Mines Department of the Board of Trade.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at on 28 July 1925.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £113,045, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."—[NOTE: £56,500 has been voted on account.]

Photo of Mr David Grenfell Mr David Grenfell , Gower

I want the Committee to-day to bear in mind that we are not going to discuss the immediate crisis in the mining industry, that we are not for the moment concerned with the disagreements between the owners and the workmen, but that we are concerned with a subject which, like the poor, is always with us in the mining industry—the question of the safety of life and limb of the worker. I want the Secretary for Mines and the Committee to give more earnest attention to this subject than ever has been given to it before. The Secretary for Mines has immense responsibilities and immense power, if he chooses to exercise that power to the utmost. He is at the head of a staff of about 100 technically trained officials appointed because of their special qualifications to supervise the conditions under which 1,250,000 men and boys gain their living in the mining industry. The inspectors are in a very small proportion to the number of employés, and one of our criticisms against the Department is that they have not appointed a sufficient number of inspectors to do the work as adequately as it should be done. There is one inspector for each 12,000 workmen, and when we remember that the inspectors have a great deal of clerical work and duties falling upon them that do not permit of their daily attendance at the mines, the actual inspection is reduced to the taking of samples of various mines of a district and assuming that those samples represent the condition of the whole.

I want the Minister who, I presume, reads these reports very carefully, to remember that these sample inspections are not quite so useful as a thorough inspection of any one mine would be. I have had occasion to have interviews with the Minister and his advisers, and I remember less than 12 months ago one of the advisers of the Secretary for Mines said horses were not "roofing" in the mines of the country at present. I made a protest, and I remember telling the Minister and his advisers that they expressed a complete lack of knowledge of conditions in the mines in making a statement like that. It is because of the inadequacy of the inspection that Ministers very often are unable to gain a true appreciation of the conditions under which men work in a mine from day to day. I do not wish to criticise the inspectors as such. They are a very fine body of men. I have worked with them as a miners' representative for the last 10 years, and I have nothing but the highest commendation of them to offer. But to get anything like adequate inspection of the mines from day to day the hon. Gentleman will require an immediate increase of from 50 to 100 per cent. in his inspection staff.

Now we come to the accident rate. I should like the Minister to bear with us when we repeat the melancholy figures once again. Of the 1,250,000 people employed in this industry no of were than 200,000 have been injured and disabled for a period of not less than three days each year in the last two years. Some have been disabled for life and others for more or less lengthy periods, but 200,000 men or boys were injured in the last year. More than 1,200 men are killed each year on the average. In these two years the figures are 1,218 and 1,297. The death rate is just over one per 1,000 persons employed per annum, and when you take the period of employment of the average miner, for every 25 men who enter the mining industry one meets his end by accident in the colliery. The rate per 1,000 of men injured is no less than 160. On an average every miner gets injured once in six years, and if you take again the average working period you will find the average miner is injured and disabled for a more or less lengthy period five or six times during his lifetime. I do not think even the repetition and the analysis of those figures can convey to hon. Members opposite, perhaps to the Minister himself, what it conveys to us who have seen accidents, who have been witnesses of men maimed, who have helped to extricate injured men from beneath falls of ground, who have helped to withdraw dead bodies from their tombs underground. I should like the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Committee to analyse these figures in the several ways in which they can be presented. For every million tons of coal the death rate is 4.36 and the injury rate is 800, and when we view our stocks of coal, when we see the mile after mile of trains that we pass on our railway journeys and try to remember the thousands of tons that each of them represents, when you have passed 200,000 tons you can count that one life has been lost in getting the coal.

4.0 P.M.

This constant crop of accidents goes on day after day, hour after hour, and minute after minute. Since I have spoken here now nearly 10 men have been injured. Every minute more than one man is injured throughout the working day. When we realise how many of these accidents are avoidable, how by stringent regulations and full precautions many of these terrible cases of maiming and of loss of limb and loss of working capacity can be avoided, I think the House will realise its responsibilities and take the action that is necessary. I find, from the statement of the Chief Inspector of Mines, that accidents occur in the same way year after year, the same kind of accidents occurring in the same place, despite all the Debates in this House and all the controversy in the country. We find from the statement of the Chief Inspector last year that among the men working underground there were killed in explosions of fire damp and coal dust no fewer than 35 persons; killed by falls of ground, no fewer than 607; in shaft accidents, 59 persons killed; in haulage accidents, 262 persons killed; and in miscellaneous accidents, 124 persons killed. Is there no way of classifying these 124 deaths other than referring to them as miscellaneous? We find that in 1924 92 persons were injured by explosions of fire damp and coal dust or a combination of both. We find that from falls of ground, 65,299 persons were injured; from shaft accidents, 1,186; from haulage accidents, 49,119; and from miscellaneous accidents, 63,083, making a total from underground accidents of nearly 180,000 persons. The proportion of surface accidents to underground accidents is one in 10. About 100 men are killed on the surface each year, and approximately 18,000 are injured. I do not know whether the number of surface accidents could be reduced by additional precautions, but those of us who have spent our lives underground and most of our mental energy in tackling the problems of production are firmly convinced that the accident rate underground can be reduced by one-half, taking a very moderate view indeed. Something is said in the Chief Inspector's report about shot firing accidents. I would like the Minister to tell us whether he has not had submitted to him appliances for improved safety in the firing of shots, whether those appliances have not been demonstrated to be very useful indeed, whether they are not simple in design and construction and are cheap, and whether his Department is not prepared to recommend or to compel the universal adoption of appliances that would save life and limb from this class of accident.

You have miners working from depths varying from a few hundred feet to a couple of thousand feet. You must remember that all the time the miner's life is at stake, and he has to enter into a more or less unequal struggle with the great forces of gravitation to which the ground above him is always subject. He has to trust to his own skill, his own judgment, and his own unaided power to devise precautions, and he has at all times to run the risk of a mass of roof breaking away under the law of gravitation and mangling his poor body when it falls. This risk is present all the time, and protection can only be obtained by the artificial support which timber and other kinds of support provide. The timber cannot prevent the roof coming down. The force of gravity brings down the roof of the tomb in which the miner spends his day, and timber is only of use in preventing the detached masses of roof from coming upon him without warning. The Minister can do a great deal to see that timber is provided. The law makes a definite provision which is not carried out universally, as we all know, and as the Minister should know. The Minister will be told by Members speaking on behalf of the miners in this Debate that very often accidents occur because timber is not placed convenient to the working face. On an average 500 miners have been killed each year during the last 50 years from falls of ground alone. The rate of accidents from this cause is almost constant. There is little variation. The rate per thousand employed may be diminished slightly, but the actual total of persons killed in the last few years has been greater than ever. This is what the Chief Inspector says about deaths from falls of ground: The death rates in regard to falls of ground have remained stationary for more than 30 years, and, while it is to be admitted that more mining is being done now at greater depths than formerly, I do not think that the limit of progress in the reduction in the number of this class of accidents has been reached. That is the chief inspector's opinion, and we, who have spent our lives in the mines and had to risk all the dangers of the mines for years before we came to this House, say that there is no reason why 607 men, 500 men, or even 200 men should be killed each year from falls of ground, if proper precautions are taken. The chief inspector points to the difficulty of obtaining suitable men to act as deputies or firemen. There is no dearth of good men in the mining districts to act in any capacity. I do not know of any industry in which the men engaged pay more attention to the technical development of the industry. Go to any mining county in this country to-day, and you will find hundreds and thousands of young men devoting all their spare time to the study of the technical subjects connected with mining. There is no dearth of men who would make good officials in the mining districts. I do not share the chief inspector's view that there is any difficulty in obtaining suitable men. The fireman is usually quite competent and will do his work if he is free of all responsibility other than attending to safety. I myself have been a fireman and I have been a colliery manager, and I can say that if you give the average fireman a chance to perform his statutory duties, as the law requires at the present time, you will find in the next year that your accident rate will be considerably reduced.

I have been of the opinion for a long time that the firemen should be paid by the State. I am speaking from practical experience, and I know the pressure that can be put upon a workman, whether a fireman or a miner, by his employer, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that a growing number of miners take that view to-day. The choice lies between the appointment and payment of firemen by the State, or the French method of appointment of inspectors by the workmen and payment by the State. I do not care which of the two methods is selected. I know which is the most convenient. It is the one which I suggest, where the fireman would be State paid and have the security of employment by the State. I come now to the next point. There was a letter from the Mines Department to the owners, agents, and managers last year. I have no wish to criticise that letter. I will read some of the most important points to which attention is called. First of all, in order to reduce the accidents from falls of ground, they recommend the following to the owners and managers who are responsible for the supervision and conduct of the mines: (1) The building of substantial roadside and other packs in longwall workings(2)The general use of substantial head pieces or lids.(3)The setting of temporary supports at the face before room is made for the permanent timbering.(4)The more liberal use of props and bars at the road heads between the ripping and the face. This method of support can with great advantage be extended on either side of the road head in longwall workings and should be general throughout machine-cut faces.(5)The setting of temporary supports when clearing away falls and when relining or renewing timber.(6)The lacing of settings of timber in roadways and the taking of other precautions to ensure stability.(7)The securing of the roof and sides of cavities above the roadway supports.(8)The more frequent use of safety devices for withdrawing timber. Those are most excellent drections from the Mines Department, as every practical man will agree. But what has been the response by the owners, agents, and managers to those instructions? Has the Minister found, since this letter was sent, that more attention has been paid to these matters? I make bold to say that less attention is being paid to all the points of these instructions than any of us have known for the last 20 years. The entire disregard of these precautions shocks most of us who are so concerned in the welfare of our own people and the general conduct of the industry. What have the inspectors done to enforce these precautions? The right hon. Gentleman has a staff of inspectors. I do not think that there is any body of people in this country more competent in their profession. They are practical men, men who understand the technique of mining, well-educated men, men of vigour and initiative, and men as a rule of strong character.

What have they done? Is it true that they have instituted some prosecutions, but let us see how these prosecutions work out. I do not think that I am entitled to criticise the action of the Law Courts in this matter, but I would like to call the Minister's attention to the fact—he will find it in the Chief Inspector's Report—that in 1924 there were 151 prosecutions of owners, agents, managers, and under-managers, and there were only 72 convictions. Less than half the prosecutions were successful. Cases wore withdrawn, and cases were dismissed. I have been in the police courts when these cases have been tried. I make no comment upon them.

What happens, however, when a miner is brought before the Court for a minor offence? Last year 1,213 workmen were prosecuted for various offences under the same Act, and 1,133 were convicted. Almost every workman prosecuted was convicted, but the owner, the agent or the under-manager, because very often of lack of pressure by the Mines Department itself in prosecuting, or because of lack of organisation in presenting the legal case, gets off scot free, and very often, indeed, gets off with a medal for his successful defence. I do not hold the Secretary for Mines is directly responsible for the Courts, but I feel compelled to say that there is no hope of improved safety until the law is applied with equal rigour in the case of owners as in the case of workmen. An owner can prosecute a workman for an offence, but the workman cannot prosecute the owner. The workman risks his own life only by neglect or lack of attention, and he can be prosecuted by the owner, but when the owner, as often happens, risks the lives of all his workmen, those workmen, individually or collectively, are impotent to protect themselves. They have to make application to the officers of the Mines Department, and very often it is very difficult to get a prosecution started on a complaint of that kind.

We have been remarkably immune in the last few years from that terrible kind of disaster which occurs from explosions of fire-damp and coal dust. One might-say in vulgar language, "Touch wood!" We are glad to know of their disappearance. But there is a kind of accident that has happened in the last few years, and other hon. Members will probably mention detailed cases. I refer in general terms to the accidents which occur through proximity to old workings and the inundations of water from the old workings, when men are allowed to go blindly right into the body of old workings, where there are accumulations of millions of gallons of water. These men meet their death, as has been said, like rats in a trap. We have had several such accidents during the last few years. I want the Secretary for Mines to pay special attention to accidents of this kind. There is no excuse for the owner, agent or manager who allows his workmen to be done to death because of lack of attention to this menace, which always exists. They know sufficiently well where the accumulations of water are.

Mr. A. HOPKINSON indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr David Grenfell Mr David Grenfell , Gower

I see that the hon. Member shakes his head. I know that there is no mining district in this country, no part of any mining district, where approximately the range of old workings is not known.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

That is a very different proposition from the one which the hon. Member first put forward.

Photo of Mr David Grenfell Mr David Grenfell , Gower

Is it not the duty of the employer to see that no risks are taken? I know that all owners do not wait for instructions in the matter. The hon. Member knows quite well that there is on the market, and there has been in use for 25 years, a special boring machine which will bore 200 or 250 feet. That machine is provided with appliances which, when there is a boring into old workings, can be stopped immediately, and the pressure of water or gas can be tested and ascertained. This costs practically nothing. The machine itself can be bought for a very small amount, and the cost of boring is infinitesimal. There is, therefore, no excuse for men being drowned in the way I have described. I know that the Coal Mines Act says that approach shall not be made within 40 yards of old workings which are expected to contain accumulations of water or other liquid matter. We know very well that very often they do go within 40 yards. There is a case in my mind—it may be improper for me to refer to it, because I believe that it is sub judice —in which there was no boring, and yet the owners and agents and managers tried to justify their part by saying that they did not know of the water.

