HL Deb 22 May 1865 vol 179 cc621-8

On Order of the Day for the Second Reading,


said, that if he were to proceed with the Bill which he had ventured to introduce into their Lordships' House, and to bring under their notice the fearful sacrifice of life which had been shown in the evidence brought before the Royal Commissioners to occur, in the copper, tin, and lead mines—for he excluded from his remarks all reference to ironstone mines—he should not have the least doubt of satisfying their Lordships of the necessity of some legislation on this subject. He could, if he desired it, show from the Report of the Commissioners that a miner's health began to give way at about the age of thirty-five; that a miner who had attained the age of fifty was regarded ns an old man; and that those circumstances, together with the constant and fearful loss of life from accident, were attributable to the disgraceful state of the works underground. He believed that if, as he had intended to propose, the Bill, after being read the second time, had been referred to a Select Committee with a view to consider a remedy for the many evils which existed, the condition of the miners might have been as greatly improved as the condition of the men working in collieries had been benefited by the provisions of the Colliery Act. He thought that he had been somewhat unfairly treated by the Government, who had intimated at the last moment their intention to oppose the Bill, and as under these circumstances he could not hope they would meet him in Committee in an impartial spirit, he should now move that the Order for the second reading should be discharged, in order that the Bill might be reconstructed—not, however, with a view of proceeding with it at the present late period of the Session. He thought it necessary that he should state to the House why he had introduced such a measure upon his own responsibility. The Report of the Royal Commission appointed to examine into the condition of mines was signed by the whole of the Commissioners, and during the winter he had repeatedly urged upon the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department the advisability of introducing a Bill founded upon those recommendations. But the right hon. Baronet stated that the Cornish Members desired that legislation upon the subject might be delayed, because the mining interest was in a depressed state, arising from the condition of affairs in America; because sufficient time had not been allowed for the consideration of the recommendations of the Commissioners; and the last, and, he believed, the principal reason, was because of the proximity of a general election. The first two objections, however, had disappeared, because the state of things in America had fortunately greatly improved, and because the Report of the Commissioners had been published for four or five months; and in regard to the last reason, he did not think a vote or a seat ought to be at all regarded in comparison with so important a matter. He, however, offered to bring in a Bill upon his own responsibility, and this offer was accepted by the Secretary for the Home Department. He had circulated copies of the Bill at his own expense throughout the mining districts, in accordance with the understanding come to with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and it was therefore with the greatest surprise that he was informed a few hours before the second reading that unless he withdrew the Bill the Government would oppose its further progress. He regretted that he was compelled to take this course, because of the loss of life that must necessarily result from the delay which was thus occasioned—a loss of life against which coroners' inquests were no provision whatever; for coroners' inquests in Cornwall invariably returned a verdict of "accidental death" even in cases where the loss of life was occasioned by defects in machinery. This circumstance arose from the fact that the jury were generally composed of mine captains or others interested in mines, and that the miners themselves who could give evidence adverse to the management of the mine in which the accident happened dared not open their mouths. As an instance, a verdict of "accidental death" was returned where two men were killed by the explosion of a boiler which was proved to have been bought at third-hand. The miners themselves did not complain of the ventilation of the mines, because they believed it could not be remedied; but they complained, and justly, of the state of things under ground. A miner's life might be truly said to be constantly trembling in the balance. He was compelled to exercise an amount of vigilance with which it was unfair to tax him. That was the true state of things in the great majority of mines. Had he gone into Committee he should have been able to show by the evidence of scientific practical men that the evils at present complained of were capable of a remedy. He was aware that a great opposition had been got up against this Bill; one of the objectors being Mr. Taylor, one of the firm of Messrs. Taylors, who had, no doubt, a high standing in the mining world, and their opinion had the greatest weight. But, looking to the report, it would be found that their mines were not, as might have been expected, in a very different state from the others as regards ventilation and accommodation. There were, he would admit, several mines in Cornwall and in the north—those of the London Lead Company and of Mr. Beaumont, for instance—where the health and comfort of the men were well attended to; and yet, even in these, it would be found, on referring to the analysis in the Report, that the air was bad. He was sorry that legislation must stand over for another year, and that the fearful loss of life which occurred daily must still go on. He had no alternative but to withdraw the Bill as the Government had seen fit to oppose instead of themselves promoting such a measure. He earnestly implored the Government during the recess to employ practical scientific men to investigate this subject. He could give the names of men who would be prepared to prove, notwithstanding the prejudice that existed to the contrary, that mines could be ventilated, not only so as to save the lives of the workers, but to the great adventage of the adventurers themselves—he could refer to the evidence of Mr. Angus Smith to show that mines might be tested by a far better method than the old candle test; in fact, he believed, that by the due application of scientific methods, aided by judicious legislation, the existing evils and dangers might be removed. If these inquiries were made, the question would be very much simplified and they would be prepared for legislation next Session. He moved that the Order for the second reading of the Bill be read, that it might be discharged.

