§ "That a sum, not exceeding,£191,580,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for the following Civil and [Revenue Departments (including Air-Raid Precautionary Services, Education and Broadcasting, Pensions, Insurance, Roads and other Grants, and Exchequer Contributions to Local Revenues) for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, namely:"
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
I beg to move, to leave out "£191,580,000," and to insert ";£191,579,900."
Before I address the House on this occasion I would refer to the absence of the Secretary for Mines. We are informed that he has been indisposed for the last few days. We would much prefer that he were present because of the very great interest he has shown and retained in the problem of safety in mines. I am glad to be able to pay a tribute to the work of the Department of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in regard to this very important matter, which has also on numerous occasions for more than 100 years received the attention of the House of Commons. It is one of the chief mining problems and has frequently been discussed here in moments of tragic anxiety and of national grief and distress. The House has always lent a sympathetic ear to those who have spoken from one side or the other and called attention to the conditions under which our largest industry is still carried on from day to day.
This is the industry upon which the foundations of our industrial structure have been built, and it has made the largest contribution to our industrial prosperity. Men go out of the range of ordinary environment and pass down into the bowels of the earth, remaining there sometimes for the whole of their working days in isolation, darkness, danger and 1138 hardship. On occasions this House has had to try to deal with the problem which those conditions represent, not only when the simple issue of safety but in its wider aspects of hygiene and social welfare. To-day I call attention to the problem of safety, and before I begin I would say a word or two about the Commission on Safety in Mines of which I was a member. That Commission has been occupied for three years in close and minute attention to the causes of danger and the problem of safety. I should not be doing a service to the House if I imagined that all the history of the industry began with the Commission which reported a few weeks ago. This industry has undergone a course of development, with rapid expansion and many changes in conditions, which alter from year to year. The industry has been built up under those conditions to achieve the purpose which it has served.
Perhaps the first point I should make is that this industry has been built up in private ownership, I take no exception to that at this moment, except to point out that, owing to the multiplicity of owners and the private ownership of the minerals, and because of the competition and the wastefulness of independent effort, the industry has been unable to attain the high standard which we believe would be possible under a system better organised. Competition has always been built upon low wages and bad conditions for the men employed in the industry. To our shame and our responsibility it must be noted that the industry has been built upon the subnormal existence of the men employed in it. Never has the industry allowed full decency and self-respect to the men who have been bound to it from day to day. The miner has been regarded as some kind of patient and tolerant being who would endure uncomplainingly all the hardship and danger.
The high standards that we would like to see established have been so long delayed that there has been an idea that conditions of safety were unobtainable and were incompatible with economy. That is the greatest error of all. There is no incompatibility between safety and efficiency. On the contrary, it can be demonstrated by hon. Members on both sides of the House from their own experience that an essential of efficiency is a sound system of safety and considera- 1139 tion for the health of the men employed. That has not been the general attitude in the mining industry because, in their desire to emerge successfully from competition with their fellows, the mine-owners have endeavoured to work at low capital cost. They have cut down working expenses to the very lowest measure and have sacrificed essential conditions of safety and health in the hope of profit and gain. One is not making any allegations against individuals, but one is speaking of the system as it is, and one speaks the truth of the industry as one has found it. It is well to know that we are passing away from those ideas when we believed that economy and efficiency ran counter to each other. If one wants to get results from a pit they can be got only by close attention to the safety and health of the men employed. I am not appealing to an unsympathetic House when I appeal to-day for the proposals contained in this volume which has been presented to the House, and which. I feel sure, has proved of great interest to Members in all quarters of the House.
Safety is mainly a question of good management. Parliament has intervened in this matter, and has played its part in improving the conditions of management, without, in the first place, knowing that such improvements were essential to safety. Acts of Parliament were passed in 1842, 1850, 1867, 1872, 1887 and 1896. There has hardly been a decade when Parliament has not been giving attention to this problem and passing legislation to improve the standard. That was not because the employers in the mining industry have ever asked for legislation of this kind. I say in the presence of coal-owners that never have the coalowners asked for safety legislation. They have relied upon their own power and authority. Some coalowners have endeavoured to raise the standard of safety because they were, first of all, good business men, and because they were also anxious to remove the stain that has too frequently darkened the pages of the history of coal mining. But, in spite of all the efforts of good employers, it has never been found possible to raise the general standard without the intervention of this House.
This House can claim to have played its part in the measures that have been 1140 taken to place a special responsibility in this respect upon the owners and managers of coal mines. Although at common law the owner has always been responsible for the proper treatment of his servants, Parliament has had to place special obligations on the owners of coal mines, because of the scandalous neglect of the safety of the men employed. Special responsibilities have been placed upon the owners, requiring them to employ competent persons to manage and supervise all operations. Indeed, the lay-out and equipment of mines has been for generations subject to a general scheme of organisation laid down by law. The safety of each mine has become in this way the concern of the owners, the workers and the State. But, despite this universal condition of the ownership and operation of coal mining, conditions have never been absolutely uniform at anytime. The main deterrent of uniformity lies in the fact that the natural conditions vary from pit to pit. Differences in thickness of seam, in the nature of the overlying strata, in the inclination, the quantity of gas given off, the temperature, the presence or absence of water—all these things play a very important part in the mining operations of this country at any time and at all times, and, because of these wide variations in natural conditions, it has never been found possible to attain absolute uniformity in the matter of safety.
This industry varies more than any other. No two mines are alike. In olden times we were fortunate in having very rich coal seams exposed on the surface in our mining valleys in South Wales, and valuable seams came out to the light of day. They could be entered cheaply and easily by level galleries or shallow drifts. The mines were self-draining and self-ventilating, and very cheap production was possible. All that has changed on the exhaustion of those measures. Now we have mines which are very deep and mines which are of average depth. One of the problems with which we have to deal is due to the fact that the depth of mining is increasing. Some of our coalfields have no outcrop coal. No coal has ever been discovered near the surface in Kent, and in the South and East Yorkshire coal area the coals all lie at a great depth. The depth of mining in these districts is one of the problems to which we must give attention, and the report gives 1141 it great prominence. In addition to the disappearance of the very shallow mine, the small mines tend to disappear.
Twenty years ago there were in this country over 3,000 coal mines. Now we have about 2,000; 1,000 mines have closed down in the last 20 years. The great majority of the mines so closed are mines employing between 100 and 1,000 people. It will perhaps be news to the House that one-half of the mines of to-day are mines employing fewer than 30 persons each. Very small mines indeed are to be found in the great majority of the British coal areas. One thousand mines employ fewer than 30 persons each at the present time. The great majority of the mine workers are employed in the 1,000 large mines. The number of men employed in those large mines is 750,000, and nearly 200 of them employ over 1,000 people each. The smaller mines appear in this report, and they have appeared in every Act of Parliament since the very beginning of safety legislation. They are exempt from the detailed requirements of the Act of Parliament, but they have to comply with the main provisions, and we shall call attention to some of these in the Debate to-day. The number of men in the mining industry has been reduced to an extent corresponding to the reduction in the number of pits in production. One-third of the pits that were in production 20 years ago have been closed down, and more than one-third of the men have been withdrawn in the same same period. While we used to require 1,250,000 men to produce the nation's coal 20 years ago, to-day, after the withdrawal of 450,000 men, 750,000 men produce all the coal that we require. Tables 1 and 2 in the report show the number of men employed and the output, and it is an astounding fact that, while 450,000 men have been withdrawn from the industry in this period of change and depression, the output has been maintained, and even stands at a higher figure than was the case 20 years ago. That is due largely to improved organisation, to the closing of a number of inefficient mines; but mainly it is due to the extension of the use of mechanical power. There has been an enormous increase in the use of machinery in the mining industry. In spite of the dismantlement of the machinery and plant in the 1,000 pits which have been closed, there has been an aggregate increase of 2,500,000 1142 horse-power in the volume of mechanical power used in the mines of this country. The mechanical energy employed per head has increased by 100 per cent. in the same 20 years. These changes have led to a general speeding up, and to widely altered conditions of work for all the men employed. It is necessary to observe that, while there has been a very considerable increase in the efficiency of production, and while mechanisation has enabled a far smaller number of men to produce a higher output, no satisfaction is to be found when we examine the casualty list in this period. There has been no improvement there; in fact, an increase is shown in the death and disablement rates from accidents in this period.
Apart from the heavy loss of life from recurring explosions, other accidents are maintained at a high figure and have shown a steady tendency to increase. The House has been made acquainted from time to time with disasters. I will name one—the terrible disaster at Gresford, which shocked the House and brought Members of all parties, even those living in areas remote from the coalfields, face to face with the stark realities of the conditions in the industry. We also have an enormous number of smaller casualties reported, but not with the same staggering effect as the disaster at Gresford, where in September, 1934, in these days of great mechanical attainments, when science plays a much larger part in every industry, 266 men lost their lives. Only 11 bodies have been recovered and the bodies of 255 men still lie where they fell when unable to escape from the scene of the explosion.
I feel compelled to express a personal view here. I was present at the inquiry at Gresford. I was present also at an inquiry a few months ago at Markham Colliery. As to these two inquiries I offer a personal view. It is that far too much ingenuity is available after explosions and that far too little attempt is made to provide safeguards before explosions take place. I advise hon. Members to read the report of the inquiry relating to the Markham pit disaster, where evidence was given that would not stand the test of the simplest mind in this country. When testimony was being given by skilled witnesses, I have seen demonstrations before a public court, demonstrations carried on for 15 or 20 1143 minutes, that would not satisfy the simplest child. I speak in the presence of Members of the Government when I say that unless we can get more satisfaction at inquiries into the causes of these explosions, and if people concerned can" get away with it as they did in these two particular cases, I fear that our discussions in this House may be in vain. I offer those remarks because I feel very strongly on the subject. I think it is our duty inside and outside this House, when we are called upon to face our responsibilities, to face them, and not endeavour to confuse the public mind by evading the issues that are raised.
The report of the Royal Commission which is before us has endeavoured to examine the question dispassionately. The Commission was appointed because of events in the mining industry. It was appointed in December, 1935, to inquire:Whether the safety and health of mine workers can be better ensured by extending or modifying the principles or general provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, or the arrangements for its administration, having regard to the changes that have taken place in organisation, methods of work, and equipment since it became law, and the experience gained; and to make recommendations.Hon. Members will find an account of the proceedings in this volume. I shared to a modest extent the labours of the Commission and I signed the recommendations, which were unanimously approved. The Commission, under the guidance of Lord Rockley, took the greatest care in collecting, examining, and relating all available facts and opinions on various aspects of the problem of safety in mines. The conclusions of the Commission represent much labour and thought. Hon. Members will permit me to offer a word or two of appreciation of the patient and single-minded services of my colleagues, without exception. I am happy, after three years' study, to identify myself with them in this comprehensive document.
The report is divided into 12 parts. The first two give the background of the subject. Hon. Members will find tables which refer to accident rates in the period 1913 to 1922, and the period following. They confirm the facts to which I have already referred. Chapter 3 deals with the administration of the law, the functions of the Mines Department, the powers and authority of the Mines Department 1144 to prosecute offenders against the law and to impose the necessary discipline in the management of the mines. On this point reference is made in the report over and over again to the need for co-operation on the part of all in ensuring safety for those who work in the mines and gain their livelihood there. This is not a question which concerns this House alone; it is not a matter for periodical discussion here. It is a subject which requires close and vigilant attention day by day by all the capable officials who work in the Department, serving both the State and the industry. It is a problem which concerns the capabilities and the loyalty of those who serve in administrative capacities in the mines. It is a problem which cannot be solved without the co-operation of the worker too. All these people are vitally interested, and a high standard of immunity from accidents cannot be achieved without the co-operation of all parties concerned.
Chapter 4 deals with the statutory responsibilities of owners, agents and managers, and the qualifications of managers. It is a subject of very great interest and we discussed it at great length. It is a subject of inquiry as to whether the industry can produce a sufficient number of men with the technical qualifications and the character necessary to maintain these particular responsibilities. I have held the view that it is possible to produce a steady number of applicants who have initiative and willingness to carry responsibility, coupled with a capacity to acquire technical knowledge. From my own experience I am convinced that in the industry there never should be any dearth of suitable men for management of the industry. At the present time the men holding positions of heaviest responsibility in the industry are in the main men who have begun at the very foot of the ladder in the lowest positions in the mines. They have paid attention industriously to their duties and have studied technical subjects, and have become leaders, and to-day they hold very worthy and dignified positions in the industry.
The Commission's report calls attention to the need for the training and selection of men suitable for such posts. It deals with the qualifications of the managers, under-managers and over men, and it does something which has not been suggested before. It suggests 1145 that because of the increased mechanisation, electrical and mechanical engineers shall require to hold certificates of competency. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who has raised this matter over and over again, will be pleased to know that the Commission came unanimously to the conclusion that the mechanical engineer in these days needs to be a highly competent person, as he is charged with heavy responsibilities. Attention is called to the qualifications and duties of the firemen, examiners and deputies.
Chapter V deals with ventilation. All my life I have believed that ventilation is the main factor in the protection of life and limb in the mine. I have recollections of my very early days when I worked in very badly ventilated mines. Hon. Members who have not been underground cannot conceive the hardships and the difficulties of working in mines that are badly ventilated. I have very sharp recollections of the days when I was 12, 13 or 14 years of age, and of working in mines where there was no system of ventilation, where there was an utter absence of revivifying air. One breathed the same air over and over again and was subject to the distressing effects of the carbon monoxide in shallow mines. Ventilation is the key to health and safety in mines, and Chapter V of this report deals at great length with the means by which, in the opinion of those most competent to speak, a new standard of air purity, both in quantity and quality, could be established in the mines. It is proposed that a far higher standard of ventilation shall be established in each mine than has ever been intended in any previous Act of Parliament. Means are suggested whereby the air in every part of the mine may be ascertained both in regard to quantity and condition, and recommends that the condition of the air circulating in any mine shall be made known to His Majesty's inspector, who is as much interested as anyone else. In the past we have not been able to maintain this high standard of ventilation.
Here I make an allegation which can be well supported. One can visit mines in any part of Great Britain where one can find miners employed in pits where the ventilation is far from satisfactory. The report deals with the general ques- 1146 tion of ventilation and the maintenance of air purity. It also calls attention to the working in deep and hot mines. The fact that mines are deep and hot has been made known in previous debates. To-day mines are getting deeper and deeper. They are now worked to a depth of more than 4,000 feet, where the temperature is over 100 degrees. I do not know whether we shall be able to descend far lower than the 4,000 feet which was deemed to be the limit only a few years ago. But we are already below that limit in certain parts of this country, and I can see in the next few years in many mines large quantities of coal being worked under conditions which were deemed to be impossible by those who had experience of mining 20 or 30 years ago. The report calls attention to the need for reconditioning, for the neutralisation of the effect of these high temperatures with the peculiar conditions at present in those deep mines.
Chapter VI deals with what is probably the most prolific cause of accidents— faulty support of workings. Hon. Members know that day by day three or four men are killed in this industry and hundreds are seriously injured. No fewer than 130,000 to 140,000 men are killed or disabled year after year, without any marked diminution in these tragic figures. A great many of these accidents are due to unsatisfactory supports of the roofs and sides. I remember 38 years ago being interested as a young man in these questions, and how we spoke of systematic timbering as being a perfect practice. I remember how frequently then France was quoted as an example, just as it is to-day. I remember how much we aimed not at being pioneers in this work of safeguarding the lives of the miners, but at following the better practice of France. I must place a great deal of responsibility on the owners and those responsible for the mines. Almost always they have sought to free themselves from the responsibility for strict enforcement of the law in these matters. Timbering has failed to be systematic. It is true that in a large number of mines, owing to the practical knowledge of the men in charge, roofs are properly supported, but the majority of mines can show cases of neglect, and the record of accidents proves how widespread this neglect has been.
This problem of the support of roofs and sides, and particularly this very im- 1147 portant question of roof control, is not so old in the discussions of mine managers and mine students—it has been a subject of discussion and study for only a few years. There were very high expectations —rightly placed high—as a result of this new study. Hon. Members who have not worked underground cannot, perhaps, follow the discussion of these problems. No one can write a full description of what takes place underground for the non-mining reader. When one talks about the support of a mine-working it must be understood that there is a large area of coal worked under enormous pressure. Mines that lie 2,000 and 3,000 feet below the surface are subject to a pressure of many tons per square inch. The supports are not intended to withstand the whole of that pressure, but to prevent the frequent and unexpected fracture of these masses of sandstone and shale that come away. The natural support of the roof is withdrawn, and some other support must take its place. That is the science of timbering.
Those who have paid attention to this casualty list have long felt the need for a system of timbering which will prevent any part of the roof from being surrounded and detached by the fractures that take place when the roof is not properly controlled. There must be uniformity of resistance and a uniform rate of travel. All these points are highly important, and I am sure the House will agree that it is possible to attain a fairly high measure of roof control. When that is attained, the roof will be laterally supported, so that no large mass remains without support. It is not enough to place the vertical support in the roof. There are natural breaks in the roof, even before the coal is withdrawn, and the only way to safeguard workmen is to require that the roof shall be supported, not by placing upright props under it but by seeing that bars are placed across between the props, so that the roof rests on longitudinal supports. Chapter VII deals with haulage and travelling. I shall not detain the House with an examination of the subject. Hon. Members will find here a very interesting examination, indeed. An enormous number of accidents occur day by day, but the worst feature about accidents in haulage travelling is that a disproportionate number relate to boys entering the mines 1148 at an early age. It is here that the majority of the boys work, and that they are killed in such large numbers. This is a highly dangerous occupation, and it is hoped that as a result of these recommendations the number of accidents to boys, and to all engaged on haulage work, will be reduced.
In Chapter VIII we deal with explosions, and the incidence and cause. I said that in the matter of systematic support of the roof and sides we had been much helped by the initiative, the mining skill and the methodical habits of those responsible for the mines in France. In this matter of explosions, France has set an example to all the countries of Europe. In the last four or five years there has not been a single explosion in a mine in France; not a life has been lost because of explosions. France employs some 300,000 men in the mines, and mining conditions are as difficult, if not more difficult, than our own. But, by close attention to ventilation and the various causes of ignition, France has been able almost to eliminate the danger of explosions, and to save a large number of lives.
It has been suggested that the use of electricity in mines must always be a source of danger. I do not share that view. I am satisfied that if ventilation was properly carried out, if the kind of ventilation that is foreshadowed in this report were made the rule in the mines of this country, we should not be very much endangered by using electricity. I do not say the same about certain kinds of machinery. Perhaps the greatest danger of ignition comes not in the current of air in the travelling roads, but where the coal is actually being cut, where the cutting tools liberate gas which is beyond the reach of the ventilating current. I would not attribute any more danger to the use of electricity in a coal face than to the presence of the machine itself, whatever the motive power of the machine. There is also the risk arising from damaged lamps, defective lamps and lamps which are left open in the mines. This risk is very much over-estimated. The main danger is bad ventilation. When we have removed the possibility of a great accumulation of gas I do not fear the consequences of the use of machines or of electricity. I am quite sure that those who have time to study this matter will come to the same conclusion as I have. 1149 We have not ignored the danger of electricity, whether underground or on the surface. A cable would be dangerous on the Floor of this House. It is equally dangerous in the mines, and that danger must be guarded against.
Chapter X deals with conditions of work on the surface and machinery on the surface. Chapter XI deals with safety propaganda and training and the safety organisation of the mines. I welcome the organisation. Much can be done in training men to be conscious of danger. Everyone ignores the danger of the mines. It would be a lasting service to the men, and a great service to the cause of safety, if all our people could be made aware of the danger of the mines without suffering any nervous reaction. I do not think they will. I am glad that the commission has been able to speak so strongly on the question of training and safety organisation, and so very definitely on the question of help—first-aid organisation. I have never seen much first-aid organisation in the mines in which I worked. It has been almost entirely ignored. [Interruption.] No, I left the mines as a workman 24 years ago. Up to that time I knew many large mines which made no provision at all for first aid. I was a first-aid student and could offer first aid to injured men, but there was no organisation to give it. We have surface arrangements and we recommend underground organisation. We recommend fracture clinics to take accident cases in order that the men may receive far better attention than they used. Then we have the occupational diseases. This is a matter worthy the attention of all engaged in the mining industry. There are occupational diseases. Their existence was denied. We were told that nystagmus was not an occupational disease. Who doubts it now? I have records of questions put in the House. I go back as far as 1923, when I began my agitation in the House for attention to fell disease which has destroyed the lives of 317 people in the last six years while 1,414 have been certified as disabled from silicosis. There is dermatitis, and various other diseases due to conditions in the industry. There is a whole field of worthy effort in the improvement of mining hygiene.
There are 179 recommendations at the end of the volume dealing with administration, research, enforcement of the law, workmen's inspection, electrical and 1150 mechanical provision, ventilation, haulage, travelling, explosions and fire, coal dust, first-aid, nystagmus and silicosis. I hope hon. Members will read these recommendations if they have not done so. There is much information. I have hurriedly, too hurriedly, endeavoured to sketch the task undertaken by the Commission. I am sure the very inadequate sketch that I have given does not convey much to Members who are not acquainted with mining. The problem of mining safety requires to be seen as a whole. It is a large problem and not one that can be solved by petty attention here and spasmodic and intermittent attention somewhere else. It is a question of the establishment of higher standards altogether in the mines. It is by the attainment of these vastly improved standards that we shall reduce the heavy casualties published to us by the inspectors when they report to the Department and to the House. I feel a sense of shame at our inability to reduce these figures in recent years. I feel almost personally responsible for the recurrence of explosions. They can be obviated. They are being obviated. The prime factor in this has been shown in the report on conditions in France. I should like to pay tribute to the mines inspector, no longer, I believe, in the Department, who made original research into the problems of roof control, ventilation and other matters of safety. We axe indebted to him for his very useful evidence on these two matters.
The report has been signed largely by practical men. Those gentlemen, with whom I worked for three years, were imbued with a desire for one thing only, to come to a common agreement—not to portray an ideally perfect system where there would be no danger, no risk and no discomfort. They are practical men, and I joined with them in signing a unanimous report that the Government should do something about it, and that the House should require that the Government should do something about it. I believe the report carries us, perhaps, as far as the industry can go for the next 10 or 15 years. I believe that a push forward and a general uplift of standards of ventilation will save hundreds of lives yearly. I should like the Government to inform the House what they are going to do. Are they prepared to look at the problem as a whole, as one 1151 in which several factors are involved, and to look at the report and recommendations as a whole, and will they at the earliest opportunity, in another session— not in this; I want them to make a good job of it—attend to the unanimous request of the Commission and provide the means for implementing it?
