lightens the physical toil, but it increases the output of nervous energy enormously, and every layman knows, without going to a doctor, that it is easier to replace physical energy than it is to replace nervous energy.
I would like to see the Minister of Mines going into the problem of noise, which is one of the serious problems, in order to see what can be done to abate the noise, to see, if machines are to be used, what can be done. Let me put it to non-mining Members who have done us the honour of being here to listen to this Debate, that when we pass a man working a drill in the streets, we turn the other way. Think of men working machines like that in the pit, with one eye on the roof and the other on the machine, and working a thing like that all the time. After some 20 years of that, they have been sucked bone dry, and they have been thrown on the scrap-heap. The last speaker said, and it is true, that in recent months some owners in Wales have taken over these old men, but other owners leave them, without an atom of sympathy, on the roadside.
With regard to the problem of dust, I come from the anthracite coalfield, which is only one-fortieth of the British coalfield in output and in personnel, but it has 50 per cent. of these silicosis cases. I know that there is an inquiry into the question of silicosis, and, therefore, I will not say anything more on that point, but I believe it is in order to discuss the question of the prevention of silicosis, though the medical aspect of the matter, I know, is one for the Home Office. I was in Ammanford on Saturday, where an investigation into the question is taking place. I worked there as boy and man. There are 60 certified total disablements of men there, men with whom I went to 2794 school, and having been there on Saturday, I could not refrain from saying something about it here. I have seen those men going, and their lives being sacrificed, to produce wealth for this nation. These men, when they are totally disabled, are thrown on the scrap heap. I saw one man the other day whose total compensation was 23s. 1d. a week, and that man has nothing to look forward to. He knows there is nothing more for him to do, nothing but the release of death in the end. When is this inquiry going to report? Why should these commissions last so long? Let them be given all the time that is required, but here is this investigation, in Ammanford, into silicosis and I appeal to the Minister and urge him to let us get a quick report, and in the meantime to let his inspectors in the Swansea Division devote more time to this problem and to set about doing what can be done with the existing regulations.
Because of our interest in this problem of silicosis our attention was called the other day—mine has been at several meetings—to what is happening, not in mines, but in the slate quarries of North Wales, and I want to make this short appeal to the Minister, that he should pay some attention to them. They come under his Department, but we hardly ever hear a word about them here. The men who work in them are a splendid body of men, and I say, as a Welshman, that they are the cream of the Welsh working class, a very fine body of men. I have here a report by Dr. Morris, Medical Officer of Health for the Urban District Council of Festiniog, which refers to the quarries in his own district, and his report is so appalling that I crave the indulgence of the Committee to read some quotations from it. Here is one extract:In 1936 the Welsh National Association erected a new clinic at Blaenau Festiniog. The tuberculosis physician, Dr. Matthew Davies, was amazed at the high incidence of silicosis. It is interesting to note that 80 per cent. of the quarrymen examined of 40 years of age and over had definite silicosis. A high percentage had tuberculosis and silicosis. There is no doubt in my mind that the unhealthy conditions prevailing in the slate quarry industry is the cause of the high incidence of the death rate from tuberculosis in the urban district of Festiniog.Here is a description from the same report of the conditions in which these men work:The underground chambers are stuffy, and the quarrymen have to breathe the same foul air day after day. Add to this the smell of 2795 gunpowder, gelignite, and smoke, and slate dust saturating the already foul air. This does more to undermine the health of the quarrymen than anything else. Silicosis is prevalent among these underground quarrymen.Then there is the last quotation, to which I wish to call the special attention of the Minister. It is a statement which has been widely published in the district. The Minister probably has not seen it, and I think I shall be doing well to bring it to his attention. This Dr. Morris says:In 1932 I called the attention of the Inspector of Mines to the appalling conditions in two quarries. I suggested to him that they should immediately bore a shaft right down so as to provide proper ventilation, but nothing has been done.That was in 1932, six years ago, and here is this village in Wales, with its 2,000 quarrymen, in regard to which there is a report that 80 per cent. of them over 40 years of age have silicosis, where the attention of the inspector was called to the bad conditions in 1932, and where the medical officer of health reports that nothing has been done.
These are the problems—the problems of the machine, of speed, of noise, of dust, the modern menaces to the miner. There were dangers and menaces with the old type of mining, in the old days, but these are new menaces—the electric spark, the speed with which men have to work, the noise and the dust in which they have to work. All these are the new problems of safety and health in mines. We look with confidence to the report of the Commission to deal with them in a fundamental way, but in the meantime let the Minister take immediate administrative action. I once heard an eloquent speech by one of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessors in office, Mr. Isaac Foot, and I shall never forget what he said. He said that after he had been in the Mines Department for a few weeks, he began fully to appreciate what these lists were that came in—so many killed and so many injured—and then he wrote in his own hand something to remind him every morning of his responsibility. I hope the Minister of Mines will do it also. His predecessor wrote on a tablet on his desk, so that when he came to his office in the morning it would be the first thing that he saw, and this is what he wrote:Since I came here yesterday four men have been killed in the pits of this country, 2796 four breadwinners have been lost, four families bereaved. why? And what am I doing to stop it?It is our business to stop it, and I hope this Debate will add its own contribution to the stopping of this terrible accident rate in the mines of this country.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
The special points to which I want to draw attention are overtime and accidents in the mines, especially to boys. I agree with what the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said, and I think he has put his finger on the spot, in relation to the high rate of accidents in the Northern counties. We in Northumberland are so mechanised that we are now producing 88 per cent. of our coal by machinery, and as a result of that high rate of production by machinery, we are getting all the concomitants of that high rate. The three cycles of operation entail such dovetailing that it is not to be wondered at that we get the accidents that we do get. We have a very large number of accidents on the haulage ways, and that, in my view, is because we are placing a burden on the boys, on the youngsters, in the mines that ought to be borne by adults. Take the conveyor belt. Everything is dependent on the smooth working at the loading end. If the trams are to be brought speedily away the slightest hitch, a stoppage at the delivery end, the prevention of the free handling of the empties, means the stoppage of the conveyor belt, and that means that the face is not cleared within the prescribed period, and that again means one or two things of great importance.
I want to deal with the first of them, which I believe is very important, and that is the question of overtime. We are having an agitation, and we are going to make it a very strong agitation, for the shortening of miners' hours of work. We have been to Geneva to endeavour to get the hours reduced, but we have not had much support from the Government. As a matter of fact, I believe we have had determined opposition. Why? Because Germany is not attending at Geneva, and they are working longer hours than we are, but I believe we are working among the longest hours in Europe. The actual statutory hours of work in this country, however, are not the whole story, and the 2797 whole story, if it is to be fully appreciated, is in the overtime that is being worked.
We find in Northumberland that on account of mechanisation the overtime, entirely due to the necessity for working a cycle of operations, has been of such dimensions that it gets completely out of the control of trade union officials. Managements encourage it and mine inspectors wink at it—no question about that. We have cases in Northumberland of beer and sandwiches being taken into a pit because some particular work had to be done—it was mentioned the other day by the secretary of our association. There was no prosecution there. We endeavoured—and I think we have succeeded to a great extent—to reduce overtime in Northumberland, and I want to give the same advice here as has been given by our general secretary. We pleaded and argued with the mineowners to reduce overtime in Northumberland, but we could do nothing until as an association we issued advice to our workmen on no consideration whatever to stay in the mines after the statutory time. Then the management came along asking us if we were aware of the blow we were striking at the coal trade: we should handicap it altogether, and restrict output. The mines are like the railways in that respect; it is very difficult unless there is a certain amount of give and take. But until we as an association issued that advice to our men we could get no consideration. I believe that overtime is a very pronounced contributory factor in the high accident rate in the mines.
The Secretary for Mines said that Northumberland was rather lagging behind in the matter of classes for boys. I am sorry to say that I know of one or two companies in Northumberland which are very backward indeed in that respect. As a matter of fact, we have one company in particular which, I believe, is a credit to the mining industry in the whole country, so I hope that those that are lagging behind will be gingered up. I have taken a good deal of interest in these classes for boys. Boys will continue to be boys, but one of the saddest things that we have to go through, we who have been in the mines, is the accidents to boys. Personally, I do not believe that if all the near things which happen in a pit came off any of us would 2798 see 21. There is a Providence that evidently sits over us, and we seem to escape. But to those who have been there and witnessed the accidents to these boys of 14, just going into the pit and in the next year or two, it is a terrible thing to see the way they are maimed and wounded—the breaking of their bodies and the breaking of their spirit when they are brought up at that early age against the stark realism of the thing.
There is only one way, I think, of reducing these accidents. We should have not only classes on the surface, but provision should be made underground, and the boys should graduate from there. They should move on from those classes as they become efficient in the underground conditions. I notice that in Northumberland in the year 1937 we had 1,553 young persons aged from 14 to 20, or just under 21, injured in our mines. Those are not all the injuries, because that figure does not include those who are incapacitated for less than three days. There is one thing to be done, and the Secretary for Mines has to play his part in it, and that is that the speed at which the boys have to work should be slowed down. What I have already said about the conveyor, the loading and so forth, applies all along the roadway, and that is the reason why we are having so many accidents on the roadways.
I want to mention another point, about helping our export trade. We have been going through a boom period in the mines. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) mentioned the wage increase—5½d. a shift for last year. There were profits of £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 for the owners. There is something wrong in the division there. But that is not the worst of it. Miners' wages follow prices, but instead of miners getting the advantage of the prices when they go up, we find the pits lie idle and men work half-time, or miss a day or two days a week, as they are doing in Northumberland to-day. Unfortunately—and I regret to have to say it—one of the companies in Northumberland, and a company that is very highly thought of so far as the conditions of its workers are concerned, has up to the moment been unable so to arrange its trade that when the men are working four shifts a week they might be able to get unemployment benefit. It means that the men are working roughly four days a 2799 week and get four days' pay, and it seems a pity, when they have made their contributions for the unemployment benefit, that the work cannot be so arranged that they should get their unemployment benefit.
