Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £144,595, 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, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."— [Note.—£74,000 has been voted on account.]
I do not propose to trouble the Committee with any detailed references to the Estimates. On the face of them there is a saving this year of £101,926, but that alteration does not concern the expenditure of the Department proper, but has reference to certain adjustments made in the proposed expenditure relating to the operation of the Act of 1930. The actual reduction upon the expenditure of the Department itself is £4,422. That may not be looked upon as a very substantial reduction, but it must be remembered that the work of the Department is every year increasing, and we are gratified that we have made even that small saving. The alterations made consequent upon the operation of the Act of 1930 are explained by the fact that all the estimates dealing with it were necessarily tentative, particularly in relation to the expected operations of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission. It will be seen from the Estimates that we have been able to reduce by a considerable figure the proposed expenditure in that direction, and at the same time we have had to take off certain Appropriations-in-Aid amounting to £55,000. I intend leaving until a later stage of the Debate any reference to the details of the Estimates, but I shall be happy later on to give any information that is desired. I would like to ask, Captain Bourne, if it would not be more convenient for me to be allowed to pass immediately to a survey of the position of the coal industry to-day and compare it with the position in the year 1913. I must not tread upon forbidden territory, in discussing the continued operation of Part I of the Act of 1930, because that would involve legislation.
Before the Secretary for Mines makes a ruling for himself, may we have a ruling on this point from the Chair so that we shall know exactly where we are? I want to ask whether it will be in order to deal with matters arising out of the recent administration of the, Coal Mines Act, and particularly Part I. The Secretary for Mines has stated that he does not think such a discussion on reorganisation would be in order.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has referred to reorganisation, but that relates to Part II of the Act, and not Part I. I think it would be quite in order for hon. Members to discuss what is being done under Part I, and I suggest that under Part II it would be competent for hon. Members to ask me what is being done.
In reply to the point of Order raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), obviously under Part I the consent of the Board of Trade is required for certain schemes, and anything requiring the consent of the Board of Trade is in order on this Vote. The question whether Part I should be continued or not is out of order, because that would require legislation. As regards the Reorganisation Commission, their salaries and expenses are charged upon this Vote, and any action they may take which does not involve legislation is in order and can be discussed.
I have certain figures before me which, up to the moment, are not available to hon. Members, but they will be published later. The output last year was 219,400,000 tons, and the potential capacity is something over 300,000,000 tons. Making a general comparison with the year 1913 the output of 219,000,000 tons compares with 287,000,000 tons in 1913. Taking our shipments of coal at 42,800,000 tons, and foreign bunkers at 14,600,000 tons, if we include coke and manufactured fuel this makes a total of 61,700,000 tons, the corresponding figure for 1913 being 98,300,000. It should be pointed out that the figure of 42,800,000 includes 2,500,000 tons to the Irish Free State. The shipments to the Irish Free State have only been separately entered since April, 1923.
Taking the mines at work, there were last year 2,243 as compared with 3,289 in 1913. The men employed were 868,000, whereas in 1913 there were 1,105,000. The output per shift was last year 21.61 cwts., compared with 20.32 cwts. in June, 1914, when there was an eight-hour day. I know that a good many people with a knowledge of mining conditions are taking a great interest in the progress of mechanisation, and I hate put together one or two figures which I think might be of interest to hon. Members. The tonnage cut by machines last year was about 77,000,000 as against 24,500,000 in 1913, that is, 35 per cent. of the total output as compared with 8 per cent. of the total output in 1913. That shows that considerable progress has been made in this direction. There has also been a considerable development in the use of mechanical conveyors and loaders at or near the coal face. I have not the figures relating to these appliances for 1913, because this development has only taken place in recent years, but there has been an increase in the output dealt with in this way during the last four years from 28,000,000 tons to 47,000,000 tons, and the percentage of output has increased from 12 per cent. to 2.1 per cent. The price of coal disposable commercially was 14s. per ton last year as compared with approximately 11s. per ton in 1913. The declared value f.o.b. of coal exported was 16s. 3d., as compared with 13s. 10d.
I am quite aware that these figures constitute a melancholy record of serious retrogression. [Interruption.] I cannot give the relative figures for 1930 or 1931 at the moment, but I shall be happy to give them later in the Debate. I will now touch upon the adverse factors which the industry has suffered in recent years. First of all, there has been the reduction of output consequent upon the more economical use of coal and the use of alternative forms of fuel and power such as gas and electricity derived from coal. Owing to improvements in the methods of producing gas and electricity, considerably less coal is required now than formerly in producing a given quantity of gas or electricity. I can give the Committee, if desired, significant figures bearing upon this, but summing up the position and comparing the production of gas last year with the production in 1913, and the production of electricity last year with the production in 1921, there has not been a corresponding increase in the consumption of coal. If there had been no technical improvement in the gas industry and in the electricity industry, and they had needed as much coal as they did years ago, there would be an increased demand of 12,500,000 tons. There has, therefore, been a displacement of 12,500,000 tons owing to the more economical use of coal in the gas and electricity industries.
The second factor is the displacement of coal consequent upon the vast increase in the use of oil. Great emphasis has been laid upon this question in a memorandum which, I understand, has been circulated to every Member of the House, prepared by the local authorities and the coal interests of South Wales, who, less than a fortnight ago, met the Lord President of the Council, in the absence of the Prime Minister, and spoke of the serious effects that were being felt in South Wales. That memorandum, I think, deserves the careful attention of all Members of the House. We have tried in the Department to reckon what this displacement amounts to, and our calculation is that the displacement of coal owing to the increased use of oil represents between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 tons of coal in this country. But a larger displacement of coal has been caused by the loss of our coal bunker trade. The decrease in foreign bunker coal shipments between 1913 and 1931 amounted to 6,500,000 tons; but, apart from the displacement there, a more important question is raised, which, perhaps, we do not often consider. A great deal of our coal, of course, is not only shipped here as foreign bunkers, but is exported as cargo for use as bunkers abroad. It is impossible to get precise figures upon that point, but certainly the displacement there has amounted to many millions of tons owing to oil taking the place of coal, and those millions of tons have to be added to the 6,500,000 which I have already mentioned. A third factor is the industrial depression. The amount of coal that was needed to feed our iron and steel industries before the War was 30,000,000 tons. That quantity has now been reduced to about 12,500,000 tons. Apart from iron and steel, coal, of course, fed the shipbuilding industry and other ancillary industries, and, with the depression in those industries, we have had a further decrease in the demand for coal.
I have given three factors, and I come now to what, I suppose, is the most important, and that is the fall in the export trade. Whereas we exported 98,300,000 tons in 1913, we now export 61,700,000 tons. A large contributory cause of this decrease has been the world-wide depression. The position has changed fundamentally since the days of easy and spacious supremacy before the War, when British coal almost sold itself; and in some instances markets have been seriously restricted. When the supply of British coal fell off during the War, naturally those who had been relying upon us had to turn in other directions. Italy turned to other forms of power like hydroelectricity. A very significant figure is that relating to Holland. Holland raised her output of coal from about 2,000,000 metric tons in 1913 to about 12,000,000 metric tons in 1931.
Following upon the War, there were, of course, changes in the map of Europe. These changes of political boundaries made obsolete the atlases which we used at school, but the changes with which we are concerned here at this moment are changes in the coal map of Europe. When the statesmen met at Versailles and moved the pieces on the chessboard, they little realised the ultimate reactions and repercussions in the mining villages of Durham and the valleys of South Wales. There was the cession to France of Alsace Lorraine, there was the loss to Germany of the output of the Saar Valley, forcing the rationalisation of the coal mining industry in the Ruhr, and the great development of lignite production in Germany; there was the emergence of Poland as a coal producing country; there was the reconditioning and better equipment of the mines of Northern France out of reparation money, and there were the deliveries of reparation coal to Italy and to France. Perhaps I might be allowed to allude, by way of illustration, to the danger arising from the delivery of reparation coal. Sometimes, when reparation coal has flowed from one country to another, and then the flow of reparation coal has stopped, its place has been taken by free coal. A channel has been formed by the process of transporting reparation coal from one country to another, and when the reparation coal stops a certain good will is set up, certain associations have been established, at first temporary and political, which have tended to become permanent and commercial, and what was intended to be only a contact has become a ligament.
That naturally raises the question of international price-cutting, and perhaps the Committee will allow me to show what is happening in this direction, and the competition that we have to meet. Germany can, and does, subsidise her coal exports to the extent of from 5s. to 7s. a ton, if necessary, in some cases, by means of a levy upon output. The German railways also afford substantial assistance to the coal industry by preferential rates and these, substantially as they assisted, were further reduced three months ago. Poland's power to conduct a competitive campaign is largely due to her low wages, and the wages in other countries are a very serious factor in this question. The progressive and recent reductions of miners' wages in the continental coalfields are a big factor, and I think we have reason to congratulate ourselves that we have not been generally driven in the same direction, [Interruption.] I am glad to say that, according to the information at my disposal, we have not been driven in that direction.
Poland is content with a pit-head price for export coal of from 5B. to 6s. per ton, which is made good by a higher inland price of about 16s. per ton at the pit-head. Further, she has the advantage of an abnormally low freight of 3s. 4d. a ton on export coal for the haul of 340 miles from the coalfield to the Baltic ports, and it is practically certain that, at any date now, a levy of 2½ zloty, representing, as I understand, about 1s. 6d. a ton, will be made on output for the purpose of subsidising export coal from Poland. So much importance does the Polish Government attach to the export of Polish coal, and the development of its native coal industry, that, as recently as the 6th April, it passed a decree in which the Ministry of Industry and Commerce was vested with the right to control output, sales, and internal prices, and the internal price will probably be adjusted to allow the collieries to pay this levy of 1s. 6d. a ton. The extent to which the price cutting tactics in Poland have gone is shown in the fall of the f.o.b. price of their large coal from 17s. 3d. in December, 1929, to 12s. 6d. in February, 1932, the f.o.b. price for comparable British coal on the latter date being 15s. 4½d. per metric ton.
In addition to all these troubles that we have had over recent years, we have had in recent months further difficulties and restrictions following upon the quotas and restrictions that have been imposed, particularly in France, Belgium and Germany; and, whereas the unhappy coal trade has been whipped with whips, now it is to be whipped with scorpions. We have so recently had a Debate—less than three weeks ago—that I do not think it would be the wish of Members that I should trace the history of these restrictions and quotas imposed by France, Belgium and Germany and the dates of their imposition. The ground was so well covered that it would be better for me to leave until later in the day the giving of any information on the point.
It is rather important that we should have some information on the matter if possible. Can the hon. Gentleman give us any information showing the direct effect upon collieries in this country?
I am sorry that I cannot do that but, if a question is put to me later in the day upon any particular point, any information that is available will be placed at the disposal of the Committee.
Passing over these restrictions imposed by Germany, France and Belgium, with a passing reference to Italy, where there is not a quota imposed but where there is a general landing duty of 2½ lire a ton imposed on seaborne, coal, which hit us and not our Continental competitors, because their coal was mainly land borne, I have to dwell also on a very real difficulty by which our export trade has been hampered—the restrictions on foreign exchange transactions. These successive blows have been very distressing to the industry, giving rise to grave apprehension and anxiety, and strong representations have been made to the Governments concerned. That is a matter with which I am not to-day concerned. That is a Board of Trade matter, and it was dealt with in the Debate only a short time ago. These restrictions, and certain other factors; have prevented us from gaining the advantage that we expected from the break in the pound. Our competitors held long term contracts and they continued to quote in depreciated sterling, and the advantage that was looked for was scarcely perceptible in the latter months of 1931. Our exports for the first three months of this year compared with the first three months of last year—these are the figures for which the hon. Gentleman asks—show a decrease of 600,000 tons, much smaller than one would have thought having regard to the restrictions and quotas to which I have referred. There are, however, 16 markets, although many of them are smaller markets, where our exports during the first three months of the year were larger than in the corresponding period of last year. I need not dwell upon the reaction upon our home trade of the cutting off of our export trade. Sometimes, when the outlet is closed, they have to find their market at home, intensifying competition here, and that is particularly hard on such a county as is represented by the hon. Gentleman opposite, because a great deal of the coal that comes from his county is more suitable for export and cannot readily find a market at home.
These are the unpleasant facts that I have had to dwell upon in a general survey of the industry and I now turn to another aspect of the work of the Department. The House is always concerned as to our work in regard to health and safety. The number of accidents in 1931 gives some ground for encouragement as to the progress that is being made. The number of deaths in our coal mines last year is the lowest in the history of the Department, namely, 859. That is 0.98 per 1,000 of men employed, or 3.77 for every 1,000,000 tons raised. The serious accidents were 3,304—the lowest on record. The smaller accidents—involving absence from work of more than three days—were about 140,000—we have not the precise figures—that is 26,000 less than in 1930 and 36,000 less than in 1929. Even allowing for the smaller number employed in the mines and although we are only taking the figures for one year, yet we look upon that as very gratifying.
It is all included. I should like to make some reference to the different classes of accidents and their relative importance. Since I have been in office, we have had quite a number of serious disasters, namely, those at Bentley, Newdigate, Bowhill and Llwynypia collieries. They brought about a great expression of public sympathy, as they always do, and the tragedy, as always, has been lit up by the traditional heroism of the miners; but there is a danger of our getting a wrong perspective in these matters. The tragedy with which my Department is confronted is the return made week after week, with say 15 deaths and almost invariably 15 accidents. It is not the big disasters. Everything that science can do must be done to make the big disasters impossible, but the real trouble of those concerned with health and safety is the daily casualty. This figure may impress the House. Taking the 10 years from 1920 to 1929, for every casualty underground that arose from an explosion there were 1,103 casualties arising from causes other than explosions. The most prolific cause of accidents is the falls of ground. Next to that, of course, is haulage. One day we shall have protective equipment in our mines. I have no doubt that one of my successors will make obligatory the use of helmets, gloves, safety boots and goggles. I do not know why that has not been done before, but the British miner, so advanced in other ways, is often conservative in his customs—[Interruption.] I pay that to him as a tribute. It is not intended otherwise. I am assured by those well qualified to speak upon it that a very substantial reduction in day to day accidents could be made by that simple precaution.
I will not dwell upon the work of the Safety in Mines Research Board, because their report is in the press and will shortly be available, but may I refer to accidents to boys. A most distressing feature of the returns made to us is the number of accidents to boys. In 1929, underground, 39 boys under 16 years of age were killed and over 7,000 boys under 16 were disabled by injury for more than three days. There is the urgent need here for more instruction and education. I would like to speak in terms of highest commendation of the work done by the Yorkshire Council for further education, in cooperation with the local education authorities. They have been carrying out. courses of instruction for boys engaged in the pits. Classes have been held at 46 schools and 1,256 boys have been enrolled. These boys, after passing a certain standard of efficiency, are presented with a badge. I shall have the opportunity shortly of going up to present to a large number of them the badges that they have been able to win. This work is done by grants from the district committees of the Miners' Welfare Fund. It has stimulated a very fine spirit of emulation and local endeavour, and pride in local achievement, and nothing could be more healthy than the spread to the other coalfields of the work that is being done in Yorkshire.
There is the work of inspection. I know that very often this question arises. The real duty of the inspector is not to be the prosecutor. He is not there primarily as a potential prosecutor. The inspectors are not there as the outposts of a departmental inquisition. The inspector is there for the purpose of friendly consultation and assistance, so that his experience and his acquired skill can be at the command of the whole industry, owners and men alike. That at any rate is the ideal. There are 112 inspectors, including eight special inspectors who devote the whole of their time to the care of the ponies in the pits. In 1931 there were 22,989 inspections made. Every coal mine in the country which was working in 1931 was inspected at least once during the year; 1,300 of the mines were inspected in every part. Of course, when you are dealing with a big mine that is a very considerable undertaking. Generally these inspections are made without notice. That is the general custom.
The ordinary inspection of the mine is an inspection made without previous notice. Although this responsibility rests upon the inspectors, yet the responsibility for the care of the mine, for the safety and health of the mine, rests primarily upon the officials of the colliery, in association with their workers. After my short experience I am satisfied that nothing can be done without the co-operation of all concerned in the mine. There is no industry where the team spirit is more essential. In practically every shift in the mine the men go down as common adventurers. The work of education and propaganda has been carried on during the year, and I again invite attention to the forthcoming report. There have been printed pamphlets and circulars and the reports of the chief inspector and the eight divisional inspectors, as well as of the electrical inspector, and we have carried through and completed a work for which I claim no credit —it was started by my predecessor—the holding of safety conferences throughout the country. We have now had conferences in each of the eight divisions of the country. We had the last on Saturday, when I presided over a conference in Birmingham. We had there over 3,000 men, mostly the workers in the mines, who came to the meeting and gave the results of co-operation between the owners and themselves.
I would here put on record my gratitude for the assistance given by the management and owners in helping to make these conferences a success. I have had the advantage of the support, at these conferences, of some Members of this House. They will remember that I placed great emphasis upon the point that the work is not completed when a conference closes. A conference is intended to stimulate interest and to create an atmosphere that will enable work to be done throughout the district, and so bring about a very substantial reduction in the number of casualties in the mines. It is easy, of course, to blame the men who get involved in these accidents, which generally arise, I expect, from their keenness to get on with their job and from the weakness of human nature in running risks. We all run risks in the streets, particularly in the London streets. Most of us are here to-day not so much by design and care as by luck. It is not for us to rebuke those who work in the mines and are inclined to run risks.
The expenditure of the Safety in Mines Research Board during last year was about £58,000, which has been derived from the Miners' Welfare Fund. Later on, if I am questioned, I would like to deal with mine lighting. The importance of mine lighting is, first of all, because of the predominant medical opinion that the widespread disease of nystagmus is largely due to inadequate lighting, and, secondly, because nothing contributes more to danger in the mine than the lack of proper lighting. Some months ago I had to consider whether a new regulation should not be issued establishing a, new standard of lighting. I was very anxious that we should not stereotype progress. That is the danger. I called together the representatives of the Mining Association and of the Managers' Association, and asked them to give me an assurance that during the next 12 months an improvement would be effected in this respect. That assurance was very readily given, and our inspectors are now in touch with the work throughout the country, helping the recalcitrant and those who are behind their fellows in keeping up to the standards of these proposals, and at the end of 12 months we shall have to consider whether that regulation ought to be imposed or whether our purpose has been achieved otherwise.
I expect I shall be asked a question about the new shot-firing apparatus. An order was made not long ago that the new shot-firing apparatus should be introduced into every mine on 31st December of this year. The replacement, of course, must take time. I was asked by the Miners' Federation to put the order into force at once, but other representations asked that two years should be allowed. I think that, having regard to the difficulties that the manufacturers would have, it is as well to allow a reasonable time, and therefore 31st December next has been fixed. That is a general review of health and safety in the mines. My difficulty has been to decide, not what I could bring into my statement, but what I had to leave out.
There is one further matter which is of interest to Cornwall and some other parts of the country, and that is the Metalliferous Mines Committee. We hope to publish the report of that committee later. It affects not only all metalliferous mines, but affects especially the county of Cornwall, with which I have had association. Some time ago a committee was set up to deal with these mines. It had a number of sittings. That committee prepared a report, and the report as presented contained certain dissentient opinions expressed in such a way that they are not suitable for publication. They were not intended for publication. That statement can be understood when I mention that they were letters containing expressions of opinion written by those who did not know that they would be embodied in the report. I thought that when the report was published it should contain the formally expressed dissension, and the committee meets to-morrow to approve the final form of the report, which will be printed as soon as possible.
Having surveyed some part of the work of the Department I will dwell briefly on the prospects of the industry. I find one or two more hopeful features than we have had hitherto. I have spoken of the more economical use of coal. Whilst the more economical use of coal inevitably leads to displacement, we can do nothing that will stop this development. In fact it is our duty to encourage it; it is our business to see that our manufacturers have their costs kept as low as possible in order that they may compete in the markets of the world. The best tiling we can do is to adapt ourselves to these changes and not try to resist them. I have heard that when the Nile overflowed its banks the real genius was not the engineer who sought by great dykes to dam back the overflowing river, but the inspired peasant who flung his seed into the forbidding ooze. We have to understand these changes, to take full advantage of them for the benefit of the coal industry.
Accepting these hard facts, what can be done in the way of improving the method of using coal, in finding new uses for coal or for new products made from coal, so as to provide a set-off against the losses to which I have referred? First of all as to the cleaning and grading of coal, I would pay my tribute to the work done by the coal mining industry in recent years in improving the competibility of coal by more extensive washing and cleaning of coal and the production of sized or graded coal. In 1931 30.4 per cent. of the total output of coal was washed or dry-cleaned. That is a very remarkable figure, having regard to the fact that the washing is needed only for smaller coal. Those who, often in times of severe financial stringency, set up at great expense the plant for doing this work in order to meet modern needs, deserve the tribute of those who are watching the development of the industry. There are other new developments. There is the complete gasification of coal, to which some pin their faith. I read a speech last week by Dr. Dunstan, the chief chemist of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, who was addressing the members of the Coal Trade Luncheon Club. He made the suggestion, with the full authority of Sir John Cadman, that the more complete gasification of coal offered the best prospect of reviving the fortunes of the coal industry.
Then there is low temperature carbonisation, which some think to be the best line of attack. The claim is made that it will enable good smokeless fuel to be produced from small coal, and that it may be burned in the ordinary domestic grate. At the same time a larger quantity of coal tar than is obtained by high temperature carbonisation will be produced, and it is claimed that this tar is more suitable for the production of oil products, similar to those obtained from petroleum. Then there is high temperature coke. In this country there is still a strong feeling in favour of the open domestic fire, and some of the larger gas companies are taking steps to produce an improved high temperature coke which can be burned in the ordinary domestic grate. Here let me digress for a moment. My sympathy is entirely with that movement. You touch the real sentiment of the British people when you come to the hearth. The hearth and the home in this country are synonymous terms. I once read that when Edward Gibbon was in exile after his father had
sent him from Oxford University to Lausanne at the age of 16 in the year 1753, his first complaint was that he was taken away from his books, but his main complaint was that he was put into a room where "instead of a companionable fire" he had to be "warmed with the dull invisible heat of a stove." I would rather live in a small house with a coal fire than in a large house with a radiator. Thomas Gray said,
No more for them the blazing hearth shall burn.
I do not think he would have written that line about a central heating apparatus. Or Robert Burns, when he said:
To make a happy fireside clime,
could not have written in the same way about a radiator. Nobody within my knowledge has ever written a sonnet to a radiator. I am sure that the gas industry in recognising the appeal of the hearth in the home will do something to stimulate and develop demand.
There is the question of pulverised coal. The use of pulverised coal is making progress in this country, and a number of experiments in its use are being carried out on ships. There is now that word which is beginning to be written upon my mind—the word "hydrogenation." That is a process which can be applied to the treatment of coal itself, with the object of producing a crude oil capable of further treatment to produce motor spirit, diesel oil or fuel oil. The process can also be applied to the treatment of coal tars for the production of similar oil products. It will be remembered that a few days ago the question of hydrogenation was referred to by the late Solicitor-General, and that a reply was made by the President of the Board of Trade. What the President of the Board of Trade said was:
The hon. and learned Gentleman is now discussing a matter of first rate importance. I am very grateful to him for raising the subject, but is it not the case that even now, when the patents difficulty has been straightened out, there is a complete gap between the actual cost of the synthetic petrol and the market price of petrol which is in commercial use? We have considered the matter from the point of view of capital expenditure and from the point of view of its being self-supporting, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman has any light to throw on the latter question, I shall be
grateful to have it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1932; cols. 1116–17, Vol. 264.]
That shows the importance of hydrogenation. In fact we look upon it as being a most hopeful outlook in respect of coal. But there are questions of high policy involved which must be considered.
We have the Fuel Research Organisation. I am not able to dwell upon that matter as I intended doing, but it is very important in our opinion that there should be a closer association between the several industries which are concerned. If you take the attempt to recover our bunker trade, or, at any rate, to resist the further loss of our bunker trade, it cannot be done by one industry alone. It will have to be done by constant cooperation between the coal industry, the shipbuilding industry, the marine boiler industry and the shipping industry as well. It is that which we seek to stimulate, and if the Department can help in that direction we shall be only too happy to do so.