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
Does the hon. Gentleman think, from his knowledge of the report, which is very full, that legislation will be necessary or that the recommendations can be carried out without legislation?
§ Mr. Grenfell
Legislation is necessary, and nothing but an almost complete recasting of the Act of 1911 will satisfy the requirements of the industry and of the Commission.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Gentleman has introduced this subject of the report of the Royal Commission in a speech whose sincerity and practical common sense I think everyone in every quarter of the House will admire. If I mention at the outset of my remarks two or three matters where I differ from him, it will only indicate to what a very large extent I am in agreement with the views that he has expressed. Indeed, I hope his speech will be read by those in the industry with as great interest as they will read the report itself. I do not think I can pay a higher tribute to my hon. Friend's speech than that. Of course, we could hardly expect him to make a speech without a dig at the coalowners in it somewhere. He said they had never asked for legislation on these matters, but I think it is also true that the coalowners, at any rate in the last 50 or 60 years, have never opposed legislation on safety matters, and it is further true to say that a great deal of safety legislation has been introduced and passed by this House long before any representative of the miners found his place in it. It may be that predecessors of hon. Members on the bench below the Gangway, of the Manchester school of thought, opposed the original Act introduced by Lord Shaftesbury in 1842, but certainly for many years past there has been no opposition to the general principle of legislation for safety in the mines coming from the coalowners. They may have opposed matters in detail with which they did not agree, but that is quite 1152 another matter to a denial that safety legislation is necessary, for it is obviously just as necessary to have safety legislation in the mines as in the factories or in the merchant shipping service. In fact, in any industry with a considerable element of danger Parliament obviously must interfere in the interest of the safety of the workers, and I do not think the House has any cause to be ashamed of its record in regard to safety legislation for the mines.
Another matter where I slightly differ from the impression given by the hon. Gentleman is in regard to ambulance and first-aid services. The provision of such service was made obligatory by the Coal Mines Act, 1911, but for many years before that there had been voluntary services very generally in operation over a great part of the coalfields, and certainly I know of no aspect of public work which is so fully supported on a voluntary and unpaid basis by the mining community as ambulance and first-aid work. At this time each year many hundreds, if not thousands, of working miners in Yorkshire participate in ambulance class competitions and they have recently done me the very great honour of asking me to present a trophy for a new competition.
I should like to join in the tribute paid by my hon. Friend, rather modestly and inadequately as I thought, to the work of 'the Royal Commission, and I should like to express the great debt which the industry as a whole owes to these gentlemen who have given up the greater part of three years to producing this magnificent report. I doubt whether it will be possible for the Government, at the end of three months' study, to be able to say in definite terms which of its very many recommendations they are going to adopt and in what precise form they are going to apply them as part of the safety code for the mining industry. There are 180 major recommendations, and it obviously must take the Government a considerable amount of time to put those recommendations in definite language, so that those who will have to carry them out in the mines can understand clearly and exactly the nature of the responsibility which Parliament is going to place upon them. Many of the recommendations are of a very highly technical character and are therefore quite unsuitable as a subject for general debate in this House. There are very few of us, 1153 if any, with the exception of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who are qualified to express definite opinions upon many of these 180 recommendations. I concur with the first main recommendation of the Royal Commission, which may be found in the summary of recommendations on page 479 of the report. In italics will be found the following statement:The Act of Parliament, after a lapse of 27 years, requires to be revised. The Act should in general be confined to matters of principle, and technical details should be dealt with by general regulations or orders, which can be varied from time to time in the light of changing conditions and experience.That is a very wise recommendation. The fault of the Act of 1911 was that it attempted to embody too precisely in the Act of Parliament regulations which should be generally applicable throughout the whole coalfield. The recommendations of the report, as I understand it, is really to return to the pre-1911 practice, that is to say, not to embody too much in the Act of Parliament but to have a good many different codes of regulations adapted to meet the particular mining conditions of the locality in which they are to apply. Not only is that a wise provision in itself but it has a great advantage from the point of view of this House, because it is not placing a responsibility upon the House which it is hardly fitted to discharge, namely, to expect the House to be responsible for the framing and drafting of a detailed code of safety regulations for a highly technical and extremely variegated industry. Therefore, from all points of view that first main recommendation will, I think, commend itself to the sense of the House.
I have no desire, nor am I capable, this afternoon to enter into detailed criticism of the recommendations in the report. I can only say from such contact as I have had with those who are in a position to judge of these technical matters, that as regards at least 98 per cent. of the recommendations there will be no dispute whatever by the owners or the managers in the industry. I have heard practically no criticism except on very minor details of the recommendations. I should, however, like to say a few words on some of the wider aspects of safety. My first observation is that we are all equally concerned to see prac- 1154 tical results achieved. Secondly, mutual recrimination as to the blame for mining accidents will contribute very little to a solution of the accident problem, and thirdly, that there is no object in so presenting statistics and figures in regard to accidents as to exaggerate the risks or to minimise them.
I have heard speeches from the benches opposite which have presented perfectly true statements of facts, ascertained statistics, in such a way as to put the very worst aspect upon this accident problem. I do not want to say anything contentious but I have certainly heard it said that since 1872 60,000 or 70,000 men have been slaughtered—possibly an even worse expression has been used—in the mines of this country. I do not think that gives really a fair picture of the fatal accident rate in the mines and the risk of death in the mines which the miner runs. It would be fairer to say that the risk of fatal accident in the mines is approximately the same as the risk of fatal accident in the merchant shipping service. It is also fair to put the point before the House that the risk of death in the mines is probably a smaller risk than the risk of death on the roads of this country. [Interruption.] I do not want to say anything contentious, but I am pointing out a few relative facts which bear on the whole problem of accidents throughout the whole scope of our national life.
§ Mr. Tinker
There can be no relative facts when you are dealing with 45,000,000 people as against 750,000.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member can bring forward his own arithmetic, and perhaps he will alow me to do mine. On the railways there is an annual toll of death from accidents which is very considerable. We regard our railway system as the safest and best in the world, and I have not the slightest doubt that it is, but I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite know how many men were killed on the railways of this country last year. [Hon. Members: "Do you?"] Yes, I do. Apart from the 400 unhappy individuals who used the railways as a means of bringing an end to their existence by suicide, 334 people were killed on our railways last year. It is a fairer way of expressing the risk of death in the mines to say that every week in this country six people are killed on the railways, 16 1155 people in the mines and over 600 people on the roads
§ Mr. Peake
I am speaking of both. I am speaking of the fatal accidents on the railways of this country last year. It is perfectly fair to point that out. The point of my remarks is that you cannot totally eliminate accidents from any sphere of life. The fatal accidents per week on the railways are six, in the mines 16 and over 600 on the roads. In each of these spheres there is room for very great improvement and in each sphere co-operation is an absolute essential to obtaining any progress. It is also fair to point out that great improvement has taken place in the mining industry over the last 50 or 60 years, and that the fatal accident rate at the present time and for the past 10 or 15 years is only about 40 per cent. of what it was in the 'seventies and eighties.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The hon. Member is wrong about the toll of deaths on the roads. It is not as high as 600 a week.
§ Mr. Grenfell
One hundred and sixty per week is far too high. The total number of fatal accidents on the roads is about 6,000 a year.
§ Mr. Peake
That would be in the nature of 120 to 130 a week. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his correctino. I can assure him that I was not attempting to make any false point. I must have taken the monthly and not the weekly figure. If one totals up the number of road deaths over a period of years we get a very formidable figure, but it would not be a true picture of the average rate of risk which one runs in taking a walk or a drive on the roads. I was saying that there has been in the mining industry great improvement over the last 50 or 60 years, ever since the statistics for accidents in mines have been recorded, beginning in 1872. The fatal accident rate is to-day about 40 per cent. of what it was in the 'seventies and 'eighties of the last century.
1156 Where the figures for the mining industry are so terribly serious is in the rate of serious and less serious injuries. There the figures are extremely high. There is no other industry where the injury rate is comparable. There are seriously injured in the mines of this country every year approximately four workers per thousand employed, and there are injured less seriously something like 130 to 135 per thousand workers employed. That is to say that every worker in six meets with some injury every year, and more than half of those so injured are away from work for more than three weeks. Therefore, even those injuries are not of a slight or negligible character. The report of the Royal Commission, on page 5, puts the position as follows:As regards non-fatal accidents, the position of mining in this respect is even more striking, for the mining rate is nearly twice that for docks, over five times that for shipping and six times as high as in factories.Those figures show the immense scope there is for improvement in the rate of injuries in mines. Accident prevention demands co-operation between all parties in industry. Just as on the roads the blame cannot be placed entirely upon the motorist, the cyclist or the pedestrian, so in the mines there must be co-operation between the owners, the managers and the men if this accident rate is to be appreciably checked.
Since I speak as a coalowner, I will indicate one or two ways in which I think the owners—although they do not bear the statutory burden of responsibility which is placed upon the managers—can make a contribution. The hon. Member for Gower spoke of the necessity of obtaining suitable and qualified technical men for the management of the mines. In the past we have had a splendid body of colliery managers, but mine management becomes more technical as the years pass. The engineering problems become not less but more difficult, and it is of vital importance that the industry should be able to attract men who have the technical ability and the engineering skill to conduct its operations with safety. There is a great responsibility on the owners to provide such conditions of service and employment as will attract the best engineering brains in the country to the industry. In the second place, owners can do a great deal by bringing this question of accidents constantly before 1157 their agents and managers. Example set from above can do much, and I think that those who control great industrial undertakings are apt to forget how, by mentioning the subject of safety and keeping it constantly before agents and managers their attention can be kept focussed upon the problem more closely than it has been in the past.
No useful purpose will be achieved by the report if it is made use of by one party in the industry to base charges against another. We can do little for safety in the industry ultimately by Act of Parliament, by regulations or by inspection. The industry itself must tackle the problem, and it must do so in a spirit of co-operation. I consider the most important sentence in the report to be the following:It is our belief that no big reduction in accident rates in the mines can be brought about without a changed attitude in the industry as a whole, owners, officials, workers, alike. Inspectors report every year, and no one denies it, that thousands of accidents happen which need not and ought not to have happened. The industry collectively should, in our opinion, take a more active part in dealing with this regrettable situation.As I say, I regard that as the most important sentence in a very remarkable report. Mining entails a perpetual warfare with nature, conducted many thousands of feet below the surface. If casualties are to be avoided, not only do we need courage and common sense. We must also have efficiency, discipline and leadership, and above all a determination to face this accident problem in a spirit of willing co-operation among all parties in the industry. We must harness all those qualities which are displayed in such splendid abundance by managers and men in the face of danger and disaster when it occurs, and direct those qualities to the prevention of that daily toll of life and limb which so often represents tragedy to the individual, and always represents great economic waste for the whole nation.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans
The subject of this discussion is one which must command the sympathetic attention of all Members of this House. There are two preliminary observations which I would make before dealing with it. In the first place, I wish to say that I share the disappoint- 1158 ment already expressed at the absence of the Secretary for Mines and deplore the reason for it. I think our disappointment is probably less than that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself who would, I am sure, have been delighted to take part in this Debate. Secondly, I think we ought to express indebtedness to the members of the Royal Commission for their report. It is an interesting and valuable document. A great part of it is concerned with matters of technical detail with which I do not pretend to be competent to deal, but it also draws attention to certain broad considerations which we can all appreciate, and on those I would like to make certain observations.
The first feature of the report to impress me was the emphasis laid upon the fact that safety in mines is not the sole concern of any section of those engaged in the industry. That is a point to which the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has just referred and it is very important. I was a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have taken up some time in trying to persuade the House that the coalowners had not been averse from measures to promote safety in mines. The hon. Gentleman is in the unfortunate position of speaking as a representative of the coalowners and also as a Member of the Conservative party. I would not make any charge against the coalowners of having obstructed measures for the promotion of safety in mines, but I think that as a member of the Conservative party, the hon. Gentleman will find a little more difficulty in putting up bulwarks of defence. However, I think he is right in saying that the real point of the report is that it tries to wipe away all questions of controversy as to responsibility for the successes or failures of the past, and draws attention to the fact that the responsibility, or, as I should prefer to put it, the privilege, of promoting safety in mines in future does not rest with one section of the community, but depends upon all—owners, managers, workers and inspectors alike.
I would add one other category, and in it I include myself. I speak of myself not as an individual but as a representative of the general public. If it be true, and I believe it to be true, that the mass of the people are anxious to do what they can to promote the safety of those engaged in mining, we have to face the 1159 corollary that the Royal Commission's recommendations involve heavy expenditure, and that, apart from other provisions, a large part of that expenditure will fall upon the industry. We all know that the burdens on the industry at present are very heavy and we do not want unnecessarily to add to them. Therefore, it seems to me that we, as members of the public, have to realise that if the promotion of the safety of those engaged in the industry involves additional expenditure, we must undertake our fair share of the cost. Coal mining is one of the most vital and also one of the most dangerous of the great industries of the country. Industrial prosperity, commercial success, and personal comfort all are largely dependent upon those who undertake the task of carrying on this industry. When I rise as I do now to press upon the Ministry the desirability of adopting the recommendations in this report, I realise that these involve additional cost, and I also realise that I must be prepared to take my share of that additional cost.
The House of Commons ought to express appreciation of the importance of the problem and of our share in it. I suppose the number of people who have read the report of the Royal Commission is comparatively small. I hope this Debate may induce a few others to read it, but even then comparatively few people will be acquainted with its recommendations. I hope, therefore, that this Debate may be the means of publishing to the country generally facts of which the country ought to be informed. The hon. Member for North Leeds tried to compare the risks involved in mining with those of various occupations and even with those of the ordinary pedestrian, which are probably greater than the risks in any industry. But I wonder how many people realise that in every year one out of every 900 persons engaged in the mining industry loses his life while he is at work? How many realise that two out of every 11 persons engaged in the industry in every year sustain injury or incur disease, for which compensation is payable by Act of Parliament? These are very serious figures and are not minimised by asking us to look at the number of accidents on the railways and the roads. These are accidents incidental to employment in the mining industry.
1160 There is another fact which ought to be borne in mind. The general mortality rate among the male population of this country in recent years has shown a big improvement, but that improvement is not reflected in the mortality rate among miners. The significant fact is that in the old days we were told that mining was among the most healthy occupations in this country. It is not so long since an examination of mortality rate among the male population showed that the mortality rate among miners was comparatively favourable, but that is no longer true. I do not like using statistics in this House, because there are many considerations which have to be borne in mind when considering statistics, and, therefore, I do not want to emphasise this point too much. But I think it is significant that whereas the mortality rate among miners compared favourably with the general mortality rate among the male population some time ago, it is now relatively worse.
The matter does not end there. There is another significant fact. Despite the attention which has been paid to safety in mines for many years, despite great efforts by all concerned and by associations and authorities of various kinds to remedy the position, we are told in this report that the general level of casualties has been more or less static during the last 15 years. That is a very interesting comparison, but, at the same time, it is a very distressing fact. I hope that the public will be impressed in the same way as I am by these facts. There is no doubt that a great deal has been done in recent years in order to promote safety in the mines. I ask myself the question —as no doubt every hon. Member interested in this matter has asked himself —why have not these efforts been more effective? One of the first things for which I looked when I picked up this report was the answer to that question.
Anybody who has tried to follow the history of this subject must be impressed by the fact that there is an almost innumerable number of regulations concerning safety in mines. It has been said that there are so many that even the divisional inspectors could not remember them all, and if the divisional inspectors could not remember them all I am sure that managers could not. One is impressed by the fact that there should be this very considerable number of regulations, but I do not want it to be taken 1161 as implying that I am suggesting that the regulations are not necessary, nor do I wish to suggest that more regulations may not be required. When any body of men is marching as a company the action and speed of the march must depend upon the slowest member of the company, and I believe that to be true in regard to mining operations, and that regulations and discipline have been necessary in order to give a little impetus to the speeding up of the pace of the laggards in the matter of provisions for safety services. I cannot help feeling that by this time there must be a good many regulations which are obsolete and which are not really observed in practice, and that the time may come when the Ministry will be able to make a little more compendious and more understandable the code of regulations available to inspectors and those engaged in the industry.
I make no apology for referring to a fact which is repeatedly emphasised in the report of the Royal Commission. In many passages which arouse my interest most it seems to be accepted that every year thousands of accidents happen which need not and ought not to happen. Many of these accidents are due to the human element, and that is a matter of very great significance. We are all inclined to be careless now and again, and therefore we ought not to censure other people for being careless, but I wish that there could be some way of bringing home to every man engaged in the industry that it is his duty to look after his own safety, and that in doing so he is also looking after the safety of his friends and his fellow workers. The Commissioners lay great stress upon the fact that the psychological factor is one of immense importance in the safety of the mines.
Sir Alfred Faulkner, who speaks with knowledge and great experience of this matter, said that they regarded this as one of the most important factors of the problem of safety in mines, and he added the observation, which I confess rather disturbed me, that no line of general advance was in sight at the time when he was giving his evidence. If, in addition to the verbal evidence given before the Royal Commission stressing the importance of the human factor, any confirmation were required, it is to be found in the fact that the casualties among the boys and the youths under 18 years of age are much greater than the average of 1162 the casualties which appear among the adults. If anything be required to stress the human factor, it is to be found in the simple statement that the Royal Commission make recommendations in respect of the general staff in the Ministry specially concerned with the examining of this problem, that the training of workers, and especially the young workers, is very important.
Another thing which is of tremendous importance is the preparation of an analysis of the accidents which occur in order to find out where they occur, how they occur, and when they occur, and when the analysis is prepared arrangements should be made for its detailed examination. I hope that the Minister will not overlook this matter, which I regard as a valuable line of advance in this direction. Throughout their report the Commissioners lay stress upon the fact that the safety of the mines depends upon the co-operation of those engaged in the industry, and I cannot help feeling that that co-operation would be greatly assisted by making further provision in regard to the inspection of mines by representatives of the workpeople. I know that under the Coal Mines Act, 1930, the workmen are entitled to some such arrangement, but I have never been able to relieve myself of the deep impression created upon me when I read the report of the Gresford disaster, where the chairman of the inquiry drew attention to the fact that, whereas men employed in the mines were perfectly aware of the fact that there were dangerous conditions obtaining in the mines, they refrained from reporting that fact to responsible officials and from taking steps to have those conditions remedied. Not the least important of the many valuable recommendations included in this report is that which suggests that these inspections should be more frequent, that they should take place every three months by compulsion, and that the reports on the inspections should receive proper consideration.
As the report properly draws attention to the psychological influence in these matters and to the necessity for co-operation, there is obviously room for a greater push forward in regard to research work. As to the question of nystagmus, with which members of my profession are familiar, from an outside point of view in a sense, and who know of the great 1163 trouble it causes to men engaged in this industry, I was struck by the fact that research work, which has been conducted with regard to this particular disease, has been of a very useful character. I would not like to commit myself to an absolute theory with regard to results, but it looks as if, following upon researches in regard to this particular disease, the mere fact of improved lighting in the mines has led to a decrease in the number of cases of miners suffering from nystagmus. I do not say that that is finally proved, but I merely mention that as an illustration of the great work which can be done by qualified persons in the examination of the incidence of this particular difficult and hazardous industry. It would be of very great value if there could be greater cooperation between the research workers and the inspectorate, and between the research workers and the Ministry.
I feel that it is proper that these broad considerations should be brought to the attention of the House by one who can speak as an ordinary member of the public, because I believe they are of vital importance to the industry and also of tremendous importance to all of us individually. I hope that the Ministry will not regard this report as something which is to be put on the shelf, but that they will pay the most careful attention to it and do all in their power to promote the safety of those engaged in an industry upon which we all depend.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Captain Lancaster
I would ask for the indulgence of the House in the usual manner to allow me to make some observations on the subject of this Debate. Before I do so it is appropriate that I should say how sensible I am of the honour I feel to-day in speaking as a Member for a Lancashire constituency which was for so many years represented with such distinction by my predecessor. I am very well aware of the respect and affection in which he was held by hon. Members in all parties, and I can assure the House that it is my intention to do what I can to emulate his example. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity on this occasion to speak on an industry with which my family have been connected for many generations in Lancashire, and more recently in other parts of England. I have recently been 1164 reading some old Parliamentary reports, and I find that my grandfather as Member for Wigan made his maiden speech on this subject of coal mines 69 years ago, and in no contentious way I would point out to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that upon that occasion he pressed for a more rigid inspection of mines, and he quoted as an example which we might well follow in this country the conditions obtaining at that time in the mines in France, Belgium and in Prussia. Again, in no contentious spirit I would point out that he followed up this speech by work chiefly in the position as President of the Mining Association of which he was one of the founders. Out of these recommendations arose legislation in the year 1887, arising out of the recommendations of the Royal Commission in 1879, that brought about a higher state of competency in the ranks of managers and under-managers.
I would like to associate myself with the very modest remarks of the hon. Member for Gower in the tribute he paid to the work of the Royal Commission. Those who are connected with the industry, and indeed, the country at large, are indebted to the Commission both for the manner and the competency of the way they carried out their work. No one who has read the report can fail to be impressed by the exhaustive way in which they considered every aspect of safety in mines. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the most important and significant review of the industry that has ever been made. May I add one further personal reference, and say what very real pleasure it gave me that Lord Rockley and other members of the Commission should have selected one of the mines with which I have the honour to be associated for their first underground inspection, and that subsequently other members of the Commission should have paid visits to other mines belonging to my company?
I do not propose on this occasion to deal with the recommendations in detail; no doubt there will be opportunities for doing so before legislative effect is given to them. I would, however, suggest that before legislative effect is given to them they should be the subject of joint consultation before even they are drafted into a Bill. It may be appropriate if I deal with one or two aspects of the report and suggest a word of warning. No one will 1165 quarrel with the intentions of the report. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has said, the industry itself will be in agreement with the great majority of the recommendations, but it seems to me desirable that one or two aspects of the recommendations should be considered and the economic and other considerations involved.
Broadly speaking, the recommendations in the report fall into two groups, those dealing with the human element and those dealing with physical factors. Turning for a moment to those questions dealing with the human element, emphasis is stressed throughout the report on the necessity of increases both in the administration and the inspectorate departments of the Mines Department. At the same time increases are recommended within the framework of the industry itself. Those increases in the inspectorate alone are of a fourfold nature, and the strain on the industry, which will have to produce a fair proportion of these additional inspectors, will arise at the same moment as the industry is advised that it will need to produce men to take up the higher positions envisaged by amalgamations, and also require to produce additional under-managers to carry out the provisions of the recommendations on the back shifts. At the same time it is recommended that deputy districts be cut down, necessitating additional deputies. All these recommendations coincide, unfortunately, with a moment when recruitment for the industry in regard to boys and youths and of graduates from the mining universities is at a low ebb, and I feel that serious consideration should be given to the whole subject of recruitment. It is bound up insolubly with education. The educational facilities are there, but I am not so sure that at present they are in a very practical form. There will have to be more active cooperation between education authorities and colliery companies if some solution of this problem is to be achieved, and I suggest that the subject of recruitment for the industry and the education of boys and young men coming into it should be considered both in the light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and in the light of the recommendations of the Holland Report which came out five years ago.