I noticed in regard to the Argentine the enormous increase in the purchases we have been making from that country—probably food for storing; but I do not find any corresponding increase in our coal trade. Our exports generally are falling, there can be no question about that. But, apart from trade agreements, which have undoubtedly been of benefit to us owing to the purchase of coal by those countries which have made the trade agreements with us, surely when we are making these enormous purchases from other parts of the world it would be a reasonable thing to expect that the part of our export trade that has been adversely affected might be kept in mind by the Government. When we were dealing with the Coal Bill the other day we had the President of the Board of Trade sitting there, working matters with the Secretary for Mines. I think they might do the same thing here, and work out a plan to assist the miners by encouraging the sale of coal to those countries.
There has been something said about the inspectors, and I have the greatest possible admiration for them as a rule. But with regard to the inspectors' visits to collieries I do not think that the management ought to know that the inspectors are coming. They ought to drop in without the management knowing. I think the point made by the Secretary for Mines about the inspectors wanting to see a particular person who might be a very busy man was very weak indeed. I remember working at a colliery about three miles away from the station, and they always knew when they had to send a trap to bring the inspector to the colliery, which meant that notice had been given a few days before. Nevertheless, I think that inspectors are doing a very good work and keeping our mines up to date. I do hope that, as the result of this Debate, the Secretary for Mines will try to get our accident rate down very substantially.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I am a fairly new Member of this House and I wanted if 2800 I could to say a few words in this discussion. I want to support the Amendment moved from this side of the Committee, because of the attitude adopted by the Mines Department through their representatives at the recent discussions that took place at Geneva at a technical conference on the reduction of hours of work in mines. This question has now been discussed for nine or 10 years at the International Labour Office, and we were accustomed in the early stages to have the attendance of the Secretary for Mines. Of recent years, and in this very vital year 1938, the Secretary for Mines has not been present, but only a representative of his Department. Surely when this question was so dominant and important he should have been there. So important was it that in 1937, when the representatives of the Mineworkers' Federation met the Secretary for Mines, the whole argument of the Secretary for Mines was that, as the hours' question was to be discussed in the early future by the International Labour Office, we in Britain should wait until those discussions had taken place in Geneva. Particularly in view of that the Secretary for Mines should have been there to put the point of view of his Department.
Now what was the case of the Mines Department at this International Labour Office discussion? There were 25 pages of a speech made by the representative of the Ministry of Mines. It contained a very lengthy survey, not of the hours question, but of matters in which it was stated the Government have taken part to improve the condition of the industry, and the workers' lot. The representative of the Mines Department said they had secured machinery for an increased revenue to be shared between wages and profits in agreed ascertained proportions. The second point he made was that they were bringing forward measures to unify mining royalties. The third point, in his own words, was:We have concerned ourselves actively with the question of the grant of holidays with pay and have by legislation provided since 1920 for a Mines Welfare Fund amounting to many millions of pounds. During the period that I am reviewing the wages per shift have increased by 1s. 4d., and annual earnings have increased by £31 in 1937 as compared with 1930, while the average cost of living figure has fallen by four points during that period.He concluded that because of this attitude of the Mines Department in supporting the coalowners to improve the position in the 2801 industry, there was a limit to what could be done in the industry. That meant that as a consequence of this progress there could not be any improvement in the hours position. With regard to the first point, may I give the actual facts with regard to that improvement? I quote as my authority the President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, Mr. Joseph Jones, in his speech at the annual conference of the federation a week ago. He showed that the 2S. per ton advance in the price of coal and in the increased revenue to the industry had been shared as follows: to wages, there had been given 5d. a ton, or 20.66 per cent.; to owners there had gone 8d. or 33.33 per cent.; and to distributors 11d., or over 46 per cent. Our contention anent that is that the Government must not preen themselves unduly about a position which has not redounded to the advantage of the workmen as the consumers who have paid this increased price intended. The general public gladly stood the first increase, because they were under the impression that the greater proportion of the money would go to miners' wages. We now find that has not been the case. With regard to the miners' welfare levy, the Department representative at the International Labour Office did not say that the levy is really, as the result of the ascertainment system, "withheld wages" as to at least a good portion of it. Nor did he say that the Government were responsible for cutting that levy by half, nor that appeals that have been made from these benches that the sums accruing from the levy should be devoted to purposes which would work more to the advantage of the miners, such as cottages for aged miners, pensions for miners at an earlier age, and an increase in the meagre amount which the State is paying to miners generally who are out of work.
With regard to the plea of the Government at the International Labour Office that they had actively assisted in the question of holidays with pay, I, as one who came from the mine only a few weeks ago, have seen no activity in that direction. Some of us are rather doubtful about the amounts that are likely to come to our people being described as holidays with pay. Under the ascertainment system we find that if a sum of money is taken for a given object 85 per cent. of it is generally at the expense of the miners' wages. The miners are thus meeting 2802 a good portion of their holidays with pay payments. Further, in my county and most other counties, holidays with pay are accompanied with the condition that a man must attend his work regularly. In a 24-day month in Yorkshire the miner is allowed only one day off. If he has more he has to submit to a stoppage from his holidays with pay payment. The miner who is on the first shift has to descend at ten minutes past five in the morning. I can well picture if hon. Members had regularly to arrive at such an early hour, after the lengthy journeys that our people have to make to the mines, there would be some of us who, in the course of a month, would occasionally be lax, and we would be lucky if we did not lose more than one shift in 24. If a miner does not attend at that particular time he is precluded from taking part in his ordinary avocation. Also I feel that in their stand on the hours question at the International Labour Office the Government took a stand against a set of people in the industry who ought to have all the assistance possible. I refer to unemployed miners.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) gave the numbers of men who are becoming unemployed through the new systems of work in the mines. In my county the men whom the industry does not require have become known as "the legion of the lost." They are men without any hope for the future, and who, if mechanisation goes on at the present pace, will be accompanied by many more men. The only sensible solution for dealing with this problem of men whom the industry no longer needs is by a reduction of the hours of labour. A few weeks ago I came from Yorkshire where I had worked at a pit for nearly 33 years. During that time I have seen this changed position. When I stood there as a young boy descending the pit for the first time, there were many grey bearded people among the men. You cannot see a grey beard now among the men who descend the pits, not because of any change in how the barber trims his beard, but simply because there is a definite contraction of the working life of the average miner. My father started at 12 years of age at this mine and worked until he was 73. The present-day sons of these miners cannot look forward to a working life of that length. 2803 They start at 14 and are very lucky if they can go on until they are 50. Fifty-five is an exceptional age. We ought to have regard for the problem created by this contraction of the working life. May I illustrate it this way? If one had a car worth £400 and used it for 10 years, the capital cost would be £40 a year. If one used the car for only five years, the capital cost would be £80 a year. The miners labour power used speedier is not being better compensated by greatly increased wages. We ask whether the improvement in the wage standard of 5½d. per day, which the Secretary for Mines mentioned, is commensurate with the loss of actual working time which the average miner has suffered.
Questions have been asked in the House about attendance at the safety classes for young boy miners and I asked a supplementary question whether the Secretary for Mines had made representations to the coalowners to release these boys to attend these classes, not after working time, but during working hours without loss of wages. When a boy has ascended from his bed in the wee small hours of the morning, say 4 o'clock, and has descended the pit at 5, ascended again in the afternoon at 2, and has divested himself of all the dirt that pit work brings and has had a meal to replace the energy that he has lost, he is not much in form for attending any type of class which means mental effort. We suggest on that account that the Secretary for Mines might make representations to the coalowners to allow their lads to be released on a workday. There would then be better attendance at the classes and a reduction in the heavy toll of accidents. Just picture the position with regard to these boys. The accident figures reveal that out of every thousand miners injured boys under 16 years of age who were employed numbered 229; boys over 16 and under 18, numbered 213; young men over 25 and under 35, 188; men between 45 and 55, 184; and those between 6o and 65, 130. The average over-all accidents per thousand employed was 188. Those figures reveal that the younger you are the greater risk there is of your being carried out of the pit on a stretcher. We hope that the Mines Department will accept these well-meaning suggestions of ours, which have been put forward not with any desire to embarrass but to help, and we ask the 2804 Secretary for Mines to make representations on the lines we have indicated.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
I am sure that the practical knowledge contained in the earnest speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) ought to prove informative to hon. Members opposite, and I wish more of them were present. My hon. Friend spoke of the classes for the training of boys and I want the Secretary for Mines to see that these boys are trained both in their own interests and that of the other workers in he pits. After all, these boys play a very important part in a great machine. If one of them forgets to shut a door he may smother his father and brothers, for lack of oxygen. In the pits all have to work as a team. I was only 12 when I first went into a pit and I remember that the first accident that happened so terrorised me that if I had had my way I should not have gone back any more. It was an unusual accident. The cage was overwound and came hurtling down to the very bottom of the shaft, and in my terror at hearing it crash into the sump I ran right into some machinery. We are anxious that the boys be acquainted with the dangers of accidents arising, and to that extent steeled against the danger. As I said I did not want to go back to the pit any more, but poverty drove me back the next day.
I should like the Minister to understand that some encouragement ought to be given to these boys for gaining certificates. Certificates look nice hanging on the wall at home, but when we were boys we felt we would rather have something of more value. I go to agricultural shows, dog shows, horse shows, even women's beauty shows—I know that I have no need to go there, because I am already surrounded here with so much beauty—and find that a great deal of money has been spent on a well-groomed horse or a well-developed cow or bull. How much more necessary is it to have active, strong, vigorous, healthy boys? We ought to give them some encouragement, but at present these boys who attend the classes do not get even half-an-hour off from work. I remember what a big thing it was to me as a young fellow, when we were working 12 hours, if I was told that because I had been "working wet" I was to have 2805 six hours off. Of course, it was really wet work. When I knew that six hours would be taken off the 12 you can imagine how well I worked in the six hours that I was occupied. More practical encouragement ought to be given to these boys. If people are being trained to save life nothing will be lost by the expenditure of a little money on that training. If there is an accident, somebody has to stand the loss in compensation, or suffer the grief, and believe me it is the miner who pays in the end. The money may come through the insurance company, but it started with the fellow who gets the coal.