I have detained the Committee longer than I intended, but I have only a sentence or two more to say. In my short experience at my Department, which I am glad to say is called "Cromwell House," a fact which gave me a sense of assurance I did not otherwise possess when I went to the Department, the impression left upon my mind is a certain admiration for those engaged in the industry, who, in spite of very heavy set-backs and tremendous vicissitudes, have refused to be discouraged and have hopefully stood up against the storm. We are dealing here with a very ancient industry. Like my hon. Friend, who comes from Cornwall, I recall that Britain, first of all, emerged from the mists of prehistoric times because of our mineral resources and our mineral interests. We are dealing with what is an immense factor in our industrial and commercial life. We are dealing with something which, next to agriculture, employs the largest number of our people, and an industry which is not sufficiently recognised.
One half of the world we are told does not know how the other half lives. That must apply to those who live above the ground, and those who are engaged in the mines. Members of the public are apparently not interested in the coal question until their coal supply stops, and the Press only becomes in- terested in coal when it enters the sphere of political controversy. There is something special about the employment of the coal miner, and something special about his unemployment. A month or two ago I went into a mining district and saw a mine with its huge ramifications and its self-contained village. I was told that the first turf of the mine was cut less than seven years ago. Seven years ago it was the ordinary countryside, and now here was the mine and here was the community which has grown up, with its schools, churches, amenities and its homes. The community is there because the mine is there, and if the mine stops the community stops. That is what is peculiar to unemployment in the mining industry.
I can understand sometimes the note of pessimism in these Debates among those who are in touch with the facts and are up against it. I sometimes wonder what would happen if for a period of six months Members of Parliament and editors of newspapers had to spend an apprenticeship in the mines. I think that there might be some change of emphasis in the leading articles, and perhaps legislation might have taken a different course. We have one opportunity, at any rate, in the year to dwell upon the importance of the industry and to pay our tribute to the men engaged in it. Literature has not done it. It is a remarkable thing, but there is practically no tribute in our literature to the men of the mining industry. We hear about the farmers, songs about mariners and fishermen, tinkers, tailors, soldiers and sailors, but we have to go back to the Book of Job for the only reference in great literature to the work in the mines. The man who keeps them all going by his work, who has made possible practically every victory of British arms in the last century, who has made possible the going to and fro of the ships upon the sea, the man who, day and night, has been face to face with peril, is very often forgotten. He is literally taking his life in his hands, and often, unfortunately, has to work for a pitifully small wage. I am glad, at any rate, that I have had my opportunity of being associated with the work of those men, for I have nothing but praise and admiration for them. I can only suggest, when our harvest festivals come round, that in addition to
having the fruits of the earth shewing the bounty of the Almighty, there ought always to be there a piece of coal, and that we may very well say:
Thy Hand hath hid within our fields treasures of countless worth,
The light, the suns of other years spring from the depths of earth,
The very dust imbreathed by Thee, the clods all cold and dead
Wake into beauty and to life to give Thy children bread.
I shall be speaking the mind of the Committee when I say that everybody who has sat and listened to the wonderful speech which has been delivered by the Minister for Mines will, at any rate, have got a new conception of the life of the miner. I compliment the Secretary for Mines upon the magnificent way in which he delivered his speech, and also for the wealth of detail he has given in regard to statistics concerning the mining industry. There is one good thing about the statistics which he has given to us; he has given them of his own volition without our having to press him for them. Generally speaking, our experience in the House has been that we have almost had to demand from the Minister of the Department the statistics which we required in the interests of the House and of the general public as a whole.
In detaining the Committee for a short time, I hope that I shall be able to keep within the bounds of order. Recently in Debates in the House I have had difficulty in doing so, but on this occasion I will try to be more amenable. I wish that we could have discussed this afternoon other matters in connection with the mines, but I know that it would be out of order to attempt to do so. I should have liked to have referred to the negotiations which are at present going on in the mining industry with regard to hours and wages in view of the fact that the agreement expires on 11th July. I hope that the negotiations between the three parties concerned—the coalowners, the Federation and the Government—will have a successful issue, and that we shall have peace in the industry. As far as we are concerned, we hope that peace will be restored, but we want it to be peace with honour.
Coming to some of the questions raised by the hon. Member in the course of his speech, I wish to draw attention to the saving which, he said, had been made in the Department. I am not a fanatic in regard to economy if such economy is likely to jeopardise the lives of the people. If there is extravagance and waste, I would say let us have economy, but if we are spending money for the uplifting and the maintenance of our people, it is not an economy to cut down that expenditure. I hope that the economy made in the expenditure of the Ministry of Mines has in no way affected any part of his Department dealing with the safety and health of the miners. If the hon. Gentleman will answer that point when he speaks a second time, I shall be very grateful to him.
A gratifying feature of his speech was the reference to the reduction of the number of accidents in the mines during the last two or three years. Everybody in the Committee will be glad to hear that there has been a gradual decline in the number of fatal accidents, and accidents generally, in the mines during the last few years. The hon. Gentleman says that his figures are correct. I would sooner accept them than the figures which I have before me, as his figures are lower than mine. I have the figure of 867 in place of that which he gives of 859 in regard to the number of lives lost. Although the figures have been declining, my hon. Friends have reminded me that we have to realise that the number of persons employed have also been declining, and that the number of days worked per person have also been on the decline. Probably if we took a percentage basis in regard to accidents, we might find that in regard to the number of persons employed in the pits the percentage of accidents was not less than it was in 1929, but perhaps the Minister will give a reply to this point when he speaks again later in the Debate. I am sure that everybody deplores the number of deaths of boys under 16 years of age, especially when we realise that these boys go into the mine at the age of 14. Before they reach the age of 16, 59 of them are killed in a year and over 7,000 are injured. I speak, as can a good many of my hon. Friends on these benches, with a good deal of feeling on the matter. Probably it will not be out of place if I give an account of my practical experience in regard to mining. I went into the mines at the early age of 13, but I was fortunate in being able to go to a pit where they had what was called the eight-hour shift. I was not one of the boys who had to work a 10 or 11-hour shift. I had 25 years' experience as a working miner and went through every stage of mining life, but I was not clever enough to become an official in the mine. I can, however, claim that so far as practical mining is concerned I have a thorough knowledge of it. I have also had experience in regard to negotiations with the employers on wages, hours and conditions. When we make a strong point in regard to accidents in mines and we emphasise the question of safety for the boys we do so because of the experience we went through when we were employed as boys in the mines. I should like the Secretary for Mines to urge upon his Department and those responsible that in regard to the training of boys everything possible should be done to promote their safety and to let them know the elements of danger that they have to face when they become pit boys.
In regard to inspection, the Minister told us the number of inspectors and said that at least once in every year there was an inspection in every mine. That is one section of his Department that I am up against. There is no complaint so far as the competency of the inspectors is concerned. They are men who have got their positions by showing exceptional ability and competence for the job, but as I travel from coalfield to coalfield I find that there is complaint on the part of the miners regarding the infrequency of the visits of the inspectors. The inspection of the pit largely devolves upon the junior inspector of the district. I must, however, state from my own personal experience, and I have done it many times in my official capacity as a. miners' agent, that when I have either telephoned or written to an inspector with respect to a visit to a mine he has immediately responded and visited the mine. I should like pressure to be put upon the inspectors to make more visits to the mines, not only because it gives the men confidence to believe that the inspectors are taking interest in their welfare but also because the colliery manager, however capable he may be, is human, and if the visits of the inspectors are very infrequent that fact may lead to carelessness and indifference. If the manager knew that the inspector came more often to the mine it would put him more on the alert to see that the mine was conducted in a better way than would be the case if there was laxity in regard to inspection.
The Minister referred to inspectors going to the pits without giving notice. The complaint we receive from the men is that usually the manager is notified before the inspector visits the pit and everybody in the mine, whether an official or a day wage worker, is put on to prepare the particular part of the mine that the inspector will be visiting. If there have been complaints, say, about lack of ventilation in a particular district, when the inspector arrives in that part of the mine he finds that the ventilation is good and he is inclined to think that he has been sent there on a wild goose chase. Perhaps it might be difficult to carry out the suggestion that the inspector ought not to give any notification of his visit, but I cannot see that it would be very difficult, certainly not as difficult as some people might think. When the inspector arrives at a colliery he is for the time being the supreme person there, and if he wants the manager or any other official to go round the colliery with him, he can demand their presence immediately and have their services. I do not think it is necessary that the inspector should send word to the management that he will arrive at the mine, say, on a Wednesday or Thursday between 10 or 11 o'clock. He ought to arrive at the mine and say: "I have come, and I am going to visit No. 3 district," or any other district he might choose to visit. If that were done, it would give a great deal of satisfaction to the men employed in the mines and would raise their confidence. The one thing that we need to do is to give the miner confidence that those who are responsible for his well-being in regard to protection are doing all that they can to give him protection. If we give him that confidence he will respond to the call when it is made upon him. I must say, from my experience of inspectors for the last 28 years, as a miners' agent, that I have found them to be extraordinarily capable men.
I note your Ruling, Captain Bourne, with regard to Part II of the Act of 1930, and I do not intend to deal with anything of a legislative character so far as Part I and Part II of the Act are concerned. I think I had better keep off Part I altogether, because it is dangerous for an unenlightened mind to go into that part of the Statute. With regard to the Reorganisation Commission, we had an animated Debate last year as to the salary paid to the chairman. I cannot raise that question to-day, but I would point out that that commission was selected for a specific purpose, and I should like the Minister to give us some idea whether the commission has done any useful work. If it has done useful work, we should like to know the extent of that work, but if it has not done any useful work, will he tell us what has prevented it? We are told by certain people that the commission has been impeded in its work by parties who are interested in royalty rents and the ownership of collieries and who have not been amenable to what we would call commonsense and reason. If that be so, I would suggest to the Minister that some other ways and means will have to be found to make these people come into line for the good, not only of the coal miners, but the community as a whole. I feel sure that the Minister will give us information on that point later.
I should like to refer to the violation of the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act, which happens so frequently. I do not know whether I am right or wrong, but I think I am right. The time has arrived when the whole of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1911, requires to be overhauled. The Minister took 1913 as the basis for most of his statistics, but we have to go back to 1911, when the Act under which the miners are now working was placed on the Statute Book. During the intervening years there have been wide and gigantic strides in regard to scientific mining. In 1911 machines and electric equipment of the type now used in the mines were unknown, but since that time we have been increasing the machines in the coal mines, the use of electricity, adopting different methods of shot firing, and using different sorts of ammunition. Many of the things that now come into our mining life were not used when the Act of 1911 was passed. Orders in Council have been issued since that time. Although those Orders may be right and useful, the time has arrived when there ought to be a consolidation of them so that we may know where we stand. You cannot have a miner going to the top of the colliery to find out this, that or the other that is provided in the regulations. Therefore, I suggest that one of the things that would enable the Minister's name to be inscribed in letters of gold in history would be to compile a new Coal Mines Regulation Act. If he does that he will receive all possible assistance from the miners and their representatives. It will be a sort of Cromwellian Act, worthy of the House in which the Minister now carries on his official activities.
There are many things in the present Act that might be dealt with, but time will not permit of my referring to them. If the Minister will go into the matter he will find that there are certain things that are ridiculous. Take the question of the employment of boys under and above ground. You can employ a boy under ground on night shift at a younger age than you can employ a boy on the surface. That seems a very remarkable commentary on the wisdom of the Parliament which passed such an Act, because from our experience in mining there is vastly more danger below ground than above ground. One would have thought that the regulation would have been reversed. That is one of the anomalies in the Act. There is also another anomaly in regard to the approach to old workings. There are many things which require attention, and if the Minister would take the matter in hand the competent officials of his Department will be able to give him valuable assistance.
Next there is the question of overtime. I cannot complain of very many violations of the Act in my own county although there have been several instances where coal hewers have had to stay over the allotted time, but I am told that in other parts of the country flagrant violations of the Act are going on which are known to everyone. It may be difficult for those responsible for the administration of the Act to institute legal proceedings because of the difficulty of proving a conviction. The word "emergency" can be stretched to great limits, but when the Act was passed we were told, and we believed, that "emergency" meant danger either to the mine or to the men engaged in the mine, and that only in such cases would they be entitled to stay on and put matters right. I hope the Secretary for Mines will give some attention to this matter.
Going back for a moment to the question of accidents, I want to say how pleased we all are at the reduction in the number, but there is one provision in the Coal Mines (Regulation) Act which, if put into full operation, would have a very useful effect. It is a provision which says that there must be adequate ventilation in every part of the mine. I have attended a good many inquiries and most of the time has been concentrated on ascertaining the cause of the explosion whereas if this provision for adequate ventilation was put into full operation these things would not occur. That is the crux of the whole situation. I am not speaking theoretically but from experience. In every explosion that has taken place in my own area since 1887, and there have been far too many, it has been my unfortunate lot to take part in the rescue work, and I have also been deputed by the Miners' Federation to attend the inquiries which have been held. The one thing that has always impressed me was that if this provision was put into full operation a good many of these inquiries would not be necessary because the explosion would not take place.
I approach the question of the Safety of Mines Research Department with some diffidence and a good deal of timidity because I am a member of that board, but it is not out of place for me to say that we have on that board some of the most capable men it has ever been my lot to meet, so far as their ability and their desire to probe the mysteries of the mines are concerned. They give their time and their brains to find out the cause of accidents, and how the health of the men can be kept at a high standard. The Secretary for Mines has drawn our attention to the number of accidents caused by falls of earth. The Research Department has appointed a special man to devote the whole of his time to this phase of mining life, and he has appointed five or six subordinates. They are looking into the questions as to why roofs subside and the causes of breaks and falls of coal, all with a view to ensuring the safety of the miner. I hope we shall have an assurance from the Secretary for Mines that no obstacle will be placed in the way of further research work by this Department.
Then there is the question of the output per miner in 1931 as compared with 1913. In 1913 the output was 20.22 cwts. per man per shift. I am rather interested to know that it is now 21.61 cwts. per man per shift, or 1.39 cwts. more under a 7½-hour day than it was under the Eight Hour Act. That is an interesting fact. It shows that the men get more coal in 7½ hours than they did in eight. If there is anybody that knows nothing about the coal mines it is the Press of this country. Sometimes when I read what appears in the Press I wonder whether I have ever worked in a mine at any time. Very often the Press takes no notice of the miner until there is a stoppage and people cannot get coal for their lovely fire-places or until a dreadful explosion takes place. I hope the Secretary for Mines will give us a comparison of the wages paid in 1913 and 1931, and the cost of living in those two periods. I think it would show, notwithstanding all that has happened, that the miners' standard of life is lower now than it was in 1913.
The Secretary for Mines has paid a tribute to the miner. I want the Committee to realise that he is an integral part of the people of this country. We do not claim to be any better than anybody else, but we are no worse. I have never said that the miner is of a higher standard than the rest of the human race. Probably we have as many vices as anybody else, but no more, and we have as many virtues. If you go into a mining village you will find that practically all the churches and chapels, the choirs, the village band, and the football team are all controlled, trained and guided by the despicable miner, to whom the Press refers as a fellow who will do nothing for the benefit of his country. The miner did not fail to toe the line when the country was in danger, and all he asks is that the safety of his life shall be ensured while he is employed below ground and that he has a fair standard of life while he is above ground. Given that, he will respond as well as any other class of the community to the demands which the country may make upon him. I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to continue to take the interest which he seems to take in his office. It is a noble work, and all the efforts he makes towards securing safety in the mines and looking after the welfare and comfort of the miner will be heartily supported by every hon. Member who represents a mining constituency.
In rising to deliver my maiden speech, I must ask for that indulgence which the House usually extends to Members speaking for the first time and who are obviously babes in the wood in the matter of procedure. We are turning our minds this afternoon to industry and to the basis of industry, coal, and in doing so it is perhaps as well to realise that we are attempting to sell in this country a crude and unrefined product in the shape of raw coal, largely to a generation which has grown up accustomed to the facilities afforded by oil, which, unlike coal, is sold not in a crude and unrefined state but as a highly refined product designed to meet every possible demand in the most efficient manner. Therefore, I think we should ask ourselves this question: Is it altogether wise to concentrate so great an effort in marketing this product, this raw coal, which is no longer wanted to the same extent as before and which is daily sold at a loss?
In dealing with coal we should surely follow the example of oil. Coal must be refined, must be converted into a product which is wanted, such as oil, gas, and smokeless fuel, which are all refined to the greatest possible extent in order to meet the requirements of the home markets of to-day. Coalowners have recognised the necessity of cleaning raw coal in order to compete efficiently and successfully in foreign markets. It seems to some of us essential that coal should be handled in a more scientific manner than it has been hitherto, so as to produce from it various products such as oil, gas, and smokeless fuel, in order to meet the demands of varying trades in this mechanised age. This applies not only to the mercantile world, to the defence forces of the country, to transport generally, but also to all coal which is used for industrial and domestic purposes. We must carry the process of refining further, and we must obtain from coal the various oil products which are vital to this country alike in times of peace and war, and which we are at present forced to import from overseas. I should like to ask the Government whether they do not consider that sufficient practical advances have been made in the more scientific handling of coal to justify more extended action than mere further research, the value of which, up to date, all Members of the Committee fully realise and appreciate. Much has been said during the past decade and is being said even now to the effect that the distillation of oil from coal is not commercially possible, as was recently stated with regard to the hydrogenation of coal. The day for such statements with regard to low temperature distillation of oil from coal has passed. I have taken pains to inspect plant at work at a certain colliery which I was invited to look over and I was assured that further plants are to be erected. There is the practical justification of the statement that the scientific treatment of coal is to-day a commercial proposition.
Crude oils are to-day being extracted from coal and sold on a competitive basis even at to-day's low prices, and similarly residual smokeless fuel is being sold at tht price which it commands in the neighbourhood. This fuel is produced from low-grade non-coking coal which is left in the mines throughout our coalfields to the extent of some 60,000,000 tons a year, but if scientifically treated by the Leicester L. & N. process, it shows a profit which warrants further installations being erected. In delivering a speech on an occasion like the present I feel rather like a fly in the web of procedure. I understand that the Rules of Order prevent me from suggesting any new legislation or taxation, however helpful. Unfortunately, I am very much a Parliamentarian in embryo, so that I do not yet know how to so formulate my phrases as to make that which is out of order appear actually to be in order. But I am not suggesting new legislation or even new taxation when I ask the National Government to consider whether it would not be to the benefit of the nation as a whole if, provided, of course, that the oil is obtainable at a reasonable price, the defence forces guaranteed to buy all the oil which they require from plants and firms producing oil from coal in this country.
In addition it would be a great incentive if the Government were to buy smokeless residual fuel for all Government offices throughout the land. The distillation of oil from coal is the birth of a new industry which may yet revolutionise the whole of our coal trade and bring that long-hoped for fillip to employment which will assist in the resuscitation of our steel trade and allied industries, which manufacture the. plant and refineries essential for any such enterprise. Were His Majesty's Government to take such a step as I have very humbly suggested this evening, I believe they would go far towards removing the despondency prevailing throughout the country in general and in our basic industries in particular, and would kindle new hope in the hearts of a courageous but suffering people.
It afforded me a great deal of pleasure to listen to the Minister's opening speech, and particularly to his poetical allusions and his tribute to the bravery of the miner. It also gives me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on a splendid maiden speech. I hope that the tribute paid by the Secretary for Mines to the miners and the sentiments which he expressed in regard to them will be translated into practical politics by the Government for which he speaks when they come to deal with the miners at a later date. I wish to confine my remarks on this occasion, however, to the question of accidents in mines. It is gratifying to learn that the rate of accidents has been reduced substantially for the year 1931 compared with the year 1930, but I believe that it can be further substantially reduced if efforts are made by the Mines Department, though I am sure that the Secretary for Mines is sincere in his belief that they are doing all they can in that direction.
It will be observed that there are three important categories of accidents in mines. First there are accidents from explosions; second there are accidents from falls of roof on the face and on the haulage roads, and third, there are accidents from haulage itself. In regard to accidents from explosions I would remind the Committee that notwithstand- ing the fact that the number of men killed by explosions is very small compared with the number of deaths from other accidents, something is taking place at the moment which is having a disagreeable, if not a disabling effect, upon our men. I refer to the use of stone dusting. Stone dusting was the result of an order of the Mines Department which compelled coalowners to introduce a neutralising agent in regard to the possible ignition of firedamp in the face, or anywhere else. It is stipulated in that regulation that there must be 50 per cent. of inert matter to prevent the propagation of flame in the event of ignition.
I wish to point out the futility of that regulation. Over 800,000 men working underground have to inhale this dust constantly and, according to the decisions which we get from our medical men, it is having a disabling effect upon the workers. I believe that exhaustive experiments were undertaken by that renowned expert, Dr. Haldane, upon mice and rats and guinea pigs in order to see whether this dust—which is supposed to contain no silica—would have a deleterious effect upon those animals. We are given to understand that the determination was that it had no deleterious effect; but I venture to suggest that the experiments conducted by this gentleman were not sufficiently exhaustive. There is a vast difference between subjecting animals of that kind to a short period of inhalation of dust and subjecting men for years and years to inhalation of the same dust. The men are being affected and this is going to produce, not silicosis, but some other disease which will lead to hardening of the lungs and render men unfit for work.
The regulation to which I have referred makes provision for every road in the pit to be dusted up to within 10 yards of the working face. The provision of 50 per cent. of inert matter is, as I have said, for the prevention of the propagation of flame, but experiments on a large scale at Buxton and on a laboratory scale at Sheffield, have indicated clearly that the proportion of dust necessary to prevent the propagation of flame must be in relation to the volatile content of the coal and as much as 95 per cent. is required in some instances to prevent such propagation in the event of ignition. The men working in these pits where it is neces- sary to have more than a 50–50 proportion, are inhaling stone dust which is injurious to them and yet, if ignition should take place, it does not give them the safeguard suggested by the Mines Department in this regulation.
In regard to the dusting within 10 yards of the working face I would remind hon. Members of the enormous development of the use of machinery in mining. With that development of machinery you have a different method of working on the face. You have faces varying from 40 yards to 150 yards, and if you are likely to get an ignition of fire-damp at all, you are far more likely to get it at the face where the men are working than back on the roadways. But the regulations do not apply to the very place where you get the greatest accumulation of very fine dust. Therefore, I say that these regulations are futile, and I submit to the Secretary for Mines that he has an alternative. It is laid down in the regulations that the Board of Trade may introduce another alternative to prevent the propagation of flame other than watering or the use of stone dust. If stone dust has a deleterious effect on the miner and if the hon. Gentleman is interested in the health of the miners, he ought to ask the Safety in Mines Research Committee to turn their attention to looking for that alternative. The important point is this, that Section 29 of the Coal Mines Act has indicated already that an adequate amount of ventilation must be circulated to render harmless all noxious and dangerous gases and, if that were done, the accumulation of fire-damp which is the main source of ignitions of coal dust would not take place because the gas would be diluted at the point of issue if there was adequate ventilation.
I wish now to refer to accidents occurring in the coal face which are very numerous. There are arrangements under the Mines Act for systematic timbering, but that systematic timbering is not now taking place. It is very unsystematic. If systematic timbering were effected in the face, nine-tenths of the fatal accidents and general accidents could be avoided. We cannot divorce these accidents in mines from economics. Economies play an important part in the number of accidents that occur. If the person responsible for seeing to the district over which he has control under the Section of the Act, the fireman or deputy, is removed from the position in which he is placed by the employer, he is at liberty to examine his district and report upon the conditions of safety. He is now largely concerned with being a traffic manager and he has nothing at all to do with safety. The other point is that it costs money to support the roof. It would be more costly to have systematic timbering than to have intermittent timbering. If the country recognised the importance of the miner and did what it ought, namely, take over the mines to be worked in the interests of the country, mining accidents could be reduced by 50 per cent., notwithstanding the very favourable report that we have had from the Secretary for Mines this afternoon.