The other matter to which I should like to draw attention is in regard to cer- 1166 tain of the reservations which were submitted by a member of the Commission, Mr. Forster Brown. I have had a long experience of his abilities and I have a high regard for his experience and practical knowledge. He is one who brings to this problem the practical view of a man not only responsible for the control of colliery undertakings, but responsible for their economic results. I say that with no reflection whatever on the disinterested manner in which the other members of the Commission carried out their task. But the importance of the distinction I should like to draw is that in the qualifications Mr. Forster Brown has submitted he draws careful attention to such of the recommendations as will tend to upset the economic balance of the industry. It is perfectly obvious that these recommendations, whether they are of a physical nature or in regard to increases of personnel, will involve heavy additional burdens on the industry and possibly on the consumers of coal as well. I am sure that these burdens will be cheerfully accepted, but when they tend to upset the economic balance achieved in proper cost-distribution to an extent which affects the competitive ability of the industry and of the trades dependent on its product, Mr. Forster Brown has sounded an unqualified note of warning.
I do not think we can expect to get the greatest benefits from these recommendations in regard to safety if we try to impose them on an unhealthy industry, unhealthy in the sense of being an uneconomic industry. An industry in that state is not one to which we can expect to attract the young men and boys who are so urgently needed. It is only if we get the right type of recruitment that we can achieve the best results from the training and education which to-day more than ever, and particularly in the light of the recommendations of this report, are necessary, and in the circumstances of the intense condition of mechanisation which by this time obtains throughout the greater part of the industry. I suggest that these qualifications will merit the closest consideration of the House before the report is translated into law. They deal in particular with certain aspects of ventilation, the percentage of fire damp allowable and certain aspects of haulage, the minimum clearance on haulage and travelling roads. The putting into force of these aspects of the recommendations of 1167 the report may involve the industry in a cost which would be out of all relation to the benefits to be obtained and might ultimately be found not to be in the best interests of the safety of mine workers.
In conclusion, may I say that as a member of the general public I have listened to Debates in this House on this industry for a number of years and I have, I think, correctly, detected a recognition by hon. Members of all parties of the fact that the problems and difficulties of this great industry can be solved only by the co-operation of all those engaged in it. There needs to be not only co-operation, but an approach to these problems in a spirit of mutual good will. That is not a spirit which is confined to this country. I have had opportunities in the last 12 or 15 years to visit coalfields in America, France, Germany and Russia. Wherever one goes, one finds that same spirit of mutual cooperation throughout coal-mining. I feel confident that the House will approach the problem of considering the recommendations in that spirit, and that ultimately the industry, in the same spirit, will put them into effect.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Captain Lancaster) on his speech. When the hon. and gallant Member rose to speak, I wondered why, as a new Member, he ventured to make his maiden speech in a delicate Debate such as one on mining. I thought he had chosen rather a bad time. However, as he developed his case and showed the knowledge which he has, I realised that he had chosen a very good opportunity for addressing the House. I trust that when we are dealing with the Bill which I hope the Government will introduce shortly, the hon. and gallant Member will give us all the help he can, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who represented Wigan in this House. We know that Wigan is a great coalfield, and anyone who represented Wigan must have had a very high place in the nation's regard. Again, I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member on his excellent maiden speech.
I am very sorry that the Secretary for Mines is unable to be present. I am sorry, first, because he suffers from illness; and secondly, because when we 1168 are dealing with a subject of this sort, we want to have on the Front Bench opposite a man who, we feel, has knowledge of what we are talking about. I say that without intending any reflection on the Minister who is in charge of the Debate, for he was chosen to replace the Secretary for Mines, and he cannot have the knowledge that we would expect the Secretary for Mines to have. On the last occasion on which we discussed this Vote, the Secretary for Mines told us that he had spoken in such a Debate four times as Secretary for Mines—this would have been the fifth occasion if he had been present—and during that period, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has got a grasp of the industry. He has won our respect by the way in which he has tried to deal with the position in the mining industry.
There is also missing from our ranks on this side of the House the late Mr. James Brown, who, as Member for South Ayrshire, had been present at these Debates for many years and had taken part in them. We are filled with regret that he has departed. He was a colleague for whom we had great respect.
I should like now to deal with the position with regard to safety in mines. Since 1912, when the last Act dealing with this matter was passed, there has probably taken place one of the greatest changes that have ever occurred in any period in the history of the mining industry. During that time, the industry has passed almost entirely from hand-cut mining to machine-mining, a change so tremendous that one can visualise what has taken place only if one has knowledge of the industry and is able to compare the two types of mining. Hand-cut mining carried with it the necessity for the mineworkers to develop what may be called a second nature. He seemed to be able to sense danger when it was coming; gradually he developed a second nature which enabled him to know when danger was to be apprehended. With the coming of machine-mining, all that has gone. As the Minister for Mines said on the last occasion on which he spoke on this subject, machine-mining has brought with it a great amount of noise, and noise in mining is one of the worse features of the work. Any one who is conversant with mining knows that, under modern conditions of machine-mining, it is difficult 1169 to find out when natural forces are at work, when the first warning is only the creaking or cracking of a roof. The hurry, bustle and noise of machine-mining has altogether done away with that characteristic feature of the old mining methods.
This is a matter which, as legislators, we have to try to meet; we have to try to do something that will cope with that added danger with which the mineworker now has to contend. This is a matter also in which co-operative effort can assist. I want to tell hon. Members opposite that in the mining world we are now attempting by that means to deal with these matters. A month ago I was asked to address a meeting in St. Helens, where I live; there was to be a meeting of mine workers, which was to be addressed by an eminent man from the Mines Department, on the subject of dangers in mining. I sent word that owing to Parliamentary duties, I was unable to go, but I wished the meeting every success; and afterwards, I was informed that the meeting had been a great success and that out of 800 men who could have been present, 600 had attended. That is a remarkable thing, and it shows that on the subject of safety in mines there is great feeling among our people, and that a great change has come about during the period to which I already referred. Knowledge of this sort is the knowledge that we want to convey to the miners; we want them to realise what is taking place and to realise the added danger in mining which has resulted from the change-over from hand-cut mining to machine-mining.
It is on this point that I want to stress one or two matters which, as all those who are working in mines know, call for immediate attention. First of all, I want to refer to what is called the deep holing. Let me describe what happens. There is a long wall face varying from 80 yards to 300 yards. The machine has to cut the whole of that length, and to be successful in its operation, it must complete the cut. The depth of the cut may vary from 4 feet 6 inches to 5 feet, although it may possibly go even deeper. In the mining legislation there is no limit to the depth to which it may go. That is a point I want to emphasise. The machine cutting the coal has to have room in which to work; it may need three feet of space for that purpose. If there are three feet of space to the coal face and 1170 five feet of hole, this means that it is eight feet to the nearest support. If there are 200 yards in the face, when the sprags are loosened and the shots put in, there is obviously a vast area of unprotected ground, until the coal is cleared away. One can understand that if there is this great mass of strata, there may be a moment when the weight comes, and then that vast unprotected roof is a great danger to all concerned. What I want to emphasise is that some attempt ought to be made to limit the depth of the cut. Something ought to be done, either by legislation or by regulation, to meet this danger. I believe it is wrong that it should be left entirely to the mineowners to decide what depth of cut there should be.
There is another point to which I wish to refer. Owing to the unrestricted cut of coal the mineowner is in the position of never being able to say definitely when the face will be cleared, and as a result of that, there is a great deal of overtime worked in the mines. When there is an excessive length of face and a deep cut, in a large number of cases the face cannot be cleared in time and the result is that the miners have to work overtime. In spite of all the attempts that we are making, as an organisation, to persuade the men not to work overtime and to try to get the mines inspector to bring pressure to bear upon the coalowners in this respect, we have failed to stop the overtime. One of the sad things in the mining industry now is the pressure that is put on the men to carry on after the ordinary working hours, in order to clear the face.
I may be asked why we do not take steps to stop this overtime. The reply is that the owners have an effective way of preventing that. When the men are asked to stop, and do not do so they find that, when they go the next day, the face is not cleared, and they have to lose another day as a result, waiting till the next day for the face to be ready for them. The next time they are asked not to work overtime, they refuse, on the grounds that they cannot afford to lose another day. The coalowners have the weapon of poverty, which in this respect they use very hardly with the workers. I think that regard ought to be had for this matter in the regulations concerning overtime. I hope that the question of overtime will be examined and restricted to 1171 the personal danger point, and that outside the personal danger limit, there will be a means of prosecuting the mineowner if a man is kept underground. I hope that when the report is examined, and when the recommendations are embodied in a Bill, the question of overtime will be dealt with, and that overtime will be limited to the personal danger point, and that anything beyond that will be stopped.
I have looked through the report to find out whether it deals with the means of exit from the long wall faces. In a general way, the report deals with outlets, but it does not deal with the exits of the long wall face. This is a point which must be examined, and I want to emphasise what we feel on this subject. If there is a long wall face of 200 yards, there are only two exits, one at the top and one at the bottom. The men work all along the face. If a sudden weight comes, a man who is midway has to scurry 50 or more yards to get to safety. This is one of the gravest menaces of the long wall faces.
Owing to the hurried carrying forward of the face, very little packing is done, and the result is that there are men working on a long line of face, having behind them vast areas of open ground, in many cases ready to fall. At the point where they are working, there are three or four lines of timber. In front of them is a cut leaving another wide space. There may be, therefore, hundreds of yards of strata balanced on a few supporting timbers. Those conversant with mining know that in such circumstances, if a great weight comes, the danger cannot be avoided. When such a weight comes, the men ought to be ready to get clear of the danger. I have received during the last week a letter dealing with this matter. It describes a face 80 yards long, cut by a coal-cutter, and some two feet four inches high. I have measured the Table in this House, and its height is about two feet nine inches. I ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to imagine that, if he were a mineworker, he would have to work in a place less than the height of the Table. There is just this narrow opening. From Mr. Speaker's Chair to the Woolsack is 100 yards. Imagine this working to be about midway. When the weight comes on the men have to hurry to the Woolsack or to Mr. Speaker's 1172 Chair in order to get to safety. All this time the earth is groaning and men do not know what is going to happen.
I put it to hon. Members opposite whether they can expect to get the best out of men when every minute and every hour they are wondering what is likely to happen. A man is in the middle listening to what he can hear over the sound of the machines and wondering how quickly, when the weight comes on, he can get to the outlet. We have tried to get the owners to put in more outlets, but they will not do so because of the added cost. We cannot get the best out of the men in these circumstances and the letter I have received speaks about that. Men go terror-stricken on every shift wondering whether the weight will come on and whether they will be able to get out. I had a question on the Paper to-day to find out whether that point has been examined, but the Parliamentary Secretary was not able to tell me anything about it. I hope that in the general revision of legislation all these points will be borne in mind. It will give the men confidence if they are able to realise that everything is being done for their safety, and there will be a better return from their work.
Another point dealt with in the report is with regard to timber. It is now 27 years since the last revision was made and the last Act of Parliament said that the timber must be brought within 10 yards of the working face. When the drawer went with the wagon to a face eight or nine yards wide the timber at that distance was all right, but now we have 200 yards of face and the legislation leaves it open to the employer to say that if he brings it to within 10 yards of the face he is within the law. Our view is that to keep within the law the timber ought to be behind the men for the whole length of the face. In this report it is agreed that the management should employ a man especially for the purpose of organising the timbering all along the face. This ought not to require legislation, and I trust that any mineowners who are listening to my remarks will at once deal with it if they are not already doing so, because it is a matter that will certainly help in ensuring the safety of the workmen.
The Commission deal with the question of the inrush of water in their report, and I wonder whether the Mines Department are examining it as they ought to do. I 1173 have in mind my own district. We have a number of deep mines in the place I represent and on the top side of these mines several mines are being closed down owing to the inrush of water. The Wigan Coal and Iron Company closed their collieries. They had pumping plant at Aspull collieries. When the pit stopped they took out their pumps, and this allowed the water to overflow the Westhoughton collieries, but there is a lawsuit about the matter and I do not want to say what was the cause of the water. The Westhoughton colliery had to close down through the water and now we have huge reservoirs both in the Westhoughton collieries and the Aspull collieries. There is always that danger, and I wonder whether the Mines Department are watching what can happen there. Last year the Secretary for Mines said that all we had to deal with was the safety of the workmen and that the accumulation of water drowning out thousands of tons of coal did not come within his Department. Are the Department keeping close watch on what is happening, for some seams of coal that are being got will require a very big barrier to keep out the tremendous volume of water that may be pressing on the higher side. In the interest of my people I would like that question to be watched very closely.
Another point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) is in regard to deep and hot mines. This is a problem that will become greater as mines become deeper. We are working out our shallow mines and of necessity are being driven to lower depths. The lower depth brings with it hotter atmosphere, and the question is, what can be done to mitigate it? Ventilation will overcome a lot of it, but there comes a limit even to that. My idea is that when the wet bulb thermometer shows 75 degrees, the time has come when the men who are working in that atmosphere ought to have a reduced working day. Legislation ought to be brought in that a six-hour day is sufficient for men working in that temperature. It may be equal to over 100 degrees on the dry thermometer. I paid a visit to one of these mines in which men were working. It was a terrible ordeal even for anybody who was not working. When the temperature gets to 80 W.B. degrees the mine ought not to be worked because the conditions are too much for human beings. 1174 The report says that unless hot mines can be made comfortable they ought not to be worked. The word "comfortable" in mining is a very wide term, and I do not think miners can quite understand how it came to be used in connection with mines. Those who drew up this report must have had something in their minds in using that word, but it is certain that there can be no comfortable working in 80 degrees. I have seen men suffering from boils, caused through hot mine working, and we have not been able to recover any compensation for them. The disease must come under dermatitis or something of that kind before compensation can be obtained.
I would like to wind up with a quotation from the report from one of our representatives, Mr. Ebby Edwards, who signed a reservation as follows:I do not think sufficient regard has been paid to the economic factor, the speeding up and the intensification of production as one which is responsible for counterbalancing the work that has been done by scientific research. The piecework system, payment by results, is without doubt the cause of many accidents. I also believe the entry into mines of boys should be raised to 16 years of age and the daily working hours of all classes of mine workers reduced.I agree with him entirely. An hon. Member on the other side said that men ought to regard their own safety as of primary importance. They ought to, but anybody who has worked in a mine knows that men on piece rates take many risks in order to have something respectable on their pay sheets on Fridays. Those risks are taken owing entirely to the piecework system. I hope the day will soon arrive when piecework will be eliminated. It will be a great thing for the mine worker. I am speaking in advance of the views of the people I represent when I say that. Many of the mineworkers do not want to do away with the piecework system. We have to give a lead in these matters when we realise the danger that is attendant on the workers, and although they do not agree with me I have no hesitation in saying that if I had my way I would sweep away the piecework system as one of the causes of accidents in mines. I hope that as a result of this Debate the whole House will be united in trying to bring about a better state of affairs in the mines. I think that a thorough examination of the report will help us in that. I look forward to the day when the 1175 Government will bring forward the reforms recommended in the reforms and so lead to better times for the mineworkers.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I should like to take in succession the points raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), some of which are of a somewhat technical nature. In the main I am in agreement with his remarks, but there are one or two considerations on each of these points which I think I ought to bring to his notice. He points out with great justification that the system of using weak undercuts in machine-mining introduce possibilities of danger. I would remind him, however, that in many instances the depth of the undercut is to a large extent settled by the natural breaks in the roof strata, and that it may be on the whole safer in some conditions to hole, say, 5 feet under rather than 4 feet 6 inches under roof conditions. I do not mean to say that this is a full answer to his argument, because I have said that I agree to a large extent with him. I must admit that I and those of a similar trade to mine were responsible for the use of deep undercuts. There has been a tendency for many years to induce mine managers to take deeper and deeper undercuts by machinery. That is due, I am afraid, to a rather selfish point of view on the part of us manufacturers, since it pays us better to make very large and expensive machines such as are necessary for deep cuts.
I have done my best to counteract that tendency because, as the hon. Member has pointed out, when you take into consideration not only the depth of undercut itself, but also some 3 feet of space required between the fan space and the timber, you are in some cases approaching the limit of danger. I maintain, and have stuck to it in designing my own manufacture, that no coal-cutting machine, except in exceptional circumstances, ought, to be designed to be more than 20 inches wide at the utmost. There is no reason why machines of sufficient power should not be produced within those dimensions. I certainly think it would aid the safety of machine-mining.
With regard to the depth of undercut, the coal industry, I am afraid, is somewhat conservative. The hon. Member for Leigh and the hon. Member who 1176 opened the Debate, whose experience of mining is probably as long as mine, will agree that the coal industry on the technical side is still based upon the old idea of nothing but the highest possible proportion of round coal. That to some extent is due to the financial organisation of the coal industry at the present time, to the fixing of prices and to the fact that in some districts the prices for round coal have been fixed too high and the prices of small coal fixed too low. In the South Wales steam coal area one finds that round coal is almost unsaleable in many districts, and in many cases coal-breaking machinery has had to be put in, in order to reduce the round coal to small coal. That is one of the evils due to the present financial structure of the industry.
The next point to be raised was that men working with coal-cutters and conveyors are in many instances working under conditions where they are in a state of constant nervousness as to what may happen. As the hon. Member pointed out, the reason why seams are worked with only two gates to 100 yards is simply a matter of cost. I am coming back to that point later, but I agree with him that the only reason for not having more gates is the cost, and that it has undoubtedly led to worse work when men have found themselves in such conditions. If I were working in a gallery 100 yards long, with the nearest gate 50 yards away from me, I do not think that I should regard that as exactly a comfortable place to be in.
The hon. Member's next point was concerned with the rule as to timber being within 10 yards of the face. There is one mitigating circumstance in the machine-worked face, particularly where there are conveyors, and that is that although "10 yards from the face" may mean being 110 yards from the top end of the face, yet it is customary, where there are suitable conveyors, to use the conveyors for taking the timber up the face, and where that is done a hard and fast rule such as he suggests might bear a little too hardly upon the industry. In any suggestions put forward to the Ministry of Mines for altering the rule as to timber being within 10 yards of the face an exception ought to be made for places where the timber is taken up the face by a conveyor, whereby, possibly, it may go 50 yards in far less time than it would take men to drag it 15 yards.
1177 His next point dealt with water trouble in the Lancashire coalfield. There is a case where, as he pointed out, certain pits have been flooded owing to an accumulation of water following the stopping of pumping at one of the Wigan Company's pits.
§ Lord Balniel
May I point out that the Law Courts have taken a different view. They have decided the contrary of what the hon. Member has just said.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I thank the Noble Lord for correcting me, but the hon. Member's implication was that this water had accumulated from this particular source. Whether the courts find that that is so or not, the fact remains that there is a great deal of water there; but there is also this point to be taken into consideration, that there are other of the Noble Lord's pits in. that district which, if his company is at fault in this matter, will within a comparatively short time begin to feel the effects of the water themselves—I say, if his company is at fault—so a remedy would then be provided by the Noble Lord's company.
The final point taken up by the hon. Member was the effect of speeding-up upon safety. That raises a very big issue indeed, and I do not know that here he will be so much in agreement with me as he has been hitherto. My own view of the matter is that, at any rate at present, individual piecework is almost inevitable in the pits. Without individual piecework the cost of supervision would undoubtedly reduce the miner's day wage to a very considerable extent. The circumstances in a pit are such that supervision would become a very heavy charge indeed if there were no individual piecework, and if he thinks the matter out the hon. Member will come to the same conclusion.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Is not the hon. Member aware that at the present time, on some machine faces, there are more day-wage men working than ever since the pit was sunk, and that they are producing more coal?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Undoubtedly, but the point that was raised was that piecework had a bad effect upon the accident rate. That was his point, and I was trying to show that to do away with piecework might seriously reduce the actual wages earned in the aggregate by the manual workers in the pits. I think possibly the 1178 next step might be something in the nature of collective piecework. At present, as the House knows, we have what we call a profit-sharing arrangement, but, unfortunately, it has been in the main totally ineffective, and the reason is that the proportion which wages cost bears to total costs is so high in the coal industry that the maximum amount that could be earned under a profit-sharing agreement is not a very large one. Therefore, the stimulus is not very great and the reward is not so great either. In the case of collective piecework I think there are great possibilities. I say that, having had some experience over a period of years of working that system myself, and I offer the suggestion to hon. Members for their consideration.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
No, I mean collective piecework, with the whole unit as an organisation.
To return to the main subject, that is to say the report as a whole, I feel that many hon. Members will, like myself, have had the same sense of disappointment with that report that the hon. Member opposite and his colleagues have experienced. A feat was achieved in getting a unanimous report, and for that we must give the members of the Commission credit, but I cannot help thinking they might have gone a good deal further and still have had unanimity. Not having been a member of that Commission I do not know how difficult it was to attain the excellent result of a unanimous report, but a good deal more might have been said about the use of electricity on the coal face. I am one of the pioneers in the use of electricity on the coal face, and although in the last 40 years over which my experience extends the improvement has been perfectly extraordinary, I still maintain that electricity is being used in many cases where, to say the least, its use is undesirable In many pits the men are working with electricity in places where, undoubtedly, they have a feeling of nervousness. Mechanisation of every sort has been overdone in the pits of this country, and I believe that colliery owners are beginning at last to realise it.
The reason that is always given for the use of electricity even in places where it may be dangerous is concerned with 1179 the question of cost. To my mind the mining industry has for years been suffering from the effects of a fallacy, the fallacy that electricity as a motive-power for coal-face machinery is much more economical that, in fact, it really is. One of the reasons for that is that the efforts of the Ministry of Mines to secure safety where there is electrical machinery on the face have involved greater and greater capital expenditure on the part of the collieries. There seems to be no end to that increase of capital expenditure to secure safety, until now I think that capital expenditure factor has wiped out a very great deal of the economy of electricity in comparison with compressed air, particularly as it is now possible to have electrically-driven compressors which can be put in an advanced position underground and thus get the benefit of the efficiency of electricity right up to some safe spot in the airway and then to transmit the power over the final part of the journey by means of compressed air. I make no apology for advocating this view, because, although I am entirely engaged upon this work myself, as the House knows, I personally do not get a penny out of it. It does not matter what profit I make I do not get a penny more.
