HC Deb 27 January 1982 vol 16 cc889-91 3.36 pm
Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the accident at Cardowan colliery.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Waddington)

It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform the House that there was an incident at the Cardowan colliery this morning, in which 25 miners were injured. I should like to express my deepest sympathy for the men concerned and their families, and I wish the men a speedy recovery.

The mine is about 7 miles outside Glasgow, and about 1, 100 men are employed there. This morning at 9 o'clock an ignition of gas occurred on a long wall coal face in the Cloven Seam—the reference number is V52. The face was in production and equipped with a modern power loader and powered supports. The seam thickness is 0.94 metres—38 inches—with a sandstone roof and a hard floor. Flame appears to have passed along the face during production operations. The power loader was about three-quarters of the way along the face.

There are 25 casualties, seven of which are stretcher cases. All have been taken to hospitals in Glasgow, suffering from various degrees of burns. All the men in the district have been accounted for and the ventilation re-established, but all work in the colliery has been suspended while the investigation proceeds. Investigation is proceeding by all the interested parties—the NCB, the NUM, Her Majesty's Inspectors—and the incident section for research and laboratory services division, Safety in Mines Research Establishment, Sheffield is on its way to the pit. There is no indication of the cause of ignition as yet.

Mr. Smith

I am sure that the Minister will appreciate how grateful I am to him for making such a full statement to the House. Speaking as the constituency Member, and on behalf of my many hon. Friends who have constituents working in this colliery, I wish to express sympathy for those who have been severely injured in the accident, particularly the seven men who are apparently in intensive care in hospital, and wish them a full and speedy recovery.

I pay tribute to the miners of this and other collieries, who daily risk life and limb to extract coal for the nation. Does the Minister accept that the institution of early inquiries into the cause of the accident will be universally welcomed? Will the findings be made known after the facts have been established? Does he agree that if the need for more safety measures is revealed by the inquiry, such measures will be introduced with all possible speed, so that the colliery can be kept as safe as possible for those who work there?

Mr. Waddington

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his expressions of sympathy, which I am sure will give comfort to the families. I join in his expression of appreciation for the dangerous and important work that is done by miners. The findings of the investigation will be made available, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if the investigation reveals that further safety measures are required, they will be put into effect with no delay.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose, exceptionally, to call the two hon. Members on the Government Benches and the four hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who have risen to their feet.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

We join the Minister and my right hon. Friend in extending to the people who have been injured and the seven men who are in intensive care, and their wives and families, our hope and wish that they will make a speedy recovery. Does the Minister agree that the question and his statement are timely reminders of the hostile environment in which miners toil every day in the pits?

If the circumstances warrant it, and if the Secretary of State believes it appropriate, will the hon. and learned Gentleman return to the House and report any measures that are adopted, or the nature of any inquiry that is undertaken, because that pit has a history of being what we in the mining industry describe as a gassy pit?

Mr. Waddington

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the mining industry, and it is appropriate that he should have risen today and said what he has. He is right in saying that what has happened today is a timely reminder of the dangers of mining, but I remind the House that our mining industry has a proud record. It has the best safety record in the world, and I am told that the accident statistics for 1981 will reveal that there were fewer fatalities in the mining industry in 1981 than ever before. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that when a report is available I should make a further statement to the House.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

All Conservative Members, and especially those who have mine workers in their constituencies, will wish to be associated with my hon. and learned Friend's statement. Will he accept our wish that the injured recover speedily, and our thankfulness that there were no fatalities?

Mr. Waddington

There must be great consolation in the fact that there have been no fatalities. We can only hope that all those who have suffered injury will make a speedy recovery. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie (Rutherglen)

As a Member who is privileged to represent many colliery workers, I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) and the Under-Secretary of State in expressing sympathy and good wishes to the injured for a speedy recovery. To allay any distress that might be caused, can the Under-Secretary of State tell us whether the entire colliery will be closed; and if so, the payment position of those who are laid off?

Mr. Waddington

The colliery will be closed while the investigation is carried out and until the cause of the accident is clear and work can be restarted. The men who are laid off will be entitled to the usual benefit, although that is not my province. I know that the right hon. Gentleman's expressions of sympathy for those who have suffered injury will be greatly appreciated.

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for a speedy and full statement and join in the expressions of sympathy made from both sides of the House for the miners and their families. Can my hon. and learned Friend assure us that any lessons that are learnt from such an appalling experience as this will be drawn to the attention of the National Coal Board and that all necessary safety measures will be installed in other pits?

Mr. Waddington

I give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

As some of my constituents work at Cardowan and many more of the Cardowan miners are known to me personally, I join my right hon. Friend in extending sympathy to the injured men and their families. I hope that the victims of this tragic incident will make a speedy recovery.

What happened at this pit should be a timely reminder that, despite the great improvements in safety standards in the coal industry over the years, coal mining is still a dangerous, dirty and hazardous job. Conservative Members, who complain constantly that miners are overpaid, should go down pits such as Cardowan, as my right hon. Friend and I did, so that they can see the conditions for themselves. They would then agree with me that the miners are worth every penny that they can get.

Mr. Waddington

It is not appropriate now to make any political points. We are united in our expressions of sympathy and in recognising that mining remains a very dangerous job.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that much concern has been shown by the National Union of Miners and other unions in the mining industry on the general question of the inspectorate? That was reflected in the parliamentary miners group putting down a question about the strength of the inspectorate in the coalfields. Many of us believe that it is below strength and that many additions must be made to bring it up to strength. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will take the matter on board.

I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). I remind the House that, despite the reasons put forward by the Minister for keeping it at a certain level, each miner who receives industrial injury benefit this year will lose £14 a week as a result of the Government's decision to stop earnings-related supplement.

Mr. Waddington

I shall deal only with the part of the question that relates to the inspectorate. There was an inspector at the pit when the accident occurred, although he had gone there for another reason. It is worth reminding the House that 11, 980 inspections were carried out at coal mines in 1980. In the light of that figure it is difficult to say that there is not an adequate level of inspection. There are 95 mines and quarries inspectors in post. The Health and Safety Executive is trying to recruit additional inspectors up to a total of 102 in 1982. There is no question of its being prevented from carrying out that recruitment programme because of any expenditure restraints.