I come to the question of the support of roadways, which are a prolific source of accidents. The Secretary of Mines ought not to be satisfied with attempting to induce employers to undertake certain systems or methods of roof support. During the last three or four years, there has been an enormous development in steel-arch support, and that development is all to the good. If there is an industry run on unscientific lines it is the mining industry, particularly from the point of view of safety, and the Secretary of Mines will find that mineowners are more conservative than the most rabid of the hon. Members who sit on those benches, when it comes to changes of methods. The miner himself is bad enough. Steel arches have improved in the last three or four years, and have almost eliminated fatal accidents on the roadways where they are used extensively. There is a colliery that for the last 10 years has been using steel arches, and that has not had a single fatal accident, although they have 100 miles of roadway supported by steel arches. What is taking place? There is a variety of means of roof support. I dare say that nine-tenths of the roof support would be timber, but so unscientifically do colliery owners apply their minds to roof support that they use timber which is largely imported into this country, and is allowed to remain in the colliery yard for two or three years. No scientific attempt is made to estimate the strength of that timber, or to estimate the stress or the pressure that that timber will have to support. No data is taken of the date when the timber was erected, in order to give some idea of when it ought to be changed. Nature is exerting pressure upon that timber, and the microbes inside it are making inroads upon it as well, and suddenly that timber becomes tired and exhausted, and it collapses. Then the Angel of Death spreads his wings and captures a victim, and the Mines Department report that that is one of the deaths that cannot be prevented.
The time has arrived when the Secretary for Mines should issue an order making the use of steel arches, at any rate, if not steel props, compulsory. If he did that he would not only confer a boon upon the miner, from the point of view of safety, but he would confer an economic boon upon the employer, the mineowner, and that is where he shows his conservatism. I think the Secretary for Mines had the pleasure of listening, at the conference which he held at Swansea, to one of the colliery managers who had adopted steel arches, and who there proved conclusively by figures that since the conversion from timber to steel his firm were saving 4.8d. per ton. That is the exact figure. If that was done, it would be a boon to the colliery owners and relieve enormously the accidents that are now occurring.
Steel props are in another category. My own personal opinion, after careful and exhaustive examination, is that steel props with steel straps are the right thing to use in conveyor roads, but there is a good deal of difficulty in determining whether steel props are the right things to use in certain kinds of strata. I leave that to be determined in the future, in the hope that the propaganda mentioned by the Secretary of Mines might influence the people who are now prejudiced against the use of steel. With regard to steel rings, I have no doubt that they are suitable for all kinds of strata, and therefore there should be no prejudice. I would like to remind the President of the Board of Trade that the use of steel in the way I suggest would do two good things; it would give a stimulus to the steel industry in this country, and would prevent a large quantity of timber being imported, so that his difficulties in regard to the balance of trade would be lessened.
Now I would like to direct the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the question of enabling the miner to know when he is working in a noxious atmosphere. I have been connected with three colliery explosions recently in South Wales, and in each of them not a single oil lamp was used by any workman in the pit, except the fireman who examined the district. If there had been some means of indicating the presence of gas, probably those ignitions would not have taken place. In order to protect the workman who is not particularly concerned about the presence of gas—he is more concerned about earning his living, and his important point is the output of coal—we ought to have some means of giving him an indication that fire-damp is present. Oil lamps have, to a large extent, disappeared and have been substituted by electric lamps and that is all to the good, but there is some doubt as to whether the Secretary of Mines is right when he says that bad illumination is the cause of nystagmus.
There are varied opinions expressed as to the cause of nystagmus. There has been a good deal of investigation in South Wales by a very eminent physician, who has taken cases from east to west and has found that the greatest incidence of nystagmus was where fire-damp was greatest in the atmosphere. I believe that that is so. We have mines where fire-damp is unknown and where nystagmus is also unknown. There is plenty of carbon dioxide, which ought not to be there. While I appreciate the technical abilities of the staff of the Mines Department, I say that they should not only be concerned in giving advice to colliery owners, but also in seeing that the Regulations are carried out. It is highly important that that should be done. I appreciate also the efforts of the committee that is recommending the utilisation of things to prevent injuries to hands and heads, but I would like to ask the Secretary for Mines if he would like to wear a helmet and gloves in an atmosphere of, say, 80 degrees of temperature, when completely saturated with moisture, and in which men to-day are working with the proverbial fig leaf—wearing no clothes but their boots. That is in modern mining, where there is no need for it to be. If steel arches were used, ventilation would be enormously improved. The speaker at the conference I mentioned showed that he had decreased his ventilating cost enormously, because of the lessened friction resulting from the erection of steel arches.
I apologise for having kept the Committee longer than I anticipated, but I think I am justified, in the intense desire I have for lessening the accidents that are occurring daily. Mention has been made about publications from the Safety in Mines Research Board. In some of those pamphlets, men are being asked to consider conditions that will assist them to escape injury. I saw one the other day issued by the Department, with an elaborate set of drawings showing how to detect the fire-damp cap upon a safety oil lamp. The boys who have gone into the mines in the last 10 years would never recognise the firedamp cap on the safety oil lamp. One reason is that they have never been trained to it, and the other is that it is doubtful whether they ever get one of those lamps. The Department is spending money in attempting to educate people who have not an opportunity of securing the information recommended by the pamphlets that are now circulated, because those people never get an oil lamp.
I hope the points to which I have referred, particularly that about stone-dust, will be inquired into, because it is an important matter for people who are continually inhaling stone-dust for lengthy periods. We do not find them in the list of men dying from disease or accidents. They will be retired, disabled from working in the mines, and they will be like old soldiers. Old soldiers never die. They will be dying in other spheres of life as old tradesmen or something else, but literally they will be dying from the effects of stone-dust. Something ought to be done to make steel arches compulsory, and to provide a means of giving some indication to the miner to enable him to detect the presence of fire-damp when it is present in the atmosphere.
I would like first to make reference to the very interesting speech to which we have just listened and to criticise in a friendly spirit, if I may, one or two points. I understand that in the course of his speech the hon. Member remarked that the very fine dust which is particularly dangerous is to be found on the face rather than in the roads. There, I think, he will find he is mistaken. If the next time he is in the pit he will examine the accumulation of dust on the roads, he will find that this dust is very much more finely divided than the dust on the face. The really dangerous dust is that on the ledges and projections in the roads, and the sort of dust made by the fresh coal in the face is not nearly so finely divided, and therefore not so dangerous.
Take a conveyor face 150 yards long sending its coal down by oscillation. You have there very fine dust; I suggest that in the coal face you will find not only finer but fresher dust.
I would like to accept that statement for this reason. The particular conveyors in which I am personally interested are non-reciprocating, and therefore do not make dust. But truth compels me to resist the temptation, and I ask the hon. Member next time he is in a conveyor face to examine the dust and he will find that, even if it is produced by the inferior type of conveyor to which he refers, the dust is not nearly so finely divided as that which lodges on the timber in the roads.
The next point is that both he and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) seem to be of opinion that the more and more ventilation is put through a pit the more and more safe it becomes. Both hon. Members come from districts where the danger of excessive ventilation is perhaps not appreciated as it is in some districts in Yorkshire. I suggest that the Committee would be very unwise to take it as a fact that the more the Ventilation in a pit the safer it will be. That is far from being the case, particularly in districts subject to gob fires.
Exactly. But it is quite impossible to get a given volume of air through the workings in any particular pit of a given cross-section and not involve higher velocities in pushing the air through. But we are getting a little technical, and perhaps the Committee would be bored if we were to continue. I want to refer to a further point in which the hon. Member suggested it was possible to estimate the pressures that were likely to come upon timber in the face and calculate the strength of the timber itself, and by that means to add to the security of the men in the face. Before making any calculations of any sort it is necessary to get data to work upon, and it is utterly impossible to get any reliable data as to what the actual pressure is going to amount to on any given stick of timber in any particular place. Therefore I suggest it is better to use some form of prop, either composite or wholly steel, which will show a skilled miner when that pressure is becoming excessive.
Let me now turn to the White Paper with the Vote for this Department on it. I think the whole Committee will agree that what the Minister is asking for is extremely moderate having regard to the work his Department has to carry out. The Estimate for salaries wages and allowances and for travelling expenses is practically the same as last year, with a slight reduction presumably due to the reduction of salaries. It would be practically impossible for the Minister to get through his work on a less Vote. There is however, one item further down which seems to me, and to many people intimately concerned with the industry, to be pure waste of money. I refer to the £60,000 for the Coal Mines Reorganisation Board. It may be explained that this £60,000 must be balanced against an Appropriation-in-aid of some £20,000, and that the net figure therefore is only £40,000 and that shows a net reduction on the year before of a very reasonable amount.
I submit, if an expenditure is entirely useless, that even if it is reduced it is still an expenditure to which this Committee can rightly take exception. What is this preposterous Commission doing, what is it intended to do, and what can it do in any circumstances whatever? It was founded on a chapter in the report of the Royal Commission of 1925, a chapter which to my mind has always been a blemish on that remarkable report because it contains the most perfect non sequitur in any Government publication of recent years. In that report we have tables showing costs of production per ton in collieries of various sizes, from which, curiously enough, it was found that where a colliery is producing about 10 tons of coal per annum the cost of production is considerably greater than where a colliery is producing 1,000,000 tons or over.
The Commission draws attention to the fact that there is a regular decrease in the actual cost of production as the output grows bigger and bigger, and, although the Commissioners take only the cost of production, we get in the report of the Samuel Commission a guarded statement to the effect that it may be well to consider whether on the whole the collieries should not be worked in larger units than hitherto. The non sequitur is this—the suggestion that the bigger the concern the lower the cost, is based entirely on this table, which is simply a record of returns of cost of concerns of various sizes. If you take the very small concerns in the industry you often find that they are very good paying concerns indeed. Among the mountain pits of the North of England you may find a drift worked by a farmer and perhaps one or two sons, and the cost of production is enormous. But the selling price is also enormous, and the pit is only worked from time to time when the farmer or his neighbours want a bit of coal for domestic use. If it be true that the larger the concern the lower the cost of production and the more profitable the concern, why is it that some of the largest concerns at present are in a worse case than any others?
Perhaps the greatest curse from which industry of all sorts has suffered during the last few years has been this worship of quantity rather than quality. To set up at gigantic expense a Commission running about the country to combine concerns into huge amalgamations, in face of the experience of other amalgamations in the coal industry and other industries, seems to me mere madness. I cannot understand why the Minister should ask us to supply more money year by year for this purpose. There are two sorts of amalgamation in industry, and it is well that the Committee should distinguish between them. There is the natural amalgamation and the artificial amalgamation. The artificial amalgamation is the sort that this Reorganisation Commission is set up to foster. Starting from the theoretical basis that a certain size of colliery concern is the most efficient and the most economical, it is then expected that the Commissioners are to lay out the country in huge concerns, covering even a whole county or a coalfield, and that all will be well with the industry. That is the artificial amalgamation.
The natural amalgamation of which we have had experience in the past is quite a different thing. It comes about in this way. Some colliery concern is prosperous and happens to be under the direction of a man of unusual ability. That man, finding the output of coal which he is expected to raise every year is less than he personally is capable of managing, and that the number of men employed is less than he personally is capable of handling, looks out for opportunities of adding to his responsibilities and obligations. When he finds some neighbouring concern, perhaps working the same class of coal and maybe the same seam, but which, owing to some misfortune or mismanagement is getting on the rocks, he watches for his opportunity and, when it comes, suggests to his directors that they should add that concern to their existing property. If they do so that particular man finds he is utilising his ability and experience better than before, and in the course of a year or two it may be that other pits are added, and thus you get growing up a magnificent concern successfully conducted simply because of the personality of one man, or perhaps of two men.
What the Commissioners fail absolutely to see, as the department also fails to see, is that the best size for the amalagamation depends not upon geology, economics, or anything of that sort, but absolutely and entirely on the character and ability of the man who is to manage it. There is one classic instance—it would not be fair to mention the name—where that natural amalgamation took place year after year until the concern had an output of several million tons per annum and was a thoroughly flourishing and sound undertaking. The man at the head of it was a man of signal ability, and was able to achieve what he did because he was acting as general manager, recom- mending his directors to add such concerns as he felt he could manage, and the whole thing worked perfectly as a natural amalgamation. Unhappily that company fell out of the hands of people who were concerned with producing coal and came largely into the hands of people concerned with producing paper. The result was that enormous outputs were added to the responsibility of the management, with the object of facilitating dealings in paper rather than dealings in coal; and the result, as many in this House will have noted, has been utterly disastrous, because the amalgamation has become an unnatural, and not a natural amalgamation.
When I brought this example forward I said that it would be unfair to mention the name, and I shall not mention it. I put it to the Minister that he might refer this matter of the Reorganisation Commission to his official chief the President of the Board of Trade, and, to the great relief of the coalowners, have the thing finally abolished so that we shall know where we are to be in the future. Not only is it very expensive, but it is undoubtedly in many districts holding up important developments of the industry. The head of that Commission is a man who is utterly wasted in his present occupation. In these days a man of the ability and the experience of Sir Ernest Gowers ought not to be sent about the country on a wild goose chase of that sort. He is very badly wanted in other Departments of the Civil Service. I hope that the Minister will pay some regard to this question and endeavour to shut down this business, and so economise in an item which is one of the biggest items in his Vote; and release for the service of his country a man who is utterly wasted in his present position.
Some years ago the Department was transferred from the Home Office to the Board of Trade, and many of us felt that that was a great mistake. After all, what are the functions of a Mines Department? They are in the main police functions and nothing else. The Department is there to see that the Coal Mines Acts and the Regulations under those Acts are properly obeyed by those responsible, whether miners, employers or managers. Therefore the Department is much more fitted to be placed under the Home Office than under the Board of Trade. Once a Department gets under the Board of Trade it immediately begins to think that it knows how to run an industry, but it was not the intention of Parliament that the Mines Department should make any attempt to run the coalmining industry. It was created simply to carry out police duties, to see that proper Regulations were made for the safety of the mines and those employed in them, and to take the necessary steps to prosecute anyone, whoever they may be, who infringed those Regulations and endangered the lives of the workers. I hope, therefore, that the Lord President of the Council, whom this mostly concerns, will consider the propriety of taking away the Ministry of Mines from the Board of Trade and putting it back into its proper place, which is at the Home Office.
I should like to congratulate the Secretary of Mines on his speech, which was full of information. What impressed me about it, too, was that it was full of sympathy for the miners. I always looked upon the Secretary of Mines as a very humane man, but his experience in his office, with its realisation of the toll of the mines, has broadened his sympathies. He paid a great tribute to the miners and spoke of the dangers that they had to meet every day. I hope that these glowing tributes will be remembered in the negotiations that have to take place shortly. Of all classes of workers, the miners have roused the largest amount of public sympathy because of the great catastrophies in which they have been involved. There will be a great opportunity for the House of Commons to put that sympathy into practical operation, if it is necessary, in the times that are coming. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a saving of £4,000. It does not seem much, but it might be too much if it is at the expense of research and of all that will help the mining industry.
I am pleased to hear that. I had the pleasure of going to Greenwich and seeing the work of research on low temperature carbonisation, and I should not like to think that we were effecting any saving in research work into the calorific value of our coal. If our export trade is being reduced, it is necessary that science should have the opportunity of ascertaining what byproducts can be extracted from coal so that the methods can be utilised commercially. This is the happiest discussion on the Mines Department to which I have listened, and I do not want to bring in a jarring note, but when the figures showing the reduction of coal exports owing to the quota system were mentioned, I could not help feeling that hon. Members on the opposite side had something to do with that. They cannot bring in a tariff policy without other nations taking some retaliatory measures against us. I was pleased to hear the Minister's references to the safety conferences. I had the pleasure of attending one at Sheffield under the previous Government, and I was struck with its helpfulness and with the debate that took place. It will be all to the good if these conferences are allowed to continue. I was also delighted to hear the Minister speak about the classes for young boys and to hear him mention how well Yorkshire was doing. It is sad to think that 39 boys under 16 years of age were killed, and that some 7,000 others were injured in our pits. These classes for boys are very necessary, and I suggest that they should be encouraged and developed in wider areas.
I want the Committee to recognise what is occurring in our mining villages. In Yorkshire we have between 50,000 and 60,000 unemployed miners. They are among the best class of miners in the country. There is tragedy in many of our mining villages; they are derelict and going morally and financially wrong. What can be done in Parliament to improve the position? In the development of research work much can be done, and if private enterprise cannot develop it because it is not a paying proposition, the State ought to do it. I speak with particular knowledge when I refer to the tragic condition of our mining villages. The last pit in which I worked had been going some 20 or 30 years and had been modernised. It has been closed now for three years. I know the village where that pit is and the people who live in it, for I was their weighman for a quarter of a century. I say it is a tragedy, and the House of Commons ought not to hesitate, in the interest of the mining community, to take what steps they can to improve the condition of the industry. I worked in a pit since my boyhood. I started in 1877, but I did not go in at as early an age as some who went in when they were eight or nine years of age and had to be carried on the backs of other miners. They would not let me go down the pit until I was 13; I went then because they would not allow me to go down at 12. I went down as soon as they let me do so.
Is everything possible being done in respect to safety in the mines, especially with regard to explosions—those great disasters that thrill the country? Are we taking advantage of the inventions for gas detection? Is the Department giving that time and thought which is essential to this question, and making tests of the gas detectors that are on. the market to-day? We want as perfect a gas detector as is possible, for if it is not perfect it might lead us into more danger than it aims to prevent. Every care should be taken before its introduction. Much has been said about our mining inspectors, and I can speak of them from many years of experience. I have always had a very great respect for them. If there are any arranged visits, and I dare say there may be, I do hope the general run of the visits will be unexpected ones, so that the inspectors may see exactly how things stand in the pits. If the fact that they are to pay a visit is known a day or two beforehand, I can quite well understand that the roads would be cleaned up and the ventilation areas looked over—in short, the pit would be made ready for inspection, as it used to be when it was known the directors were coming. We always knew when the directors were coming. I am not blaming anybody, but we all knew. The pit was then made to look as if it were a palace.
Although much has been said about inspections, there is one inspection to which no reference, hardly, has been made, and that is the inspection by the workmen. In what way are the Department assisting to make such inspections effective? I am speaking of what I know when I say that on occasions the workmen's inspection has been made very difficult. Such an inspection is not looked upon with pleasure by the managers, and the men who have made the inspection have been in some fear as to what might occur afterwards. Have the Mines Department any views on this matter? Having regard to the extreme poverty of the miners, are the Mines Department doing anything to assist these workmen's inspections? They are all to the good, and they make for safety, because if there is a defect in the pit the workmen know of it, and if there can be inspections by those who have the confidence of the men it will add to the safety of mining conditions.
I hope my friends will forgive me if they think I am delaying the Committee, but I am not one who can be accused of getting up to speak too often. I am one of those who recognise that others can put the case much better than I can, and, therefore, out of kindness to them, I keep to my seat. But I would like to say, in conclusion, that I do hope the Mines Department will do all it can— indeed I am sure it is doing so—to expedite the recovery of the mining industry. We are in very sore straits. Some pits are working short time and others are closing. Even in the Don-caster area, where we have probably the most modern collieries in the world, hundreds of men have been dismissed. I do hope the Mines Department will do whatever can be done. If it is found that the existing condition of things in the mining industry is in any way due to any change in the fiscal system, I hope the Government will recant. If a wrong course has been taken it is better to admit it and to retrace the steps that have been taken. Finally, I would say that the Secretary for Mines has given me, at least, great gratification in the warm sympathy he has shown for the class to which I belong.
In his very interesting speech the hon. Member for the Rother Valley (Mr. Grundy) made only one suggestion to which I can take exception; that was when he said that State officials might make further advances in the direction of securing greater safety in the mines than has been accomplished under private enterprise. Whatever disadvantages private enterprise may have, the lack of inventive capacity cannot be laid at its door; and greater safety in mines depends, to a very large extent, upon the inventive capacity of the individual. It seems to me that greater safety in mines would be best developed under private enterprise.
The Minister, in his interesting speech, referred to some of the fundamental difficulties which face the coal industry to-day, speaking of the reduced consumption of coal and the increasing use of oil in many directions, but he did not refer to one important factor which has led to reduced consumption, and that is the prevalence of trade disputes. No industry has suffered so much in the past from trade disputes, and I ask the Minister to use his influence with the colliery companies to create a better feeling, wherever they have the opportunity, between the two sides in the industry. I believe the time is now ripe for such an effort. There are indications that the bitterness which has existed for so long, and which is very well described in a recent book about my constituency, called "The Miner," is disappearing, and I hope the Minister will use every effort to induce colliery companies to take full advantage of this fact and to attempt to build up some sense of loyalty in the industry as a whole and thus bridge the gap which has too long existed between owners and men.
Of all the many activities of the Mines Department, none is of greater value than that dealing with research, and I am glad that no great economy has been exercised over research. The directions in which research work can be most useful at the present time are, firstly, in securing greater safety in the mines, and, secondly, in furthering our knowledge of the processes for extracting oil from coal. I have always viewed with the greatest alarm the extent to which Great Britain is dependent upon oversea sources of supply, not only as regards the fuel for man, food, but also the fuel of so many of our industries, oil. Any long-term policy, any really national policy, must include proposals leading to the greater production in this country of our energy requirements in food and fuel.
On the question of safety, there is no doubt that a great many accidents are still due to a lack of appreciation of the orders and regulations which are in force, and, as the Minister very rightly said, it is by education that we shall make progress in this matter. I have the greatest regard for the safety conferences which have been held. I attended one of them at Nottingham, and was most impressed by the numbers who attended, and the interest which they took in the proceedings. But that is only really a beginning of this education. I would like to see the colliery companies, not only in Yorkshire, but all over the country, taking steps to develop the training of those who are entering this dangerous industry. It is far more effective to tell a man that by disobeying a rule he may be responsible for the loss of life, than merely to tell him that if he breaks the rule he will lose his job.
Finally, I would ask the Minister to give us some more information about the activities of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission. Until a question on the subject was answered to-day I had no information whatever about their activities, and could obtain none. No less than £30,000 has been expended by them, but it would seem that very little indeed has been accomplished, and in the present condition of affairs we ought to demand that every penny is spent wisely and well.
I would like to refer briefly to a subject raised in the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant). There is a great deal of perturbation in the House, I believe, regarding the activities of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission. It is a subject which is of particular interest to those of us who represent South Wales constituencies. We have had amalgamations there, but I do not think anyone suggests seriously that those amalgamations were spontaneous or were based on purely economic considerations. The truth is that the amalgamations in South Wales are largely the products of financial buccaneering. Those of us who know the industry know that the stupendous amalgamations in the counties of Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan have not made the industry more prosperous, and if the Reorganisation Commission can secure that the grouping of collieries, which may or may not be economically advantageous, should at any rate be undertaken out of purely economic considerations rather than left to be the machinations of financial filibusters, it will have rendered very good service indeed. The point which I specially want to stress is the decrease in the amount of money spent on research. I think that the coal industry to-day stands in greater need of research than at any time in its history, and I want to draw the attention of the Committee to two lines of development in reseach which I think can make an invaluable contribution.
First of all with regard to miners' diseases. Reference was made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) to the evil effects of the inhalation of coal dust. I think the time has come for a complete overhauling of the Order in Council dealing with the chest diseases of miners. Recently a very expert body of doctors in the service of the Welsh National Memorial which specialises in the treatment of lung diseases has been making inquiries into what they call coal miners' lung, and I think the situation which emerges from their radiological and clinical investigations is really disturbing. It used to be thought that coal dust blackening was a protection against bronchial and other diseases, but that notion has now gone by the board, and we know that the inhalation of coal dust renders its victims peculiarly vulnerable to bronchitis and tuberculosis. I have been appalled in that part of my constituency where the anthracite mines are situated by the number of miners suffering from lung troubles for which they do not receive any compensation.
