I beg to move,
This is one of the most important subjects that can be brought before the House, a subject imbued with tragedy more awful than was ever depicted by the greatest genius. The deaths and accidents occurring daily, yea hourly, in our mines are among the great horrors of our industrial civilisation. The accidents that occurred in the year 1922 were responsible for 1,029 deaths. The figures of serious accidents, causing incapacity for snore than seven days, are not, yet published. For the five years ended 31st December, 1914, the average number killed per year was 1,495 persons. The average number injured per year and incapacitated for more than seven days, was no less than 164,150 persons. For the four years ended 31st December, 1921, the average was 1,125 persons killed per year, and 107,969 disabled for more than seven days. For the 10 years ended 1921, the total number killed in the industry in the United Kingdom was 12,897. The serious accidents figures are not available, but, certainly, they were over a million. I want to refer to the accident's that took place last year, and to show what kind of accidents they were. I have not got the complete list, but I and my colleagues are very much indebted to the Secretary for Mines for the great mass of information which he has supplied to us during the last few weeks. From falls of roof and sides in 1922 there were 548 killed. The number given as cases of serious injury was 1,911. From explosions of fire damp or coal dust there were 73 killed and 123 seriously injured. By explosives, including accidents due to shot firing, there were 17 killed and 297 seriously injured. Haulage accidents below ground were 212 killed and 1,127 seriously injured. Shaft accidents were responsible for 40 persons killed, and there were 97 cases of serious injury. The purpose of this Debate is to draw the attention of the Minister and of the Home to these terrible accidents, and to suggest some improvement in the Mines Act whereby this terrible death-rate can be reduced. The first suggestion I have to make is that there should be a shaft sunk if the working face exceeds one mile from the shaft. Some working faces, to my own personal knowledge, are no less than three miles from the pit bottom, and there is nothing in the Mines Act which places any limit to the distance that these underground workings can go from the shaft bottom. There is a Section in the Act which prevents two shafts being less than fifteen yards apart, but there is nothing in the Act to prevent them being fifteen miles apart. If these shafts were only a mile from the working place, it would, to start with, reduce haulage costs which represent a very serious factor in mining. I have already shown that haulage accidents are very numerous and it would also reduce the number of these accidents besides improving the ventilation of the colliery, improving the health of the miner, reducing the risk of explosion and reducing the quantity of coal dust on roadways. These are incontrovertible facts and in view of the fact that the mining industry has been, until recently, one of the wealthiest industries of the country—an industry which has yielded the whole of its capital Lack to the colliery owners every ten years—it is a grave reflection upon the colliery owners that they have not sunk more shafts in this country so that We might have the benefits I have already enumerated. Accidents arising from falls of roofs and sides are the most numerous. I think the number which I have already given, is no less than 548 for last year, which is over 50 per cent. of the entire total of fatal accidents below ground. Nothing in my opinion is more deserving of the attention of the Mines Department than the reduction of the number of accidents from falls of roof and sides. In the "Colliery Guardian" for this week—9th March—the editor writes:"That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in mines, and is of opinion that legislation to improve and strengthen the provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, should be introduced and carried into law without delay in order to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry.''
He goes on to say, and this is very note-worthy:"From a statistical standpoint the death-rate from falls of roof and sides in coal mining is truly appalling."
That refers to accidents from falls of roof and sides and it is the testimony of the "Colliery Guardian" which is the colliery owners' paper. I do not know that they own it, but it always takes up their side of the question and I think therefore that is remarkable testimony. The prevention of these falls of roof and side is the most important subject that can occupy-the minds of mining engineers. I find on going through some of the records of this House that the question has been discussed here many times. I find that when, Mr. McKenna was Home Secretary he was asked what steps were being taken to stow vacant places at the mines by hydraulic pressure, but nothing has been done in that respect, although it. is several years ago since the question was raised. Stowing is the best wad- of reducing the number of these accidents and in saying that I am supported by the highest authorities. The best way of reducing these accidents is to stow the vacant places with rubbish instead of bringing it tip the pit to defile the surface. This would reduce the spaces for accumulations of gas, promote safer conditions and largely prevent "weight" or "squeeze" and would reduce the number of falls of roof especially in seams lying close together. It would also prevent subsidences and the destruction of very valuable and vital public and private property on the surface. As I say, I am supported in this view by the highest authorities, and I should like to quote from a very eminent mines inspector who was inspecting the North Stafford Collieries at the time when I worked there. I am referring to Mr. Arthur Robert Sawyer. He wrote a book on "Accidents in Mines"—one of the finest hooks in my opinion ever written on the subject, containing more than 100 diagrams of places he had personally visited after these fatal accidents. Like everyone else in that profession, he urges that something should be done to reduce the terrible death rate from falls of roof and sides. He writes:"There was a marked decrease in the accident rate following the passing of the 1887 Act, but from 1892 there has been no perceptible improvement."
He gives first place to "packing the gob entirely," and says, "Where this is done the. subsidence is gradual," that is, it has very little ill effects because the superincumbent strata come down very gradually on to the gob. Where stowing is not. done, he says:"The roof has generally to be supported, not only to ensure the safety of the workmen, but also to enable them to pursue their work at all. That is done in a variety of ways."
We have another mining authority, Mr. Daniel Burns, mining engineer and professor of mining in the Royal Technical College, Glasgow. He says that"Men have to resort to precipitate flight owing to the sudden total or partial crashing of the gob…Packs should be regularly formed and kept to the face systematically…The enforcement of such rules would indicate to the workmen the best and most approved manner of keeping themselves safe."
That view he publishes in his work called "Safety in Coal Mines." Haulage accidents below ground were last year responsible for 212 deaths and 1,127 cases of serious injury. Shorter distances between the shafts would, as I have said, reduce these accidents. Many of them are due to faulty couplings causing trams to run away, yet there are plenty of shackles and couplings invented to make uncoupling impossible, but they are not used. Safety is always made subordinate to the output and the cost We, as miners, know that many inventions have been made to reduce the number of accidents arising from haulage. I should like at this point to put in a plea for the overworked pit pony. One of the most. pitiable subjects that we could deal with is the condition of the underground animals. There is nothing in the Mines Act that specifies how many hours they shall work. There is some general phraseology that they shall not be overworked, but that can be stretched very liberally by any colliery manager who wants to escape a prosecution. What we say is that there should be definite hours of labour for the horse the same as there is for the man, and that he should be regularly fed, and not be overloaded. These animals very often pull very heavy trams of coal down long inclines, and they are so weak that they are not able to resist the pressure of the load, which very often run away with them down these hills, and accidents ensue. I commend to the Minister the necessity of revising the Regulations at once with reference to the treatment of these dumb animals underground. It is absolutely horrifying to think of these poor brutes working down the pit sometimes three and four shifts without any rest, especially during the week-end, and I hope that, this will have. the attention of the Minister. I recommend to the Minister that he should give the greatest possible encouragement to those who are inventing appliances for reducing accidents in mines. Amongst the miners there are a large number of men with inventive genius, and they have come to our conferences over and over again and brought their appliances, at great cost and trouble to themselves, on purpose to exhibit them before the conference, hut, strange to say, very seldom are these appliances adopted by colliery owners, who find some reason or another for not adopting them, and I say that these men should have every encouragement—men who invent safety shackles, shot firing appliances, and many kinds of patents for reducing accidents. I want to say a word or two here on the question of shot firing, because I contend that there is an appliance on the market to-day that should be adopted. I am not. going to name it.. and it has not been named in the Government. Reports, but I daresay the Minister knows very well the appliance to which I refer. I contend—and I have very strong evidence to support. me, as I shall show before I have finished—that this appliance would practically wipe out these terrible accidents. From 1919 to 1922 there were no fewer than 61 men killed and 645 injured by shot firing. The secretary for Mines, in answer to a question put to him by the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. W. John), deprecated the introduction of a certain appliance, and said that it is liable to get out of order, that it delays and hinders the operation of shot firing, and that the vast majority of shot firing accidents would not be prevented by the use of appliances of this kind. I have got overwhelming evidence here—and I shall furnish it to the Minister after this Debate is over—from managers and mining engineers at some of the largest and most dangerous collieries in the country that are using this appliance, and I will enumerate some of these colliery companies. There is the Markham Colliery Company, the Dinas Colliery Company, the Pwllbach Colliery Company, the Taibach Colliery Company, the Llynypra Colliery Company, the Ely Colliery Company. and the Glamorgan Coal Company, and there are many others besides, but the very highest testimony is given by the managers of these collieries as to the efficacy of this appliance in preventing accidents. Another method that I would recommend for the reduction of accidents is to improve the lighting. I find that the Miner's Lamp Committee has just issued its Report, which is signed by Mr. T. Greenland Davies, His Majesty's Inspector of Mines, Sir W. Walker, Mr. Hubert .Jonkins, of South Wales, Mr. S. Rocbuck, of Yorkshire, and others. This Committee recommend that General Regulation 5 should be amended to establish beyond doubt that the examination which it requires includes an examination of working places for inflammable and noxious gases in all cases in which a workman is provided with a flame safety lamp, and that a sufficient number of flame safety lamps should be used by competent workmen to examine their working places at reasonable intervals during the shift. I hope the Minister will rote that his own inspectors recommend an amendment of the Act, and that is what we are asking for to-night. We are supported on a very important point by his own Department."Heavy falls of roof in old workings, set free large quantities of gas from the overlying strata which may prove a source of danger to the miner."
