HC Deb 29 April 1879 vol 245 cc1404-26

, in rising to call attention to the great sacrifice of human life in the United Kingdom arising from boiler explosions; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that enginemen should undergo an examination as to their fitness before they are placed in charge of engines and boilers, and that it is incumbent on steam users to provide for a competent and an independent inspection of all steam boilers, and to report to the Board of Trade or to the Home Office, said, he had no expectation that he would be able to make the subject interesting or attractive; but he thought it would be allowed it was one of considerable importance, not only to manufacturers and steam users, but also to the public generally, whose lives were put in jeopardy by the negligence or incapacity of those intrusted with the management of boilers. A few years ago a Select Committee, appointed to inquire into the subject, went into it at considerable length, and that Committee reported that there were, on the average, every year 75 lives lost by boiler explosions, besides a considerable number of persons injured. One feature in connection with these explosions, which made it incumbent that there should be further legislation, was that a large proportion of those killed and injured were persons outside the buildings in which the explosions occurred. There was some difficulty in arriving at precisely accurate results. There was no annual Government Return on the subject. Last year one Insurance Society Report gave the deaths at 45, and the injured at 72; while the Report of another Society for the same year gave the figures respectively as 48 and 85. Those casualties included women and children, people in their own homes, and sitting at their own firesides, sleeping in their beds, or walking in the streets; and that formed an additional reason why Government should do something to protect life, since those persons were utterly powerless to protect themselves. He had no intention of making any wholesale charges against manufacturers and users of steam. Even if any good could come from wholesale charges of the kind, he did not think they would be merited; because, when they took into consideration the extent to which steam was used in the country, and the little Government had done to provide supervision of engines and boilers, he must confess that the number of people injured and killed was smaller than one might be led to expect. But the admission of general good management was quite consistent with the fact that there was a considerable amount of recklessness manifested; and the question was, not whether matters might not be a great deal worse than they were, but whether, by care and periodical inspection of the boilers, the number of persons killed and injured might not be greatly diminished, and whether explosions might not be altogether prevented. Now, the evidence on that point seemed to be pretty conclusive, showing the value of inspection where it was properly carried out. The Select Committee called attention to the beneficial effects that had accrued from inspection by certain voluntary Associations. The results afforded by the experience of those Associations were very significant and encouraging. There was a Society that, he might say, was pretty well known, and whose headquarters were at Manchester—the Manchester Steam Users'Association—which was established purely for the public benefit, and not for profit. The Directors and the Chairman gave their services gratuitously, and the Society had spent a considerable amount of money in disseminating information. He believed there was scarcely an explosion that occurred in any part of the country but that Association had been at considerable expense to investigate the cause. The Association had been in existence for 25 years, and during that whole period not a single life had been lost by the explosion of a boiler under their inspection. Similar evidence was to be found as regarded some of the Insurance Companies. The National Company stated that they had not had a single explosion during the year, and for nine years not a single life had been lost from an explosion of a boiler under their inspection. The chief engineer of the Company had supplied the information that during the nine years there had been six explosions, and in five of these cases defects had been pointed out by the Inspectors. In the only serious explosion that occurred, the Inspector had strongly urged that the boiler should be repaired, and it was in consequence of that advice being neglected that the explosion took place. The average number of boilers under inspection during this period had been 4,000, and at the present moment the Company had 7,200 boilers. Five out of the six of these explosions were so trivial that the boilers were not removed from their places. Even including these, however, the explosions were as 1 to 7,080, whereas the general average of the country was 1 in every 2,000 boilers. In individual cases there was evidence of great want of care and of recklessness. One complaint in the Reports was that many boilers were inaccessible; the}' could not readily be inspected; and it was a significant fact of the value of inspection that a Company had declined business because its recommendations, which were all in the direction of safety, were not obtainable. In many cases the safety-valves were out of order, and no loss than 45 were found entirely inoperative. A short time ago, he had had a letter put into his hands, addressed to the President of the Steam Users' Association. The writer worked in a weaving factory, where, some few years ago, a boiler exploded at 60 lbs. pressure. No one was killed, and the boiler was repaired. Recently there had been some additional looms placed in the factory, and it was necessary to increase the steam power, and that was done by placing a large weight on the safety-valve. The boiler was now working at a pressure of from 80 to 90 lbs. When the engine began work at 90 lbs., the workpeople retired to the other end of the factory, showing that they were in constant terror of their lives. It seemed to him to be a