The evidence furnished by these important radiological studies is indisputable. Reports of case3 have been published recently in which we find, for example, a victim who was only 41 years of age in the early stages of this disease, and he simply complained of a wheeziness, or perhaps a slight cough, accompanied with shortness of breath, but later on, and indeed very quickly, we find that this man had to give up his work. The man was healthy in other respects. He was just embarrassed at first, but in course of time we find the disease developing and the chest expansion diminishing and then he was given a job at the pit-head, where he did not inhale coal dust. But even there he collapsed eventually. I know nothing more tragic than to witness some of these victims of silicosis and anthracosis and other lung diseases. A very large percentage of them receive no compensation, because the employers take advantage of their legal immunity. When the matter is taken to the county court the employers plead the regulations, and put forward the defence that these men have not been engaged in drilling, that they were simply hewers, or were not engaged in any of the occupations scheduled in the Order in Council, and the decision is that these men are not to receive compensation. I think this question warrants immediate action by the Secretary for Mines acting in conjunction with the Home Office in a new investigation.
It may be that the experts at the Home Office are preoccupied with other investigations into industrial diseases, but you have a body of experts like those connected with the service of the Welsh National Memorial who have been making investigations and taking notes of lung diseases. Why not take advantage of their researches and the new technique they employ? They have been carrying on their investigations by means of X-ray films in the cases of men employed in the coal industry who are suffering from lung complaints, and who collapse ultimately as a direct result of the inhalation of coal dust. By the periodic filming of the lungs, it has become possible to see how, in the cases of miners who are in enjoyment of normal working health, there is a considerable amount of mottling, and it has further been demonstrated that this condition has a very intimate causal relation to those other chest troubles which aflict mine workers to an abnormal extent. There does not seem to be much doubt now that the exceptional susceptibility of all workers in anthracite mines—whatever their occupations—to lung troubles is due to the inhalation of coal and stone dust. These poor fellows are unable to climb the hill breastwise; they have to go backwards, and they simply struggle through life and their dependents find at the end that they are unable to secure any compensation. This is a matter of extreme urgency and it applies not only to those who work in the anthracite areas, but in the bituminous, the semi-bituminous and steam coal areas, although it is clear that the incidence of lung diseases is much higher in the anthracite coal areas.
Another point I wish to deal with is the need for research in the direction of a more scientific utilisation of coal. I think it is quite time that this question was brought down from the clouds. What is the history of this development? After the Haldane Commission report and the statement of Sir John Cadman, we found scientists of varying degrees of ability trying their hand at devising carbonising retorts. Each discovery they made was backed by a financial syndicate of one kind or another. Each of them took out his protective patent, and no doubt a vast amount of money has been sunk in backing these experiments. The result is that you cannot get a perfect retort, because the inventor will be interfering with somebody else's rights. I have some scientific friends who have experimented in making retorts, and I think they would make much progress if they were able to act in concert with other scientists. The oils which they have produced have been tested by the Navy. Two or three years ago six oils were subjected to laboratory tests and were satisfactory, and the oils were used also in the Air Force and the mechanised Army with success. It was stated, however, that the calorific value was a little low, but the oils when blended formed an ideal fuel.
It may be that hydrogenation is the best method for large scale production of oil. Why has that process hung fire? In these important matters we have allowed a veritable tangle of vested interests to grow up. I know that in Wales a friend of mine, who has been a Member of this House, approached a large concern with the view to the carbonisation of coal in his area. He sent a number of truckloads of coal to be tested, and it was demonstrated to be ideal for the purpose required. This particular concern said, "We are prepared to instal plant and spend £100,000, provided you can secure that all the gas companies in the area around will take their gas from a central supply. They shall retain their entity and keep their customers, but we will give them a guarantee that they will be able to sell our gas at a less price than that at which they can produce it them- selves." Inquiries were made and a campaign was started to persuade the gas companies to accept this arrangement, but they said "No." It seems to me that until we co-ordinate all the fuel and power resources of the nation in one or more utility concerns we shall never solve this problem.
What are you going to do with your byproducts and your gas? That is the trouble with regard to low and high-temperature carbonisation. The firm which bears the distinguished name of the Leader of the House uses gas to make electricity, for all the electricity in Baldwin's Works is produced at the coke ovens. We have to take a big, bold, imaginative, and national view of the whole situation. We have a National Government. Let it act nationally. It seems from the report which the Secretary for Mines gave in presenting his Estimates this afternoon that there is very little hope for an extension of our overseas markets. Many of our markets are probably irrecoverable, and yet we see a growing increase in the volume of foreign oil consumed in this country, and we are doing nothing to increase our production of oils. It is no use the Minister standing up and saying, "The matter is receiving the attention of our experts." It seems to me that we shall have to deal with this problem as we would be compelled to deal with it in the event of war. If we were threatened with war and we happened to be getting low in our fuel reserves we should then take Cromwellian action, but the time for that Cromwellian action is now. We spend a large amount of money on our storage department, and those charges are enormous. It is only common sense, to say nothing of statesmanship, to have some regard for the fact that it is absolutely essential to safeguard our oil supplies. It is no use having a holding interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in time of war if you have to bring the oil over from Persia. It is no good depending on our oil supplies from Trinidad and elsewhere in time of war. The time has come when we must face this problem boldly and constructively.
I want to stress these two points. The one refers to the case of those anthracite miners who are leading one long life of drudgery. You find that in the cases brought into the courts the employers get off in a vast majority of cases. Of course the owners are perfectly right, because they work under Regulations and they quote the Order in Council, so the percentage of victims who receive compensation is infinitesimally small. There are local doctors, there is the panel of experts of the Welsh National Memorial who have undertaken intensive and highly skilled inquiries, and they say without doubt that these men are the victims of coal and stone dust. I suggest to the Secretary for Mines, whom we know to be a man of broad and deep human sympathies, that if he wants to secure for himself the gratitude of the mining community he should make representations to the Home Office to revise the Order in Council, and thus bring succour to those men who are leading a life of long and continuous travail. The other point is that, if it is desired to place the coal industry, on which the economic civilisation of Britain has been built, on a secure foundation, it. is necessary to act in the spirit and with the purpose of statesmanship, and to see that we are rendered immune from any menace from abroad by being able to supply for the national needs all the oil fuel that we require.
I do not propose to deal with this question either from the scientific or from the expert standpoint. I have had a long experience of experts, and I have no reason to say anything very kind about the work of the Department. At the same time, I do not want what I say to be taken by the Minister in a personal sense. I and my hon. Friends here, although we are all Socialists, are generally described as miners' Members, but we are not. I personally represent a constituency which prides itself on the fact that it is an extremely well - educated constituency. Members of the legal and medical professions and administrative officials form a fairly considerable proportion of the gentlemen and ladies whom I represent in the House, and what I am going to say is not addressed to the Minister personally.
The hon. Gentleman is the fourth or fifth Minister whom I have heard deliver to the House somewhat similar reports on the work of the Department during the last 13 or 14 years. Every one of those Ministers has been full of sympathy with the miners, but, notwithstanding the sympathy which has been expressed in the House, the miners during the last 10 years have had to be idle for nine months because of the action of Members of this House. I personally have had more than 50 years' experience of the mines, and I am a bit tired of the continual iteration and reiteration of sympathy. It is something more like justice and fair play that we want. The Minister made a very fine report in a very excellent manner, and I agree with everyone who has spoken as to his good intentions, but I think I have read somewhere that the road to an underground world still deeper down that even the deepest mine in Britain is paved with good intentions.
I am not going to refer to the Coal Mines Act, 1930; that is the business, in the meantime, of men outside this House, and I believe in everyone minding their own business. The Minister described the mining industry as, next to agriculture, a basic industry. I remember that, when the mining industry got a subsidy a few years ago, there was a great deal of criticism in the Press and from public men on various platforms as to the reason why that subsidy was given. Since then I have seen a number of subsidies given to agriculture, and everybody seems to be delighted, while no one knows how much public money agriculture has got during the last few years. It is not called a subsidy; it is aiding the nation; but everyone here will agree that, next to agriculture, the industry that has rendered most service, and is responsible to a large extent for Britain occupying the position that it now occupies as one of the foremost Powers of the world, is the coal industry. It was not the inventions of private enterprising gentlemen who are drawing all the sustenance from the coal trade that were responsible for making that industry what it was. James Watt and Sir Humphry Davy were mainly responsible for the growth and prosperity of the mining industry, but I do not think their descendants are benefiting much from the services rendered by their ancestors, and the coal trade 100 years ago was in a worse condition that it is now, although some of our experts are very much in the clouds when they are describing the conditions that obtained 100 years ago as compared with the present time.
I want, however, to deal with matters of more importance to the men engaged in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) signalised his appearance in this Debate, as the always does when the mining industry is being discussed, by his usual advocacy of reactionary measures, such as getting rid of the Reorganisation Commission. I do not pretend to be quite satisfied with the work of that Commission, but I would point out that no opposition to its work has come from the miners' side of the industry, although there has been considerable opposition from the owners. There is a reason for that. The men who are running the coal industry to-day are not coalowners at all; they are simply in the coal trade to get cheap coal, and they have no regard for the life and well-being of the people connected with that industry. The hon. Member for Mossley talked about natural and unnatural amalgamations, and he told us of the natural amalgamations that had taken place. My hon. Friend who represents North Midlothian, and who is a member of the Government, knows what is meant by that kind of natural reorganisation. He is a steelmaker, and, I believe, a shipbuilder and a coalowner, and he is in the coal trade because he wants to get cheap coal for his iron and steel works. I have no kind feelings for individuals of that type, nor very much faith in their capacity or ability. My hon. Friend is present here this afternoon, and I do not mind saying, whether he is pleased or displeased, that I have some little knowledge of the conditions of the men in the colliery that his company owns, and I have no hesitation in saying that it is probably the worst managed colliery in the county of Lanark.
I know. That is one of the fictions. It is a perfectly correct observation. But, if this Government goes out, when it goes out my hon. Friend will go back to his old job. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) wants the Mines Department to be brought under the Home Office. I want a change, too, but I do not want a change backwards. If mining is a basic industry, as it is generally agreed to be, the mining industry ought to have a direct voice in the Cabinet, and that is the change that I want. The mining industry is just as entitled to a direct voice in the Cabinet as the agricultural industry, or the Army, Navy or Air Force, but at the present time everything that comes before the Cabinet relating to the mining industry is received by the Cabinet at second or third hand. I am of opinion that considerable improvement would result if we had direct representation inside the Cabinet.
As to the question of accidents, I am sure the Minister was feeling quite proud that he was able to tell us that there had been a reduction in the number of accidents. I am afraid that that statement was prepared for him in the Department. I do not think it is true; I believe that the contrary is the truth, namely, that there is an increase in the number of accidents. Whether that be so or not, I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the remarkable series of figures in the statistics dealing with the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act for the year 1930. Reference is made to seven principal industries—mines, factories, shipping, railways, docks, quarries and constructional work. The total number of persons employed in those seven industries in 1930 was 7,181,516, including between 800,000 and 900,000 miners or persons engaged in the mining industry. Of every 100 men employed in these seven industries, 13 are miners; but, of every 100 killed, 43 are miners, and I submit that, with the knowledge we possess at the present time, it is an absolute scandal and disgrace to this House that that state of affairs should continue. I am not going to make any unfair statement regarding the inspectors, because I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that year in and year out the mines inspectors have been drawing attention to the fact that certain things could be done, and that, if they were done, the number of accidents would be reduced very considerably. The Chief Inspector, nine or ten years ago, went the length of say- ing that the accident rate could be reduced by 50 per cent. by the adoption of methods well known to those employed in the mines.
That is not the only nor the worst feature to which I wish to draw attention. I do not know what the position is in other parts of the coalfield, but I gather from speeches that have been delivered that they do not suffer from the same evil that we do in Scotland. There a man who is unable to work because of nystagmus puts in a claim for compensation and compensation is paid, but the man is marked and he never gets back to the mine again. He only gets back conditionally upon signing a certificate at the colliery office that he has never suffered from nystagmus, and then he may get work. But nystagmus is a recurring disease, and in a few months or in a year or two he is again affected. He puts in a claim for compensation, and it is refused on the ground that he has fraudulently secured work. There are to-day thousands of men able and willing to work, cut off unemployment benefit, being deprived of the right to get work because of having suffered from nystagmus. The Mines Department might do something in connection with that. If it cannot at least look after the safety and wellbeing of the men employed in the industry, there is not much use for it and it is waste of money. But I believe it can do something, and I hope it will.
There is another matter in which the Department can do something. The Scottish people are generally believed to be very religious, but in most cases it is only when they are "fou." They philosophise on the subject more when they are in that condition. In many coalmining areas in Lanarkshire Sunday is not being observed. I have drawn the Minister's attention to the fact, and he knows it is true, that coal is wound in certain collieries every Sunday. I have worked on night shifts, but we would not be allowed to go down the pit until after 12 o'clock on Sunday. Now the pit is never empty, and Sunday is no more heeded than any other day in the week. Not only are they breaking the Sabbath, but they are paying absolutely no regard to the 7½ hours day. It is nearly impossible to get a conviction against any employers who are deliberately violating the Mines Act, and particularly the 7½ hours day. That, again, is something that the Mines Department can settle satisfactorily. No man should be allowed to work in the mines longer than 7½ hours. In most cases it means nearly 9 hours in the pit. If a man is not able to earn a reasonable livelihood in a 7½ hours day, it is time the industry was done away with entirely. It is not worth working.
I promise the Department that, unless there are changes much more along the lines of the sympathetic references that have been made in Ministers' speeches, there is going to be trouble, and I am not standing in the way. I believe in moderation, but the moderation must be mutual. Both sides can play the game, and up to the present we have been playing the game as fairly as we possibly could. I hope the Debate will have the effect of at least inducing the Department—not the Minister; I am not blaming him at all—to do the work that they have power to do and, if they have not the power, and the evil still persists, it is their duty to see that Parliament gives them the power to bring about such changes as will reduce the large mortality rate in the mines.
I feel it almost sacrilege to intervene in a Debate on mining. I cannot claim to have worked in the mines nor to be a miner's man, but I can definitely claim to be a miners' woman. I have lived in a mining village for seven or eight years, and I have watched the vicissitudes of the mining community and have learned to develop the greatest admiration and affection for their sticking powers. I should like, without presumption, to congratulate the Minister on his speech. He seemed to do what so few people can do, to make the pit mounds blossom like a rose. The hon. Member who has just spoken referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) as reactionary. I am afraid I am going to come into the same category. I notice that the Estimate for the Reorganisation Commission has been re-introduced and that the amount of money spent up to date is nearly £30,000. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) said it was doing good work. If you reckon that each amalgamation has cost about £7,000, I do not think we are getting value for our money. It may be reactionary to talk about doing away with the Commission, but I feel that the money would be better spent in other directions.
Hon. Members above the Gangway know full well what the result of amalgamation and reorganisation is going to be. They cry out greatly at mechanisation and the displacement of labour. I know villages which are self-contained communities, the whole of the inhabitants working at the colliery. I can see very plainly what will happen to many mining villages in my constituency if these schemes are forced on the mining community. I can see great unemployment resulting, and, whether it is reactionary or not, I am tempted to suggest that this is not a time for throwing thousands of miners out of work.
I am very pleased to see that there is no reduction in the Estimate for research. We might well spend the money that is being spent on the Reorganisation Commission on further research. We cannot stress too strongly the benefit of improving conditions of work or of safety, or improving the health of the men in the mines. The Minister has told us in effect that up to now the work of his Department, as far as research is concerned, is very beneficial upon working and health conditions. No one believes that we have reached a state of perfection in the mines, but we are marching every year to greater efficiency and improved methods for safety. I attended a safety conference at Birmingham on Saturday. I believe it was the best conference of its kind that has been held up to now. I was astonished at the great interest and enthusiasm displayed at that conference, and came away very much wiser than I went. I came to realise this fact, too, that the human element in the mines is a very important one and that every man who goes down the mine must look upon himself as being his brother's keeper. I was very pleased to hear that there are schemes for training boys before they go down into the mines, and that should be given a great deal more attention. It is a good thing that boys are trained and told of the dangers that beset them. It is only boylike to be fond of fun and games and to disregard dangers and, if anything can be done to train these boys more thoroughly before they go down, it would be very beneficial to the mining community.
I think there is great need for research into the greater use of by-products from coal. I would not attempt to deal with hydrogenation and other methods of dealing with coal, but I feel that we ought not to be dependent on foreign sources of supply for our oil, and I think it is a good suggestion that, as the British Navy has so largely contributed to the loss of our markets by adopting oil in place of coal, it should use a proportion of British oil. I have been very pleased to hear so many Members above the Gangway talk about peace and co-operation in the industry. I believe we have at last struck the right note. I believe that in the past the coal industry has been the shuttlecock of politics. I hope we can shut the door on that and allow the industry to get on with the job and to mind its own business. I firmly believe that the miners have been misunderstood because in the past they have been badly led. I believe, too, that the mineowners have been misjudged, because they have always had their backs up against political interference. To an onlooker it appears that, whenever there has been nothing much for the Government of the day to do, they have always looked round and suggested passing some legislation for the coal industry. I believe that, if we can only have co-operation in industry, if only we can turn our minds to finding all the uses we can for coal, in those directions we shall find the solution of our problems. The solution lies not so much in throwing miners out of work by closing down collieries but in a bold Cromwellian outlook and in endeavouring to find uses for coal, for oil made from British coal, and for other by-products from British coal.
It is very seldom that we have a lady Member taking part in these Debates and I would have liked to have agreed with the hon. Member in all she said, but at the end of her speech she said that the miners had been badly led. I have heard that remark made many times. It implies a stigma on the Members on these benches, the 23 Members representing the miners and the leaders of the mining industry.
No, we were allowed every time to take part in the Debates, and indeed our advice was sought. Every time that the mining industry came to a crisis, we were always told that, if So-and-so had been the leader, it would not have happened. We were told that, if we had certain men at the top, the coal industry would succeed. We put those men at the top, men. like Bob Smillie, Stephen Walsh, and other men of great abilities, but, when things did not go well, they were blamed. I wish hon. Members would drop that attitude. We are typical of the mining industry, and, if the mining industry has been badly led, it is because of us on these benches.
Turning to the Estimates, there is one point to which I wish to draw attention, and about which the House is under a misapprehension. The hon. Lady told us that she was glad to see there was no cutting down of the amount spent on research. The money granted for research is £7,383, a reduction of £590 compared with last year, so that there is actually a reduction in the amount of money granted to the Research Department. I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the money for research does not come altogether from the funds granted by the Government. I believe that it is wrong for money from the Welfare Fund to be used for these purposes, for which the House of Commons should be responsible. We see among the Appropriations-in-Aid an item headed "Repayment from Miners' Welfare Fund," amounting to over £4,000. This sum has to be paid back from the Welfare Fund to the Mines Department. It may be news, however, to the Committee to know that we are paying vast sums of money from the Welfare Fund towards research in the mines. During 1930 the committee of the Miners' Welfare Fund allocated a sum of £37,899 for research work connected with the safety and health of mine workers, making, with their endowment income of £12,442 and a Treasury grant of £l,458, a total of £51,800 available for research work. I contend that it is not right to take that sum from this fund. That money ought to be granted direct by Parliament to the Mines Department. The items which are being dealt with out of the money provided for research by the welfare levy are:
Coal dust explosions, fire damp explosions, spontaneous combustion of coal, flame-proof mining electrical machinery, electrical researches, mining explosives, safety lamps, mechanical appliances, falls of ground, wire ropes, mine temperatures, mine rescue apparatus, mine ventilation and effects of dust inhalation.
The Debate has touched on many of these matters and Members of the Committee believe that the money has come from grants from the Government, when in fact they only got £7,000 from the Government and over £51,000 from the Welfare Fund, money which ought to be directed to the welfare of the miners. The 1d. per ton has been allocated in this direction. I hold that it is wrong, and I want the Committee to realise that this money is being spent in this way.
I wish now to deal with accidents in mines, and to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the accidents with machinery. We are now getting highly mechanised in the mining industry. Only recently I drew attention to accidents on the coal face where men had been caught in the coal cutter and dragged into the machinery. The Minister said that investigations were taking place, and I find in the annual report of the mines inspectors that that is so, but I cannot find that anything is being done. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press forward that investigation because it is a very serious thing to have men dragged into the machinery in that way, and these machines are coming more into use every day with the increasing mechanisation. Another serious cause of accidents is falls of roof. I have been trying to find out where these falls take place. I know that they take place on the coal face, but what I wish to ascertain is whether they are on the increase where machines and conveyor faces are in use. I have good grounds for using that argument because I find, in the report of the North-Western Division, that the inspector there, Mr. Charlton, states:
Eleven lives were lost and 62 persons were seriously injured by falls of side on longwall faces in 1930, and I would like to inspire every official and workman with a determination to take more care. It is worthy of note that of all accidents from falls of ground, the proportion of accidents from falls of side has steadily increased over a period of years, and it is significant that this increase has taken place alongside a
progressive development in machine mining. My belief is that it is due to want of care in filling out coal which is easily got.
The inspector does not understand the position fully in regard to this matter.
Falls of side are, I think, more under the control of face workers than falls of roof but, nevertheless, in apportioning responsibility for them, I have included many under the heading of ' unavoidable.' That is not to say I am satisfied with the position—far from it. … Bars should be used instead of picks to pull down clod or coal in thick seams, and colliers should always keep their line of retreat open so that if more clod or coal comes than was anticipated, they are not hampered in getting clear.
It is to that report that I want to direct my practical knowledge of mining at these machine faces, as practically every week-end I am in touch with the mining community and see what is happening at the coal face where machines are in use. I am told that the length of face is extending. We have at least 100 yards of face used by machinery in one length. There are only two exits and there are, therefore, 100 yards of face with practically no means of safety. When signs of a fall occur, those in the centre have the added danger of running to one or other point of safety, a matter of 50 yards from the centre, and there is very little hope of their getting to a place of safety before the fall takes place. I hope that the officials of the Mines Department will see if more exits cannot be formed on a certain length of face. Two exits on 100 yards of face are not enough because a sudden fall of roof requires a man to be able to get away into safety. Under the hand-cutting system openings are more frequent and a man is able to get clear. This is one of the added dangers to the machine worker.
There is another danger. Pans are used at the coal face, and they have to be moved forward. On grounds of economy they have to be moved up right to the coal face. The only support the worker has is one line of props. The pan is alongside the coal face. He has difficulty in getting support and the inspector, when speaking about filling loose coal or easily-got coal, does not understand the trouble of pan-face work. It is because the pans are so close up that the men have not room to move. I have had scores of cases of men being driven back on the pan by falling coal and being severely injured. The pan is working backward and forward and, if the man is driven against it, it means a severely cut leg or face. That is because, in my opinion, pans are taken too close to the face to give the men the amount of safety they ought to have. The inspector also tells us in his report that the roadways are not protected as they ought to be protected, and, again, I want to call his attention to practical experience. To get the coal to the bottom of the tram the roadway has to be moved further up. It is not possible to protect it as it ought to be protected by means of sprags or timbers. The result is that men taking away the trams are subject to greater danger, because the roof has not been timbered or spragged properly away from the pan face.
One hon. Member spoke about steel supports. I agree with him that on roadways, or where there has been a settling down of the strata, steel supports are the best, but I do not agree with steel supports at the coal face, and I will give the Committee my reasons. I have spoken of the danger and inconvenience when pans are moved to the face. There is just one line of props. If those props are steel and the man in driven on to them by the falling coal, then he suffers greater injury by contact with those supports than by contact with wooden props. Everyone knows that the men in the mines are practically naked when getting coal. If a man is driven on to a steel support, which is not a rounded bar of iron but is rough-edged with almost knife-sharp edges, then he gets severe cuts, whereas, if he is driven on to a wooden prop, he gets a bump but no cut or anything like that. Therefore, for the safety of the men, steel supports at the coal face are not the best.