There is one Member of this House who is not a mining man, and in this connection I want to pay him a compliment. He does not belong to the Labour party. He owns a colliery near my home. His workmen were about to be prosecuted for refusing to work in the presence of water in old workings. He heard of the case. He made inquiries, and was told by his staff that there were old workings, but that they were not dangerous, and were far enough away from the area being worked. He said, "Are there old workings?" The answer was "Yes." He then asked, "Is there water?" The reply again was "Yes." His third question was, "Can it be taken away?" The answer once more was "Yes." His order was, "Well, take it away." That is the common-sense way of doing things. I refer to the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), who is not a mining man. But he had common-sense enough to know that here was a legitimate fear on the part of his workmen, and that they were men whose lives were in jeopardy. His experts may be as expert as they like, but here were hundreds of men whose lives were deemed to be in jeopardy, and he said, "Take the menace away from these men."

I have worked in mines where there has been a fear of old workings. I have gone home to sleep and have wakened, having almost experienced the actual inundation in anticipation of a possible terrible event. These things happen. They haunt the lives of our men, harass their days and nights. I ask the Minister not to be put off by excuses from anyone responsible for a mine where men are possessed by fear in this way. I will not pursue the subject any longer, but I would like to be able to drive home to the mind of the Minister what I carry in my own mind as a result of my experience. I would like the Secretary for Mines to see the miner at work. I would like him to go down into the bowels of the earth and see the men at their work. There are hundreds and thousands of them absolutely dependent upon compliance with provisions of the law for which the Minister is responsible—good men, brave men, most courageous men. On occasion I have risked my own life with others in trying to save men who have been entombed. I have never once seen a single yellow streak underground. I am prouder of that fact than of anything else pertaining to the mines. Never have I witnessed a single individual who was unwilling to risk his own life in order to save the lives of others. These men in their work are dependent upon the conduct of affairs in a reasonable way. They do not care for technical niceties or the judgments of the courts from time to time, but they do expect that common sense and the experience gained in past disasters shall be used to protect them from further accident.

These men down there in the darkness may have a limited range of vision, but, thank God! they have an extended range of thought, with a concern for their families, for their duties as citizens. They risk their lives and give service to the community, and they should be given the fullest protection which the Secretary for Mines is able to give to them. I want him from this day to feel that he is the custodian of the safety of each and every one of those for whose welfare he is in a measure responsible. I want him from this day forward to drive home to the minds of his staff and of the employers of the country a full sense of their responsibility. I want some of the owners, the callous owners, to realise fully their responsibility. The Minister has the best opportunity for securing that end. If he wants to make the best use of his office, if he wants to make himself honoured and revered by the class of people for whom he is responsible to-day, let him see to it that everything which the law requires is put into operation, and that where the law is weak a remedy is found. I am sure that in his time, if he but views the problem rightly and fulfils his responsibilities, the death roll and the accident roll of the mines can be considerably reduced.

Photo of Mr James Kidd Mr James Kidd , Linlithgowshire

I am sure that every Member of the House would wish to pay a tribute to the last speaker for his speech, and that every one will agree with him that the paramount consideration which should always be present in the mind of the Minister is the safety of the miner. I think the hon. Member will agree with me that judgment as to whether or not the management of our mines is being conducted with due regard for the safety of the miner could best be formed by comparison of the accidents in this country and the accidents in other countries. I am aware that there may be individual owners and individual managers who may seem to neglect the very important duty that is cast upon them, but when we come to speak of mining as a whole I think that the only safe test, in order to avoid doing injustice to anyone, is to make the comparison which I suggest. I think such a comparison will prove to be a tribute to the jealous anxiety shown by mines' management in this country to avoid adding to the insecurity of the miner.

Reference has been made to mines inspectors. I have a fair acquaintance with them, and I have nothing but admiration for the perfectly independent, and, on the whole, the fair way, in which they do their work. I say that, notwithstanding the fact that my attitude towards the mines inspector has been very largely one of antagonism in my professional calling. But one has to be very careful not to overdo the inspecting. After all, the greatest security of the miner must always be found in the quality of the management of the mine. One does not want to impose on mines an inspectorate in such numbers that the management would be more concerned with ensuring the satisfaction of the orders or the desires of the inspectors than with watching the difficulties that arise from day to day, from hour to hour, and, it may be, from minute to minute in the mines—difficulties in which the safety of the miner is involved. I can quite well imagine an inspectorate being overdone in numbers. Speaking as I do, I am not expressing nearly so much the mind of the management as the mind of the miners.

The hon. Gentleman referred to prosecutions. He said that prosecutions could be taken at the instance of the owner, but they could not be taken at the instance of the worker. I cannot speak of what happens south of the Tweed, but the practice north of the Tweed is that the prosecution is brought neither by the owner nor by the miner, but by the Procurator Fiscal of the county, who act6 on information which may be communicated to him from any source—from the miner, from the owner, from the management or from the Mines Department. Therefore, so far as the bringing of prosecutions is concerned, in Scotland there is perfect impartiality, whether the prosecution had its origin in the miner or in the management. With regard to these prosecutions my hon. Friend said that they resulted, in the case of the owners, in only 50 per cent. of convictions. I cannot understand how any man can doubt the probity of our Courts. If there have been only 50 per cent. convictions obtained, relative to the prosecutions brought, that is prima facie evidence, not that there should have been more convictions, but that there should have been fewer prosecutions.

The hon. Gentleman sought to make a distinction between prosecutions brought against managers and those brought against the men. The two prosecutions differ entirely in detail. Nine times out of 10 the prosecution brought against the owner or management is a prosecution involving mixed questions of law and fact, or exclusively questions of law. These are questions which occasion very great difficulty. These are prosecutions often brought with the precise object of having a judicial interpretation of the law, but once you come to prosecutions against individual miners you have different considerations there. There you are dealing simply with questions of fact. You may have a breach of regulation which forbids a man to have a pipe, a cigar, a cigarette, or a match in his possession. I give that as an illustration of the simplicity of the questions which are, 99 times out of 100, involved in a prosecution against the man, and speaking with a fair amount of knowledge of the subject I want to distinguish fairly between the character of the prosecution on the one hand and on the other, and if you once make allowance for that distinction then you have a complete explanation of why in the once case you have a small proportion of convictions as compared with what you have in the other.

But I come back to inspectors. From past experience I know that the worker is not particularly partial to over-inspection. He realises as well as any man the danger of having the management of the mines to a certain extent withdrawn from the hands of the manager, and of leaving the inspector in the position of a joint manager. One must be very careful to avoid that condition eventuating from the appointment of too many inspectors, but if I were to make any suggestions I do not think that you could have excessive qualifications in the management of the mines. If you make comparisons between this profession and any other, I do not think that there is any profession calling for the same knowledge, the same human sense, and the same resourcefulness as are demanded from those who are engaged in the management of the mines. Therefore, you cannot be too excessive in your demands for proper qualifications. You want the manager to be a man of very wide outlook. You do not want him to endanger either the mines or the safety of the men by taking too short a range of vision. You want him to have a human sense equal to the proper treatment of the large bodies of men who came under the control of a colliery manager. You want him with technical ability, and not only that, but with the technical ability which he can accommodate to the economic conditions prevailing at the mines. Therefore, if your object is to get the best possible management, you should encourage the largest and widest possible training in the manager, and that, might call for increased remuneration for the manager.

I quite agree that perhaps in no occupation in the world do you get men in such numbers as you do with miners who are so keen on their jobs, who are keen to know all about it, who not only wish to know the technique of their work but wish to be acquainted with the geology of their surroundings and so on. It may be asked: "If you put so much stress on the qualifications required from the managers are you not to a certain extent discounting the possibilities of the working miner ever attaining to that position?" That may have been the case in earlier times. To meet that point I would say that there should be some more gradation, but even to-day I do not think that there is so much substance in that point. Every working man to-day, roughly speaking, has an education equal to that of any other man. He starts off with that on leaving school. If he is alert at his business he has the opportunity, through a technical school, of receiving further training, and I would be the last to seek in any way to cut away any rung in the ladder of progress. Every miner and every worker ought to have every facility to reach the topmost rung in the ladder, but I do not think that the proposal which I submit to the Secretary for Mines would in any way discount the possibility of the working man reaching to the highest position. In any case it would all make for the security of the mines. If you have a good manager, with a proper outlook and a proper human and social sense, and technical knowledge and an ability to accommodate that knowledge to the economic conditions, then you have precisely the type of man who, when all is said and done, and making all allowance for inspectors, is the very best security which the miner can have in his dangerous work.

Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Bothwell

In discussing the question of accidents in mines, it is very difficult to refrain from apportioning blame either to the management or the inspector or the colliery owner. I will try to avoid any statement that would divert the minds of the Committee from considering the question before us, the question of accidents in mines. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) has just told us that, in dealing with the question of accidents in mines and in deciding whether our mines are safe or not, we should take into consideration the number of accidents which occur in the mining industry in other countries. I am not prepared to accept that argument. We are not in Great Britain going to continue killing and maiming our men merely because they go on killing and maiming men in other countries. Our responsibilities are here. Our responsibility is the safe carrying on of our own mines, and we have a moral responsibility to see that the mines underground are made as safe as it is possible to make them. Then the hon. Member has said that the miners are against this increased inspection.

Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Bothwell

Over-inspection. I wonder where my hon. Friend gets his knowledge. One does not like to say in this House "I worked in a pit." because it conveys the impression that you want people to know that at one time you were a miner. But I have had 20 years' practical experience in a mine, and nearly 30 years' experience as a miners' agent and an official, and I happen to be the son of one who was responsible for the management of collieries, and I have never yet heard from any real practical man any objection, but rather the reverse, to the proposition that the mines never will be as safe as they ought to be until we have independent supervision, entirely apart from the employers, in the mines of this country. Like my hon. Friend, I want to pay a tribute to our mining inspectors. I can remember the time when there was a great deal of suspicion about the mining inspectors. I am glad to say that in connection with the last generation of inspectors that has passed away. They are men who understand the industry from top to bottom. I believe that they are hard working men, and if I were speaking elsewhere I might say that they were underpaid, considering their duties.

One finds it very difficult to debate this question in this House with non-practical men. After all is said and done, you cannot learn mining in a university. You cannot learn mining on (he pit bank, and you cannot understand mining in the office no matter how thoroughly you may study the theory of mines. If you want really to understand the mining industry, and the dangers of mines, you have to go through the mill as man and boy in the mines. Then you can speak with some authority. I regret very much that up to the present—I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Ministry will not take this as against himself personally—no Government, not even the Labour Government, have thought this question of miners' lives of sufficient importance to cause them to appoint as Minister of Mines a man with a practical knowledge of the mining industry. I would not be true to myself or to the mining industry if I did not say what I am saying now. I would prefer in discussing this question to be face to face with men who understood the mining industry and the difficulties and dangers which the miner has to undergo.

With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow as to increased inspection, if you search the records of the Debates 50 or 60 years ago, when they were speaking about appointing the first mining inspectors, you will find that the very same arguments were put forward then. If you introduced inspection, if you brought anybody into the mines, they said, it was going to interfere with the employers, and they would shut up the mines, and it was going to be the end of the mining industry. I am going to say that in spite of all the scientific discoveries, mining inspection has done more to save the lives and limbs of miners than anything else done in connection with the mining industry. I pin my faith to inspection or rather to supervision. If we were to consider the question of explosions—and I do not say that anything should be done to minimise the importance of preventing explosions—but if there were only explosions to be considered in reference to mines, mining would be almost as safe as being a Member of Parliament. Whenever an explosion takes place you usually have trotted out the statement about the miner with his matches, his cigarettes and his cigars in the mines. If I had my hon. Friend six months in the mines where there was fire-damp. I could convince him that it was not the miner's cigars, cigarettes or matches that had affected us. If there is fire-damp there the miner should not be there.

Even rushes of water do not mount up the loss of life to such a great extent, and where rushes of water have occurred it was generally known previously where, approximately, there was water. There are men in the district nearly 100 years old who can remember the place where the water afterwards rushed in being regarded as dangerous, on account of water, since the time when they were boys. But when we come to deal with the frequency of loss of life and limb in mines we have to consider other matters. If I had to work underground to-morrow, in spite of the high technical and theoretical skill of the mines inspector, I would rather go underground on the inspection of one of the colliery firemen than on that of the most highly-placed manager in this country. What are the classes of accidents which make up this loss of life and limb? They are falls of roof and side.

You speak about the managers. The manager has very little to do with the management of the mines from the point of view of these accidents. The management very very seldom sees where the accident took place until afterwards. We have been speaking about prosecutions. I want to see a state of affairs which does not require prosecutions but where there is safety, without the necessity of prosecuting the manager or the miner. In the mines there can be no fancy methods of protecting the miner at the face. The miner to-day works as he did a thousand years ago, and protects himself in the same way as he did then, either with props or with pillars to keep up the roofs. There may be improved materials in our day and generation, but what the miner relies upon to-day is either the prop or the pillar to prevent accidents. The mine is not like the engineers' shop or like this House, where you lock the door at night and find things in the same place when you come back in the morning. I used to work as a miner, and I have worked at every type of job in the mine. We know how these accidents happen. First, the miner is paid by results. He has got to get his wage at the end of the day. Very often, against his own inclination and for the sake of others, he risks his life in order to get that day's wage. Life and limb should be the first consideration. The competitive system of one miner against another ought to be abolished and the miner ought to be paid a day's wage for a working day, like any other worker. Why should men in such a dangerous occupation have to be on a competitive basis, when the first consideration ought to be to look after their safety?

