HC Deb 25 June 1867 vol 188 cc552-9

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [18th June], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair,"

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


, who opposed the further progress of the measure, contended that railway companies, being the chief sufferers by accidents, would be only too glad to adopt any invention which would give greater security to the public. No invention had hitherto been brought forward which had obtained the confidence of the public. This Bill merely enacted that a communication, without describing any particular communication, should be adopted. All carriages were to be provided with an effectual means of communication with the guard; but no conviction could be obtained for the infringement of such a loosely drawn clause of an Act of Parliament as that. At present the only means of communication was by means of a cord running through the whole train, which was far from effectual, because when the train was on a curve it became loose. He should be glad if his hon. Friend would point out an effectual means of communication between the guard and the passenger; but until it was pointed out he must oppose the further progress of the Bill.


said, he had presented a petition praying that the Bill might be allowed to pass, and in the prayer of that petition he cordially concurred. The object which it was sought to attain he looked upon as excellent; and it seemed to him incredible that the whole inventive genius of this county should be unable to devise some means of communication which would answer the required purposes.


pointed out that as a matter of fact the inventive genius of the country had failed to accomplish the object. Men of the greatest experience had endeavoured, in the interests of the railway companies themselves, to establish some means of communication, such as that which the Bill proposed to carry out, but without success; and Captain Tyler, as the representative of the Board of Trade, had stated that no scheme for the purpose had been brought under his notice, the adoption of which he could recommend. The railway companies were extremely anxious that the Board itself should prescribe the means to be taken to provide the necessary communication; and seeing that that was not done, and that Clause 6 was to be struck out, he should like to know what use there could be in proceeding with a measure which was thus shorn of its original provisions by the hon. Gentleman by whom it was promoted. He called upon the Government, if they could avail themselves of the necessary engineering information to accomplish the object in view, to introduce a Bill for that purpose; but it certainly was not, he must say, fair to throw upon the railway companies a responsibility such as that which it was now proposed to cast upon them.


said, that if they were to leave the matter to railway directors, they might wait till doomsday before anything would be done. A short time ago the roof of a carriage in which some of his friends were travelling took fire, and as there were no means of communication with the guard, all they had to do was to shout in order to attract notice. The fire was observed as they went by a station, but the train could not be stopped. At last the train was stopped, and immediately after the roof fell in. His friends escaped with their lives, but their baggage was consumed. Now, if there had been some mode of communication with the guard the train might have been stopped earlier, the baggage would not have been lost, nor the passengers frightened almost out of their lives. If no means of communication between passengers and guard could be established, he wished to know whether they could not, at all events, do as was done in America, and contrive a mode by which the guard might pass from one end of the train to the other. He hoped the Bill would be allowed to go into Committee, in order that they might see whether some means might not be adopted for saving the lives of the public.


said, that there was a special department of the Government—namely, the Board of Trade, whose province it was to look to such matters; and he should like to hear what the representative of that department had to say on this question. He had never seen any plan by which such means of communication as was desired could be provided. As for the guard going from one part of the train to the other, that might be done; but it would place the railway companies under the necessity of providing new rolling stock altogether. He, as a railway director, could say that directors were most anxious to adopt any means of communicating with the guard that might be found practicable, and they were willing to submit to the Board of Trade in the matter.


said, that he had recently had an opportunity of seeing a signal adopted on the Great Northern of France which he was told was very effective. There was plenty of engineering talent in England to discover some means of communication between passengers and guards, and if such means were not at first as effective as might be desirable, they could by degrees be improved. Let Parliament say that some means must be established, and no doubt a remedy for the present state of things would soon be discovered.


expressed an opinion that it was quite possible to adopt some mode of communication such as was contemplated by the Bill. In fact, it was already in use not only on the Continent, but on some English lines.


said, that this was one of the measures which appealed to the general feeling of the country, and those who made objections to it were exposed to a certain amount of obloquy. When the hon. Member moved the second reading of the Bill, he (Mr. Stephen Cave) recommended that before going into Committee they should wait for the Report of the Royal Commission. Now, that Report was rather against the measure, the object being to fix absolute responsibility on the railway companies. The Commissioners consider that if they were to interfere with the details of the management of railways they would, to a certain extent, diminish that absolute responsibility; and they wished if any accident occurred to person or property that the railway company should be absolutely responsible. He had on a former occasion gone into this question at length, and should be very brief now. He had no doubt that communication between passengers and guards might be established. There was such communication in Royal trains, there was such on the Continent, and also in some parts of England. The hon. Baronet who had last spoken, and who was a great authority on matters of this kind, had stated that communication was possible. But there was a great difference between England and foreign countries in one particular, and hon. Members who had spoken had felt the difficulty. If a guard was informed that something was going wrong, was he to be at liberty to stop the train or not? In several cases it would be found extremely difficult and dangerous to stop the train. Was the guard to be responsible in such cases without knowing; the precise meaning of the signal? On the Continent and in America it was different. The guard who received a signal could go at once to the carriage whence it proceeded. On English railways there would be a minimum of advantage from the establishment of a communication between guards and drivers. There would also be a difficulty in adapting signals to carriages in the case of lines with frequent junctions, at which the continuity of the train was broken. Besides, in cases of outrage, the first thing would be for the person committing it to prevent access to the signal. He entirely repudiated all responsibility for the Board of Trade in the matter. The Bill in its first draught required the Board of Trade to certify that particular communications between guards and drivers were in a perfect state. But that he held to be impracticable, and he had insisted on that portion of the Bill being omitted. The hon. Member for Dudley had consented to this, and he therefore would not oppose going into Committee; but he thought the Bill would require careful consideration in Committee.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short Title).