Reference has been made to the number of inspections made by the mines inspectors, and I wish to point out what is really happening. The figures I have before me show that the inspectors made about 18,000 inspections underground during the last 12 months, which works out at about eight inspections per mine. I am not troubled in regard to the number of inspections but in regard to the number of times they have given notice of their visits to the mines managements. If the inspector's work is to be useful and helpful to the miners, inspections must take place without notice. Those of us who have worked in the mines know what it means when the inspector is expected. If the mines manager knows that the inspector is coming, special preparations are made for him, and instead of all the "push" to which the men are subjected, they are told that they must get ready for the inspector, and see that the timbering is all right and everything ready for the visit. The result is that, however well intentioned the inspector may be, he never sees the actual conditions under which the men have to work.
In the interests of the inspectors, and if the inspectors desire the confidence of the men, they must make their visits as unexpected as possible, so that they may see the miner working under the conditions which obtain when the inspector is not present. I will give an instance of what happened recently. I wish that the Secretary for Mines could have been here, because I know that he would have liked to have been present to hear something which concerns himself. However, I understand that he has to attend another important job, and one must be willing to excuse him. The Secretary for Mines, when he knows that a Safety in Mines Conference is coming on, generally pays a visit to the coalfield in the neighbourhood. We had a Safety in Mines Conference in Lancashire on 5th December last. On that occasion the Secretary for Mines no doubt said, "I will be a good chap. I do not know much about mines, but I will pay a visit to one of the mines in Lancashire." He visited Astley Green Colliery. This is the report which I received after making inquiries:
The Secretary for Mines visited the No. 2 pit Astley Green Colliery, on Friday, December 4th, the day before the Safety in Mines Conference at Manchester. He went into the six-foot mine. There are two mines in that pit—the six-foot and the Crombourke. Special preparations were made many days before his arrival. Extra stone dusting and whitewashing went on. Everything was cleared up in readiness until it became a matter of general comment among the men.
They were not aware when he was coming, but they said, "I wish that so-and-so chap would come and get it over!" The report also stated:
A special tub of lime was sent down the day before, and all the props set were first given a coating of lime so that when the Secretary for Mines came all the timber was whitened.
Just imagine, all the props along the toads where the Secretary for Mines was to "walk received a special dose of whitewash. The men queried the position. "How is it," they asked, "that the management cannot allow the Secretary for Mines to see the actual conditions under which the men work?" Surely the Secretary for Mines, large-hearted man as he is, who "wants to do the best for the miners, would desire to see the mines under actual conditions? He goes down the mine and sees the place set out like a drawing-room. I understand, however, that he did see some kind of accident at the bottom of the pit, but in fairness to the Secretary for Mines he ought to be allowed to see the actual working conditions in which the men work at full speed and then he could judge from the common-sense point of view whether the conditions were good or bad. The mine manager says, "Do not do that." I can give instances where the proposed visit of the inspector has been known beforehand and preparations have been made accordingly. In the district which I represent at St. Helens, where I was at one time miners' agent, we put into force Section 16 of the Mines Act in regard to the appointment of inspectors. My idea was to get inspectors down very quickly so that they could see the conditions under which the miners worked. We had the greatest difficulty in getting inspectors down the pit when they came to the colliery without notice. On several occasions when they appeared at the pit-head ready to go down the manager objected. We had to apply to the Mines' Department. The management knew that if the inspectors had to wait for 24 hours' notice they would not see the actual conditions. It is common knowledge that the inspectors are deluded by the Mines' managements. I believe that the inspectors are well chosen and desire to do their duty, but unless they can see the collieries under actual conditions they cannot do their duty.
The Secretary for Mines told us to-day that a large number of accidents occurred underground to boys under 16 years of age. I should have liked to have asked the Secretary for Mines, bad he been present, if he could tell me the number of accidents which have happened at night time among boys. It has been mentioned that boys under the age of 16 can work underground between the hours of nine at night and five o'clock the following morning, but that sort of thing is not allowed on the surface. This is an anomaly of the mines' position, and I realise that it would require legislation to alter the position. Everyone knows that it is natural for a boy to want to go to sleep at night. As we grow older the desire for sleep becomes less.
Now that I am of mature age the desire for sleep at night has not the same intensity as when I was a boy under 16. I am speaking as a result of my practical experience as a boy in the mine. When I went to work on the night shift I had the greatest difficulty in keeping awake. I have directed my remarks to this point in the hope that at some time or other the law will be amended in respect of boys working on night shifts. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will receive my suggestions in the same spirit as that in which we have received his speech, which everybody appreciates.
We must congratulate the Secretary for Mines upon attaching so much importance to the question of safety in the mines when he spoke this afternoon. I should also like to congratulate him upon the success of the conferences which have been held in various parts of the country. One could have hoped that in many of the larger areas the conferences could have been more localised. For instance, in my area, which is part of the North-Western area, the conference was held at Manchester. There was a large attendance of representatives of the employers and of representatives of the miners from certain parts of the area, but it was impossible for many to go from the North Wales collieries. I feel certain that much good might be done if more localised conferences could be held at various points. If one or two conferences could be held in the North Wales coalfield, I believe that it would bring home to the workers locally the importance of mine regulations and of seeing that everything was done by the men. to ensure safety during work.
I will add my personal testimony to that of the Secretary for Mines to the fact that there has been a vast improvement in the working of the mines during the past few years. It has been my duty for nearly 37 years to conduct inquiries in my county into cases of fatal accidents. When I first undertook the duty accidents were very much more serious than they are at the present time. It was a common thing to have eight or 10 inquiries in a year, but during the last few years the average has dropped to something like two or three, or four at the outside. That is only as regards the worst type of accident, but it is also an indication that accidents are fewer in the mines in that area. In the earlier inquiries, when I was assisted by the inspector of mines, it very often appeared that there was an inadequate supply of timber, or, owing to the long hours the men were working and the fatigue which resulted from long hours, that accidents very frequently happened just at the close of a shift. One very often heard the remark concerning a poor fellow, "How unlucky he was! If he had only left work five or 10 minutes before, his life would have been saved." Of course the man who had had to work long hours was fatigued and had not his faculties about him, and was therefore not able to exercise the precautions which he otherwise would have adopted.
I agree with the remarks of one or two hon. Members on the opposite side of the Committee with regard to more frequent visits of inspectors of mines. The Minister in his speech said that the great function of the inspectors of mines was friendly consultation and assistance, and not merely friendly consultation and assistance concerning the officials of the mine, but also concerning the men working there. If the inspector could go to the mine unexpectedly and go from one part of the workings to the other and discuss with the men the way in which the colliery was being worked, and the precautions which they should adopt, I am certain that it would lead to a great deal of improvement in the mines.
I should like to refer to one matter upon which I have heard a good deal in different parts of the North Wales mining districts. The Coal Mines Act, 1912, laid it down that in the appointment of inspectors of mines in Wales and Monmouthshire candidates otherwise equally qualified who had a knowledge of the Welsh language should be preferred. I believe I am right in saying that in South Wales, in the Cardiff district and the Swansea district there are a number of Welsh-speaking mining inspectors. For a period of 25 or 30 years the senior assistant inspector for the North Wales area was a Welsh-speaking person. He resided at Chester, which is practically within the area, and I frequently realised that his knowledge of Welsh was an immense advantage to him in the performance of his duties. If the inspector has to go down the pit and come in touch not merely with English-speaking Welshmen but with men whose knowledge of English is so inadequate that they are not able to express themselves as they would like to do in English, it is a distinct disadvantage to the inspector if he has not a knowledge of the Welsh language. Therefore, I trust that in the reorganisation of the inspectorate for the North-West district the Minister of Mines will see that a Welsh-speaking senior assistant inspector is allocated in or near the North Wales district. I am certain that that would bring added confidence to the men who are employed in the mines in that area.
The last speaker referred to a proviso in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, entitling the workers in the pits to arrange for periodical inspections on their behalf. I feel certain that that is a provision which should be and might be used to a very much greater extent by the workers in the coal mines. I find in the 1929 report that it was only made use of in three divisions to any extent, the Northern division, the Cardiff and Forest of Dean division and the Swansea division, where a very large number of inspections took place in pursuance of the provision. Judging from the report of the Chief Inspector of Mines those inspections must have resulted satisfactorily, and one is surprised that advantage has not been taken of the provisions of the Act in other areas. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says that the men cannot find the money. The Act, if I am not mistaken, provides that the men who are to make the inspections are not to be certified mining engineers or anything of that kind, but men who have had experience—I think five years is the period —of actual working in the mines. Surely, there should be no difficulty in any area in finding two or more men who have had experience in the mines and are prepared to go down and make an inspection for a comparatively small fee. Therefore, that does not seem to be a valid reason why the men have not availed themselves of this provision. The local Miners' Federation from the amount of their levies could surely provide for a sum to be set aside for that purpose.
Then may I refer to the very admirable report which was issued about two years ago by the Committee on the Qualification of Officials in Mines? The report is not confined to that subject alone. It deals with a number of valuable points, such as the question of mining education, junior education and advanced and university education in regard to mines. Towards the end of the report there appears this statement:
There is a special need for mining education, because the safety of a large number of underground workers may depend upon the action of each individual.
I suppose I am right in saying that a large number of the accidents in the mines, where there may be a serious mishap to one or more men, depends very often upon an act by one individual who has neglected some very important precaution. In many cases training and education, the realisation of the danger in the mines amongst the younger workers, would probably mean a reduction in the number of such accidents. When there are large numbers of young miners and older miners who, unfortunately, are unemployed, is not this an opportunity for steps being taken, in conjunction with the local education authorities, to provide some kind of training, partly vocational and partly non-vocational, for many of the younger men? Some grants might be made for this purpose from the Miners' Welfare Fund to the local education authorities. A great amount of money has been spent out of the fund to erect buildings in various mining areas. Many of these buildings could be utilised for the purpose of classes of instruction to the younger men, who would benefit by
training, vocational and non-vocational, and I trust that the Minister for Mines will bring his influence to bear upon those who are in a position to provide those classes. I am certain that it would raise the standard of the worker and enable him in the course of his work to observe the rules of safety and to become a very much more efficient worker. The more efficient a worker becomes, the less likely we are to have serious accidents.
It may be an impertinence on the part of a new Member to congratulate a Minister on his speech, but I cannot refrain from saying that the speech of the Minister for Mines gave me very great pleasure. Among all the bouquets that have been thrown to him to-day, I should like to add mine by saying that I hope that under his aegis and during his reign an epoch of agreed settlements in mining disputes may be inaugurated. Much praise has been lavished to-night on the miners. In this connection I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). I rather resent the sympathy that is poured out on the mining population, partly because it sounds hypocritical and partly because the pitman does not ask for sympathy. He asks, as the hon. Member for Hamilton said, for justice. All I wish to say in praise of the miners is that I have about the most unsafe seat in the kindom, but I would not exchange it for the safest, even if I could, tomorrow. I feel that very strongly.
The Secretary for Mines said that he would answer questions. I should like him to answer questions on three or four ordinary matters. What is he doing to compel the owners to find employment on the surface for men suffering from nystagmus? Secondly, will he attempt a defence of the expenditure of £60,000 on the commission set up under Part II of the Act? It will have to be a very well calculated attempt to get sympathy from me, because in my opinion it is £60,000 wasted. Secondly, I wish to support the appeal of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) in asking him to issue a table comparing wage rates now with wage rates before the War. I do not think it is generally realised that while in most trades wages are 60 to 65 per cent. above pre-War rates, in the county of Northumberland miners' wages are only 23 per cent. above pre-War, while the cost of living is nearly 50 per cent. above pre-War. It would be well if those figures came from the Ministry itself and not from sources which are impugned as being biassed for it would impress upon the general population in the country the fact that we are fighting for an industry which is the Cinderella of industry. I do not feel that the coal industry has had a fair deal from any Government. A crisis comes to the mining industry every two or three years and they deal with it and settle it or think they do somehow or other and it is shelved and the whole matter is left for another two or three years. We do not want that. We have Members of all parties in this House who are interested in the mining industry and it is my hope that they will all act together and give no Government, neither this nor any other Government, any peace unless they feel satisfied that proper attention is being paid to the difficulties of the mining industry.
I want to say a few words about a subject which is causing the greatest anxiety amongst the collieries in my Division and in the county of Northumberland. To my mind it is a matter of greater moment and greater urgency even than the question of hours and wages and Part I of the Act, which are being discussed at the present time. Recently conversations have been taking place with the Belgian Department of Mines under the auspices of the Department of Mines in this country. Leading from that, I want to elicit a statement from the Minister as to the attitude of this country towards those countries that have imposed an import quota on British coal. Incidentally in passing I may mention that under the trade treaty between Belgium and Germany, if 70 per cent. of the coal is carried in Belgian lighters, Germany gets an increased allocation of 15 per cent., and also in assessing the standard tonnage allotted to Germany deliveries of Reparation coal are taken into account. If these two examples are not breaches of the most-favoured-nation treaty, I should like to know what is.
We are anxious for three main reasons about the developments in regard to Belgium and Germany and France. Any industry can cope with tariffs and with subsidies. Tariffs can be got over or evaded somehow, and subsidies must come to an end, because in the end they do not pay the country that grants the subsidy to industry, but we cannot cope with direct prohibition of imports. It is my firm belief that the quota system contains the seeds of final prohibition. I believe that on the day when a quota limitation is imposed upon the imports from any country there begins a period when eventually all imports from that country will be prohibited, and that that day is only a measurable distance away.
With all respect, I asked the Secretary for Mines if it was his Department that was dealing with Belgium in this respect, and he said that it was. They do not actually communicate directly with the Belgian Government, but nevertheless these conferences have taken place under the auspices of the Department. The second reason why we are anxious is because the loss of these three markets will bring ruin to the exporting districts. I would remind the hon. Members who sit for Yorkshire that if Northumberland and Durham are forced to flood England with coal which should have been exported then even South Yorkshire will suffer. We should all stand together. Another reason why we are anxious is because the matter is urgent. If a foreign country allows its coalowners, against the natural laws of economics, to acquire a vested interest in markets which are ours naturally then I say that such a Government will find it difficult to take these markets away from its own collieries and place them back in a natural economic position.
The reason why I am appealing to the hon. Member on this Vote is because I as a mining Member have very little faith in the Board of Trade. They regard mining questions as the special province of the Department of Mines, and neglect them, and the Board of Trade has the most-favoured-nation treaty on the brain. Even on the Day of Judgment you will find Board of Trade officials negotiating something on the lines of the most-favoured-nation treaties with the powers of darkness themselves—I hope it will not be necessary. The industry should have a representative in the Government, and I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton that the hon. Member should be in the Cabinet. I speak sincerely when I
say that this matter is one of extreme urgency, and that immediate action is absolutely necessary. In order to please the hon. Member I have looked up various quotations from Burke—I know he is fond of him—and in this matter His Majesty's Government and the Department of Mines in particular is described by Burke as being:
resolved to die in the last dyke of prevarication.
That is not the way to approach foreign Governments. Coal is the basic industry, and the export trade is essential, and although I fully realise that I am asking the hon. Member and his Majesty's Government to do something that is heroic, distasteful and which will need a great deal of courage, I beg him to do it. Any action taken in response to my appeal for the export trade is bound to be open to the most extraordinary objections. It is going to be a departure from our classic methods of dealing with trade and commerce, and it will be a specially difficult departure for a Liberal Minister to make. I make this appeal because we are visibly within sight of the total collapse of the exporting districts, and if His Majesty's Government can contemplate such a position with equanimity, I certainly cannot. I make a very special appeal to mining Members of the House to back up this request. Mining questions should be treated on a non-party basis. Mining Members are now equally distributed among parties, and, that being so, we may at last get something done. I hope the Secretary for Mines will consider himself as the advocate of the mining industry in the Government and while His Majesty's Government are occupying themselves at Ottawa with questions of trade with our most distant Dominions and Colonies, I beg him constantly to remind them that Northumberland and Durham are facing probable ruin.
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) with great interest and enjoyment, and although I thought his victory at the last election a disaster to the mining industry yet, after hearing what he has said to-night, it is evident to me that he has sympathy and understanding of the miners' position and I hope he will be able to give valuable service to the mining community from his side of the House between now and next July. The Secretary for Mines is not in the Cabinet yet; at the same time, he holds a position which is just as important and as responsible as that held by many Ministers holding higher positions in the political hierarchy, for his work is concerned with the most important industry of the country. It is concerned with an industry which has been the basis of British industrial prosperity in the past. It was upon the coalmining industry that our industrial supremacy was built, and it is upon that industry still that our prosperity such as it is, exists to-day. It may well be that in the revival of the coal industry will come the revival of prosperity in the industrial world.
It has always seemed to me most extraordinary that the workers engaged in this great primary industry which is the foundation of our greatness should be rewarded with such a meagre wage for their difficult and dangerous toil. It is not the fault of the miner that he is paid so badly. Take the figures for the last 10 years. You will find that the output of each individual miner has enormously increased. It has increased during the last 10 years by 40 per cent., from 187 tons a year to 262 tons last year. Not only has the output per man increased, but the cost of getting the coal has been greatly reduced. In spite of these two things, in spite of the great increase in individual output and the decrease in cost, you do not get what you would naturally expect to get, an increase in wages. Instead of that you get a decrease. Miners' wages have been reduced from an average of £223 10 years ago to £114 a year last year, a decrease of 49 per cent. There must be something wrong here. A wage of £114 a year is not enough, it is not a sufficient reward for the work which the miner does, and everyone will agree that any reasonable method should be adopted to increase the earnings of the miner.
I am taking the 10 years, 1921 to 1931. The output per man has been increased from 187 tons a year to 262 tons a year, whilst his earnings have been reduced from £223 a year to £114 a year. My second point is this, that the miner is a very loyal man. He is loyal to his comrades and to his leaders. It very often happens that men engaged in dangerous occupations show an intense spirit of loyalty and comradeship to those who have to face the same dangers. One found it in the soldiers in the trenches; one finds it also in sailors, who have to brave the tempestuous seas; and one finds it in the miner engaged in his work in the bowels of the earth. It has always seemed to me a great indictment of the coalowners and of those who control the industry that they had never been able to take advantage of this great reserve of loyalty which exists in the miner and have never come forward as the natural leaders of the industry and asked for his co-operation in placing the industry on an efficient foundation. I hope we shall see a change in this respect; and that the hon. Member for Morpeth will help. A great gesture of co-operation was made by Mr. E. Edwards of the Miners' Federation, whom the hon. Member for Morpeth successfully fought at the last election. I hope the coalowners will respond to that gesture and that there will be co-operation between the coalowners and the miners to place the industry on a satisfactory basis.
In my part of the world, the Notts coalfield, we are in an unfortunate position. As the Secretary for Mines knows, the coalowners in the Notts coalfield refuse to recognise the trade union of the men and have recognised a small group of people calling themselves the Industrial Union, which is in close touch with the owners, and to whom very few of the men would belong unless compelled to do so. In 1928 a ballot was taken of the coalfield with the result that 32,277 voted for the old union, the Notts Miners' Association, and 2,500 for the Industrial Union, but in spite of that great demonstration of opinion the owners refuse to recognise the Notts Miners' Association and refuse to answer their letters. As a, consequence certain parts of the Mines Act are not being fully carried out. For example, the section which deals with workmen's inspectors is not being fully carried out. Section 16 of the Mines Act runs as follows—these are the essential words:
Workmen employed in a mine may, at their own cost, appoint two of their number, or any two persons. … to inspect the mine, and the persons so appointed shall be allowed once at least in every month. … to go to every part of the mine and inspect
shafts, roads, levels, workings, airways, ventilation apparatus, old workings, and machinery, and shall, where an accident has occurred in a mine. … be allowed to go, together with any person acting as legal adviser of the workmen.… to the place where the accident occurred to make such inspection as is necessary to ascertain the cause of the accident.
In the Notts coalfield the men are not given facilities to appoint these workmen inspectors. This is what happens. The workmen put up a notice in the colliery stating that a ballot is to be taken of the men to appoint two workmen as inspectors. This notice is taken down by the management, and the men are forced to give notice of the ballot in other ways. In the meantime two or three members of the other union have got together and have sent in two names of men, and when the men who have taken a ballot send in their two names the management says, "No, they have already been appointed by the other union!" One of the rules of the Industrial Union is that there need be no inspection of the pit until after an accident has occurred—closing the stable door after the steed has been stolen—and therefore the workmen's inspections do not take place. This is greatly resented by the men who want to have these periodical inspections made by their own representatives.
Did the hon. Member not say that the owners refused to accept the old Union, and accepted as the authority of the men the new Union? Are they not, therefore, acting perfectly within-their rights?
They may be technically within the law, but it is certainly against the spirit of the law, because it does not allow the body of the men to appoint their inspectors, and when a ballot is taken it is disregarded. As a consequence, other parts of the Act are sometimes: broken, for example, the part about timbering. Under the Act the space between the props must not exceed six feet. The Act says there must be a sufficient supply of timber kept within 10 yards of every working place, and that there must be sufficient timber constantly supplied so as to enable that provision to be carried out. I am informed that at certain pits that often is not carried out, and that the men cannot get the timber they want. The Minister said his inspectors go to the pits without notice. I do not think they can do so always, or if they do the management have some uncanny way of finding out when they are coming. I am told that in one of these pits where often they cannot get sufficient timber it sometimes happens that one day the men go down the pit and find all the timber they want and they all say, "The inspector is coming to-day."
Cannot the Minister use his good offices and see that this grievance regarding workmen's inspectors is removed? Another point in which he has taken action and for which I want to thank him is in connection with the Annesley Colliery. There has been a further development there. Some years ago when there was a dispute in the Nottinghamshire coalfield an agreement was made between the coalowners and the representatives of the men, and a pledge was then given by the coalowners that they would make no discrimination as to the membership of any union, that the men could join which Union they liked and the owners would take no side in the matter. The coalowners made the following declaration:
The Nottinghamshire Coalowners' Association makes no inquiry or discrimination with regard to a roan's employment or his membership of any trade union"—
And they added:
We intend to give effect to the spirit and the letter of the declaration regarding non-discrimination.
This declaration was signed by representatives of the coalowners, including Colonel F. E. Seely, Mr. W. Dawson, Mr. H. E. Mitton, Mr. W. N. Todd, and Mr. S. Evans. Two, years ago the Annesley Colliery gave notice to 200 men that unless they joined the Industrial Union they would be dismissed. The Secretary for Mines took action and got a promise from the management that not only would
the notices be withdrawn but that in future they would not discharge any workmen on these grounds without consulting him. The Minister knows last January the same sort of thing happened. Notice was put up that the men were to meet the manager on the following day. He informed them that unless they consented to have 6d. a week taken from their wages at the colliery offices to give to the Industrial Union, there would be no more work for them. The Minister very kindly intervened, and as far as I understand agreement was reached with the management that they would not pursue that policy and would allow men employed by the Annesley Colliery to belong to which union they wished, and that nobody would have the 6d. deducted unless he wished. I was up there this week-end, and I am now told that this money is still being deducted from the men's wages by the colliery, and from men who do not wish to belong to the Industrial Union or to have the money deducted.
Yes, that is the suggestion. I have a great regard for the Secretary for Mines, to whom I know anything that savours of tyranny or oppression is repugnant. Liberty to him is a real thing, it is not merely a word, and I do ask him to use his influence to see that the men at Annesley obtain the freedom they have been promised. And if he will go further and use that influence in the Notts coalfield to see that the victimisation and persecution which have been going on for the last five or six years shall be removed, he will earn the gratitude of thousands of working miners who have borne these wrongs far too long. The quota system under Part I of the Mines Act has been very much criticised. But it has done something to bring about a certain acount of organisation in the industry, and to prevent that internal competition between district and district and pit and pit which was causing so much chaos until recently. I remember reading a speech by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) in which he said that a colliery in South Wales had obtained an order by under-cutting
Northumberland and Durham by a. small amount, and the contract had scarcely brought any profit. He said that that sort of policy amounted almost to insanity. The policy pursued under Part I. has removed that. I was glad therefore to see that, in spite of the criticisms that have been made, the "Times" newspaper the other day had a very interesting article on the subject in which it said:
Prices have been prevented from falling and perhaps a collapse of some sections of the industry has been prevented. Regulation has not produced shortness of supplies. …. Consumers have not been fleeced or starved, supplies for export have been restricted, not by the regulation of output but by the un-remunerativeness of prices and by embargoes.