Where these accidents take place, the probability is that half an hour before the accident occurred the place may have been as safe as where we are now. The miner is working at the coal face. Everyone knows how quickly you become familiar with your surroundings and are apt to overlook your actual surroundings. The way to prevent these accidents by falls of roof and side is by independent supervision. It is not the manager who is the real inspector. It is not the gentlemen who are called the Government Inspectors who are the real inspectors. The real inspector is the colliery fireman, who is going his rounds every day. That man ought to be free from the interference of the employers in order to superintend twice a day, and to stop any work that is being carried on in dangerous places. Ho is the real inspector, who examines the mine in the morning for gas, and during the day for safety. He is supposed to travel along the roadway. I do not know whether he does so or not, but I want to put before the Minister a very important point.

The firemen have an association and I suppose their evidence would not be undervalued on that account. No one would seek to accuse the fireman of not doing his duty or the firemen generally of not being capable men. The firemen themselves have over and over again carried a resolution and made representations to the Department of Mines that they ought to be free from the domination of the employers, and that until that is done they will not be able to carry out these duties in the manner in which they ought to be carried out. We may be told that this is dual control. I have heard it said before that, if you let the firemen interfere, there will be dual control. As a matter of fact, firemen do not carry out their duties at the present time under the superintendence or on the instructions of the management. I want that to be understood. The firemen carry out their duties under the instructions laid down in the Coal Mines Regulation Act, and until they are free agents from the domination of the employer, according to the opinion of the firemen themselves, they are hindered from carrying out their duties as they ought to be carried out. When we plead for more mines inspection we hear—and I heard this raised before I was a Member of this House—the question of the cost put forward. But the firemen are being paid already. They are trained and practical men, and all that is required to be done is to give these men an independent position in the mines. I may be wrong, but I think I have nearly every practical working miner with me when I say that if you free the firemen there will immediately be a great decrease in the number of accidents in the mines of this country.

One does not want to be accused of sentiment and "sob stuff," but I question if there is any industry where there are so many youths—even in the case of a less dangerous industry—who go into it with less supervision than in the mining industry. You have lads from school of 14 years of age, who go as trimmers or drawers, working as independent lads and there is no supervision—none whatever. On several occasions when an accident has taken place I have had to face the relatives. The most painful thing of all is when you have to go to tell the mother that her "wee laddie" has been killed in the mine. These lads are engaged on haulage roads and there is no supervision there, except the supervision by the colliery firemen under the domination of the manager.

We plead for better inspection. As a practical miner, I am prepared to take the opinion of the practical man as against that of the theorist. There is nothing which would do more to reduce the number of accidents in the mines than the daily supervision of men with authority going round the faces and along the haulage roads, pointing out dangerous places and stopping the workers from going there until they have been made safe. You may ask, "What about the cost?" I am not in the habit of allowing myself to be reasoned or argued into putting the case in £ s. d. as against human life, but even as it is, I believe it would be sound economy. The cost of insurance at the present time is 4d. per ton—to say nothing about the time lost or the pain or injury or the great economic loss involved. In my opinion it would be a sound investment to put an end, as far as is humanly possible, to these accidents in the mines.

I sincerely hope that this Committee and the Minister and the inspectorate, who are very largely responsible under the existing system, will not get into the frame of mind of the hon. Member for Linlithgow, who tells us to consider the question of whether the mines are safe from the point of view of whether the number of killed and injured in Belgium, France, and America is more than in this country. It ought to be our pride and daily care to make our mines the safest mines in the world. I am confident that if we face this situation we shall bring about a reduction and make the mines much safer than they are at present.

Photo of Sir William Rees Sir William Rees , Bristol South

I agree with so much that has been said by speakers on the 'benches above the Gangway that I shall not follow to any great extent the points they are discussing. I must very cordially congratulate the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in having put up one of the strongest cases I had ever heard on the question of accidents. These are real facts that the public ought to know. The figures are incontrovertible, and I agree it is not a fair comparison to say that there are more accidents in other countries. I think there should be a combined effort on the part of owners and employers to reduce, as far as is humanly possible, accidents both fatal and otherwise. I was very interested in some of the figures which the hon. Member gave. He quoted a figure of 65,000 miners injured and 500 killed from falls in the roofs and sides. How much of that is preventable is a serious question. Whatever you do it is not going to eliminate entirely the danger from falls of roof. You are up against the forces of nature; the force of gravity cannot be entirely overcome. Then, on the other hand, you have figures of, roughly, 50,000 accidents due to haulage. How much of that would be preventible if we had a campaign of "Safety first" for the miners themselves? I am casting no reflection on the miners, but there is this to remember, that when you live with danger you become so accustomed to it that you forget it is there. How often is an accident caused by a wrong coupling or by a pin not being put in properly? We had one in our own district, due to a faulty connection. There is this human element which is always uncertain and is responsible, to a certain extent, for some of the accident? underground.

5.0 P.M.

You have these two great uncertainties—the forces of nature and that human element which gets so accustomed to danger—and I would like to make this suggestion to the Minister, that the Mines Department should carry out a campaign on lines which would be something similar to that of "Safety first" in regard to the traffic in London, so that the miners might be reminded constantly of the dangers they are up against. If such a campaign could only reduce the accidents by per cent., it would be worth while. You have good and bad coalowners, and I think the majority of the owners in this country would welcome any increased inspection that it might be thought necessary to try. The majority of the coal-owners are human, and they are as anxious as anyone to reduce, as far as is humanly possible, the appalling loss of life at present occurring in the mines. I, for one, have always been, and still remain, tremendously keen on copying any methods that might be brought forward, on putting in force any possible methods that would reduce the number of accidents, and I think we should welcome any possible suggestion from Members above the Gangway. I can conceive of no more appalling picture than that which the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) put before us this afternoon, and if the Ministry of Mines can do anything, if we can ginger them up, I for one will be glad to do it. I believe that as a body the Inspectors are a perfectly able and conscientious body of men. I pass no comment at all as to whether the numbers are sufficient. I do think that, taking them now as a body of men, they are endeavouring to carry out their duties efficiently, and if by increasing the number you would decrease the fatal accidents by one, then I think the Minister ought to consider that.

I do not think that the Ministry of Mines is only concerned with accidents, serious and important as that question is. I think the Ministry can be doing a lot more to improve the efficiency of the coal mines in this country. We are told, with what truth I am always sceptical about, that mining in Germany is very much more efficient than it is in this country, and that it is very much more efficient in America. I do not think it is. I think it is the duty of the Ministry of Mines to inquire and find out if it is so, and I think the Ministry ought to be able to circulate the information they get, and help the owners in this country to understand what other countries are doing, and if some new device or invention be introduced in the coal mines by Germany or America, it would be of great assistance for the industry in this country if the information in detailed form could be put before them. If the Minister could consider the possibility of doing that, I think we should welcome it.

There is one other point. I do think the Ministry of Mines could be doing a lot more along the lines of research. We not only want efficient collieries; we not only want them as free from accidents as possible, but I am not satisfied that the Ministry of Mines is doing sufficient to help the coal trade of this country. By a system of more intensive research, I think we could help the industry enormously. I am raising this purposely, because I want the Minister to give us the latest information on the subject in which the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) is so proficient, that is, what is the present position of low carbonisation? I have heard it said that that is the one hope of the coal trade. I cannot go as far as that. I do think it is one of the main hopes of the coalfield. There was a question asked in the House as to the amount of coal that went from South Wales to the Navy, and the figure given was, approximately, 1,700,000 tons in 1913, but in 1924 it had fallen to 273,000 tons, so that there you have a reduction of consumption in the Navy alone of about 1,500,000 tons of coal from South Wales.

What has taken its place? I suggest it is the conversion of ships of the Navy from coal-burning to oil-burning. The Mines Department should be seriously considering this fact, and I hope we shall have a statement as to what is the present position of research into the low carbonisation of coal as a commercial proposition. We know it can be done. Whether it is brought to a point of efficiency, or whether it is brought to the point where it can be a commercial success or not, is what we are all waiting for, and wanting to know. I hope the Ministry can do something to hurry on those investigations, and I do not think they should be entirely satisfied with having a research station of their own. We know that there are a large number of private investigators who would be very glad indeed to give support to the Ministry of Mines, and what does it matter who solves it, so long as it is solved? Let us press the Department to do all they can to bring this thing to a point where it can be experimented upon on a large scale. I am interested in one coal mine where we have coal of a volatile content of from 32 to 35 per cent. Imagine the waste of burning that coal as steam coal. I say we are not getting 11 per cent. efficiency out of that coal. If we could get the by-products out of that, we should have gone a long way to solve the difficulty of the coal trade in this country. The competition of oil is a serious matter which the Ministry should be taking into account. I raise this in the hope that the Department will give us some satisfaction. On the general working of the Ministry of Mines, I think we are all agreed that we can congratulate the Ministry. I think the Department is doing its level best to carry out the Regulations and the responsibilities connected with that office, but here is a great field for investigation, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us all he can about it.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

There are only one or two small technical points I wish to bring before the Secretary for Mines on this occasion. We have heard a great deal about comparisons of accidents and deaths in our mines with those in mines in countries abroad, and I think there has been a certain amount of misconception in what the hon. Gentleman has said. The only criterion by which we can judge of the efficiency of the system of management and inspection in our mines is the number of accidents per million tons of coal raised, or per thousand men employed, and, therefore, in bringing forward the numbers of men injured or fatally injured in the mines abroad, and comparing them with our own. we are merely doing so in order that we may get, at any rate, a rough idea as to whether our system and our method of inspection are as good as those of other countries. We do not suggest in the very least, because we have the lowest death-rate of any country in the world—with the possible exception of Belgium, which runs us very close, and occasionally beats us from time to time—that we do not regard these fatal accidents as something we should not reduce by every means in our power. I hope, therefore, hon. Members, in comparing the accident rate at home with that abroad, will endeavour to bear that in mind.

Another point brought forward, which has been brought forward frequently in Debate in times past, is the question of the employment of firemen and deputies by the State. But those Members who have advocated that system have not, I think, perhaps put forward the main defence of the present system, which is that the fireman or deputy knows perfectly well that if, through negligence, an accident arises, then it is almost certain that he will lose his occupation. It is perfectly true, as has been said this afternoon, that, particularly in a large pit, the certificated manager himself cannot be everywhere in the pit and must delegate his duties. At the same time, his duty is obviously to see that the efficiency of his officials is always kept up to the mark, and his only way of doing that is to let it be known perfectly plainly to them that if an accident should arise through any negligence or laziness on their part, they must regard themselves as sacked, and they would have considerable difficulty in getting another job.

Therefore, I say that we do get a considerable safeguard from the fact that the deputies and firemen are paid and employed by the employers. I do not think it can be said that the present system is by any means a perfect one, but hon. Members ought really to bear in mind that the risk the deputy runs if he does not carry out his duties is very severe indeed, and must lose him all livelihood in many cases. Take the case of a deputy who, by negligence, has allowed a fatal accident to occur. Everybody knows it is the universal custom in this country that, if a. fatal accident occurs in a pit, the pit is laid idle for the rest of the day. It is perfectly certain that no owner or manager is going to allow his pit to remain idle if he can possibly avoid it, as the loss is enormous, and, of course, the reputation of the manager suffers. Therefore, looking at it from the lowest point of view possible, and supposing the owners and managers are concerned with nothing but their own personal interest, I think that is one of the great safeguards the men have. I must say that hon. Members ought not to regard the law and the Mines Department as the only Safeguard. There are other facts which come into the case, and, really, as one who has to go down in the pits all over the country, I say that what really gives us more comfort than anything else in a dangerous place in a mine is, that the man responsible is a human being, and does not want to see one crushed or burnt, quite apart from the trouble it would give him if such an occurrence took place.

The two small points that I want to bring to the notice of the Secretary for Mines are these. In the first place, although his Department is, apparently, managed with very great economy, it seems to me there is one item, the salary of the Labour Adviser, which might be omitted. After all, we have not had an explanation of what the Labour Adviser to the Mines Department, or the Labour Adviser to any other Ministry, really does in return for the very considerable salary he draws. The second point is this. I find, in going about the colliery districts, that there is a strong feeling on the part of Inspectors of Mines that their work would be very much more efficiently conducted and would certainly be very much lighter, if it were possible for the Mines Department to provide them with more modern methods of transport from one pit to another

An appeal has been put forward from the Labour Benches for an increased number of inspectors, but it seems to me the ordinary inspector wastes a very considerable proportion of his time owing to the fact that he has to go about from, one pit to another mainly by train, and quite a large part of his working day is occupied in waiting at obscure stations for trains. It may be said that it is going to be rather rough on the managers of mines if inspectors are to be given facilities for getting quickly from one pit to another, that the management is going to be rather oppressed by inspectors' visits. But, under present conditions, an inspector gets to a pit, goes down and converses with the men, and then comes out, and, possibly, has to wait two or three hours before getting a train. During that two or three hours, by the laws of hospitality, the manager must be occupied in amusing the inspector. It is the custom, and when an inspector is about the pit, it is only common civility on the part of the manager to see after him instead of leaving him to walk about for an hour or two on the railway station platform until his train arrives.