Compressed air has lagged behind technically until the last year or two. For some 25 years I have been engaged in endeavouring to convince colliery owners that compressed air is not so uneconomical as they imagine it to be. With properly-designed and constructed apparatus it can be a very efficient method of power transmission. My own efforts have been quite humble ones, but other people have made great advances. Anyone who has been in the mines for 40 years knows that 25 or 30 years ago compressed air used to leak from every pipe joint, with the result that although the air was compressed to a pressure of 80 lbs. at the surface by the time it was at the coalface there was only 15 lbs. or 20 lbs. pressure, the rest being sheer loss to the proprietors of the pit. An ingenious gentleman designed methods of securing the joints so that they did not leak, and it was a method which would allow the pipes to move a little with the strata without producing a leak, and every miner here who has worked in a compressed-air pit knows that the transmission of compressed air is now vastly better than it used to be.
1180 We have made such enormous strides in the last few years that the Commission would have been on safe ground in going a little further into the matter of safety with reference to the use of electricity on the face. But where electricity is used on the face I maintain that the Ministry of Mines has in one respect failed. Years ago I put to the electrical department a proposal that they should make it a rule that wherever electrical machinery was used on a coal face where gas might be present they should forbid absolutely the use of flat-faced joints on that machinery. I maintain that no electrical machinery in pits where gas may be present should have any other form of joint than what we term a spigot-and-socket joint, and that the locking of that joint must be automatic, so that the machine cannot be used unless that point is in a flameproof condition.
A disastrous explosion which occurred at a pit in the Midlands was traced eventually to an electric coal-cutter, and the tragic part of it was that it was probably owing to the efforts of the electrical inspectorate at the Ministry of Mines that that explosion occurred, as far as I can gather from the evidence, it had been laid down that where there was a flat-faced joint such as a vertical flat plate on the side of the machine attached by bolts or set screws, certain precautions must be taken. They said: "This plate might be scraped off by the timber or the face in the working of the machine, and therefore the plate should be recessed into the metal of the body of the machine so that the solid metal of the body shall catch the timber or the face and the cover shall not be scraped off in the course of working." What was the result? The men took that cover off and then they replaced it and screwed the nuts down tight on the bolts, but a bit of coal was lodged on the ledge which had been made by this arrangement, and that machine, although the cover was apparently tightly bolted up, was in a thoroughly dangerous condition and ultimately was the root cause of that explosion. There was a lack of practical common sense displayed there which I am sorry to say I have observed in other cases on the part of that Department of the Ministry. The will is there is make everything safe but very often the means chosen is not of the wisest nature.
For some time we have been told that, in the case of bolts and nuts on the covers 1181 of machines in the face, the bolts and nuts must be surrounded by a metal shroud cast on the cover. That, of course, is very wise. It prevents the nut from getting accidentally knocked and loosened so that a gas flame can get through the joint, but it introduces a very much greater danger. A nut arranged in that way cannot be taken off or screwed up without a special form of box spanner, which, at the critical moment, is only too frequently missing from the face. Instead of being able to improvise some means of tightening up this essential nut, the man says, "I will risk it," and he does, and a disaster happens. I have given two examples of what actually happens when there are foolish regulations on the part of the Ministry.
Now I come back to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, in relation to speeding up and safety. Here I may get some measure of agreement opposite. I maintain that in the coal industry, perhaps more than in any other industry, we suffer from the change in the trade union system which took place from 1910 onwards, when the State undertook what are really the functions of trade unions, and has carried out those functions to the grave disadvantage of the trade union movement. The first function of the trade unions was to get a man a job and until he found work to see that he was paid out-of-work benefit; but the State set up Employment Exchanges and unemployment insurance. The next function of the trade unions was to look after members who were sick, but the State set up a national sickness scheme. The next point was to look after people in their old age. Many trade unions pay superannuation to this date. The State stepped, in and said, "No, we will take away that function," and we got State old age pensions. Finally, the State intervened and said: "Hitherto it has been the business of the unions to see that their members receive the highest possible rate of remuneration, but in future the State shall fix a minimum wage, and shall endeavour by statutory means to maintain the standard of wages of the miners." A large proportion of our troubles at the present day in the mining industry, particularly speeding up and over-mechanisation, are due to those fundamental errors which were made from 1910 onwards in depriving the unions of their real functions and 1182 of the real benefits which they conferred upon their members.
I think it is fair to say that prior to 1910 the trade unions of this country were beginning to perform their duties in a most admirable way. Generations of trade union leaders had grown up, employers were becoming more civilised [Laughter]—I hope that hon. Members opposite will agree that there has been a tendency for employers of labour to become civilised. It has become quite marked. I know several employers of labour who show every sign of being civilised—and the system was beginning to work admirably. The bulk of the employers had begun to realise that trade unionism was an essential and beneficial part of industry. Then the State came along and smashed the whole thing. For political reasons the State tried to fix a standard of living for the workers in many cases so uneconomically high that an industry found itself saddled with a frozen wage rate which it could not alter because it was more or less statutory. There was only one possible solution if the industry was to survive, and that was to speed up and to mechanise.
In the days when trade unions settled these matters there was a certain elasticity. Your trade union leader, confronted with a demand for a reduction of wage rates, had this question to answer first of all: Are the employers telling the truth or are they not when they say that the industry cannot survive unless the men's wages are reduced? If the trade union leader came to the conclusion that the employers were telling the truth, in nine cases out of 10 he did his best to persuade the men that they would have to suffer a reduction of wages until the industry got on to an even keel again. If, on the contrary, he came to the conclusion that the employers were not telling the truth, consciously or unconsciously—I think it is admitted that very often they thought they were being ruined when really there was not much danger—he would advise his men to resist even to the extent of a stoppage of work. If that trade union were right in its diagnosis, and that was the case in nine instances out of 10, the stoppage of work would have its effect because public opinion would come into operation and the change proposed by the employers would not be made.
1183 Nowadays industry cannot do that, and particularly is this true in the coal industry. There is no elasticity, no give-and-take, to meet with exceptional or changing circumstances. There are the frozen wage rate and the frozen conditions of labour. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that if they are of opinion that speeding up and over-mechanisation in the coal industry are a danger to the men, in which I am inclined to agree with them, there is only one possible remedy, which is to stop speeding up and over-mechanisation. If that is done as has been suggested, by legislation, you may effect that object, but only by reducing the number of men employed in that industry. I will not go further into that point because it is a matter of economics which each hon. Member can work out for himself, except to say that it is a conclusion which will be borne out by any logical process of thought. I plead with hon. Members opposite to consider whether we have not gone too far in destroying the trade unions—because that is what the politicians have been engaged upon for the last 20 years—and whether the time has not come for the trade unions to say: "We are more capable of looking after the industry and the interests of the men employed in it than any Government Department can ever be."
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
I am sure that the whole House has listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I think the speech may be divided into two different parts, one of which was entrancingly interesting when the hon. Member was dealing with mechanisation and mining problems from that point of view. I think the House very much appreciated, so far as it was able to follow it, that part of the speech. I do not know that we were able fully to appreciate, on this side or in any other part of the House, the second part of the speech, although it is refreshing to find that there is an individualist left in this House, even on that side. The hon. Member must find his position one of considerable loneliness. There is only one question I should like to ask. Is the hon. Member prepared to go back in the history of the industry of this country to those very dark days when there was no attempt at all at regulation? I am sure we all agree that one service which 1184 this House has done to the industry during the last century is to attempt, in the face of very considerable opposition from the keen individualists, to regularise to some degree conditions in the industry. Whatever may be our views as to the future, I doubt whether anybody wants to go back to the "thirties" or "forties" of the nineteenth century.
We are not dealing this afternoon with a purely abstract question of manipulating difficult statistics, but with an essentially human problem and a tremendous amount of human suffering caused, as we have heard this afternoon, by employment in and about the mines. I have been reminded of the human nature of this tragedy, and perhaps the House will pardon a personal reference. It may be remembered that nearly five years ago, a tragedy of great importance took place at a mine in North Wales. We are sufficiently far removed from it by this time to regard that tragedy largely as a hideous nightmare that we have almost completely forgotten, but I am reminded again and again that to the wives and mothers of the people who were lost on that occasion is not something that is gradually vanishing out of sight and out of mind. I would like us all to feel that that is the real essence of the problem, and that it puts upon it a very different interpretation from that which we may put upon the figures with which we are dealing to-day.
I would remind the House that a disaster of that kind always awakens the conscience of the country. That is the essence of the tragedy of the mining industry. That tragedy is that every year, according to the report of the Commission, not fewer than 850 men, or three times the number that were killed at Gresford, are killed in the pursuit of their employment in this industry. This tragedy might be met with only in individual cases, but we should remember that it is none the less a real tragedy for those who are involved in it. Our duty to-day is to see whether we can reduce the numbers that are killed every year in the course of their employment in the mines. From that point of view it is a human problem, as it is from another point of view. The House of Commons, fortunately for itself, to-day and for many years past has had the opportunity of judging "of the quality of the miners of this country, and I make bold to suggest 1185 that occasionally the very daring and indifference of the miner himself makes him susceptible to accidents.
The report points out that every year thousands of accidents happen which ought not to happen, and I have no doubt that some of those accidents are due to the heroic qualities of the miner himself. Mining, as the report points out, is the most dangerous of all the major industries of this country. The figures have been given already. One in every 900 miners runs the risk of losing his life every year; two out of every 11 employed in the industry are entitled to compensation because of injuries received in the mine. References have been made to certain places in the report which hon. Members thought were the most important, but I venture to suggest that the crux of the difficulty is that no change has taken place in these figures for 50 years, and the position is very much worse, as I shall attempt to show, than it is in France. Not only have the figures not declined, but in some cases, as the report points out, they show signs of increasing. On page 66 of the report we have this statement:It will be seen that the total rate for killed and injured together in 1932–36 …is almost the same as in 1922–26 …the death rate, the total compensable injury rate, the aggregate accident rate from falls of ground and the aggregate accident rate from haulage accidents were all higher in 1932-36 than they were in 1922–26.The report points out, and I think we all agree, that no improvement can be effected without the co-operation of the owners, the managers and the workers themselves; and it also points out that we are working upon principles which were adopted as far back as 1872. That does not mean, of course, that those principles are not the right principles, but it does mean that we ought to prepare to reconsider the position, especially in view of the speeches we have had this afternoon from my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and from the hon. Member for Mossley. We are all realising at last that the character of the industry since 1872, and particularly since 1911, has been completely changed, and the report attempts to do something to meet the new conditions with which we are faced. It emphasises two changes which are I think, of fundamental importance. One of them, the increase in mechanisation, has been referred to again and again 1186 to-night. Mechanisation is very largely the result of the adoption of electricity as a motive power, and that in itself, as the hon. Member for Mossley told us so eloquently, has completely changed the character of the pits. The coal face is advancing much more rapidly than it used to do. That means a greater rate of release of gas. It means also the working of three shifts, and the third shift, as the report points out, has become as important from the point of view of production as the other two.
Turning to the other side of the picture, we find that inspection has not kept pace with the fact that the third shift—the night shift—is as important from the point of view of production as the other two. I entirely agree with the suggestion made by Mr. Joseph Jones that the proportion of inspection on the night shift should be greater than on either of the other two. Then there is the increased dust that is caused by the new machines, there is the noise, of which we have heard, and there is the danger from the machine itself.
In addition to these changes, there has been a change in another direction—in the concentration of control over a large number of mines. The agent at the present time, or the director, may be interested in a great many mines, but the Act of 1911 assumes that every mine was to be under the sole control of one manager. Now the manager has been deposed from the position of responsibility which he formerly held, because he had, to an increasing degree, to take orders from someone above him, that is to say, from a representative of the financial interests of the company. His authority has been undermined in another way in modern pits. Engineers and experts of all kinds are introduced into the pit, and in some cases they have equal authority with the manager himself. This puts an entirely new complexion on the duties and functions of the manager, and it is obvious that, as the report points out, the Act of 1911 ought to be completely altered from that point of view.
There would be some consolation from the introduction of increased mechanisation if we felt that the accident rate was being reduced at the same time, but that is not the case. An ingenious attempt was made by one witness before the Royal Commission to relate the accident 1187 rate to the tonnage production, but I am glad to say that the Commission disposed of that fallacy, pointing out that what is really important is the rate of accidents in relation to the man-shifts worked. We are concerned here, not with the cost of producing coal, nor with the number of deaths involved; we are more interested in the question of what chances the ordinary miner has of getting home again alive, and if we want to get that figure, the man-shift basis is the only one that we ought to consider.
There are one or two disquieting features, and I am glad that the report has emphasised them, with regard to the inspection of mines. Several suggestions are made with regard to reorganisation of the inspectorate, and it is, of course, a most important point. But what I am most concerned about is the fact that at the present moment the inspectorate—it may not be adequate; I do not know—is not able to locate some of the dangers that are obviously present in some very good mines as they are worked at the present time. It is very remarkable that the number of prosecutions should have declined so seriously during the last 25 years; it is not a third of what it was 25 years ago. We should all rejoice in that if it could be said at the same time that the number of accidents was only a third of what it was 25 years ago, but the number of accidents remains the same, and the number of prosecutions has declined by two-thirds. Another point, which came out very clearly in the Gresford inquiry, is the very unsatisfactory nature of the penalties that are involved. I am glad to find that the Royal Commission suggest that much more stringent penalties should be imposed on those who are found guilty of contravening the Act.
We are all, I presume, agreed that this matter can only be solved, as I have said already, by the co-operation of all those who are interested in the industry, but it is obvious, as I have indicated, that there has been a complete change in the kind of power that is exercised over the manager nowadays as compared with former times, and the question about which I am very much concerned is how we can bring responsibility home, not to the much harassed manager, not, perhaps, to the agent, but to those people higher up who put pressure on the industry and make it impossible for the manager to make the 1188 mine as safe as he would like it to be. Surely some responsibility ought to rest on the shoulders of the managing director and the other directors, who enjoy whatever profits the mine is producing. It seems to me to be ridiculous to say that the manager alone is responsible for the safety of the mine when one knows that, particularly with modern mechanisation and the modem desire to keep the mine producing all the time, a subtle pressure is being brought to bear on the manager to consider production rather than safety. The report says quite definitely that the fiction embodied in Section 2 (1) of the Act of 1911, that the manager always has the control, management and direction of the mine, in the face of these big amalgamations, must go, and the statutory provisions must be made to correspond with the actual situation.
I should like to say a word or two to try to substantiate what I said just now about the comparative inefficiency of the inspectorate at the present time. Anyone who has read the report of the Gresford inquiry, which was presided over by the Chief Inspector of Mines, must be impressed by the fact that the mines inspectors again and again failed to do their duty in that particular case. I am not going to cover again ground which is probably familiar to the House, because this matter was debated at great length, but let me read one or two extracts from the report. On the question of the manager it says:For over two months before the explosion he had confined his attention exclusively to one part of the mine, where belt conveyors were being installed. The under-manager was underground daily, but never on the night shift. The three overmen, one of whom was supposed to exercise control over this part of the mine, were there the month before. No air measurement had been taken since June, 1934, and it was never measured in some parts of the pit.The workers, when they were asked why they did not complain of these conditions, pointed out that, as has been suggested to-day, they were afraid of victimisation, and when they did report it no notice at all was taken. The charts which were supposed to show the condition of the mine, and which were available for inspection, were never seen by the inspectors, although they had inspected the mine no fewer than 129 times. That is what I meant when I said that I do not feel very happy about the organisation of 1189 mines inspection in this country, and I do not feel that, merely by an extension of inspection, we shall achieve the result that we desire. It is very remarkable, for example, that the number of accidents in France over a comparable period is only 44 as against our 117. Our industry, I quite admit, is bigger than that of France, but that does not justify the great discrepancy between the number of serious accidents and explosions here and in the French mines. I am sure it is the desire of all of us really to come together and do something effective for the miners, who are, after all, working in an industry that is the basis of every other industry in this country, and has contributed, possibly more than any other, to make Great Britain the great country that it is to-day.
§ 7.1 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest
From the very start of this Debate, when it was initiated by the hon. Member for the Gower Division (Mr. Grenfell) it has been marked by a great spirit of unanimity. The way the hon. Member dealt with the Report on Safety in Mines and the way it was dealt with afterwards by my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) are, I think, evidence that everyone, in whatever part of the House he sits, regards this as one of the most important of our responsibilities in relation to the industry. Personally, I have the honour to be associated with one big mining concern, and as such I can tell the House that that concern looks on this question of safety in mines as one of the greatest responsibilities of its enterprise. I am glad to feel that it has taken an advanced line in trying to deal with many of these problems.
I would not dare to address the House to-day on any question connected with the technical work of the mines. That, I think, is a matter for the technical people who have had actual experience of the physical conditions in the mines. But there are one or two points, which are rather questions of principle than of detail, which I would like to bring to the attention of the House. One was very well brought out by the hon. Member who has just sat down. He dealt with the question of the responsibility of the managers in the collieries. There is a tendency in the Royal Commission's Report to stress the question of the inspec- 1190 tion of mines. Now it is felt by some interests with which I am associated that if you put too much emphasis on the responsibility of the inspectorate, you are to some extent limiting the responsibility of the manager of the colliery. He is the man who is in the mine every day; he is-the man who is in closest touch with the working of the pit. He knows the danger and the difficulties. There was one further point made by my hon. Friend opposite, and that was that the inspection of mines by the inspectors was made much less often during the night shift than during the day shift. In that respect the colliery managers themselves would welcome a change in the practice of the inspectorate department.
There are certain recommendations in the report which are definitely matters on which Parliament should decide. There is the question of the age of the boys in the mines. There is also the question of working in hot mines, which was raised by my hon. Friend opposite. That is a matter, it seems to me, on which Parliament should give a decision by legislation. But when it comes to the technical points of mining practice those seem to be much more suited to be dealt with by regulations under the Mines Department. When these regulations are considered and before they are issued I very much hope—and the industry itself would wish this—that the Mines Department will get into consultation on all these technical points with the members of the Mining Association, the members of the Mineworkers' Federation and the Association of Colliery Managers, because there are recommendations in the report which may be of great value and which are absolutely essential in certain mines. On the other hand, these may be things that it is unnecessary to do in other mines, and we do not want to impose upon the industry something which is unnecessary and which we recognise must be costly.
When it is a question of cost or safety there is no doubt that safety must come first. But if it is a question of something being imposed on the mines which is not necessary, that can only be ascertained by conference between the representatives of those who are working in the mines, the representatives of those who are managing the mines, and the Mines Department itself. I hope that before those things are put into force they will be the subject of discussion under the 1191 Mines Department, and will be dealt with by regulations. I could not help welcoming the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in which he frankly admitted that if the industry is involved in loss by ensuring the safety of our mines, the burden must eventually fall upon the public. The South Wales coalfield, and particularly the export trade of South Wales, are working on a very narrow margin of loss or profit, and the House should realise that what we do for the safety of the miners is a duty that must be shared by all concerned, and eventually by the consumers of coal. We who are interested in collieries will do all we can to advocate the extension of the principle of safety in mines, but there must be some margin of profit for the industry or the industry will come to an end.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
I am sure the House will agree that we have all been interested in the speeches we have had from the opposite side of the House this afternoon. If I do not accept all that was said about change of mind and heart among the coal-owners, it is because I happen to have some little knowledge of the working side of the industry, and also a fairly long memory. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), with whom I like to cross swords, because he has always something interesting to say, charged us with presenting our statistics on occasion in such a way as not to give quite a true picture of the state of the mining industry. Then he proceeded to give contrasting statistics himself, until I felt it was almost more dangerous to walk across Oxford Street than to work in a coal pit. The actual position is this. The death rate in the coal mining industry is 1.2 per thousand. The death rate on the roads, tragic though it be, is about one in 7,500; in other words it is nine times more safe to walk on the roadways than it is to work in the coalfields.
§ Mr. Smith
But the hon. Member forgets that some people spend 24 hours a day. I think the Royal Commission's report is not only a very comprehensive 1192 document but an extremely useful one, and one out of which we can, I hope, build an Act of Parliament that will make the pits safer than they are at present. The keynote of most of the speeches from the other side of the House this afternoon has been that in order to get the best results there must be co-operation among all concerned. The mineworkers of this country have always been in favour of co-operation for safety purposes. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), when Secretary for Mines in 1930, not only organised huge conferences, at which I had the opportunity of presiding, in order to get the best out of both sides, but he went so far as to consult the various interests with regard to co-operation, and it is very interesting to read what the Royal Commission say about that. On page 435 of their report I read:In October, 1930, on the initiative of the then Secretary for Mines, Mr. E. Shinwell, the whole question of the establishment of joint committees to deal with safety problems was fully discussed between the Mines Department on the one hand and the Mining Association and the National Association of Colliery Managers on the other. … Neither of the latter bodies was prepared to co-operate in any action to promote the setting up of such committees at mines generally.It may do something to strip this Debate of a good deal of nonsense if I say that we have always been prepared to cooperate, but we have not got the co-operation from the colliery owners that we would have liked. And may I tell the hon. Member for North Leeds, as one who has worked in the pits, that we used to try to take an interest not only in our work but in making the pits safer, but there were occasions when the colliery manager told us quite bluntly that he was manager of the pit and he was not going to have any interference by any trade union committee; in other words, in the words of the poem, it was ours to obey. If the members of the Mining Association were sincerely in agreement with us in desiring co-operation for safety purposes, they would recommend that efforts should be made to have at each colliery a joint committee with power to examine the cause of accidents and to make whatever recommendations are necessary.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member has told us that at all times the miners were anxious to co-operate. If he will refer to page 19 of the report he will see that the Mining Industry Act, 1920, contained a number of provisions providing, among 1193 other things, for statutory machinery for setting up pit committees, consisting of all parties to the industry, to deal with the safety and health of the miners. And if he will read a little further on he will see that at first the mineowners were willing to co-operate, but the Miners' Federation were not, and when later on the Federation signified their acceptance of the scheme, the owners withdrew their previous offer of co-operation.
§ Mr. Smith
I expected to be reminded of that, but you have to remember the passion of the period. You have to remember the Sankey Commission, and the fact that, because of the appalling social conditions in this country, certain recommendations were made by that commission, which we allege were never carried out by this House, despite the promises made by Mr. Bonar Law and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It is true that later the Miners' Federation asked for, and I am bound to admit that I was one of those who in 1920 urged that we should accept, in Yorkshire at least, that part of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, and set up these committees at each pit, in order to make our pits safe and our men take some interest in the mining industry. I have no objection to that being quoted against us, because it is true. But if we want to get down to it, the mine workers are prepared to co-operate, as long as it is on a fair basis, and not a one-sided basis, such as some of us have been accustomed to.
