HC Deb 22 July 1862 vol 168 cc669-72

rose to call the attention of the House to the Petition of Engine Drivers and Firemen, working on several lines of railway, complaining of the excessive number of hours during which they worked continuously; also to other Petitions on the same subject; and to move "That a Committee be appointed to inquire into the matter of the said Petitions." The grievance complained of affected a large body of working men and the public also. Some eighteen months ago he was applied to by a number of engine-drivers and firemen on the Great Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and four or five other railways, to bring their case before Parliament. They represented that they were kept at work for so many hours continuously that their health was injured, and the lives of passengers placed in jeopardy. The averages of their hours on certain railways were respectively 14, 16½, 15, 16, 14, and 15 in the 24 hours. The greatest number of hours during which men had in some instances been required to work consecutively were 20, 25, 23, 26, 28, and 24 on different railways. That was a state of things most injurious to the men, and highly dangerous to the public. He had presented fourteen petitions, one of which was signed by upwards of 700 men. The class of engineers and firemen consisted of many thousands, who were respectable, and had great influence. The complainants said that their hours were unnecessarily long, and, with proper management, might be shortened. It was only on seven lines of railway that complaints were made. On others, including the Great Northern, there was no such grievance. When first applied to, he recommended these men to appeal to their directors, and then to the Board of Trade. They had done so, and had failed to obtain redress, and therefore he brought the subject before the House. In one of the many cases which had been laid before him a man had worked as many as fifty-six hours in three days—pretty nearly fifty-six consecutive hours—and in another case, a man who had worked nineteen and three-quarter hours was obliged to resume duty after a rest of two and a quarter hours. An article in the Quarterly Review traced a collision on one of the Scotch lines to the exhaustion from overwork of the men in charge of the train. One man had told him that he frequently slept for miles on his engine; and when he awoke, he could tell where he was only from some peculiarity in some posts by the side of the line. The danger to the public from requiring this amount of exhaustive labour from railway servants was too obvious to need any statement from him. In addition to the Petition of the engine-drivers and firemen, he had presented thirteen Petitions from the inhabitants of towns on the railways in question, signed by mayors, town councillors, magistrates, clergymen, and merchants, who stated that they knew that the engine-drivers on the lines on which they travelled were overworked, and that their own lives were jeopardized; they, therefore, prayed the House to pass some measure upon the subject. He would move, according to his notice, for a Select Committee to inquire into the statements of the petitioners. He was aware that at that period of the Session such a Committee would not be granted; and he should therefore make his Motion as a matter of form, with a view to elicit an opinion on the subject. But if this opinion had no effect, and these complaints continued, he should certainly in another Session do something more than call attention to the subject.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the matter of the Petition of Engine Drivers and Firemen working on several Lines of Railway in the United Kingdom, complaining of the excessive number of hours during which they work continuously; and also of the Petitions of inhabitants of certain cities, boroughs, and other towns on the same subject.


I will state to my hon. and learned Friend that a deputation of engine-drivers waited upon me at the Board of Trade to represent that they suffered under a system of very long hours of labour; but it did not appear from what passed that it could be said with truth that all the engine-drivers, taking the whole body as a class, agreed in the necessity of any interference on the part of Parliament between themselves and their employers. The particular persons who were moving in this matter formed only a small proportion of the engine-drivers. I have no doubt there is a great deal of truth in what my hon. and learned Friend says. There are instances of persons working long hours; and if a system of over-working were generally practised throughout the railway companies in the kingdom, which prevented the exercise of due vigilance on the part of the engine-drivers, a case might be made out for the interference of Parliament. But I am informed that in cases of accident it has rarely occurred that hours of work of the engine-drivers had any bearing whatever on the question. Signalmen have been employed too long, and, having fallen asleep, have neglected the usual signals. What my hon. and learned Friend asks for would be a departure from the general rule. We should be setting up a new principle; for, though Parliament has interfered to protect women and young children in factories, it has never interfered to limit the labour of adult males. The question is, whether it is not wiser to allow the engine drivers to settle their affairs with their employers instead of taking them under the protection of Parliament. They are a most intelligent class, and are quite capable of taking care of themselves. They are men of highly skilled labour, and can make their own arrangements with their employers. And be it observed, they are paid extra for these extra hours, and it is of their own will and pleasure that they work such long hours, for the purpose of getting more money. My hon. and learned Friend says he would prevent that, because they are unable to give that attention to their engines which is necessary to secure the public safety. If my hon. and learned Friend can point out any system of railway management which seriously endangers the public safety, the Board of Trade will make any representation to the railway companies that it may think would be useful. I do not think that a case has been made out for legislation, and I am of opinion that we had better leave the responsibility for taking care of these matters to the managers and directors of the railways. If they, by working their men too long, or by any other neglect of precautions necessary for the public safety, cause any injury to life or limb, they are by juries made to pay heavy damages. Do not let Parliament lessen their responsibility, so that, when an accident occurs they may say, "Oh! you manage our railways for us." I hope my hon. and learned Friend will allow the matter to rest where it is.


hoped that at this period of the Session the hon. and learned Gentleman would not press his Motion.


asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to give the names of the railways where this system prevailed.


said, that these railways were seven in number—The Blyth and Tyne, the Great Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the London and North Eastern, the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, the Midland, and the South Yorkshire. He should not press his Motion, but might state that several accidents had happened in consequence of the guards and engine-drivers being rendered unfit, by over-work, to attend to their duties.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.