HL Deb 28 March 1928 vol 70 cc660-86

LORD DANESFORT had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the official statistics of mortality amongst pit ponies in the eight mining divisions of Great Britain for the year 1925, being the last normal year for which statistics are available; whether the total number of animals employed underground in that year was 60,852, and the percentage of animals killed or destroyed by reason of accidents was forty-four per thousand, and the percentage of animals which died or were destroyed by reason of disease or old age was thirty-six per thousand; whether the percentages of mortality from these causes in the Lancashire and North Wales divisions were far lower than the average percentages mentioned above, while the percentage of animals killed or destroyed by reason of accidents in the Yorkshire division was far higher than the average mentioned above; whether the attention of the Government has been drawn to a pamphlet, issued by Mr. D. Jeffrey Williams in 1927, which contains serious allegations as to the overworking of animals in some mines, and states that there are cases of animals being worked ten, twelve and even fourteen shifts in the week, and as many as fifteen and sixteen hours in one day, and what degree of truth is there in these statements; whether the number of inspectors in 1925 was eight for the inspection of over 60,000 animals in the eight mining divisions; whether the number of inspectors has since been increased and whether notice of their visits is given to the managers of the mines; and what steps have been taken or are being taken to introduce mechanical haulage into the mines to replace animal haulage; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it has often occurred to me that the life of a pit pony, even under the most favourable conditions, is always more or less of a tragedy. From the time when it goes into the mine it is condemned to live underground, not enjoying the light of the sun or the outside air, until at length it is relieved from its sufferings by death, either from accident or from disease, or from old age. It appears to me that it is the duty of any humane Government to take all the steps in their power to see that these helpless servants of man are treated as humanely and considerately as is possible under the conditions, and in so doing I feel convinced that the Government will have the support and approval of very large sections of opinion in this country. I freely admit that in many mines—I have seen some myself—the ponies are treated well and humanely, but there are other mines where those conditions do not prevail, and it is with reference to those mines that I ask your Lordships' attention to-day.

The figures that I have given in my Question were taken from the official Reports for the year 1926, that being the last period for which, to me at any rate, official figures were accessible. Possibly the noble Earl who will reply for the Government will be able to give us the figures for the year 1927. The number of these horses and ponies that are worked underground in the mines of Scotland, 1926 and, if you look at the number killed or destroyed as the result of were killed or destroyed as the result of accidents in that year, you will see that it is very considerable. The average per thousand, taking all the mines in the country of those so killed was no less than 44. On the face of it that is an extremely high figure. No doubt there are some accidents in mines that are unavoidable, but I think the inspectors should and probably do—I dare say the noble Earl will be able to give us this assurance—search out the causes which lead to these very numerous deaths and, if possible, remove those causes and lessen the number of deaths.

There is one rather remarkable fact that is discoverable from the official figures. In some divisions of the country the number of deaths as the result of accidents is enormously above the average and in other divisions it is very much below the average. In Yorkshire the number of deaths from this cause is no less than 75 per thousand, as against an average of 44 per thousand all over the country, whereas in Lancashire and North Wales the number of deaths from this cause is only 16 per thousand. I think the inference that one would be inclined to draw would be that, where the death rate is very high, it comes from some preventable cause. No doubt the conditions in the mines vary, but where you have this enormous difference between 75 per thousand on the one hand and 16 per thousand on the other I cannot help thinking that there must be preventable causes in those mines where mortality is very high and that the Regulations are not so well carried out as in those mines where the deaths from accidents are comparatively few.

I turn to the number of deaths from old age or disease, and I find that the average for the year 1926 is 36 per thousand. That seems a very high average of deaths from these causes, especially when you remember that these ponies go into the pits as a rule at the early age of four or thereabouts. Accordingly the deaths from old age or disease appear to me to be very numerous. I am disposed to hope—and I trust that the noble Earl will be able to tell me that I am right—that one possible reason why the mortality from old age is large is that when the animal gets past its work and is no longer fit for work in the mine, instead of being sold for work outside, it is humanely put to death. If that is so, it would to a certain extent offer an explanation of this high mortality. In the case of deaths from old age and disease, the figures differ very greatly in different places. In Scotland the average is as much as 52 per thousand, while in Lancashire and North Wales it is only 24 per thousand. Again one is disposed to think that there must be causes operating in these different localities to explain why the mortality in Scotland is so very much higher than in Lancashire and North Wales.

I pass to an exceedingly important part of this Question—namely, the matter of overwork. As your Lordships know, the Coal Mines Act, 1911, contains in the Third Schedule a series of Regulations as to the care and treatment of these animals underground. They are very valuable, if they are properly carried out, but it is a somewhat remarkable fact that in all these elaborate Regulations there is no Regulation whatever that fixes the maximum hours that a pony may work per diem, or the maximum number of hours or the number of shifts the animal may work in the week. It is true that there are Regulations which are framed with a view to stopping overwork. In the first place you have a valuable Regulation which says that there must be one horsekeeper at least for every fifteen animals, whose duty it will be to look after the stables, and the care of the animals in the stables. There is also a provision that the driver of the animals must in each case report to the proper official every case of overwork, and this official is to report it in his turn to the manager, who is ultimately responsible. Then comes what, to my mind, is an extremely important Regulation, and it is this, that the horsekeeper has to keep, or it is his duty to keep, a record in a book provided for that purpose, of the condition of the horse and the name of the driver in whose charge it has been after every shift, and, above all, of the time when the animal was taken from the stable and of the time when it was returned to the stable. This book is to be open to the inspection of the inspectors.

