HC Deb 14 February 1877 vol 232 cc341-6

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the object of the measure was to guard, as far as possible, against the occurrence of' those lamentable accidents which too frequently happened in the working of machines of this nature. It contained but one clause. Several men were required in the working of these machines. One was employed in managing the machine and four others in assisting; but as there was not, as the machines were at present constructed, any safeguard at the feeding mouth, and the men being inexperienced, they were constantly exposed to serious accidents—accidents resulting in some cases in loss of life, and in others in permanent injuries. The Bill proposed to provide a safeguard at the feeding mouth, which would be of simple construction, and would have the effect, with care, of preventing such accidents; and it proposed to enforce the use of the guard by inflicting a penalty of 40s. on any person who permitted any such machine, belonging to him to be worked, or on any person in charge of such machine, without using this guard. Threshing machines when at work went at a rapid rate, making several hundred revolutions in a minute, and it was impossible in the absence of such means as the Bill provided to prevent accidents. The provisions of the measure were simple, and he trusted the House, in reference to the objects, would allow it to be read a second time.

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


said, it would be an improvement if they could introduce a provision imposing penalties upon persons who employed inexperienced men to attend and work these machines. It was not always easy to find competent persons to tend the machines, and the consequence was that deplorable accidents frequently occurred—one had recently taken place in his own neighbourhood. He should be very much pleased if the hon. Member could introduce a clause in the Bill providing that persons who were not competent should not be employed in the working of the machinery.


said, he did not rise to oppose the second reading of the Bill; on the contrary, he believed it to be a useful measure, and desired to urge on the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire, that it should be extended to Ireland. For in Ireland thrashing machines were in general use; the use of them was increasing, and accidents of a serious character unfortunately resulted too frequently from the use of the steam engine by which they were worked. And as this was a measure for the protection of the farm labourer, he hoped that the Irish farm servant would have the same measure of protection as his English brother. Considering that the object of the Bill was to enforce more care on the part of the proprietors of these engines, and more regard for the safety of the persons in their employment; he thought the maximum fine of 40s. too small a penalty for neglect which might, and often did, involve loss of life. The proprietors of these engines were in general men in comfortable, if not in wealthy, pecuniary circumstances, whilst the men injured were as a rule, poor men. It was true that as the law now stood if the owners of these engines were guilty of wilful and perverse negligence, they were liable either to a civil action or perhaps to a criminal prosecution; but neither proceeding was likely to result in much benefit to the poor farm servant or in the event of his death to his widow and children, he therefore suggested that it should be discretionary in the magistrates to increase the penalty to £5, which would more effectually carry out the object of the Bill.


said, that if the measure was to apply to Ireland as well as to England, it might also be suitable for Scotland, and he would therefore request that the further progress of the Bill might be deferred until he had received letters from Scotland as to the wishes of the parties interested about the measure being extended to Scotland. He thought it should be made general to the United Kingdom, if deemed necessary for the protection of life and limb.


said, he completely concurred, on the part of the Government, in the objects of the Bill. The Bill was simple; and, in his opinion, did not go quite so far as might be desired; but no one acquainted with the agricultural population would deny the necessity of some measure of this kind. The accidents in 1875–1876 were numerous, and in some cases very serious—it was only a few days ago that a man had had his leg and thigh most seriously crushed. He should have thought that the owners of machines would for their own sakes employ skilled men to go out with the machines and direct the working of them; but if the case could be made out that incompetent persons were employed, he was sure his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire would allow Amendments to be introduced for the purpose of strengthening the measure. With regard to Ireland and Scotland, he should like to see the Bill extended to those countries.


said, he thought there was great disadvantage in the extremely vague language in which the main clause of the Bill was couched. It set forth that the straps and wheels were to be kept securely fenced, so far as was reasonably practicable with the efficient working of the machine. Who, he asked, was to be the judge of what must be efficient and practicable working? The question would have to be left entirely to the discretion of magistrates. There were many agricultural machines which were extremely dangerous in their present condition. But he should like to ask whether the Law Officers of the Crown had really considered the scope and effect of the Bill; whether they thought a measure of this description should be further proceeded with, and whether it would not be better to introduce a much more comprehensive measure, such as that which affected manufacturing machines? This Bill seemed to him rather to limit than to extend the responsibility of those who were owners, or who were in charge of threshing machines. One magistrate, when a case was brought before him, might pooh-pooh the evidence, and say he considered the machine as well fenced as it could well be, while another magistrate might take a totally opposite view. To say that a machine should be fenced so far as was reasonable and practicable, "consistent with its efficient working," was not, in his opinion, language that would sufficiently accomplish the object of the hon. Member who had introduced the measure to the House.


acknowledged the motives which led his hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) to introduce the Bill; but as it appeared to him the measure would create a new offence, he could not on that ground approve of it. He did not see that there was any necessity for this special legislation than there was for legislation with respect to any other kind of machinery. The Common Law of the country would be sufficient to meet and deal with all accidents arising from neglect, whether from threshing machines or otherwise. The Bill would establish a precedent to which there might be no end.


said, he approved of the Bill generally, but he thought Amendments might be introduced in Committee. The Bill was extremely simple, and might prove the saving of many lives. As the machines were now used they proved the cause of many lamentable accidents and frequent loss of life; and he thought, therefore, the Bill would meet with the general acceptance of the House.


, as a Scotch Member not unacquainted with the principles of threshing machines, said, he should give his support to the Bill. He heartily approved of its principle. They had legislation for the protection of manufacturing machinery in Scotland, such as in the linen and jute works, and that kind of machinery was far less dangerous than threshing machines. When they thought of the many careless people who were engaged to work these machines, it was surely their duty to legislate for their protection. He hoped the Bill would be made to apply to Scotland and Ireland. The expense of protecting the machines in the way proposed would be very small. He agreed that the penalty for not obeying the Act ought to be raised to £5.


said, he quite appreciated the motives which had actuated the hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) in introducing the Bill, and he approved of any attempt to prevent these melancholy accidents; but he must say that, as the Bill had only been delivered that morning, he had scarcely had time to consider its principle. He should like to ask whether, in the opinion of the Government, the existing law was not sufficient to deal with these cases? For his own part, if it was, he should strongly object to multiplying offences and Acts of Parliament. If they began to legislate separately for one particular agricultural machine, there was no saying where they would stop. Why not legislate for turnip - crushing machines or steam ploughs? If they did that, they might soon have as many Acts referring to agricultural machines as they had agricultural machines themselves. He did not, however, intend to oppose the Bill.


congratulated the hon. Member on having brought in the Bill, and hoped he would consent to introduce a provision in it to extend it to Ireland. He hoped, however, that the penalty would be confined to 40s.


, in reply to the question put to him by his hon. Friend (Mr. M'Lagan), said, no doubt the present law was sufficient to deal with these accidents; but the remedy was by civil action, and the process was expensive and dilatory, and poor persons interested were generally too poor to seek redress in that way. The law was therefore, in relation to such injuries, defective, and required amendment.


, in reply, said, that if any hon. Member liked to move in Com- mittee that the Bill should extend to Scotland and Ireland he should not object.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 28th February.