I was rather struck by what my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) said about the prices of coal abroad. I went up to the north with my hon. Friend on Friday night, and when I left him at Newcastle I joined, as usual, a lot of shipowners making their way home. I generally ask how business is, and of course I heard that it was not prosperous; it never has been—but I believe that just now it really is bad. We spoke of the price of coal abroad and a man in charge of a very big firm told me, "We ran a trial trip with one of our boats the other day, running her from Sunderland to Flushing. At Flushing we had to re-bunker, and the coal there was 5s. a ton cheaper than it was at the place where the boat started from." I want to know whether that coal in Flushing had not come from the Darlington neighbourhood. Hon. Members may think it strange that coal shipped from this country should be sold cheaper abroad than here, but some years ago I was a member of a deputation—the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) was another Member—which went to Germany and we found they were selling Durham coal in Hamburg at 3s. a ton cheaper than we could buy it here. In view of that state of affairs I think we are entitled to know what is happening.
With reference to inspectors' visits to pits, we have been told that they go unnotified, and I believe they do on some occasions. I was once in charge of a very large colliery and the boys complained to me that their lamps were going out nearly half a mile from the face, which was a very dangerous situation. I sent at once to one of the ablest inspectors we ever had in the north of England, Mr. Atkinson—one of the most fearless inspectors the country ever had. I did not make any 2806 bones about it. I wired to Newcastle and though he was an old man he came out to the colliery immediately. The manager was astounded when he arrived. On that occasion the manager had had no opportunity to get rid of the gas or to clean things up or to do anything. The manager was very annoyed that the inspector had come, and said to him, "Do you think it is right to go down on a Saturday?" The inspector said, "Do you think it is right for all those boys to be in danger half a mile away from the face? I am going down whether you go down or not. I will take action"—and he stopped the pit.
Inspectors can be made useful and helpful, and they ought to be given all the encouragement possible, and made as independent of the owners as possible. To have good inspectors will keep the owners right, and if they had any common sense they would understand it. When I was the financial secretary of a lodge I always asked for the best auditor, and he always kept me honest. I was always anxious to keep right. There would be far fewer thieves if there were more gamekeepers of that type looking after things. In the interest of the owners themselves there ought to be unnotified visits from inspectors, because in that case every manager and under-manager is kept on his toes, and when a pit is right it costs less in accidents and worry and the output is the greater.
I sometimes wish there were better regulations governing the conditions under which accident cases are removed from the mines. I have helped to move many men with broken ribs, broken collar bones, twisted here and twisted there, suffering terribly. Brave men as they were, they could not restrain themselves from shouting in their pain. I asked one of the inspectors whether better facilities could not be provided for taking the wounded men away and his reply was, "That does not come within my province. After they have left the shaft I have done with them." I believe that in the interests of humanity they ought to be the responsibility of the mine inspector until they are delivered to a place where surgical and medical aid are available. I have helped to take home a boy's body, wrapt not in a beautiful shroud, but in a covering of dirty tarry canvas. I have helped to take him home to his mother, dead, the boy whom she had 2807 kissed just before he started work. These things stir us, and if you believe that we are sentimental, remember that these people are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. We are appealing only for justice for these children in asking that the mine inspectors should have to take every care of them.
Another point is that miners suffer from bad air more than anything else. Gandhi is a giant compared with me when I am stripped, but I can assure you that I have been in very deep pits, right under the sea, where the heat was terrific and where the air could not circulate. The perspiration and the heat and the exhaustion before ever we could get to where the work was, was something to be considered. The remedy is to get fresh oxygen to the men. In many of these pits the ponies sometimes use up so much oxygen from the air as to cause the lamps to go out. That is no exaggeration. Many a time a pony has had to be removed until the air once more became pure enough to allow the lamps to bum. Then the bad lighting in the pits has an effect upon the eyes, producing that most terrible of all diseases, nystagmus. If we stopped here all night and all to-morrow night and all the other nights of this Session, and by that means succeeded in relieving the men of that horrible disease, we should have done work worthy of the name of the country. There is no one for whom I have greater sympathy than a miner stricken with nystagmus. It is not only his eyes that go, his spirit goes. He goes struggling on year after year, trying to see with blind eyes, trying to keep himself steady when everything swims round and round before him.
I had a "marrow." That is a north-country word meaning a comrade. You call your wife a marrow if she behaves decently, and when she does not you call her something else. "Marrow" is a term of endearment and is often used in family life. In the pit you often find men who are in this relationship ready to face death together, like statues. In this case he was a strong fellow who came from the Midlands. He was built like a horse, and was the keenest man I ever saw for work. You could not stop him working. This example of a fine type of man got nystagmus. He could not understand it and he pleaded and wept 2808 to me. I remember when he recovered sufficiently to be able to go down a pit after about three years. It was the fresh air and the open sunlight, the breath of God, that brought him back to something like his former self. They put a broom in his hand for him to sweep up. He was all right as long as it was daylight, but he was like an owl later on, and in the artificial light he was done. I shall never forget this strong and vigorous fellow, no slacker, with the tears running down his manly cheeks. "Good God, whoever dreamt that I should have to handle a broom," he said; he would rather have handled a pick, but the panels and railings were swimming in front of his eyes in such a way that he could hardly stand up. Is there not something that we can do for such men in the way of giving them more oxygen and more light? When these men go down the pit it is not as lords and ladies go, who are put on a cushion, pushed in and pushed out again.
The tragedy of the miner in this condition is that he is signed off and he gets a miserable little pension or compensation, of a kind which is sometimes worse than a pension. When he goes to have his eyes examined he finds all the doctors swarming there. They test him and they say: "We think you have got rid of it, but there is only light work for you, and you must go where you can get light work." There was a man who felt he was getting better from nystagmus, and he went to another colliery and declared that he was fit and well. He did not tell them that he had had nystagmus but as soon as they found that he was suffering from it and had been declared cured by the doctor who represented the money interests of the other mine, they discharged him. The law says that you cannot claim compensation, because you have desired to work. That man cannot get work because he has been inflicted with that disease in the place where he worked. What are these men to do? We ask whether this ailment cannot be stopped at the source by the provision of more fresh air and light. I see that the mines inspector has just come into the House, and I am very glad he has.
§ Captain Crookshank indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Ritson
I meant, of course, the Secretary for Mines, but he is the chief 2809 inspector, because he can order any inspector to go clown any pit. I put a question to him the other day about the owners of a colliery in my division who would not let inspectors go down. The men are not in the union, so the pits are not examined. I got through to the Department and we have had the pits inspected. We are very thankful to the Secretary for Mines for that.
§ Mr. Ritson
The men are not in the union, and there is no workmen's inspector. The inspectors have to do as they are told. We asked the Government that they should go down and examine the pit.
With regard to the new cleaning plants for the grading of coal, marketing has become better because the coal is more useful, as it is now graded and cleaned, but I wish we could get some other form of cleaning than the dry cleaning. I live half a mile away from the dry-cleaning plant in our town. You may be eating what you like during the time that dry cleaning is going on, but you will not be dry cleaned; you get filled up. Your food becomes covered with very fine dust. The co-operative society's carts selling their meat in the streets have to carry covers over the food because of the coal dust that settles on everything. Men working in the pit get plenty of coal dust inside them without taking it on their food. I emitted coal dust for about three years after I got out of the pit. You would hardly believe it possible. I spoke to medical men about it and they said: "It is a wonderful thing for the lungs. It is nice and light. It cleans the lungs." I have no objection to the doctors trying it on their lungs, but I do not like it in mine. Local authorities are complaining about this matter and the miners' wives are now getting dust that only the men used to get, in the pit. While we are pleased that grading has been effective in promoting sales, we hope that something may be done about this. Many local authorities in Durham are complaining about the dust that results from dry cleaning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) always makes a most knowledgeable speech, and we are very proud of his knowledge of these things. 2810 We are proud that he can take his stand against anybody. It is not true that miners have no brains, and my hon. Friend is an example—specialised, perhaps. I remember being told again and again that we were a lot of ignorant people who knew nothing but bad grammar, bad language and bad preaching. I never back horses, but I remember that my father had a horse, and one day when I was trying to get it to go it went backwards. A man who was watching me said, "I know what's the matter with that horse. His head is at the wrong end." A man who backs horses has his head at the wrong end. The Minister can do a great deal by seeing that these regulations are carried out. He need not wait for the Royal Commission, because he has power over the inspectors and they have power over managers and colliery companies. If they will apply their knowledge, experience and honesty to the work, justice will be done to all concerned.
Let me make a last appeal. We are having a recrudescence of explosions, and they are bad enough. We are having trouble with water, and that is another serious thing. We are having a bad year, and we are having to live in atmospheres affected by coal dusting. Our homes are hardly better than the pit itself. Because of all those things, I appeal to the Minister to do what he can by way of administration, until there is a new law, to apply the regulations as he should. That will make us much happier and better in health. The first consideration is the health and vigour of the men who have to produce this mighty wealth of our country.
§ 7.57 P.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
The Committee has listened to-day to one of the most moving stories connected with the coal-mining industry to which I have listened for a long time. We are sometimes asked why the miners are so strongly represented in this House by representatives from the mining areas. The answer can be found very largely in the speeches to which we have listened. The miners have told their story in impressive language conveying an intimate knowledge of the mining situation. We know from experience what the toll has been upon the mining communities in life and limb. I would remind the Committee that from 1921, 18,000 miners had been killed in the pits of this country and that 2811 from the same date, on the authority of the accounts and the reports that we receive from time to time, it is estimated—and I am quoting the President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain—2,500,000 of our men have been injured in the mines in this country.
I put a question in this House on 5th July, to the Secretary for Mines, asking him:The number of colliery explosions which have occurred in England, Scotland and Wales, giving the names of the collieries, and the numbers of men killed or injured in each case during the last 10 years; whether in each case electricity has or has not been used, and for what purpose; and whether he will give the same information with regard to shot-firing?I am not concerned with the nature of the question but with the answer of the Minister, which was:During the last 10 years 477 explosions involving death or injury have occurred at mines under the Coal Mines Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1938; col. 173, Vol. 338.]The Secretary for Mines has told us this afternoon that in 1937 no fewer than 120,000 men and boys were injured in the mines of this country, and, when we bear in mind the additional fact that 859 men and boys were killed during that year, and also the fact that since 1921 the number of men and boys killed has been 18,000 and the number injured 2,500,000, we have a very sad cumulative picture of the mining industry of this country; and that, very largely, is the reason why so many of us have found our way on to these benches. When one thinks of this appalling loss of life, and when one remembers that more people have been injured in the mines of this country since 1921 than were maimed in the War years 1914–18, one wonders whether that is the reason why at the present moment, apart from the Ministers and Under-Secretaries on the Front Bench, there are only three Members on the opposite benches and there is not a single Liberal on their benches at all. I not only deplore it, but say quite frankly that in my view it is a perfect disgrace and scandal.