Does the hon. Member mean the Regulation, or the Act?
General Regulation 5. This question of lighting is a very serious question indeed. To the minors it is all- important. It enables them to detect slips and slants in the roof and to protect themselves very largely from falls of roof and sides, and by giving them a better light it would wipe out what is known as miner's nystagmus, which is one of the most terrible complaints that the miner suffers from, and which is almost entirely due to bad lighting. I find that last year certificates were given to 1,986 victims of this complaint and that 4,804 were brought over from previous years, showing that no fewer than 6,790 miners to-day are suffering from this terrible disease. This entails an enormous cost, if it is only in compensation, and say that on grounds of economy, as well as on grounds of humanity, it would pay the companies to improve the lighting of the collieries.Another system that could be recommended for reducing accidents is to have a more efficient method of inspection. The present system of inspection is very unsatisfactory. I do not attach any blame to the inspectors, because their number is inadequate; that is not their fault. I find in one of the reports by an inspector, I think, from Yorkshire, that in the. year 1919 there were only a dozen inspectors for 461 coal mines. I wish to make this observation with reference to this matter of the inspection that after inspectors visit the mines, the reports are withheld: there is a great deal of complaint from that cause. When an inspector visits a mine he generally inspects part of a colliery by taking a district underground. He goes away, writes his report, I presume, and that report is a sealed document. It is put into the archives of the Ministry of Mines, and no one knows anything further about it. We contend that these reports should be published, sent to the miners, and also given to the coal-owners so that the benefit of the inspection can be realised by those responsible. Again, we say that the firemen's duties should be confined to looking solely after safety. The fireman should not be held responsible for cost and output. His duties should be entirely restricted to looking after the safety of the men under him. He should have a district or area that he could keep under constant supervision. The districts, to my certain knowledge, are very much too large at present, and the examiner is not properly able to supervise, his district. I am going to suggest something that I am certain will not meet with the approbation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I am going to suggest that these men should be appointed by the workmen, who place themselves in their hands. It is one of the saddest commentaries upon our present system that those who are interested in the cheap production of coal are those who have the sole right to appoint these men to look after the safety and the lives of those under them. In any proper system of mining these men would have sole and absolute control over the men who were responsible for their lives. If this cannot be done I respectfully submit that the colliery examiners should be taken from under the control and authority of the coal-owners and the official should be appointed by the State. He would not then have any intimidation: his life would not depend upon the truthfulness or the untruthfulness of his reports. In respect to the workmen's inspectors I want to say this monthly interval ought to be taken out of the Act. These men representing the workmen should have the right to inspect the mines any time they choose, and not be debarred by a time limit as now. If such a system of inspection were adopted it would very materially reduce accidents. I want to say a few words about the Department. I find the cost of the Mines Department is by Statute limited to £250,000 per year that is less than a farthing per ton. In 1922 this 2250,000 was reduced to £170,284, and in the Estimate for the present financial year it is further reduced to £95,284 or less than one-eighth of a penny per ton. If there is such a thing as criminal economy it is here. With a death roll and an accident roll like we have there can be no pretext whatever for economising in the Mines Department. I should not like to have it on my conscience, if I were the Minister of Mines, that by having first one official and then another sent away there might as a result be widows and orphans. It .is no use saying that efficiency is not impaired by reducing the expenditure. We cannot at ail accept that. We cannot see that the Geddes axe or any other axe is justified in cutting down the expenditure of this Department which is responsible for the lives of 1,100,000 men. In 1922 there was approximately 3,300, mines at work, and there were only 86 inspectors. This was one to every 38 mines, which was entirely inadequate. Again, with reference to another part of the Department of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I refer to what is known as the Safety in Mines Research Board. This Board consists of 10 very eminent and highly-qualified specialists, w ho are appointed to direct the general work of the Mines Research Department, which inquires into cases of dangerous mines with a view to preventing such danger. So far as I know, we have very little result from this Department. I should like to ask the Minister, in his reply, to say what it has done, what it is doing now, and what that branch says about preventing accidents from falls of the roof, haulage, shot-firing, explosions, and a very terrible disease known as miner's nystagmus? Is this Department really functioning or is it being strangled on the ground of economy" If this Department is working, we should like to have some results, and we should like the miners to be convinced. and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. that the appliances which I have enumerated are either efficient or not efficient for reducing the accident roll in mines. One can easily visualise plenty of work for this Research Department and there can be no nobler work for any body of men to be engaged in. In conclusion, let me say that the legislation passed by this House from 1872 onwards has made the mines much safer than before. As an industry we are very grateful for the legislation passed by this House of Commons at the urgent request of our predecessors, the effect of which has been to reduce the death and accident roll in mines. I find that the average number of deaths per thousand for the 10 years 1873–1882 was 2·24, while in 1919 it went down to 94 per thousand, or less than one-half. These are very gratifying figures, and it shows that a reduction of accidents inevitably follows preventive legislation. I say there can be no justification for not getting the benefits which are continually accruing from science when applied to the mining industry. and we ought to have these benefits at the earliest possible moment. We have, to-day, in spite of all the improvements. a death roll of over 1,000 men per annum and over 100,000 maimed and mangled and mutilated in mines. Therefore we want this Act of Parliament drastically amended. We say, further, that the Government can have no adequate reason or justification for refusing to legislate on this question. The death roll is terribly appalling, and I hope as a result of this humble effort that we shall have still further reductions in the death roll.