Certain Members have spoken about amalgamation. Some have said to-day that they rather fear amalgamation. It does seem that it may throw certain miners out of work, and we do not want unemployment to be increased. At the same time it is surely the fact that by amalgamating you get more efficiency, cut waste and lessen cost, and therefore you will give to the industry a bigger profit, out of which higher wages can be paid. I believe that if satisfactory selling and marketing arrangements could only be made at the same time—arrangements with which the Miners' Federation should be associated—pit-head prices of coal could be slightly raised without any additional cost to the consumer, and the miner would get a better reward for his work. I hope the Minister will bear in mind the question of international agreement, not merely on the question of hours, but on the question of markets as well. Here again I think co-operation in the industry is essential. If the industry can go into negotiations on these matters as one unit and with one voice, instead of with the owners saying one thing and the miners another, then success may be obtained. But if they go in in the old divided way, then success will be impossible and the attempt will fail.
On the question of research, can. the Minister; tell us what is the opinion of the Department on the Salerni process? Not a penny devoted to coal research,, if it is rightly directed, can be wasted. It is a commonplace that 90 per cent. of the value of coal burnt in the ordinary way is lost and wasted. If by scientific re- search we could reverse that, and make use of 90 per cent. of the value, we should make a revolution in the coal industry and in. industry in general. I look forward to the tune when every colliery will be a factory and every pit a laboratory, when you will be able to get from. coal all the valuable chemicals, byproducts, oils and fertilisers which it contains, as well as the formidable forces of gas. and the marvellous and mysterious power of electricity. I visualise that around these coal mines in future there will be assembled a community of mine workers living in, decent conditions and getting amply rewarded for their work. I have heard it said that coal is finished. If coal is finished, then England is finished. I do not believe it is finished. I believe that by the application of science an organised, and developed and unified industry will not only be on an efficient basis but will help to restore prosperity to British industry.
I wish to raise the question of facilities appertaining to bunker coal under the Act. It has come about that through the action of this. Measure bunker coal on Mersey-side is much dearer than on the East Coast. At the end of March bunker coal at Hull was 14s. 3d., and in Liverpool 18s. 3d., a very serious difference of 4s., considering the large amount of coal that has to be carried by the number of vessels trading from the Mersey. Of that, 2s. 6d. is for charges, and 1s. 6d. is the higher minimum price of the Yorkshire coal, which is the best bunker coal because it is delivered in Lancashire, and has to fee treated on a Lancashire basis, and thus the Yorkshire coalowners are able to obtain that much benefit on account of the Regulations. The situation is a good deal worse in regard to Glasgow. There the Scottish colliery owners, with the usual acumen which denotes the Scottish business man, have, I am told, been able to fix the minimum price at 1s. a ton, with the result that there is practically free trade in bunker coal in Glasgow, and we see the very unedifying sight in Liverpool of vessels that go there to take and discharge cargoes leaving that port to do their bunkering elsewhere.
This is a condition of things which is immensely detrimental to the Mersey. I very well remember, when the President of the Board, of Trade sat with his Liberal friends below the Gangway on the other side, how concerned he was when the Coal Mines Bill was being introduced to see to it that the facilities for bunkering in this country were not interfered with and that nothing was done in the Bill which would make it more difficult for this country to compete, either in supplies of bunker coal or in its price. He forewarned the country that great detriment to our industry would ensue if that state of things came about. We now have the position under the Act of differentiation amongst ports on account of the Regulations that have been administered under the Act. I make an appeal in these few words to the Minister to use all the powers possible under the Regulations, that there may be as soon as possible some advance towards the Scottish method, so that we may have a practically free market in bunker coal.
In Liverpool we are within six miles of one colliery and that colliery would, in the ordinary course of things, be able to ship its surplus to the docks in its own wagons as bunker coal, but it cannot do so, under the Regulations, except at a price which the shipowners cannot afford to pay. I am told that before the introduction of the Coal Mines Act a very great advantage was obtained by the colliery owners who had large stocks of coal in getting rid of them, although at quite a low price, as compared with the ordinary market coal, so that they could clear their stocks and get on with their business. Shipping got the benefit of that and we were able to compete so much better with our foreign competitors. There ought to be a return to that state of things, although it may not be done under the Coal Mines Act. I make my final appeal to the Minister to take careful note of this matter, of which he has already heard from the shipowners, and to do what he can to see that Liverpool is fairly treated.
I listened with great pleasure to-day to the very able and instructive speech of the Secretary for Mines. I want to direct the Minister's attention to the report of the Government Inspector for the Northern district, a report that is a credit to the Inspector that drafted it, and to the Mines Department. I say that, because I want to make suggestions for the improvement of
the report in future years. First of all, I want to call attention to the Government Inspector's report on accidents, seeing that the Minister has this afternoon dealt with the question of accidents. I was glad to hear the Minister deal with accidents to boys under 16 years of age, because one remembers one's own experience. Before I was 16 years of age, I had four years experience of the pits, and one remembers the hairsbreadth escapes that one had during those years. That makes one very sympathetic when one hears the Minister dealing with accidents to boys under 16 years of age. I notice that the Government Inspector for the Northern district tells us that the number of boys under 16 years of age killed and injured in 1928 was 111; in 1929, 103; and in 1930, 71. One is glad to mark the decrease in the number of accidents. I think it would be better if the Inspector gave us the number of killed and the number of injured, rather than put those numbers together in the way I have quoted. Also it would be wise if he gave us the districts, whether Northumberland, or Durham, or Cumberland, etc., so that we could see in each district the number of boys killed and the number of boys injured. That applies to other matters to which I will draw the Minister's attention, as I go through this report. Dealing with the question of boys, the Government Inspector says this, and it is worthy of the Minister's attention:
During the three years under consideration, boys under 16 in the colliery, who form 4.2 per cent. of the persons employed, sustained 9.1 per cent. of the underground accidents, whilst boys under 16 employed on the surface, who represent 8.4 of the persons employed, sustained 17.2 of the surface accidents.
In other words, a boy under 16 years of age is markedly more likely to meet with a serious accident than an older boy or adult. In fact, the figures show that his accident risk is twice as great.
The Inspector seemed to think that the remedy lay in what is being done in Yorkshire at the present time in the way of educating the boys. In my opinion that will not improve the position at all. My experience is that you can educate the boys as much as you like, but the fact will remain that if boys have to be rushed in order that there should be a large production of coal, there is danger to the boys. Far more than education
I would like the Minister to turn his attention to trying to slow down the work of boys so that the boys would not be rushed. Then there would not be such a danger as this terrible list of serious accidents indicates.
My experience is that a boy very soon learns to take charge of a pony. You have education classes to teach a boy to take charge of a pony. That cannot help to reduce the accident list very much. There is only one remedy, and it is that the boy should be given more time and should not be rushed. That would tend more than anything else, in my opinion, to reduce the rate of accidents among boys. The accidents among boys is one of the saddest features in these returns. One is glad to see that the number is decreasing year by year. I come now to the consideration of accidents to adults. I should like the Minister to give special attention to the part of this report which shows where the accidents are located. The inspector in this report shows that one of the most serious sources of danger in connection with adults is, what used to be regarded as the new system of working—it has now become an old system—known as long wall working.
On pages 18 and 19 of the report the inspector illustrates with diagrams where those accidents occurred. The place of each accident is indicated by a black dot and these black dots all appear together like a bunch of grapes showing that in 1927, for example, there were 24 fatal accidents, practically all at the one spot. The great bulk of these accidents occurred in the long wall face and in the centre of the gateway. As I say, in the year 1927 there were 24 of these accidents; in the year 1928 the diagram shows that there were 22 and they are even closer together than they were in 1927; in 1929 there were 34 accidents, again all close together, in the centre of the gateway, and in 1930 there were 24. It would seem that this is a matter to which the Mines Department ought to direct attention. It is all very well to express sympathy when accidents occur but when we are shown clearly, as we are shown by the Government inspector in this report, that the bulk of the accidents happen at one particular spot, then the Mines Department ought to give some consideration to that aspect of the question and see if something cannot be done to avoid those accidents.
Personally, it seems to me that these diagrams show long wall working to be an extremely dangerous system of working. One remembers the old system of working which I think was safer than the long wall method. At any rate these diagrams go to show that the long wall method calls for some investigation and if it is to continue, the Mines Department must seriously consider what they can do to prevent these accidents all of which appear to happen about the one place. The question of ventilation has already been raised to-night and I think one hon. Member expressed the opinion that improvements in ventilation did not make the pits any safer but again I would draw attention to the report of the Government inspector in which he says on this subject:
If proper attention be paid to adequate ventilation nearly all, if not all, the extra deaths due to explosions could have been avoided.
Those are strong words from a Government inspector, and I want the Minister to direct his attention to them. I take it that his department has studied this report, and we would like to know what they are doing in regard to this important statement by the inspector. I was interested in the statement of the Minister as to the better lighting of collieries. I understood him to say that he had met some coalowners and that he had suggested to them that during the next 12 months they ought to consider some more adequate system of lighting collieries and that he would expect at the end of 12 months some report as to that matter. I wish to direct the Minister's attention again to the Government inspector's report. On this question of lighting he refers to the fact that fixed electric lights have been installed under special regulations in certain collieries at the coal face and he goes on to say:
The importance of good light at the coal face cannot be over-emphasised and managements should note that the Mines Department is prepared to give sympathetic
consideration to any application for exemption from the requirements of the general regulations.
The report goes on to refer to experiments with electric portable lamps and says that it is yet too soon to pass any judgment upon them, but so far as they have gone the trials indicate that the lamps are of distinct advantage in certain circumstances, the weight being the principal drawback. While they are too heavy to carry about it is suggested that they might be suitable for illumination at fixed points. Is that what the Minister had in mind when he was talking about better lighting?
I am extremely, pleased to hear that that is one of the things which is engaging, the attention of the Minister. I agree with him that, to a large extent, in the north of England, nystagmus is due to the poor light supplied by the oil lamps. If it were found that electric lighting was safe, then,. I think the Minister ought to insist on colliery managers lighting the mines as much as possible and even the coal face by fixed lamps. If that were done in my opinion it would tend to reduce the number of nystagmus cases. If electricity can be used with safety in coal-cutting machines and conveyors, it seems to me that it could be used in order to light the pit and make it better for the miners. I have mentioned incidentally coal cutters and' conveyors, and that brings me to the question of machinery. In some of the tables in this Report returns are given for each district as to output of minerals and minerals raised but these are the only tables in which he gives the name of each district including the northern districts of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire. I would like the Minister in next year's tables to give us other particulars in districts, that is, the number of coal-cutting machines and conveyors, the numbers of persons killed and injured and the number of persons employed.
I want to direct the Minister's- attention to the use of machinery in coal mines. There has been a huge increase in machinery, and the greater the increase the greater is the number of men displaced. In the British coal industry in 1913 there were 2,895 coal-cutting machines, but in 1930 they had increased to 7,637. The same tale is told of conveyors. In 1913 there were 359 conveyors, and in 1930 the number had jumped to 2,991. I have not a great deal of. sympathy with the extended use of machinery. I think that it has an. element of danger. While we are taking steps to reduce accidents, more machinery is introduced which keeps up the accident rate. I would like, if I dare, to suggest that the Minister should appoint a committee to inquire into the work of machinery in coal mines. I have my doubts whether coal-cutting and conveyor machinery tends to decrease the working costs of a colliery. When regard is had to the capital cost and the working cost of the machines, I very-much question whether they tend to decrease the cost of production. One knows that employers of labour are more ready to use machines because there is less trouble with a machine, but, in my opinion, hand labour in collieries might be used more than it is. With such a big army of unemployed miners, machinery cannot be justified unless it can be shown that it means a big decrease in the cost of production. I would like the Minister to give his attention to that.
I am pleased that so many Members on ail sides have dealt with the extraction, of fuel oil from coal. The Minister talked of the prospects of the industry, and it seemed to me as if he had been reading the speech of the President of the Board of Trade on Friday night, in which the right hon. Gentleman said that we would be ever so much better at the end of 1932 than we were at the end of 1931. If that was influencing the Minister for Mines when he talked about the prospects of the industry, I cannot join him. I can see no bright prospects for the coal industry. The industry looks as black as it possibly can—as black as coal itself. I was glad to hear so many Members urge the Minister to do something to help the extraction of fuel oil from coal. I know that it is a question of a large sum. of money, but the Minister should remember that the House has just decided to borrow £150,000,000 for the purpose of keeping the currency right. We are told that for £170,000,000 we can set up the plant for the extraction of fuel oil from coal, and that for that capital expenditure we can deal with 27,000,000 tons of coal a year, and provide employment for 81,000 men at the works and 90,000 miners who are now out of employment. I know that £170,000,000 is a lot of money at the present time, but I am not sure that the Government would not save it if they spent it to start this new industry that would re-employ so many people.
I hope that the Minister will not be satisfied as former Ministers have been with fuel research. I remember being at the fuel research station in 1923 when we were led to believe that something was going to happen. Year after year goes by and still we never seem to get any further. We are still spending money on fuel research and making no progress. The time has come when we should cease spending money on research and utilise the money to develop the process. That may be one of the things that the Minister had in his mind when he talked about the prospects of the industry. I would like him to tell us just what hope there is for us in the coal industry unless the Government assist the extraction of fuel oil from coal. Our pits in the north of England are being stopped in increasing numbers. Only yesterday a resolution was passed, and it will, I am sure receive a good deal of sympathy from the Minister. The Primitive Methodist Synod is meeting in the county of Durham, and yesterday it passed this resolution:
That this Synod views with grief and regret the parlous plight of those engaged in the basic industries of Northumberland and Durham. The closing of pits and the consequent large number of unemployed constitute a situation which in the opinion of this Synod calls for the immediate interest and action of the Government.
I agree with every word of that, and I hope that the Minister will do all he can to help the industry in the north of England. I notice that the Prime Minister has been writing in the "News Letter" of 30th April last. It is difficult to understand how he could have written it, for it seems that only a dolt could write such a thing. He said:
When the Miners' Federation decided to improve the condition of the miner, they told us quite plainly that the cost of coal would rise; and it rose, as every working-class housekeeper knows. To-day we can
get cheap coal again by returning to an eight or a nine-hours day. Is the Labour Opposition willing to get cheap coal at that prise?
The impression he wants to create is that the Miners' Federation are responsible for the price of coal to-day, although he knows that they have not a single voice in fixing the price of coal. He ought not to attempt to create such an impression, nor give the public the impression that we could have cheap coal again if the miners were willing to return to an eight-hour or a nine-hour day. Nobody knows better than the Prime Minister and the Secretary for Mines that if we returned to an eight-hour day to-morrow we should not get cheap coal again. As a matter of fact, some of the mining districts were working an eight-hour day, under the spread-over system, only a short time ago, but the public did not get cheap coal; and although we are regarded as having a 7½-hour day at the present time, it is, in a huge number of cases, really an eight-hour day. There is no prospect of getting cheap coal along those lines, and it is wrong for the Prime Minister to give such an impression to the public, who do not know mining as we do. I am glad we have had this discussion, and again I would say how pleased I was with the speech of the Secretary for Mines. I hope he will give all the assistance he can to the mining industry.
One of the expectations I had in coming to this House was of seeing a sort of dog fight between the miners' Members and the Secretary for Mines. On the contrary, I find that nothing but bouquets are being thrown to him for his services in the position which he has occupied for so short a time. I would like to add my meed of praise to the Secretary for Mines for his speech to-day. It shows that it is not at all essential that the Secretary for Mines should be a practical miner, either as an employer or an employé, because the present Secretary for Mines has shown a grasp of the situation which, I think, is in every way creditable to him, and the expressions he has used to-day will, I am sure, give confidence to both sides in any controversy that may arise, that he understands his job. It would be impossible for anyone like myself, who has been associated with coal mining for half a century, not to have a pretty wide sense of sympathy with the mining industry and with the miners, and I do not think it is true to say that people outside the mining industry have not a knowledge of the industry and do not take much interest in the welfare of the miners.
I rather resent some of the suggestions, made by only one or two speakers, that mineowners are actuated by selfish motives. I do not think it can be said of mineowners generally that they have not taken a great deal of interest in their workpeople—at any rate during all the time I have known them. One thing which is perfectly clear is that for some reason or another the cost of coal in this country has got too high. The costs have brought it to a price at which many people both at home and abroad cannot afford to buy it. I do not think it can be said that the present high price of coal has done either the mineowner or the mine worker any good. Two or three years ago I went to America to see how it was that coal could be won so much more cheaply in certain of the minefields there than in this country, and a week or two ago, speaking in this place, I gave a hint of what I had seen. As we have been somewhat technical to-night, perhaps the Committee will bear with me if I tell them something more about my visit. In the first place, the coal mine I saw was not representative of the whole of the American mining industry. It was confined to the mining in Pennsylvania run by a company which is in part a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation.
Permission was readily given to me to see a typical mine, one of the nearly 30 mines there which are producing something like 30,000,000 tons of coal per annum. The mine I saw was a fiery mine, and I was dressed in the usual mackintosh and given a safety lamp and had to remove the tobacco and matches from my pockets. The mine shaft had the appearance, as one approached it, of feeing very much like a mine shaft in South Wales, but the moment I had gone down the electric hoist I noticed that the mine, instead of being black was white. They keep the mine roads completely and wholly whitewashed. Mining Members will understand the reason for that. When there is the slightest disturbance of the strata, the coal dust behind the white- wash makes its appearance, and then any necessary repair is done at once. In short, "A stitch in time saves nine." In the older parts of the mine there was the customary timbering but in the newer parts it was all steelwork. I was very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) to-day, at long last, bless the steel pit prop and the steel arch. I had something to do with their introduction here. I know the difficulty in getting the very conservative miners to adopt a new process, and therefore I am very pleased to hear that it is now accepted.
Another thing that impressed me was that there were no horses in this mine. The traction is by means of electric motors, which were sparking away just as though they were up on the surface. Then, no coal goes up the pit shaft, nobody is paid on tonnage, and nobody gets less than five dollars a day. It is all due to a different system of working. They have a different method of rotation. This is a description of it—within limits. First of all the drilling takes place at the face, and the coal cutting. When that is finished the mine "boss" and his mate, who are the only two people in the pit, blow down the coal. After they have finished, for two hours there is nobody at all in the pit. During that time they have ventilation on twice the scale of anything in this country. Incidentally they have better light, and when the ventilation period is finished the inspection is made and the mine is announced as being ready for the loading shift. The loading is done in the ordinary way. Trucks capable of holding three and a-half tons each are accumulated 40 in a row. They are then taken three or four miles underground to a tippler tunnel which tips them into a bunker, on which there is a belt which takes the whole load at an angle up to the surface. In that area the accidents are considerably lees than in this country.
Coal is very much cheaper there, and altogether the new system has been in force for some six or eight years. It necessitates some alteration in the State mining laws, but that is quite capable of adoption in this country. So far as I know, no employer, miner and no miners' agent in this country has seen that process. I do not want anyone to say that the circumstances are altogether different from what they are in this country. I should like the Minister to send a small deputation of two or three mining Members and agents to see this process in operation in the States, and I can assure them that they will be thoroughly welcome and will learn something which will be of use to the mining community in this country.
There is a downcast and an upcast shaft, but the coal goes up on a belt at an incline. There is a great deal we can learn, and which we ought to learn from this system, because in this country our coal is too expensive. In the manufacture of steel 30 per cent. of the cost consists of the price of coal and 25 per cent. consists of railway rates. There you have two items constituting 55 per cent. of the cost of producing steel over which the steel-maker has no control. The chief trouble is the price of coal, and you can get the cost of coal very materially reduced by adopting a system which would be attended with much less risk to the workpeople, and would give them better working conditions. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will not turn down what I have said as the story of a fanatic or a madman, but will see to it that some inquiry is made in order that the objections to the change may be disposed of.
I wish to take part in this discussion in order to bring before the notice of the Committee the enormous number of accidents that occur in the mines of this country. From the year 1924 to 1930 there were no less than 700 accidents, and 7,192 miners lost their lives in consequence. In the same period the number of persons rendered idle for three days or more was 1,141,764. If we take the longer period between 1920 to 1930, there were 11,452 deaths from accidents. We find that during the same period there were more than 1,743,000 persons rendered idle for more than three days. Accidents occur from other causes such as inrushes of water, explosions, shaft accidents and underground fires. Whenever an explosion takes place in a mining area, there is a great wave of public sympathy. We find that during a long period of 30 years not only has the number of deaths due to explosions increased, but the number of accidents due to the inrush of water and other causes has also increased. In a period of over 30 years from 1901 to 1928, 2,148 persons lost their lives from those causes. No one desires to minimise the suffering caused by explosions, and I am using these statistics in order to compare the number of persons who die every year as a result of accidents with the number of persons who lose their lives owing to explosions. Many of these explosions, in my opinion, could be prevented if adequate ventilation were provided.
During the year 1929, explosions were responsible for 34 deaths, or a percentage of 3.2 of the total number of deaths in the mines. Deaths due to falls from roofs and sides were 581, the percentage being over 54 per cent. Why is it that greater consideration is given to those who suffer from explosions than to those who are rendered fatherless as a result of accidents that occur every day? I would like to quote a passage which is to be found in the report of one of His Majesty's inspectors of mines, Sir Henry Walker, who reported to the Secretary for Mines:
Accidents from falls of ground, unlike explanations of firedamp and inrushes of water are not sensational, and it is perhaps not always realised that they constitute about one-half of the accidents which occur in mines.
What the death roll would be if workmen were not allowed to examine the pits, I shudder to contemplate, when in one year 2,727 inspections by workmen were made at 304 mines. I noticed that one hon. Member thought it would be simple to provide funds to permit of workmen examining the collieries, but how anomalous it would be if workmen, simply because they were employed at collieries in this country and examined pits which were other people's property, were called upon to pay for that examination. It is no small financial item, when we remember that one colliery has as many as 14 districts requiring examination on one day. It would be interesting to hear the opinions of Members of the House if they were called upon, not only to pay, but to examine the vaults of this building to ascertain whether they were perfectly safe.
The enormous change that has taken place in the mining of coal has been and is being completely ignored by various Governments and by the Mines Department. Obviously the introduction of electricity, steel arches, steel props and conveyors has completely revolutionised the mining industry within the last 10 years. I do not think there is is a full recognition of the extent to which the method of catting coal has changed. In 1913, the number of coal-Cutting machines was only 2,895, whereas in 1930 the number of such machines in the mines was 7,637, or an increase of 4,742. There is a similar state of affairs as regards the number of conveyors in use in the mines. In 1923 there were only 359 in use in the mines of Great Britain, while in 1930 there were 2,991, the increase during that period having been 2,632. The increased use of machinery is also indicated by the amount of coal produced by machines. In 1913, only 24,000,000 tons were cut by machines, whereas in 1930 76,000,000 tons were cut in that way, showing an increase of 52,000,000 tons; or, to give the percentage of the total output, in 1913 we had 8.5 per cent. cut by machines, and 31 per cent. in 1930, an increase of 22.5 per cent.
Having regard to these great changes, it is useless to imagine that either the Coal Mines Act, 1911, or the Orders issued in pursuance of that Act, are sufficient for maintaining conditions of safety in the mines of this country. As a result of the cutting of coal by machines, the workings are moved at a much greater rate, a much larger area of roof is exposed, and there is a corresponding inability on the part of the management to stow the gob, goaf or waste. The Act of 1911 and the statutory orders and regulations under it are obsolete in the mining conditions of 1930 and 1931. Is it the intention of the Secretary for Mines to issue an Order to compel the stowing of the gob, goaf or waste? The inspectors are continually reporting on this matter. I have here an extract from a report by Captain Carey, the head of the inspectorate in the South Wales division, in which he says:
The packing of the goaves is too often neglected or carelessly done, and should receive far more care and attention than is at present given to it.