If those Regulations as to overwork were properly and strictly observed, it appears to me that they would be most valuable, and would be adequate protection against overwork and any other abuses which are likely to arise in the mines. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who I understand will answer my Question, will be able to give some assurance from the reports of the inspectors or others, who speak with authority, that these Regulations are strictly enforced; that, for instance, the horsekeeper keeps this record of the number of hours worked, and that this record is examined by the inspectors, and reported upon accordingly. That these Regulations should be observed, and ought to be observed, appears to me all the more important when one considers the allegations which have been made in certain quarters, which I believe to be responsible—allegations of overwork and other violations of the Regulations. I refer to the pamphlets which have been issued—I have sent a copy to my noble friend—by a society calling itself "The Pit Ponies Protection Society." These pamphlets bear the name of Mr. Jeffrey Williams, who worked himself in the mines for something like fifteen years.

The allegations in those pamphlets—I am not saying whether they are all correct or not—are of the most serious character. They do not touch or affect to touch on all the mines in the country. I notice that they deal somewhat more particularly with mines in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire, where one is distressed to know that the conditions are extremely unsatisfactory as regards not only ponies, but, what is more important, as regards the miners who work in those mines. Summarising some of the allegations, they come to this: that in some of the mines of the country many of the ponies regularly work two shifts of seven or eight hours a day. Will any one of your Lordships say that it is right to work a pony, or any horse, in a mine or anywhere else, for fourteen or sixteen hours a day? The pamphlets go on to say that these ponies—and I suppose that the best workers are probably the greatest sufferers, because the readiest horse is always worked the most—or many of them, are worked ten, twelve, and even fourteen shifts per week. If that is true, these facts ought to appear in the horsekeepers' books, which, as your Lordships know, ought to record the exact time when a horse goes out of its stable and when it returns.

It is not merely a matter of overwork, because we all know that when a pony is kept out for a long time and is worked hard, he gets over-tired, and the driver is only too prone to treat him badly and administer chastisement if the animal does not pull as readily as the driver would desire. I hope my noble friend will be able to tell me whether those allegations are borne out by the facts appearing in the horsekepers' books, and whether the inspectors are in the habit with sufficient regularity of looking at the books to ascertain the number of hours which the ponies work. There is another point in connection with these long hours of work. By the Regulations the driver or person responsible for the management is bound to give food and drink to the ponies, not merely when in the stable but when they are out at work, and in the hot, stifling atmosphere of some mines one can well understand how essential it is to give them, if not food, at any rate water, when animals are kept out of their stable for fourteen or sixteen hours a day. There are many other allegations in these pamphlets but I do not want to go into them now.

I would like, however, to refer for a moment to one other point, and that is the allegation that the roofs are not kept up properly, but are allowed to sink, with the result that they are too low to allow the ponies to go under them; and the withers and backs of the ponies suffer very severely from what is known in the mines as "roofing," that is, rubbing against the roofs where they are too low. Then again there is a Regulation which requires a driver to report all cases of low roofs to the manager, and I shall be glad to know whether that Regulation is strictly complied with by the drivers. One knows there may be temptation on the part of a driver, I will not say to suppress, but not to give full information of these defects, fearing that if he gives full information he may possibly render himself unpopular with the manager. I shall be glad to know that the inspectors encourage the giving of this information and see, so far as they can, that it is given.

I have referred to the inspectors. There are, I think, in all the mines of England, Wales and Scotland eight horse inspectors. There are other inspectors for general purposes, whose attention cannot be devoted so much to horses, but there are only eight horse inspectors, whose duty it is to look after the care and treatment of the ponies. Eight inspectors for something like 61,000 horses, scattered all over England, Scotland and Wales, in something like 2,500 or 3,000 mines. Can any one suggest, however effective the inspectors are, and however anxious to do their duty—and I have no doubt they are very efficient public servants—that they are able to cope with the duties cast upon them, with that enormous number of horses and that great area over which they have to travel. I dare say they may each of them be able, at most, to visit a mine once a year in order to see that these elaborate and most necessary Regulations are carried out.


Once a year?


Yes, once a year, that is what I gather. There may be cases where it is more than once a year, but I think that is about the average, from the information I have. I urge the Government to take this matter in hand and to appoint more inspectors. I am quite aware that this is not a time to ask indiscriminately for further State officials, and that we might well dispense with some of the State officials in some of the Departments of public life. I hope that will be done to a very much larger extent. But, after all, what would be the cost of appointing four or five more of these horse inspectors? The cost would be infinitesimal. And surely you would have your reward in the saving of great suffering, and in the better protection and more careful treatment of the animals. I should like to ask whether the officials of the mine know when these inspectors are coming round. Is notice given to them, or are the visits surprise visits? I hope very much that they are surprise visits; otherwise, I think their value might be very largely neutralised. But upon that probably my noble friend can give me some information to-day, or at some future time.

What is the real remedy—the only effective remedy, for the sufferings to which, even under the best conditions, these ponies working underground are undoubtedly exposed? It is the substitution of mechanical haulage for animal haulage. There is, I take it, probably a great difference in this respect between old mines and new mines. In the case of a new mine it might be possible to lay down the condition that when the mine was opened up and equipped mechanical haulage should be made compulsory, unless there was some reason—fire-damp, or some other reason—which would render that impossible. I agree that in the case of the older mines in the present condition of the coal mining industry it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to make mechanical haulage compulsory. The owners of the mines have very little money to spare for any improvement in any direction, but I hope that the inspectors under the direction of the Government will strongly urge upon the managers and owners of mines that where it is possible, and where it can be done as a paying proposition, mechanical haulage should be established in lieu of the present system of animal haulage.