scandal, if not a crime, to allow people to be exposed to dangers of this kind; and he thought the facts he had mentioned showed clearly the necessity for better supervision with regard to steam boilers. Coming to the other part of the question—the examination of engine-men—he admitted that, as a body, these men were intelligent, very careful, and competent; but there was no doubt that in many instances they were thoroughly incompetent and unfit to be in charge of engines and boilers. With regard to nearly all the defects he had enumerated, they were such defects as would be found out by competent men. He might be answered, when arguing for an examination of those men, that it was much better to have practical than theoretical men. That statement might be freely admitted; but it was not a case of an alternative between the practical and the theoretical man. The same argument was used in the discussion on the Mines Regulation Bill, the result of the experience in that matter having entirely falsified the predictions which had been made. It would be admitted that by that beneficent measure the efficiency of the management of mines had been greatly increased, and that the present staff of managers were not in any degree less practical than the men who preceded them. The principle which he urged the House to sanction was not a new principle. It had already been adopted in connection with the Merchant Shipping Act. For many years engine-men at sea had been subjected to an examination, and marine boilers had been inspected. Some time ago he moved for a Return, with a view to make a comparison between the number of explosions, the number of lives lost prior to the examination, and since the examination. The officials of the Board of Trade had no figures going further back than 1862, and, therefore, no material for comparison; but he believed it was generally admitted that, so far as the qualification of marine engine-men were concerned, matters were much improved. He might mention as a fact, also, that before these changes came into force these boilers were worked at a pressure of only 5 lbs. to 10 lbs. on the square inch; but since that they had been worked up to 100 lbs., and in some instances up to 140 lbs. on the square inch. That was an answer to the contention that steam boiler inspection would tend to retard improvement. He himself had been, and still was, in favour of Government inspection. The argument used against compulsory inspection—that it would lessen the responsibility of the owner—when used by manufacturers, he could scarcely regard as an honest argument. He thought the inspection should be by an independent party. It had been suggested that the steam user should be at liberty to select his own Inspector. He thought that would be little better than a farce. It was incumbent on the Government and the House of Commons to do something in this matter. The Report of the Select Committee went very minutely into the subject. Very able witnesses were examined by them. He admitted that the recommendations of the Committee were not his; but they were recommendations that would do some good. So far, however, those recommendations had been entirely ignored. He did not think the present Government was at all indifferent to the question. The Home Secretary had shown that he was fully alive to its importance; and the President of the Board of Trade had, in reply to a Question put to him last Session by the hon. Member for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley), promised to give the subject consideration, and to inform the House early this Session what steps the Government intended to take. The Government would, therefore, now have an opportunity of redeeming that pledge. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Resolution, said, he had the honour of being a Member of the Committee to which his hon. Friend had referred. The Committee, after hearing a very large amount of evidence from practical men, came to the conclusion that compulsory inspection could not be adopted. Considering the promise of the President of the Board of Trade last Session, his hon. Friend was fully justified in bringing the subject under the notice of the House. It was a difficult one to deal with, and he was himself satisfied with the assurance given by the Government. From the Reports to which his hon. Friend had referred, he found that this was by no means a matter confined to those who were connected with the working of boilers; but that persons totally unconnected with the working of them had been killed by these unfortunate explosions. During the last 14 years there had been 684 explosions of boilers, whereby 869 persons were killed, and 1,333 wounded. The eminent engineer—Mr. Bramwell—in his evidence before the Committee, said that, in his opinion, a compulsory examination on the part of the Government would, to a certain extent, relieve the steam user of responsibility towards those whom he employed. The Committee said they were not prepared to recommend the adoption of any system founded on compulsory and periodical inspection. He was there to defend their views on that subject. In reality, an inspection of boilers took place at present, and he had those in his own establishment regularly examined by an Association. He was of opinion that the lucid manner in which his hon. Friend had pointed out the dangers that had occurred through want of a proper examination might have more effect than several Acts of Parliament. He hoped the discussion would open the eyes of the owners of boilers to the necessity of having an independent examination; because if, after such a discussion, anything were to happen to those boilers, they would, he thought, feel that they were somewhat to blame for not having taken the precautions which were pointed out by the Motion. As to Government interference in the matter, his objection to it was that the imposition of too many trammels was calculated to prevent a manufacturer from carrying on his business with any satisfaction to himself; inasmuch as he was made exceedingly uneasy as to the results of accidents arising frequently from causes which were not under his own control.