Moved, That the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Metalliferous Mines Bill be read in order to its being discharged.—(Lord Kinnaird.)


said, he would only say one word on this occasion, as his noble Friend had announced his intention of withdrawing the Bill; indeed he should not have intruded at all on their Lordships if his noble Friend had not thought proper to make a charge against the Government of neglect of duty in not bringing forward a Bill for the regulation of mines themselves. Now, it was perfectly competent to his noble Friend to form any opinion he chose of the duty of the Government; but he must protest against his imputing to Sir George Grey, without the slightest foundation, motives of an unworthy character for not undertaking that task. With regard to the duty of the Government, he never was so clear on any subject in his life as that it was their duty to take the course they did, and not that of his noble Friend. His noble Friend had taken that course without any previous communication whatever with his brother Commissioners. His noble Friend said this Bill was in accordance with the recommendations of the Commissioners; but he must point out a fact of some importance—that the Report of the Commissioners contained no recommendation for any legislation on the subject—indeed they had abstained from making any recommendation whatever. It was therefore premature in his noble Friend to bring in this Bill, affecting very many most delicate questions. Such being the feelings of parties both in the north and southwest, who were most interested in the question, he thought it would have been folly in the Government to have brought in a Bill on the subject. He would not discuss the merits or demerits of his noble Friend's Bill, but he was quite sure his noble Friend had acted wisely in withdrawing it.


thought the Bill one of the most mischievous ones that had ever been brought into Parliament. The noble Lord had introduced it entirely on his own responsibility, and under the protest of all his brother Commissioners—a protest made to him in the strongest way, and founded on their conviction that legislation such as that attempted by the noble Lord would be dangerous in its character and most prejudicial to the mining interests. As the noble Lord had announced his intention to withdraw the Bill, he should not think it his duty to go into detail and answer the statements he had made, although every iota of it could be explained in the most satisfactory manner. He must, however, venture to express his opinion that there never was a case in which legislation was attempted to be founded upon less knowledge. But the noble Lord (Lord Kinnaird) had thought fit to take an unprecedented step; he held in his hand a large handbill which had been circulated throughout Cornwall, and which bore the signature of "Kinnaird," and which set forth the Report of the Commissioners and their Resolutions. On that Commission were men with the largest experience in mining matters, and, among others, the four representatives of the county of Cornwall, all of whom protested against the course taken by the noble Lord. The handbill stated that the Bill before their Lordships was based upon the Report of the Commissioners, and therefore it implied that the measure met with the approbation of the noble Lord's coadjutors, whereas the fact was that they were altogether opposed to it. The noble Lord had kept the Bill from the knowledge of his brother Commissioners up to the last moment. [Lord KINNAIRD: No!] He had authority for making that statement. At any rate the noble Lord knew that the desire of the Commissioners was that any legislation which might be proposed on that subject should be carefully considered; and under any circumstances the circulation of such a handbill was wrong. The noble Lord's handbill expressed a hope that his measure would meet with the approval of the working miners. That showed that the noble Lord had very little practical knowledge of the subject he pretended to legislate upon. The working miners were a contented and most intelligent class of men, who were well aware of the good feeling entertained towards them by their employers; and he regretted that the noble Lord had put forward such a handbill, not because it had produced any mischief in regard to the relation between the employer and employed, but because it produced a very grave feeling against the noble Lord himself, who, he trusted, would not be sent as a Commissioner into Cornwall again. He did not condemn the motives which had induced the noble Lord to introduce that Bill, but he did condemn him for bringing in, upon his own individual whim or opinion, a measure on a most difficult subject of which he had no knowledge prior to his appointment on the Commission.