When the Royal Commission was sitting a petition was drawn up and presented to the Royal Commission. I have a copy of it here. It is signed by about 800 people, drawn from every class of society, and the petitioners strongly urge on the Commission to call evidence from experienced mining engineers on the use of mechanical systems of underground transport, in place of horses and ponies, and on the possibilities of the general adoption of such a system. Unfortunately that was outside the scope of the Royal Commission, and therefore they were unable to deal with the matter. But the petition itself is undoubtedly interesting as showing the immensely strong public feeling that existed then, and exists now, in favour of mechanical haulage.

I was interested to see an extract from a speech made by the Secretary of State for War earlier this month on this subject. The Secretary of State received a deputation from some people at Colchester on this question of the treatment of ponies in the mines, and he is reported to have said this—and I suppose the Government accept the authority in this matter of the Secretary of State— With regard to the old mines it— that is to say, mechanical haulage— could not be made compulsory, if it really meant shutting down. In the case of the new mines he saw no reason why it should not be compulsory, unless in some particular case the physical conditions, such as fire-damp, were such that mechanical transport could not be installed. He went on to say that he would discuss the matter with the Secretary for Mines. I hope that that discussion has taken place, and that it will lead to some immediate and effective results. I trust that in drawing your Lordships' attention to some of these unfortunate conditions which exist with regard to ponies, I have done so without undue exaggeration and without any form of unfair criticism, but I think I may assure His Majesty's Government that if they can take this matter up and improve the conditions under which pit ponies work they will earn the gratitude of a very large section of public opinion, which is deeply interested in this matter, and greatly concerned at the state of affairs which exists to-day. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, if the noble Lord by his speech causes one fewer pony to suffer in the world I shall be very glad that his speech has been made to-day. But, as one who is interested in mines and in a great number of ponies, I should like to say one or two words in regard to the matter, because I think it would be a great pity if a false idea were to go out in regard to the views of those connected with mines and the work of miners on this question. The noble Lord has referred to the Secretary for Mines, and I should like to refer to an answer on this question given in the House of Commons, because, although it is true that there are only eight inspectors ad hoc, there are a very large number of men who are inspectors. This reply was given in another place on March 26, 1923. The Minister said:— Examination into the care and protection of horses forms part of the duty of all but one or two inspectors of mines, of whom there are 86. Of these eight are specially qualified inspectors of horses in mines who devote their whole time to horse inspection. There is no doubt that there have been at times cases of cruelty and I hope that in every such case in the future, where possible, there will be a conviction. At the same time it is true to suggest that it is not at all a simple question to make a change from horse haulage and to replace it entirely by mechanical haulage. It is not so difficult as the noble Lord has suggested in the case of new mines; but in respect of old mines it is a very difficult matter and one which it is almost impossible to overcome. It also means that in many cases it is impossible to provide mechanical haulage when it is only required for a very short time in a particular place.

I should like for a moment to refer to what was said on this subject by the Royal Commission on Mines, 1907–1911, which investigated it. The matter is dealt with in the third Report of that Commission, which was signed by, among others, Messrs. W. Abraham, Enoch Edwards and Robert Smillie. This is what was said in that Report on the subject:— The question is not whether a number of cases can be found, but whether these cases are typical of the condition of the horses. As to this, we are glad to be able emphatically to record our opinion that although press of work may sometimes lead to ill-treatment, the mining community of Great Britain, whether employers, overseers or miners, are not only not inferior to the rest of the population in humanity, but, on the contrary, they are an eminently humane class of men, as ready to deal considerately with the animals worked by them as they are to risk their own lives in saving one another from danger. The Report goes on to say that:— no general or widespread system of cruelty to pit ponies has been proved to exist. On the contrary, as a general rule, they are kindly treated, well fed, generally speaking not overworked… I agree with what was said about overwork by the noble Lord who spoke just now. It is absolutely necessary, I believe, that the inspectors should make sure that there is not overwork. At the same time it is very difficult, as any one who has any knowledge of mines is aware, to make perfectly certain that a pony does not work for more than a certain number of hours in a day. I should like to call attention to the state of the ponies when they have come out of mines on the occasion of a strike. Any one who had an opportunity of seeing those ponies and of observing their condition would have realised that, so far as health is concerned, it is very much better to keep a pony in a pit than to have it going in and out. If a pony goes into the pit one day and comes out of it on another it is very liable to a chill, and the experience of veterinary surgeons is that if a pony has an opportunity of living in the pit its health is very much better.


My Lords, I do not think we can find fault with the way in which this matter has been introduced, and if it ends in preventing some of the cruelties which, as we know, occasionally exist in the mines, I feel sure that the general body of coal owners will be only too thankful for it. Where ponies are used they are a very valuable asset to a mine, and those of us who are brought into direct contact with the control of ponies realise that every effort is made not only, to feed and house them well, but to prevent overwork and cruelty. We have a certain number of horsekeepers who are present when the ponies go to work. The ponies are very carefully examined and handed over to the boy who takes charge of them. When the shift is finished the horsekeeper is there again and examines the ponies individually most carefully to see whether there has been any ill usage so far as he can ascertain. If ill usage has taken place he never hesitates to punish in some shape or form the boy who has caused it. Occasionally we have to bring boys before the magistrates, and I have known of cases in which boys, who have lost their tempers and ill used ponies very seriously and done damage to them, have been committed to prison for some time.