If the inspector were provided with some form of cheap light motor car and possibly a small allowance to enable him to keep it up on a reasonable basis, his time would be immensely saved, and not only his time but his temper, which is a very important matter indeed. Not only would his time and temper be saved, but also the time and temper of the manager. I say these things not without experience. In going about from pit to pit during the Parliamentary Recesses, accompanied by my own travellers, from time to time we help inspectors by giving them lifts from one pit to another and in conversation with inspectors that subject has always been brought up and they have asked, "Cannot we be allowed some form of small light motor car whereby we might save our time and get through our work more quickly and more efficiently than we do at present?" An inspector's visit involves changing into pit clothes and perhaps getting very wet in the pit and very cold, particularly in the winter, and if only from the point of view of the health and efficiency of the inspectors themselves, I think this addition to their comfort should be made if the Ministry can afford it.

Photo of Mr George Warne Mr George Warne , Wansbeck

I wish to take part in this Debate in order to bring before the Secretary for Mines a particular aspect of mining accidents. I would be the last to accuse either the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) or the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), when they were referring to mines accidents in other countries, of being in the position of the man who went into the Temple and thanked the Lord that ho was not as other people. I regard them as two of the most original and best types of Conservative Members in the House. Those who heard the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) will agree that his opening of the Debate was very able indeed and I am greatly assisted by it in making my contribution. There are one or two of the points which were made by the hon. Member for Mossley which can in some respects be replied to and in other respects amplified from a practical miner's experience. He referred to the position of the deputies and firemen. If I were to make a suggestion as to how deputies and firemen could do the work of inspection more effectively, I would suggest that they should be relieved of many of the other duties which they now perform and left more time in which to carry out this work of inspection. To-day deputies and firemen are not only occupied in carrying out their inspection but in other duties as well.

It is quite true that coming into the mines before the shift of men enter, they have to make an inspection of all the working places, but once the men are informed that these places are quite safe—from that moment onwards, when the coal is being transported from the face to the shaft, the deputy is at the beck and call of everybody at any point between the coal face and the bottom of the shaft in order to see that the transit system is kept going. Deputies to-day have far too much work put upon them and it does not allow them to carry out the duty of inspection in the most efficient way. I do not think it is now the custom as the hon. Member for Mossley inferred—at any rate it is not the universal custom—for a pit to lie idle during the day when a fatal accident occurs, and I thank the hon. Member for the explanation which he has given of that old custom which we claim should be retained in the future. According to the hon. Member the fact that the accident represents not only a cost in human life but the sacrifice of the day's output, is a lever to make the managers of this country more careful. We know that, owners would like the men to agree to do away with that system, and not lose the pit output of the day, but I hope the miners will never give up that system. If there is not that loss of the day's output when a fatal accident happens, then we may look for many more fatal accidents to happen on such days. I mean by that, that we have to consider the effect which a fatal accident has upon the minds of the men when they hear it in the pit. That one concern would occupy their minds for the whole of the day.

I wish to place before the Secretary for Mines a point relating to the case which I brought before the House on 30th March last when we had the terrible inrush of water in the Scotswood pit in Northumberland. Since then 30 bodies have been recovered from that mine, but eight bodies still remain in it, and now we have the fact that the colliery management is going to cease pumping the water out and seal the mine, without making further efforts to recover these bodies. That has caused a great amount of indignation in the district, and on Sunday night in a picture house in that vicinity 1,500 miners and their wives assembled to protest against the threatened action of the management in sealing the mine. I think the susceptibilities of the mining community should have a little consideration from the managements of the collieries. I am sure hon. Members for mining constituencies will join in impressing upon the Secretary for Mines that they should receive that consideration at any rate from the Government, and that these eight bodies shall not be abandoned until the technical experts of the Department are satisfied that all methods of recovering them have absolutely failed.

There is not only the question of the bodies, which is of course an important one to the relatives, but there is an even larger question involved. That is the question of getting the fullest possible knowledge of the cause of that disaster, and the management by their threat to seal the mine are placing themselves under the suspicion that there is something which they want to cover up. Humanity progresses on their dead selves and we are anxious that the fullest possible knowledge should be gained as a result of this terrible disaster and sacrifice—knowledge which will help miners in the future by preventing the recurrence of such accidents. There is a suspicion in the minds of the miners of Northumberland that in this particular case there has been a misjudgment—I am the last man in the world to suggest that it has been wilful—with regard to the plans of the present workings and the abandoned workings in that district. There is a suspicion that the royalty owners in that particular district, when the new colliery was commenced and the present owners entered on the new lease, drew a line over the old workings which misled the present owners where the mine was flooded.

When I tell the Committee of these suspicions they will see how essential it is that the Secretary for Mines should not give his consent to the sealing up of this pit. Furthermore, here is the ground for a valuable experiment in research. If the colliery company plead that they have not the money with which to keep the pumping operations going, then the Secretary for Mines should see to it that his Department undertakes the work. The rank and file of the miners in the country are very carefully watching the action of the owners in that district, and are looking to the Secretary for Mines to see that he uses the powers of his Department to ensure that before the inquiry is held, every effort is made to get the water out and to get the mine and the old workings surveyed, so that the inquiry shall have available the fullest possible information, and may thus be enabled to come to a decision of lasting benefit to the miners of this country in the future.

There is another aspect of the work of the Department which I desire to mention. We talk about subsidence in mines, and inrushes of water and falls of roof and side, but there is another type of accident to which the miner is subject, and to which it is worth while to draw attention, because the cases are increasing at an alarming rate. I refer to the diseases contracted by miners, only a few of which are in the schedule of diseases for which compensation is paid. I put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that his Medical Research Council should get to work to deal with this subject. The change which is coming over the mining industry, the introduction of coal cutting machinery, and different methods of mining, the extracting of oxygen from the already too small quantity of air available for the miner working these machines; all these things, it is obvious to anyone who lives in a mining district and has any observation, are having a terrible effect upon the miners. Colliery owners who are introducing the coal-cutting machine, if they can save the seam by doing so, cut the stone at the bottom or the top, and this stone-cutting by machinery is bringing diseases in its train to the men who handle the machines. It should be thoroughly investigated by the Medical Council.

Anyone who has to take part in national health insurance work in connection with the Miners' Society as I have to do cannot fail to be struck by the number of miners off work every fortnight owing to complaints or diseases which, one is satisfied, have been contracted through their occupation, but for which there is no compensation. These should be classified as accidents. Take the disease of nystagmus. The Department have had reports on this terrible disease, and nothing is more tragical than to see a stalwart miner, with the spirit of willingness for work, but rendered helpless in the flesh by this disability. It is these things that the Minister should be using his powers to investigate, because, after all, it is much better to get on and prevent these things. When people compare other countries with ours, I say that we are the oldest mining community in the world. We have got a store-house of knowledge at our disposal that no other country has, and if there are five accidents in a country that is just commencing to mine coal, with no experience behind it, and there is one in Great Britain, I say that the one in Great Britain is a greater crime than the five abroad.

On the question of nystagmus, looking at the Mining Inspector's Annual Report, I see that in 1908, when you had an average number of 1,047,862 persons employed in the mines, you had notified as disablement cases under the schedule of diseases 1,689. When you come to 1923, when you had 1,214,660 people employed in the mines—not a very large increase—instead of having 1,689 cases notified, you had 15,768. I am quite well aware that the Minister may say that the scheduled diseases have been increased in that time, but that only shows the need why the schedule should be increased, and I am satisfied that if it were still further increased, we should find many thousands of cases happening in the pits to-day which are getting National Health Insurance benefit, but which rightly should be classed as accidents in the mining industry and paid compensation as such.

The Minister for Mines has a very important office. As mining Members, we want to give him every encouragement. We recognise the limitations of his Department, but the miners of this country are not satisfied with that, for an industry which we are told is the most important industry in this country. We are not satisfied, with the sacrifice of human life in that industry year by year, that the Department that controls that industry should be tucked away as one part of the Board of Trade. There is a Ministry of Agriculture, and a Ministry of this, that, and the other, each with its own Department and greater powers. We should have a Minister of Mines in this country, with greater powers, so that the can carry out this work to the fullest possible extent and reduce, as far as possible, at any rate, these terrible, accidents and the terrible suffering that are being caused in the mining industry to-day.

Photo of Mr Robert Richardson Mr Robert Richardson , Houghton-le-Spring

I was delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), in which much of what we other Members might have had to say was dealt with t agree, with the hon. Member for Gower that sufficient interest is not taken in accidents over which the miners themselves have no control. As he said, there are innumerable prosecutions against the miners for neglect which jeopardises their own life and limb, but there are collective accidents that happen in our mines over which the men have no control whatever, and prosecutions ought to have taken place, but none have been put up against the management of the mines in those cases. Some of us would be very interested to know why these prosecutions do not take place. I have in my mind an accident that occurred in a mine in my own division. It was brought before the inspector's notice, and nothing happened. I myself, brought it before the Secretary for Mines, but up till now I have had little or no satisfaction.

The case was this, that in the working of a mine some timber was knocked out, as we say in mining parlance, and after being cleared away, it was found necessary to get on again drawing coal at that particular place. The timber that had been put there for the safety of people who had to work there was not restored, however, and men responsible for the getting of the coal had to go there, and a wagonway man who had to pass there in the course of his duties was caught and killed. This man, who lost his life, had no control over that accident whatever, but the order was given that work must proceed. Let hon. Members rest assured that in a mine nothing is done merely for the sake of doing it, and the timber that was put in there prior to that accident was put there for safety. It was then removed, and it ought to have been replaced before any man was asked to go and risk his life in that particular locality. I want to know from the Secretary for Mines if this sort of thing is to be allowed to be continued in the future, and if he will see to it that his inspectors have orders from his Department to the effect that, before work is resumed at places where accidents have occurred, such as I have enumerated, those places are made safe, so that men may pass and repass without risk of losing their lives.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to another very serious matter that affects the lives of the men who are working in our deeper coal mines. I refer to the question of ventilation. To me, the lack of ventilation is one of the most serious things that the miner has to undergo. I never want to go back again into the mines. I can assure hon. Members of this House that, having had 40 years' experience of them, I do not want to go back again if I can avoid it. Some people have tried to make out, when miners have been seeking for better conditions, that they have a good life. The best thing for people who are of that opinion to do is to try it for themselves for only a very short period, and I feel sure that they would then agree with us who are saying that we do not want to go back into the pit after having had so many years there. Much has been said to-day with regard to the output in the mines. May I say to the Secretary for Mines that the better ventilation of mines would be a fruitful source for increasing the output?

I will give a case from my own actual experience, where a place opened out was a mile from the shaft. They had another two miles to go. and when it was opened out the miners were paid— and I was one of them—something like 8s. for producing 11 tons 11 cwt. of coal. Before that particular district reached its boundary, on the same seam, the price paid to the miners was something like 19s. for 11 tons 11 cwt. of coal, because of the conditions being so different from what they were at the start. What is happening is this that too much is undertaken by ventilation of one shaft. I know of a place where there is an upcast and a downcast shaft, each about 14 feet in diameter. In the downcast shaft that takes in the fresh air two sets of cages are running continually, and at the very outset the whole of the ventilation of the mine is checked in the shaft. The same thing occurs in the upcast shaft, but instead of two sets of cages, there is only one set of cages, so that with one shaft of 14 feet diameter over 2,000 men are working and doing their best to produce coal in an area of about 10 square miles. It is a sheer impossibility, under such conditions as that, to ventilate the mine as it ought to be, with men working over three miles from the shaft, and under conditions that are beyond description. May I say, without boasting, that I have worked in a mine with a thermometer behind me registering 93? I have been in places where a disturbance of the strata has taken place, and I have had to clear out, or I would have lost my life. These are the conditions that I want altered. I want shafts just a little more often. I want that overlapping that is taking place to be got rid of, and the nearer shaft to wind the coal to the surface.

All this points to the need for reorganisation of the whole of the mining industry of this country. Once it was reorganised on scientific lines, I feel sure that the output would be greatly increased, and the lives of the men engaged would be vastly more safe, because it must follow that, where a man's vitality is sapped towards the end of his days accidents increase. That has been proved beyond doubt, and I ask the Secretary for Mines, whom we are all glad to see in his place—and I believe he is doing his very best—to understand that what we are offering is words of advice so that these things may be overcome. I am not at all satisfied that sufficient money is being spent in research. A question was asked and answered in this House only yesterday, and it was stated that for research in regard to mining something like £1,100 is now being spent, whereas in research for the destruction of human life hundreds of thousands of pounds are paid. I should have thought it would be better to spend money on research into the question of keeping men alive, but apparently the reverse is the case. I beg the Minister to look into these matters.

In conclusion, I only want to make one observation in regard to what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) said. He spoke of the inspectors being super-managers. Let him understand that the Miners' Federation has asked for an increased number of inspectors, so that efficient inspection shall take place. Let him also remember—and I want the Minister to note this fact—that very often the man who is responsible for the mine is sometimes kept under by a super-manager who never sees the pit. I want to see that the man who is responsible shall have full control and not be overridden by anyone whom the owners may place above him. A man, after all, is responsible to his employer, but he is more responsible to the people whose lives he has in his hands, and nobody should come in, between him and his work because of the owner's desire to make bigger profits. I put these things before the Minister, and ask him to give attention to them, and I believe that, if that were done, accidents would diminish, and the life of the miner would be more secure than it has been in the past.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) said he was going to move a reduction of the Vote, but I do not think he did so, and I, therefore, wish to move it now. First of all, I want to say that I have a personal grievance against the Minister, which I think I had better clear up. Yesterday I put a question on the Paper, and the reply referred me to an answer given on the 7th July. I looked up that reply, and it had no bearing whatever on the question I put down. In fact, the question to which it was a reply was not at all the same question as I put down.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

Has the hon. Gentleman not received my letter explaining this matter?