There are some recommendations of the Royal Commission about which I am very pleased, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) himself would not regard this report as the last word that can be said about accidents in mines. If I have one criticism, it is that they have not gone far enough in certain directions. Take the question of electricity and explosions. It is perfectly true that good ventilation is the first defence against explosions. Good ventilation is also necessary for health, and if you have adequate ventilation you can keep the air in what may be termed a non-explosive condition. But suppose the management of a pit neglect ventilation and you get an accumulation of gas up to the explosion point, and you have electricity at the coal face, you have a big potential danger of explosion, which I contend you have not 1194 got if you use compressed air. I would like to see electricity at the coal face abolished, or at least reduced to an absolute minimum.
With regard to inspections, I think the Royal Commission have made one or two excellent suggestions. They deal first with His Majesty's inspectorate, and they say what they think ought to be done. With much of that I agree. Then they suggest that Section 16 should be amended, so as to make inspection by workmen possible, or in some cases compulsory, and that the payment for these inspections should be on a fifty-fifty basis. With that I agree. I have had on more than one occasion to inspect pits under Section 16, and I have always found that workmen's inspections paid for themselves because you were able to satisfy yourself that things were all right, and also the mere fact that you were going down compelled the manager to carry out the provisions of the law. One of the reasons why miners' inspections have been on the decrease in recent years is that, because of low wages and loss of time, many have not been able to pay for workmen's inspections. I hope that effect will be given to this suggestion.
I believe that deputies play a very important part in life underground from the safety aspect, and I read with a great deal of pleasure what the Royal Commission said on this matter. I agree with their suggestion to limit the size of deputies' districts. I think the deputy should be left entirely free from all questions affecting output, and that he should be able to devote the whole of his time to carrying out his statutory duty. What actually occurs? The hon. Member for North East Leeds will not deny that many deputies have been worried to death because they have their statutory functions to perform and they have to look after output at the same time. How many deputies do we know who have kept men in their places when there has been more than 2½ per cent. of gas, because they were afraid of the wigging they would get at the office if the output happened to be down? They should be free also to organise among themselves without being tied down to colliery companies. I have a relative who was a deputy, and I know what I am talking about. The deputy should have the right to organise, just as the mineworker has; he should have a right to agitate, and to 1195 see that he is not penalised if he refuses to violate the conditions of the law.
I think that the Royal Commission have done the only proper thing on the question of deputies districts, and I hope that when we come to discuss the Bill we shall not have opposition from the coalowners merely on the ground of cost. The hon. and gallant Member opposite made an excellent maiden speech this afternoon. I hope the House will hear more of him in Debates, particularly on mining subjects. I was interested in what he said about his grandfather, because I know that a certain name played an important part in mining development. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman showed himself a good Conservative, because, while he expressed sympathy and desired to see the pits more safe, he came down to the point that "you have got to keep down the cost." When it comes to the question of safety, as against the question of cost, I am on the side of safety every time. We have the Royal Commission's report, and we ought to see their recommendations carried out. With regard to Section 67, I see that the Royal Commission recommend that the 2½ per cent. of gas should be reduced, over a period, to 2 per cent. The man who in 1910 stood at that Box and defined what Section 67 meant was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). He declared that it meant that nobody should be allowed to work underground in an atmosphere containing more than 2½per cent. of gas. That definition has not been complied with, and I hope that this question will be dealt with when we get the new Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred to one question with which, I think, the Mines Department can deal, even without legislation. That is the emergency Section. I would not challenge the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite, because this does not happen to be his job, but if the Minister had been there I would challenge him to deny that when that Section was put in the Act it was not intended to allow ordinary coal-getting at the coal face. It was put in for emergency purposes only, so that if, for instance, a miner was getting ready to go to the pit bottom and he was told that there was somebody buried, he could stay in the pit 1196 24 hours without violating the law. Most pitmen on occasions have had to stay in the pit when their services were needed, particularly in order to rescue a buried comrade or to get a road through, but to-day there are companies interpreting the emergency Section so as to keep men in the pit for eight, nine, or even ten hours getting coal at the coal face. I have a copy of an agreement in my pocket—for obvious reasons, I am not going to mention names—under the terms of which a colliery company almost forces on its workmen a condition that if a face is not cleared, a certain number of men must be kept in until it is cleared. We on this side of the House believe that the question of that emergency Section ought to be tackled. There is too much overtime worked under that Section, and that is not good either from the economic angle or the human angle. I hope that as a result of this Debate we shall have no putting off, no hesitation, no holding back, but that we shall have the Department facing up to the report of this Royal Commission and that, as a result, we shall have a new Act of Parliament to make the pits of this country safer than they are at present.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Cross)
My first task this evening must be to express on behalf of my right hon. and gallant Friend his apologies and regrets that he could not be here to speak in the Debate. The House fully recognises, I am sure, that that is a very genuine regret. On the other hand, it will be some consolation to my right hon. and gallant Friend when I convey to him the very kind expressions of sympathy that have fallen from the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and other hon. Members, and particularly the kind words which those hon. Members employed in referring to my right hon. and gallant Friend's work and his keen interest in the subject of safety in mines. The House in the circumstances which confront us this evening will not, I am sure, expect me to deal in detail with many of the technical points that have been raised. For instance, the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has raised a number of matters, no doubt of great importance, which I should be quite unable to deal with—they are far too technical in their nature— 1197 without prior consultation with officials of the Department. But hon. Members may be sure—and it is no formal assurance—that my right hon. and gallant Friend will give all these matters his fullest consideration as soon as he is well enough to do so.
A great deal has been said about the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and the House will wish to have a brief statement as to the action that is being taken in regard to it. It might, however, first be useful if I were to give an outline of the statistics regarding deaths and serious injuries for 1938 as compared with 1937. Unhappily the figures for 1938 show little or no improvement as compared with those for 1937, and, indeed, as regards the fatal accident position, there has actually been a slight worsening in the situation. The number of deaths, 859 in 1938, is exactly the same as the figure for 1937, but the output in 1938 was some 13,000,000 tons lower, and the number of man-shifts worked was also less, so that, expressed on the basis of man-shifts, the fatal accident rate, surface and underground, for 1938 was 0.41 per 100,000 man-shifts and 0.40 in 1937. The number of serious injuries was 3,136 in 1938, and 3,351 in 1937, a fall of some 6½per cent., as compared with a fall of 3½per cent. in the number of man-shifts worked. In both years a major disaster occurred from explosion. In 1938 there was the Markham disaster, in which 79 lives were lost, and in 1937 the Holditch disaster, in which 30 lives were lost. There was also in 1938 the fire at Dumbreck Colliery at which nine lives were lost, and in 1938 103 lives in all were lost by accidents due to gases, coal dust and fires, as compared with 81 in 1937.
The record of explosions in the course of the past eight years has been a bad one and, as shown by the figures given not long ago, compares very unfavourably with the record in France and in Germany. This was strikingly brought to notice in a report by one of the then deputy-chief inspectors of mines to which the hon. Member for Gower called attention. This report was before the Royal Commission when it drafted its recommendations, and it is frequently referred to in the Commission's report. The industry must be prepared for a drastic strengthening of precautions in this matter. As regards 1939. we are not yet 1198 at the end of the first quarter and the period is too short to justify the drawing of sound comparisons, but I am glad to say that there has been a reduction both in deaths and serious injuries compared with the corresponding figures last year to the extent of 31 deaths and 83 serious injuries, which is rather higher in proportion than the reduction that has taken place in the same period in output.
Turning to the Royal Commission's report, I can only reaffirm what my right hon. Friend has already said when he informed the House on 1st February that the Government accepted the report in its general sense and purport. The report is very voluminous, covering a multitude of technical points, some very controversial; it embodies 179 major recommendations, and there are, in addition to that, some hundreds of related subsidiary suggestions. The report, even so, deals for the most part with principles and with general provisions—its terms of reference invited it to do so—and there remains a very great deal of detail to be worked out before legislation can be introduced. The Bill will, obviously, be a long and a very complicated one, a fact fully appreciated by the hon. Member for Gower. It involves discussion on many points with the different sections of the industry and it could not possibly be ready this Session. The hon. Member for Gower said that he wanted a really good job made of it and, if a good job is to be made of it, it could not be produced this Session. The Secretary for Mines has, however, promised to take action at once with a view to a substantial strengthening and reorganisation of the mines inspectorate and the administrative services. He also said that he was closely examining certain other of the Commission's recommendations to see how far they could be dealt with by way of regulation or otherwise under existing powers where it is found practicable to do this without prejudice to or confusion with the impending legislation.
It might be of assistance if I state what is being done in advance of legislation, and I will do this under three main heads, the first being what can be done by administrative action alone; the second, what involves first of all further detailed inquiry; and, third, what can be done under existing powers. As to the first, proposals for substantially strengthening the Health and Safety Division of the Mines Department and the headquarters 1199 of the inspectorate have been formulated and are now under discussion. In the meantime consideration is being given to the various matters which can be dealt with administratively, but little real progress can be made with them without additional staff for the purpose, as the existing staff is fully occupied with other work and with the preparation of material for legislation or advance regulation. Both the hon. Member for Gower and the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) emphasised the need for safety first organisation and propaganda. I can state that when the staff is available it will be possible to make a start at once on the development of the new testing services as well as the establishment of machinery to deal with safety first organisation and propaganda. As regards the provincial portion of the inspectorate, the Government accepts the general lines of reorganisation recommended by the Royal Commission and a detailed scheme is now being worked out. My right hon. and gallant Friend hopes to be in a position to make a statement on the subject shortly and, although it will take some time to give complete effect to the scheme, it is expected that the proposed reorganisation will commence this year so as to have it in full working order in readiness to operate any new legislation that may be passed next session.
Now I come to my second head-matters involving further detailed inquiry. The first concerns electricity regulations. A Departmental Committee of electrical engineers, under the chairmanship of Professor William Cramp, has been set up to consider what detailed amendments should be made to the electricity regulations in the light of the Commission's recommendations on the subject. The Committee is holding its first meeting on the 31st of this month. Secondly, it is hoped very shortly to set up another Departmental Committee, as recommended by the Commission, to examine methods of suppressing and collecting coal dust produced in mechanised working. My third point concerns safety organisation and propaganda, described by the hon. Member for Gower as training men to be aware of danger. This Committee which is recommended, namely an advisory committee on safety organisation and propaganda, will have to wait until staff is available to undertake the adminis- 1200 trative work involved. Fourthly, as a preliminary step to legislation on workmen's inspections, the Mining Association and the Mineworkers' Federation have been invited to consider jointly what machinery is required to give effect to the Commission's recommendations on the subject. This I think exactly meets the views on this subject by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Wales. Early progress is desirable, for the plans for reorganising the Government's inspectorate should obviously have regard to the character and extent of workmen's inspections, to the volume of work these are likely to make for the Government inspectors and to the extent to which they may reduce the need for frequent routine inspections by the Government inspectorate. My last matter under this heading concerns a recommendation of the Commission that representative bodies of owners of mines of shale, fireclay, and stratified ironstone, which come under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, should be invited to examine the application of the recommendations of the Commission to such mines. They have been so invited.
Now I come to my third main heading, namely, matters that can be dealt with by way of regulation or order under existing powers in advance of legislation. In my reply here lies a large part of the reply to the concluding question of the hon. Member for Gower—What are the Government going to do? A survey of the Commission's recommendations has been completed in order to see what can be usefully and properly done under existing powers in advance of legislation. The House will be aware that powers exist for actually amending parts of the Act itself, but my right hon. Friend has not considered it to be suitable to use these powers on the eve of a general amending Bill. The matters selected for advance action have, therefore, been limited to-such as can be dealt with without altering the Act. They must also be such as will not cause confusion in the drafting of the Bill. I do not want the House to suppose that action of this kind is being taken with the object of avoiding legislation or in any way delaying the Bill. The object, which obviously is a proper one, is to effect such useful reforms as may be found practicable in the period which must necessarily elapse before the Bill becomes law. The preparation of the 1201 Bill itself is to be given first place but, so far as time and circumstances will permit, action will be taken in advance of legislation. The extent to which this will be possible will depend primarily on the amount of time which the available staff can spare for this work after giving priority to work on the Bill itself. As examples of the matters on which, subject to these reservations, advance action on the Commission's recommendations may be taken I want to mention certain measures to improve the ventilation in safety lamp mines and, in particular, to require the air current in such mines to be sampled systematically, the general use of sheathed explosives and other measures by way of amendment of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order, to increase safety in shot-firing and the enforcement of suitable precautions against the inhalation of dangerous dust with a view to combating silicosis and similar pulmonary diseases.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Can the hon. Member state whether the inquiries into shot-firing will have regard to special methods of stemming and to appliances in connection with charging shot holes?
§ Mr. Cross
I am sorry, but I must tell the hon. Member that that question is too technical for me to answer. If I take note of his observation and bring it to the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend, that may meet his point. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has voiced his appreciation of the work of the Royal Commission and made very kindly references to their three years of labour and their unanimous report. I want also to repeat the appreciation which has already been expressed by my right hon. and gallant Friend in this House with respect to the members of the Royal Commission.
The hon. Member for Gower raised a question in connection with first aid and health. On that matter I would point out that the work is being helped by the provision of pithead baths which is being accelerated and extended by the Miners' Welfare Fund Bill which received its Third Reading in another place last week and now awaits only the Royal Assent. My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) spoke of the advisability of keeping the new Bill in general terms and not putting technical details into it. I have particu- 1202 larly noted that suggestion and will call the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend to it. The hon. Member for Leigh made some interesting comparisons between the distances between the Houses of Parliament and the lengths of long wall faces, and asked me to reply about the depth of cut or the length of the coal face. I was to some extent relieved on that matter because my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), who is competent to deal with that point, replied. I am sure the hon. Member for Leigh did not really expect me to reply. I must, however, confess that I thought he was somewhat overstating the case when he described the miners as being terror-stricken every time they went down into a long wall face. I am perhaps wrong to state my opinion in such matters against that of the hon. Member, but I think that to use such a strong term as "terror-stricken" does not accord with the general conception of the courage of the British miner. The hon. Member also asked me whether the water danger was being watched in connection with certain abandoned pits in Lancashire. The divisional inspector has that matter under close and constant watch.
Unfortunately, I find it necessary to join issue with the hon. Member for Mossley, and it may be easier to do so in his absence. He said that the Ministry of Mines had failed in two respect in their regulations for the use of electricity. I cannot pretend to follow him in all his points of detail. Nevertheless I find myself under the necessity of not allowing his criticism to pass unchallenged. I know that he has very decided views about electrical appliances, but I know also that his view is not that of many others who are in equally close touch with the work of the Department in connection with the matter to which he referred. I should like to add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members with respect to the hon. Member for the Fylde Division (Captain Lancaster) upon his maiden speech. Hon. Members always listen with interest and attention to an hon. Member who speaks from his own experience on a subject of which he has first-hand knowledge. I am sure that hon. Members who are interested in coal mining listened with great attention to what my hon. Friend said, and that they will await with interest the next 1203 occasion when he addresses the House on these subjects.
The hon. Member for Gower and other hon. Members have emphasised that safety is largely a matter of good management, but they have stressed the necessity of cooperation between all who are concerned in the industry. That brings me to a further recommendation of the Royal Commission in which they draw attention to the number of improvements which the industry could make on its own initiative without waiting for legislation. Some of these recommendations do not involve legislation, and they were particularly stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds. In particular, I should like to draw attention to the Royal Commission's view that:without a wholehearted effort to cooperate on the part of the industry, our proposals will, we fear, leave these matters very much where they are.By "the industry" the Royal Commission do not merely mean the owners and the managers, but all classes, including the workmen, the need for whose active co-operation is emphasised over and over again in the report. The Royal Commission asked for '' a change of attitude'' and "a higher standard of professional conduct" on the part of all concerned. It is not therefore merely a question of what the Government are doing to do, but what others are going to do to implement the spirit of the report. The Government have given a lead and are doing and will do all they can, but neither more regulations nor more inspectors will achieve real results by themselves without genuine and effective co-operation by the industry as a whole.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
We who are privileged to come from mining constituencies gladly avail ourselves of this opportunity to discuss the vital question of safety in mines. We are not unaware in these days of international crisis that these domestic questions may be somewhat overshadowed, and at the same time we realise that the House and the country require all the patriotism that can be shown. May I suggest that if one important section of the community, the miners, received more attention in regard to security and safety perhaps there might be accorded a larger measure of patriot- 1204 ism than exists now? The Secretary for Mines has been unable through illness to be in his place to-day, and the House sympathises with him and hopes that he will have a speedy recovery. In his absence his deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, has apologised for his lack of knowledge to some extent, but we must all agree that he has carried out his duties very well. We respect his refreshing frankness and candour in saying that there were some questions which he could hardly understand and that he would submit them to the Secretary for Mines for his early consideration.
I am not accustomed to commenting on speeches that have been made by hon. Members opposite. I prefer to make my own notes and comments, but there have been certain speeches made from the opposite benches to which I should like to refer. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) suggested that if in the mining industry piece-work were abolished the result would be the saddling of the industry with extra cost for supervision because of reduced output fears, I resent that suggestion very definitely. All my life, up to nine months ago, when I left the colliery in Yorkshire to come to this House, I have been a miner, and I object strongly to the point of view that a miner must have the impelling economic principle of piece-work in order that he can give his best work. Such a suggestion comes very badly from people who do not have their salaries governed by output of work or speeches. Civil servants are not governed in their salaries by the amount of work they turn out on the piece system. I do not think it would be suggested that members of the police force are paid by the number of cases they take to the police station. Cabinet Ministers, many of whom are absent from the Front Government Bench, are certainly not paid by piece-work attendance in the House of Commons. Joking apart, if there is one industry that is entitled to the abolition of piece-work it is the mining industry. They have to deal with mother Nature and with the whims and caprices of mother Nature, with all the attendant dangers, and it ought not to be suggested that because of our rightful plea for the abolition of piece-work we would not give a fair day's work if a fair day's wage was accorded to us.
1205 The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said that the coalowners had never opposed any legislation or proposals made in this House on the question of safety in mines. Is that the test? Ought not the test to be that the coalowners without inducement, without compulsion, either by legislation or otherwise, having so many lives in their keeping, should bring the proposals forward themselves? The hon. Member referred to the wonderful interest that he and other coalowners were taking in the question of first aid. I would point out that in the mining industry the working men in their social hours are largely the people who are doing the really effective work in first aid at the collieries, and doing it, I believe, largely if not entirely without any remuneration.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I do not think that alters the point which I was trying to make that it is largely the working people in the mining industry who are doing the work of tending their injured comrades.
§ Mr. Collindridge
It is quite right that that should be so and we do not object, but I know collieries where the miners are engaged on the piecework system and are only paid according to the number of tons of coal sent out of the pit, and those men every day carry in first-aid outfit, very often purchased by themselves, for the purpose of being ready in case of emergency to give attention to an injured comrade. The hon. Member for North Leeds deigned to compare injuries and accidents to mine workers with accidents to people on the roads. We want to cooperate with the mineowners on this question of safety as far as possible, but if there is a suggestion from any coalowners' representative to the effect that the risk of accident in the mines is only as great as the risk of accident on the roads, then I do not think that suggestion likely to create the proper atmosphere for cooperation.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I will take the hon. Member on that point. Has he considered, in the first place, that there are only some 750,000 men in the mining industry and that all those men are not underground at the same time? It would be fair to say that at the peak period there are not 250,000 men in the pits at one time. But there are over 40,000,000 people traversing the roads of this country from day to day. I suggest that the two instances on figures are outside the range of comparison altogether. Furthermore, the roads of Britain cover many miles. Has the hon. Member considered, in comparison with the mileage of roads above ground, the mileage of roadways in the pits? I think if he goes into these details he will readily discover that the comparison which he suggested between accidents on the roads and accidents in the mines, is most unjustifiable and ought never to have been made. I do not think we have heard the last of that argument. I think the miners and the general public equally will resent the suggestion that a person is as safe in the bowels of the earth in a coal mine, as on the roads of the country.
When the hon. Member claims that the coalowners have never opposed safety legislation, let me remind him of what happened in his own county only a few years ago, in regard to the operation of Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act which permits miners on occasion to select some of their number to inspect mines on their behalf. Some coalowners in Yorkshire refused to permit the deduction from the wages of the miners of the amounts necessary to pay those workmen who were to make inspections. The men had, by resolution, decided upon this policy of inspection, but there were coalowner friends of the hon. Member for North Leeds who refused the men the opportunity of having deducted from their wages the amounts of cost necessary for that inspection.
I wish now to refer to a point dealt with by the Royal Commission, namely, the danger of undercutting coal. Our mines are inspected not only by officials but by workmen for the possibility of gas coming with the extraction of coal. Under the new machine system for coal-mining, you have undercutting of the coal and with that extraction, there is the likelihood of coal gas arising and there is no possibility of inspection under the "cut." 1207 Before I came to this House I was privileged to serve the miners in an industrial capacity. In 1937 I was deputed to visit a pit in North Staffordshire where there had been an explosion involving the loss of 33 lives. At the inquiry the opinion was expressed that the accident had occurred as a consequence of coal-cutting. In the Royal Commission's report reference is made to the ultimate result of that inquiry which found definitely that the fire which caused the explosion arose in consequence of coal-cutting operations. In view of the ever-increasing amount of coal which is now being got by the machine system, I submit that consideration should be given to this question as speedily as possible. The Royal Commission suggest that the Research Board of the Mines Department has already conducted a certain amount of research and that there is now a preparation which when placed in the machine stifles at birth the possibility of any sparking as a consequence of coal-cutting operations. If such a preparation exists and can be applied effectively, then I hope speedy consideration will be given to the adoption of that idea.
I desire also to call attention to the very heavy incidence of both fatal and non-fatal accidents among boys engaged in the mining industry. I believe that the average of all non-fatal accidents in the industry is round about 188 per thousand, but in relation to boys under 16 the rate is very much higher and I believe it is in the region of 240 or 250 per thousand. To put it in a simpler form, the risk of accident to an adult is once in every five years but in the case of boys the risk of accident is once in every three years and nine months, showing a much greater immunity from accident in the case of adults. Certain steps could be taken with a view to decreasing this high accident rate among boys. I would suggest total prohibition of boys entering mines at the early age of 14. I was shocked recently in my own Division to learn of a case of a boy who had left school only a few days previously and entered a local mine and who had been killed during his first day at work. As a result of that there was a prosecution on the ground that the boy had not received the necessary superintendence in the discharge of his duties but there was no conviction.