I do not think much inspection is required in the large mines because their organisation for keeping these ponies in good fettle is very important. As a rule, a veterinary surgeon is attached to all these mines. He goes down every pit once a month. He reports to the head, the general manager or the owner, as to the condition of the various ponies, and I feel sure that many of the ponies are very much better looked after than they are even at the banks. There are, of course, a certain number of cases of cruelty. It is very difficult to avoid some cases. But I rather think that if many of the figures which have been given were gone into specially they could be explained in a way which would be satisfactory to any one who really did not understand the whole question. But we cannot avoid these cases at times.

In regard to mechanical haulage, no mine owner who is not a fool would attempt to put his roads into such a condition that he must use ponies. You have straight roads in order that you may adopt mechanical haulage, which is both cheaper and more efficient. I agree with what has been said about old pits—that it is a much more difficult question there. There is a great deal to do in connection with the ventilation and many other matters which must be attended to if you begin to alter the methods on which you work old pits. But I think there has been a great increase in the use of mechanical haulage. I know it is so in the County of Durham and I think also in the County of Northumberland, which I know very well, and an increase will no doubt take place. As new seams are opened out undoubtedly they will be used for mechanical haulage which will get rid of the ponies. Every coal owner that I know is most anxious, if he can, to get rid of ponies and to use mechanical haulage. Ponies are very expensive. You have to employ a man to look after them and to feed them. Unless you look after your ponies they will be unable to do their work. Accidents occasionally take place which may result in some of the ponies having to work a little longer than usual, but you will generally find that the long hours are worked by the three-shift pits. Wherever a three-shift pit is working a pony is not allowed to work for more than eight hours and there is an interval of eight hours before it begins to work again.

I feel sure that by far the great majority of coal owners and managers of mines are very anxious to carry out the intentions of the inspectors. I feel sure that many of the inspectors go down certain pits belonging to certain companies and firms and find that the organisation and arrangements are so good that they do not think it is necessary that they should pay very many visits to such pits. I agree that there is a very strong feeling on the part of the public about this question; but the public knows very little about it. We are all very humane. Naturally we do not like to see our horses or dogs ill used. Coal owners are just as humane with regard to their animals as farmers or any other class who have to deal with animals. With regard to the number of ponies which are destroyed, I would point out that some of the mine owners used to sell their ponies after they were practically unable to do the severe work that they had to do in a mine, to tramps and men who had little ponies, but they found that the cruelty to those ponies was so great that they decided they would not sell any more. The result is that when a pony is past its work, instead of selling it they destroy it. I have no doubt that does affect to some extent the numbers which appear in these statements.

Personally I think it is a very good thing that this question has been ventilated. So very few people understand all the difficulties in connection with the matter. I think that no class of men who have to deal with animals are more anxious to prevent cruelty and keep their animals in good condition by giving the best food and attention that can be obtained than those who have to employ ponies in their mines. I feel quite sure that as time goes on and many of the old pits go out of work you will find that mechanical haulage will have increased very much. Personally I am looking forward to the time, though I may not live to see it, when we shall be able to do without pit ponies altogether.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government have no cause to complain that the subject of this debate should have been brought before your Lordships' House, and still less of the manner in which it has been presented. I think your Lordships will agree that this is a matter in which this House particularly takes a very sympathetic interest, and the Mines Department is glad of the opportunity of being able to put the facts, as it knows them, before the public. My noble friend Lord Danesfort has submitted the Government to rather a bombardment of questions, but I am grateful to him for having put so many upon the Paper, because it has enabled me to find out from the Department the answer to some of the points on which he desires to be informed. My noble friend has been in correspondence with the former Secretary for Mines, and he is fully aware of the great interest and the sympathy which he showed for the, care of pit ponies during his tenure of that office. My noble friend (Lord Danesfort) I think procured his figures from the same source. They are at any rate entirely accurate and are identical with those I have received from the Department.

Perhaps I might be allowed to give the figures for two other years besides those he mentioned. The number of ponies employed in 1924 was 65,210. In 1925 that had dropped to 60,852, and in 1927 had dropped still further to 56,852, which bears out the statement by the noble Lord who has just sat down as to a reduction steadily going on in the number of ponies employed in the mines. The figures in regard to deaths are even more satisfactory. The numbers which died or were destroyed in consequence of disease or old age in 1924 were 31 per thousand ponies employed. In 1925 it rose to 36, but in 1927 it fell to 28 per thousand employed. I am not giving the figures for 1926 because your Lordships are aware that there was a very long stoppage in that year, and therefore the figures for 1926 are of no real value. As regards the number of ponies killed by accident, 47 per thousand employed were killed in that way in 1924; 44 per thousand in 1925; and 37 per thousand in 1927.

As regards those that died or were destroyed in consequence of disease or old age, my right honourable friend the former Secretary for Mines caused inquiries to be made from those who employ horses for haulage purposes in other industries above ground, and the figures he obtained from those sources, although they are not strictly comparable either with each other or with those got from the mines, at any rate are instructive to this extent, that in the five groups he investigated the number of deaths per thousand from disease and old age varied from 19 per thousand to 45.5 per thousand. The figures were:—Group A, 19 (three years average); Group B, 28.5; Group C, 45.5 (three years average); Group D, 33; Group E, 34 per thousand (on a six years average). Your Lordships will, therefore, see that the variation between one division and another in the mines is no greater than it is between those various groups of people who employ horses above ground. As has already been said, the numbers which died from disease and old age have, prior to 1927, gone up, and I am sure your Lordships will think that particularly satisfactory, because the owners of the pits no longer sell their worn-out horses (which everybody agrees is a most horrible proceeding). The animals are now normally destroyed on the colliery premises. This fact, of course, has made the figures higher than they would otherwise have been. Considering the nature of their work the Ministry believe that deaths from disease and old age of ponies used in mines are not unduly high.