I rise to second the Resolution which has just been moved by the hon. Member for the Abertillery Division (Mr. Barker) and, in doing so, I wish to draw the attention of the House to a section of workers who are not underground workers, but whose labour is confined to the surface. In particular I would like to ask for the consideration of the House whilst I attempt to bring to the minds of hon. Members the responsibilities attached to this kind of work and the conditions surrounding the work of the class known as colliery winding enginemen. If I have the temerity to suggest to this House that there is no class of colliery workers more important for the safe working of the industry than winding enginemen. I hope hon. Members will not think I am stretching the fact. I am quite sure they will pardon me if I do somewhat stretch the fact, because I served for over 20 years as a winding engineman myself, and I should not be worthy of my calling if I did not stand up in defence of my own trade. I should like to ask for the indulgence of the House while I call attention to the position of the colliery winding enginemen. I hope I shall not be considered disrespectful to the position which you occupy, Mr. Speaker, when I say that you may get up from your Chair and go out and leave behind you something that you will need, and all that would happen would be that you would return to fetch or cause it to be brought to you. A winding enginemen has not that opportunity, because a mistake in a fraction of time is irrecoverable, and he has no chance to recover after an oversight. When you remember that in the deepest windings that are taking place to-day hardly more than a minute is taken in completing the wind from start to finish, you will recognise that there is not much time to make a mistake and recover it. For these reasons, I think it will be generally agreed that these men carry a very heavy responsibility, when you consider in another relation the number of lives entrusted to their care all through their shift. If you couple this with the suggestion which I have endeavoured to put before the House, it will be easily recognised how near, not merely to accidents but to death and injury they are as a consequence of accidents. It is particularly in the explanation of the position of these men in relation to the Coal Mines Act that I desire to address the House in seconding this Resolution. I want to refer in the first place to the Coal Mines Act of 1911, in that relation wherein it provides that there shall be attached to every winding engine an over-winding apparatus, which is put there to prevent, or, if I may say so, to correct the forgetfulness that may ensue in the working of the winding engine. I agree with the hon. Member who moved the Resolution when he states that all he has said and all the pleadings he has urged have simply been with a desire to persuade the Government to recognise that the time has come when we might reasonably ask them to consider the desirability of amending the Coal Mines Act. of 1911. We have had that Act in operation until mill mining has changed many of its aspects in that time, conditions and circumstances have altered, and we have had plenty of time to see and realise the shortcomings of that Act and the undoubted need that exists for improving it.With regard to the provision of overwinding apparatus, if you turn to the Act you will find that the reference to this matter is not at all clear, neither is it as definite as we believe it should be in order to ensure safety to life, limb and property. It merely says that there shall be an overwinding apparatus, and that is the end of it. It does not define or lay clown where it shall be attached or at what time it shall come into operation. It does not lay down that such apparatus shall be under definite control, and it does not say that it shall be-inspected periodically or at all. It lays down no rule in respect of the adjustment of such apparatus, and the result is that from time to time we have evidence coming to us in cases of overwinding where either the overwinding apparatus has not operated at all, or else that it has been set so that it does not come into operation as effectively as it should do to secure the safety of all concerned. We think that Act should be made perfectly clear in its instructions in relation to such an important matter as this. May I put this to the House? We know of instances where the overwinding apparatus is set to come into operation after the conclusion of the winding when it is completed. While that may be very necessary in order to ensure safety from the danger of the winding engineman starting the engine in the wrong way, it does nothing to protect the men who may be travelling down into the mine in the. descending cage, and before the time the overwinding gear comes into operation the descending cage may be dashed to the bottom. with loss of life and injury. It merely a desire to persuade the Government that the relation of the provisions affecting overwinding apparatus should be made clear and not left as they now are, that I am making this point. There should be some definite arrangement to arrange for periodical overhauling and inspection of this apparatus. Further, we would like to suggest to the Rouse that the law should be so amended that, not only should the apparatus be fixed to control the ascending cage, but it should also control the descending cage, so that if one of the apparatus should fail there would be the safeguard of another on the opposite side coming into operation. We feel we are not asking for anything unreasonable when we suggest further consideration of a condition such as this. I want to refer to another aspect in relation to winding operations which we believe is not conducive to security or safety. I wish to allude to the situation which is arising only too often in the present day where an engineman employed on the downcast engine of a colliery is required by the management—and this practice is on the increase—to undertake the responsibility of attention to and control of another set of winding engines in another engine house altogether. This has been on the increase since the time of the miners' lock-out. It is said that. managers con- tend they cannot afford to pay for too many engines. I have had personal experience of this, and at this moment I wish to urge that this extension of the duties of a winding engineman is a direct. violation of the Coal Mines Act Regulations. Clause 57 of the Act lays it down definitely and clearly that the duty of the winding engineman is in relation to one set of engines only, and it is provided he shall not, during the whole of the time the men are below ground, he away from his engine or be inattentive. I may present to the House a case actually in existence at the present moment—a ease that we have brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman as well as to the notice of the divisional inspector. I hope the House will understand I do not wish to speak derogatorily of the inspector. I am merely pointing out the imperative need arising from the present, interpretation of the working of the Act. This is a case where the winding engineman goes on duty with a night shift. at a colliery at which he is employed. He puts his men down into the mine, and. as soon as he has completed that operation, acting under instructions from the management, he locks the door of the engine house, walks across the highway to another set of engines and commences t o wind water. I think I need hardly submit that that is a direct. and complete violation of the spirit and intention of the Act, and it ought not to be allowed to proceed any further. I will supply the right hon. Gentleman with the name of the colliery and the necessary facts. I wish also to draw attention to a further aspect of the case. We, drew the attention of the inspector to these conditions. We know he has been to the colliery, but for some reason or other the conditions are still operating. I hold a letter in my hand which is evidence from the colliery itself that that is so. We say again that if the provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, are examined it will be found that there is no clear or no sufficiently clear definition of the instructions laid clown in the Act. I believe the inspector did his duty, but he did not go quite as far as I would have gone if the management refused to recognise their obligations under the Act. If I had had power to do so, I should have caused the man to be prosecuted, but for some reason the inspector has proceeded no further. I am speaking on behalf of the winding engineman and the men who are dependent on his attendance at his proper engine. We may have men terribly injured in the working of the mine brought to the pit bottom, and it may be necessary they should be conveyed to the top as quickly as possible, but they are unable to get out because the engineman is not in attendance. We might even have an explosion, which, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence. There might be any number of things that require the attendance of the winding engineman, but he is not there to give it. That is serious enough. We bold that the Mines Act and its Regulations as applied to the man's duty and labour is sufficient to indict him in a Court of Law for neglect of duty, although he is obeying the instructions of the management. I like to speak candidly at any time when I have anything to say, and without offence. A strange thing has happened. It is strange to me, at any rate. We have brought this position to the attention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as he will agree, and we have done our best to demonstrate, from a practical standpoint, how this matters appeals to us. If I understood him clearly, and I think I did—I hope he will contradict me and place the true facts before me if I did not—I certainly came away with the impression when directly challenged as to what would be the position of a winding engineman if, while he was attending to the second engine, he was required to perform duty at the first engine and could not do it, because of the second duty, the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it would depend on circumstances. I respectfully urge that the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and its Regulations, were never framed to he dependent on circumstances, and that they ought never to be dependent on circumstances. Instead of the law being dependent on circumstances, circumstances must be dependent on the law, and unless that position is observed, our men are in constant danger—danger of their characters going and their liberty being taken away from them. It was commonly said, during my experience, that winding engineman stood with one foot inside the door of the prison while the other foot was, apparently, at liberty. It meant that he was always in the midst of danger, owing to the responsible character of his occupation. May I point out that a very great authority in relation to these matters has made the position perfectly clear? I refer to the work issued by Sir Richard Redmayne, who was recognised by the Department in his time, and is recognised by us from the workmen's standpoint, as one of the ablest authorities we have known in the industry. Sir Richard Redmayne, in laying down his opinion relating to this matter, states emphatically that a winding engineman should not be given any other work, during the hours of his attendance, which will interfere in any way with his close attention to his duties as laid down in the Act.
It seems to me that the hon. Member is criticising the administration of the present law. The Motion suggests a change in the law, and I do not understand the connection of his argument with that. If he can connect it with some further legislation, it would be in order. Otherwise, his proper opportunity would be on the salary of the Secretary for Mines.
Surely an hon. Member is entitled to criticise the present law with a view to its alteration? Otherwise, how are we to bring the matter before the hon. and gal1ant, Gentleman?
The hon. Member will be in order if he suggests new legislation. My reason for intervening was, that a number of hon. Members wish to argue in favour of a change in the law, and this will be their only opportunity. They would not he able to argue that on the salary of the Secretary for Mines, but the hon. Member's argument seems to he directed against the administration rather than in favour of new legislation.