1208 Incidentally convictions after the event are not what we desire. We stand for the prevention of accidents.
Before coming to this House I had the privilege of representing my county in connection with the subject of further education for workers in the mining industry, with special regard to the attendance of our boys at safety classes. I am glad to know that these classes are being better attended than they were formerly but I suggest that a full attendance cannot be expected having regard to the conditions under which the boys have to work. In my county a boy must have descended the pit before six o'clock in the morning. Many of them have an hour's walk to reach their work. I ask hon. Members to consider the case of a boy of tender years rising at four o'clock in the morning, taking a hurried meal, walking a long distance to the pit and then doing his day's work in the pit. Some may perchance think that the workers spend only 7½hours in the pit, but there is the walking to and from work and the descent and ascent of the shaft and very often instead of 7½ hours the actual time is nearer 8½hours. When one of these lads returns home in the evening having left there at five o'clock in the morning, it is often 3.30 or four o'clock in the afternoon. I suggest that you cannot expect a boy under those conditions to be ready and willing to attend a safety class even though the object of the class is his own safety welfare. I make what I hope will be regarded as a constructive suggestion, that the Mines Department should request the coalowners who have not already done so, to follow the good example of a few coalowners in some parts of the country and give inducements to the boys to attend safety classes by allowing them to be absent from work on one day a week without loss of pay.
I want to augment the plea put from these benches at least, if not from the benches opposite, on the matter of overtime and its ill effects. I would like the Mines Department seriously to consider this aspect of things, that the faculties of our people, under the conditions in which they work with extended hours, in the matter of vision and hearing are not so acute during these overtime hours as at the commencement of the shift. Although it may be suggested that official reports do not record any great extension of 1209 overtime, less than a week ago, in my constituency, I was confronted with a miner constituent who had gone to a local colliery at 6 p.m. on the night of 27th February and had only been permitted to ascend at 7 o'clock the next morning, constituting 13 hours actually underground. I may say, without disclosing any further particulars, that I am going to seek the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the necessary authorities what I feel to be the misdemeanour on the part of the coalowners at this colliery in allowing that sort of thing.
I want to refer to a most important aspect of this matter of safety in mines. It is the position of the colliery deputy in the mining industry. I hold the view that the colliery deputy, even with the best of intentions, is very often torn between the dual loyalty to what we on these benches feel should be his paramount duty with regard to safety, and another duty that he has to the people who employ him of getting output in coal production up the shaft. Under the present dispensation in coal mining, with machine mining rapidly growing, this dual loyalty is strained more than hitherto. You have the machine system definitely requiring that in a given cycle of operations in so many hours we shall have a given face cleared of coal. There is naturally, because of the economic cost, a greater tendency to have this clearing, because failure to clear ruins the whole scheme of the cycle. You have a much greater cost, assuming you do not have the clearing of the face, than you would have under the old system of hand-getting operations. I am glad that the Commission have dealt fairly extensively in their report with the position of the deputy, and that they have tried to look at the thing from the angle that we have tried, both industrially and politically, to deal with this situation.
I mentioned earlier that I was privileged on behalf of the Miners' Federation to go and investigate an explosion at the Holditch Colliery, in North Staffordshire, in 1937. We found that there had been a fire caused as a consequence of coal-cutting operations, and eventually the fire resulted in explosion and 33 men lost their lives. Preceding that fatal day of the 7th July there had been a warning. On the 6th June, only a month before, there had been a fire 1210 at the exact point in the working-face and with the exact machine that caused the happening of the 7th July when the explosion resulted, and that fire was extinguished, and although a colliery official was present, no report figured in the official reports either to the workmen, the colliery management, or to the mines inspector. Merely a private note was sent to the agent of the colliery for his consideration, and that report, which was not officially on the report paper, was carried no further. Had that deputy not been over-concerned about the continuance of coal-getting operations on 6th June, and had we had, after the extinguishing of the fire, an immediate investigation as to the likely causes, they might have prevented the possibility of disaster on 7th July and the consequent loss of life. We respond on that account to the suggestion which the report of the Royal Commission makes in its pages that the colliery deputies should at least have an independent organisation for the opportunity of discussing among themselves their peculiar difficulties, and of being freed, without the possibility of trammel and intimidation from anybody else.
In my county of Yorkshire we have what is called a mutual scheme, and there is nearly a virtual compulsion on the part of the colliery deputy to join this scheme. One of the clauses of the mutual scheme —I believe it is Clause 5—precludes the possibility of the colliery deputy joining any bona-fide trade union of his own. I admit that there are certain emoluments which ensue to the deputies who join these schemes, but if the cost of these emoluments comes out of the mining industry proper, as it does, surely it is unfair that these deputies, admittedly few in number, who feel that their liberty and freedom to organise are being grossly restricted by this mutual scheme, should be prevented from having the opportunity of sharing in these schemes just as the people do who are prepared to submit to the loss of their liberty.
I am glad that the Commission have reported favourably upon an independent deputy organisation to consider their own point of view. We criticise from these benches at times, and perhaps on the industrial side of our trade union movement we are prone to make criticism of the coalowners and perhaps of the Government with regard to the treatment of 1211 the people in our industry, but I want all Members, and the country too, to realise that we are ready and willing for cooperation on equal status if the question is going to be the safeguarding of life and limb and of the dependants of our people. I conclude with a quotation from a gentleman who is privileged to be the acting president of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain—Mr. William Lawther. He uttered these words a few days ago to our mining people:'' Each workman by co-operation with fellow workmen and officials must appreciate that safety is something more than a slogan, it is an obligation and a duty to your wife and family. Moreover it is to a large degree the application of your intelligence and your common sense. "Do not go about your work as though you had not another minute to live. There will be pits and coal long after we are no more. Take things steadily and work reasonably and with care. Mining is a skilled job demanding care and attention. Treat it as such. Put safety before output because that extra ton of coal and the risk taken in getting it will not make you any richer at the year's end. Help yourself to be safe and by doing so help your fellow worker. Give the younger boys quiet advice and assistance since someone may be doing the same for your boy in another part of the mine.I echo the sentiments expressed by the acting President of the Miners' Federation. I would make this suggestion to our coalowner friends on the Government Benches and in the country. We are ready even before legislation comes to meet and talk and co-operate on this matter of safety. I would suggest that the speeches we have made and the speeches from coal-owning interests on the Government Benches should be put to more practical effect. Of the coalowners I ask, what about next week suggesting to all the pits in Great Britain that we should start safety pit committees without any legislation? That would be a step in the right direction. If the coalowners decline to do that I would suggest that the Government should be as quick as possible in introducing the beneficent features of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
I am not a miner, nor a coalowner, and I have no coalmines in my constituency, but I am a serious student of accidents and have studied very carefully the report of this Royal Commission and listened to nearly all the 1212 speeches this evening as an interested outsider. My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has been attacked for making a comparison between the general mortality rate of miners and that of the population at large. I have obtained from the Library the Decennial Supplement of the Registrar-General for the 10 years ending 1931 which deals with mortality rates. It bears out in general the statement made by the hon. Member for North Leeds, although a different interpretation might properly be placed upon the figures. The facts are that the general mortality rate of miners does not compare unfavourably with that of the population of England and Wales, but for the unsatisfactory conditions, external altogether to the pit, in which they live. It is a striking fact that the mortality of miners' wives is as unfavourable compared to the mortality of the wives of the population at large as is the mortality of miners compared to the mortality of males in England and Wales.
It seems clear, and the Registrar-General makes the point, that there has been a deterioration in the general expectation of life of miners in the last 30 years, apparently due to factors external altogether to the miners. To some extent it is due to the more active and able-bodied men leaving the industry, and to some extent due to the younger men not entering the industry and the older men remaining. But the fact remains that the mortality of miners is much more affected by the conditions in which they are living above ground than by accidents below ground. A good deal has been made of the fact that there has been no improvement in the mortality accident rate during the past 10 or 15 years, and that in the matter of industrial disease there has been very definite deterioration. It seems to me as a lay observer that the law of diminishing returns is beginning to apply, and that money and inspection are not producing the results to-day which they did at first.
1 regret to say that I have real doubts whether further inspection will have much effect on the accident rate. I have doubts whether anything short of the expenditure of hard cash upon conditions in the mine is going to have any result. Hard cash can be obtained only if there are profits, and profits can be obtained only by large units. It is unwise to carp or criticise amalgamations, for it is in the amalgamated mines that there is the 1213 greatest hope of substantial capital expenditure on safety measures. The bigger the unit the more likely is it that they will be able to spend money, and spend it wisely. We have heard something about fatigue. To assume that shorter hours will lessen fatigue is a mistake. Shorter hours throughout industry have tended to speed up things and is the cause of many more accidents than is overtime. It is not the longer a man works but the faster he works that is likely to cause accidents. It is speed if only for six hours that will produce more accidents than a slower rate of work over a longer period. That is the danger of the machine, and it is the danger of all industrial work if too much pressure is applied as regards hours. Then there is the question of temperature.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Is the hon. Member comparing the number of accidents at the back end of the shift as against the other end and the middle of the shift?
§ Sir A. Wilson
Sir Richmond Redmayne declares from his experience that the great majority of accidents take place at the beginning of a shift, due primarily to the fact that the working place has been left alone for one or two shifts, and that miners come back to the place in a more dangerous condition than if it had been worked all the time. Apart from that, I do not think that we have anything like as good statistics as you get in America and some other countries. We want to know more—the age, the number of weeks, months or years that the man has been at work, the conditions, the temperature, everything should be analysed, put through a calculating machine, so that we should get far more valuable data than we have at present, even in the good report of the Mines Department.
Dr. Vernon has shown that temperature is an important factor, and that the accident rate varies directly with the temperature if it is over 70 wet bulb. That is ample justification for some measure on the lines already suggested. But it is a mistake to suppose that it is not possible to reduce the temperature if the wet bulb temperature goes above 70. It is possible to do it now. It is being done on a very large scale in mines in South Africa. It is being done in a number of countries as a matter of business, and I understand it is not an expensive thing to do. I am sure the mineowners themselves, if they are put to it, will find ways 1214 and means of working air compressing machinery and providing cool air and simultaneously providing dry air. The dry bulb temperature at 120 is, as I know well, very comfortable to work in, if it is really dry. I have worked hard in a temperature of 130 and 140 dry bulb, and it has had no evil effects whatever, whereas 85 wet bulb is enough to break anybody. It is very well established in all industries and countries that accidents to newcomers are out of all proportion to their numbers. We do not know what that factor is for the mining industry, and the figures given by the Department do not show it.
§ Sir A. Wilson
Boys are newcomers to the industry, but the newcomers, whether boys or not, have an equal amount of accidents. It is not because he is a boy that he has an accident, but primarily because he is a newcomer. The American statistics show that newcomers who are adults over 21 have just the same liability to accidents in the first few months as boys of 14. The accident rate is the same. They are strangers. Both America and Germany have found that safety-first classes under academic conditions in schools do not get one very far. I should like to see the safety-first classes take place down the pit. I believe this would be well worth while. Yesterday morning I was at a Ministry of Labour training centre, and I went right through the whole system of training. First there is one subject in class, then another subject in class, and then the men are put on the machines, with short 20 minutes lectures throughout the day. I am convinced that if anything is to be done to reduce the accidents, it will be by means of systematic education, not only to small boys but to adults, the lectures being given by deputies or their like—men who are responsible and trusted—down the pit as well as at the colliery; and the less there is in class the better, for what is taught to boys in class does not seem to stick. But we should not underestimate—as I think has been done rather in this Debate—the vast amount of work that has been done by the Miners' Welfare Fund. After all, last year 10,000 boys were passed through safety classes, and safety badges are being earned in larger numbers than ever before, and real 1215 results are being achieved. This is the right way to begin.
When the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Captain Lancaster) spoke about the importance of education, I entirely agreed, but if you are to have good education, you must maintain a high standard of men entering the industry. I am not sure that is happening at present. The general impression I have from a visit to mining villages and towns is that the physique of the mining population is, on the whole, going down. I do not know why. It is just as well to face it boldly. It may be that the general physique of the population as a whole is going down. It may be that the demand for able-bodied men of a certain type for the better-paid professions is taking men away, and that they do not come back to the mining industry afterwards. The Cold stream Guards to-day are full of miners from Durham. I am glad to see that many of them go back, but it may well be that fewer will go back from the healthy life of the Army than ever before. The mining industry is, somehow or other, as the Registrar-General's Report proves, being drained of its most able-bodied and competent men, and three-quarters of all the accidents happen to one-quarter of all the persons exposed to the risk. Those accident-prone or negligent-prone persons are a particular class of the community, and they are not on the whole physically the best type.
§ Mr. Ede
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the deterioration of the mining population, did he see in the Report of the Board of Education for last year a comparison that was made between the county of Durham and Surrey, as a result of a speech I made in this House, of children in secondary schools, where it was shown that, age for age, a child in Surrey is approximately 18 months more physically developed than a child in the mining district of county Durham? Is it not a fact that, owing to the low wages and the tremendous amount of unemployment in the mining industry in recent years, the children in the mining families are growing up stunted and physically inferior to their fathers and to children in the non-mining parts of the country?
§ Sir A. Wilson
On that I can only comment that precisely the same observations 1216 were made in 1860, and that the mining population as a whole, ever since it began to collect at the mines, has tended to deteriorate, owing primarily to the conditions of work below ground, and now they are not being helped by conditions of life above ground. We shall not be able to deal effectively with accidents unless we tackle the general living conditions of the mining population. Another point which I have not seen dealt with by the Royal Commission is the true cost of an accident. On a purely cash basis it has been shown in America, the home of figures, that the actual price in cash paid in compensation to miners is about 15 per cent. of the real cost of an accident to employers. The stoppage of work, the breakage of tools, the stoppage of work of the men who go to help him or who, from curiosity or anxiety, cease to work, all add greatly to the cost. The mine-owners will make a very great mistake, even in their own financial interests, if they calculate compensation at 2.8d. per ton and say that is what accidents have cost them. It has cost them at least twice as much as that, and every serious or fatal accident involves an immense pecuniary loss quite outside the actual cash payment.
I do not think anyone has mentioned another aspect of safety in mines to which I wish to refer, however briefly, and that is from industrial disease. Silicosis is puzzling and alarming. The Royal Commission might, I submit with all respect, have made more of the evidence presented to them on that subject than they have done. Dr. Fisher's evidence from the Ministry of Mines was most impressive, and to me most alarming. He went so far as to mention the possibility of affixing a new name to such dust diseases in mines which, though leading to grave consequences, cannot safely be called silicosis. The disease is at present aggravated by the unfortunate circumstances which attend the analysis and the possible results relating to compensation. The suffering workman cannot understand that his plight may be due to medico-legal inability to identify the disease with medico-legal accuracy. If there is no remedy, he said, at least the sufferer should be compensated, and he agreed that there are a lot of sufferers in the industry who are not getting justice. My impression again is that part of the increase in silicosis is due to the increased 1217 liability to the disease of men who enter the industry and who are not really physically fit. The sort of man we had in the industry 30 years ago could have readily thrown off the disease, but now he cannot.
§ Mr. Grenfell
If the hon. and gallant Member went to a district where silicosis is prevalent he would find that the strong men of 30 years of age are selected by the employers for particularly dangerous work, and that silicosis accounts for large numbers.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I speak under correction, but there is the evidence of the Registrar-General that one of the chief troubles of miners and miners' wives to-day is bronchial affection, as if miners had not such strong lungs now as they had 30 years ago. The late Sir Thomas Legge as late as 1934 expressed his bewilderment at the complications of silicosis. Any progress would be welcomed. In the meantime it seems to me a scandal that the workman who complains of silicosis has to pay for a medical examination if the result is not positive. The result of that type of regulation must necessarily be to reduce the safety in mines. It ought to be possible for any man to have a free medical examination and by that very step it would be possible to reduce to some extent the incidence of industrial disease in mines. I should be out of order if I went into that, but I would express my conviction that there will be no real improvement in the accident rate in mines until workmen's compensation is tackled. The two have to go together, but there must be more co-operation from the men's side than there has been. I do not want to be unduly critical. On page 351 of the report the Commission say that explosions caused by matches or smoking were, on the whole, increasing and that they were serious.
The Royal Commissioners say that there is a lack of discipline, and that discipline must be tightened up. That is the sort of thing which is entirely within the control of the men themselves. I do not under-estimate the importance which should be attached to the employers' responsibility to the deputies and inspectors, but the men must play their part, and the only way we shall get that is by these energetic educational courses. Taking the industries of England as a 1218 whole, there have been during the past 10 years about a dozen industries, well organised, well managed and mostly in large groups, which have reduced their accident rate by 25, 50 and even 75 per cent. by management and education, and without any question of guards or safeguards or fencing. One of them is the gas industry, which has notably reduced its accident rate. Another is the cement industry, and there are several others. I hope that if money is to be spent it will be spent rather less on inspectors and more on teaching. I believe that thus, and thus alone, shall we get the improvements we all seek.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
I am rather surprised at the observations of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) in his defence of the method employed by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) in the presentation of his statistics. If I were in the employment of the hon. Gentleman opposite I should carefully examine my pay sheets on Fridays if he used the same method in drawing those up as he used in arriving at his conclusions. To compare the number of persons killed and injured in the mining industry with the numbers killed in our roads is the limit of absurdity. One has only to have regard to two facts. One is that the number of persons employed in the mining industry is fewer than 750,000, and the number of persons who use the roads is from 40,000,000 or 43,000,000. This Debate on safety in mines is of considerable importance for two reasons. One is because of the report of the Royal Commission on the subject, and the other is because of the many books that are now being written dealing with the possible decline in the population of the United Kingdom. I am unable to appreciate the talk about a declining birth rate or an increasing mortality rate if we consider the enormous death roll of miners to be of no importance.
The hon. Member for Hitchin referred to the number of persons killed in explosions, and I want to emphasise again that we never hear talk of the dangerous occupation of the miner unless an explosion takes place at one of the mines. The same attention is not given to the much more prolific causes of death in the mines. I mean the number of deaths due to falls of roofs and sides, to shaft accidents and to haulage accidents. With the exception of accidents above ground, 1219 these were accountable for no fewer than 19,142 lives during the last 20 years. That is an average of about 1,000 a year, whatever the hon. Member who is a typical Tory coalowner may say. That is a terrible price to pay for the production of coal. Explosions during the same period accounted for 1,329 lives, making a total during the 20 years of 20,471 deaths. That means that in the last 20 years the number of deaths from the causes I have mentioned amounted to 20 times more than those due to explosions. Another calculation shows that more lives have been lost owing to these three causes in the last 12 years than the number of lives lost by explosions since 1851, a period of 86 years. I desire, in connection with explosions, to say that unless the owners of a pit can show that they have taken every possible measure to prevent such a catastrophe—and that includes efficient stowing—an explosion should be made a criminal offence. Explosions are due to an accumulation of gas which can be removed only by adequate ventilation.
May I be permitted at this stage to record my opinion regarding the demand that is now being made for gas detectors in the mines? I am not opposed to their introduction, but I contend that if the time occupied in demanding the adoption of this mechanism were devoted to the need of ensuring adequate ventilation in the mines of Great Britain, we should be doing a greater service to the mines. To remove the cause of gas in the pit is preferable to the measurements of its quantity. To remove danger is of more importance than to test for its presence. The number of persons injured in the mines below and above ground was over 3,000,000 during the same period. Those, together with the number of deaths, make up the chief items in the Bill presented for coal, and I propose to show that many of those accidents are preventable, but in order to achieve that object at least two things are necessary. One is that it should be considered good mining practice to stow old working places and gobs. If owners are not prepared to do so compulsion is the one remedy. The second is that the Secretary for Mines should regard the observations of His Majesty's Inspectors as being of some importance. I was pleased to listen to the observations 1220 of the Secretary for Mines when he presented his last Estimates. He said:The fact does remain that during 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." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1938; col. 2754, Vol. 338.]I hope that that is indicative of the future action of this Government in dealing with the deaths of so many men in the mines. The figures issued from time to time—and they need no such method of calculation as was employed by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)— show that out of 7,783 persons killed in the mines during the last 10 years no fewer than 4,687 of the deaths were due to falls of ground and the remainder to shaft, haulage and other causes. The number injured in the same period from falls of ground was 504,272 out of 962,000. In that total of 962,000 during the period 1927 to 1937 is included the number of boys under 16 years of age who were killed. It shows that above and below ground 318 of our boys were killed and no fewer than 67,709 injured in such a way as to compel them to remain idle for periods of more than three days. There were 318 boys killed at an age when the sons of those who oppose safety in mines are commencing their education. Regarding this subject the Chief Inspector of Mines stated in his last report:Accidents from falls of ground accounted for 51 per cent of all the serious accidents occurring underground during the year.He proceeded to refer to the research that has been carried on in all the coalfields on the general problem of roof control. This talk of roof control makes an ex-miner tired. The only effective method of controlling the roof is to stow old and empty working places, to keep the rubbish down and not send it to the surface where it blasts and burns the natural beauty of some of our mining districts. I submit that it is a scandal that in our mining areas owners of pits should have been permitted to erect such monuments to the memory of insane industrialism and crude commercialism, and then leave those areas to be occupied by people who now have little else to do than to gaze upon such artificial and crude enormities while the mineowners retire to more pleasant parts of the country.