Turning now to those animals killed or destroyed as a result of accidents, to a large extent the dangers which are inherent in the mining industry must necessarily affect the figures relating to animals as they do unfortunately those relating to human beings, and pit ponies have to undergo the same dangers as the men who are employed in the mines. Many of the physical conditions are unavoidable, but the Mines Department does not take up the position that all the accidents in mines are unavoidable. They frankly admit that many of the accidents are preventable and it is to those preventable causes that the Mines Department, through their mines inspectorate, is devoting its constant and unremitting attention. As the noble Lord who has just sat down has said, it is very much to the interest of the colliery owners that the accident rate to ponies should be reduced to the lowest possible figure. Ponies are expensive and new ponies when they first come in do not very often work entirely satisfactorily. Therefore it is to the interest of the mine owners, and even those working with the ponies, that ponies should get accustomed to the work and should be kept in the best possible condition of health for as many years as possible. Colliery owners are co-operating very readily with His Majesty's inspectors, with the object of reducing the number of accidents as much as possible. As I have pointed out, the figures for 1927 show a considerable reduction in the death rates as the result of old age and disease, and as the result of accident, on those of former years, and we have every reason to expect that improvement will be maintained and probably steadily increased.

My noble friend called attention to the variation in percentages of mortality in the different divisions. I have the figures for the eight divisions, but I do not propose to read them to your Lordships, because a whole table of figures is a very wearisome thing to listen to, and impossible to follow; but perhaps your Lordships would like to hear figures for the two districts he mentioned—Yorkshire and Lancashire and North Wales. To take Lancashire first, Lancashire only employs a little over a thousand horses. In 1924 they employed 1,238 horses and the number killed or destroyed by accident was 23 per thousand. In 1925 the number employed had dropped to 1,135 and the number destroyed by accident had dropped to 19. In 1927 the number employed was 1,048 and the number killed or destroyed by accident had gone up to 35. As regards the percentages of those dying from disease and old age the figures for the three years 1924, 1925 and 1927 were 29, 24 and 25 per thousand. In Yorkshire the number of horses employed varied from 8,400 to 8,100. The present figure is 8,112, and, as the noble Lord said, the percentage of accidents is a high one. It was 75 in 1924, 76 in 1925, but I am glad to say it dropped in 1927 to 65 per thousand. As regards deaths from disease and old age the figures were 29, 27, and 16 per thousand for those three years.

There is this point to be made in regard to these figures, that besides a difference between areas there is also a difference between individual mines within one area. In some mines there may be a larger number of accidents than in others. It may be that the difference is largely due to the condition of the mine, or it may be due to the way returns are made. For instance, in some cases the death of a pony will be put down as a case of disease or old age, whereas in another mine a similar case may be put down to accident. I may mention, for instance, the case of a badly strained tendon. In some cases such a case might be put down as one of disease, in other cases it would be described, and probably more correctly, as due to an accident. The main reason for the big difference between these two areas is that in Lancashire, except in a few pits, the ponies are only employed in the permanent roads some way back from the coal face. In Yorkshire in many of the pits ponies are worked right up to the coal face over roads necessarily rough and narrow. As your Lordships will readily understand ponies working in narrow and rough roadways are much more liable to get their legs knocked about and injured seriously, and are much more liable to be cut by tubs than are ponies which work only in the main galleries of mines.

But the Mines Department is not satisfied with the condition of affairs in Yorkshire and therefore—your Lordships will, I think, agree rightly so—special steps have been taken in that area to secure the co-operation of the colliery managements in reducing accidents. A lecture has been given at Leeds University by one of His Majesty's inspectors, at which 150 horsekeepers were present, and further similar lectures are to be given at Doncaster Technical College and Sheffield University. I think your Lordships will agree that the Department is taking a thoroughly wise and sound course in giving these lectures to those in charge of horses in order to stimulate their interest and increase their knowledge, and that by so doing they will probably do more to reduce the number of accidents to these unfortunate ponies than could be done in any other possible way, least of all by prosecutions.

As regards the fourth Question on the Paper, as to whether the attention of the Ministry has been drawn to the pamphlets issued by Mr. Jeffrey Williams, the Ministry is well aware of these pamphlets. Mr. Williams is secretary of the Pit Ponies Protection Society. From a study of two of these pamphlets it appears to me that the general impression that is given in them is that all those connected with the mines, whether in a managerial capacity or as manual workers, are particularly inhuman and wickedly cruel and heartless. As two noble Lords have already said, that, of course, is utterly contrary to the facts. It is a statement that I should desire emphatically to repudiate on behalf of the Department and on behalf, I am sure, of every member of your Lordships' House. There is no question that there have been gross cases of cruelty and when these are discovered drastic action is taken against those responsible, but to circulate vague charges such as these, and to make statements which cannot be checked and investigated, is not helpful either to the Mines Department or to the cause which we all have at heart, the bettering of the conditions under which these ponies work.