The Minister said this afternoon, and the point was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), that the mining industry is passing through a technical revolution. That is true. I think I should be correct in saying that, if any of the older men who have 2812 left the pits within the last 10 years went into some of the modern collieries, they would be absolutely astounded and amazed, and, indeed, would scarcely know that they were in a pit at all. As regards the scientific research side of this very big industry, I see that the provision for purposes of research and testing last year was £9,401, and that for the year 1938 the figure has been increased by £10,396. In view of the appalling waste of life and limb that is occurring and of the revolution that is taking place in the coalmining industry, and in view of the figure of less than £10,000 provided for research in 1937—though I agree it has been increased to £19,000 in 1938—it is not sufficient for the Minister to ride off and say, "We are doing something for the mining industry; we are providing hats for the men to work in, gloves to protect their hands, boots to protect their feet, and also shin guards. "The real question with regard to this research work is the question of stopping accidents or explosions or any untoward incidents which may occur in the pits and making mining safer in the future than it has been in the past. I also submitted to the Minister on 5th July a question with regard to the research station at Buxton. The Minister called attention to it this afternoon, and pointed out that, if any hon. Member desired to see the station and would communicate with him, he would be glad to make arrangements, preferably for a Sunday visit. I asked, in the last part of my question:Whether he will now recommend the construction of another gallery for the purpose of demonstrating, not only how mine explosions occur, but how mine explosions can be prevented?''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1938; col. 173, Vol. 338.]I have had the opportunity of seeing the demonstrations at the Buxton Research Station, and I have seen their methods of scientific packing. My only difficulty about that was that there is no provision in the price list for paying the men for the additional work it entails, but I leave that on one side. The explosions staged at Buxton are certainly terrifying. They are a frightful demonstration, and everyone who knows anything at all about mining knows what that kind of thing really means. We all know of these explosions; the Minister told us that there were 477 in this country in the last 10 years; but what we want to be shown at 2813 Buxton or somewhere else, is how to stop explosions. It is all very well to take the boys, to take the men, to take colliery officials to see these spectacular demonstrations. I think the Minister will agree that in Yorkshire we have made a very great effort to train our boys, and, indeed, our men; we have at least 200 men attending these classes, in addition to boys. I asked the demonstrators at Buxton whether they would make some recommendation that a second tunnel should be built, so that, after showing on the one side the terrific and devastating result of a coal-dust explosion, they could show us on the other side how they would prevent it? We have now reached a stage in the coal-mining industry when something definite must be done. The miner in this county is no longer made safe by stone-dusting. One cannot go into the case that is under review at the present time, but the fact is that our experiences in Derbyshire show that not a single pit in this country is safe and can rely on stone-dusting— —
§ Mr. Dunn
Not per person employed. At that time there were 400,000 more men in the industry, and the percentage now is just as great as it was then—in fact, greater. I hope the suggestion I have made with regard to the revolution that is taking place in coal-mining and with regard to the Buxton Research Station will have the Minister's consideration at the earliest possible moment. He went out of his way to tell us this afternoon—many of us could hardly believe it, though no doubt he was speaking the truth as far as he knew it—about the visits of inspectors to collieries. I thought that the two explanations he gave 2814 in proof of good faith took a good deal of swallowing, if I may say so. I should like to ask him this question, to which I hope he will reply: If the inspector of mines is not called upon to give notice to the colliery manager when he proposes to visit a colliery, what is the position with regard to the workmen's inspector? Is he in the same position as regards notifying the colliery company as the inspector of mines appointed by the Government?
I am asking whether the workmen's inspector stands in the same relationship to an inspection of a colliery as the Government inspector does. If the answer is "No," we shall be in no worse position than we are in now; but there are many parts of this country where workmen's inspectors have been anxious, not only on the morning shift but on the afternoon and night shifts, to have the same facilities and responsibilities to the colliery people, with the same notification, as the general inspector has. The workmen's inspector, if he is called upon to give notice to the colliery people that he proposes to make an inspection, having been generally appointed by the lodge for that particular purpose, is decidedly at a disadvantage as compared with the general inspector, who is inspecting on behalf of the Government. If that were made clear there are thousands of men who would be more satisfied.
I hope the Minister will give his very serious attention to the question of coal dust in mines. We now find that a revolution has taken place in the methods of producing coal. As a result of the new methods, where you have 50 to 55 per cent. of the coal in this country produced by machinery, mainly cut by electricity, you have that uncertain element of electricity on the coal face and in the mines, and you have large volumes of coal dust, highly explosive, as dangerous when ignited as gas itself, and as devastating to life and limb. I hope the Minister will do something with regard to these questions of coal dust, of Buxton, and of the inspectors, because there is a very nasty feeling in the country at present over this appalling wastage of life and limb.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
I listened to the Minister's speech very carefully, and the impression it made on my mind was that he was 2815 abundantly satisfied with the administration of the Mines Department. I never listened to a more complacent speech from that bench. For some time there have been doubts in my mind as to whether the administration of the Department was a success or a failure. Years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer and he proposed to scrap the Mines Department, I, with other Members of the House and officials of the Mineworkers' Federation, met the then Prime Minister and urged him to keep the Mines Department. We succeeded. But we had in our minds that if the Mines Department were kept, it would be for something more than the mere recording of statistics: that it would be a live Department, acting in the interests of the people concerned with the industry. Of late, doubts have been arising in my mind as to whether the administration of the Department, on all important questions affecting the lives of our people, has not been a complete failure.
I consider that the Minister of Mines is open to criticism for having failed to produce the annual report, which we ought to have had for this Debate. Here we are at the end of July, and the Minister has not produced his report for last year. What is to be the use of the report when we have no longer an opportunity of considering it, or debating it? Last year this Vote was taken on 26th July; here we are, this year, considering it on 25th July, and the Minister has not thought it worth while to make an effort to get out his report in time for the Debate. These Debates, in my opinion, are absolutely essential for the welfare of the mining industry and the men engaged in it. We cannot have these reports kept back until after the Debates are over. We are bound to take some steps to force the Minister to produce his annual report, at latest, by the end of June. The Minister will say probably, "That is a thing with which I have nothing whatever to do." But the Commission was dealing with safety, and safety is one of the most urgent questions with which any commission could have to deal. In the collieries of this country nothing is so urgent as the need for safety legislation. What has the Minister done to hurry up the Commission, to make it produce the report? We were told that 2816 we are likely to get the report before next Session; but I ask the Minister, when he replies to the Debate, to tell us what is the next step. Is the report to be pigeonholed for another 12 months, or is it to be turned into legislation next Session? Now that this report, after three years, is likely to be produced, the Minister should tell us what he proposes to do next.
The Department have failed to reduce—I was going to say, abolish—the number of explosions in this country. That should be one of the primary duties of the Ministry of Mines. One of the most terrible things in this country has been these explosions, shocking the whole country, yet the Ministry have been content to sit with folded arms and let these explosions take place and carry scores and hundreds of men into eternity. Only last Sunday I heard a speaker in whom I have every confidence say that from 1930 to 1937 there had been in this country an average of one explosion every four weeks. We have a right to ask what the Ministry of Mines have been doing in trying to stop these terrible explosions. What is the Ministry's policy for decreasing these accidents, saving some of those lives, and preventing the maiming of some of those men in our coalfields today? The Ministry of Mines ought to have a policy; they ought not to be just sitting quietly waiting until the report of the Royal Commission comes. If they had had any interest in this question, they would have formulated a policy and tried to carry it into effect in order that there might be a decrease in the number of accidents in connection with the coal mines.
I now want to deal with the question of the inspection of the mines. I was astounded to-day to hear the Secretary for Mines say that it had not been possible to get sufficient Government inspectors. I wonder whether the cure for the inspection of the mines lies along the lines of more Government inspectors. When Labour was in office we thought that we had solved the question by appointing more Government inspectors, and yet, in spite of that, explosions and accidents have continued to occur. What is the policy of the Mines Department in regard to mines inspection? There are three systems of mines inspection in this country. There are the Government inspectors, and I do not say a word against 2817 Government inspectors, as I believe they do their best. There are at some collieries a system of workmen's inspectors, and there is another system in operation at some collieries where the collieries have united to form a committee or board and pay a man to act as workmen's inspector. such a man goes round the group of pits as often as he can, inspecting the mines. Those are the three systems in existence in this country to-day, but the Government inspector went to France and made a report in regard to workmen's inspectors in the French coal mines. The Mines Department ought before now, as they have had this matter before them for so long, to have taken it up and dealt with it. In France they have a system that is enormously superior to the inspection in this country. They form what are called constituencies in which there is a workmen's representative and a deputy-workmen's representative. There might be more than one constituency in one group of collieries. The report says:The workmen's inspector is required by law to inspect his district throughout twice in every month. He is usually accompanied on these inspections by another workman. He must also inspect the scene of any fatal or serious accident, and the owner is required to give him immediate notice of such accidents. He also has the duty of inspecting the hours register"—and this is important—at the mine. The Government Inspector may invite the workmen's inspector to accompanying him in any of his inspections. The workmen's inspector may make supplementary inspections in any part of his constituency where he has reason to believe that the safety or health of the workmen are in any way jeopardised. The owner must at all times give the workmen's inspector facilities for descending and inspecting the mine.Workmen's inspectors are paid monthly by the Civil Authorities, who collect the money (in practice in advance annually) from the colliery owners. The law lays down an elaborate system of calculation of their payment.There is the system of inspection. One of the difficulties that face our collieries today is the payment of the men who act as workmen's inspectors. Many of our smaller collieries cannot have workmen's inspectors because they cannot afford to pay them. Here we have a lesson from France where they have not the number of explosions and accidents that we experience.
