HL Deb 30 March 1865 vol 178 cc479-83

in presenting a Bill making provision for enabling persons engaged in working certain metalliferous mines to do so with greater regard to health and safety, said, that the usual practice was to lay a Bill upon the table without making any statement of its object at that stage, to defer any observations until the Bill came on for second reading but on this occasion he should pursue a different course, and ask the attention of their Lordships for a few moments while he explained the object of the measure. In the Session of 1860 a Bill was brought before their Lordships for the regulation and inspection of mines, which gave rise to some discussion. During the progress of the Bill in the other House all reference to metalliferous mines and iron stone mines not in coal measures was excluded, but a pledge was given by the Government that an inquiry should be instituted into the state of those mines. In 1862 that pledge was redeemed, and a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire and to report as to the health and safety of the persons employed in lead, tin, copper, and iron-stone mines not in the coal measures. He had the honour of being Chairman of that Commission, which devoted two years to a very searching and laborious inquiry into the condition of the miners working in mines of that description; and the result was that at the end of last Session a Report, agreed to unanimously by the Commissioners, was presented to Parliament. The inquiry brought out a very fearful state of mortality amongst the metalliferous miners. On comparing the mortality of miners with that of other classes in the same district, they found that between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five there were double the number of deaths among the miners. They also ascertained that this did not arise from the immediate effect of working underground, because on comparing the Returns of the Registrar General of the deaths in the colliery districts in the north of England they found that the colliers in those districts were more healthy and longlived, notwithstanding the numerous accidents that occurred, than any other class of workmen in the country. It was true that the colliers were somewhat better fed than the metal miners; but it was clearly proved that the metal miners were suffering from something especial in connection with their employment; and it was also clearly proved that the difference was owing to the better system of ventilation which was in practice in the collieries. In the collieries it was absolutely necessary that there should be a perfect system of ventilation, or explosions would take place; but in the metal mines there was no danger of explosion, and consequently ventilation was much neglected. The Commissioners employed scientific men to examine the air in the (nines; they obtained upwards of 300 specimens of air, and had them submitted to the tests of science, and the result was that a large proportion of the air in these mines was found to be totally unfit for men to work in. The Commissioners also had many of the miners examined by medical men, who all agreed in saying that this fearful state of disease and mortality was principally owing to the want of ventilation. It might have been expected that the men employed in these mines would be strong and muscular; on the contrary, the miners were found to be pale and emaciated, few reaching middle age without showing symptoms of disease. It was a common expression that a man of fifty was an old man for a miner. There were other causes also which tended to produce this melancholy state of things. In collieries the men on returning from work wore lifted by a hoist, but the metal miners had to climb 1,200 or 1,600 feet after the fatigues of an exhausting labour. When they got to the top they were in a state of such exhaustion and profuse perspiration that they easily took cold, and having no proper place in which to change their clothes, much sickness and many deaths were occasioned. The miners themselves gave up all hope of being cured, and no provision was made for any who were out of work owing to sickness. Certain deductions were made from their wages as an assurance against accidents and to obtain the services of a doctor, but no benefit society would admit miners, no provision was made for them when off work, and they had no resource but to fall back upon the poor rates. The Commissioners did not think it desirable to point out how these evils were to be remedied, but the necessity for legislation was clearly established. It was, he admitted, a difficult subject to deal with, but having given much attention to it, and having lived among the miners for two months, during which time, as well as during the entire period of the existence of the Commission, he was constantly underground, he was prepared to show that the evils under which these men laboured might be remedied. Such a state of things as that which now existed could not be allowed to continue, and he had, therefore, prepared this Bill. But he wished to state that he presented this measure to their Lordships entirely on his own responsibility; he had not submitted it either to the other Commissioners or to the Government, but he trusted it would receive the support, not of Parliament only, but of the mining interest; because many persons connected with mining were totally ignorant, till this inquiry took place, of the state of things existing among the men, and when the inquiry was being made the Commissioners met with most cordial support from those who were interested in mines, who were quite willing to give every information, and who admitted that some legislation was necessary. He would not go at length into the details of the measure, because that would be done at the second reading; but he might state that it was not proposed to imitate the system of inspection instituted under the Mines and Collieries Act, which, he thought, would be objectionable. First, they would not be able to obtain for the salaries that could be given the services of men as Inspectors, possessing the same experience and qualifications as many of those who have now the charge of the mines and upon whom the responsibility should rest; next, because the metalliferous mines were so much scattered that an immense staff of Inspectors would be required; and lastly, because an Inspector resident on the spot would give rise to suspicion. There was great speculation in mines—the prospect of many mines varied from day to day, and if there were any resident Inspector he might be tempted to give information, and if he did not he would be suspected of giving it. But what he proposed was that there should be a Board or Department under the Government, somewhat similar to the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, and there was in the Office of the School of Mines an admirable nucleus for carrying out the provisions of the Bill. He thought this proposition would meet with the concurrence of the mining interest. It was proposed the mines should not be under regulations prescribed by Act of Parliament, on account of the difficulty of I making one regulation answer all the mines, but it was proposed that the Board should inquire into the state of the different mines, and have full power to direct what was necessary for the health and I safety of the miners. And the Report, he thought, would point out upon what points it was necessary to have regulations. He did not wish to press the measure forward, I but to give full time to all who were interested to consider it. The mining interest was a very important interest; it was at this moment suffering under great depression owing to the state of things in the United States; but he ventured to think that if the propositions in the Report were carried out, not only the mining interest would be benefited, but their Lordships would have the satisfaction of feeling that they were promoting the welfare and lengthening the lives of one of the most industrious, well-conducted, moral, and religious classes of Her Majesty's subjects.

Bill relating to Metalliferous Mines presented; read 1a; and to be printed. (No. 49).