Not only are these pamphlets known to the Department, but the society asked to be allowed to send a deputation to the Secretary for Mines and he received that deputation himself last December. Perhaps I might quote to your Lordships a letter which was written to the Pit Pony League, as it was then called. After having received that deputation a letter was written on his behalf as follows:— …I am to say that Colonel Lane-Fox will at all times welcome the assistance of the Pit Pony League, and he desires me to point out that the services which the League can render may in the future be greatly increased by a closer and more practical co-operation with the Mines Department. As the deputation were informed, action is immediately taken by H.M. Inspectors under the existing law in every case in which neglect or cruelty is proved or reasonably suspected. There is no necessity for the names of informants to be divulged, but it is obvious that merely general accusations are of no value, either as evidence of existing conditions or as a basis for action to get wrongs righted. If the League would in future devote a part of its influence and energy to reporting immediately to the Mines Department or the mines inspector locally every complaint which comes to its notice, the result would be to render prompt and practical assistance to the ponies themselves in cases where the complaint proves to be justified and to demonstrate that the existing law can be made adequate to correct such abuses as actually exist. In spite of that letter, during the three months which have elapsed since it was sent not one single case has been brought to the notice of the Department by the society or anybody connected with it.

The Government, in 1924, appointed an entirely independent person, a qualified veterinary surgeon, Major Dunlop, to make a full survey of the conditions governing the employment of horses in mines, and after visiting a large number of mines he reported that the health, feeding and general conditions of pit ponies compare "very favourably" with those of horses employed on the surface, and that their "care and treatment are, on the average, much better than is commonly believed by the general public as judged by newspaper and private comment." I think your Lordships will be glad to learn that the cases of which we have heard and of which we have read are by no means typical of the industry as a whole and that the condition of the ponies is such as all your Lordships would desire.

My noble friend has asked me specifically about hours of work. There is no limit to the number of hours that an animal may be worked either above ground or below, and it is not thought practicable to impose such a limit in regard to mines. I think your Lordships will all agree—at any rate those who know about horses—that seven or eight hours of steady coal drawing takes a great deal more out of a horse than is the case when a horse is out of the stable perhaps twelve or fourteen hours but during the whole of that time is only engaged in pulling an occasional tub of dirt. The only real way to judge whether a horse is over-worked is not by the number of hours but by its condition. If a horse is examined and found in poor condition then is the time when an inspector is fully justified in going closely into the question whether the horse is being worked long hours, or is being improperly fed, or not being fed with a suitable quality of food.

As my noble friend Lord Danesfort said, a book is kept by the horsekeeper in the mine, of which I have a sheet here, which requires every sort of information in regard to the horses in the mines to be set down. You will be interested to know that in the last column the horsekeeper has to put a cross against any horse that is at work for more than eight hours in the twenty-four. That is in order to draw special attention to the horse, so as to see that it is in proper condition and not suffering from the amount of work that it does. I am informed that, considering that many of the men are not very highly educated and that naturally they are not working under the cleanest of conditions, those books are really well-kept; and the first thing that the horse inspector does when he enters a mine is to ask for and examine them, and then to go into the question of overwork and the proper examination of horses before he goes on with his further inspection.

It is true that there are only eight horse inspectors to look after 56,800 horses in the mines, but, as my noble friend opposite pointed out, the other mine inspectors also, of whom there are now over 100, look at the ponies, although, of course, they do not make that their specific and only duty. Your Lordships will realise that more inspectors might possibly reduce the small amount of ill treatment that now occurs, but none of us sitting on this Bench who are connected with a Government Department can fail to recall that cases are always being brought to us, I might say almost daily, in which we are told that work could be better done if we had more officials to do it. In many cases we are told that it is impossible to do the work without more officials. In public we are generally pressed to reduce the number of officials and not to increase them, and, although my noble friend tried to make a special case in this particular instance, I can assure him that there are other noble Lords and members of another place who equally think that more officials are required for the objects in which they have a special interest: and if we were to agree to all their recommendations I shudder to think of the number of public officials for which the unfortunate taxpayer would have to pay.

The tasks of the inspectors to whom I have referred are: (1), to exercise general supervision over ponies in pits; (2), to maintain close co-operation with colliery owners; (3), to encourage interchange of ideas connected with horse management; and (4), to deal promptly with individual cases of ill treatment which they discover or which are brought to their notice, either from anonymous sources or in a more specific way. For these purposes I am assured that the staff is sufficient and, although more inspectors would possibly give a better chance of avoiding cases of ill treatment, we do not feel justified in increasing the number of inspectors. As regards their giving notice of their visits, I am informed that as a general rule, in almost all cases, they do not do so, their visits being entirely of a surprise character. Of course the mine inspectors have a right to go down a mine at any time, and they exercise that right.

Finally, I come to the question of mechanical haulage. As Lord Danesfort himself acknowledged, it is often impossible in many mines that are now in existence to introduce mechanical haulage without very large expenditure. It would often mean altering the main roads in order to make it possible for mechanical haulage to be used, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that in the present condition of the mining industry, with many mines only just holding their own, it would be quite impossible to impose a heavy capital expenditure of that kind. It would merely mean that the mine would have to close down. As regards new mines, it is not possible to make a general rule that mechanical haulage shall invariably be introduced. It is obviously more efficient and more economical to use either horse haulage or manual haulage when a mine is beginning and when its output is small, and, as several noble Lords have pointed out, there are occasionally other conditions which prevent mechanical haulage being used in particular instances. As a whole, however, the Department does its best to encourage the introduction of mechanical haulage and, as several noble Lords have said, every mine owner and mine manager is naturally anxious to introduce mechanical haulage where it is possible, as being both more economical and more efficient in the generality of cases.

