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Minutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines online

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21943. Still you have mentioned the condition of ' the
roads, roof and sides and black-damp, and other thing.
If anything happens in the mine the manager is responsible 7
—That is so.

10



Mr. Peter
Muir,

12 June 1907



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MINUTES 07 EVIDENCB :



Mr. PeUr fil944. Do you think it is to hi« intereBt that he ehould
Muir, app-^int incompetent men ? — ^They seem to be dominated

by tho game feelii^ as I indicated in regard to the man

1 9. Jane 1907 timbering at the face. They see a chance of saving a

— — little and they are willing to take risks. It seems

to me that is at the bottom of it, and the manager, at

least the overman who is certificated, is exercising a more

or less constant supervision, too.

21945. (Dr. Haldane,) You mentioned black-damp as
being a common thing in the Ayrshire mines. Does that
mean that the lamp bums badly in the air ? — If it is
sufficiently thick it goes out. It often occurs where they
can work and is what is called bad air or want of ventila-
tion. They can work, but at the same time it is bad for
the men.

21946. What sort of mines are these ? — Are they shallow
mines chiefly where that occurs ? — ^It might be anything
from 80 to 100 fathoms. We have a few pits beyond that.

21947. They are not very deep ? — No.

21948. Is that black-damp a serious trouble ? — Very
serious to the men working in it.

21949. In what way ? What effects are attributed to
it ? — ^It affects his lungs and his general health and shortens
his life.

21950. It is said to do so, but have you any reason to
suppose that it does 7 — ^There is no question that it does.

21951. Do the men ever get stupid with it. Have you
ever heard of that ? — I have never hoard of them getting
stupid, but I have heard many a time complaints.

21952. That is unpleasant ?— Unpleasant and painful.

21953. In what way ? — Sore heads and the like of that
if working in it.

21954. I suppose you are aware that the inspectors
have sometimes considerable difficulty in dealing with bad
ventilation of that kind T-^That is so.

21955. Where there is no cap shown on the lamp, only
that the hunp bums badly 7— That is so.

21956. There is no definite standard of purity for the
air 7 — I rather think it is a matter of opinion for the
inspector.

,21957. Yes, but the inspectors say they have nothing
definite to go by, and have a difficulty in bringing these
cases into court 7 — We had a very pronounced case five
or six years ago. It was brought into court by Mr. Ronald-
son, and although it was understood on every hand that
the ventilation was excessively bad, because he had not
bottled up some and analysed it, the management got off
free. ^

21958. Because he had not done that 7— Yes.

21959. Supposing he had would he have been in any
better case because the law says nothing ? — That
waa the plea the Sheriff made for allowing the management
to get off in that case, that he ought to have brought a
sample of the air complained about.

21960. You are clearly of opinion that it is a somewhat
serious matter — ^I mean this black-damp in Ayrshire 7 — Yes.

21961. And that it is not satisfactorily dealt with at
present 7 — No.

21962. It cannot be satisfactorily dealt with ?— That
is so.

21693. Or at any rate, is not 7— In my opinion if the
firemen themselves were a little more independent of their
relationship with the employers it might be helpful in that
direction.

21964. You mean to si^ that firemen would always
^ detect this black-damp 7 — That is so.

21965. Do you know if any explosions have ever hap-
pened through men mistaking black-damp for fire-damp 7
— ^I cannot point to any just now.

21966. You are aware that it is a source of danger,
where there is a mixture of the two gases together, and
men may very well be deceived. People think something
which really is fire-damp, black-damp 7 — Black-damp
shows differently in the light.

21967. Yes, but when you have a mixture of the two it
is rather a difficulty. It is one of the dangers of black-
damp that you may make a mistake with it. You have
said you are of opinion that firemen are paid too little in
many Scotch mines 7— Yes.

21968. Considering their responsibilities 7— That is so.



21969. Have you ever heard another complaint which
once or twice has been made to me that the managers are
often paid too little in Scotland 7 — ^That does not come in
our dircctiod.

21970. It would be a very serious matter if it were
true in the interests of safety and everything else. I did
not know whether that question had ever come up. As
regards foreigners you have no complaint as regards the
quality of the men. You are not of opinion on the whole
that there is an inferior class of men being brought into
the country and that there is a danger from that 7 — I
know from my experience that some of them are very good
men, but I believe in regard to the Poles that these are in
the minority.

21971. .Apart from their knowledge of mining altogether,
you do not think they are a very inferior class t&it are
coming into the country in this way 7 — I could not say
as to that, because you are not able to

21972. It is difficult to judge 7— Yes.

21973. That is not the general impression, that they are
a very inferior class 7 — ^There is a feeling amongst our
natives that they are not up to the standard that they
ought to be.

21974. They are not up to the standard of those Germans
you were speaking of 7 — No, not oven to them.

21975. They have no objection to them as foreigners 7
— ^That is so.

21976. Their objections are based first on not understand-
ing the language and being a source of danger 7 — ^That is
the principal and main objection.

21977. And that some of them are rather inferior men
that it is not desirable to have 7 — ^I think that obtains
generally amongst the Poles. The few experienced men
get these inexperienced men cheap.

21978. You are aware that in many foreign mines, and
in English and Cornish mines for that matter, there are
arrangements made so that the men can change their pit
clothes and have a bath at the pit-head. Have you con-
sidered the desirability of that matter J — I have been look-
ing at the question, and I feel it would raise the status of
the men morally and physicaUy if some simple arrangement
could be brought into play whereby cleanliness when they
come up from the pit could be obtained, all the more so
because their homes are not suitable for getting that as
it should be.

21979. Have you ever heard that it produces much
discomfort to the man's wife and family when he comes
home in his pit clothes and has to change them and wash
at home 7 — ^It cannot do otherwise than produce discomfort
in the home where it is one single apartment, and at the
most two, which is a common uiing.

21980. Do you say it is a common thing to have one
room in a miner's house 7 — ^It was very common in Ayrshire.
It is not so conunon now. The general thing now is two.

21981. Are there -any houses built now with only one
.room 7 — Not now, but the old miners' rows, many of them,
are single apartments. I believe there are hundreds in •
Ayrshire.

21982. What time would these houses be built 7 — Any
thing from 30 to 40 years ago, but the latest, I must admit,
are an improvement.

21983. Are they ever built with bath-rooms 7 — ^No
bath-rooms of any kind.

2198-k They are never built with bath-rooms 7 —
Never; just the room and kitchen, and they are both
used for sleeping apartments.

21985. The common thing is two rooms in a house, and
no bath-room 7 — Yes,



(Chairman.) You said that there is a common
feeling among the miners that the discipline is too strict 7
— ^That has been expressed many a time. I do not say that
it is well-founded, but the men themselves think that they
could do with a little less of it.

21987. They come to you with complaints that the
Special Rules are unnecessarily enforced, or what is the
complaint they bring to you 7 — ^It has generally arisen
from the enforcement of the Special Rules.

21988. Has your Union ever taken up the point that a
Special Rule is unnecessary, and ought to be dene away
with 7 Have they ever urged that upon the management 7
— ^No, we have never raised the question aa to the re«
laxation of the Rules in aay way.






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. 21989. Although you have been asked by the men ? —
Individuals, whenever they haTO felt the pinch, haye come
to UB.

21990. The men have not come in a body and said \
** We consider that such and such a Kule is irksome and'
unnecessary " ? — No.

21991. It 18 only in individual cases that a man feels
harshly treated and makes objection to the Rule ? — ^Yes.

21992. Is there any particular Special Rule that the
miners object to ? Do you know of any Rule ? — ^The main
objection has hitherto been centred round the timbering.

21993. That is to say, they do not like to be in any way
interfered with. Each colUer considers that he has a
right to put up what timber he pleases, and shall not be
dictated to as to what he shall put up ? — ^l?he complaint that
has reached us oftenest is as to the conditions of putting
up timbering where it has interfered very seriously with
the ability to get coal.

21994. {Mr. RalcUffe Ellis,) Too near the face ?— Yes.

21995. {Chairman.) Do they object because it is tco much
trouble to put up the timber or because it interfeies with
their working T — Because it interferes with their working.

21996. To go on with this question of timbering, Mr.
EUis suggest^ that the question involved was simply a
question of wages. In point of fact, ia there not a question
of safety involved ? It these men are so ill-advised as to
object to any systematic form of timbering, is it not time
that some person was put in authority who should be
himself responsible for timbering and see that proper
timbering was put up, whatever the hewers might think ?
— I think I have stated that already : that an independent
man is essential, because the individual at the working
face is so anxious to get his darg, that is — his full day^
work — ^that he is willing to risk something and grumble
when he is interfered with.

21997. It is a question of safety, and not only a question
of wages as to how far a working hewer at the face should
be in^rfered with in the matter 7 — ^That is so.

^ 21998. You are strongly of opinion in the interests of
safety that he ought tc be interfered with, and that some
persoi^should have authority to dictate to him what timber
he should put up 7 — ^That is so.

21999. Ycu say that the firemen should be placed in a
more independent position 7 — ^Yes.

22000. What do you mean by " a moie independent
position " T — ^I might explain better by ono case that
come before me. I do not wanl to locate the time too
closely, but it is less than five years ago. A fireman told
me he was dismissed because he was in the habit of marking
the book too frequently, and when the place was not safe
of sending the men home. The mianagcment wanted the
men to wotk, he alleged, and take a little risk. That
man is still acting as fireman In a different colliery, and the
conviction that we have is that the firemen should be
independent enough to do their duty without fear or favour
from the men or the employers.

22001. How would you manage that ? — By having the
Home Office or some other pairty who to some extent
would be allowed to intervene in matters of this kind.

22002. That a fireman ought to be able to appe^ from
what he considered a wrongful dismissal ; you mean
something of that sort 7 — Yes.

22003. I understand some of the miners consider that
it is extremely desirable that the firemen should in no way
help the management in the general conduct of the mine,
that is to say, that their duties ought to be entirely confined
to looking after the safety of the mine, and that they ought
not to have charge of the tiams or anything of that sort, that
tiiey ought not to have the general conduct of the mine in
any way. Their smiple duty should be to see that all ia safe
and they ought to have nothing to do with regard to any
of the suggestions made by the management, for getting
more coal/ or for working the mine at a greater profit.
Nothing that has reference to money or wages or greater
output ought to be within the jurisdiction cf the fireman
at all. They ought to do nothing with regard to the way
the mine is conducted, except with a sole view to safe-
guarding the lives of the men 7 — In cairying out their
statutory obligations ihey are compelled sometimes to
send men home.

22004. That I understand. No doubt you caimot
prevent the firemen having to do that occasionally and
coming and getting into the bad books of the management,
and, as the management oonsideis, too frequently. That
no doubt Is a serious matter, about which I was not asking.



I was asking about another point of the same charfteter Mr.FHer
as to the duties cf the fireman. We quite agree his dutifls Mwir.
are tQ send the men away from work, and that the —— -^
management may object, and think that they are ua- 12 June 1907

necessarily sent away, and the men Sibo. It has been

suggested to us that the firemen aie sometimes appointed
not only, and possibly not principally, with a view to
the safety of the mine, but with a view tc their being peia<Hls
who could get the beet work out of the men, and see that
the mine was worked at its greatest possible profit. They
have ohaige, for instance, of the trams, and see that the
loading is what it should be, and U>ey would peihaps
report a man if he put in too much small ooal, or aomf -
thing of that sort, which has nothing to do with safety,
but only the management of the mine. That is the sugg^- f^
tion, I understand? — ^I believe in Ayrshire the pita d^v(
small, and firemen have varied duties. They ajre not |\
onerous enough to simply aUow them to confine themselves I /
to their duties. ^^

22005. You think in the small pits it is natural and
proper that the firemen should not only look after the
safety of the miners, but also bear some part in the general
management of the mine 7— That mig^t be necessary in the
case of a very small pit.

22006. With regard to inspection by the men under Rule
38, it was put to you by Mr. Ellis tiiat the men in the mine
themselves at work were the beet men to make the mapee-
tion 7— Yea.

22007. You said probably that might be so. I should
like to put another view, whether it might not be advisable
to send men down mines who had a much larger experienee
of the genera] oonduot of Imsineas underground than the
men who have worked in a particular pit all their lives
Do yon not think it advisable to have a workmaa who
is extremely well qualified and has a first-class certificate
and has possibly worked in other mines in Dnrliam or
other parts of the oountiry, because he might, from his
experience in other mines, be qualified to make suggestions
that would never occur to a man who had only worked in
a particular pit all his life 7 — ^The inference is in that
direction, that he would t)e able to make suggestions that
would conduce to safety.

22008. You might have a very superior man who would
be better capable of conducting these examinatioxis,
although he had never been working in the particular
pit in question. He might make better suggestions and
be better fitted to carry out that examination thaii a man
who had spent his whole life in the pit t-— In admittiniK
that the man with experience of thatparticular seam would
have piobably the best knowledge, I believe he would so
far as danger was concerned, but the man with a wide
experience might be able to suggest from his wider ex-
peiience what was necessary.

22009. You would send two men down at a time 7—
Yes.

22010. One might be a man of general experience ajtid
the other a miner who had worked in that particular
seam 7 — ^That is so ; meantime we cannot do that according
to law.

22011. You can according to law ; there is nothing to
prevent you according to law from authorising any working
miner who has practical experience in mines going down
any mines you please 7 — ^Who is working in the mine.

22012. No, in any mine. Anybody working in any
mine in the United Kingdom can be sent down the mines
by your men if they Uke to do it. That is the law, and it is
just as well that you should know it, I think. You are
under the impression that you cannot send a man to
inspect for you under this Clause 38 unlesa he has been
working in the actual pit 7 — ^That is so.

(Chairman.) That is not the law.

(Dr. Haldar^e.) Unless he is actually at work as a miner.
Is that not the point 7 That was the point raised yestef dU^y.

22013. (Chairman,) 1 understood Mr. Muir to say that
it would be impossible to get a man of general experience
even, although at the moment a working collier, because
he had never worked in that particular pit 7— That is my
impression.

22014. Yon may take it that is not so. If yon thhik
it proper and desirable, you may send any worldng miner
wherever he comes from down any of your pits. You would
be satisfied with regard to the Special Rules with Mr.
Ellis's suggestion that before a rule was put into operation
it should TO advertised, and that the men should have an
opportunity of expressing their objections. It haa been
suggested that possibly something more might be done

10 ▲



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Mr. Peter with a view of bringing tlie masters and men together
Mutr. at an earlier period, and when the masters wish to advertise

a rule, before advertising it and committing themselves

12 Jnne 1907 to the proposition that in their opinion a rule was a good
— - one, there should be a previous conference between the
masters and the men, that is to say, the masters think a
certain Special Rule should be put into operation and
before advertising it to let the public know of that opinion,
that they should take the men into their confidence and
ask them previously what they think of it. Do you think
that that would be an improvement ? — I could not go the
whole Way of approving of that as an improvement. My
feeling was that the thing should be submitted to the men
after being arranged by the employers and the Home
Office, and I thought there would be stiU a power to change
it, but having committed themselves there would be more
difficulty in making the change.

22015. That is my suggestion, that it might be as well
to bring masters and men together for the consideration
of Special Rules at the earliest possible moment ? — That
is so.

22016. {Mr, Ratdtffe Ellis,) With reference to the
providing of baths at the collieries which vou think would
be a very desirable thing in the interests of the men, would
you see any objection or do you suppose that the men
would object to pay some small charge for the use of them,
or is your idea that they should be provided at the expense
of the coal owners ? — ^I think the expense would be so
trifling that it would be hardly worth making it an obstacle
whether it was paid by the employer or by the men, or

Ijomtly.
22017. Do you see any objection to the men making a
contribution in the way of a small charge ? — I do not see
any objection. My opinion is the cost would be so 'small
that for the convenience and benefit nobody would think it
worth while to make objections.

22018. Supposing they did, do you think the men would
object if they us^ the baths ? They would have the
option of using them or not, but do you think that those
who desired to use them would object to paying a small
charge 7 — ^No, I do not.

22019. {Mr. SmiUie.) Mr. Ellis put it to you that men
employed in a mine were in a better position to make an ex-
amination under Rule 38 as compared with men who were
not employed in the mine, and you agreed with him.
Will you tell the Commission why that is so. Under the
Mines Act a miner is not entitled to go into any part of
the mine but his own working place, and if found outside
he is guilty of a breach of the Special Rules ? — ^Yes.

22020. How is he placed in a superior position to make
an examination of that mine as compared with a person
who works in another mine ? — It was only because there
is knowledge gained from his experience that I assented
to it.

22021. His experience in his own working place you
mean ? — ^Yes.

22022. Miners generally in Ayrshire or Lanarkshire or
any other part of Scotland have a general experience, of
the various seams ? — ^That is so.

22023. So that there is not a great deal in the fact that a
person is employed in a particular mine to justify his



appointment sx>ecially as an inspector for that mine t —
No, the disadvantages on the other side outweigh that.

22024. In these inspections it. is understood that an
• official of the mine must go round with the persons

appointed as inspectors ? — ^Yes.

22025. In order to point out every part of the mine to
them ? — That is so.

22026. I would like to emphasise the question of the
baths and the benefit they would be. Many of your mines
in Ayrshire are wet mines 7 — ^Yes.

22027. Men come up the pit at night drenched to the
skin with water, and in many cases they have to travel
a considerable distance home ? — That is so.

%

22028. Do you think that is injurious to their health 7 —
Most injurious, in the winter time especially. I have
wondered, sometimes meeting them, how they survive it.

22029. From that point of view it would be a great benefit
to the health of the miners to have some provision made 7
— Unmistakeably.

22030. You said that there were a few hundred single
apartment houses you thought still in Ayrshire, but would
there not be over 1,000 single-apartment houses in Ayrshire
— I mean in the villages in which the miners live 7— It
would be difficult to give to an exactness the number,
but I would be safe in stating that there are hundreds
of single-apartment houses.

22031. Do you know any cases in the past few years in
which employers have built up a passage and turned one
single apartment into two apartments 7 — My experience
rather goes the other way, where they have knocked down
a partition.

22032. And made two single apartments into one 7—
Yes.

22033. You do not know any other cases where they
have divided them 7 — ^None to my knowledge in Ayrshire.

22034. Do you know any cases in which they take in
a lodger in the single apartment houses in order to help
to pay 7 — ^That is quite common.

22035. Not only the lodger, but the family ar9 in the
single apartment 7 — ^Yes.

22036. As a matter of fact it must be a very trying duty
on the part of the women where two or three sets of pit
clothes have to be dried round a common fire 7 — That is
unmistakeably so.

22037. That is a very regular thing at the present time 7
— ^That is so.

22038. As a matter of fact, you do not think there would
be any real objection to paying if necessary a part of the
expense 7 — I am simply giving it as my personal opinion,
because that would be subject to the question being put
before the men if it became part of a practical working out.
My opinion is that I think it would be so infinitesimal that
for the comforts and the benefits derived no single man
would scruple.

22039. From a health point of view you think yourself
that it would be worth any cost to the workmen or em-
ployers that was necessary 7 — Yes.



I!
ii



Mr. EoBBBT Bbown, called and examined.



Mr, Ri^ert
Brown,



-'A



22040. {Mf. Smittie,) Yott are SeOretary of the Scottish
Miners' Federation 7 — ^Yes.

22041. You have had a very long experience as a Working
miner in underground work 7 — ^Yes.

22042. Will you tell the Commission how many years
you were working continuously underground 7 — ^31 years
3 months*

22043. In all classes of mining work 7— Yes.

22044. Your enedence in mining has not been confined
to Midlothian 7 — Principally.

22046. You have been a miner in America 7 — ^Yes,
I was in the States 20 months.

22046. {Chairman,) When were you last underground 7
— 16 yecurs ago.

22047. {Mr. SmiUie*) Have you had any experience
of other parts of Scotland or England 7 — ^No, principedly
in Mid and East Lothian.



22048. You have been in nearly every mining district
in Scotland* attending meetings or dealing with disputes T



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