§ Mr. Batey
The report is published as Command Paper 5566. The hon. Member should read it. He will find that it is no use suggesting that our collieries are worse to work than those in France. He will learn from this report that the collieries in France are worse than ours. An hon. Friend has asked me to read the following, which appears on page 9 of the report, in which the Government inspector says:Whilst not in a position to make a full comparison between mines in France and Great Britain as regards either the liability to gas, or the standards of ventilation in practice as judged by the percentage of firedamp in the returns, I am satisfiedThat is an important matter. I believe that because of the huge number, both of fatal and non-fatal accidents, something needs to be done with regard to inspection. What seems to be in the mind of the Secretary for Mines is to increase the number of inspectors, but in my opinion the better way is to make it possible for every colliery to have its workmen's inspector, and the owners should pay the workmen's inspector.
- (a) that there are mines in France where the liability to gas is high—as high as at some of the more gassy mines in this country; and
- (b) that while at the large majority of the mines in Great Britain the ventilation is up to, or better than, a 1 per cent. return standard, at some (and not all of them with exceptionally high rates of gas emission) it is not."
There is another matter upon which I consider the Ministry of Mines, in their administration, have completely failed and, that is on the question of overtime. One remembers how the Department of Mines had an investigation into overtime in Lancashire, which was followed by an investigation into overtime in Scotland. When they made investigations in Scotland it seems that they were so disgusted with the huge amount of overtime there 2819 that they made no more investigations. Scotland settled them. Overtime was so bad in Scotland that they never dared to go any further with the question. Since the present Minister has been at the Mines Department he has done nothing to reduce overtime. The investigation took place before he went to the Department, and since then he has done nothing. I was amazed to read in a northern newspaper last Friday that the Secretary of the Northumberland Miners' Association said to the miners' conference:After securing lists of overtime worked we had meetings with the inspectors of the Northumberland area and placed the facts before them. I was able to secure information that in order that the men might continue to work beyond the statutory hours, the management of one pit sent in beer and pies. I was still unable to get a prosecution.The overtime that is worked in pits like that ought to command the attention of the Secretary for Mines and the Mines Department. So far, Government inspectors have steadfastly refused to take action where owners have been working excessive overtime. I would ask the Secretary for Mines what he is going to do about this question. If there is an urgent question that ought to receive the attention of the Department it is that of overtime.
There is a whole list of failures on the part of the Ministry of Mines, and there is one further failure with which I should like to deal. In his speech to-day the Minister dealt with the question of export coal, and I expected some statement as to what the Department propose to do in regard to the levy for export coal. It is no use concealing facts. We are told in the Press that there is a proposal for a 3d. levy on inland coal for the purpose of helping the exporting districts. We ought to know from the Secretary for Mines how far they have gone in that matter, what consideration they have given to it and what prospect there is of a levy for export coal. In the exporting districts the position is very acute. I talked with two men last Saturday who work at a big colliery in Durham, and they told me that last week they worked only two days.
The bottom has gone out of the export trade. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that the export trade in coal has fallen by a million tons or so in the first six months of this year compared with 2820 the first six months of last year. That cannot be an answer to the question. There has been a reduction in the sale of coal to France and there has also been a substantial reduction in the sale of coal to Belgium. There has been a reduction of 1,000,000 tons in the sale of coal to France, and we want to know what action the Ministry has taken to deal with the matter. He ought to say to France: "You have dropped your import of British coal by 1,000,000 tons." To Belgium he ought to say: "You have dropped your import of British coal by 250,000 tons." He ought to say to both countries: "If you possibly can we want you to purchase more coal from this country." The strange thing is that we have sold more coal in the first six months of this year compared with the first six months of last year to countries that are supposed to be enemy countries—Italy and Germany. Those countries are buying our coal, otherwise we should have been much further down than we are. The Secretary for Mines should not be content with this state of affairs.
A few weeks ago we had the Anglo-Turkish Agreement before us. We ought to know what part the Ministry of Mines has played in that Agreement. The Agreement contains this Clause:There shall be a company incorporated in England, under the Companies Act, 1929, with its principal place of business in London, for the sale in the British Empire and in foreign countries of the following commodities which are the products of Turkey, and for the disposal of the proceeds of the sale thereof in accordance with the provisions of this agreement.The said products include metals, mineral ores, concentrates and coal. Why should the Mines Department sanction the establishment of a company to sell Turkish coal in the British Empire or in any foreign country? They can do that only by displacing British coal. It means that Turkish coal will displace British coal. How the Mines Department can be so careless of the interests of the people of this country in this matter, beats me. We could not discuss that agreement, otherwise we should have taken the Committee to a Division on the stealing of markets in order that Turkish coal can displace British coal.
I want the Minister of Mines to get a move on, to be far more active than he has been and not to be satisfied to wait. The coal industry needs different treatment, something needs to he done in the 2821 interests of the men engaged in the coal trade. I want the Minister of Mines to awaken and do something. If I were head of a department which failed so completely as the Ministry of Mines is failing, I would put on my coat and walk out of the Department, even if I had to sell mechanical toys in Regent Street. The hon. and gallant Member ought not to be satisfied just to sit in his Department, with week following week and month following month and things not being made any better for the people engaged in the industry. He ought to keep clear in his mind the fact that one of his chief duties is to further the interests of the men. The coalowners can look after themselves. Someone is required to look after the men, and we have a right to expect that the Ministry of Mines will do everything possible to better the conditions of the miners.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Wragg
I do not think hon. Members opposite do themselves any justice by exaggerating the case they have to put forward. I have not been in the Committee long but during the time I have been here the argument that I have heard seems to be entirely fallacious and shows a serious lack of the knowledge of arithmetic. I am connected with the coal trade, I represent a mining constituency, and I have had the experience of being heckled by miners on many occasions. In spite of differences with them I think they generally agree that I try to give them a fair deal, although I am a producer of coal. It is no good exaggerating the case. Hon. Members opposite have said that the accident rate is increasing. That is entirely wrong. I have here the figures given by the Department of Mines—I suppose they are correct. Take the total accidents in the coal mines of this country. While the number of men killed and injured is deplorably high, we must be fair. From 1922 to 1926 the average accident rate per 100,000 man-shifts worked was 24.7, but in 1936, the latest figures available, it had dropped to 21.6 per 100,000 man-shifts worked. Admittedly it is a drop which one would like to see more marked.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Is not the accident rate for 1936 for men working in the pits 26.2, which is the highest for 10 years?
§ Mr. Wragg
The figures I have are the accidents per 100,000 man-shifts worked, which I think is a fairer basis to take than the number of men employed, and, according to this estimate, the rate from 1922 to 1926 was 24.7 and in 1936, 21.6, which shows a considerable reduction. Again, the number seriously injured in 1911 for every 1,000 persons employed—I am eliminating the fact that there are fewer people employed to-day by taking the percentage per 1,000 men employed—was 5.6, but in 1937 the rate was 4.2, admittedly not a very great drop but still a figure which shows considerable progress. If we come to the number of people killed in the pits, in 1914 1,243 miners were killed—a very large number. Mining is admittedly a dangerous trade, but I hope it will be made less dangerous as time goes on. In 1923, when incidentally I entered Parliament for the first time and the Labour party came into office for the first time, the number of fatal accidents was 1,308. Since that time, with a long period of National and Conservative administration, with all the care which has been taken to prevent accidents in mines, the figure has dropped very considerably indeed, and the number of fatal accidents in 1937 was 865.
§ Mr. Wragg
I expected that. In 1923 there were round about 1,000,000 men employed in coal mines and in 1937 about 750,000, a drop of 25 per cent. But the accident rate has dropped by nearly 30 per cent. The drop in the rate of accidents has been greater than the drop in the number of men employed. Anyone can see, on analysing the figures given by the Department, that there has been a reduction per 1,000 men employed in the number of fatal accidents and in the number of those seriously injured, and also a considerable reduction in the number of those killed and injured taken together. But that does not say that we ought to be satisfied. We are not satisfied on this side any more than are hon. Members opposite.
We are very much concerned that these accidents continue, and while it may not be right to go into the question of the Markham disaster, still it does appear, and everybody realises it, that electricity without very strict precautions 2823 is a danger in the mines. But there are mines and mines. There are some mines where you can go down and smoke quite comfortably without any fear of an accident; they are naked light pits, which are perfectly safe and have never known an explosion. They have never known and are not likely to know an explosion because they are not in the slightest sense gaseous, and you need not apply electricity regulations there so strictly as in other pits where the tendency is to be gaseous. It is a question of the district and the mine. It is quite possible that in certain districts which are gaseous restrictions will have to be put upon the use of electricity underground and more attention paid to compressed air. That almost goes without saying.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
Whilst I agree with the hon. Member in what he is saying I think he will agree that house coal pits are usually very damp and that electricity would not be a good thing to put in.
§ Mr. Wragg
The accident rate in these districts, whether from shock or explosions, is comparativelp small compared with some pits. In my colliery in Leicestershire—I will touch wood—we have had only eight fatal accidents during the last 20 years, and during that time we must have raised 500,000 tons of coal per annum. That is, we have raised 10,000,000 tons of coal and have had only eight fatal accidents. That is a safe pit. I do not say that it is because we have done anything more than other colliery owners, but it happens to be a very safe pit, and perhaps we have been lucky. But my point is that there are districts and districts, and that in some districts you would be obliged to have stricter regulations regarding electricity than in others. I come now to another point which is continually harped upon by hon. Members opposite, and that is the wages which are paid to the miners and the statement continually made that the mine-owners 2824 are doing very well and taking a lot of money out of the industry.
§ Mr. Wragg
If you compare the earnings of the miners in this year in this country with any other country in Europe you will find that the wages in any European country per man-shift are not equal to those paid in this country. I could show that in the Eldorado of Socialism and Bolshevism, Russia, according to the figures of the International Labour Office the earnings of the miners are not much more than, if as much as, the amounts received by miners who are unemployed in this country. I will give the figures for the district of Notts and Derbyshire. Naturally I speak of that district, because I represent a Derbyshire constituency. I remember that in 1935, the miners were banded together against me, demanding an increase of 2s. a shift. They voted against me because definite promises were given by the trade union and Labour people that if they came into power, there would be an immediate increase of 2s. I could not give any definite promise because, knowing that the National Government were bound to be returned, I felt that I might be called upon to implement that promise. It is easy for hon. Members opposite to promise anything, because they know that they will never be called upon to implement the promises. Knowing that I should be called upon to fulfil my promises, I said, "We will do the best we can, as the National Government always do, in the interests of the miners."