I hope that I have answered all the Questions that the noble Lord has put to me. I have only in conclusion to say that the Department has welcomed these Questions, as they have enabled them to show, as I hope I have shown, that, although there are still undoubtedly cases—and bad cases—of cruelty, they are comparatively few, and that the condition of these unfortunate animals is better than many of the general public imagined. I hope that your Lordships will feel that the Department is doing its very utmost to reduce the number of these cases, which I am sure we are justified in claiming to be really few, and that the general feeling of the public, and still more the general feeling of the owners and the miners themselves, who, as one noble Lord has already pointed out, are very far from being the least tender-hearted members of the community where animals are concerned, will bring public influence and personal pressure to bear upon those who are in charge of horses in order to see that the number of cases of cruelty is eventually reduced to an extremely small figure.


My Lords, my noble friend has stated that in his opinion the percentage of deaths from disease is not bad when compared with the percentage above the ground. As I have had some considerable experience of a large number of horses, I may be allowed to agree with him that this is more or less correct. I do not think that the percentage of deaths from disease, especially when you remember that the atmosphere cannot be very good, is very great, but the percentage of deaths from accidents does seem to be great. I noticed that my noble friend said that a great part of those accidents occurred in narrow places which were very difficult to work. Could not the Ministry make some Regulation that where it was evident that the places were so difficult to work that accidents must occur, the ponies should not be worked, but that the wagons should be hauled by men? As I understood him, that was done in some places, and I do not see why it should not be done in others. With regard to fixed hours, I do not think that you can have them. I think they would be impossible. As my noble friend said, the only way of ascertaining whether or not a horse or pony is overworked is by its condition. If a horse is in a bad condition or, as we used to say, "light," the cause is either overwork or improper feeding, and in either case something ought to be done. I would suggest to my noble friend that he might suggest to the Minister that he should not pay too much attention to the book in which hours are put down, because anybody can put down certain hours and there is no proof that those hours are really worked, but that he should direct his attention rather to the condition of the ponies.


My Lords, I think that the reply that fell from the noble Earl was one which requires careful consideration, and it appears to me to be in certain important respects disappointing. After all, so far as action is concerned, what did it come to? It came to this. Although he told us that the Minister of Mines and his department were doing their best, and will continue to do their best, they are not to have any additional inspectors, and all he was able to tell us of any specific act which had occurred in recent times, so far as I was able to follow, was this, that in Yorkshire, where conditions are in certain respects admittedly unsatisfactory, some lectures had been given. That does not amount to a very great deal. The noble Earl contends that eight inspectors are sufficient for 56,852 ponies; that is to say, broadly speaking, that each pit pony inspector is responsible for supervising the welfare of about 7,000 pit ponies. I think that altogether the number of mines that have to be visited by these inspectors is more than 2,500—


I think about 1,500 with horses.


The noble Earl may be right about that, but it does not make a very satisfactory statistical result. Even taking his figure it is clear that the number of visits that can be paid is limited, and at a rough calculation a mine can only be visited about once in six months. That does not seem a very great deal, having regard to the fact that under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, as was said by the noble Lord who introduced this subject, there are Regulations laid down for the welfare of pit ponies and horses. These Regulations are sixteen in number. Several of them have been referred to, and I am not going through them, because I am not going to take up a great deal of time; but anybody who has studied the Regulations in the Third Schedule of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, will see that it would be a vast work thoroughly to supervise what is going on, in order to satisfy the conditions which ought to obtain—namely, that these Regulations should be properly observed.

The Regulation about which most has been said this afternoon is that relating to hours. I cannot say much about overtime, because the noble Lord said at the beginning of the discussion, and the noble Earl agreed, that there is no limit of time. I rather pricked up my ears when Lord Joicey was speaking. I may have misunderstood him, but I gathered from what he said that in some mines a pony works eight hours, then is taken back for the next shift, and is brought out again for the following shift. If that is so, it would appear that the working hours in these cases amount to sixteen out of twenty-four. The noble Earl may reply, and he hinted at this in his speech, that there is work and work, and that in many cases the ponies are not working very hard, but I should have thought that sixteen hours out of twenty-four was a very high number. The noble Earl told us, in regard to this, that in the matter of overwork, and the allegations of overwork, what you could judge by was the condition of the animals, and a certain amount of information, I gathered, was got about that. It is true that he did give us a general report, following upon the investigations of a veterinary surgeon appointed in 1924, but he did not say anything about information which comes to the Mines Department under this particular heading, and it would be interesting to know in how many cases the inspectors should have known there was overwork. It is admitted in some cases, I think, that there has been overwork.


Prosecutions have been instituted in some cases.


Very well. I am not bringing any charges, because I have not specific information, but I am told that there is a certain amount of overwork, and that there are reasons for it. Sometimes a pony is taken out to work in the place of a pony disabled by accident or disease. That is likely to happen, and ought to be watched. Then there is the question of roofing. In some cases, it is admitted, the roofs are low, and the ponies go through the process of what is called "roofing." Their backs and withers are rubbed against the roof, and I am told that in order to avoid that happening, a pony which is rather smaller may be used more than it should be, in the place of taller animals. That is done, because roofing, strictly speaking, is contrary to the law, and is provided for in the Regulations. That is, in all likelihood, another probable cause for a certain amount of overwork.