moved that the Chairman do report Progress.


explained that the measure did not throw any responsibility upon the Board of Trade, and stated that one of the best managed companies in England—the South Eastern Company—had successfully adopted a system of communication between guards and passengers and saw no objection to the measure. He should therefore divide the House on the Motion of the hon. Member opposite.


said, he had, ten years ago, sat on a Committee on this subject, which reported in favour of the establishment of a communication between guards and drivers, and if Parliament determined that it should be established, railway directors would soon find out the best means of doing so.


said, that the Committee referred to by the last speaker was appointed to consider the feasibility of establishing communications between the guards, and not between the guards and the passengers, which was a very important distinction.


said, that the Directors of railways were most anxious to discover some plan by which it would be possible for passengers to communicate with the guards; and it would, perhaps, be better to leave the matter in their hands.


, in support of his contention that there was no physical difficulty to prevent guards walking along the foot-boards of the carriages, alluded to the fact that in some parts of Scotland it was customary for the guards to collect the tickets by that means while the train was in motion.


said, that the system adopted on the Great Northern of France and on the Mediterranean Railways had been found to work admirably. In that system the passenger seeking to communicate with the guard broke a glass and pulled a ring. There was also a communication between adjoining compartments of the carriage—an arrangement that tended to give passengers, especially ladies, a feeling of security.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Nicholson Hodgson.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 35; Noes 72 Majority 37.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 omitted.

Clause 4 (Penalty for not establishing such Means of Communication)


moved the omission of the words "ready and effectual."


thought the clause ought to be omitted, and that a fresh one, framed on the principle of the one to be proposed in the place of Clause 3, should be brought up.


was of opinion that the Bill ought not to be proceeded with until the clauses, which it was proposed to bring up, were before the Committee. He moved that the Chairman report Progress.


thought it was unwise to oppose the Bill in the interest of the railway companies, because it certainly was the mildest form of legislation that could be proposed.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. William Philip Price.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 21; Noes 65: Majority 44.


said, the clause was a very important one, and time ought to be given for consideration in its amended form. He therefore moved that the Chairman do report Progress. ["Oh, oh!"] It was in no spirit of faction that this Motion was made.


said, that the object of repeated Motions to report Progress on a short Bill of this kind at this period of the Session were perfectly well understood. It showed that a determination existed on the part of railway directors to defeat this Bill if possible. He could call it nothing else but a factious opposition.


denied that such a charge was fairly to be made against the representatives of railway interests. It was impossible to suppose that Railway Directors would resist the adoption of any system really calculated to protect human life from risk, and increase the safety of their passengers. But the fact was that, in the present state of science, no really efficient system of protection had been yet discovered, and therefore it was idle to go on with the Bill at present. He had supported and should continue to support Motions for reporting Progress.


said, the hon. Member was desirous of reporting Progress in order, apparently, that some really satisfactory invention might be discovered before the Bill came on again for discussion. If no real security was afforded by the systems at present in use on different railways, how was it that companies took such credit for adopting them? His hon. Friend had been beaten by two to one in the former division, mid three to one in the last. He put it to him seriously, whether it was worth his while to run about the lobbies any more that evening?


said, he must confess the course taken by Railway Directors looked exceedingly like a determination to reject the Bill if possible. He could not say how many years this farce had been going on, and it was now time to do something practical.


protested against the language of the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford. There was not a railway board in the kingdom which had failed to devote hours to the anxious consideration of this question, and many of them had incurred great expense in trying experiments. He would suggest that the Bill be revived in a more practical shape next Session.


stated, that communications between passengers and guard had been established on the South Western line.


also testified to the same fact, remarking that railway directors appeared lamentably ignorant on the subject.


suggested that the contest on the Bill should be reserved for the 3rd Clause.

Motion negatived.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (Board of Trade to grant Certificate of Compliance with Act).


moved the omission of the clause.


said, that the certificate of the Board of Trade was useless as the Bill stood. It was not to be expected that the Board of Trade should certify to each train having some signal.

Clause struck out.


, in lieu of Clause 6, proposed the following clause, which was read a second time:— From and after the expiration of six months from the passing of this Act each and every railway company in Great Britain and Ireland shall in every train provided for the conveyance of passengers upon lines of railway under their control and management, whenever the distance to be traversed by such train without stopping shall, in any case during the journey exceed fifteen miles, fit up and provide in each carnage, and in each compartment of a carriage in which passengers are conveyed, means of communication between the passengers and the guard in charge of such train, and shall also provide means of communication between the said guard and the driver or drivers of the locomotive engine or engines attached to such train.


proposed after the word "shall" to insert the words "if required by the Board of Trade;" but after some discussion the addition of the words was negatived, and the clause was added to the Bill.


said, that the Amendment would establish a new principle of legislation, because the Act of Parliament would only become operative on the requisition of the Board of Trade. This would be changing the functions of a Government department which were now simply executive.

Amendment negatived

Clause added to the Bill.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Friday.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.