Looking at the figures, I find that in the first quarter of 1930, in Notts and Derbyshire—the same thing applies to the whole country, although perhaps not to such a great degree—for every shift worked the man got 10s. 3¾d., plus about 4d. in allowances. In 1930, the Labour party were in office; one would have supposed that the mining industry would have been made very prosperous, but wages were at a very low ebb at that time. What was the position in 1935? There was a slight increase to 10s. 5¼d. Since the present selling schemes have been in operation—
§ Mr. Wragg
The coal selling schemes are of much more importance to the 2825 miners than to the coalowners, having regard to the fact that of the proceeds from coal, 85 per cent., generally speaking, foes to the miners and 15 per cent. to the coalowners. Therefore, anything which can bring prices up to a reasonable level must redound in increased wages to the miners. That has been the case. Let it be remembered that by miners we mean not only the men who work underground, but the men who work on the surface, and the boys who are employed—in fact, all those who are employed at the pit, no matter what their age.
§ Mr. Wragg
No, although it may include the under-managers. The basis is the same whether we take 1930, 1935 or 1938. In 1930, during the period when the Labour party were in power, the wages per man-shift were 10s. 3¾d.; in 1935, they were 10s. 5¼d.; and in 1938, after a few years of beneficent National Government, the wages in my constituency per shift, for men, boys, underground or above-ground, amount to 13s. 3.54d., plus 3.9d. for other allowances, making about 13s. 7d. a shift. Therefore, one may deduce from those figures that in Notts and Derbyshire for every man of 21 or over, the average earnings are 15s. per shift. It seems rather strange that after the miners proposed to strike for an increase of 2S. a shift, they are still not satisfied when they have got an increase of 3s. a shift. The point which comes to mind is, when would they be satisfied? I do not think they would ever be satisfied. Indeed, nobody in this country ever is satisfied, and if everybody was satisfied, we should all go to sleep and do nothing.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
I am certain that the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody that the present selling schemes are due to the 1930 Act, which was really put on the Statute Book by the Labour Government. Why does not the hon. Gentleman admit that?
§ Mr. Wragg
I am prepared to admit that the formula for the preparation of the selling scheme was included in the 1930 Act, which was passed by the Labour Government, but during the period of the 2826 Labour Government, it was allowed to lie dormant. Active selling schemes have been put into operation since the National Government came into power. Hon. Members have made comparisons between the mining industry of this country and that of France. They have said that the accident rate in this country is greater than it is in France. But there can be no comparison between the mines of France and those of this country, any more than a comparison is possible between the mines in Kent and those in certain gaseous districts of the country. What the divisional inspector said in his report was that a full comparison is not possible. There are not full statistics in regard to the French mines. The divisional inspector said that some mines in France are as gaseous as the mines in England—some, but few; and he did not say how many. Anybody who knows the mines in France and the mines in England knows that the French mines are particularly safe from the point of view of accumulations of gas.
I have tried briefly to make one or two points. I rose to speak mainly because it seemed to me that the Debate was going by default. Hon. Members were making the most extreme statements with regard to the coalowners and the Government, and I wanted to point out that there are coalowners who are just an anxious as the miners to have an improvement in the conditions in the pits. I think I have shown that the accident rate and the death rate, instead of being as high as hon. Members have stated, are lower than they were, and that they are improving. I think I have shown that the miners' wages have been very considerably improved by the methods of the Government, and I feel sure that if only we have another five years of National Government, the miners will be more satisfied, although I am sure that they will never be completely satisfied.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I wish first to comment on the wonderful enthusiasm which has been displayed throughout the day by the members of the Liberal party, Apparently, although 750,000 mine workers and their wives and families are concerned in this Debate, the Liberal party are totally indifferent. One cannot say that about the Conservatives and National Liberals, because for many hours during the day there have been as many as two 2827 or three Members, and on other occasions one Member, besides the Secretary for Mines, on the benches opposite. Before dealing with the statement of the Secretary for Mines I should like to have the attention of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg), to whose figures I wish to reply. It is perfectly true that conditions in the mining industry as well as in many other industries were infinitely worse in 1933 than in 1930 and that, coinciding with the term of office of the National Government, there has been some improvement in the receipts of the industry between 1933, when we were at the bottom of the pit, and 1938. But when the hon. Member for Belper tries to persuade the Committee that all the efforts of the National Government have been designed to help the mine workers he is attempting deliberately to mislead the Committee.
He referred to the increase in the wages of the miners between 1930 and 1937, but he made no reference to the increase in the profits of the mineowners. I am not sure whether the hon. Member was referring to mines in North Derbyshire and Nottingham, or to mines in South Derbyshire, but if he was referring to North Derbyshire and Nottingham then we can see exactly what his figures mean. I think he quoted a wage of 13s. 3d. per shift for North Derbyshire and Nottingham. Is that the district to which he referred?
§ Mr. Williams
Now that it is clear that the hon. Member was referring to North Derbyshire and Nottingham we know exactly how to qualify the figures which he has given. It is true that the wages in that part of the mining area were somewhere about 10s. 7d. when we were at the bottom of the trough and that at the highest point the wages increased to 13s. 3½d. per shift. What he did not tell us was that while the wages, no doubt, had increased by about 20 per cent., profits had increased by over 50 per cent. during the same period. The hon. Member ought to tell the Committee the full story and not only a part of it. He ought not to quote the alleged improvement in the miners wages without referring also to the improvement in the 2828 profits in that and other areas. I do not know exactly what the profits of the colliery companies in North Derbyshire and Nottingham were in 1930, but I do know that for every ton of coal produced in that area—and for every shift worked by man or boy, above or below ground, the average output is nearly one and a half tons—the coalowner received 2s. 7.82d. or nearly 2s. 8d. per ton profit. For every shift worked, above or below ground, by man or boy, the coalowners drew out of that man or boy in profit, about 3s. 10d. per shift and that is not too bad from the coalowners point of view. When the hon. Member again expresses sympathy with the mineworkers and talks about what the National Government have done to help them, I hope he will not forget to tell the whole truth and state exactly what profit the mineowners have made.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The hon. Member for Belper is entirely wrong. He did not tell the Committee the whole truth, because he never referred to the profits of the mineowners, and I am quite justified in referring to the omission which he deliberately made.
§ Mr. Fleming
On a point of Order. If an hon. Member accuses another hon. Member of deliberately misleading the Committee, is it not a matter of procedure that the accused Member should be given the opportunity of explaining his statement?
§ Mr. T. Williams
If the hon. Member for Belper wants to fill in the breach which he left, I shall be glad to give way to him.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member must know, that is a terminological inexactitude. Further, in reference to the hon. Member's statement about wages, I have a pay sheet here of a colliery in Yorkshire which shows that during the last month seven coal-face men, four of them ex-service men, who were at work on all the days that the pit was open, received, for the lot, £11 15s. or an average of 33s. 6d. per person. One of these men has a wife and seven children all under 14. He was working in the mine in 1926 and had to receive an allowance from the Poor Law guardians during a period when he was unable to work. He still has deductions made from his wages in respect of that loan and a shilling was deducted from his 33s. 6d., in repayment of the loan secured from the guardians in 1926. I have other pay sheets of very recent origin the authenticity of which even the hon. Member for Belper cannot deny, in spite of his comprehensive knowledge of the mining industry.
§ Mr. Williams
Here are three pay dockets for one person for the three weeks ended 9th July, 16th July, and 23rd July, respectively.
§ Mr. Williams
He worked every day that the colliery company permitted him to work. I will tell the hon. Member the number of days and the money too. In the week ended on 9th July the colliery company in their generosity allowed him to work 1⅙ days. In the week ended 16th July they allowed him to work 2 1/3 days.
§ Mr. Williams
In the week ended 23rd July the colliery company, again very generously, allowed him to work 2 1/3 days.
§ Mr. Williams
Here is the case of an ex-service man with a wife and three children, and these are the figures. Of course 2830 the hon. Member for Belper does not want to listen to anybody else. He has only been here about half an hour and he has made a speech in which there is a very serious omission, and then he does not want to listen to others, but he will have to listen to this. Here is the case of a miner who worked on every day that the pit was open and, after deductions, he drew on 9th July from the colliery company 2s. 1d., with which to maintain a wife and three children; on 16th July he went to the colliery office and picked up 4s. 6d., and on 23rd July he went to the colliery office and picked up 13s. 5d.; in other words, for three weeks from the colliery office he received £1 to maintain himself, his wife, and three children, and that is what the mining industry has done for lots of miners in various parts of the coal-mining areas of the country. [Interruption.] The hon. Member can snort as much as he likes, but he cannot get away from these facts, and why any miner in the Belper Division should cast a vote in his direction, no one knows.
§ Mr. Wragg
I will state that your statement is entirely untrue, or at any rate not the whole truth. You have given certain figures of the earnings of a miner on the days when the colliery was open, and you have shown that the colliery was open during one week for 1⅙ days, but you have not actually stated that the man drew any unemployment pay, and you have led the Committee to believe that the man had to keep his wife and children on 2s. 1d. a week.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member has not got a better retort than that, he had better sit still. I said that the man worked 2⅓ days in one week, and the hon. Member asks the Committee to believe that I said he worked only one day. I will now give the hon. Member an opportunity to cool down. Last year the Secretary for Mines was very delighted with the opportunity presented to him to speak on this Vote, but this year he has not been at all so happy, for two very obvious reasons. Twenty-two Parliamentary days are more than any Minister 2831 can bear and my sympathy goes out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for having to sit here a twenty-third day. But there was another reason why he did not welcome this further day for the mining industry. Last year I remember that his speech was one long record of progress. Not only had output increased, but the export trade had increased, wages had increased, and the tendency was generally upwards. Today, however, I can understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman's dismay, for what he had to tell us was one long chapter of travail—output down, exports down, more fatal accidents, more minor accidents, and more young persons killed or injured.