That observation was made by the head inspector in South Wales in 1923, and, because of the refusal of the management
of the mines in South Wales to improve matters, he makes a similar observation in the last report issued by the Mines Department. He says:
I am more convinced than ever that the true solution of the problem of falls in the steam coal collieries depends upon the introduction of tight packs throughout the faces of work, so as to maintain the roof in an unbroken state.
We as practical miners contend that these empty spaces in the face from which the coal has been taken are also a. source of danger from explosion. They simply constitute reservoirs of gas. I once worked in a mine where it was the custom to take the rubbish to the surface and to leave hundreds of yards of roof to collapse, with the result that there was enormous surface damage to property owing to its being undermined. I live near a miner who is actually engaged in undermining his own house, the repair of which he has to pay for out of the wages that he earns by undermining it. The inspector to whom I have already referred says:
In addition to ensuring the easy coursing of air to the faces by reducing leakages, further advantage is gained by reducing the escape of gas from the measures surrounding the seam. Good packing diminishes disturbances of the strata overlying and underlying the seam, and thus seals off great quantities of gas that might otherwise issue into the workings. It also prevents the violent fluctuations in the 'make' of gas so noticeable in pits where packing is not efficiently done, and where the roof is permitted to collapse. From reports that reach me it is pleasing to find that there is continued improvement in this respect. There is room, however, for still further improvement in some pits. The safe working of the steam coal seams in this division is dependent in no small measure upon the efficiency with which the gobs are packed, and it is my desire that managers will continue to give this subject their earnest attention. In connection with stowage, the proper and complete filling of all disused roads must not be lost sight of, as these may become charged with gas, which exudes in great or small quantities, as the case may be to contaminate the ventilating current, upon variations in the atmospheric conditions.
Unless the Department issues an Order to compel the management to stow these places, they will not be sufficiently showed.
I Want also to draw attention to the question of withdrawing steel props. Whatever may be our opinion about machinery in the mines, or about the introduction of steel props and arches,
I am convinced that these two innovations have come to stay. That may be gathered from the fact that it has already been asserted that there are now no less than 75 miles of steel arches in some collieries, and to assume that their introduction is not to be continued is, in ay opinion, to live in a fool's paradise. There is a Section of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which states that no prop shall be withdrawn except by a safety contrivance. I am quoting from an annotated copy of the Act of Parliament which was issued in 1914, and in which, in addition to the Section to which I have referred, these words appear:
The use of a safety contrivance is compulsory in all cases where props are withdrawn from the 'waste' or 'goaf.'
The point that I want to put to the Secretary for Mines is that, even Where steel props are withdrawn elsewhere than from the waste—and miners on conveyor faces are in many instances compelled by the management to withdraw steel props—it should be incumbent upon the management to supply a safety contrivance for that purpose. I should fee the last person in the Committee to undervalue the importance of these safety conferences or to do anything to prevent the owners rendering the collieries much safer than they are at present. There is not a single instance where the miners have ever objected to the introduction of methods which would guarantee them safer conditions of work. I know this will not be appreciated by many Members, but I have not been sent here to express opinions which may appear to be pleasant to those who listen to them. I hold the opinion, for what it is worth, that safety is largely, if not wholly, a question of cost. Will anyone assert that steel arches were introduced in order to provide safety for the men? They were introduced for no other reason than that they were cheaper. Steel props are the natural sequel to the introduction of steel arches, and both were introduced simply because it was much more economical to introduce them, but they are introduced in many collieries in my district without regard to suitability. I have here a report issued by the Mines Department dealing with steel props which bears out my contention that we shall only have safety in the mines if it is economical to introduce methods
which will guarantee the safety of the workers. This is what the report says:
The price of a steel prop is, of course, a good deal higher than the price of a wood prop, but the steel prop can he used over and over again almost indefinitely, whereas the wood prop only lasts for one or two settings. The subsequent expenditure, where steel props are employed, consists of the dost of repairing damaged props, replacing props lost or damaged beyond repair and, to a small extent, the cost of extra supervision and extra labour. Bent props can be straightened at the colliery; when damaged beyond repair, they have a value as scrap. At New-battle colliery the cost of the steel tube props, including the cost of the steel straps is only 1.75d. per ton of coal produced. At Water-gate Colliery the estimated saving due to the use of steel tube props and steel straps amounts to over 2d. a ton. At the Bolsover Company's two mines the cost per ton for steel joist props is very much below that for timber props. At Bentley Colliery the cost of the steel joint props is 0.58d. per ton. This includes flanging one end of the props, extra wood lids, strengthening damaged props and the cost of extra supervision. The estimated saving is nearly 3d. a ton. Recent information shows that at the Butterley Company's collieries the saving by the use of the 'Butterley' prop amounts to 1.5d. per ton. At Cannock Chase Colliery the cost of the 'S.F.' prop is 1.2d. per ton. This also includes interest on capital outlay, the cost of straightening and replacements, but excludes the cost of wood plug and lids. There is a saving of 9d. a ton as compared with the cost of timber. At the Penallta Colliery the 'Tait' prop has reduced the cost two-thirds as compared with timber props.
On the question of suitability, there are so-called steel props which have been introduced into some of the mines in South Wales which are nothing but legalised traps for our workmen. I know of collieries where the steel prop is simply an ordinary rail, over which the ordinary train travels, and that is cut into various lengths and sent into the pits. It is not even constructed to carry a lid. The mines inspectors in their reports always refer to the need for substantial lids and yet these steel rails are introduced without any provision for the carrying of a decent lid. Because they are so strong and so rigid they will not yield to pressure, with the result that when they carry a load, they immediately penetrate the centre of the lid, the result being that the two ends are lowered and in that way they are nothing less than legalised traps. I find from this report that:
steel props are of two classes—rigid and yielding—but they are introduced indis-
criminatory, regardless of the bottom upon which they have to rest and of everything else. These authorities say that rigid props do not shorten appreciably, even tinder their maximum load. In the simplest form a rigid prop consists of a single member, such as a joist or tube, but it may be specially modified to allow of easy withdrawal. Yielding props have the power of shortening slowly and steadily when the load imposed upon them by the roof pressure exceeds a definite value, while at the same time they offer either a constant or a gradually increasing resistance to the roof pressure. Yielding props are more complicated than rigid, and usually consist of several components. Frequently they are made adjustable in lengths and provided with means for facilitating withdrawal.
Props in the mines in South Wales are introduced regardless of whether it is possible to have a lid placed upon them or whether they will yield to the pressure of the load. I hold another opinion which may not be shared by hon. Members, and that is that the speeding-up that is taking place owing to the introduction of machinery is a very important factor in the number of accidents that occur. Probably few Members realise to what an extent speeding-up has taken place, owing to the introduction of machinery. If machinery is introduced, it is the machine that dictates the speed at which the worker is employed. In Glamorganshire in 1020 the amount of coal produced per man per shift employed was 168 tons. In 1930 the output had jumped to 260 tons, an increase of over 92 tons. In Monmouthshire we have a similar result. In 1920 the output per man per shift worked for the 12 months was 180 tons. In 1930 it was over 274 tons, an increase, due largely to speeding up, of 94 tons. Alongside that, the worker has to be content with a decrease in his wages, notwithstanding the enormous increase in the output of over £117.
The question of fatigue is also a very important factor, and explains the increase in the number of accidents. It may be of interest to give this extract from a report of a speech made by Mr. Eric Farmer, investigator to the Industrial Health Research Board to a gathering held under the Heath Clark Bequest at the Royal Society of Arts:
Fatigue was one of the causes which scientists had to investigate, for a tired worker was specially liable to accidents. It was difficult to separate the part played in accidents by fatigue from the part played
by speed of production which was possibly a more important factor under modern industrial conditions.
Then he goes on to make a statement, to which we take no exception:
Bad atmospheric and lighting conditions also had the effect of increasing liability to accidents.
Finally, I want to refer to something contained in the report by Captain Carey for 1929. This is what the Chief Inspector says in regard to the increase in the number of accidents:
I cannot account for this rise in the accident rate other than to suggest that low wages may have had an effect upon the vitality and consequent alertness of the men. I myself have personal knowledge of the fact that some men were going to their work insufficiently nourished and such a state of things will not conduce to that sense of vigilance which is necessary to those conducting haulage operations.
I would ask the Secretary for Mines to make a variation in the arrangements which exist between the inspectors and the collieries which they are invited to attend. It is customary in a number of mines in South Wales, if danger is apprehended—and in most cases it is due to a vast accumulation of gas—for a mines inspector to be sent down. I can bear out the statement made by a previous speaker that we have no difficulty whatever in getting an inspector sent down immediately, but then what happens? He visits the colliery at the request of the workmen and makes an examination of the mine, but he does not report to the men what the nature of his observations is or what he has found on examination. He sends his report to the Department, and the men on whose behalf he has visited the colliery have not the faintest idea of what his opinion is about the condition of the pits at the time of that examination. I do think the Secretary of Mines should make it possible, at the request of the workmen, for the inspector to submit to them the report that he has made on the special examination of a colliery where apprehension of danger exists amongst the workmen. It would give them a satisfaction to feel that the inspector has been there as an impartial individual and to have his personal assurance that the mine is safe for them to work in.
In conclusion I want to say that I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) that we have reached a stage when the miner is entitled to something more than sympathy, and is at least entitled to justice. Furthermore, you are not entitled to deny him safe conditions of employment, especially in view of the fact that he is employed in an essential industry. Unlike one previous speaker, who wanted the Mines Department to revert to the Board of Trade, I consider the mining industry is of sufficient importance to have representation of its own and to have its own Minister and not be subjected to dictation or supervision by the Board of Trade.
So far this Debate has centred round rather close details, but I should like to make one or two general observations. We have heard to-night a good deal of talk about many things, but there is no hope for this industry unless we can see quite clearly what is in front of us, and unless we are allowed to get down to our work and to meet the changed conditions which this industry, like every other industry, has to face. I am sorry to say I am not one of those who can prophesy a speedy return to prosperity and a large increase of output in a short time. We have world conditions to consider, and there is little probability in the future, owing to considerations of which those of us who know the trade are only too well aware, that the competition of outside forces can never be so mitigated than we can go back to the trade as we knew it in the old days. Therefore, we have to face a contracted output and a contracted employment. The problem in future— and I am afraid we have to admit it—is not so much being able to get our men who were at work back to the industry in any numbers but to find them some form of alternative employment.
Another point which I do not think is sufficiently appreciated by the world at large is that the mining industry is rapidly changing from an industry of getting raw material to a manufacturing industry of very great importance. What success we may have in future depends almost entirely on the way we are able to treat our raw material and turn it into manufactures which we can sell at a profit. That, in itself, may make a very great difference both in the technique of the industry and the way in which the industry is run. All we can hope for in future is that we can so construct our industry that its management will be able to give a certain definite amount of output, that output being conditioned by the demands in this country and capable of expansion pretty quickly if demands are increased. That is our basis, and that is the basis on which we have been endeavouring to work, and which I hope will be stabilised in years to come.
One hon. Member in dealing with gas, electricity, coal and everything else, said that we wanted a broad imagination. With all due respect to him, we do not want anything of the sort. We want to get down to the hard facts of life. That is what this country and all industries have to face. I join in asking the Government to reconsider the position of the Rationalisation Committee which has been travelling round the country and has now come to anchor in London. I ask them to end that committee for this reason. If the method we are going to follow in the industry in future is to be of any use then it must, as part of its usefulness and effectiveness, carry out not gradually but pretty rapidly, what the committee which has 'been travelling about has set out to do. The committee which has been going round has received all the support which could be given it in the inquiries it had to make, and I think it is no secret that it very soon realised that the real problem in joining together existing units, whether federalising them or completely combining them, is the human element in charge of these units. I want to lay down a definite proposition, and I claim that my proposition has the sanction of experience in the last two or three years. The moment in any undertaking you get beyond what one human brain can manage, understand and oversee, that moment does the general tempo of the undertaking begin to go down.
Therefore, if you make your combination, it must be in units which can properly be managed, and managed in the way I have mentioned. Nobody outside, the coal industry knows what an exceedingly technical job it is, and how essential it is for the managers of the pits to know their men and for their men to appreciate the management. I venture to say that where you can show me an efficient and a, properly managed pit, a good half of the success is due to the thorough understanding between the management and the men. Anything which builds up very large units, where close contact must of necessity be broken, will work both against efficiency in the pit and against the understanding so obviously necessary between the men and their employers. Generally speaking, what would happen would be as follows. If we go on under the system of quota, which, more or less, in one way or another, we are all agreed upon, it will be essential for the undertakings to get together in such units as are completely manageable. What will be done after that I do not know. I do not think that you will be able to stop there. Inevitably you will also have to deal with distribution in some way or another, but for the moment I am not going to deal with that matter.
In looking at any future development in any kind of industry I am not going to be afraid of my hon. Friends in front of me telling me that I have become Socialist. It is not the expression or the wording of the thing which one must mind at all. It is the necessity of the day which presses upon one; the changes which are inevitable and must be faced. That is the point in the coal industry which a good many of us, whether we like it or not, will have to consider in the future.
With regard to research, an hon. Member, who, I think, sits on the Socialist side of the Committee, said that there had been enough examination and that it was time something was done. I have heard some of my friends Bay that it was time the atom was finally exploded, and ask why they could not get on with the job. And so it is in the coal industry. Everyone has been trying, abroad as well as in this country, to find out some process which will give us an oil which we can use instead of petrol. But everyone is being faced primarily with the difficulty that all laboratory experiments, as they so often do, go along happily, and that if you are a financier land nothing less you can build on the top of your laboratory experiments a most wonderful result which, in days of prosperity, more people might be tempted to swallow. That, I am afraid, is what has happened to a good deal of the combustion experiments in the last five or six years.
Do hon. Members think that if there existed anywhere in the world—and they seem to forget that the relationship between scientists is international and very close indeed—a practical process, it would not be taken up at once? Do they suppose that the possession of a patent or process in one man's hand would stand in the way of such a man going in with other people to exploit the patent? The reason we have got no further in this matter is that the invention has not yet reached such a stage. I do not think that there will be any difficulty in getting the invention taken up by the coal trade the moment it reaches that point. What the coal trade dislikes is the fact that so much of the business has been hurried, that so much foreign finance has intruded, and that so much humbug and dishonesty is mixed up with it, and they are a little chary of touching it for the time being.
One or two hon. Gentlemen have spoken about steel props and steel arches. One of the things which we are told we have to do in the mining industry is to make ourselves efficient, and if the process of making a safe corridor instead of a hole in the ground is one for which we are to be held up to derision I fail to see where the charge of inefficiency can be brought against us. All these things are experiments, just like machinery at the coal face. They are experiments, the technique of which has not yet been worked out—experiments which are compelled in the industry by the competition it has to meet. During the time the technique is being worked out mistakes will be made—and they are being made—just as they are made in other industries. It is only by watching as progress goes on that you can make your technique perfect. It has led here and there to accidents of a special nature, and perhaps will do so again, but I do not think that for that reason it is fair to charge the owners of the pits as some hon. Members have done to-night, with having been responsible for those accidents and with not taking proper care.
It is very difficult for men who have been accustomed to one kind of work which is, in its nature, individual, and in which they have grown up, to be asked to take on the work of a machine nature. They naturally resent it because it is out- side their technique and means to them a new measure of risk; they are no longer employing that to which they have become accustomed. I am afraid that that new measure of risk must be undertaken because tile coal trade and the coal industry generally cannot get on without it. I believe that the technique will rapidly overcome those difficulties, and although several special instances have been given to-night where it has been shown from the practical experience of hon. Members that steel props should not be used and that machinery should not be used at a certain coal face, it is probably due to the fact that it has not yet been sufficiently determined where machinery would be more suitable. You have to find out all those things. I hope that hon. Members will believe me when I say that the owners are just as much interested as the workmen in carrying out the work with the greatest possible margin of safety.
Some hon. Members have been chiding the Government because they have paid more attention to agriculture than to the mining industry. I have never been able to understand—and I feel it a tittle more definitely now, because I represent, an agricultural constituency although I remain a coalowner—how the coal industry could claim a subsidy and yet deny to the agricultural labourer a proper wage for the work he has to, do. The coal industry in its work claims a wage commensurate with the work the men have to do and what they would call a living wage. That living wage to-day can only be given to them under a price arrangement which in Itself is essentially a form of protection. Are they going to deny to their agricultural brethren another form of protection which gives to them nothing more than that for which, they themselves are asking? It is a problem which in their heart of hearts they know that they have to face, though it is not a problem which they are likely to admit on a public platform. It is a dilemma which, in their own consciences, they have to face. For my part I feel no difficulty about it, because I have always held the view that if you support any kind of protection, if protection is essential, it ought to be extended to every industry throughout the country.
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member who has just addressed the Committee, but, as my time is short, I do not intend to fall into that temptation. I rise to put two questions to the Secretary for Mines. One question relates to lighting in mines. The hon. Member made reference to the subject during his speech, and it has been referred to by subsequent speakers. The point is very important for the mining community; Within the past few years there has been a great demand for improved lighting in the mines. A lamp called the Wolf Safety lamp has been the leading lamp and the guiding influence in the deliberations of the Mines Department. This lamp gives the highest illumination of any miner's lamp in existence at the moment. Fortunately or otherwise, some parts of the lamp are imported from Germany, where the lamp has been tried out for a large number of years and has given entire satisfaction. It is the very best lamp available in this country and is in no way in competition with any other lamp. Therefore, to do anything that would retard the import of this lamp would be to deny the miner increased candle power and to increase the number of accidents.
The point that I want to put is quite simple. As the result of the exchange situation between this country and Germany the importers of this lamp, which is used in British mines, are suffering a tremendous, disadvantage, and on the top of that exchange difficulty they had to face a 10 per cent. duty and subsequently a 20 per cent. duty which has well nigh put this particular firm out of existence so far as supplying lamps to this country is concerned.. What have the Mines Department done to insist upon the Advisory Committee looking into this ease immediately and removing the 20 per cent. duty which is making it impossible for the company to carry on supplying this particular kind of lamp? It is not a competitive lamp. It is twice the cost of any other miner's lamp in this country. Therefore, whether the duty be 10, 20, 50 or 100 per cent. it does not make any difference to any firm in this country producing miners' lamps. I ask therefore that immediate steps be taken 'by the Mines Department with the Advisory Committee, who have the power either to remove or to increase duties, so that this duty which retards the development of better light- ing in our mines shall be removed at the earliest possible moment. I have a report from an eminent expert on the question of nystagmus which gives proof beyond any shadow of doubt that as the result of the use of this type of lamp miner's nystagmus has been reduced in many mines and will be reduced in the future. If the duties are to be continued for an indefinite period on this lamp, which is not in competition with any other lamp in this country, it will retard the Mines Department in improving mining lighting and will probably increase the dangers of the mines and the number of accidents.
The hon. Member has raised his point at this rather late hour, and it cannot be discussed at length. There is a point of some difficulty in the application of the old rule that we cannot discuss matters requiring legislation in Committee of Supply. I think what the hon. Member has adumbrated does amount to a matter requiring legislation, although possibly in a new form.
My only point in raising the question was that the Secretary for Mines should make representations to the Advisory Committee to remove this embargo upon a very vital instrument which is used in the mines of this country, over which he presides. I will leave the point. The other point is the question of the automatic gas alarms, which has been raised on numerous occasions during the last five years. In 1927 the Secretary for Mines approved an automatic gas alarm for use in mines. Tests of all kinds over a period of years in the pits, in the laboratories and elsewhere have been carried out with more or less success. In November, 1931, the Minister for Mines, in reply to a question, made this statement:
Five of the newly-constructed detectors were subjected to pit trials for a period of about three weeks, and under the conditions of test they gave reasonably consistent and reliable results. I have invited the Mining Association, the Miners'. Federation, the National Association of Colliery Managers, and the General Federation of Deputies' Associations to nominate sub-committees to discuss with me, in view of the increasing use of electric safety lamps, the general problem of preventing danger in mines from inflammable and noxious gases, with special
reference to the possibilities of electric firedamp detectors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1931; col. 261, Vol. 259.]
He met the Miners' Federation, I believe, on 11th December, 1931. He met the colliery managers later, and the mine owners later still. He also met the Deputies' Association later. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain, after very careful, meticulous consideration, with a lifetimes experience behind them, are emphatically in favour of a compulsory order for an application of this automatic gas alarm. I believe that the Deputies' Association were also unanimous. The hon. Member, in his wisdom, said that he wanted more tests, so that when an order was made we should be doubly sure that we have all the technical justification for it. He promised then, in December of last year, or in early January of this year, that other tests would be undertaken, that three collieries or more would be selected, that the tests would be applied and the result would be the guiding influence. Four months have expired and apparently nothing has been done.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister and also to the speeches of those hon. Members who have followed him, and I am satisfied that the great coal mining industry is fully represented in this House. I regard it as a healthy innovation that in this Parliament the miners leaders are not all drawn from the same political party, and I throw it out to them as a serious suggestion, that the Members representing coal mining constituencies in this Parliament might well constitute themselves into an all-parties mining committee. Such a committee could only be of benefit to the industry in attempting to solve the great problems that lie before it. I intervene to say a few words in regard to another industry, as great as the coal mining industry though of far less extent. I refer to that old industry the tin mining in- dustry. The tin mining industry is concentrated for the most part in the highly mineralised county of Cornwall. So old is that industry that one thousand years before the charcoal burners of the Sussex weald started to smelt iron, the Phoenicians were cutting lumps of tin out of the constituency of the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman).
Since that time the tin-mining industry has had its ups and downs. In the early periods of the Middle Ages it was for the most part carried out by what we would call the small man, a tinner, who got a licence from the landlord to extract tin, and with a couple of mates worked the shallow workings, which were easily worked, and earned a satisfactory livelihood. He would then take his tin at certain periods of the year into the Duchy of Cornwall assayers and have the Duchy mark stamped upon it, and then sell his tin to them. Later on, there came the era of a highly capitalised industry, and this was necessary because the shallow workings, of which we hear now in the Malay States and Nigeria, gave out in Cornwall and they had to revert to lode mining. It was fortunate, indeed, that at the time when they had to revert to lode mining the invention of the steam engine came along, as it enabled them to keep the mines pumped out. One hon. Member has mentioned the name of Watt and Davy. I should like to add a third name to those illustrious names, and that is the name of Trevithick, a statue to whom is being erected in the mining town of Camborne in a few days' time. Trevithick drove his steam engine up a hill far steeper than the Royal Scot would ever dream of ascending.
And so tin mining went on until we come to the period of the Great War. The Government gave the highest encouragement to the Cornish tin mines to turn out to the utmost of their capacity; and they did so. They were also requested by the Government to work the "eyes" of the mines in order to obtain the maximum output of wolfram, an element which was so needed at that time in the manufacture of high strength tungsten steel. The whole effect of the War on Cornish tin mining has been simply disastrous. They have not had a fair deal from any Government because an undertaking was given that a great wrong committed upon them would be put right.
The Government made a controlled price for tin fey entering into a combination with various of our allies to form an international buying pool, which bought at a low price. What has been the result? The price was low because there was only one buyer. The Cornish tin mines were not able to make the profits they needed to form reserves and have not been able to carry out that vital development work which they should have been able to carry out at the same time as they were carrying out production work. So serious was the position in. 1919 that a Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade was appointed under the able chairmanship of the right hon. Gentleman now the Minister for Labour, and that committee reported on the tin-mining industry in no uncertain terms. I will read an extract from their report:
It has been strongly impressed upon us, and we think with considerable justification, that the tin mining industry is entitled to special consideration on account of the following reasons:
If those words were true in 1920, when the committee reported, how much truer are they to-day. As I speak, the Cornish tin-mining industry is on its last legs. There are only three mines working now out of 13 working before the War, and of these one is a small mine, while the other two are using now the last few thousand pounds of their reserves, which they urgently need to meet the extra pumping charges due to the fact that surrounding mines are not being worked. They are trying, like drowning survivors, to keep their heads above water, with ever-increasing difficulty. The hon. Member will realise that, if these two mines are shut down and become: watered there is no likelihood whatever of capital being available to unwater them. The contemplation of further unemployment in what is the only industry in that part of Cornwall, an urbanised area, must be a very serious thought for the Government, but there is an added amount of unemployment due to the. fact that; many of our Cornish miners have been forced by world depression to return from foreign countries where they have been carrying on mining operations.
