HC Deb 23 April 1873 vol 215 cc883-9

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving "That the Bill be now read a second time," observed that the present law applicable to locomotives used on turnpike and public roads was only a temporary measure, carried on from year to year by the Continuance Act. The time had, in his opinion, gone by when locomotives travelling on roads could be practically prohibited, for they were now so much used for agricultural and other purposes, that he thought the time had arrived when the law relating to them should be made clear and permanent, and that was what the Bill purposed to do. The present regulations were of a vague and perplexing character; for instance, the enactments that a locomotive on a common road, must be preceded 60 yards by a man waving a red flag, or that the engineer when meeting other vehicles must leave as much space as possible between his engine and the pavement were clearly out of place; and he maintained that the best principle to adopt would be that of simply making every man who drove a locomotive along a road responsible for his own acts, without defining beforehand what they were to be. He could not understand why the Bill should be opposed on the second reading, for although some of the details of the measure might be objectionable, yet they could be dealt with in Committee. He did not think that locomotives were so likely to frighten horses as some of the heavily laden waggons which passed through the streets, and in fact greater protection was provided by the Bill against accidents than could be found in the law as it stood. Not only that, but it was quite possible to construct locomotives which should be perfectly harmless in passing along public roads. The Bill accordingly provided that any locomotive which did not emit smoke, and which when working did not produce any noise by steam, or discharge steam into the open air, might, if conformable with other conditions named in the Bill, be used on any turnpike or public road without a licence from a local authority, but that no locomotive which failed to comply with these conditions should be used without a licence. To prevent abuse of the power to licence conferred by the Bill in local authorities he provided for appeal to the Board of Trade. The question of special injury to roads he made one of the conditions of licence, for it was impossible for anybody to value special damage done by a particular vehicle passing along the road, and it was only fair that the licensing authority should have the power to refuse permission to the passing of a locomotive constructed as some were, with flanges for instance, to commit special injury to roads. To the same licensing authority in towns and boroughs he gave power to limit the hours during which the locomotives should be used, and to limit their use to particular roads. The tolls were the same as in the existing Act, but they were simplified so as to bring them within the comprehension of average toll-keepers. In conclusion, he thought that the time had come when those interested in the use of these locomotives ought to know what the law was, and he was therefore surprised at the opposition which was to be offered on the part of the farmers, because an engine working in a field within 25 yards of the roadside was more dangerous than one passing along the road. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Cawley.)


, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he complained that his hon. Friend had not sufficiently referred to the provisions of the Act of 1865, which contained much greater protection to the public than the Bill before the House. He maintained that the present restrictions were necessary for the protection of the public. For instance, at present the speed of road locomotives was restricted to two miles an hour, but the Bill of his hon. Friend allowed five miles in town and eight in the country, and he would ask how it would be possible to tell whether the speed was five, six, eight, or ten miles an hour. He contended that they had not had sufficient experience of the working of these locomotives under the present law to enable them to say that larger powers should be granted to the owners of them, as he believed that if this Bill were passed public interests would be endangered, he opposed it. The introduction of these locomotives was a modern innovation; they were intruders upon the public roads; and, therefore, Parliament was bound to see that they were under proper safeguards.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, the Bill ought to be rejected on the second reading because the objections to it were such as could not be dealt with in Committee, and would not be met by amending details. His hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) had not made out a case of sufficient inconvenience to justify the proposed change of the law. At the invitation of the senior Member for Glasgow (Mr. Dalglish), he had, in an evil hour, consented to make an experimental trip of a quarter of an hour on one of these locomotives, and he admitted that it seemed to be possible to construct an engine with improvements which would obviate the objections to the use of it on common roads. The whole question was one of speed, and a machine going along the road at the rate of five miles an hour would, in itself be a cause of alarm; and in the streets of towns would be fraught with positive danger. The provisions with regard to penalties would be perfectly inoperative, and the owners of these engines would be able to do just as they pleased. The time had not arrived for the proposed changes, which, if made, would produce fresh demands from the Tramway Companies for permission to use engines on their railways. He hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw this Bill, and content himself with the introduction of a measure which should be limited to the removal of the inconveniences which were complained of as arising under the existing law—or would move for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole question.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Gregory.)