Motion made, and Question proposed That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that enginemen should undergo an examination as to their fitness before they are placed in charge of engines and boilers, and that it is incumbent on steam users to provide for a competent and an independent inspection of all steam boilers, and to report to the Board of Trade or the Home Office."—(Mr. Burt.)


said, he did not wish to prolong the discussion unnecessarily; but he would like to have an opportunity of making a few observations in support of the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth. The statement of the evils complained of could be compressed into a few sentences, and the remedy suggested could be soon summarized and easily understood. There were at present upwards of 100,000 boilers in the country, and the number was daily increasing. Explosions occurred in their management with striking regularity. During the last 14 years they had a record of 684 explosions, by which 870 persons had been killed, and 1,332 seriously injured. There had been thus a total of 2,202 persons slain or maimed by these calamities. Therewasanaverageof50 explosions a-year, and there was an average of 160 casualties more or less serious in the same time. Their contention was that this suffering and loss of property was preventable, and, therefore, wanton and unnecessary. Until recently, very erroneous ideas were entertained as to the cause of boiler accidents. Some thought they were occasioned by the ignition of gas in the boilers, others attributed them to the subtle influence of electricity. But it had been settled by experts, and admitted by practical men, that there was no mystery whatever in the origin of these catastrophes. Boiler explosions arose from three causes—the faulty construction of the boiler, its insufficient equipment and imperfect condition, and defective management. By the ignorance of the maker, the carelessness of the setter, the parsimony and niggardliness of the proprietor, and the negligence of the minder, the lives of hundreds of innocent persons could be daily imperilled. To save a few pounds in the cost of a boiler, the manufacturer would ignore, or set at defiance, principles that science had defined, and precautions that experts had shown to be necessary. To prevent the necessity of getting a new boiler, an old one would be driven at high pressure until its sides were little thicker than a few sheets of paper, and to allow some personal indulgence, the stoker would not unfrequently permit the plates to become covered with corrosion, and to get red hot. Malconstruction, defective condition, and shortness of water, were the simple, but all-sufficient, causes of boiler explosions. A quarter of a century ago the late Sir William Fairbairn, the dis- tinguished engineer, became impressed with the belief, from his varied and extensive experience, that life and property could be saved by greater care being observed in the construction and working of boilers; and he initiated an Institution with a view of pressing the subject on the attention of steam users, the Government, and the public. This was a philanthropic and not a mercantile body. Its public-spirited promoters and Directors discharged their duties voluntarily, and without either fee or reward. In a modest and unpretending way the Society had done great national service. Its monthly publication contained valuable scientific and engineering information, and more than any other agency in the country it had disseminated sound views on the safe and economic use of steam power. Fourteen years ago the Society undertook to inspect boilers, and to give certificates as to their condition. A small sum was charged for this work, and now a revenue of £6,000 or £8,000 a-year was realized from it. This amount, after paying the cost of inspection and the working of the Society, was devoted to the promotion of the objects for which the Association was founded. The remarkable fact was that, although this Institution was charged with the annual oversight of 3,000 boilers, there had not been, with anyone of these, any explosion during all the years of the Society's existence. The fact could not be too often repeated, nor too widely known, that no boiler that had been subjected to the inspection of this body, and had been attended to in compliance with the suggestions of its officers, had exploded. This unadorned and simple statement was a proof that the loss of life and property caused by explosions could be avoided if reasonable precautions were taken. What the Resolution of his hon. Friend suggested was that the principle acted upon with so much success by the Manchester Society should be legalized and applied to the entire country. That which was now voluntary—but, from the cupidity of some and the indifference of others, partial—should be made national and compulsory. Various schemes had been proposed for putting the practice of inspection into force. Some suggested that every steam user should be his own Inspector; others, that the local authority should undertake the work; and others, that it should be committed to the Government. All these proposals had their advocates, and there was something to be said in support of each, though he did not approve wholly of any of them. To permit every steam user to nominate his own Inspector would, he thought, be tempting inefficiency, and would lead to the legalization of bad boilers. By handing over the work to the municipalities, it might become inharmonious and contradictory, and would be liable to be influenced by private and commercial rivalry. To consign it to the Government would, in the estimation of some, make it technical and perfunctory, if not harassing and oppressive. But he