I am sorry if I have departed from the strict lines of order, but, as my hon. Friend has just said, my anxiety is to demonstrate that the law as it is laid down in so many words in the Act, is not so clear and definite as it might be, and does not offer a safeguard but provides an elasticity which is taken full advantage of by firms throughout the country.I wish to bring to the attention of the House another aspect of the matter, which is provided for in the Act of 1911. It is provided in that Act and its regulations that, in connection with the winding engine-house, there shall be provided sanitary arrangements for the convenience of the engineman, which shall allow him to respond to the calls of Nature without having to go away from his engine or violate the law in any way. Our experience is that, on account of the indefinite character of the provision in the Act, advantage is taken in many places, and that these arrangements are not placed in such a position that the winding engineman can carry on his work without any violation of the law. We know of places where, owing to the fact that the Act provides that it shall be placed in or adjacent to the winding engine-house, the term "adjacent" is taken advantage of, and the sanitary convenience is placed at a good distance from the engine-house, so that the winding engineman has to bring his engine to a standstill, leave it, and go out of the engine-house. This is a matter which vitally affects the health of the winding engineman. I am speaking from experience in this relation, and during my experience I have known what it has been—and I hope the House will take this as I offer it—to have to have a bucket by the handle of the engine, and to respond to the calls of Nature by degrees, in order to maintain my position at the engine and carry on with the work. That was one of the greatest reasons why that provision was inserted in the Act of 1911, and we say, after practically 12 years' experience of the way in which the employers have carried out that provision, that there is room for further amendment in the Act, to ensure that it shall be carried out without any deviation from the purpose of this House when it passed that law. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the desirability of such an amendment of the Act as would provide for some control of the speed tit which men shall be lowered into the mine or raised from the mine. We know positively that the speed at which men are compelled to he put down into the mine or raised from it is far too great to ensure safety. Speaking as a practical engineman, through many years I have deplored the fact that I have been com- pelled to throw men into the mine, and to bring them out, at a speed equal to that at which minerals have been brought out. We suggest that there is a maximum of danger, especially in pits with wooden guides, because you are never sure in any operation, whether with minerals or with men, that you are going to bring your cage to the top in safety. We cannot find in the Act any provision regulating this matter, and the result is that in very many cases, from different causes, men are thrown down into the mine instead of being lowered down or raised from it in the way that they ought to he. Owing to pressure of circumstances, the engineman has no option but to throw them down, in order to get them down within the time limit fixed by the management. We suggest that this is a direction in which there might be great loss of life at any moment, and we respectfully submit in this Motion that the present law needs some amendment. Returning to the question of the provision and the location of overwinding apparatus, I suggest that these machines should be periodically examined by the inspectors of mines. The inspectors should make a point, when they visit a colliery, of going into the engine-room and examining not only the overwinding apparatus, but the other machinery there. Hon. Members may perhaps think this strange, but I have passed through 22 years as a winding engineman, and I have never known a mines inspector to go into the engine-house to examine the machinery. I have known, through many years, that the engines I have been working have had brakes attached to them which would not hold the engine still in any position and that other parts of the machinery have not been in the state required by the Act. It is all very well to expect the workman to proclaim the fact that the engines are not in proper order, but that ought not to be expected of them. It is the clear duty of those responsible for the safeguarding of life to see that those parts of the machinery are inspected periodically, in order that they may have control. In putting forward these suggestions. I should like to say, as a last word, that not one word has been said with any desire to hamper the working of a colliery, but entirely with the wish to provide for the safe working of the collieries and to give the maximum of security to life and limb to the winding enginemen. I beg to thank the House for its patience.
I am sure, that than in my first venture in addressing the House I shall be met with a good deal of indulgence by ray hon. Friends on all sides, because I may claim that I have as many friends among the miners of all districts as I have amongst any other class of people. I wish to speak on this Motion, and I am sure there is no one in the House but will agree with the former part of it, which states
Every hon. Member who has any connection whatever with mining deeply deplores the tremendous loss of life which occurs in our mines and the amount of suffering entailed by non-fatal accidents. We are asked, in this Motion, to amend the Coal Mines Act, 1911, because it is believed by the hon. Member who moved the Motion that an amendment to that Act would decrease the risk of accident in our collieries. If that can be proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary for Mines, the inspectors, the coal-owners and the managers, no one would hesitate in agreeing that such an amendment should take place, because we wish to use every endeavour to decrease both the loss of life and also the suffering entailed by non-fatal accidents. When I come to consider the suggestions put forward from the opposite benches, as to how the list of fatal accidents can he decreased, I do not feel I can go very far with either the Mover or the Seconder. At present the legislation—the Coal Mines Act and the attendant Regulations—dealing with all branches of the industry, are such that it is absolutely impossible for either owner, manager, or man to keep them for a single day. If you add to them, you make? it still more difficult. I want to see, instead of amended and additional legislation a closer co-operation between owners, managers and men, for the purpose of discussing and considering together what can best be done to reduce this appalling list of accidents. I same to this House, not by the influence of the coalowners nor by the votes of the miners. I therefore claim that if I have any knowledge of mining conditions I have a right to speak, so far as I possibly can, from an impartial point of view. I want, in this my first speech in the House, to say that no one has greater sympathy with the miners, and no one, I think, has done more to make the lot of the miners better than it otherwise would have been. In my own district. I believe that the-collieries, with which up to lately I was connected, have not only been the safest pits, but have been the pits where the men have worked and lived under the best possible conditions. I do not see why, by co-operation between owners and men, we cannot get similar conditions in every coalfield in the country. It is true that some of our pits are more modern than those you find in Scotland, the North of England, or South Wales: but I see no reason why, given goodwill on all sides, there should not be better and safer conditions of working and a happier, better and brighter life away from work. That is what we want, more than anything else. We want to ensure that, apart from their work, the people of this country, who have to toil either underneath the surface, at the factory, or wherever it be, shall feel that all the country is taking a deep interest in their welfare. In opposing this Motion for an amendment of the Act of 1911. I do so because I do not see that the reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) are such as would, if carried into legislation, decrease the list of accidents. We are told that we ought to sink shafts every mile."That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in mines."
In these days, when "all the shallow seams of coal are practically worked out: with mines becoming deeper and deeper, and being worked at a depth of from800 to 1,000 yards, and even more, it would be utterly impossible, either as a commercial or as any kind of practical proposition to sink shafts every mile. It would utterly destroy the colliery because you not only have to have your shaft, you have to have your railway sidings, your winding apparatus, your screens, and all that kind of thing and to-day you cannot put down a colliery with two shafts of 900 yards depth each to draw 4,000 tons a day under £1,000,000. There is one way of saving the lives of our miners, and that is by making it impossible to find them any work in our collieries. If they never went down the mine they would never meet with accidents. That is not the way we can carry on the great industry which is the very foundation of all the industries of the country, and the very lifeblood of our existence and prosperity. We are asked also to see if we cannot stow by hydraulic means the gobs in our mines. I have seen it in operation in Saxony and the system is only practicable where the seams are at a great inclination, and where the sand and water flowing together fill up the portions where the coal has been removed, leaving the remainder free from water. I have been a colliery manager in Staffordshire within a very few miles of Hanley, and I know something about what the seconder was speaking of. I am willing to further and to adopt and to advocate any practical method which can be devised either by owners, managers, trade union leaders or the miners themselves, and I feel sure, knowing as I do the feeling of the owners and of the management quite as much and even more than the owners, there is no practical proposition at which they would hesitate to bring to pass a great reduction in this mournful toll which is paid for the production of our mineral wealth.I should like to say a word with regard to the enginemen. I have never known in all the mining experience I have had in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire an engineman who has had to look after some other piece of machinery. It may be exceptional in the district the hon. Member spoke of, hut, so far as any district I know in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, I have never known such a ease, and to my mind, if it happens at any colliery, I believe it is a breach of the Coal Mines Act and Regulations, and the necessary steps ought to be taken. I should never defend any slackening of the carrying out either of the Coal Mines Act or the Regulations connected with it. I thank the Mover for the graceful acknowledgment he gave that since 1872 the death-rate in our mines per thousand employed had decreased by considerably over a half. Is not that an evidence of progress? Legislation from 1872 to 1911 has im- proved things. My own opinion is that you have gone as far as you possibly can by legislation now, and it must be obtained in other ways. I know there is a strong feeling that we are paying too dearly in human life for the wealth we produce. I share that feeling, and I should welcome any inquiry or any cooperation on the part of managers, trade union leaders and men working in the mines to come together and have a consultation and see if they cannot devise some means by which we can reduce this great toll of human life. I am sure it is impossible to procure any further improvement by amending such a complicated, difficult and great Act as the Coal Mines Act of 1911.