1221 Any sensible person would think that serious efforts would be made to reduce the number of accidents that occur in the mines, if only because of the amount of money paid in the form of compensation, which has been over £50,000,000 during the last 16 years. I wish the cost for insuring the lives of miners were made heavier, but if the premiums were increased, by virtue of the existing agreements in the different districts in Great Britain the miners would have to bear 85 per cent. of the additional charge—87 per cent. in some districts. As one who worked for 20 years in a pit I say that the complete stowing of waste ground is essential if the number of accidents both from explosions and falls of grounds is to be reduced. In this connection I was amazed to hear this statement made by a coalowner during the Debate in this House. Speaking on the Public Health (Coal Mines Refuse) Bill the hon. Member for North Leeds made this brilliant observation:Those who do not know a great deal about the mining industry "—he was probably speaking for his colleagues on that side of the House—advocate underground stowage, but I do not believe one could find a competent mining engineer who would recommend the underground stowage of the 8,000,000 tons of waste matter which is produced at the present time." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1938; col. 2132, Vol. 341.]When that speech was made one of my hon. Friends, with an inordinate desire to be considerate, complimentary and courteous, described the speech as being "courageous." I am afraid that my description is much more curt than courteous. To me it was a typical Tory coalowner's contribution or, in other words, a stupid speech. Let me give the hon. Member one or two opinions of mining engineers. Here is one by His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines, Sir Henry Walker, in his 1935 Report:In my report for 1924 "—that is 11 years ago—to show the extent to which the Secretary for Mines has become educated by perusing these reports—I stated that I had no doubt that by tightly packing the goaf of longwall workings and by methods of support which left the minimum of area of roof exposed, both in long-wall and bord and pillar (stoop and room) workings, the accident rate from falls of grounds would be further reduced. I remain of that opinion.1222 Here is another from Captain Carey, who is in charge of the Welsh inspectorate:Two explosions due, in my opinion, to defective ventilation have occurred within recent years in this Division, and in both instances the packing of the wastes had received but scant attention, enabling cavities to be formed which subsequently filled with firedamp. There is a further aspect of the matter worthy of note, i.e., from an underground fire point of view; if tight bashings are desirable to seal off a fire they are surely as desirable in the form of tight packs in preventing the initiation of a fire.We have recently had an opportunity of perusing a report issued by the Mines Department itself. It is entitled "Explosions in Coal Mines: A comparison between Great Britain and France." The report is by His Majesty's Deputy Chief Inspector, Major H. M. Hudspeth. It was presented to Parliament by the Secretary for Mines in October, 1937. In it he says:In all mines the packing must follow the face as closely as possible and in definitely fiery mines it must be as impervious to air as possible and tightly built against the roof. This last requirement implies complete stow age.He goes on to say:There are, however, two previous positions which must co-exist before an explosion can occur, a source of ignition and an ignitable medium: the latter is in present-day mining practice almost inevitably firedamp. The higher the standard of the ventilation the greater must be the factor of safety against the occurrence being given conditions of an ignitable mixture of firedamp and air; and it seems dear that there is in France a broad general relation of cause and effect between a high statutory standard of ventilation and a low accident rate from explosion.That is borne out by figures which he himself supplied, and which show that in the 10 years, 1925–35, there were only 11 explosions in France, entailing the loss of 58 men, while in Great Britain in the same period there were 117 explosions involving the death of 753 mine workers.
I wonder how many hon. Members noted the reply of the Secretary for Mines on 17th May last year in answer to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who was anxious to know at how many of the pits where explosions had occurred since 1930 the strip method of packing was adopted and in how many the method of complete tight packing was adopted. In reply, the Secretary for Mines stated that as far as the information at his disposal went it indicated that at 48 of the 1223 91 collieries at which explosions involving loss of life had occurred, between the beginning of 1930 and the end of 1937, and in the district of the mine involved in the explosion, either strip packs were used or the wastes were not packed. He went on:Solid packing was practised in two of the districts involved. A number of the explosions occurred in bord and pillar workings or narrow places, where the question of packing did not arise."—[Official Report, 17th May, 1938; col. 199, Vol. 336.]I want to give one more quotation from the report of Captain Carey, because it proves the point that I am endeavouring to make that the number of explosions and accidents from falls of roof would be reduced if the coalowners were compelled to stow the empty places. Captain Carey says, in his 1936 report:How much greater would be the saving of life and limb if the space behind the advancing face was likewise adequately supported by thorough and continuous packs it is difficult to estimate. I am confident it would be considerable, and base ray opinion upon the record of one large steam coal pit where the wastes are systematically and tightly packed, and where for over 10 years not a single person was killed at the working face.The hon. Gentleman made another very brilliant observation.
§ Mr. Daggar
It deals with South Wales but in his speech the hon. Gentleman made no differentiation between district and district. The hon. Member went on to say:I think that on grounds of safety alone the proposal to place combustible matter in the old workings, which are subjected to great overhead- pressure, could not be contemplated, and in any case the process would be exceedingly costly in money, in human life and in accidents."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1938; col. 2132, Vol. 341.]Here, again, we find that it is the cost in money which is the first consideration of the British coalowner. Speaking for South Wales, I say that to talk about accidents because of effective stowing is humbug and Tory cant. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman Knows the amount of coal, much more combustible than ordinary rubbish, that is thrown into the gobs in the mines of this country. 1224 Barriers of coal alone account for 3,500,000 tons to 4,000,000 tons. It is estimated, according to evidence submitted before one of the recent commissions, that over 2,325,000 tons of coal have been thrown into the gobs and those figures relate only to four districts in Great Britain. What must be the enormous waste of combustible matter when all the pits are taken into consideration? The estimate of, I think, Derbyshire was that 574,000 tons of coal are stowed every year, Warwickshire 65,000 tons and South Wales over 1,502,000 tons. In the same speech the hon. Gentleman said:After all, a good many Members of Parliament are liable to spontaneous combustion and I think we should have some difficutly in deciding for ourselves whether all or a majority of Members are so liable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1938; col. 2134, Vol. 341.]That is the first instance that I have been able to observe where an hon. Member in a speech has paid himself a deserved compliment.
Let me again refer to the report of Captain Carey, because some people ask where the rubbish is to come from. I submit that rubbish is much better in the pit than it is in large heaps on the surface of the mining valleys in South Wales. Much of the subsidence in the mining areas is due to taking rubbish to the top instead of it being stowed. I submit that the waste in the pit will never be stowed unless coalowners are compelled by Act of Parliament to stow it, because it is cheaper to send the rubbish to the top than it is to keep it in the mine. Captain Carey said:Difficulty with regard to the supply of stowing material is frequently put forward as the reason why solid stowing is not universally practised in my division, and— sometimes—the difficulty of transporting such material to the working face. Such disabilities can and should be overcome in the interests of safety. So far as material is concerned, it is to be remembered that neither pit props nor steel rings grow underground, but have to be bought and carried there. Why therefore, cannot packing material also be obtained and transported below ground, as is sometimes done? Again, it is not irrelevant to inquire why such huge tips are created by the transport of rubbish from below ground to the surface, and at a cost which I am afraid many colliery managers do not take into sufficiently serious consideration. The cost of producing a tram of coal and transporting it to bank is considerable, but gives some return, whereas the cost of transporting a tram of rubbish—likewise considerable—gives no return; on the contrary, as the rubbish is not 1225 used below ground to support the workings, difficulties are created by its absence as a roof-supporting agency.This is an imperative reform which cannot be left to the coalowners, because it will cost money. Were this not true, complete stowing would have been the practice in mining engineering many years ago. The fact has been advertised that the introduction of steel props has affected the number of accidents in the mines, but would the coalowners ever have introduced steel props if they had not been convinced that it was much more economical to use steel than to use wood? There are pits in this country where the management are saving from 9d. to 1s. 6d. per ton as the result of the introduction of steel props and they would stow places to-day if they were convinced that it was much more economical to do so, and it is not. I say that the Royal Commission and its report will be, in my opinion, not only a waste of time, but a fraud and a farce unless it secures the complete stowing of all empty waste places in the mines of this country.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke
I hope that the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) will forgive if I do not follow him into all the details with regard to stowage, of which he showed so comprehensive a knowledge. I must say, however, that I do not see that subject referred to very much in the report of the Royal Commission, but I do not claim to have read every word of that report.
§ Colonel Clarke
I apologise if that is the case. As I say, however, I will not follow the hon. Member further into that subject. But when he said that the population of this country never talk about mining as a dangerous occupation except when an accident has taken place, I do not think he is quite doing justice to the people of this country. After all, the very term "winning" coal implies that they consider that there is danger attached to it. One does not talk of winning slates, or winning stone for building, or anything of that sort, but winning coal has always been the term used.
I regret that, having had to attend a Standing Committee this afternoon, I was not able to be here during the earlier part of the Debate. and if as a consequence I 1226 repeat some things which have already been said, I must apologise to the House. I was particularly sorry to miss the greater part of the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), because I know that he has practical experience, I know that he has a mine manager's certificate, and I know that he has attended all the deliberations of the Royal Commission. I believe that the report of the Royal Commission is welcomed by everyone, and I want to add my humble tribute of praise of it. We appreciate very much the time that was given to the work by the members of the Commission; 52 public sessions is really an immense amount, and I believe that very nearly 40,000 questions were printed in the minutes of evidence. I understand, too, that 19 collieries were visited by members of the Commission at the end of their deliberations. The composition of the Commission showed knowledge, not only of mining and engineering, but of the law, trade union affairs, and the Civil Service, and, from the consumers' point of view, there was a representative of a big consuming industry. The report has a peculiar value because, unlike the reports of some Royal Commissions, it has a definite constructive side, and is not only what one might term restrictive.
In stressing the importance of co-operation, the report says that, without cooperation between all the parties and interests involved, it will be very difficult to reduce the accident rate; and I was reminded of a thing that has struck me before in connection with another trade that may sometimes be dangerous, namely, soldiering. That is that the best disciplined regiment is generally the one that has the fewest casualties. I am not suggesting for a moment that the mining industry should be disciplined as a regiment is, but I do suggest that perhaps more self-discipline, in imposing on oneself the keeping of regulations and things of that sort, would be helpful. I am certain that there are times when neglect of the small amount of discipline that is needed to obey a regulation may lead to an accident happening, perhaps not only to the man himself, but to his comrades as well.
I came here to-night with a very great desire to hear a detailed statement from the Minister as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the report, 1227 and, while I very much regret that the Secretary for Mines is not here, and even more the reason for his absence, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman who took his place for the able way in which he dealt with what must have been to him an unforeseen situation. I understand that probably next Session we shall have a Bill to implement the recommendations of the report, and personally I hope that that Bill will not be too large a one. I would like to see, and I think it is actually recommended in the report of the Royal Commission—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I am afraid we cannot discuss legislation. We may have references to it, but cannot discuss details.
§ Colonel Clarke
I am sorry. I hope I shall be in order if I simply say that I feel that it would be quicker, and perhaps in some ways more satisfactory, if details could be dealt with as far as possible by regulations and orders. In that case the details could be discussed between the officials and managers, the mineworkers and all the other interests involved, whereas I feel that sometimes, if they are left to be discussed here, the knowledge brought to them, although expert in its way, may not perhaps be quite as fresh in relation to modern conditions as it would me if these matters were discussed outside between those interests which are in day-to-day touch with the industry. People who are actively engaged are able to bring fresh knowledge to their problems, whereas, with the changes that now so frequently takeplace—for instance, the increase in machine-mining—anyone on either side of the House who has been away from day-to-day contact with the industry for even a few years is very much out of touch. I am glad to hear that some progress has already been made in this direction on the question of workmen's inspectors.
Reference has been made to the new attitude of coalowners, which has been shown to-night, in supporting measures that will increase safety in the mines. I would like to remind hon. Members that this is really no new thing. For some time past a number of collieries have supplied protective equipment, have had ambulances and fire stations, and have contributed money for scientific research on timbering, roof control and matters of 1228 that sort. They have also helped to establish safety classes in addition to those that are provided by the education committees of the county councils. In that connection I would particularly like to refer to the work that has been going on since 1931 at the Lambton and Hetton collieries in Durham, and also in Scotland, where before 1933 the Wemyss Colliery organised classes and made themselves responsible for the training of boys in the district surrounding the pits.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards)referred to the figures for accidents in France. I always find figures very dangerous and puzzling. I believe someone once said that there were three forms of fact that could be adduced from figures, and described them as truth, lies, and statistics. Statistics often seem to be neither one thing nor the other—neither truth nor lies. In the figures for France there was a point which was not touched upon, but which puzzled me very much. It was that, whereas the death rate is lower in France than in this country, the total accident rate is very much higher.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The hon. and gallant Member will find if he peruses the French records closely that the percentage of accidents on the surface in France is higher, and underground it is lower.
§ Colonel Clarke
I do not know the French colliery districts at all well, but I think in most cases the mines are more modern than ours. They certainly are in the Par de Calais coalfield. Then I would like to emphasise a point made by Mr. Forster Brown in the report, namely, that, taking into consideration the vast difference between geological conditions in different colliery districts in this country, great care should be exercised, in framing any regulations, to see they are wide enough to include all those districts and to cover all possible cases. That is particularly important when there is no power of objection. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said he hoped that the owners would stint no expense that would make for safety. I am quite 1229 certain that every hon. Member on this side of the House re-echoes that statement, but it should be addressed not only to coalowners but to consumers as well.
I was glad that there was a big House during the earlier part of the Debate, and I hope that a number of Members representing consuming constituencies or consuming industries listened to it and appreciated the fact that, if there is to be an increase in the cost of coal, no more can be put on the export trade, and the price will have to be higher on the average for the home consumer. I hope that that home-consumer will accept the increase in the same spirit in which he accepted the extra shilling about three years ago, which was voluntarily given in order to increase miners' wages. I believe that if the industry were able to give fairly detailed figures showing what has actually caused the increase, and in what particular direction money is being spent on safety devices, it might be of assistance. I hope that the Mines Department and the industry will work together to try to give the consuming public some figures of that kind. In conclusion, I would like once more to congratulate the members of the Royal Commission on the notable work that they have performed.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I, too, was not in a position to hear the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who opened the Debate this afternoon. We were both engaged in another part of the House doing the best we could in a Committee. I regret very much that I had not the opportunity of hearing the hon. Member for Gower, because I know the keen interest he has taken in the question of the Royal Commission. I was in the House, however, when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade spoke, and the first comment I wish to make on his speech is that he had to admit and to regret that the vital statistics of this industry for the year 1938 showed no improvement on 1937, and that over a period of 10 years the statistics, both of killed and injured workmen in the mining industry, showed no improvement. I think the whole country will be surprised to know, after all the Debates we have had in this House, that we still have to deplore that fact.
I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to state that the industry itself must 1230 be prepared for drastic strengthening of our present legislation, and it must be anticipated that Parliament intends to make a thoroughly good job of this new mining legislation when it is introduced. All I would say is that after 27 years of waiting, and after all that has happened in the meantime, it is high time that the legislation governing the mining industry was drastically overhauled. I am sorry that I cannot get up a great deal of enthusiasm for the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I know that the Commission had numerous sittings. I know the witnesses it examined, and, like most mining Members and most of those interested in the industry, I have laboriously tried to study its recommendations. I do not myself think that they are really moderate, to say nothing of their being courageous; in fact, I think some of the recommendations do not really come up to our existing legislation in some respects.
Many far-sighted people with whom I have conversed take the view that if all the Commission's recommendations were given legislative effect they would not bring up our standards of safety to the level they already reach in many of the modern mines of this country. I have taken the trouble to ascertain the figures of accidents, fatal and non-fatal combined, in the country generally as compared with those for what I regard as some of the more modern mines, and the comparison is very enlightening. I want the figures to be put on record, because of their bearing on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The proportion of persons killed or injured as a result of accidents in Great Britain was 274 per 1,000; for Yorkshire, 275 per 1,000; and for one modern colliery in the Doncaster coalfields, where no mechanised mining and no shot firing takes place, the proportion was 178.
§ Mr. Dunn
I said that that includes both killed and injured. My second figures are these. Of those working underground only, accidents per 100 man-shifts worked numbered 2.37 for Great Britain, 2.02 for Yorkshire, and for the same modern colliery 1.20. The number killed per 1,000 employed is 1.07 for Great Britain, 0.75 for Yorkshire, and for this colliery 1231 where coal-cutting has been abolished it is 0.40. Or, to put it in another way, for the last five years the output of coal in that colliery was 4,809,033 tons, and the number of persons killed was five; so in that colliery you have one person killed per 1,000,000 tons, approximately, produced. If those figures were applicable to the whole of this country, we should have a better fatality rate than they have in France or Germany. That leads to the conclusion that there is something vitally wrong with this industry.
If one colliery, where the output is 1,000,000 tons per year and the number of persons is 2,750, can secure results of only one fatality per 1,000,000 tons produced, what are the other people doing? Among boys under 16 in this mine, not a single fatality of any kind has occurred in the last five years. If results like this can be achieved in one colliery, why cannot they be achieved elsewhere? That is a legitimate question. I can account for it only on these grounds. From 1915 to 1928, we had coal-cutters in the pits, and, after a vigorous fight for 12 years, we succeeded in fetching them out of the pit completely. When we had the coal-cutters in the pit all sorts of accidents, including one important explosion, occurred at the colliery. Since we took out the coal-cutters completely we have been able to achieve results as good as anything in this country, or indeed, in France. Therefore, I attach a very great deal of importance to this question of mechanisation of the mines.
I want to deal with two or three points in connection with the report. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) made a strong speech, in which he recommended the complete stowing of the gobs, to which I subscribe. But in addition to that question, which is very important for safety, I am interested in pages 233 and 234 of the report. I was surprised at the recommendation that, subject to exemptions in special cases, no airway should have an area of less than 16 square feet, or be less than four feet high or three feet in width. I hope this country is not going to accept a standard of that kind, either for an intake or for a return. The solution of the accident problem in my view, and certainly the solution of the problem of explosions, is entirely bound up with this question of adequate intake and return airways and adequate 1232 roadways. Some of us have seen how this works out, and this is not a reasonable standard. If any legislation on this matter is put forward, I shall offer the strongest and most bitter resistance to standards of that kind being established in any mine, because that lies at the foundation of the serious trouble from which the industry is suffering.
I should like to call special attention to recommendation No. 92:The existing provisions as to the supply of supports should be modified on the following lines. (1) a space equivalent to the maximum requirement in any shaft to be kept constantly available in each deputy's district; (2) the manager to see that there is an efficient organisation in each district for keeping each workman supplied with sufficient supports as required in the course of his shift; (3)the deputy to be responsible for seeing that the organisation functions properly in his district.Mining Members, I think, will be somewhat surprised to read a recommendation of that kind. We have it within the existing legislation that an adequate supply of timber shall be kept at the working face, whereas this recommendation is that it shall be within each deputy's district. I am sure miners will not be satisfied with a recommendation of that kind, because in my view it is very much worse and not nearly as effective and efficient as Sections 50 and 51 of the Coal Mines Act.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The intention there is to provide in each district an abundant supply for all places in the district at a convenient place.
§ Mr. Dunn
I am grateful for that explanation, but the wording is "in each deputy's district." A deputy's district, even on the machine face, is a very wide area indeed. To me recommendation 97 is far more interesting when it says:Temporary support should be erected whenever any work is being done in the repair of roof or sides of a roadway, and an adequate supply of suitable material should be provided on the spot before the work of repair is commenced.Even now we have regulations and rules governing many of our machine faces and this recommendation, which applies to the repairing of roofs and sides of roads, is in application on our existing machine faces. Although I have appeared to be rather severe, perhaps, on these two aspects of the recommendation, I am perfectly satisfied in my mind that the place where the timber should be is on the spot where the man is working, whether on 1233 the roadway or at the coal face, and I am satisfied that the roadway should be of such dimensions as to be an advance on what we have at present. We are all anxious that everything possible shall be done to reduce the appalling slaughter in the mines.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Viscount Castlereagh
I almost hesitate to intervene in these Debates, because I know so well that there are so many Members who know more about the subject than I do. I am referring to hon. Members on this side as well as to hon. Members opposite. I should like to say how pleased I am that we have received a valuable recruit in the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Fylde Division (Captain Lancaster), who made a knowledgeable and erudite maiden speech. I should like also to say how pleased I am that we have had this opportunity of debating a most important subject. Whatever may be happening, or may in future happen, in Europe, I shall always remember that the safety and welfare of those who work in the mines is one of the most important subjects that can ever come before the House. I have read a number of statistics, and I gather from the figures comparing the industry in this country and in other countries, that only a few have better figures than we have in regard to the accident rate. I am not saying that in any spirit of complacency—very far from it. If the accident rate were halved I should still say, do not relax but redouble your efforts, because the figures are still too high. I have taken a very keen interest in accidents in mines ever since I went to America to study the position some 15 years ago. The fatal accident rate there was something that appalled me. The regulations, as far as I could see, were adequate, and the steps taken to carry them out were most effective, but the indifference to the loss of human life shocked me enormously. If I could do anything to reduce the accident rate in this country, which is still appalling, I should be only too glad to do it.
The first subject with which I should like, to deal is training centres for juveniles on the surface. In my company we started a training centre some years ago to train young people before they went down the mine. The Minister of Mines 1234 of that day was to have paid it a visit, but the visit never materialised. The school was a great source of satisfaction to us, and especially to the manager of the mine, who took an immense amount of trouble in developing it. What I want to see now is a development of the whole idea. You do not want a training school for each individual pit. You want a pithead bath, I admit, for each pit, but for a training school you want a centre for a group of pits. I should like to see no juvenile allowed to go down a mine unless he receives a certificate of efficiency signed by an examiner or by one of the people from the Ministry of Mines. Every mine manager to whom I have spoken on this subject entirely agrees with me, and I believe that these young men after their training would, when they go down the mine, not be subject to the risk of injury and the loss of life as they are at the present time.
I should like to see a large extension of the principle of riding the men to their places at the coal face, and especially riding them back again. In my own company where we had three new pits, boring operations were started in 1922. The pits, therefore, were not in operation for a considerable number of years. Even at the present time there is one particular place where the working face is, roughly, two miles from the shaft. To ride men there the two miles takes 25 minutes, but it would mean over an hour's hard walking there and a similar time coming back on the top of a hard day's work. I do not pretend that I have ever worked in a mine, but I remember that some years ago I spent for a month six or seven hours per day underground. I am not likely to forget the first three days, especially the second day, when I was so stiff I could not move. I then made a mental resolution that if ever I had any control of a colliery the first thing that I would do would be to arrange to ride the men out to their working place, and more particularly to ride them back. Quite apart from the saving of physical energy, I believe that to be a contributory cause of safety.
There is a further point that I would emphasise. I have read the report of the Royal Commission carefully and have noted the paragraphs about protective equipment in mines. I took up the question and discussed it with many miners, 1235 but I did not find a single person showing any enthusiasm whatsoever. We have to-day protective equipment in our mines, which is very effective as a means of saving life, because its resistance is tremendous. The helmet is considerably more comfortable than the terrible leather contraptions worn by mine managers. To test the actual resistance power, I got the heaviest hammer I could find and struck several blows with every ounce of energy I had, and I found that I could not make any dent in it at all. Although the resistance power of that protective equipment is very great, I would ask, "Who is likely to wear it?" This protective equipment, so far as I can make out from my inquiries, elicited no enthusiasm. If the provision of such equipment were made compulsory upon mineowners and it was also made compulsory for the miner to wear it, would they really wear it? I know from experience that the moment the deputy has made his inspection and has gone away, the protective equipment has been thrown on the floor and the hewer has continued to hew coal, unprotected, as he has been doing for the last 50 years.