thought that Parliament should enact that every commercial boiler should be periodically inspected and duly certified by a competent person that it was safe and trustworthy. There was nothing new in this principle. It was a recognized canon of their legislation that no person should be permitted to pursue his trade to the detriment and injury of his neighbour. This inspection and certification might be undertaken by Boiler Boards. The country could be mapped out into 10 or 12 districts, with a Board assigned to each. A register of all the boilers in the district could be kept; and in the election of members of the Board every steam user would have votes in proportion to the steam power he employed, one boiler giving one vote, two boilers two votes, and so on. The steam users, as the persons primarily interested, would be entitled to elect the greater portion of the Board; but the municipalities might be allowed to nominate members who were unconnected with manufactures, and were not steam users, but adepts—such as chemists and engineers. The Board of Trade, or the Home Office, might also nominate experts. In this way a Board would be constituted, the major portion of whose members would be interested in the safe working of boilers; but they would be assisted by, and associated with, men of science, who could regard the subject from a public, and not a trade, point of view. Boards so formed would be above private or personal considerations. They would be both disinterested and universal. They would represent the users of steam power, the public as speaking through the local authorities, and the nation through the Government. The members of the Board would be unremunerated—their services being honorary and voluntary. The cost of electing such bodies and of working such organizations would be met by imposing an annual charge of 4d. or 6d. a-boiler. The inspection would be covered by the payment of 7s., 8s., or 10s. a-boiler. By such an arrangement, no demand would be made either on the purses of the ratepayers or the taxpayers. Both the district and the Imperial Exchequers would be freed from any charge. The only persons having to pay would be the steam users themselves, and they would get in return for the payment every security that skill and attention could afford them. He know such a proposition would be met with the common objection that they had too many Boards already. But what he proposed was only the carrying out of an idea now in operation. The Mercantile Marino Boards were framed in the way he suggested the Boiler Boards should be constituted, and they worked with great satisfaction to all persons interested in ships and shipping. It would also be said that by undertaking such a widespread investigation the responsibility of owners of boilers would be destroyed. This, too, was an ancient and common argument against all central interference with dangerous trades. It had been used with wearying iteration against the inspection of ships, mines, and factories. The country had, again and again, been assured that if these branches of trade were subjected to inspection, the owners would become careless and indifferent, and throw the responsibility upon the Government officials. He spoke in the presence of persons who had as much experience as he had; and he would undertake to say that exactly the opposite result had been realized—that while mines and ships and factories had been safer and healthier than they were previously, the care of the proprietor and the interests of the owner had been in no way impaired. On the contrary, there was evidence to show that they had been augmented by the action of the State. He desired to remind the House, also, that what was proposed was to inspect the construction and condition of the boiler more than its management. If, alter its inspection, the owner or workmen neglected their duty, they would still be equally liable for their conduct. If the Government could not see its way to initiate such a system of supervision as he had roughly sketched out, they might at least undertake that whenever a boiler explosion took place a careful investigation should be made into the circumstances. They did that now whenever there was a railway accident, shipwreck, or colliery explosion. Fatalities caused by the bursting of boilers were only inquired into by a Coroner's Jury, which was not on such a subject a satisfactory tribunal. An independent investigation, at the instance of the Home Office or the Board of Trade, would be a decided improvement, and he thought the Ministry might undertake to do that if they could not see their way to the more complete inspection he had suggested. The 2nd clause in the Resolution raised another but cognate question—whether engine-drivers should undergo an examination before they were intrusted with their delicate and responsible duties. There were things with which the State ought not to interfere, and there were others with which it was essential it should interfere. It ought not to attempt to control men's opinions; but it might—and in certain circumstances it ought to—control their actions. The Legislature had settled that in the interests of the nation, children, young persons, and women—the first because they were helpless, and the second because they were subjected to the superior control of their husbands and parents—should be protected. There had been no attempt to interfere heretofore with the unrestricted labour of grown men. If a man simply abused his own powers, he did not think the State had any warrant to restrain him. But the engine-driver was placed in a peculiar position. By the nature of his avocation, his own safety was generally, except in the case of locomotive-drivers, secured; but the lives of his