I am sure everyone on this side of the House will agree with the very kindly sentiment expressed by the hon. Member who has just sat down, but when he was speaking I was wondering whether he was speaking from his head or from his heart. Apparently his heart was running a little too fast, and carrying him away, making him go a bit further than he wanted to go, because he pulled up occasionally to tell us the things he was advocating could not be done.
By legislation, but they can be done by goodwill. We are having a spate of goodwill and have had for the last two years, but instead of conditions improving they are getting worse, and when the hon. Member quoted the hon. Member for Abertillery he only quoted one part of what he had said. It is true that if you compare the present time with 1872 there is a considerable apparent improvement, but the hon. Member for Abertillery drew attention to the fret that during the last 10 years there had b en no improvement. If there had been a continuous improvement, the probabilities are that we should have been satisfied with the 1911 Act. There is no continuance in the improvement, consequently we are asking the Government and hon. Members of all parties to agree with us that the Act should be amended so that the rate of progress which was in operation between 1872 and 10 or 11 years ago should be continued if at all possible. I am sorry this matter occupies so little of the mind, or the time, or the attention of responsible members of the Government. The mining industry is the second largest industry in the country. It is probably the most important industry in the country. If we had been discussing a question relating to agriculture the benches opposite would have been full. So also would the benches here, because we are as anxious as hon. Members opposite to see the great industry of agriculture brought into a much greater state of perfection than it occupies now. The point I want to draw attention to is that every member of the Cabinet would have been sitting there if we had been dealing with agriculture, largely, perhaps, because the representative of the agricultural industry has a seat in the Cabinet. One of the things I want to put here, quite frankly, is that the miners are not going to rest satisfied with the subordinate position ocupied by the Mines Department. The mining industry is not only the second largest industry but, probably, the most important under present conditions, and it is, apart from the sailors' industry, the most dangerous occupation. It is more dangerous than the Army. In the Army, during a war, then are more officers killed than there are managers in coal mines. The managers are the officers of a coal mine, and they do not suffer except on very rare occasions. When there is an accident, it is very rarely that it affects the life or limb of the manager. If the manager were in danger of his life and limb he would he prepared to play the part of a man and defy the owners by carrying out the law. I want to say, quite frankly, that the managers in the collieries of this country at the present time dare not carry out the law. They dare not carry out the law because they are, just as the ordinary miner is, ordinary workmen, and if they are not prepared to carry out the instructions they get, there is another man get ting their job.I suggest that the accidents could be reduced, and the easiest way to reduce them would be by holding the management responsible for the accident. The law puts the manager in the position of being able to tell the owner that he is independent of him if he cares to adopt that attitude, and the Government are entitled to be asked to put the onus for the accidents upon the managers. It it does nothing else—and they are not much more than mere sycophants and slaves at the present time—it will put some soul into them. Accidents in mines should be made a criminal offence, unless the management can prove that they are due to causes over which they cannot exercise control. If that were done, there would be a very considerable reduction in the death rate and in the non-fatal accidents, because the accidents that take place are due largely to the negligence of the managers and their unwillingness, because of the instructions from the owners, to carry out the law. What we are anxious to secure, so far as the Mines Act of 1911 is concerned, is that the Act should he strengthened so that the management will be held responsible, and that they will he threatened, not merely with the loss of then liberty but with the loss of their certificate.
It is the law at the present moment that the owner, agent and manager are responsible criminally if the mine is worked otherwise than in conformity with the Act. That is provided by Section 101 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911.
I accept that statement as being perfectly true. What I was trying to put was that although the law is there it is not sufficiently strong, and. that the managers at the present time can ignore and do ignore the law. We shall be prepared on this side of the House, as representing the miners, to take the expert opinion of the advisers of the Mines Department whether they cannot show that these accidents, even under the present law, are preventible, and, if they are preventible, then those who are responsible for them should be regarded as having committed not merely a moral offence, but that they should be put into the dock and made to suffer in their person. The death rates and the accident. rates in the mines are caused by explosion, by falls of roof and side, by hauling accidents, by over-winding and by nystagmus. Probably the greatest and worst accident that the miner has to fact, is caused by had ventilation. There is a great deal more misery occasioned in the homes of the miners by the foul air that the miner is compelled to breathe than is known. There has never yet been any attempt to assess the suffering that is occasioned by that particular form of accident, for which there is no redress, no compensation, and, possibly, no statistics. It is a very fruitful cause of illness and shortness of life in the miffing industry, and it could be prevented, if not entirely, at any rate, to a very considerable extent providing that there was that willingness which is talked about but never acted upon to carry out the safety regulations which are already in existence.Some of us are getting a bit sick of sympathetic references to the miners' ease every time it is raised. That sympathy is manifested by the empty benches tonight. The last time, or almost the last time, that the mining question was being discussed, these benches were full, and they will be again before very long. Instead of getting good will, you are taking a line that will make it impossible for anything in the nature of good will to obtain in the mining industry. AS has been repeatedly said from this side of the House, the one thing that is of much advantage from our standpoint and not from yours is good will. Nobody is more anxious to secure good will than we are, but what of the good will that animates the men in control of the mining industry? The big proportion of the men who are engaged in that mining industry and who control it know nothing about it. They are merely capitalists, and because they are capitalists they are using their wealth in this form and that form to prevent a real knowledge of the actual facts existent in that great industry being made public and coming to the minds and consciences of the general public. There are ways and means by which the accident rate in mines could be very considerably reduced, and the first thing that ought to be demanded by this Hence, and I suggest that Members on the other side are just as much entitled to ask for it as we are, is that the Mines Department should be elevated from its present subordinate position to that of Cabinet rank. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines will be favourable to that or not. I want to be frank with him. We do not think that a man who knows nothing of our industry should be Minister of Mines. It is essential that there should be some responsible office created whose business it will be to see that the laws pawed by this Parliament are put into effect, and that the loss of life and accident rate are reduced to a minimum. I do not say that they can be abolished. I am not so foolish as to suggest that, but you can easily reduce your accident rate by 50 per cent. It will be well worth the while of the Government, and would from the economic point of view be sound procedure, to take steps not only to reduce the accident rate, but to increase the length of life in the mines and improve the capacity of the men, by providing that the ventilation regulations are carried into effect, thus, ensuring a very much larger output than you can get in existing circumstances. I hope that this discussion will have the effect of inducing the Government to consider the whole question from the standpoint urged from these benches, and be prepared to introduce legislations at an early date to amend the Act of 1911.
Notwithstanding what was said by my hon. Friend who spoke last as to sympathy with the miners on this side, I can assure him that there, is a sincere desire on the part of all of us on this side to do all we can to support what hon. Members desire to obtain under this Resolution. One point which needs answering is as to the winding operations in collieries. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion almost made me get very ill when he described the horrors and uncertainties and dangers to which every miner is exposed as a result of the careless and indifferent manner in which the inspection of winding, machinery is carried out. But, taking the figures we find that in 1920 there were 40 accidents and that in the first nine months of 1921 there were 26, which would be at the rate of 85 or, if you like 49 for the year. There are between 800,000 and 900,009 men working underground, who have an average of 280 working shifts per annum, so that you have a total of 540,000,000 trips up and down, and you have got 40 accidents.
And they are 40 accidents too many, if they can be prevented.
Yes, I regret that we had 40 accidents, and if we can do away with them I should be very glad. But I am putting the point that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion rather exaggerated the dangers of the case. I was rather surprised to hear the Mover of the Resolution contradict himself. He stated that the expenditure on the Mines Department which was authorised was £250,000 per annum, that the amount expended in the first year was £170,000, and that now we had to cut it down to £90,000, and the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) said that he could not understand how it was possible to have any economies made in that particular Department. If any lessening of accidents can be obtained by the maintenance or improvements of the Mines Department he said that we should not economise, but in the next breath he said, "What is the use of the Department? Why do you want it?"
I never said that I did not want the Department maintained.
The hon. Member criticised the cost of the Department, and then said he could not see the use of the Department.
I never said such a thing.
Is riot it within the recollection of the, House that the hon. Member was directing his remarks to the economies in the Department, which were reducing it below efficiency?