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

No. I want to get back again to the question of accidents. I want just to give one or two figures which have not been given to-day, I think, and which, if they have been given, have possibly been forgotten by now. In 1924 no less than 1,279 men were killed in mines and quarries, and no less than 203,422 were injured. They could, I believe, be reduced very much. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees) said that he did not think that the thing could be altered very much in view of various things which he enumerated. I believe, however, these figures could be reduced very much. Accidents from falls of the roof numbered 614 men killed, and 65,534 injured. Haulage accidents in mines were responsible for 262 killed and 49,368 injured. Why are all these accidents taking place? I myself believe that the lack of packing or stowing—it is never done to-day—is one of the chief causes. The old process is not carried out as it was 20, 30 and 40 years ago. The practice to-day is not to stow the place at all, but to bring the whole of the rubbish out, and when by this rubbish they have half filled up some of the valleys in South Wales, they, in one place, have put up machinery at a cost of £60,000 to carry it to the top of the mountains. They do not seem to know what to do with it, but the way to deal with it is to properly stow it. I think this accounts a very great deal for the accidents. The roof has nothing to settle on, and the whole ground is on the move because, there is no proper banking done until it reaches the floor. In the old days when I was in the pit every old road used to be stowed from end to end, and I remember the time when a man was kept for the purpose of seeing that the roads were properly stowed. I think that what I have mentioned accounts for many of these accidents.

Many of these falls of roof would never have occurred if the ground had been properly stowed. T do not know whether the Minister can deal with this or not, but it ought to be dealt with by somebody. The ventilation cannot under the circumstances be controlled as well as it should be in the old days, because today it is passing over the ground instead of being kept in its own surface. This is to me a very serious matter. The proprietors think that it is cheaper to get the rubbish out of the pit instead of stowing. I question that, however, very much. There is, when the miners go in in the morning, in every part a lot of rubbish, twenty, thirty, forty tubs to be dealt with by the hauliers and others, and the services of men are engaged for a couple of hours every day to deal with the rubbish. This would not be needed if it were stowed in the working places. I hope that this very serious matter—because I do feel it is that—will be attended to. I think it is one of the things especially that the Minister of Mines should look into, because I am sure there is room for improvement, and we have gone back years and years in respect of this packing and stowing.

There are others things, of course, which account for many accidents. Before the War matters were likely to be looked into in some respects; but many of these things were suspended because of the War. There was to be a separate travelling road for the men. I wonder how many collieries have these separate travelling roads? Very few, I am afraid. I should like some information on the point. That, perhaps, is responsible for many of the accidents. Another thing which is responsible for many of the accidents is the piece-work system, which is worked very largely in the collieries. The men are able to get higher wages on piecework, but I do not doubt that is responsible for a large number of accidents. I do not know any industry in this country which, to my mind, lends itself less to piece-work from the standpoint of safety than does mining. There is the rush and the taking risks, and the filling of another truck of coal, in the meantime hoping that everything will be right, although it very often happens that a man says: "I cannot go any further," and the reply to that is, "Very well, if you are going out there is no pay." A man must endeavour to earn a week's wages from somewhere, so he takes risks that he ought not to take. I believe the piecework system is responsible for a lot of the accidents, and many of them will not be done away with until the system is done away with.

I want to come to another point, that of industrial diseases. Colliery cases are responsible for no less than 93 per cent. of the total cases that come under this heading. Hon. Members will find in the Statistics of Compensation, etc., which I hold in my hand—Command Paper No. 2306—very startling figures. In these diseases, I think that nystagmus alone accounts for 66.1 of the total number of cases. Beat hand, and beat knee, and so on, account for others, but nystagmus is the chief I want to give the Committee two or three figures that show the growth of this disease. They have not been given to-day yet. I am rather surprised at that, because many old Members have spoken before me. In 1908 the disease was first scheduled. There were then 386 new oases. I want hon. Members to watch these figures growing year by year, and I am referring now to new cases, not the old ones which continue. In 1909 the cases numbered 631; in 1910, 956; in 1911, 1,379; 1912, 1,376; 1913, 2,402; 1914, 2,275. Then we come to 1919—because I think there were no figures taken during the War. In 1919 the figures were 2,718, 1920, 2,865; 1921, 1,913; 1922, 4092; 1923, 3,833 Hon. Members will see by the figures how the disease has grown. I do not know what is being done in regard to it, whether or not there is any medical research going on. It is not the weakest or the worst men that succumb to the disease but the very strongest which are affected. I do not know how that is accounted for, but I would ask whether there is any medical research going on into this disease?

There is the question of lamps. I believe the Minister, two or three years ago possibly, set up a Committee to look into the question of the lamps. What has been done? When I go to the pit to-day—I do not know that I go very often—I find exactly the same lamps, with the same miserable light inside a thick glass, covered with gauze, and so on. It is exactly the same thing as we used to have there in my time. I think that the poor light the miner has to work with has more to do with nystagmus than anything else. How, also, does the question of electric lamps stand? There is one colliery, the Markham Colliery, Tredegar, that entirely uses electric lamps. Continual working with the ordinary lamps seems to have something to do with nystagmus. Cases of nystagmus are found with the electric light, but whether they are old cases that started before the electric light was introduced or not, I could not say. I am only stating the facts. I believe that the better light of the electric lamp is a very great thing and a very great help to the miner. There is, of course, a greater glare in the case of the electric lamp than in the oil lamp, but the better light more than makes up for that. Some 12 months ago our South Wales papers, the "Western Mail" among others, contained some articles on a new glass—a tinted glass—that was being talked about. There would be something gained by a light that would not always get in the men's eyes as they walked to and from their work, a sheltered light, when they are walking in for two or three miles underground. The problem is one which ought to be very carefully looked into. The figures that I have given are sufficient to impress upon every Member of the Committee the seriousness and the responsibility of what I am talking about. I take it that the Minister will at least tell the Committee what is being done in the matter of research work in the lamp question, about medical research, and so on, because the matter is really important.

6.0 P.M.

There is one other matter with which I want to deal, and that is the stone dust in mines. Stone dusting has been made compulsorily, I think, since the explosion in South Wales when between 300 and 400 men were killed. I do not, however, know whether stone dusting is not doing more harm than good, whether it is not injuring the health of the miners, and whether there is not more danger from that than there was from the explosions. I am not one of those who want the old days back again. I am not one who believes that all the good has been left behind, but in the old days they used to clean and water the roads. I know many times a lot of spraying was done, and that was much more healthy than to have a lot of stone dust about. I should like to see as careful cleaning of the roads to-day as then. There is a disease which ought to be scheduled, and which we ought to be looking into very much in the future, and that is miners' phthisis. There is nothing more conclusive to that than coal dust which gets into the miner's lungs and clings to them. I am told that often there is anything from 6 inches to a foot of dust. That ought not to be. Some attention ought to be paid to the cleaning of the road. It is a serious matter, too, for the pit ponies, that people sometimes profess to have so much concern for, to be travelling through this dust all day. I put a question about this last year, and asked, if a committee had been appointed, that the members of it should go down a pit during working hours and see the haulage roads when the horses are passing backwards and forwards. The reply stated that Dr. Haldane was one member of the committee and, I think, that Dr. Collis was another, and that so long as men like that were on the committee we had nothing to fear. I think we have, and I think that Dr. Haldane or any other man ought to see the actual conditions under which these men work. I will not believe they can get a proper idea of the extent of this trouble unless they go down a pit. It is all very well to study a thing in a laboratory, but a pit is a very different place, and the conditions under which the men have to work ought to be seen. I am not sure that there is not some research work going on into the question of this stone dust and its effect on the lungs.

Colonel LANE-FOX indicated assent.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I am very glad to have the assent of the Minister on that point. Then there is the question of compensation. I was not sure that that would come under this Vote, because the Home Office take some steps in connection with it and have entered into an arrangement with representatives of the indemnity societies, the assurance societies, and others limiting the charges, profits, and so on, so as to ensure that not less than 60 per cent. of the income should be paid as compensation, including legal and medical expenses, for the years 1924–26, and not less than 62½ per cent. for the following years. I do not know whether anything has been done in that direction, because the figures prove that more money is taken out than ought to be the case. The income for 1923 was £5,422,915, the interest on the reserves was £180,581, making a total of £5.603,496. There was paid out as compensation only £2,911,944; 51.97 per cent. went for compensation, that including not merely payments to men who were injured, but also legal and medical expenses as well. Of the remainder, 11.37 per cent. was paid for commission, whatever that means, 23.65 per cent. for management expenses, and13.56 per cent. was set aside for profits. Those figures prove conclusively that very much more is taken out than ought to be taken out, and I would like to know whether that arrangement has been carried out.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I am afraid I shall not be able to give that information, because that matter is under the Home Office and not under me.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I think the Home Office Vote is under discussion to-night, and possibly some of my friends might remember that. It will be interesting to know whether that very modest arrangement which says that for medical and legal expenses and payments 62½ per cent. was to be paid after 1926 is to be carried out. As far as I know, nothing has been done. They go on, so far, just as they used to do.

Then there is the question of shot firing. I believe that shot firing is responsible for very many accidents and that many of the explosions could be directly traced to it. There are several safety appliances for use in connection with shot firing, but, as far as I know, it has not been made compulsory to use any of them. I do not know why. If we are waiting for a perfect safety appliance, we may have to wait a long time. If there is one that makes for safety at all, it ought to be used. Then there has been a reference to colliery firemen being paid by the State. I am a strong believer in this. It would make for safety more than does anything else of which we know. At present these men rely on their employers for their living, and they cannot be independent. The safety men in a colliery ought to be independent of employers or anybody else, and safety to be their first consideration. It may be argued that the expense would be too high. That might be got over if we did no more than provide one man at every colliery employing over 500 or over 1,000 men—fix the figure where you like—who was independent of employers or workmen and who could be appealed to by either or both sides. If we did not go any further than that, it would be the means of preventing some of these accidents. Such a man would serve a very useful purpose.

As miners, we believe that the present Minister responsible for mines ought to be raised to the status of a Cabinet Minister. I think I shall carry the Minister with me on that point. We regard this as the most important industry in the country; the industry to which more legislation applies than any of the others; the industry in which there are more regulations, more forms to be filled up, more reports to be made than, possibly, any other industry. The status of the Minister ought to be raised above that of a Parliamentary Secretary. I have put some points and I would be glad of a reply to some of them, especially the question of stone dusting, and of packing and stowing, which is a most important one, which is being neglected, and attention to which would make for safety and, I believe, for cheapness in the colliery.

Photo of Mr Walter Greaves-Lord Mr Walter Greaves-Lord , Lambeth Norwood

I want to say a word or two with regard to two questions which have been raised. If there be one question above others which ought to occupy the constant attention of those dealing with mines it is the very serious growth of miners' nystagmus, one of the most serious industrial diseases we have, and one which appears to have baffled those who have made researches into it. One point in connection with it is rather striking. I think it is right to say that, so far as there has been any change in lighting conditions in coal mines, the tendency has been to improve the lighting, but, notwithstanding that, we find a very serious increase of this disease. I understand there have been rather searching inquiries by the Medical Research Council into miners' nystagmus, and I believe I am right in saying there are in existence at the moment two excellent reports of the Research Council on the question. I would like to ask the Minister what effective suggestions arising from those inquiries have been made to those engaged in mining, and how far they have been put into operation? There are all kinds of suggestions. There is a suggestion as to improved lighting, and also a suggestion as to whitewashing, or something of the kind, so as to get still further improvements in the lighting conditions underground. These are matters of very serious importance, and, quite apart from the question of nystagmus, might improve the health of those who have to go down the mines to work.

Unless steps are taken, the expense of miners' nystagmus will become a serious factor in mining conditions. The expense of remedying it will be very much less than the expense of allowing the conditions to continue as they are at present. But even if the expense were greater than the amount of saving in money, it ought not to weigh against the saving in suffering and in human life, because I understand research has shown that this disease is not merely a physical condition of the eye, but that the neurotic and the persistent effects are of such a character that the disease in time endangers a man's mind and, by endangering his mind, endangers his existence. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some information which will tend to show that the mine owners are taking effective steps to carry out the suggestions which up to now have been made by the Medical Research Council. Many of us who have followed these matters know of the great work which has been done by Dr. Haldane, and as the hon. Member has suggested that it was not right to say that one could rely upon Dr. Haldane, and that it was only those who saw things under the real conditions who could effectively aid research, I think the House ought to be reminded that there is no scientist who, when engaged in research work in connection with industrial diseases, is more determined to know the conditions under which the men work and, as far as possible, to go through the actual conditions that the men go through. We know that those who have any acquaintance with the work of Dr. Haldane know the enormous amount of self-sacrifice which that great scientist has made in the direction of remedying the conditions which bring about industrial disease and curing them, and it is only right that this question should not be dealt with in any way which would suggest that Dr. Haldane did not investigate these matters under the actual conditions as they exist.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I do not think I said anything of the kind, and I do not think I reflected upon Dr. Haldane. I never said that he did not see the actual working conditions. What I said was that in all these matters the actual conditions ought to be seen.