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


hoped the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill, for the simple reason that the law as it stood was difficult of application. The objections formerly urged against road locomotives had been wholly or partially removed in consequence of the improvements which had taken place in their construction and use, and it would not be the interest of any owner of these engines to use them in such a manner as to expose him to loss either by want of care or accident. The object of the Bill, therefore, was to encourage the use of locomotives, provided they could be used with safety and without injury to the public roads. As to horses shying, what would they not shy at? Horses were becoming used to railways, whereas formerly it was deemed a great risk to drive over a level crossing. A country horse would be frightened by a military band, but not by the noise of a thrashing machine; and a town horse would be frightened by the thrashing machine and not by the band. The proposed restrictions, moreover, were not much less stringent than those now in force, and they might be modified in Committee; and he thought that the giving of power to the local authorities to grant licences would be sufficient protection to the public against danger. With respect to injury to roads, he could cite evidence given before the Lords' Committee to show that the locomotives, with their broad wheels, improved rather than injured roads, and the injury, if done at all, was committed by the narrower wheels of heavily-laden waggons drawn by locomotives. The experience of the hon. Baronet opposite the Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) seemed to tell in favour of the Bill rather than against it, because it was hoped that the use of locomotives would suggest further improvements. In conclusion, he must say he had no private interest in the matter, but on public grounds he hoped the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill.


said, several reasons might be adduced to show that some change was required in the present laws relating to this subject. The two Acts which now dealt with it were tentative measures; and, besides, considerable improvements had recently been made in the character of the locomotives which could be used on ordinary roads, in a great degree obviating the objections which those measures were enacted to guard against. At the same time, the uncontrolled use of locomotive engines on roads which were frequently very narrow and which passed through populous villages must be a source of great danger, and it should not be forgotten that the House was called upon to legislate on this difficult subject without being in possession of sufficient information with regard to it. Unfortunately, no Department of the Government was capable of supplying the requisite information. With respect to the question of safety, there were at present strict conditions as to the speed and manner of using locomotives, and those conditions the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) proposed to relax to a very great degree. It was proposed to increase the speed of these engines in town up to five miles an hour, and in the country to eight miles an hour, so that if this Bill passed there would be nothing to prevent an engine going through a populous country village, the streets of which formed the ordinary playground of the children, at the rate of eight miles an hour. It was obvious that some limitation in that respect would have to be made. Further than that, he thought it was obvious that beyond the question of safety to the public, there were other reasons against the proposed legislation, involving questions affecting the interests of the ratepayers. On turnpike roads these engines might be compelled by means of tolls to contribute adequately to the repair of the roads, but on highways no toll could be levied, and yet considerable damage must be done to them by the passage of engines of enormous weight, especially when they drew a number of waggons after them exactly in the same track. Again, the Bill was defective, inasmuch as it did not provide for the security of the bridges, or the roads to be traversed by these engines, or for the cost of putting them into a proper state of security. In addition to that, the House was not in possession of information as to whether the improvements in these engines were really of such a nature as to justify an extension of the powers granted by previous Acts, and a relaxation of the restrictions imposed by them. The objections he had made were all mat- ters of detail, but details formed the very essence of the whole subject, and therefore it seemed to him the action of the hon. Member in this matter had been premature, and that the House could not safely sanction the extensive powers asked for. He would advise the hon. Member to withdraw the Bill, and move at some future time for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject.


felt convinced the House would not be prepared to sanction the second reading of a Bill of this kind, or to allow such a measure in itself to be submitted to the consideration of a Committee upstairs. From personal experience, derived in Essex, he knew that it was very difficult to get spirited horses to pass gigantic and noisy engines in narrow, twisting country lanes, and yet the Bill proposed to do away with the precautions against danger provided by existing legislation. If the present restrictions were relaxed in the manner proposed by the Bill, a history of accidents might be created which would necessitate his coming down to that House and asking it to legislate for them in a similar way to that in which he was now asking it to legislate for another class of accidents. No one could deny that the present law was in an unsatisfactory state; but this circumstance only indicated that the Government ought either to bring in a Bill themselves, or else by instituting an inquiry enable hon. Members to obtain full information on the subject.


said, he too had had considerable experience of these engines on country roads. In the vicinity of his own country residence, one of them took a journey along the turnpike road, and for a distance of eight miles it broke through the road about every 50 yards, doing damage which it would take £100 to repair. Finally, the monster itself came to smash, and never recovered from the injuries it received. He trusted the House would reject the Bill at once rather than refer it to a Select Committee, as he desired to prevent even the possibility of so objectionable a measure again coming under the consideration of the House.


said, he must express a hope that his hon. Friend who had introduced the Bill would accept the proposition of the Government, and allow the subject to be referred to a Select Committee. The constituency which he represented felt a great interest in the Bill, but they were quite willing that consideration should be given to the objections which had been stated. It would be a great pity if this new mode of locomotion should not have every advantage if it was likely to prove beneficial to the public. At the same time, if his hon. Friend would withdraw the Bill, it might be better than to ask the House at once to decide upon it.


said, that understanding the Government were willing that a full inquiry should take place, he had no objection to withdraw the Bill, and give Notice of his intention to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the whole matter.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.