That is not the point at all. In any event, it is not my desire to enter into a discussion in this House in a contentious spirit. Accidents, in any event, are deplorable. I want to call attention to the fact that the Ministry has recently set up a Mines Research Committee. The terms of reference are
The operations of this investigating Committee are not confined to any particular set of accidents. The scope is broad and extensive. The Committee can investigate every possible avenue which may lead to a solution of this most complex problem that ever confronted a set of engineers. Last year we were faced in the mining industry with 546 deaths. Of these, 359 occurred at the coal face. Naturally, that is an appalling number of accidents. The total number of deaths from all causes was 1,100. Over half were due to falls. My hon. Friend must remember this. We have to look at the actual figures. We know that the numbers are deplorable and we want to reduce them by every means in our power and by every means of investigation which we can utilise, either as individuals or corporations or as a Government. But we have to realise that there is one fatal accident for every 400,000 working shifts."to prepare a scheme for investigating possible methods of reducing the number of accidents in coal mines and consider arrangements for carrying out the proposed scheme."
How ninny non-fatal accidents?
I will give all the figures that the hon. Gentleman requires. Let us go back, if we may, for a period of 50 years. It has been said that the percentage has decreased something like 50 per cent. The figure for the 10 years, 1873 to 1882 was 1·2. There is no use giving the intervening years because they show a steady decrease, but coming down to 1914 the figure was ·70. In 1921 it was ·42 and in 1020 ·55.
Can you give us the figures for 1022?
The figures are not yet published.
They would give you some useful information.
Hon. Members said there was a desire on the part of coalowners to sacrifice safety for profits and output. If on no other ground than profit making it would be preposterous and silly on the part of mineowners to encourage accidents and loss of life for which they become liable to heavy penalties under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. There is another ground on which we are opposed and strongly determined to prevent accidents, and that is that we want to secure efficiency, to increase output by every means within our power, consistent with the least danger possible, in order that we may get what little of the surplus—if there is any that is left to us. I cannot discuss this subject in the present Debate. On broad humanitarian grounds, however, the Members opposite must not suppose they possess the whole of the milk of human kindness. There is some of it left on this side as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "And pretty well watered!"] It is better to be watered than mixed with something else. It is very good tactics on the part of Members opposite, and it is an exceedingly good case for them to put to the country, to say that we as a body have no regard for human life, but treat the people with whom we have to work in our mines and businesses, as simply parts of a machine to be scrapped and broken at the earliest opportunity. But that is not the case. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Duncan Graham) referred to the fact that the miners were engaged in the most precarious industry, and he said something should he done to make the life of a miner more lengthy and more happy, and give him a better chance and a better lease of life. The latest figures issued by the Registrar-General's Department—and it is not my fault, it is the fault of the Government that the figures are not issued later than 1912—show that the miner is one of the longest living men in this country. The percentage of his life compares most favourably with those in other industries.It is surprising to know that the average for miners is something like 230 per thousand of men over 75 years. The statement has also been made that mining is the most hazardous industry in the country. I have the official figures for accidents with me, which show that for seamen the percentage is 4·05 for 3,200 hours' work per annum. The miners 1·56 for 2,300 hours per annum. That is over a period of five years. For railwaymen the figure is 0·59. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is that for deaths or accidents? "] It is for accidents. I took the trouble this afternoon to obtain quotations from one of the leading insurance companies in the country dealing with workmen's compensation. Their figures for miners are for South Wales and Monmouthshire, for all risks from 80s. to 130s. per cent. on wages, according to the nature of the coal, or an average of 105s. per cent. In England and Scotland they vary between 70s. and 110s. per cent., an average of 95s. per cent. I find that in other industries some of the figures are:—For those engaged with working machinery, 90s. per cent.: housebreakers, whatever that may be, 200s. per cent.; cleaners of outside buildings by mechanical process, 200s. per cent.; dismantling and breaking up machinery, 100s. per cent.; painters and decorators, 100s. per cent.
What is it for shipowners?
The workhouse, in these days. The rate I have given is the rate per annum on each industry. That goes conclusively to prove—and the insurance committees are the best guides as to the nature of hazard and risk in employment —that the mining industry is not so hazardous as it is said to be by its protagonists. We must remember that many of the accidents are due to causes over which we have no control. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that circumstances should govern the law and not law govern circumstances.
I said the opposite. Law should he supreme, and not circumstances.
I agree, and I wish it could happen. If the law could rise supreme above circumstances, we would have no difficulties to settle in this House. Unfortunately, there are laws of Nature and other laws over which we have no-control, and no legislation that man can introduce will regulate them. The numbers of fatal accidents in 1913 were 1·59 per 1,000 employed; in 1920 they were ·894: and in 1922 they were just 1 per cent. per thousand. There has been a steady decrease in the last nine years. It shows conclusively that the operation of the 1911 Act has had, in difficult times under war conditions, a very beneficial effect on the industry. Take the non-fatal accidents. In 1913 they were 156·8 per 1,000 employed. In 1920 they were 95·9 per 1,000. The number has decreased very considerably in the course of the last ten years. What the figures are for 1922 we do not know. I would like to make clear one point from which we cannot get away in dealing with the question of non-fatal accidents. During the War it was agreed, under the war addition to the Workmen's Compensation Act, that 75 per cent. increase should be given in the case of totally, but not permanently, injured people. The result has been that there has been a tremendous increase in the number of applicants for compensation for minor accidents who are also members of clubs. It has been said by someone that God Almighty cannot cure a man of a weak back when he is in three clubs. The number of cases per month has risen from 6,350 in January, 1921, to 12,231 in August, 1922. and the duration of incapacity has increased correspondingly. The cases per 100,000 in the third quarter of 1922, compared with the percentage of cases per 100,000 in the first quarter of 1921, show that for less than two weeks the percentage of increase was 108 per cent.; for two and less than three weeks, 180 per cent.; for three and less than four weeks, 200 per cent.; for four and less than 13 weeks, 240 per cent.; for 13 and less than 26 weeks, 260 per cent.; and for 26 weeks and over it was 163 per cent. The sums paid increased over 3½ times per unit. Surely that, is sufficient to prove my contention that there is a deliberate intention on the part of the lower paid men to take advantage of the Workmen's Compensation Act in order to obtain addition al allowances.
It is a low-down suggestion.
It may be, but there is the fact, and I cannot help it. According to the divisional inspectors alone there is no question about the fact that 50 per cent. of the accidents in 1921 could have been prevented by the observation of the Regulations and by reasonable precaution. On the 15 eases of fatal accident by explosion in 1920, nine were attributable, on investigation, to the acts of the men themselves. Take the case of Durham in regard to falls. I do not suppose there is any part of the country where a more straightforward and honourable attempt has been made to deal with these cases than in the County of Durham. Expert timbermen have been employed, specially trained for that particular job.
Does that apply to all the pits in Durham?
I do not say all the pits in Durham, but some of them. I must ask hon. Members to allow me to present my case. Hon. Members on the other side will never allow anybody on this side to make a case it all. As I was saying, every effort has been made in certain pits in Durham to improve the conditions, and what has been the result I A natural spirit of carelessness has been displayed on the part of the hewers.
There is no such thing.