Photo of Mr Walter Greaves-Lord Mr Walter Greaves-Lord , Lambeth Norwood

What I felt was that it could not have been present to the hon. Member's mind that Dr. Haldane had carried out his researches in the way I have suggested. In all the research work which Dr. Haldane has undertaken he has never spared himself, and he has gone very far out of his way to put himself under the actual conditions, and he has intensified them and suffered extremely in bodily health in his investigations in order that he should be able to make his inquiries under the actual conditions. Those are the conditions under which Dr. Haldane works, and no doubt hon. Members opposite will be ready to pay their tribute to the work he has accomplished. I hope we shall continue to do all we can to bring about not merely safety but also the prevention of all unnecessary suffering in our mines.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

With regard to what has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Norwood (Mr. Greaves-Lord), who has just sat down, I would like to say that if he understands anything about the drastic nature of nystagmus he will not be surprised if we ask him how you are going to whitewash the coal face where 98 per cent. of the cases arise, and which are caused through insufficient light and the constant oblique strain occasioned in looking after the roof and the fissures in the coal. It may be possible to whitewash the long length of galleries leading to the coal face, but I do not know how you are going to whitewash the coal face itself.

Photo of Mr Walter Greaves-Lord Mr Walter Greaves-Lord , Lambeth Norwood

I never suggested whitewashing the coal face, because I know that is absolutely impossible, but the hon. Member will find in the reports of the Medical Research Council that great strides have been made in whitewashing the ways, and it has been found in Belgium, in particular, that, as a result, miners' nystagmus has been diminished in a good many coal mines.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

I do not think that is so, because the figures belie that statement entirely. Of course, we are all grateful from the bottom of our hearts for all the research work done by Dr. Haldane, and no one more than the miners themselves has reason to bless his name for what he has done, but do not let us have any erroneous statements made in this House on this question. We know that something may be done with regard to whitewashing the long galleries leading to the actual working coal face, but whitewashing can only deal with a very small portion of the locale where the injury and the damage arises. What we have to do is to concentrate our research work upon the actual coal face where 98 per cent. of our coal miners hewing the coal are affected by this disease.

I am sorry to find that both the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) and the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) are absent, because I want to deal in the best possible feeling and good spirit with some statements made by those two hon. Members made with the best intention in the world. I also want to deal with the statement made by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) about so many hundreds of cases of prosecutions of the miners and so many hundreds of cases of prosecutions of the owners under the Mines Act of 1911. Working it out, the figures show that 48 per cent. of the total cases where owners were prosecuted on the instructions and on the authority of the Mines Department have been successful in obtaining convictions, whilst 98 per cent. of the total cases where proceedings have been taken against the workmen have obtained convictions. We heard a good deal from the hon. Member for Linlithgow to the effect that the prosecution of the owners was mixed up with law and fact, but he only gave one instance, that of taking a pipe, a cigar, a cigarette or matches into the mines. These prosecutions constituted only a very small percentage of those undertaken during 1924. However, I am not going to follow up that question because the hon. Member was very careful on this point, and I agree with the Secretary for Mines that they cannot help this state of things re convictions.

Nevertheless, there is steadily growing up in the minds of working men a feeling that there is one law for the owners and the managers and another for the workmen. I pay my tribute to the King's Bench Division last week, because it reversed a magisterial decision, and sent a case back in order that a conviction should take place. That is the kind of thing we are asking for, because we want justice in every direction. We have heard a great deal about over-inspection. We heard a suggestion from the hon. Member for Mossley that we ought to provide automobiles for the use of the inspectors of mines in order that they might more frequently visit several collieries on the same day. We were told by the hon. Member for Linlithgow that there was over-inspection, and that the manage- ment were engaged constantly in watching for the time when the inspectors were coming round, and they assert that if we put more inspectors on they would be engaged more fully in that occupation than looking after their fellows. That is a statement which comes from the other side and not from us. If hon. Members had any real knowledge of a mine, they would not make foolish statements of that kind.

At the present moment we do not find any fault with the mine inspectors, because they are an exceedingly able staff, and they are doing their work very well, but they cannot be expected to examine a mine thoroughly under present conditions, and what the workmen and ourselves object to is that the present inspection of mines, because of the multifarious duties which the inspectors have to carry out is really an inspection by sample. Do hon. Members know what that means? A mine is divided into 10 or 12 different sections. Just imagine a system of ventilation in the House of Commons and the House of Lords under which the air comes separately into the various corridors and through the Central Lobby which is equivalent to the downcast shaft of the mine. Imagine also in the Central Lobby you have eight or 10 air-split divisions, and when the inspector comes to examine your ventilation he can only inspect one of these sections on the same day. Would you be satisfied with a system of that kind?

At present, the inspector can only inspect one division where the air has been split on one and the same day, and he cannot even inspect that pit more than once a year. The inspector will not go into the same division the next year, and when he examines No.1 Colliery of the United National Colliery Companies with which I am acquainted he examines No.1 District, and he declares the condition of the pit on what he sees at that point. So sincerely do the miners feel with regard to the inspection though they would not say a word in deprecation or in questioning the work done by the mines inspectors, but I would like to point out that in a large number of cases out of the hard-earned money of the workmen, small as it is to-day, they make a levy amongst themselves in order to pay for a working man inspector once a month to examine the mines. That shows the sincerity of their demand with regard to this question.

I want, with other of my hon. Friends who have spoken, to urge that all our managers are not of the type against which we want to take some precaution. I am glad to say that there are a number of the kind cited by the hon. Member for Gower and by the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees), who is a coalowner. We have dozens such as those whom he cited, who, the moment they apprehend danger, do not ask our men to face that danger, but see at once, honourably in the interest of humanity, that that danger is removed. All that we ask is that the Regulations of the Act of 1911 shall be carried out to-day, that there shall be closer supervision of owners who are apathetic or careless and callous with regard to the requirements, and that, in their case at any rate, there shall be a rigid application of the conditions that we now have in the Act. We have no fault to find with the speech of the only coalowner who has spoken in this Debate, the hon. Member for South Bristol. It was commendable in spirit, and in the right direction. When you have, on an average, 1,200 lives lost every year, and over 200,000 men in the year suffering from accidents entailing absence of work for three days and over, if we can, as the hon. Member for South Bristol said, by co-operation and without too many attempts at fault-finding, but in the interests of saving the men, save only one life per annum, it would be worth it. These men have shown the greatest bravery. Their bravery is second to none in the world in any sphere, and all that we want to do is to make the conditions as secure and safe for them as humanity can possibly devise.

Photo of Mr James Brown Mr James Brown , South Ayrshire

I should not have intervened at all, but that I want Scotland to have some little voice in a discussion of this kind. I am very glad that everyone who has spoken has spoken more or less sympathetically, which is just as it should be, because this is a question which is, or ought to be, non-political, and the burden of pleading for greater safety in mines should not fall entirely on Members on this side of the Committee. I am glad to think that everyone, in every quarter of the Committee, is very anxious to minimise as far as possible the appalling number of accidents that occur in our mines. We all agree that the number of accidents in our mines, whether they compare better with other countries or not, is too great, and the loss of life and limb, and the loss of work incurred thereby, ought to be minimised as far as possible.

There are one or two points that I want to emphasise to which allusion has already been made. Whether in Wales, in Yorkshire, or in Scotland, we have the same kind of burden to face. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bedwellty alluded to the question of packing or stowing. Like him, I do not think that everything was good in the old days. There were many things that were very bad, but at any rate we were saved to a great extent the eyesores that one sees everywhere now all over the country—large rubbish heaps raised everywhere with the idea of safety, or perhaps with the idea of cheapness, though I am certain it is no longer cheap at all. In our thicker seams, when the rubbish was stowed or packed, it kept up the roof to a great extent, and the rubbish was kept where it ought to be, namely, down below, and prevented a great many subsidences on the surface, as well as many accidents below. That alone, I think, deserves the attention of the Secretary for Mines, and, if he could induce the big employers to keep the rubbish down below, I think he would be doing a good stroke of business, not only for the mines, but for the country itself and for the safety of the men who work underground.

Another point that was alluded to was piecework, and I agree with my hon. Friend that many of our men might not like our introducing a subject like this at all. In spite, however, of all that is being said against the miner to-day, in spite of the fact that many people think the only salvation for the industry is to add hours to our labour, there is not an industry that I know of where men work more whole-heartedly than the miner does when he gets down below. Those who have not any great acquaintance with coal mining do not know the anxiety that men have to produce a day's work, and thereby earn a day's wage. It is said that they do not care for work, and do not try to work. I know that that is only said by ignorant people, and I know that it is truer to say that whenever our men get from the surface down below, they lose all sense, and work, not as human beings, but often work like brutes in order to obtain the livelihood which they go down to earn. That has a great bearing on the number of accidents that occur in our mines. There is no question at all that familiarity does breed contempt, and our men get very careless because of familiarity with danger. We risk—and I know what I am talking about because I worked for 30 years down below—we risk our lives many times in order to get our hutch of coal out, and if we could get the management to see to it that ton rates were paid, or that piecework was introduced, so that the mad rush to earn a day's wage would be minimised, I am certain that a great many accidents would disappear from our pits.

Another question is that of the paid inspector or deputy. That is a very big question. I entirely agree that these men should be quite free from either employer or employed, but, if the Minister thinks that that is too big an undertaking, will he not be able to try it in certain sections or in certain collieries? Can he not introduce the system somewhere, and watch it carefully as an experiment, to see whether it would not help in regard to the many accidents that occur quite needlessly. Let me say that I do not charge the employers as a body, or the management, with this, but even the deputy many a time has to gloss over things in order to keep the work going, aye, and in order to escape the censure of his superiors. I have stayed out myself many times until the gas was dusted out with my jacket, and the man dared not report, or, at least, was afraid to report, not, as was said by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), because he would be convicted, but because he would be dismissed if he reported gas too frequently. I know that that occurred over and over again. I am glad to think it is less now than it used to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty says he- does not know, but I have been a few years out of the pit, and I understand that considerably more freedom is given to the deputies than there used to be. At any rate, what I am pleading for is that an experiment should be tried with the paid deputy, either in a colliery, or in several collieries, or in sections of a colliery, comparing that with what occurs in other collieries or sections of collieries. That would enable us to get at the truth as to whether these paid deputies would be better for the mines or not.

The only other point upon which I desire to touch is in connection with convictions. In my own county, not long ago, we had an inquiry because four men lost their lives needlessly—I say that without any fear of contradiction whatever. It seems to me that, whenever we get into a Court of Law on a coal inquiry, we are not always concerned with getting at the truth. A court of inquiry ought to be something different from an ordinary criminal Court. I know that legal gentlemen are employed to get their client off by hook or by crook, but in a court of inquiry that ought not to be the case. We ought to get at the truth of things, we ought to discover where the difficulty was, and, having discovered that, to take precautions against its occurring again. We ought, in spite of our sympathies with the deputy or the manager, or whoever it may be, to see to it that suitable punishment should be meted out to the careless deputy or the careless manager who has conduced to bringing about an accident. I trust that the Minister will look into these things. It is not a coincidence that most of the officials escape and that all our men are punished. I am not pleading now that men should escape who break the law, although, as I have already said, they often break the law in order to get a day's work. I am pleading that the Minister will see to it that, when any of these accidents occur, those responsible for them shall be brought to book and summary justice shall be administered to them.

Keeping these points in mind—proper stowing, the trial of deputies in certain collieries, and the other matters I have mentioned—I trust that this Debate will have the effect of making the Minister and his staff, I will not say more alert, but making them assert themselves more, and making them compel officials in mines to put the law in motion. We are not suffering from lack of law. We have plenty of law already. Acts of Parliament have been passed over and over again, and many of these, if they were put into operation, would do everything that we are asking now. I would ask the Minister, when he is dealing with the matter, to take these points into consideration, and afterwards to be more determined, if that be possible, that every precaution shall be taken to got rid of the appalling number of accidents from which we suffer in the coalfields of our country.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

The whole subject of this Debate is what is being done to prevent the accidents which are happening in the mines. It is that which animates us, and, I think, animates everyone in the Committee. One or two points have arisen in the course of the Debate which have been very interesting to me. One was in regard to the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Mr. Greaves-Lord). I am very pleased to know that he is sympathetic towards the miners in regard to nystagmus. I remember very well that we have had to fight cases when the hon. and learned Member has been on the other side, and I have been wondering whether his sympathy for the miners is not due to the knowledge he has gained of what has happened, so that, now that these cases have been brought to his notice, his mind has been changed in the direction he explained to us during his speech. That fact alone is important, because, the more we can get those on the other side to recognise the great danger of nystagmus, what it means to our people, and the suffering they have to go through, the more readily, I feel confident, will the assistance we require be given to us.