wished, after what had passed, to offer a few words of personal explanation. He had not the slightest intention to impute unworthy motives to the Home Secretary; he had simply stated that one of the reasons given by a Cornish Member for delay was the approaching election. As to the allegation that he had brought in his Bill in opposition to all the Commissioners, he could say that there never had been a meeting of all the Commission, but only of the Cornish Members. One other Member not connected with mines was present, and his remark to him after the meeting was that the Cornish element prevailed on the Commission, and that there was no intention to propose legislation on the subject. With regard to the handbill which had been referred to, the noble Lord (Lord Vivian) gave notice that he meant to oppose the Bill; but he (Lord Kinnaird) had not attached much importance to his opposition, because he had brought in the measure with the sanction of the Home Secretary, and had complied fully with the right hon. Baronet's conditions in letting it be known and examined; and he certainly had not expected that he would be taken by surprise, and told at the eleventh hour that the second reading would be opposed on the ground that somebody had represented to the Home Secretary that there was a feeling against the Bill; whereas there had been no demonstration whatever. He had been also told by the right hon. Baronet that there was to be a county meeting. Now, although he might have no knowledge of mining, he knew very well that the miners durst not open their mouths. The evidence of very few miners would be found in the Report—and why? Because they durst not give evidence. In one case the Commissioners contrived to obtain evidence by engaging the agent in conver- sation in one part of the mine, while a Member of their body and the shorthand writer were taking the evidence of a miner elsewhere. The man, however, was constantly looking round to see whether the agent was coming. He was not ashamed of having circulated a handbill to let the miners know what were the Resolutions agreed to by all the Commissioners, and that he had prepared a Bill designed for their benefit founded upon those Resolutions. He was no longer a Commissioner, and maintained that, as an independent Member of the House, he was perfectly entitled to deal with that subject. There was an unwillingness to legislate; but when a strong Report was made, stating the grave evils which existed, and recommending that they should be remedied, he thought it ought not to lie on the table without some attempt being made to give effect to it.


said, that as he now understood the matter the noble Lord removed the charge from the Secretary of State to the shoulders of the Members for Cornwall, who, he said, were acting in the matter with a view to the forthcoming election. Now he denied that those hon. Gentlemen at all feared to meet their constituents on account of the course they had pursued in that or any other matter. They were greatly respected in the county, and well known for the great interest they took in the welfare of the poorer as well as in that of the richer portion of its inhabitants. As to the Bill before the House, he thought a more unwise step was never taken by a noble Lord who was a member of a Commission than to try to bring his own individual feeling to bear on a question of the most delicate kind, without the concurrence of his colleagues. It was a grave error to attempt to agitate the country on such a subject in these days, when Parliament was in every way disposed to redress the just grievances of the working classes. The Cornish men declined to place themselves under the guidance of the noble Lord; and they deprecated the sending down of Inspectors from the Board of Trade to instruct the miners how they were to carry on their business. The noble Lord's Bill prohibited anybody having a share in a mine from being employed as an Inspector, which was as much as to say that an ignorant man should be preferred to one who was acquainted with the subject. The owners of mines were anxious to do all they could to promote the comfort of the miners; and before any legislation, was proposed, the question should be considered for the next twelve months or two years as the case might be. He would not say that it would be unsafe for the noble Lord to re-appear in Cornwall, for the people of Cornwall are very good-natured; but he trusted that he would not bring in another Bill in the same manner as the present.

Order for the Second Reading read, and discharged; and Bill (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.