The accidents show it. A natural spirit of carelessness entered into the men and undid the good work which the inspectors and managers were seeking to accomplish in this respect. There is not the slightest use, in a discussion of this kind, endeavouring to introduce controversial suggestions which imply that there is an entire lack of good faith and that the whole system of operations is wrong. That is only one way in which the mining industry and the Mines Department is being attacked. I assure the House, and I speak with a certain amount of authority, that notwithstanding differences in other directions which can only be settled by conference and discussion, on this particular point there is no difference between the mine owners and the men. Anything and everything that can be done to obviate accidents, to meet the men in any reasonable demands and to obey the dictum of the Department would be done willingly. As I said before, it will be done, if for no other reasons, for pecuniary reasons but you may take it from me, that the main ground of our desire to carry out every possible Regulation for the safety of the men, is that we desire on humanitarian grounds at least to be decent, reasonable, and Christian citizens. The capitalist is not necessarily a man without a soul. We may disagree on Some fundamentals, but when it comet, to the question of accidents, there are no reasonable suggestions from the Mines Department or the Home Office, which Will not be willingly accepted and obeyed, but we must have far more than good will in putting into operation any suggestions that are put forward. We must have absolute observance by the men of the rules which are made, and we are perfectly willing on the other hand, to see that any responsible official is submitted to the jurisdiction of the law, who fails in carrying but the obligations placed upon us by Act of Parliament. If hon. Members on the other side have any practical suggestions to make, let us have them. We are willing to do all we can, and we will consider them. If there are inventions; if there are new safety appliances available for the protection of life, if you can help us in any way to eradicate the difficulty of dealing with the human factor in handling machinery, we are willing to do our part. If you can find a way to overcome the difficulties for us, let us know it. I appeal to the House to reject the Motion on the ground that we are doing all we can; we are satisfying the requirements of the Department and we believe that by carrying out the precepts of the 1911 Act and by observance of the conditions and Regulations laid down, you will achieve your object without amending that Act.
The time allotted to me is very short, but I should like to have the opportunity of combating one or two of the statements made by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould). He has asked that we should make one or two suggestions worthy of consideration that might be conducive, if not to eliminating, at least to lessening, the sufferings associated with work in the mines. I am going to tell him immediately that if he will take the trouble to look it up, I recommend him to read the Report of the Medical Research Council on Miner's Nystagmus. He will then come to the conclusion that the coalowners have been very remiss indeed in doing that which would have been sufficient to have prevented a great deal of the suffering which the miners of this country are unnecessarily enduring at the present time. Dr. Lister Llewellyn, who has written this Report himself, after many years of very careful investigation, has come to the conclusion that at least 25 per cent. of the men working in pits where safety lamps are used are suffering in some degree with miner's nystagmus, and Sir Josiah Court, who was one of the men who originally, long ago, investigated this awful disease, came to the conclusion that at least 34 per cent. of the men he examined were actually suffering from miner's nystagmus. This Report definitely says this that the essential factor in the production of miner's nystagmus is deficient illumination, and they go on to say, after making certain recommendations:
The only thing that is required to prevent this awful disease, to which a good many men working the mines are subject, is the introduction of an electric lamp of sufficient luminosity to give the men a reasonable light in which to perform their tasks at the coal face. My hon. Friend has referred to accidents on the haulage roads. I suggest to him that he can halve the accidents on haulage roads, main haulage roads in particular, if he will whitewash those roads. These are two very simple things, and if the Secretary for Mines will give consideration to the suggestions which have been laid down here, and if we can induce him to bring in legislation which will make it imperative on the coalowners to provide, where lamps have to be used, a lamp of such standard of luminosity as will cut down nystagmus alone, we shall have contributed something very useful to this Debate to-night."The Committee believe that by the application of these remedies miner's nystagmus of sufficient severity to cause disablement can by degrees he entirely prevented."
I think the whole House will agree in welcoming this Debate., and particularly the tone of the Debate. In spite of the caustic suggestion from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), who, I see, is no longer in his place, that no sympathy can be expected from hon. Members behind me, I still venture to say that. I believe that, irrespective of parties or where they sit, the sentiment in the first part of this Motion will be received with the greatest sympathy and cordiality by all sections of the House. This subject of accidents forms one of the most important and certainly the most interesting parts of the work of my Department—looking after the health and safety of those who work in the mines. No one acquainted with mining would fail to appreciate the complexity of the problems that are involved, which are all intensely difficult problems. The House will realise that it is different from every other industry in many respects, and that in the mining industry there is not only the human and personal factor which is always liable to produce accidents; in addition, you have nature exaggerating every accident due to human frailty and adding those of her own creation to the list. Anybody considering the circumstances and the complexity of the problems involved in the machinery and a service of this kind and the problems which arise in respect of the roofs and sides of the mines, gas coaldust, fire, darkness, safety-lamps and so on, without realising how difficult is the whole thing. No one should ever say that the miner has a soft job, and those who are concerned in the management of mines have a serious and an anxious responsibility.It is the chief duty of the Mines Department to secure, so far as it best can, the safety and health of the miners and the improvement of the conditions in our mines. I must say I am grateful for the various allusions which have been made to the work of the Department. Hon. Members have been generous in their tributes. I only hope they have been accurate. I am sure they have been sincere about the efforts made by the Department, but they want the work to be increased. If the House of Commons would vote the enormous sums of money to increase the staff under my command nobody would be better pleased than myself. If, in addition, it was felt that the Secretary for Mines should be raised to Cabinet rank it would be gratifying, although such a rank should be conferred upon one more intimate with the intricacies of the subject. We live, however, in bad times when things are not easily done. When the Motion demands new legislation I should like to point out to my hon. Friends that first of all neither the Mover nor others who spoke have given any instance—I will explain what I mean shortly—in which legislation is necessary. The Government have no intention of asking the House to oppose this Motion because we all feel that the first part of it is important, and that the House does regard accidents to life and limb in mines with feeling. We feel that the expression of this opinion is important; and that, obviously, no one will wish to object to it. The second part however, which asks for immediate legislation is unnecessary. Therefore, though not opposing this Resolution I want hon. Members to understand that there is no suggestion of the promotion of legislation in the immediate future partly owing to the congestion of Government business and also in view of the fact that it is really unnecessary. The reason for that is that there is not one single thing so far as I have been able to understand the suggestions made by hon. Members opposite that cannot be done at the present moment by regulation by the Secretary for Mines. Hon. Members will say, if that be so, that the fact that these things have not been carried out proves the inefficiency of the Department. If that be so, nobody will more than myself welcome what hon. Members opposite may have to say. I for one shall be very glad to consult with them, as I have done, and have matters pointed out. I should like to point out to the House that under Section 86 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act there is ample power given to the Secretary of State in this matter. He may by Order make such general regulations for the conduct and guidance of those managing the mines or employed in or about the mines as may appear best calculated to provide for safety and health, and proper inspection for the care and treatment of the horses and other animals any such regulations as he may make may vary or amend any provision contained in Part II or Schedule III of the Act. That is the part which deals with the question of safety, and therefore the Government contend that there is no need for further legislation. I would like now to deal with some of the criticisms which have been made. Again I wish to acknowledge the very pleasant tone in which the whole subject has been raised. Various subjects have been dealt with, and I was glad to note that the hon. Member who moved the. Motion admitted that, although there have been more accidents than we wish to see, still the general position showed an improvement. I would like to deal with some of the figures, and in doing so I would like to point out that although the toll of accidents is heavier than we wish to see, the general tendency has been to show that there has been a steady decrease. The first suggestion made was that of increasing the number of shafts and carrying out various other changes in the working of the mine. Although the cost of all these suggestions may not seem very much to those who are employed, in these days when under the agreement a certain definite proportion of the profits are assured to the men, it is a matter for them as well as the owners to consider whether any unnecessary expenditure shall take place. Therefore when you talk of sinking extra shafts you cannot do so very lightly, in view of the expense and its effect on wages. As regards not looking properly after the ponies, that is a matter with which we sympathise, and only to-day I have sanctioned a prosecution for ill-treatment of ponies. I can assure hon. Members that this is a matter which is being constantly and regularly watched. With regard to the treatment of horses and ponies, even one man can soon reduce a horse by neglect to a very bad state; all I can say on this point is that this is a matter which is being very carefully watched and upon which reports are being constantly sent in. I was asked whether enough was being done to encourage inventions for ensuring greater safety. That is a matter with which the Safety in Mines Research Board is considering. I have been asked a question about a particular appliance for making shot-firing more safe. I would like to point to the report given to us in this respect by the Technical Appliances Committee, and though I am glad to think that this appliance is being successfully used in many collieries, we cannot be encouraged to make it compulsory when we get a report of this character from so high an authority. The danger of employing and making compulsory an appliance that is not really reliable is that you give a sense of false security. People begin to believe that other things can be neglected. That is all very well if the appliance is as good as it is supposed to be, but if it is not as good as it is supposed to be, it is far more mischievous than if you did not employ it at all. The report we have received says that "this appliance, with its very elaborate procedure in use, its unwieldy parts requiring delicate manipulation in use, and troublesome care in carrying, might and probably would introduce new and unforeseen sources of accident, despite the fact that adequate precautions of a much simpler nature and efficacious character are already provided by regulation.'' I think hon. Gentlemen will agree that with that report before us it is quite impossible to snake this particular appliance compulsory. I should be very glad to hear that it is being used and improved in other places.