The other point is with regard to accidents. When you compare mines with other industries, it must be evident to everyone that something will have to be done. I have here the figures of 1923. The Home Office issues figures from the seven largest trades, and in comparison with the mines you will see exactly how we fare. In shipping, for every thousand men employed, there are 1.1 fatal accidents, in factories 0.1, in docks 0.8, in mines l.1, in quarries 0.7, in constructional work 0.5, and on railways 0.5. Taking an aggregate, it is 0.4 over the whole seven industries, as against 1.1 in mines, so we are more than double the average of fatal accidents. In non-fatal accidents it is the same. In shipping it is 20.8 per thousand, factories 33, docks 83, mines 215, quarries 76, constructional works 66, and railways 35, or an average over the, whole of 65 per thousand. as against 215 for mines. So a comparison shows at once what the mining industry has to put up with, and, if we can lessen that, there is not only the moral point to be gained, but it means a great economic saving to the industry. At present, on the 1923 figures, it is costing 3.2d. per ton. What it will mean in 1924–25, with the addition of children coming in for compensation, I cannot say, but even that figure is a big burden on the coal industry, and we want to remove it if we can.

May I suggest one or two remedies. First of all, I think if the employers or the inspectors paid more attention to Section 51 of the Mines Act there would be a smaller number of accidents. The Section refers to the support of roofs and sides, and says there shall be a sufficient supply of timber within 10 yards of the working place and it should be suitable timber. Anyone who knows the mining industry knows that that Section is not carried out as it ought to be. A man on piecework does not find the timber where it ought to be, with the result that, seeing that he has got to get his wage within a certain time, he takes a risk that he ought not to take. If the management and the inspectors would pay more attention to that, there would be fewer accidents.

My second point is in reference to firemen. The Act of Parliament itself is fairly good, but it does not go far enough. It stipulates that the fireman shall not have a district that is too large for him, but it is left to the inspector to determine, and I wonder how many times he goes into the matter whether the fireman has too big a district or not. Another point is that the fireman can measure and can also fire shots. I claim that the fireman ought not to do that kind of thing. It is quite sufficient for him to look after the safety of the workmen and to give a thorough examination of the roof and side, and point out to the workman what is required, and, if he had more time to devote to that, it would obviate many accidents. The chief point of all is that the fireman ought to be paid by the State. The last speaker spoke about not daring to report. That is quite true. As regards gas, the fireman often does not report what he ought to do. He is afraid of his position. These are the points I want to put before the Minister. First of all, to pay more attention to the supply of timber, and see that it is suitable timber. Also the fireman's work ought to be regulated so that he can give ample time to the needs of the workmen whose lives he has in charge, because, after all, the fireman has the men's lives in his trust more than any other man in the mine. The third point is payment by the State At some future time the Ministry of Mines ought to consider whether the State cannot take over the firemen and pay them, so that they can report any danger, and look after the work much better than they do at present.

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Doncaster

We have been discussing, among other things, the question of nystagmus, which is one of the greatest scourges from which the miner suffers. Many cases are assigned to this disease. There is great variation of opinion among doctors as to what actually causes nystagmus, but most of them will be agreed that one of the contributory causes is eye-strain, and one of the reasons for eye-strain is that the lighting arrangements are not sufficient to enable them to work in comfort. No one, I think, would suggest to-day that the ordinary safety lamp, be it as efficient as it may from the gas testing point of view, has reached the point when it gives sufficient light to enable a miner to work in comfort. None of them do. How far has the Mines Department investigated the question of electric lamps in the pits? I should like some information as to how many companies have adopted electric lamps and how many of the miners are working with them. I think there is no question that at the pits where they have been adopted there is a unanimity of opinion among the men in favour of the electric lamp, as against the safety lamp, from the lighting point of view. In the Doncaster district, I believe, most of the pits use electric lamps, and in no case would those who have had experience of them be prepared to go back to the safety lamp.

Could not the Secretary for Mines get some indication as to the number of cases of nystagmus in pits where electric lamps are used as against pits where safety lamps are used? It would be difficult, for many reasons, to get an accurate measure of this. I asked questions about it some time ago, and the hon. Gentleman thought it would be very difficult to get, because men were continually coining in and going out from pits where safety lamps were used, and there were many cases where men would have come to work at a pit when they already had nystagmus. But there are pits which have used electric lamps for years, and it would be possible, if sufficient pains were taken, to get some evidence as to the effect of electric lamps on nystagmus, and to the extent that he got evidence in favour of them I should like to see electric lamps adopted nationally. They would not have done this had they not been certain in their own minds that electric lamps were good. I know of a pit where safety lamps are used, but, wherever there is a complaint that a man or a boy is suffering from nystagmus, or there is an indication of nystagmus, he is given an electric lamp where everyone else still has the safety lamp. In a few months after this was started, those who had electric lamps were so delighted that everyone else in the pit wanted them.

There are some disadvantages connected with it. It is heavy, and it gives rather a dazzling light to those who have to follow behind, but, generally speaking, its lighting efficiency is so much greater than that of the safety lamp that the men prefer it. Perhaps one of the reasons why it has not been adopted on a national scale is that I believe it is more costly. Another reason is that you cannot test for gas with the electric lamp, but that might be overcome by having one or two safety lamps used in every stall where there are electric lamps for the purpose of testing for gas. The electric lamp is much safer in some respects. The safety lamp is of rather delicate construction, and the gauze within it is liable to be crushed by a fall of stone or coal, and perhaps the naked flame might be exposed for a short time to the atmosphere. That is hardly possible with the electric lamp, because the moment the glass is fractured the light goes out. From all these points of view, there is a case made out for the electric lamp, and if the Secretary for Mines followed out the suggestion I have made and made some research and got some evidence as to the beneficial effect of electric lamps, the Department ought to do something to make their adoption compulsory.

7.0 P.M.

My next point is in regard to winding axles. A conference was held at Don- caster of the Managers' Association, which functions round Yorkshire, Nottingham and Derbyshire, and a paper was read on Electrical versus Steam Winding. The lecturer stated that accidents where electric winding apparatus was used were much lees in number that where steam winding apparatus was used. As a result of that I put a question in this House, and an answer was vouchsafed after a few weeks' time. I asked whether I could be given an answer as to the number of accidents which occurred in 10 years in this country where steam winding apparatus was used, and the number where electric winding apparatus was used. The number of places where electrical apparatus was used as compared with steam is very small. The answer showed that the percentage of accidents at pits where electrical apparatus was used was very much less than where steam winding apparatus was used. I went further with that question. The lecturer also stated that in Germany, where electrical apparatus is used in a much greater proportion than in this country, the winding accidents were much less numerous than in this country. I asked for that information. The hon. Gentleman could not give it, but promised to collect it. I would like to press him for that information. I would like to follow this line of investigation with a view to finding out whether winding accidents can be diminished by the adoption of electrical apparatus. I do not quite know whether I am right in this, but from what one hears, generally speaking. I believe, there is a greater inclination at the moment to adopt electrical winding apparatus in this country than there has been in the past. I think there has been a prejudice against it among mineowners in the past, but that is breaking down slightly. If there is a prejudice existing, and if the Secretary for Mines could get this information and it was on the lines of the question, that where electrical apparatus was used the number of accidents is much less, and if he could supply it to the mineowners of this country, that would be a reason why the mineowners should adopt the safer method of winding. I commend it to him and I hope he will get the information for which I have asked him.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I think the Committee will agree that the speech to which we have just listened is a very interesting one. I am sorry I cannot at the moment give the information as regards the proportion of accidents in pits abroad where there is electrical winding. I am trying to get it, but the Committee will understand that in foreign countries statistics are not kept as completely as in this country. I am very often asked for information with regard to pits abroad which I cannot give.. Previous speakers have made interesting statements with regard to nystagmus. The hon. Gentleman showed considerable knowledge of that, and what he said about it was very accurate. It is a most difficult disease to deal with. A short time ago there was a very interesting report by a committee of the Health Advisory Council, and they pointed out that in this country we are more humane. In foreign countries they take the line of saying that nystagmus is largely a nervous disease. We are more humane. The matter is receiving very considerable attention, and constant research is going on. There is a scheme now being elaborated between the Home Office and the Mines Department for dealing with this disease, and I hope very shortly that will be in operation. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the scheme?"] I am afraid I cannot give the information. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question, I will endeavour to answer it. I cannot exactly tell the position just now.

An hon. Gentleman asked me as to electrical lamps compared with safety lamps. 350,000, one-third of the total lamps used are electrical. It is pretty obvious that electrical lamps must give a better light than safety lamps. No doubt, it is very much to the advantage of safety that the number of electric lamps should be increased. There is the corresponding difficulty about testing for gas. A gentleman brought me a lamp some time ago and claimed that at last he had found an electrical lamp which would test for gas. It was a very elaborate piece of machinery and too elaborate to put into general practice for rough work at present. At the same time, it was interesting as showing at last that the inventor had got to the stage of being able to secure some form of electrical lamp that was sensitive to gas. I hope something may come of it. If you have electrical lamps in a pit, you cannot test for gas, and it means that you have to have extra lamps of a less illuminating power. The risk of unnecessary lamps that people do not want being about in the pit and subject to careless usage and neglect is a very serious one. Once you give more than one lamp, you may be certain before long that there will be some risk of accidents.

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Doncaster

I do not agree with that statement.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

The hon. Member must admit that risk.

Photo of Mr George Spencer Mr George Spencer , Broxtowe

There are plenty of pits where they take two safety lamps. Can the hon. Gentleman point to a single accident which has been due to taking an extra lamp?

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I never said there had been many accidents, but at the present moment the only way you can test gas is by having an extra lamp. When we get electric lamps made sensitive to gas they will be of very great advantage to those who work in the pits. In a previous Debate some Members accused me of complacence and said they wished to stir me out of my complacence. There is nobody less naturally complacent than I am. There is nobody more thoroughly aware of his shortcomings and of the difficulties which his Department has in dealing with all these complex problems. I do want to thank hon. Members who used such very well deserved terms of praise about the inspectors of the Mines Department. I think every word that has been said is justified. I am sure that they are very efficient and hardworking, and that the Committee does appreciate their work. I should like to have a larger staff. We could do very well with more inspectors. The inspectorate has been increased, but the trouble is that for really efficient inspection which hon. Members opposite would like, the numbers would have to be enormous. The work of the inspectors, of course, is very wide and complex.

Allusion has been made to the particular disaster which is more fresh perhaps in the minds of the Committee, the Scots-wood pit disaster. I should like to deal further with what hon. Members said. I received a letter referring to a meeting of protest against the sealing up of the pit. I would like to tell the Committee what happened. Some time ago I was informed that it was proposed that this pit should be sealed. I was informed that the position was this. The water had been got down to a certain level, and, as pumping went on, the management became aware of a bumping noise which they thought indicated the gradual escape of gas. I do not think any hon. Member would suggest, or that it has been suggested, that the management were really trying to conceal something, and that the reason they did not want to put down the water was that they wanted to conceal the actual cause. I do not believe that is true. They have been put to considerable expense getting the pumping done which has been done. I believe that they were genuinely afraid of what the risk might be. They not only did that, but they got hold of two very eminent engineers who reported that there was serious danger.

When I suggested to the Miners' Federation that this objection had been made, they made light of it. I at once asked the management of the pit to come to London and see me. They came up, I think, the following day, and they at once put the opinion of their expert engineers against my desire to see the pit rid of water. I put to them the suspicion that if it was under water we should never know the cause of the accident. They told me that that was not so, that all the evidence is available showing where the workings got to; and it is not necessary for that purpose to drain the water I recognised the importance of allaying that suspicion. I asked the management if they would agree to me sending an expert engineer to investigate it. They agreed. I sent a gentleman who is a well-known mining engineer, called Hyslop, and his report is just arriving now, or is on the way. I have not yet seen it. When I have it, I will do the best I can. I realise the very natural desire to get the bodies out of the pit. I fully realise what it must mean to the relatives to know that their friends are left there, and that there is no chance of getting them. At the same time, the Committee will agree that if it really is the opinion of the expert engineers that there is serious risk that there might be a further disaster involving the loss of more lives, I should think very carefully before I go further.

Photo of Mr George Warne Mr George Warne , Wansbeck

When the report is received, would the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer a question about it?

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I have not yet received the report, but, if the hon. Member will put a question to me when it is received, I will tell him whether I can answer him or not. One hon. Member in the course of the Debate, has thought it necessary to remind me that my duty was to protect the miners. I hardly think he meant that seriously. I am sure that that is a duty which I realise to the full and intend to carry out. As to the water difficulty, that is perhaps the more recent, and at this moment the most serious, of any dangers with which we have to deal. The worst accidents that have happened in recent years have been due to an inrush of water. I do not want to repeat what was said in a recent Debate, but I would say that we are taking every step that is possible, first of all to find out where these disused workings are. It is all very well to say that everyone ought to know where they are. It is not so easy. Since 1872, when pits have been abandoned plans of them have had to be deposited in my Department or what corresponded to it in the past. But before 1872 there was no such provision, and there are many old workings of which we have no plans. No doubt such plans are hidden away somewhere, and I have sent out an appeal to all who are likely to be in possession of them—mining engineers, surveyors, and estate agents—pointing out the urgent need of these plans, and asking that I might be allowed to copy them, so that if on a future occasion any one wants information about particular ground I would be able to point out where that information is obtainable.