I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said with regard to ventilation. I have done my best to study the problems of ventilation as a layman. I am not a mining engineer and have not the practical experience of the hon. Member, but I have been amazed at certain things that go on in some of the older pits with regard to ventilation. It is a scandal that the Ministry of Mines should allow that sort of thing. I have the utmost confidence in the Ministry of Mines. They have shown much activity. For example, in regard to stone dust, they have brought about an improvement. The ratio used to be 50–50, but now it is 75–25. I hope they will concentrate a certain amount of their activity on the question of ventilation in some of the older pits. I cannot discuss the question of ventilation in detail, because I am a layman and not a technician but, speaking generally, I do think that something more ought to be done in connection with this question. With regard to protective equipment, my activities have not been entirely successful. I am very much in earnest about the question of training schools for juveniles, and I hope more valuable work will be done in 1236 that direction. There is much scope for activity in various directions that will contribute to the greater security of the mining population.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I should like to say a few words about the report of the Royal Commission. There are two or three points to which I would draw attention. One relates to the duty of the deputy. Since we have had so much intensification of mining under the mechanisation process during the past 12 or 15 years, there has been an absolute revolution in the coal-mining industry. In our own county of Northumberland we have 91 per cent. of the coal cut by machinery. The change has been most remarkable. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) spoke of the physique and the standards of the miners, particularly of the miners' wives, compared with some years ago. The hon. Member thought that the physique of the mining population was declining. That is possible. Indeed it is remarkable that they should remain as virile and strong as they are. Having regard to the housing conditions under which they live, it is remarkable that the miners have maintained any physique at all. The slums in the mining areas are among the worst, and if there is one blot on the industrial life of the nation, and if there is any crime that ought to be brought home to a class in this country, it is to be found in the conditions under which miners have been compelled to live. Mineowners, and to some extent shareholders, have enjoyed huge harvests of profit in times past from the industry while the men who have been earning the profits for them have been allowed to live in hovels in which the noble lords and marquesses and dukes who were drawing thousands a year from royalties would not keep their horses or dogs. What of the miners' wives who have been sharing the miners' burden? Their condition also has deteriorated with the mechanisation of industry.
It is true that we are now making progress in regard to housing conditions, but consider the cycle of operations under the mechanisation of industry and its effect upon the life of the miner, Hon. Members have made speeches to-day on behalf of the coalowners, but the atmosphere in the mines is not the atmosphere in this House. Life for the 1237 miner would be very tolerable if it were on the standard represented by some of the expressions of opinion we have heard to-day. I am pleased to see the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) here, because I am sure he will agree with me that when there is intensive mechanisation in coal-cutting the miner—the cutter, the puller-up, the filler—cannot possibly say at the beginning of the week at what hour of the day his shift is likely to commence. A man presents himself for work say at 10 o'clock in the morning, or it may be, as in Northumberland and Durham, at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning. He is told that there is a breakdown on the machine and he is laid back. He is told to go home and that he will be sent for. I have known of collieries where a staff was kept in the offices to run messages to bring men in or to lay them back as was required. Where there is a family of miners in a house, it needs no stretch of imagination to realise the strain on the miner's wife and the result upon her health of broken hours and lack of sleep and the difficulty of preparing meals at uncertain times. If the hon. Member for Hitchin, who gives us such pedantic lectures occasionally, were to go down and have a dose of what our people go through under those conditions, I do not think we would hear so much from him.
I turn to the question of the duties of deputies. The same sort of thing has been going on with our deputies and overmen under mechanisation, as went on previously. I know that the conditions in Northumberland and Durham are slightly different from those in the rest of the country, and I understand it is proposed to make certain alterations. I am not averse from that proposal, but I believe that something ought to be done to protect deputies, because at present they are between the devil and the deep sea. There is probably more of the devil than the deep sea in it, but the deputy is between them and in late years much of his time has been taken up in acting as a sort of super-weighman. Instead of doing his statutory duty and looking after the safety of the men at the face, his job has been to present a good report at night of the number of tubs sent up and the output from his district.
I have heard colliery managers make the request that when the mining industry was under discussion in this House, we 1238 should put in a plea to have the colliery manager made independent of the company. These men want to be independent and I understand there is now a proposal by this Commission to increase the responsibility of the owner and the agent in these matters, so that instead of having the manager in the pillory we may be able to get at the people behind the scenes who order the manager to carry out certain things which they want done. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead on 14th December said more or less what he has said to-day, except that he did not mention the Navy to-day. To-day it was the Army. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of discipline but I tell them that the most disciplined class of people I know are the miners. What was the first thing that was done to discipline the miner? At one time he was put to work in the pit at six years of age. Now things are not so bad but boys are taken into the mines at 14 years of age.
§ Mr. Taylor
Yes that is the first step in the disciplining of the miner. I have gone through the mill and I know what that discipline means. It means breaking the spirit and training them that they must work whether they want to or not, and whether they are fit for it or not.
§ Colonel Clarke
I did not suggest Army discipline in the pits. I suggested a form of self-discipline, which is a very different thing.
§ Mr. Taylor
I know the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that, and that is the way in which hon. Members opposite always talk in this House. I am not averse from some self-discipline, and if I regret anything it is that the miners had not more self-discipline of the kind I want to see. But if our people were to go at the same rate as the Noble Lord who spoke last, who always wears a steel helmet when he goes into the pit, then the rate of accidents would be very much reduced. I have no objection to self-discipline because self-discipline would mean using our brains. We would be working with a view to safety all the time. We had some discipline in the Navy the other day. Two submarines went aground, and the commanders were brought before a court of inquiry, and they have lost their ships.
§ Mr. Taylor
They have lost their livelihood and their prospects in life. If there is to be discipline in the mines for dereliction of duty let us have discipline on both sides. I welcome the possibility that we may now be able to get at the manager, the owner and the agent.
There has not been sufficient said to-day about accidents to boys, and we in the Northern division have a particular reason for drawing attention to that matter. In 1937 there were 398 boys killed or injured out of every 1,000 in the Northern division, and this was 50 per cent. higher than the rate in the rest of the country. What are we doing? The accidents are happening in the main on the haulage roads. What is there in this report to safeguard our boys in the future? There are one or two things said about clearances and tubs and the height of roofs. It is recommended that there should be a clearance of 12 inches above the height of the tub, but that is not high enough. It is very necessary and essential that tubs should not be filled so that they will catch the roof. That is common sense. But you cannot prevent this sort of thing, and the men will do it because the management desire them to do it. The fuller the tub the more its carrying capacity is taxed, but the cost is less, as the tub makes fewer journeys. Therefore, if you have the coal somewhere above the tub there is not a clearance of 12 inches, and there are many accidents in consequence. The report speaks of 18 inches or 2 feet at the side, but is that a sufficient clearance when we consider the tremendous number of accidents that are happening to our boys. I want to make an earnest appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary.
We all accept the position the Department is in to-day, and we appreciate very much the very fine effort of the hon. Gentleman to be frank and open with us. He told us of some of the things that we might be able to do before we got a Bill. I understand that I cannot speak of matters pertaining to legislation, but I have listened very carefully and I hope that what I want to mention may come within the matters that do not require legislation. In order to illustrate the point I will give particulars of the following case. It is a case from the report of His Majesty's Inspector of Mines for 1240 the Northern Division of a boy aged 16, who was attempting to uncouple tubs attached to an endless rope while the rope was in motion. His head was crushed between the tub and a low girder. Do not let us have any more of the kind of talk indulged in by the hon. Member for Hitchin, that it is the weakly boy who is injured. It is the energetic boy, the strong boy, the boy who dares to do things, who gets injured, and they are the boys the manager likes to have. If that boy's head could be crushed between the tub and a low girder it shows that the low girder must have been there for some time.
Is it not possible to give instructions to the inspectors that if they see a place of potential danger when they are going round the mine, they are to order it to be put right and the danger removed? This report is full of a number of cases of men being killed. In one case a man's head was crushed between the tippler and a low barrier or low girder. There is an inquiry, regret is expressed at what has happened, and a promise is made that this particular place shall be heightened. My complaint is that there are scores and scores of these accidents and that our boys are absolutely defenceless and at the mercy of other people. These young lives could be saved; and, more than that, the terrible injuries which some of them suffer, and which maim them for life, could be averted. Surely, in view of the thousands of these cases, we are not asking too much when we say that inspectors when they see these places of danger should have the power to order them to be put right.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Paling
I regret the fact that the Secretary for Mines has not been able to attend the Debate, and we all regret that he is ill. I regret it all the more because although I often disagree with him, and probably shall again, he takes a keen interest in his job and puts up a good show when he presents the Estimates of his Department. I should like to say a word about one or two speeches which have been made this evening, beginning with the speech of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). Among other things he said that he had not met many coalowners who were in opposition to the recommendations in the report. I am glad to hear that, and I hope it means that when legislation is introduced next year 1241 embodying the recommendations, that the coalowners will offer no opposition to it and will allow, as far as they can, as good a Bill as is possible to go through the House. But I doubt whether they will do that. It may be true, as the hon. Member has said, that when legislation is actually before this House the coalowners have not attempted to defeat it, but it is equally true that they have never taken the initiative in starting legislation to safeguard the lives of the men and boys who work for them.
As a rule, the coalowners are very subtle in looking after their own interests, and if they object to anything that is likely to be put in the forthcoming Bill, they will object to it before the Bill is presented to the House. I remember the well-known case about two years ago, when the then President of the Board of Trade introduced a Bill concerning amalgamations. The Bill was presented on the Thursday or Friday of one week, and by the time the President of the Board of Trade came to the House on the following Monday to make his Second Reading speech on the Bill, the coalowners had been so busy that they had made him agree to withdraw three of the main principles of the Bill in moving the Second Reading. The hon. Member for North Leeds said that the coalowners have no objection to these recommendations, and I hope that they will not use their influence, before the Bill is presented in the House, in order to modify it and prevent many of the recommendations from being incorporated in it.
Speaking about past Debates on this subject, the hon. Member said that he thought hon. Members on these benches had always given correctly figures relating to accidents and so on, but that sometimes we had tended to use exaggerated language—for instance, we had referred to the people killed as being slaughtered. The hon. Member does not like that, and he wants us to drop that sort of thing. I do not see that there is any great objection to our making such a statement; those people are slaughtered in a way. But the hon. Member set us a worse example in his speech. When speaking of the number of people killed in the mines, he drew a comparison between that number and the number of people killed on the roads. Everybody admits that the number of people killed on the roads is appallingly high, and I 1242 think that hon. Members on this side, like hon. Members opposite, are as anxious to reduce that number as we are to reduce the number of people killed in the mines; but the difference between the two cases is that the incidence of deaths in mines is nearly ten times as high as it is on the roads. If the hon. Member will work out the figures, he will find that is correct. On the roads, 6,000 people are killed out of a population of from 42,000,000 to 45,000,000.
§ Mr. Paling
They use the roads, and many of them spend a good many hours each day on the roads. The fact remains that 6,000 people are killed out of a population of 45,000,000, whereas 850 or 800 are killed out of 750,000 or 800,000 people in the mines. The incidence of deaths in the mines is about 10 times as high as it is on the roads. Therefore, when the hon. Member accuses us of using exaggerated language, I hope that in future he will not use exaggerated parallels of that description. The hon. Member also said—and the Parliamentary Secretary for the Board of Trade said he would convey the hon. Member's suggestion to the Minister for Mines—that he hoped that when the legislation was brought forward, only the principles of the recommendations in the report would be embodied in it, and that most of the other things of a technical character would be dealt with by regulation. I do not know that I disagree with that, but I want to see a more generous interpretation of what is proposed to be embodied in legislation. I should be rather afraid if a good many of these things were not embodied in legislation that there might be a danger of their not being afterwards embodied in regulations. I would rather make sure of having them in a Bill and thereby make sure that they will be carried out rather than trust to their being put in regulations afterwards.
The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who made a very interesting speech, said that the general physique of the mining community was going down. I was not aware of that; I do not know whether it is so among the men actually at work, but it may be. If it is, I should think that there is a very good reason for 1243 it. There are now between 750,000 and 800,000 men employed in this industry. There was a peak point of 1,200,000, which means that since 1924 between 400,000 and 500,000 people have lost their jobs. Wages went down for years after 1926 to an absolute minimum. Unemployment was rife to the extent of nearly 500,000. Under-employment was rife, too, among the people who were fortunate enough to have a job, and as a consequence the standard of life in the mining districts, particularly in Durham and South Wales, was very low. All the people suffered accordingly. It would be found, if an examination were made, that a goodly proportion of those people, who the hon. Member for Hitchin said were suffering from malnutrition and deterioration in physique, would probably be in the category enunciated by Sir John Orr as among the millions of people who were having to live on less than 4s. a week for food. That, perhaps, has nothing to do with this report, but it is an important fact and bears out that there is not only a great need for legislation to safeguard life and limb, but also great room in the industry for an increase in the standard of life so that the evil effects which have been mentioned can be eradicated.
It has been admitted on all sides that little or no progress has been made for many years in the reduction of accidents. That is an amazing thing in face of the great progress which the science of mining has made during the last 20 years. Side by side with that progress we are faced with the fact that there has hardly been any reduction of accidents or any progress made in their prevention. Last year the number of persons killed was 859, an appalling total with all the scientific and technical knowledge which we have at our disposal and with the fair number of modern mines that exist. There were 3,363 seriously injured—another appalling total. Those serious injuries would include such things as the loss of an eye or an arm or a leg, and in many cases mean that the injured person would never get back to work at all and would be a cripple for life.
Let me introduce a personal note and give some idea of what this means by an illustration from my own life in the pit. The last time I worked in Nottinghamshire I worked at a rather dangerous place 1244 —a rather abnormal place, I agree. There were six of us working in it, five of us being of ages varying from 25 to 30 and one being an older miner. Within a year or two all five of my mates were injured. The older man had both hips crushed and has gone on crutches ever since. Another had his leg taken off up to his thigh by a fall of roof. Another had his foot taken off by a fall of roof. Another had his arm taken off—crushed between two tubs. The fifth had a blow on the head from which he died a few months later. I myself was buried, but was fortunate enough to escape with nothing more than a few bruises. Five of those men were definitely injured for life, most of them to such an extent that they could not go back to work in the pits. When one has regard to the character of these injuries it becomes all the more important that this matter should be dealt with as early as possible.
In addition to the figures I have quoted, 140,645 persons were injured to the extent of being disabled for more than three days. That means, in effect, that a man is due for injury of some kind of another —either fatal, serious or an accident coming under the heading of general injuries—about once in every five years of his working life in the pits. I submit that an industry which is carried on with such appalling loss of life and limb calls for serious attention at the earliest possible moment. I think that a good many recommendations in this report are good, and that if they were embodied in legislation and were given a fair chance of being put into operation they would have the effect of reducing those totals, and the earlier that is done the better.
With regard to explosions, I think the present Minister of Labour, when Secretary for Mines, said something to this effect in his annual speech—that he thought the day of the big explosion had gone. Those were not his words, but it was something to that effect. He had hardly got the words out of his mouth before the Gresford explosion occurred. That was a big explosion; but explosions in general have shown no tendency to decrease. In the decennial period from 1903 to 1912 the death-rate from explosions per thousand persons employed was 0.17. In the nine years from 1929–37 it was 0.134. That is not a very big reduction 1245 in 35 years. Progress in that matter is alarmingly slow, and it is time we speeded matters up. The report of Major Hudspeth has been referred to several times in the Debate, and quite rightly, because it was noticed in this country that while the explosions here and the death-rate arising from them showed no tendency to diminish, in France the figures had gone down remarkably fast.
In the 10 years from 1925 to 1934 inclusive the death rate in this country from explosion was more than three times that in France. Major Hudspeth was sent over to France to make inquiry into this business and after a fairly extensive inquiry he issued an admirable report. He proved that the lower death rate from explosion in France and the fewer accidents were due to the fact that ventilation standards in France were much better than ours in this country. In France, the development airways must contain no more than 1½ per cent. of firedamp and for all the return airways 1 per cent. is the maximum. With regard to withdrawal, the rate was 2 per cent. in France as compared with 2½ per cent. here.
Recommendations have been made in the report that we should come down to the 2 per cent. but I see that one of the members of the Commission has made in a reservation some rather acute remarks—curt remarks shall I say?—upon this matter. I hope that they will have no effect upon the recommendation and that the 2 per cent. will be embodied in legislation in this country—not that I want to see even 2 per cent. of firedamp in the atmosphere, but if the percentage comes down from 2½ to 2 it will mean that ventilation standards in this country have improved. The key to the whole problem of death from explosion and the ridding of firedamp is adequate ventilation. Ventilation standards, especially for the development airways, and for the general firedamp content, were less in France than ours, and I believe they still are.
I should have liked the Commission to go a little further in that direction than they have gone. Major Hudspeth said in his report that the comparative freedom from explosion in France was related to a high statutory standard of ventilation. Having read and studied this report as well as I can I am pretty sure that that is true, and that if the standards of venti- 1246 lation in this country could be improved to the extent that is recommended in the report the result would be shown in a reduction in the number of explosions and in the death rate from that cause.
Now I come to the question of airways which has already been raised on this side of the House. In this country we have never had a standard size for airways, but it is now recommended that they should include ingress and egress. An hon. Member opposite talked about inadequate airways; I remember when I was younger that it was a job to get through them in any circumstances, even sometimes on all fours. They were shocking airways, rugged and ragged. I doubt whether the airways in some of the older pits are much better even now. With airways of that description it is physically impossible to have a good standard of ventilation, for which the first necessity is certainly a clear way to let air into the workings of the mine. The best thing for those who work in the mines is that they should have good roomy airways. Small airways mean a tremendously high velocity and tremendous friction, with all the loss of power in that direction. You just cannot get the amount of air to the working places that there ought to be.
For the first time a standard is being laid down, but I disagree with the Commissioners—I think it is a shockingly low standard. It is the minimum standard that was suggested by any of the people who gave evidence before the Royal Commission—in other words, it is the standard laid down by the Mining Association themselves; and, knowing them as we do, we should not expect them to lay down a very high standard. The standard is not less than 16 square feet. I wonder how some of the modern pits could have their high standard of ventilation with airways like that. Some of them are decent enough to have much better airways. The Miners' Federation, on the other hand, suggested that the standard should be 6 feet by 6 feet, that is to say 36 square feet, and it is not too much, particularly in the case of hot mines, if coal is to be got in any degree of comfort. Someone questioned whether it was right to speak of comfort in the mines, and I agree, but, if it is to be possible to work at all, this standard of 16 square feet is much too small, and I am disappointed that it has been suggested.
1247 Coming to the question of underground haulage, there is a large death and serious accident rate. In 1937, the number killed was 178, and the number seriously injured 804. My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) has criticised the recommendations of the Commission on this matter, and I agree that they might have been better, but they are a distinct advance. It is suggested that there should be a space of from 12 to 18 inches as a minimum at the sides of the tubs, and 12 inches over the tubs. One is bound to admit that that is a tremendous advance, certainly as compared with anything that obtained when I was a boy. When I was a driver in the pits, instead of there being 18 inches on each side of the tub, the tub used to have to make its own road by taking the sides off, and if there was a runaway it was physically impossible to get out of the way. That is how a good many of these lads are killed. It is recommended that every haulage road shall always be kept of such dimensions as will allow a loaded tub to pass without the tub or loading touching the sides or the roof, or the sides of the roof supports.
My memory goes back to the time when I have seen in the pits roads—practically main roads—so narrow and so badly constructed that the tubs have actually worn the prop almost in two, and in some cases it has been necessary to cut the prop in order that the tub might get by. This proposal, therefore, is an advance. I see it is said that in some of the pits, where the ground is difficult, it will be a physical impossibility to keep these clearances at the sides of the tubs, and the danger from falls of roof and sides will be greater than it is now. I do not agree. I am glad personally that this has been done. People have been killed and injured at the junctions where they have to couple the tubs up. I see that there is a suggestion that the lighting at these places should be much improved. A good many accidents have occurred, and still occur, from the lack of efficient lighting. I am sure that is a recommendation in the right direction.
I come to the question of falls of ground. Last year 436 persons were killed and 1,516 seriously injured from falls of ground. The biggest proportion of these accidents was in the working places; 344 were killed there, and 1,226 1248 seriously injured. There has been little alteration in the accident rate from this cause since 1893—over 40 years ago—and it is time this job was tackled. I see the death rate per 1,000 persons employed in the years 1893 to 1902 was.7; in the years 1929–37, the latest years, it is.69—almost the same thing.
I want to put another point. There has been a tremendous change in methods of coal getting, particularly in the last 10 years. Mechanical mining has come into operation. I see the coal cut by machine was 61,000,000 tons, or 26 per cent., in 1928; in 1937 it had jumped to 137,000,000 tons, or 57 per cent.
§ Mr. Paling
No, I am coming to that. The amount of coal got in 1928 by pneumatic picks was 1,000,000 tons; in 1937 it was 13,500,000 tons. This represents a great change in coal getting. The people who favour this mechanisation process say that it makes the working face safer. Superficially I think it ought to. Now that you have got the mechanical miner, the coal faces are no longer slowly worked; you have now rapidly moving faces, and the breaks in the roof have not time to occur as they did in the past. The change, therefore, ought to have resulted in a tremendous improvement and an immense decrease in the number of accidents. But that has not happened. I want to know why. Inspectors of mines, technicians and managers have been arguing for this kind of work at the coal face for years and years because they said it would bring about a tremendous decrease in accidents. The production per man-shift has gone up enormously also, though the wages have not gone up in anything like the same proportion. In 1926, hon. Members opposite said, in effect, "If you will only go back to work and increase the production per man per shift by 1 cwt., everything will be all right." It has been increased by three, four and five times that amount, and everything is still all wrong.
I think it is speeding up which is the cause. The rate at which men work today has been increased tremendously. Nervous strain has been mentioned, and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred to noise. These matters have contributed to this situation. I heard of a case last week where they are so anxious 1249 to get coal out from a pit in South Yorkshire that they gave 3,500 men notice a few weeks ago because they were not working fast enough at mechanical mining, and they have made a new agreement. It is made, on the men's side, at the pistol point. They must increase their output. A chargeman is to be appointed for every 30 yards of coal face. What it means is that a man is standing over them metaphorically with a whip, and they must pay out of their own money for being whipped, and they must work overtime. How does that square with the present law, under which overtime is allowed only for emergency purposes? Also, if these men have a complaint they must make it, not to the deputy now but to the chargeman. They have not even the right to approach an official. All this is speeding up of the worst kind. Then there is the question of hot mines. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Leigh bring this matter up as he has done time and again. I noticed with alarm that dermatitis is increasing very rapidly indeed. In 1927 there were two new cases and one case continued from the previous year. That figure has gone up to 97 in one case and 76 in the other, making 173 in all. This is due largely to working in hot mines, and the sweat that the men exude. I hope the matter is going to be attended to, and that it will be dealt with by legislation.
§ Question, "That '£191,580,000' stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, Mr. Deputy-Speaker proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.