I shall give you some testimonials.
I am sure the Technical Appliances Committee will be very glad to have any information the hon. Gentleman can give. The question of lamps and nystagmus has been referred to. I quite agree that the latter is a complaint that is increasing and is a very serious matter. We have a Committee sitting on the subject, they have issued one report, and I hope will shortly issue another. With regard to the question of lamps, if anything can be done to produce a better lamp I am sure it will he welcomed and encouraged in every way by the Miners' Lamps Committee. But it is no good saying that you must have better illumination and better lamps unless you are also prepared to say that a, particular lamp giving better illumination is available that has not been made use of, and until some definite suggestion of that sort can be made I think I am justified in saying that every effort is being made to improve the lamps. Certainly, as far as dm Miners' Lamps Committee is concerned, it is a constant subject of study and investigation, and is one of the things on which the Research Board is employed.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that Mr. Smith, giving evidence, stated that since he had introduced electric lamps at Nottingham nystagmus had decreased from 0·9 per cent. to 0·38 per cent., a reduction of 60·8 per cent. since the introduction of the electric lamp.
Yes, I am quite well aware of the improvement, effected by the introduction of electric lamps, and I am glad to think they are being installed more and more in the collieries. That cannot be done in a minute, but I hope we shall have more and more. There, again, when you get a complete installation of electric lamps arises the question of protection against gas. That is one of the drawbacks. I quite agree that the introduction of electricity has enormously improved the illumination of mines, and I only hope that some brilliant genius will produce a lamp which will give us perfection and afford protection from gas as well as a good light.The hon. Member complained that the inspection was insufficient, but that is a question of a larger staff, and is not really a matter for me to deal with; but when he complains that the results of inspection are not published. I cannot agree with him. You get far better results, and far more confidence on the part of the inspectors, if their reports are confidential. It is not that the Department has any desire not to act upon the reports, but, if every inspector knew that every report he made was going to be published in every detail, I am certain it would cramp his style in a way that would be very undesirable. As regards the questions of firemen, and of the districts being too large, I know that in some cases there have been complaints which have been justified, and we have brought those cases before the last quarterly meeting of the divisional inspectors. As the House knows, we have regular quarterly meetings of the divisional inspectors, at which all subjects that have come up lately are discussed. There has never been any difficulty, where their attention has been drawn to such matters, in getting them put right; and, as long as that continues, I think we can say that the result has been comparatively successful. As regards the question of the deputy being appointed by the workmen or by the State, I cannot agree with the hon. Member, in the interests of efficiency. Imagine, for instance, what would be the position of a man commanding a regiment or the captain of a ship, if all his responsibility, as regards the officers working under him, were taken away. You must make a man responsible for his job. If the responsibility of the man who has the management is taken away, and a lot of people are put in, I am perfectly certain—
The deputy does not carry out his duties under the Mines Act, but under the Coal Mines Act.
I am well aware of that, but what the hon. Member said was that he feared, if the deputy were appointed by the management, he would be afraid to carry out his duties completely and successfully. I think that is not the fact. The hon. Member then asked about the Safety in Mines Research Board—whether it is still in existence, and what it is doing?
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the question of examination by workmen's inspection? They are entitled to have an examination once a month.
Yes, I will go into that. I shall be glad to have a talk with the hon. Member about it. With regard to the Safety in Mines Research Board, the hon. Member asked what it was doing, and, I think, whether it is any use. I can assure him it is of the greatest use. The subject of falls of roofs and sides has been mentioned, and at this moment we have a Committee dealing with that very point. We are hoping that it will report shortly.In addition to that, the work of the Safety in Mines Research Board is of a very varied and difficult character. They carry out the research into explosives, and they also deal with inventions and safety lamps. They deal with the running of the experimental station, which deals with coal dust experiments, and so on. Their pork is of enormous value, and I do not think it is fair to suggest that the Board are not doing most valuable work. They are working extremely hard, and have some very distinguished men upon the Board. The country as a whole should pay a debt of the deepest gratitude to those who are working so well on that Board. I come now to the speech of the Seconder of the Motion, who dealt mainly with the question of winding engines. He alluded to certain very pleasant visits, so far as we were concerned, which he recently made to the Mines Department, when he also set out the case nearly as fully as he has to-night. The point which he raised of one man looking after two winding engines has been fully set out y him before me and my officials on several occasions. What we asked was, if this practice were continuing under conditions of any danger or serious danger? I do not believe in making unnecessary Regulations. I believe that when you make Regulations, you ought to make those that can be carried out, and you ought not to multiply them if you can possibly help it. The Regulations should be really good, and there should not be too many of them. We have asked hon. Members to give us cases, and up to the present time none have been put before us. The hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Harper Parker) says that he has a case now. He came to see me about a fortnight ago, and he could not produce it then, so that something has evidently happened since that date. I shall be extremely glad to go into it; anti if he will bring the case round to the Mines Department, he will be received with every sympathy and investigation will be made.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether his Department has insisted on putting on catches in case of the ropes of the cage breaking? There are a large number of patents existing. Will he say whether his Department gives, as a reason for not putting on the catches, that they would interfere with the winding of the cage?
That is a question which has been several times gone into and considered. I am afraid I cannot be led away to deal with that now, as I have only a few minutes left. The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to go into a very technical question of that kind. I want to point out that, on the whole, as has already been stated by several previous speakers, there has been a gradual decrease in the number of fatal accidents. I need not give the figures, which had been stated several times correctly. In serious non-fatal accidents there has been no increase, but, on the other hand, a slight decrease. It is only in the slightest accidents that, for the last year, 1922, there has been a comparatively considerable increase. It is, at any rate, satisfactory to know—and the House will remember the figures given by a previous speaker—that the great proportion of these accidents were slight. One wonders why it is, at this moment, when there has been a slight decrease in fatal accidents and a really noticeable decrease in serious accidents that there should have been an increase in the more slight accidents. I hope it may be that some of the work of the so-called Safety First Campaign, which the Mines Department has been trying to organise throughout the mining industry, is bearing fruit. I hope it may be that the men are beginning to realise that their health is worth thinking about, and that apparently trivial accidents and injuries are worth being treated properly and taken care of. We all know the extraordinarily high output there has been in the past year and the very high pressure at which the men have been working, and it is easy to understand that the proportion of slight accidents should have increased in the way it has. I do not think it is a sign of any increased carelessness on the part of the management or of administration, because that would have been reflected in the more serious and fatal accidents. I hope we shall find that accidents are decreasing and the general conditions of health and safety in mines are improving daily. It is a testimony to the success of the scientific research and investigations which have been made that it is in the accidents in which Nature plays the most prominent part that the greatest decrease has occurred. I have not time to develop the figures but it is rather interesting that that should he so. That shows that the work of the Mines Department has been useful and has had good results.It is an immense subject, and I should like to have pointed out how much higher we are than foreign countries in our level of safety. It. is a mistake for any hon. Members to think—I do riot believe they really think it—that we on this side are not as anxious to promote health and safety in the mines as they are. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire spoke very fiercely, but we know he is not as fierce as he pretends to be. The Government have no desire to oppose this Motion for the simple reason that no Government and no House of Commons—certainly not this House of Commons—would dream of opposing it. In all classes of society there is great admiration for the way the mining industry is carrying on its operations. There is great sympathy for the miner and his hard conditions, and there is great hope that very soon economic conditions will improve and things will be better than they are to-day.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That this House deplores the heavy loss of life and the large number of non-fatal accidents in mines, and is of opinion that legislation to improve and strengthen the provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, should be introduced and carried into law without delay in order to secure the fullest protection possible to those engaged in this dangerous industry."