In fact, the hon. and gallant Gentleman created an atmosphere of almost utter despair throughout the Committee, and in apologetic tones he told us that his Department was merely administrative and advisory and that in fact it did not run the industry. It may be true that the Department does not run the industry, but it has a tremendous responsibility for three-quarters of a million men engaged in the industry and for their wives and families. I do not know how many times the Mines Department Vote has been called for in the last 16 years. I must have heard all of those Debates, and it has always been the same old story, with very few redeeming features in it. Unfortunately, nothing of a serious nature has ever happened after the Vote has been taken, and we have had one long lamentation. To-day we have had the same lamentable toll of deaths, more fatal accidents, despite the hon. Member for Belper, more serious accidents, more minor accidents, and the tragedy of those under 16 years of age is the biggest tragedy of all.
The hon. Member for Belper did not hear what the Secretary for Mines tried to tell the Committee, so that if he will listen for a moment, I will tell him what it was. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that in 1936 there were 790 fatal accidents and in 1937 859 fatal accidents, and that, on the basis of the first 28 weeks of this year, the fatal accidents looked like reaching 1,000, so that instead of the fatal accidents diminishing, they are actually increasing, from 1936 to 1938, under the guidance of the National Government. Those are the facts, given to the Committee by the Secretary for Mines, and 2832 if the hon. Member for Belper will read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning, perhaps the next time that he speaks on coal mines and accidents he will get nearer the truth.
§ Mr. Williams
With regard to accidents on haulage roads, a very authentic report states that from 1873 the number of such accidents has scarcely diminished at all; that is to say, that for 70 years, despite scientific research, despite all the supposed good will on the part of the coal-owners and the rest, there has been little or no diminution in the number of accirents on our haulage roads. What is the explanation? Every hon. Member on these benches who has had personal, practical experience in the mines knows that accidents on haulage roads are largely due to either narrow roads, faulty timbering, or inconvenient haulage roads. In other words, the simple explanation is that these accidents have not diminished because of the cost that would be involved in diminishing them. It may be that the hon. and gallant Member cannot legislate the industry into safety, but at least he has the power, if it is a question of narrow roads, if it is bad timbering, or if it is inconvenient haulage roads, to produce improved regulations that will widen out the roads and give the boys who are meeting with death so frequently better opportunities to do their job in safety.
The same remark almost applies to falls of roof, which unfortunately take place very largely at the coal face. Again, any practical miner could tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman the real cause of these accidents. It is cheap timbering at the face, plus the incidence of so many machines and props. It is a long time since I worked down a coal mine, but I can well remember that we had not only serious debates with the owners, but stoppages of the mine, when the miners for their own safety wanted to set bars along the coal face and the colliery company insisted upon the colliers setting only props, for which they had not to pay; in other words, falls of roof at the coal face are largely due to cheap timbering, or again, reduced to its lowest financial common denominator, it is a question of cost.
To-day there are just as many explosions as there were 30 years ago, and 2833 while it is true to say that stone dust has had some effect in avoiding the spread of some explosions, the fact is that the same number of explosions are taking place in 1938 as took place in 1908. All hon. Members who have had experience in mines and those who have listened to mining Debates must know that there can be no explosion unless two factors are present at the same time. There must be 5½ per cent. of gas, and if there is 5½ per cent. of gas, every miner ought to be on his way to the pit bottom; and there must not only be 5½ per cent. of gas, but there must also be a light or a spark. If there is 5½ per cent, of gas there is something seriously wrong with the ventilation. There must be some very bad airways or there has been failure on the part of those responsible to direct ventilation where it ought to go. In other words, again reduced to its lowest common denominator, despite the scientific shortcomings of this industry, it is a question of cost again, because if the airways were the size they ought to be, and the volume of ventilation was what it ought to be, and the doors and the other things that direct ventilation were as good as they ought to be, there would be few or no accumulations of gas, the 5½ per cent. would not be there, and there would not be so many explosions.
It is true stone dust over a period of time has had some value. We are all very willing to recognise that, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that we have had Whitehaven, we have had Wharncliffe Woodmoor, and we have had Duckmanton, at a cost of approximately 200 human lives, and the old theory of stone dust, unless it is the right kind of stone dust seems to be in some doubt. There is grave apprehension in the minds of many miners to-day as to whether the stone dust regulations ought not to be completely revised, or at least whether there ought not to be further investigation with a view to the revision of those regulations. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) raised the question of limestone scattered over the roadways solidifying and being of no practical value for the purpose of minimising the explosions. We want the hon. and gallant Gnetleman to take advantage of these three grave misfortuntes to have that question of stone dust investigated at the earliest possible moment.
2834 Then I want to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman what the Mines Department intends to do about automatic gas detectors. There has been a report issued for several months. The members of the committee investigated the whole problem, they went down mine after mine, and I am convinced that they did not make this report until they had made a very thorough investigation of the whole subject. I do not intend to quote the report. It is sufficient for me to say that the majority report recommends that a compulsory order ought to be made for the use of automatic gas detectors in mines in certain proportions in mines, especially where electricity is used. I know the hon. and gallant Gentleman is in some doubt at the moment, and fully appreciate his hesitancy in making a statement. But this particular automatic gas detector, which was approved by the Mines Department in 1927 as being fit for use in mines, has been improved out of all recognition during the past 11 years. Now that the majority recommendation signed by His Majesty's Chief Inspector has been made in favour of a compulsory order for the use of gas detectors, I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to tell the Committee just what he going to do about it. I do not suggest that any one specific will avoid all explosions in mines, but if the use of automatic gas detectors would reduce explosions by 10, by 50 per cent., by any percentage, then surely that machine ought to be used at the earliest possible moment.
Some reference has been made to His Majesty's Inspectors and workmen's inspections. I want to say only this. I have no doubt that the inspectors do their best in the time at their disposal, but unless and until more workmen's inspections take place, the mines will never be as safe as they really ought to be. And since the number of inspections made by the workpeople is at a minimum because of sheer poverty, I think it is the duty of the Government by one means or another to find a way so that all miners' branches which want to have inspections may have them without further robbing their wives and families.
Then I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will take note of this. In the past I have sent to his Department cases where a deputy, doing his duty and reporting the presence of gas when gas was a danger to the mine workers, has been 2835 dismissed by the colliery company. When such a case is sent to the Mines Department they have no power. It is true they invite an inspector for that area to make an investigation at a colliery, but the moment the colliery deputy dares to report either a shortage of timber or the presence of gas, and he happens to be dismissed, his name is circulated round every colliery in the county in which he works, and he is victimised for all time and loses all that he has striven for. A colliery deputy has no trade union. He would be sacked if he dared to join a trade union. He has got no appeal court. He has not a chance in life. He dare not do justice to himself or to his qualifications or to the mine workers. Is it not time now, when a deputy is dismissed for having done his duty at the mines, that the Government saw to it that some opportunity is given to that man to put his case before an impartial tribunal? The colliery company if it is found to be at fault should be compelled to pay that deputy full compensation, because he had only been doing his duty.
With regard to the scientific research work of the Mines Department, that is all to the good. We welcome their suggestion for international co-operation for safety purposes, and we would invite them to go further. Instead of our trying to compete with other countries, we would welcome a move on the part of this Government to go to Geneva not only to co-operate for the purposes of safety, but to co-operate for the purpose of all-round reduction in miners' hours, since so many miners in all countries have been dismissed because our capacity for output is infinitely larger than our capacity for consumption.
I have only one final word to say, and that is with regard to the Royal Commission. We know that the Commission undertook a very big job two and a half years since. We have waited a long time for their report. Daily, monthly, annually the death roll goes on. I do not believe that the Minister is entirely powerless. I think he could inspire the Commission to expedite their report, and I hope that he will inspire them. We have one vesting date to look forward to in 1942. We do not want a second vesting date in the shape of the result of the Government examination of the report of the Royal Commission, and I hope we are not going 2836 to have to wait for Government action. 1942 is not early enough. If that report is forthcoming this autumn, as my hon. Friend suggested, the Government ought to take action as quickly as they possibly can, in 1938 or 1939. Human life in the mining industry has been regarded too cheaply for far too long, and we want to reduce this appalling slaughter, and we call upon the hon. and gallant Gentleman to invite the Commission to expedite their report, and for his part to get the Government to expedite what action they are going to take upon it.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am afraid that as unfortunately this Debate has to end, not at Eleven but at Ten oclock, there is no hope of my answering all the questions which have been put, but I will guarantee to hon. Members that I and my staff will look carefully at all that they have said, and if there is anything that calls for a reply they can take it from me that an answer will be sent. We welcome very much this Debate, because when the Debate is carried on as it has been today on a more or less geographical basis, it provides a general review of what hon. Members who are specially interested in this subject are thinking. It is clear that each district has not exactly the same problems and that those who speak with full knowledge of their own districts are not necessarily in a position to make the same sort of statements about other districts. I assure hon. Members that all the points will be carefully looked into. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell) has not been able to take part in this Debate through illness, because one generally expects to have a speech from one's predecessor on the other side of the House. I hope that he will soon be well again.
We have had a most interesting discussion on what is one of the most anxious problems with which any Minister has to deal. I do not mind the uncomplimentary references which hon. Members opposite have made about me in this connection, because, whatever they may think, neither I nor anyone connected with the Mines Department is in the least complacent about the problems of safety, accidents or health. I am sure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) did not quite mean all that he said. The hon. Member who opened 2837 the Debate gave us a wide review of his opinions on a number of subjects, and I must say that when during the Debate speech after speech has been directed at me to see whether I could use my influence to get the Royal Commission to hurry with their report, I wondered whether hon. Members had already pressed in vain the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), or had omitted to remember that there are two members of the Royal Commission in the hon. Member and Mr. E. Edwards who are closely connected with them personally. I have no doubt—in fact the hon. Member for Gower said so—that the Commissioners are anxious as soon as possible to conclude their drafting and present their report. There is no doubt about that because anybody who has worked hard for two and a half years or more on any subject probably looks with hope to its conclusion, and I am certain there will be no avoidable delay in this matter.