It has been a great tradition of the county of Cornwall that miners who have been trained there have gone out as pioneers all over the world to start similar industries in Rhodesia, Malaya, Nigeria, Bolivia, and many other countries. These miners are now having to come back in these hard times due to retrenchment and are adding to the already heavy total of unemployed which we have down there. The Rules of Order forbid me to suggest constructive proposals for alleviating the state of the industry, but I can assure the Secretary for Mines that we in the far west are urgently awaiting the publication of the report of the Metalliferous Sub-Committee. If, as we believe, that report will involve the expenditure of public money, we realise that we must not count on a certainty of the Government being able to furnish public money even, for a constructive proposal such as this at this time. But, nevertheless, we are looking to the time, not more than a year hence, when the finances of the country are in a better condition, when we can expect that monetary help to carry out constructive work for the permanent betterment of mining conditions.
If my hon. Friend will consent to receive a deputation representative of the tin mining industry, they will be only too, glad to wait upon, him and put forward their constructive proposals for rendering assistance to the industry, and he can then discuss them with the President of the Board of Trade with a view to legislative measures being passed. If the Minister of Labour holds the same views as he did in 1920 when he was Chairman of the Departmetal Com- mittee I feel sure that we have two. staunch allies in the mission we have before us, and that we in the West Country can look forward and wait, in the words of the. hon. Member for Lady-wood. (Mr. Lloyd) we can feel the hand of the ruler on our depressed industry.
I would like to allude to two remarks made by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), with the object of correcting one and supporting the other. I am quite sure the hon. Member would not wish to mislead the House in any way in his reference to what the Prime Minister has stated I think he said that in the "News Letter" the Prime Minister rather advocated the return to the eight-hour day, and asking whether the rise in price of coal would be tolerated by the housewife, rather suggested that he considered the Prime Minister had made the Opposition responsible for that rise. The hon. Member was quite wrong, and I propose to read the passage in question which is as follows:
When the Miners' Federation decided to improve the conditions of the miner they told us quite plainly that the cost of coal would rise, and it rose, as every working class household knows. To-day you can get cheap coal again by returning to the eight or nine hours day. Is the Labour Opposition willing to get cheap coal at that price?
The Prime Minister did not suggest that we should return to the eight-hours day. He asked whether the Labour Opposition is willing to get cheap coal at that price, and the answer is, of course, in the negative.
I am afraid I must have misunderstood the hon. Member, but I certainly did understand his remarks in the way I have said. I wish to say emphatically that no one could possibly read into this paragraph suggestion that the Labour Opposition were willing to return to the eight-hours day. As the hon. Member said, the out-look in the coal trade is very bad. I do net propose to go over the ground that has been so ably covered by hon. Mem- bers opposite, who have far greater experience and knowledge of the practical side of the business than I have. I wish to refer to one matter to which the hon. Member alluded—the new processes which all of us hope will bring some benefit. The tariff measures which the Government have put into force undoubtedly will improve the consumption of coal in this country, and will make up to some extent the losses we are suffering in the export trade. They will do so by the use of coal in the production of goods that have been imported from foreign countries, and again because manufacturers from abroad are setting up their factories here and using British coal. That will not make a very great difference, and we shall have to face the position that many thousands of colliers can never hope to get any work again in the industry, and that those who are employed will have very little opportunity of retaining a decent wage, and certainly not of getting a wage to which the danger and difficulty of their trade entitles them.
The Minister in his able speech did give us a gleam of hope when he referred to these new measures. I do not agree with the hon. Member below the Gangway who rather ridiculed the new processes. I agree that hydrogenation of coal holds out very little prospect of immediate commercial return, but I think there are other directions in which we may look, for instance to the pulverisation of coal and its use in locomotives and steamships. I also believe that there is an appreciable hope for the success of some processes of low temperature carbonisation and the hydrogenation of tar produced by these low temperature processes. We have here in the House, and in the London County Council an excellent demonstration of that low temperature fuel, and I am sure the Committee will agree that the fires made with that fuel are exceedingly good. Although the open hearth burning more coal may be more romantic, yet it is to the advantage of our health that in the buildings of London we should use smokeless fuel. I think I should be out of order in suggesting that the use of fuel, on the example set by the House and the London County Council, should be compulsorily followed in London, but I would like to see some legislation passed compelling houses above a certain rental to use smokeless fuel in London.
We have heard of the very good work done by the Fuel Research Board, and many of us who have been in touch with the Director of Fuel Research and his able staff, or who have been to Greenwich and seen the work done there, must begin to wonder when we are going to make use of that work which they are doing. We did not consider the question of costs and profits very carefully when the Government of the day created the beet-sugar subsidy. If we were to spend one tithe of the amount so spent on that industry in these new processes, I think that before very long we should see some satisfactory results and we should have hope of employing some of those unfortunate men of whom I have spoken. Is it too much to expect that in these hard times we should spend more than £7,000, the paltry sum which is expended on research in the second largest industry in the country? Some large companies spend five or ten times that amount in research and think they have very good value for their money.
I would beg the Minister to consider this question of research, and when at last our finances come to such a position as to enable us to deal with our research departments in the way they should be dealt with, is it too much to hope that he will subsidise or encourage his research department so that it may provide chances of an outlet for these special fuels? It is an extraordinary position that we find ourselves in, when we depend almost entirely on oil to propel our warships, and when the same warships are the convoy for the tankers which bring the further supplies on which their existence depends. Surely we should be able to take a broader view of this subject. If all industry had waited till new inventions became paying concerns, we should never have obtained the position in commerce which we have reached to-day. The artificial silk trade, which as hon. Members know, struggled for years and years, has now become one of the great industries in the country. I firmly believe that, if the Minister is in a position to do so, he should encourage the technical and scientific side of his Department. Then he will find that he has done the best work possible, and he will get the best possible value for his money.
The Secretary for Mines must have been more than satisfied this afternoon with the compliments he has received on the speech that he delivered in opening this Debate. In matter and in form I suppose it was a speech almost a model of its kind, and in the enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman we also were caught up and carried away. I trust that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm and his character will give us those concrete results which are so necessary, and that he will inspire us as much by results as he did by his speech. He presides over a Department which deals with the life and toil of some 800,000 workers. At a moderate estimate, some 5,000,000 people are directly interested in the work of his Department, and in the present condition, in spite of the parlous condition of the mining industry, it is even yet almost the very backbone of the life of this nation.
I wish to refer to a matter which has been avoided, and carefully avoided, by the Members of this Committee. It is to the credit of the Committee that almost every hon. Member has avoided the present difficulty, and the negotiations which are going on in respect of the mining industry, between the three parties, the miners, the coalowners and the National Government. I have been particularly in touch with those who have been negotiating with the Government this evening. I understand that they have been meeting the Government representatives during this evening. I am pleased to find that those discussions, although for the moment in abeyance, will be continued. Perhaps without running any danger of doing damage, I may be allowed to express the deep concern of the miners' representatives, those on the industrial side and those who are members of the Miners' Federation who sit in this House, at the manner in which this important matter is being allowed to drift. Everybody who knows how our trade is affected by these important issues, and especially those who know how our foreign competitors are watching these matters with eagle eyes—everyone who knows these things can see that, as far as trade and contracts are concerned, we are drifting into the danger zone.
I suppose there may be those who would rather that I did not make that statement, but I think we have arrived at the stage when it ought to be made. At any rate, I think it can be claimed, without any exaggeration, that the Miners' Federation have shown themselves to be almost models of business and discretion in this matter. The Committee must remember, however, that the Miners' Federation and the miners' leaders represent a vast body of constituents and that those Members must soon be informed on these matters. I raise this matter because, from the national point of view, it is extremely urgent that the question should be brought to an early and satisfactory conclusion, and I ask the hon. Gentleman, as Secretary for the Mines Department—we cannot ask the President of the Board of Trade, because he is not here—to see that the Government uses what strength and power and courage they have to settle this matter amicably at the earliest possible moment.
The hon. Gentleman in his opening speech dealt with the general production of the country and with the export trade, and he pointed out that the export trade had been going down for years, or at any rate had varied, and that on the first three months of this year it was down by 600,000 tons. I ask the Committee to note that fact. We are off the Gold Standard. We are in a position to sell cheaply and under better conditions than nations which are on the Gold Standard. We have had certain advantages, yet we are losing our export trade; and the tragedy of it is that we are losing it in, just those parts of the country which can least afford to lose any more trade. I was very pleased indeed to see the Leader of the House here during the greater part of this Debate, and I only wish he had stayed. I do not know what is going on in the Cabinet about this. matter. I do not know whether they appreciate what is happening in various districts throughout the country—in South Wales, to some extent in Yorkshire and to a greater extent on the North-East Coast. To-day collieries are being stopped—-not a temporary matter, not a matter of losing a few days' work—but stopped altogether, and these are collieries which, in spite of the difficulties of the last three years, have never lost a day. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the Government that there is very serious dissatisfaction, not merely among their political opponents, but even among coalowners and those who have to do with the export trade. I do not wish to pursue this subject further except to say that unless the Government take steps to deal with the question of export on grounds of emergency, the North-East Coast, at any rate, will be closed down before we are very much older.
I am sorry if I have been misunderstood. I meant that it was due to the import quota of foreign countries. It means that the Government must change their mind on their present policy and have definite negotiations. That is the root of the whole matter, and it will be disgraceful if, for the rest of the country, areas like these have to close down. Some hon. Gentlemen have dealt with the position under Part II of the Coal Mines Act and several have criticised it. One hon. Member took the line that there were natural and unnatural amalgamations. I suppose that the natural ones are those that amalgamate and the unnatural ones are those that do not amalgamate. I wish he had told us what a natural amalgamation is. Is it not true, however, that the present state in which there is no co-operation between companies from a practical working and business point of view is absolutely ridiculous? I have known a colliery which was searching for coal. They were probing here and there in various directions in order to try and find it. The next colliery, however, knew that the coal was there and where it was, but it was not their business to do even ordinary business with the next colliery. That is only a slight instance of the ridiculous position in which we find ourselves because of the present system of private ownership where everybody can do what they like. Is it not a fact that there are cases in some districts where three companies actually want to amalgamate but that a fourth will not simply because it suits their particular interest not to amalgamate? I appreciate the point put by the hon. Lady. She wants to know what would happen to certain collieries if there were amalgamation, the little collieries where there is a human relationship between the workers and the management. I know those small collieries where that human relationship exists, and we do not want to end it, but irresistible economic facts are compelling us to view this matter in a fresh light. It has become almost a matter of life and death for us. Everyone who appreciates the human relationship side, who knows of a colliery where the manager knows the boy and knew his father and his grandfather, wants to retain that state of things if possible, but economic facts are driving us away from the old standards which we reverence, because those little collieries have become almost impossible as a business proposition.
There is another subject to which I wish the Committee to pay particular attention. Ever since the Secretary for Mines took office he has been troubled about the danger zone in Durham. There is a very real point of danger there, concerned with the old collieries which have been closed, the collieries which the hon. Lady admired so much up in Bishop Auckland. They are closed now, and it may be truly said that one of the reasons why they have gone under is because they have been unable to work together. Those collieries are situated on the outer edge of the basin. There could not be a more perfect simile than that of a basin, so far as the Durham coalfield is concerned. Up in Bishop Auckland and on the west side there are great accumulations of water. The pits have been closed, pumping has been stopped, and the water has been coming down from the outer edges of the county and the shafts are being filled up. It is no imaginary danger.
Managers of mines in the immediate neighbourhood know that it is a danger to their pits. Men in collieries there have brought this matter to the attention of the Durham Miners Council, and themselves have made representations to the owners about it. If that water were to break away it would overwhelm these other colleries, and a position would arise with which it would be almost impossible to deal. When we ask the Secretary for Mines about it he says that he does what he can, but I think he has no comprehensive power to put pumping arrangements into operation. Nobody has any responsibility. If there were an amalgamation of companies, if there were some unit covering the whole coalfield, then, of course, the matter would be attended to. The colliery owners know that as a business proposition as well as a human proposition it ought to be dealt with, but nothing is done. A common responsibility for pumping ought, by hook or by crook, to be laid upon the owners of that coalfield. I do not see any way in which this difficulty can be dealt with save through the work of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission. At any rate, that is the only way until the people of this country have the good sense to nationalise the mines.
The story I have told could be told of other parts of the country, but I have not time to. deal with them now, because I wish to leave the hon. Gentleman sufficient time in which to reply. He has told us of the decrease in accidents, and we were very pleased to hear the figures he gave, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) pointed out, there is some slight difference between those figures and the figures taken from the Ministry of Labour Gazette and those which appear in the annual statement of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. The figure is 867 in 1931. There is just the difference of a few, and it is less. I was very pleased to hear that figures which he gave were less because, after all, there were in 1930 931,000 men working in the pits, and at the end of 1931 there were 843,000. That is getting on for 100,000 less, and that is a big difference. What is the number now? The figures show a considerable reduction, and, as a matter of fact, the same thing took place in 1929. It was pointed out on page 62 of the Coal Mines report that in 1929–30 the death rate per thousand employed both below and above ground under the Coal Mines Act was, in 1929, 1.11 per thousand persons, and 1930 1.7, but as a matter of fact the death rate per 100,000 shifts was the same in 1929 as it was in 1390. So that taking the ordin- ary comparison per thousand persons, it was less in 1930 with less men working, and yet for the shifts worked the position was practically the same as in 1929.
There is another point to which I want to draw attention before I close. Hon. Members have talked about the miner being conservative because he would not accept steel props. All I have to say is that when you are making an experiment your enthusiasm is in proportion to whether you are making the experiment, or you are going to be experimented upon, and that is the whole difference. I have been the subject of experiments. I do not think I am narrow or prejudiced, but I know something about what happens in those circumstances. I have cut my remarks short, and all I want to say in conclusion is that I trust the hon. Gentleman will give a satisfactory reply to the questions which I put to him upon the present position of the negotiations, and tell us at any rate that they are going to get on with the job, and settle the matter at an early date. I hope the hon. Gentleman will give a satisfactory answer to the other questions which have been put to him more particularly in reference to export questions. My final word is to tell the Secretary for Mines that if the Government do not undertake to negotiate about the import quotas in respect of other countries very soon, the whole of the export trade in the North of England will be lost, and the Government will be held directly responsible for almost doing to death the greater part of the export trade in this country in regard to the mines.
I want to thank Members of the Committee for the way in which they have dealt with the Estimates that they have been considering. I cannot recall a more friendly Debate on this subject, and we have had the advantage of being able to discuss an industry in which we are all closely concerned without a touch of acrimony, and with a desire to make constructive suggestions for its improvement. The point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), as to the current negotiations, touches, of course, something that is uppermost in our minds at the present time. Although we have been discussing some of the more practical aspects of the mining question, our minds, perhaps, have been concerned with what is the more pressing issue just now. I am sorry that the hon. Member should have allowed himself to say that we are allowing the matter to drift. Ever since I have been at the Department, the date 8th July has been written upon my mind, and every attempt has been made by the Government to bring about some settlement of this matter, so that we might not have the agonising experience of earlier years of trying to settle at the eleventh hour what should have been settled in the middle of the day.
I am not, of course, allowed on this occasion to discuss the matter that has been raised by the hon. Gentleman, but he urged that the Government should do what they could to settle this matter amicably. A settlement, however, does not rest with us, but the Government have urged that the two parties concerned should arrive at a settlement. Nothing would please the Government more than to be able to embody in legislation, with proper safeguards for the public interest, an amicable settlement arrived at by the parties concerned. I do not want it to be suggested that there is any indifference on the part of the Government towards this matter. It is something that is before us every day, and the meetings which have taken place so far, and which I could wish had taken place earlier, have been brought about as a result of our strong pressure and suggestion.
We are within 15 or 16 minutes of Eleven o'clock, and the number of questions that have been put to me in the course of the Debate must, I think, have run into a hundred or two. It is impossible for me, with the best will in the world, to answer the several questions that have been put, but the suggestions have been so helpful that I should like to go carefully through, with the help of my colleagues in the Department, all that has been said to-day, and in many cases I think I should like to communicate with the Members concerned on the points that they have raised.
Many points have been raised, notably one relating to the operation of Part I of the Act on Merseyside. That is a subject upon which I shall be glad to communicate with my hon. Friend who raised the point. Some doubt has been thrown on the suggestion I made that we were presenting, as far as exemption from accidents was concerned, the best record since the Department was established. I was hoping that those figures would be generally welcomed, because they are not the work of the Department only, or of the management only; they are the result of general co-operation throughout the industry.
I do not think there can be any doubt that there is the progressive improvement to which I referred. The test that I have is as to the fatalities in relation to every thousand men employed. The figures were, in 1928, 1.04, in 1929 1.11, in 1930 1.07, and in 1931 0.98. That is the record, and I hope that may answer the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Graham), who also expressed some doubt as to the progressive improvement. Both in respect of fatalities and of serious accidents and accidents involving absence from work for more than three days there has been this progressive improvement. I do not want to be in any sense putting too much emphasis upon it, because the figures might be worse next year, but the fact that that tendency is in the right direction will be cordially welcomed. I should like to supplement my earlier figures at the request of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). When I took the comparison between 1913 and 1931, I was asked if I would give the difference in wages as paid in those two years. The figures, as given to me, are that in June, 1914, the average earnings per shift, plus allowances in kind, were 6s. 10¾d. and, in the last quarter of 1931, 9s. 6¾d. In 1914, of course, it was an 8-hours day and last year it was 7½ hours.
I can only give the figures which have been supplied to me. They may be qualified because of differences in some districts. [Interruption.] I am not sure. All I know is that they appear as the result of a request made in a question. If there is any doubt about the figures, or if they can be amplified, if hon. Members will communicate with me, I shall be glad to give the information. I should like to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Camborne (Lieut.-Commander Agnew) who raised the question of the tin industry in Cornwall. It would be unfortunate if we had a Debate and that ancient industry did not, at any rate, occupy some part of it. My hon. and gallant Friend asked if I would receive a deputation representing the industry. Although I am always willing to receive any deputation from Cornwall, I think it would be far better to wait for the publication of the report and then for the deputation to see me, when they would have all the facts before them. Otherwise, it would mean probably a double journey, and Cornwall is a long way off and railway travelling is very costly.
If I may turn to the question of inspection, the suggestion has been made that inspection is not frequent enough. I suppose that really means that we have not enough inspectors. I can only point out that, when the Labour Government appointed additional inspectors in 1924, the number of mines was 2,911 and the persons employed in the raising of coal was 1,162,000. In 1931 the number of mines had fallen to 2,243 so that we have the same inspectorate dealing with a smaller number of mines and with men numbering 867,000, as against over a million, and, therefore, there is a large number more inspections and the mines are much more frequently visited and I am assured, although I am told again that you cannot eradicate this from the belief of the miners, that most of these inspections are made without previous notice being given. It is quite understood that you cannot realize the purpose of inspection unless there is a surprise visit and the inspector has a chance of seeing the mine without it being prepared for him and seeing it as it is. ordinarily worked. I am not there, of course, to examine them myself, but that is the assurance given to me.
He goes there without any previous warning, and if the men know he is coming, then it is because of some special prescience of the miners. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has raised the question of the employment of boys at night underground. I am sorry that my enforced attendance at discussions elsewhere prevented me from hearing his speech. The number of such boys is 8,000, as far as we can calculate. I am bound to say I need strong arguments to convince me it would be necessary to employ boys underground under the age of 16 at night. When I met the Miners' Federation not long ago, I asked them to let me have a memorandum giving the arguments in support of their case. That memorandum is being prepared and when it is presented it will be considered. Boys under 16 are prohibited from working on the surface at night and yet they are at liberty to work underground. I do not know quite what the rate of accidents would be among boys, but I welcome what has been said in this House in drawing attention to the steps necessary to prevent those accidents. What the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said was very helpful because it came from one who has had immediate experience in this direction.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) put two questions to me which I will answer very briefly. With regard to the German electric safety lamp to which he referred, that must go before the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I have no power to interfere with their investigation, but we suggested that the importers might make representations, and the matter must rest there. If the Committee communicate with us, we shall be happy to give them information at our disposal, but I do not think we have any further powers of intervention. With regard to the Ringrose detector, this subject has occupied a great deal of the attention of the Mines Department. There has been a suggestion that we have been dilatory in this matter. We have not been dilatory. The subject was referred to in January, and there was a meeting of the Miners' Federation on 17th February. That is when the matter was discussed with the Miners' Federation. We have to consider not only what is said to us by the Miners' Federation and by the Association of Deputies, Firemen and Examiners, but the reports presented to us on the other side also, and what is said by the Safety in Mines Research Board in relation to this matter. It is possible to take steps in the supposed interests of safety that really may not have that result.
It is against that we want to take every care. We want to try this lamp out not merely under special conditions and in a few mines, but in such a way that the test is regarded as being fully satisfactory by the men who will have to use the lamps. That is the essential thing, if we are to move from what has been a very great safeguard in past years—the miners' flame safety lamp for which credit is due to a great Cornishman, Sir Humphry Davy. Investigations must be made very thoroughly and we are having 100 detectors tested in several mines in the country. In order to do that we have to enlist the interests and sympathy of the Mining Association. It is quite true there has been on their part some necessary delay in making these arrangements, but they will be carried through with expedition having regard to the seriousness of the interests that are raised by any change that may be brought about in the regulations.
I can quite understand the deep and anxious concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Nicholson) and by the hon. Member who has just taken his seat with relation to the export trade of the North-East Coast. A heavy burden having fallen upon the industry, it has fallen with a disproportionate weight upon the North-Eastern area. That has occurred very largely because they are dealing with a class of coal which cannot be sold in other parts of this country, if they are shut out from their market abroad. I am not concerned with the representations to other Governments here to-day but we are aware of them, and representations to foreign countries have been made in the strongest terms. It may be that stronger terms still will be needed, but for myself I should find it difficult to look upon any language as too strong in which to express our indignation at the burdens which are imposed upon us by those restrictions and quotas.
I should imagine that under recent legislation the power is put into our hands, and for myself, if that power is there, I cannot imagine that it could be used in a better cause than this. Some of the recent legislation may be criticised in some respects, but if it has any advantages I want those advantages to be utilised for the coal industry. [Interruption.]
In the two minutes left to me, I wish to deal with a subject which ought to have been dealt with earlier in the Debate. It is not with regard to the men employed in the mines, but with regard to the ponies. Since I have been at the Department I have been very much impressed by the interest taken by outside associations. I do not resent but welcome the interest shown by the outside organisations which exist for the protection of the ponies in the mines. Not long ago, as a result of action taken by my predecessor, a close inquiry was made into the working of the ponies in the pit. Practically more than half of those ponies were brought under examination, not merely by the inspectors, but by our consulting veterinary surgeons. The result of that inspection would be very reassuring to anyone who cared to go into the figures. The number of animals which were carelessly or negligently dealt with was really very small indeed. Some districts were better than others, and there is one district where excellent work has been done by one of the animal welfare societies in Yorkshire who had been entertaining the pit boys to the extent of many hundreds and getting them interested in their work. I wish that that sort of thing could be done elsewhere. I would not like this Debate to close to-night, although so many urgent questions have been pressed upon us, if a word had not been said on behalf of those thousands of animals engaged in the work of our mines.
That is all with which I have time to deal, and I shall be glad if hon. Members will communicate with me upon any point with which I may not have dealt. We will carefully consider the many suggestions which they have made, and I would like to express, especially to those who can speak with the special authority of having themselves worked in the mines, my thanks for the assistance they have given us to-day in the very constructive suggestions which they have made.