I hope that in due course we shall be able to establish a sort of catalogue of all the old workings of the country. Anything we can do to minimise these dangers certainly will be done. Perhaps the most serious fact is that, as more pits close down and there are more old workings, this danger increases every day. At this moment we have a Water Danger Committee travelling about the country to make investigations. I have had several reports already, and when the investigation is complete there will be valuable information available. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) referred to an instrument which can be used when the presence of water is suspected. I hope that that instrument will be more extensively used in future than it has been in the past. Just to show that my Department is not by any means asleep, I would allude here to the issue of two recent Orders, in which I am interested, because they were started in my previous term of office. The completion of these Orders or Regulations takes a long time. It is no good agreeing to a Regulation unless you are satisfied that it will effect its purpose and will not unnecessarily harass anyone concerned. The Explosives Order came into operation in the last month of my predecessor's term of office, that is in September, but the one dealing with coal dust I had the pleasure of bringing into operation. These two Regulations deal with what were most serious dangers.

The Explosives Order deals with the treatment of coal dust in proximity to shot firing, and prevented shot firing under certain conditions. I hope that the result of the Order will be to make the procedure more safe. As regards the Coal Dust Order, I was surprised that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards), whose opinion I value much, should suggest that stone dusting was undesirable. He says that the result of stone dusting is an enormous accumulation of dust. But that certainly should not be so. Anyone who is acquainted with mining practice knows that that is a matter which should be dealt with. Everyone must realise that the practice of stone dusting, as a means of covering the danger of coal dust and the appalling explosions which coal dust used to give rise to in the old days, is of incalculable value. The experiments which have been carried out for some years have been of tremendous value in reducing the risks from coal dust. Whereas in the past there were appalling accidents due to explosions of coal dust, in the last few years there has been practically none of a serious character, though it is clear that such accidents would have occurred had not stone dusting been resorted to.

That leads me to another point made by the hon. Member for Gower. I think we are often too much inclined to decry our own affairs and to say that things are going from bad to worse. I did not think that the hon. Member for Gower was that sort of person. Everyone deplores the large number of accidents still occurring in the mines. Yet it is not good, and it is not necessary or true, to say that things are so much worse than they used to be. One hon. Member said that we ought not to compare the number of accidents with those in foreign countries. As we are told that the conditions of inspection abroad are better than those existing here, if we make the comparison suggested it is at any rate a satisfaction to find that the death rate from accidents in this country is distinctly lower than in any other country in the world. As to non-fatal accidents, foreign countries do not keep their statistics with the same care as we do, but as the death rate is distinctly lower in this country it is fair to assume that the rate of non-fatal accidents is lower also. I do not say that that is any justification for the high rate still existing in this country, but I do not think things are quite as bad as some hon. Members described them.

The hon. Member for Gower asked me about shot-firing appliances. I have often been asked that question. There are good appliances in operation in many mines. To make the use of a given appliance compulsory is to give the use of that appliance special sanction, and the result is not always what one would wish. It is far better that tests should be made of different appliances as they appear. Our technical appliances committee consider very carefully any inventions submitted to them, and that is a far better way of securing what is wanted than to say that appliances which are not wholly satisfactory must be adopted. Another point that was raised related to the Government payment of deputies. I know that many hon. Members hold strong views on this subject. It seems to me that if you take away responsibility from the management in this way, to that extent you weaken the management. Unless you make the management absolutely responsible for the deputy, I do not believe that you strengthen the men's case. I know it is often said that they are given extra work, work which they have not time to do, and that their time is occupied rather in trying to increase the profits than in attending to the safety of those who are working in the mines. That is a matter which our inspectors go into carefully. I always specially ask them to inquire into it, but I do not see my way to support the view which has been presented by hon. Members opposite.

Photo of Mr George Warne Mr George Warne , Wansbeck

Can the hon. and gallant Member say anything as to the amount of manual work?

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

That is a matter into which my inspectors are always inquiring and into which I inquire myself. I quite agree that there is a possibility of abuse but everything that is possible is done. One point to which I should like to refer is miners' phthisis. There has been considerable difference among medical men on this subject, but recently we have had inquiries made by an eminent expert on this subject, who is an inspector in South African mines. He was over in this country, and we asked him to make certain inquiries and to let us have a report and it is possible that there may be some addition to our knowledge on the matter. Of course, on any experience which we may get it may be necessary to take action according to whatever may be proved, but the matter is being gone into carefully and as soon as we have received the necessary information there will be no delay in dealing with it at the earliest possible moment. I must have missed a large number of points in the various speeches to which I have listened, but perhaps I have kept the Committee longer than I ought to have done. I am extremely grateful to hon. Members, and I thank them very much, for the very sympathetic references which they have made to the work of the Department. I was glad to hear what was said about the inspectors in particular. They are a hard working, thoroughly good body of men, and I like to think that they are appreciated by the House of Commons. I hope that I shall now be allowed to have the Vote.

Photo of Mr Robert Smillie Mr Robert Smillie , Morpeth

I apologise for intervening at this late hour in the Debate. Circumstances prevented me from being present, and I much regret that I had not an opportunity of hearing the discussion. There was one point raised by the hon. and gallant Member to which I would like to refer. He said that fault had been found with his Department on the ground that they were tardy in moving, particularly in the direction of safety. I am sure that if he were in the position of some of our Members on this side he would have a fuller understanding of why, from time to time, they find fault with the tardy movements of his Department. I do not think that there is any desire to say anything against himself. We know that he desires to give us all information he can from time to time, and to carry out the Acts of Parliament as fully as possible, but I would remind him that the reason why we are sometimes rather upset about the tardiness of his Department has not arisen merely during the last few years.

Explosions in mines have practically disappeared, and now there are very different causes for the vast majority of serious accidents which take place in mines, especially rushes of water. I remember very well when the vast majority of fatalities in mines arose from serious explosions due, in the first place, to the ignition of gas. I remember serving on the Accidents in Mines Commission, and I remember an incident there which led me to think that everything had not been done and was not being done to safeguard the interests of the miners. There were Divisional inspectors of mines in this country, men who had given years and years of study to the part which coal dust played in mines explosions. There were Mr. Galloway in South Wales, and the two brothers Atkinson, one Chief Inspector in Scotland, and the other in Wales. They devoted years of their time to experiments with coal dust, and I remember that Mr. J. B. Atkinson, Chief Inspector of Mines in Scotland, sent in his annual Report, and that part of his Report, referring to the danger of coal dust in causing explosions, was cut out by the Home Office, and never presented to this House.

Attention was called to the matter and the Secretary of the Mines Department at the Home Office was asked whether this portion of the Report had been cut out, and he said that it was true. He was asked why it had been cut out? and he said that it was because they did not desire that those who wanted to advertise their own particular ideas should do so through the Home Office. He was pressed further in this matter, and he replied, a few weeks afterwards, and said that it was cut out because the cost of printing was going up at such a rate that they could not afford to go on printing this kind of thing. Those men had devoted all their spare time to this matter, and they were anxious to direct the attention, not merely of the Home Office and the Mines Department, but of the House of Commons and the country to the serious danger of coal dust, and they were prevented from doing so by the Department which, above all others, ought to be concerned with the safety of the miners.

I might say that, as a result of the Commission which was sitting, we had inserted in the law a provision that the inspectors' reports were to be printed as sent in by them, as they were their reports and not reports of the Home Office. The nation took up the question after that. They spent thousands and tens of thousands of pounds in experiments and finally they found that those men were right, and that most of the great explosions, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives, were caused by coal dust, which was the main factor in carrying the explosion when ignition had taken place. Is it any wonder that, in circumstances such as these, we should fear that the Mines Department is a little slow?

I put a question to the hon. and gallant Gentleman some weeks ago in this House as to when we were to have the proposed exhibition of safety appliances in mines. It is well known that in every mining district of Great Britain there are people who, rightly or wrongly, believe that they have perfected inventions which would save the lives of the men. I asked when the exhibition of those apparatus or appliances was to take place, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he had never heard of such a thing, and that he did not think that the present was the best time for a thing of that kind. He will be astonished, and the Committee perhaps will be astonished, to know that this matter has been before the Mines Department for nearly 10 years. The Chief Inspector of mines, not the last one, but the one before him, discussed it again with the Miners' Federation with the object of getting those appliances from different parts of the country and making arrangements for holding, in the presence of experts, an exhibition of all those proposed appliances for safety in pits, and he said that it would be only a, matter of a few months until this exhibition would be held, and that Government experts would be offered from the Mines Department to examine those appliances and to see whether it would be wise for the Legislature to make them compulsory.

I quite agree that the Mines Department, or any other Department, so far as safety is concerned, must endeavour to make sure that there is something in any proposed appliance, and that it will not lead to greater danger, but it is not necessary to wait until there is a perfect appliance for this purpose. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that there is a hope that we may ultimately secure an electric lamp which will at the same time indicate the presence of inflammable gas, and, I sincerely hope also, of another gas which is quite as dangerous—black damp. The Committee may be astonished to know that nearly 10 years ago Mr. Williams, an eminent Welsh engineer, exhibited before the Mines Department of the Home Office an electric lamp which had attached to it a contrivance which would enable the holder of that lamp to test for explosive gas. At the same time he was experimenting with, and I believe that he ultimately perfected, a method of discovering black damp or CO2.

I do not desire, and I say this as a practical man, to put an electric lamp into the hands of a miner in order to enable him to work in the presence of gas. I do not desire to put into his hands an electric lamp that may be a better lamp, and save his eyes and give him more light to do his work, in order to enable him to work in black damp, the first indication of which would be that the man would fall down insensible. I desire to have the best light possible. We know that it would add to the productivity of the mines and the safety of the men if we could have a better lamp, and we desire to have me best possible illumination and the best possible electric lamp, but we desire with that lamp to have some other method to enable a man to know when he is working in the presence of dangerous gas.

I have known instances in which it was impossible to work in. certain sections of a mine, because of the presence of black damp, and men were withdrawn from it and other men were put there with electric lamps to work in the presence of that dangerous gas. The electric lamp burned all the time in the presence of black damp, and the men worked in that section until some of them fell down and had to be carried out. We do not want that kind of thing, but we do want the Mines Department to give every encouragement possible to inventors of safety appliances. It is not beyond the wit of man. When the Davy Lamp, the original and first safety lamp, was invented it was far more difficult than it would be now to get an electric lamp which would give indication of explosive gases and black damp. Surely there ought to be encouragement given. It is not too much to ask that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should inquire about the exhibition which has been spoken about in his Department. He will find that the question has been discussed over and over again between the Miners' Federation and his Department. It would only be right that all persons should have an opportunity, not of forcing him in any way to accept their appliances but at least an opportunity given them for experts to examine those appliances. It would not be a very costly thing to examine them and decide as to which of them would be best. There are appliances to prevent overwinding, appliances for shot-firing, and appliances for minimising many of the dangers which exist in the mine, and we are only pleading that those who have invented these appliances should have an apportunity of having them proved unsatisfactory or accepted if they are satisfactory.

With regard to the question of the Scotswood Pit, the miners are particularly anxious when such a casualty takes place that those who are entrapped should be brought up. If it is not possible to rescue them alive, then we feel that everything should be done to bring up the dead bodies at least, and that their relatives should know that the bodies have been brought up. It is said there is serious danger standing in the way in the case of this mine. There have been two practical miners down the mine, Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Richards, and they have made a public statement that they would not ask any mining engineer or manager or anyone else to go where they would not go, but that they were prepared to go down and see the mine workings if necessary. They have been there again and again. They do not fear that there is very serious danger in the matter, but if there is danger they at least are prepared to take the risk. Now an expert has been appointed. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when that expert was sent to examine the mine, there wag a representative from the mining side—not a mining engineer, because there are men working in the mines who are experts, although not managers. Could not, say, Herbert Smith, Richardson or Straker have been asked to go down with that expert, and to express their opinion jointly with him? Your expert's opinion will not be accepted by the mining community merely on his word. We ought surely to have opportunities of having either Mr. Smith or Mr. Richardson or Mr. Straker along with your expert in order to find out whether or not there would be a. serious danger.

I do not think anyone on this side or the widows of the poor men lying there at the present time would plead for the mine to be opened up if it was going to lead to further loss of life. I do not personally think it is wise seriously to risk life, in order to recover dead bodies, but it must be proved to our people that there is some grave risk before we can justify those bodies lying there and the wives and children never to see even the bodies of their people. I sincerely hope that this matter will be gone into very closely. I hope the hon. and. gallant Gentleman will not believe that we know all about the Scotswood disaster. We desire to see the conditions where the work was going on. If that can only be done, we believe that there will be revelations there which would prove conclusively that there was gross negligence. That opinion never will leave the minds of our people in Northumberland and Northern England unless we have an opportunity of getting to the scene of the disaster.

When the Redding disaster took place it was from the same cause, through an old working where the plans of the previous working ought to have been in the possession of the mine-owner who was working the mine. The plans were in the possession of the landlord, but they were, not in the possession of the colliery company. In the Scotswood disaster there was an inrush of water in exactly the same manner. We found that the root cause at Redding was that they had gone through an old working, and had they been as careful as they ought to have been they would have avoided it. I plead with the hon. and gallant Gentleman not to keep this mine sealed up, and not to depend on one expert, no matter how great he may be, unless you have some other person from the other side with him in making his examination. It will not be a costly matter, and I feel sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give a satisfactory answer to what is the unanimous opinion of the whole of the miners of this country.

Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £112,945, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.