§ Mr. Batey rose—
§ Captain Crookshank
I know what the hon. Member is going to ask me, namely, what I am going to do when I get the report? My answer must be that that is a hypothetical question. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) asked about deep mines in Lancashire and took some exception to the fact that no particular reference was made to this subject in the divisional inspector's report. I am sure that the hon. Member will be the first to realise that divisional inspectors report to me and to the chief inspector a great many things which are not necessarily found in their reports. It is certainly the case, however, that these deep mines in Lancashire have been receiving constant attention. The last time I was in Manchester I had some conversations on the subject with various people, and the situation is being watched very carefully, but at the moment there does not appear to be any new matter to be investigated. If the hon. Member has some new point which has not been under consideration before, it might be another matter.
We have had a good many questions about overtime and the hon. Member for Spennymoor alleged that I took no interest in this matter at all. I have considered it very carefully on many occasions and answered many questions in the House on the subject. It is true 2838 that we have not recently had formal district investigations as was done in the past, but, on the other hand, there is an inspector who devotes the whole of his time to investigating questions of overtime. He does not make reports on any particular districts, but he visits collieries and if he finds anything wrong he takes up the matter or reports to me accordingly. I should be glad to receive any specific cases which hon. Members like to put to me to investigate, but it does not carry us very far to have general statements. In my opening speech I mentioned a letter which I received only last week on the subject of pit ponies, in which the writer said he could produce thousands of cases. One wants to know where the cases are; and similarly, in this instance, any general statement about overtime does not carry us very far. Hon. Gentlemen know as well as I do that there is permission in certain cases under the emergency provision which is always causing them anxiety. They also know that there have been in prosecutions in the past dealing with this point many interpretations of it by the courts. I am not responsible for what the courts may say in interpreting the law, but one has to be guided by that when one is considering the question of prosecutions.
§ Captain Crookshank
That is quite right, but that is part of what I meant when I said that the last few years had seen in mining a great technical revolution which had brought many new problems. The question of repairing machinery as an emergency and so on is bound up with that problem, which is one of the most important which the Commission have to consider. Altering the law is impracticable at the moment, but I am only too anxious to go into any particular cases. I am the last person in the world who wants to see illegal overtime, having done a lot of it myself this Session.
The other point raised by the hon. Member was in regard to water difficulties in Lancashire, and he said he hoped it would be closely watched. It is being closely watched from the point of view of safety. I replied to his hon. Friend sitting next to him to that effect the other day, when I said that inspectors were watching these particular pits very carefully. He will recognise, however, that 2839 my only interest in that matter is one of safety. The problem which he raised as to the possibility of millions of tons of coal being wasted has nothing to do with me as a problem of safety and health. It is the economic question and quite a different one. I can assure the hon. Member that from the point of view of safety the problem which he raised is being carefully watched.
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
Will the Minister be able to call together the coalowners who are affected to consider a central pumping station?
§ Captain Crookshank
I have no power to make any body come to a conference. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) asked a lot of questions which should be dealt with by other Departments, and I need not go into what is going on behind the scenes about which she showed such curiosity. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) was the first of several Members to ask what I had meant about the difficulty of getting junior inspectors. What I said was that I had wanted to appoint 16 additional junior inspectors, but that only 10 posts had been filled because the number of applications had been disappointingly small. Only 13 candidates have been nominated by the selection committee to sit for the examination. I am not surprised that that amazed hon. Members opposite, because it does seem remarkable. In reply to the actual questions I was asked, the salary of a junior inspector is £450, rising by increments of £25 to £650, with, of course, the possibility of promotion to a higher rank. The age limits for applicants are 27 to 35, and the qualifications that they should have a first-class certificate, two years' good experience as manager or under-manager or in a really responsible capacity. I do not think that is asking too little for those who have to undertake this important work.
§ Captain Crookshank
I think it is generally understood. It is not a limiting factor but a widening factor, and in spite of that we have had this difficulty in getting applicants. Something over 70 applications were received and they were 2840 scrutinised by the selection committee. The selection committee is a sub-committee of the Board of Mining Examinations, and it consists of representatives of my Department, of the mineowners, a professor of mining and a representative of the mineworkers, who at the present moment is Mr. Lawther and in his absence Mr. Oliver Harris acts. That sub-committee interviews all the applicants who might be suitable, and they nominated only 13 for the examination. I admit that I do not think we can leave things there. The matter may have to be considered further by the selection committee and by myself. The examination is held by the Civil Service Commission. The subjects are English, Science—that is geology, or physics or chemistry—coalmining, electricity in mines, the law relating to mines and quarries, stone ore and mining. In the case of examination for sub-inspectors the experiment is being tried of omitting the written examination and doing rather more on a selection basis.
§ Mr. Bevan
What does that phrase mean about having had experience in a really responsible capacity? [Interruption.] Very well, if you do not want to answer we can carry on the Debate. Do not be impatient. In what way is that phrase interpreted? Must he have been a member of the staff of a colliery?
§ Captain Crookshank
I am not impatient with the hon. Member, but the "guillotine" falls at 10 o'clock. He has not taken part in the Debate, and many questions have been asked by hon. Members who, I feel, want answers to them. Actually I do not know the particular definition of "a really responsible capacity." I do not know how it is interpreted without asking the committee, and the hon. Member can ask that of the representative of the mineworkers as well as I can. The selection committee may say of a man "He has really had a responsible position" and in another case they might not feel that his position did fall within the definition. They may very well not have a strict list of the qualifications.
The next point was raised by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. A. Hills) and it has run right through the Debate, and that is the question of explosions. He and the hon. Member who spoke last said that very serious thought must now be 2841 given to the question of stone dusting. I can assure him that very serious thought was given to it long before this last fatality. It was in my mind and in the minds of my advisers long before that. It arose soon after the Gresford case and we have been considering it in very way. Obviously one cannot say anything about the Markham explosion until one has had the report. One cannot even make a guess at this stage, but I think from all that has appeared in the Press that one might say that certain doubts have arisen about the stone dusting having been effective, and as soon as that report is received if it is not possible to do something forthwith hon. Members can still rest assured that it will receive the most earnest attention, because that was a most disastrous explosion, and it is the doubts which have arisen out of it which are the source of our greatest anxiety at the moment.
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked when the report upon the investigations into silicosis was likely to be produced. I am not able to give a reply to that, and of course he will know that in medical and clinical research of that kind a good deal of investigation has to take place. A large number of men were inspected, and a great many things have to be analysed and a great deal of information has to be collated. That particular work is not directly under my responsibility, but I have heard my Noble Friend say at Question Time in this House that the inquiry is being pressed on and I will ask him to take note of what the hon. Member has said. He spoke of a rather technical question when referring to the views of the divisional inspector for South Wales upon packing. I think my answer would be that the divisional inspector for South Wales is convinced that the methods which he advocates are right, at any rate in his own district, but it does not necessarily follow that they are right in the opinion of other inspectors or experts in other districts; anyhow, that is the impression one would get from reading other reports.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. E. Dunn) asked about research and rather scoffed at the small amount of money appearing under subhead E in the Estimates. I congratulate him upon being the first Member to refer to the Estimates in an Estimates Debate. The explanation is that the small sum is for 2842 the actual staff at the research station, and that a great deal more is spent on research itself, which is financed by the Miners' Welfare Fund. The amount in the Estimates is £7,000 or £8,000, and the Miners' Welfare Fund finds something in the region of £60,000. He also asked whether workmen's inspectors have to give notice before making an inspection. I was rather surprised that he should ask me that, because I remember hearing him say on one occasion that he had himself been a workmen's inspector, and I should have thought he could have supplied that information. Under the Act of 1911 the management have the right at present to accompany a workmen's inspector, or to send someone else in their place, and if the management have that right it is impossible for them to exercise it unless they know when the inspection is going to take place. As far as inspectors of mines are concerned, the management have no right to accompany the inspector, and therefore it may be deemed that there is no necessity for giving notice in such cases, apart from the fact that I have already said that notice is not given. The manager may accompany the inspector as a matter of courtesy or to facilitate the inspection, but that was not the point which the hon. Member was talking about.
Then he asked whether the research station at Buxton could demonstrate how to avoid explosions. It is a little optimistic to think that we can do such things, but I believe I know what he has in mind, which is that we should try to show the public and others who go there the different devices which will minimise and prevent explosions. As a result of his question the other day, I did put this matter before the Research Board, and they are to consider it and to see whether it is possible to adopt his suggestion. The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) complained about the attitude of His Majesty's Government at the recent meeting at Geneva and complained also that I was not there. That was unavoidable, but I would only remind him of the speeches which were made and of the unanimous resolution that was reached and of the attitude of the delegates of the Miners' Federation to the resolution which was passed.
I do not want to enter into the quarrel which took place between my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) and 2843 various Members of the Opposition, except to say that they seemed in their interjections to suggest that somehow or other they were responsible and had something to do with the introduction of selling schemes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is that the statutory authority which enabled amendments to the various schemes to be made was found in the Act of 1930 but that the first time that any district asked for such amendment to take place as would enable a district selling scheme to be set up was the case of Lancashire, and the order was introduced in the House by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Labour. It is true that, at a very vague remove, statutory authority was inserted in the Act of 1930, but nothing which was done by the Government of that day had anything to do with the introduction of selling schemes.
A good deal has been said about workmen's inspections, and I am at one with the desire that they should be made more often, because they are a very valuable check. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) asked what was to happen about the Foot Committee. There
§ was a majority report, but there was a unanimous report about various other matters. The position to-day is that the existing Regulations have been extended until March of next year, as a result of arbitration. It would have been impossible for me to give any decision on the majority report of the Committee—for whose work I should like to express public appreciation—in view of the fact that just at the moment when it was under consideration there was the disaster at Markham Colliery. There might not have been any connection between the Ringrose detector and the explosion except that that was one of the collieries which had made extensive use of that device. We must therefore await the result of the inquiry into the Markham disaster. I hear the Clock. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Don Valley has found that we have had 16 long and dreary Debates on the Mines Estimates, but he ought to remember that his Government were responsible at least for two of the 16.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £143,704, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 140; Noes, 270.2847
§ It being after Ten of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No, 14, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration.
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put severally the Questions, that the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including a Supplementary Estimate, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Revenue Departments, the Navy, including a Supplementary Estimate, Army, and Air, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates.