HC Deb 19 June 1861 vol 163 cc1272-6

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, which he advocated in the interests of the lower classes, to protect them against the danger of being ordered to clean windows from the outside. That practice, it was well known, had led to to a great many fatal accidents, and he was sure that the House would be glad to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such calamities. He had received that morning information of four accidents of the kind, three of which terminated fatally, and probably the fourth also, although it was only stated that a man, who had fallen from a window of Buckingham Palace, was taken to the hospital for a fractured skull, and it was not stated whether he had died or not. On the occasion when he brought this measure before the House in the last Session of Parliament a Gentleman of the law took upon himself to turn the matter into ridicule, and found plenty of other Gentlemen to join in the laugh with him. He was advised by his friends not to press the second reading then, but he hoped that now the House would allow the Bill to be considered in Committee. A similar Bill was passed about fourteen years ago for Scotland, and Scotch Members told him that the operation of the Act in preventing these accidents had been completely successful. Last year, after his Bill was thrown aside, there were no fewer than four deaths within two days from accidents of the sort which he was anxious to provide against. That was a striking proof of the urgent necessity for such a measure. He employed a system of window-cleaning in his own houses, both in town and country, which was attended with no danger whatever, and he would be glad to see it generally adopted. He moved that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a second time.


said, he held that to pass such a measure as that before them would be to carry the principle of interference between employer and employed to a most inconvenient and unprecedented length. Some of the provisions of the Bill were really absurd, and would render an employer liable to punishment if his servant cleaned a window from a balcony. Every one must do justice to the motives of the hon. Baronet, but, however well meant the Bill might be, he was satisfied that it would prove a source of great annoyance and vexation. He, therefore, moved that it be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


said, that whatever opinion the House might entertain of the merits of the Bill, there could be but one sentiment with regard to the motives of his hon. Colleague in bringing it before the House. The House could not but respect one who had been a Member of Parliament before most of them were born; whose political career carried him so far back that he was one of those who seized the assassin of Spencer Percival in the lobby of the former House of Commons, and who now, towards the close of a long and honourable life, at an age when most men, if they had the power of thinking at all, thought only of themselves, was exerting himself in the cause of humanity to stop what was at any rate a clumsy and dangerous practice, and not only by this Bill, but by setting the example of an improved construction in his own house, which had already been followed in some public offices, and if architects and builders had a little more public spirit would soon be generally adopted. He (Mr. Cave) had thought it right to say thus much, as his name was on the back of the Bill, though all the credit of it was due to the hon. Baronet, who was its sole author, and who knew, indeed, that he (Mr. Cave) did not entirely approve of the details. These, however, might be amended in Committee. It was not so long ago that 150 hon. Members opposite, among whom was the hon. and learned Baronet who moved the Amendment, were ready to go into the lobby in favour of the second reading of a Bill of every clause of which they disapproved. Should this be refused, he recommended his hon. Colleague to wash his hands of the matter, and to rest content with the efforts he had made. He was now relieved of all responsibility on this score, and might be well satisfied to leave that to those who opposed him. For his own part he would rather be the author of such a measure than one of those who treated it with ridicule.


said, that the motives of the hon. Baronet who promoted the Bill deserved respect, and he was not aware of any disposition on the part of the House to treat the subject with ridicule. He himself never said anything that could be construed into a suggestion that the measure was a laughable one. It was a perfectly serious proposal, and deserved to be so treated. The general law of the country was that any person who knowingly and wilfully placed another in a situation of danger whereby his death might be caused was liable to an indictment for the man's death. That principle would apply to cases of window-cleaning where any degree of rashness which the law deemed culpable was exhibited; but the hon. Baronet wished to make that sort of trifling with the lives of others subject to a special penalty. The general rule on which they went was that an adult person in any employment was master of his own life and safety, and that the law was not required to interfere for his protection. It was obvious that there were many dangers to which persons in the employment of others voluntarily exposed themselves which were greater than those in the case of window-cleaning. The Government had not neglected the Motion of the hon. Baronet for a return of the number of accidents through window-cleaning, but had received an answer from Mr. Wakley that it would take a very long time to search through the reports of all the coroner's inquests in Middlesex in order to make the return. He thought, however, that they might assume as a matter of notoriety that such accidents were not of frequent occurrence. Employment in mines, or even on board a ship going to sea in stormy weather, was attended with dangers at least equal to those to be apprehended in the case of window-cleaning. In many of the building trades, in driving a railway train, and in many other avocations, there was great risk of accident, but in none of those cases was there any legislative interference for the protection of life. Then there was a case which had excited a good deal of public attention lately—that of rope-dancers, who in places of entertainment exhibited themselves in dangerous positions for the gratification of the public. No attempt had been made to prevent adult persons, who were masters of their own understandings, from exposing themselves in that manner. From time to time dangerous ascents were also made in balloons, but the law did not enable the executive Government or the magistrates to prevent them. If they were to enter on a course of legislation of the kind proposed by the hon. Baronet, it was clear that there were other employments which were as dangerous as window-cleaning, and with which it would be equally necessary to deal. Not being prepared to depart from the recognized tenets of our legislation in that respect, he could not give his vote for the second reading of the Bill.


said, he had not heard any objection to the Bill which could not be obviated in Committee. He thought that the Bill came in aid of a class of persons who were especially unable to exercise a free-will. For what poor female servant could refuse to clean a window in the manner objected to if so ordered by her master? Servants really required some protection in the way suggested by the hon. Baronet, and he hoped the House would read the Bill a second time.


said, that, reference having been made by the right hon. Baronet to rope-dancing, he wished to know whether any steps had been taken to prevent the repetition of M. Blondin's performance on the rope with his child?


said, he had already informed the House that he had addressed a letter to the Directors of the Crystal Palace Company, objecting to a child of tender years being allowed to take part in such a dangerous exhibition, a child not being capable of giving any reasonable consent, and, therefore, not falling under the general rule as to adults which he had stated. The Crystal Palace Company, to their credit, at once complied with his letter, and stated that the performance would not be repeated.


said, he understood that the Bill was intended to protect female servants who might be required against their will to do certain work under pain of forfeiting their situations. That was a totally different case from that where a person voluntarily exposed himself to danger.


said, he would not stop to consider whether the Bill was very much called for. It sufficed for him that its objects were benevolent.


directed attention to an accident, said to have occurred that morning, through a steam engine passing along the streets drawing a number of carts.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided—:Ayes 38; Noes 79: Majority 41.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.