Then there is another thing, about which nothing has been said this afternoon, so far, and that is the question of how far ponies are injured by the tubs while working on a fairly considerable gradient. In certain of the roadways there is a gradient, and the tub tends to attain a certain speed. I understand that a heavy tub will impinge upon the animal, and in some instances the animal will suffer broken limbs, or internal injuries, through the tub going down the gradient in that way and hurting the animal. It may be the case that the inspectors cannot get so far to see these roadways, if there are so few of them. The ponies' stables are close to the shafts, and it must often be the case that the inspectors cannot get sufficiently far into the mines in order to see roadway conditions. I do not know whether it is true, but I think the Mines Department has at times taken up the position that the inspectors need not visit the working places, and that it is enough for them to see the horses in the stables. I do not think that that is sufficient in all cases. There can be cases in which horses are deliberately taken out when an inspector's visit is expected. I think that that is a quite likely thing to happen, though possibly it is in a small percentage of cases.

I was not impressed by the point that in addition to the eight horse inspectors, the other pit inspectors can do something in this matter. I do not think that there is very much in that, or ought to be, for this reason, that there are really not sufficient pit inspectors to do their own work properly. There ought to be more pit inspectors, if there is to be proper pit inspection, apart from the ponies, and if in addition pit inspectors are expected to keep half an eye on the pit ponies also, I think it is asking something which is not reasonable. I do not think it is a very satisfactory way to rely upon them. I doubt whether they have the time. I am not saying a word against these officials, because they have vast duties to perform.

With regard to water, the noble Lord pointed out that one of these Regulations says that a sufficient supply of wholesome water should be supplied for these horses while at work. I should very much like to know whether that is carried out strictly because it has been suggested that there are cases where the water may be old, particularly in the distant parts of a mine, and the horses naturally turn against it. On humanitarian grounds it would be most desirable that this Regulation should be stringently enforced, because, as the noble Lord said, the conditions in some of the pits are very hard, the atmosphere is heavy and hot, and surely fresh water ought to be available so that that Regulation might be fully complied with.

On the question of mechanical haulage I will not say more than has already been said. Obviously, if that could be substituted at a somewhat more rapid pace, it would help very much. I have no doubt there are difficulties, but, in so far as the Secretary for Mines and his inspectors can press for that, and it can be done, it would help very much. I suppose it would be possible, if mechanical haulage could be installed to a much greater extent, at any rate to halve the number of ponies, and in time they might conceivably all be done away with. I am not suggesting that that could be done for some considerable time, but that is the ideal to aim at.

I think that a prima facie case has been made out for more inspectors, and that it is not sufficient to reply that that means more officials and more cost. As the noble Lord said, the cost of four or five more inspectors is quite small—personally, I should like to see the number doubled—and for this country, with its vast wealth, to take up the position that it cannot afford this very small addition to the number of pit pony inspectors, is to take up an attitude which cannot be sustained. In the interests of these dumb animals, which are working under conditions which in many ways are very terrible, everything that can reasonably be done ought to be done to see after their welfare, and I think it would be a reasonable thing to have the number of pit pony inspectors increased. I should hope that the debate will do good, and that, despite the reply of the noble Earl, on further consideration the number may be increased somewhat. If that is done, I am quite certain that nobody in the end will regret it.


My Lords, I desire to thank my noble friend for the very full and sympathetic statement which he has made to-day. He has given your Lordships a great deal of very valuable information, and I hope that his speech will go far to reassure the many people in the country who have felt unhappy as to the conditions under which these pit ponies live underground. There are two figures which he gave which are new to me, and which I think will be very satisfactory to your Lordships. He pointed out that the number of deaths from disease or old age has gone down from 36 per thousand in 1925 to 28 per thousand in 1927. The other figure he gave was of the number of deaths from injury, which has gone down from 44 per thousand in 1925 to 37 per thousand in 1927. Those are very satisfactory figures.

The noble Earl spoke, I thought, somewhat slightingly of the publications of the Pit Ponies' Protection Society, and rather suggested that their object was to throw discredit upon the owners and managers, but there is one extract which I find in one of these pamphlets issued by the society, called "The case of the Pit Ponies" which is really worth referring to, because it shows that in some mines at any rate the conditions are admirable. This is the report from Ashington, Northumberland, dated April 1, 1927:— Ponies could not possibly be better treated than they are at present under this company. They work only eight hours a day. Stables are up-to-date in every way. Good supply of fresh water and food…Sent out to work in proper working condition, and closely examined on return at end of shift. Ponies differently treated to-day than in days gone by. That is very satisfactory as showing that the society desires to give credit where credit is due, and that in some mines at any rate the ponies are properly treated.

I am in entire agreement with what was said by my noble friend Lord Daryngton as to the humanity of the miners and those who are concerned with pit ponies generally. I remember that when the Act of 1911 was before Parliament we had great help from the miners and the Labour members generally in getting the Regulations framed for the better treatment of the ponies, and I am quite certain that those who deal with the ponies in the pits are, as a rule, humane and kind. I notice also what was said by Lord Joicey, and I believe it is quite true that the greatest interest the owners have is to see that the ponies are properly treated. It is true, I am afraid, that the owners cannot always control the people under their direction, they cannot control everyone in the mine who serves under them; but I am sure the owners are most anxious in their own interest, as well as in the interest of humanity, that their ponies should be properly treated. I think your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Earl, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.


My Lords, may I say that I appreciate very much what has fallen from the noble Earl with reference to the care which the miners give to the ponies. Of course, there may be cases where there is real cause for complaint, but I should like to make one quotation. In August, 1924, Mr. Shinwell, then Secretary for Mines in the Labour Ministry, declared himself satisfied that the general allegations of neglect and ill-treatment which are sometimes made are quite unfounded.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.