The House will be distressed to hear of the accident at Cynheidre colliery in which six miners were killed and 25 injured. Thanks to the efforts of the rescue teams, all men are accounted for. I am glad to say that the injured are making good recovery; with possibly one exception, all have been or will shortly be discharged from hospital.
The accident, which is believed to have been caused by an outburst of gas and coal, will be fully investigated by H.M. Inspectors of Mines and Quarries with the co-operation of the National Coal Board and the trade unions concerned.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I were speaking for the whole House when we sent our deepest sympathy to the relatives, friends and colleagues of the victims.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to make a statement at such short notice.
Before I endorse the hon. Gentleman's expressions of sympathy, may I urge on him and his Department the need to ensure not only that the proposed inquiry is far reaching, but also that every effort is made to accelerate the research which is going on at Cynheidre colliery into the causes of these so-called gas blowouts? If we could find out what are the real causes of these blow-outs, we might be able to devise some adequate safety precautions. I hope that the Department will give every assistance to the Coal Board to enable it to carry out these researches.
I am sure that the whole House wishes to endorse the hon. Gentleman's expressions of profound sympathy at this tragic occurrence, especially with the families and dependants of the men who have died in this accident. We have heard that 25 miners are still injured. We can only hope that their recovery will be complete and that they do not suffer any consequences from their terrible and traumatic experience.
I want also to endorse the Minister's tribute to all those who assisted in the rescue operation. I have been told that if it had not been for the prompt and selfless action of the rescuers an even greater tragedy might have occurred.
Unfortunately, accidents of this kind are not uncommon in mining areas. We can only hope on these occasions that such accidents serve to remind us that the cost of coal is very high, as they remind us of the tremendous courage and bravery of men who burrow in the bowels of the earth to recover this important source of power which is to vital to the well being of the community.
Perhaps the best way in which we can show our sympathy is to see to it that the widows and dependants of these men are generously and compassionately treated by using the power of this House to try to repay a little part of the heavy and accumulating debt that we as a community owe our miners and their families.
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the efforts of the rescue teams. I am sure that he is right in what he said.
He raised the matter of research. As I am sure he knows, this problem of out-burst is a very strange phenomenon. The exact cause of it is still not yet understood. Research has been going on for a very long time. It is taking place very effectively at the Great Mountain research area in West Wales under the auspices of the National Coal Board. The Divisional Inspector of Mines is the chairman of the committee which is supervising the research. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman also knows, the site of the work being done in West Wales is frequently visited by engineers from other countries where this phenomenon also occasionally occurs. That shows the extent to which we are leading in this research.
Obviously we await the results of the investigation by H.M. Inspectors. I shall then have to consider whether a special report or a public inquiry is needed. Before deciding that, I must await further information.
I endorse all that my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Denzil Davies) has said, and I crave the indulgence of the House to express my sympathy in view of the fact that three of the miners killed were my constituents. I know that there is great sorrow in the Gwendraeth and Amman valleys, the mining area in which I was horn and bred.
May I ask the Minister about the research unit set up at Cynheidre Colliery in 1958? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many people are employed in this unit and whether he envisages any additional measures being required to assist the unit's endeavour to overcome the problem which has occurred from time to time in the anthracite area of South Wales and other parts of the country?
I want also to endorse the view expressed by my hon. Friend about the rescuers. I rang the union's branch secretary last night and he paid tribute lo them and to the many miners who, after recovering consciousness, went back to help bring out others. This is a manifestation of the great comradeship that there is in our mining communities. It deserves our great admiration.
I cannot give the exact information about the numbers actually employed. I can confirm that the phenomenon occurs in this valley area and is due, one assumes, to the geological conditions there. The work which has been done already has been designed to ensure the provision of all possible safety precautions to safeguard against any anticipated development of this kind, but obviously they cannot guard against totally unforeseen events of the kind which took place in this instance.
As the only remaining member of the National Union of Mineworkers in this House from South Wales and having spent the greater part of my life in the mining industry, may I express my sympathy on behalf of all miners to the relatives and friends of those who have died and the fervent hope that those injured will soon achieve a complete recovery? May I say, too, how pleased I am that once again the rescue operations were so magnificent, as they have been in all previous mining accidents? It is greatly to the credit of those miners who went back to try to help those less fortunate than themselves.
I thank the Minister for his prompt statement that an inquiry will be held. Will he assure the House that when it has been concluded a thorough investigation into this problem will be undertaken? In an industry where this danger is constantly present, something must be done to make the job safer. I hope that the Minister will devote much of his atten- tion towards this end. The miners of Britain will be grateful.
In case there is any misunderstanding, obviously before I can determine whether there should be a special report or a public inquiry I must have further information from the inspectors. But I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments. What has happened emphasises the hazardous nature of the occupation itself, but the way that the rescue teams responded gives an indication of the spirit of teamwork which inspires all those engaged in it.