fellow-workmen, and sometimes of the public, were committed to his charge. They required a marine engine-driver to give proofs of his qualification for his office, although he had the strongest possible reasons for observing care and obtaining knowledge, as his own life, in common with the lives of the crew and passengers of the ship he was driving, might be endangered by his incapacity or his care- lessness. But the mining engineer could risk the lives of his fellow-workmen, and, in a great measure, keep himself clear of harm. If an examination was necessary in one case it was equally, if not more necessary in the other. The strength of a chain was only the strength of its weakest link. They carefully inspected their mines, took every precaution to secure ventilation, and they not only required the manager to possess a certificate of his competency, but if an accident occurred in a mine under his charge, he was liable to severe punishment and heavy penalties. But the man who commanded the entrance to and exit from the mine—the windpipe and throat, if he might use such a phrase, of the underground organization, which was the weakest link in this chain—might be both unskilled and reckless. They refused to allow a man to sell drugs unless he had at least a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry; and they stipulated that Government clerks, before they were engaged, should show their skill in quilldriving. They debarred a tradesman from prescribing a cure to a neighbour who was afflicted with toothache; and they required the State parson and the State schoolmaster, who combined to teach them how to make the best of both worlds, the one professing to point the way to Heaven and the other to success in this life—the dispensers, in fact, of theology and medicine, of law and learning, had all to demonstrate, before practising, their capacity to fill the office they aspired to. But the man who had the command, under critical circumstances, of a prodigious agency, remarkable alike for its force and its flexibility—which set both weight and solidity at defiance, and could be applied with equal success to the roughest and the most gentle purposes—this man might be entirely ignorant of the principles, and unfitted by habit and training to guide so dangerous and ductile a mechanism. He conceived it would only be acting in accordance with the received ideas of modern legislation to apply to the man who controlled steam-engines the principle of action that had been put in force in almost every other dangerous trade.


wished to make a few remarks, as a Member of a Committee that had sat on the subject, and as having drawn the Bills which during the two ensuing Sessions he had, with the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley) and the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Hick), brought in for the regulation and management of boilers. He thought the hon. Member for Morpeth had attributed too much to the action of the voluntary Associations. Their exertions had certainly had a very good effect; but, instead of entirely checking explosions, he must remark that the report of the only Society whose work could be considered in actual relation to this matter claimed at the utmost that its efforts in the matter of inspection had checked explosions to the extent of about 50 per cent. The Bill he had brought in practically embodied the recommendations of the Select Committee. One of its provisions was to the effect that in the case of a boiler explosion the steam user should within two days communicate with the Coroner of the district; that the Coroner should apply to the Board of Trade for a competent surveyor to assist him; and that when the inquiry was over the Coroner should report the result to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Committee were of opinion that it would be unwise to remove responsibility from the steam user by a Government or any other compulsory inspection. They were in favour of leaving the responsibility where it was, taking care that every steam user should be accountable for an explosion; that there should be a searching investigation; and that if anything was found to be wrong, either as to the competency of the men employed or as to the sufficiency of the machinery used, the steam user should be held responsible. That was the result to which the evidence had guided them. Among the witnesses examined was a gentleman of the highest authority on such matters—Mr. Bramwell—who was strongly opposed to compulsory inspection as interfering with responsibility and being likely to interfere with the progress of mechanical engineering. He would remind the House, too, that in the year 1869 a Committee of the British Association, of which Sir Joseph Whitworth, Mr. Bramwell, Sir William Fairbairn, Mr. John Penn, Mr. Hick, and Mr. Lavington Fletcher were members, expressed their opinion in these terms— With regard to these provisions the Committee would wish to express a strong and, as they think, wholesome dread of any Government interference with the management of private concerns. They cannot but consider that handing over all the boilers in the country to the supervision of the Board of Trade would prove harassing to steam users and a barrier to progress. Now, it was true that in 1871 the Committee of the Association had reported in favour of an enforcement by Government of a periodical inspection; but from this report Mr. Bramwell had in very strong terms dissented, and no further action seemed to have been taken. They all knew from the case of the inspection of marine boilers how inspection was liable to degenerate into direction. Inspection might possibly lead to the saving of a few lives. He trusted that that statement would not be misunderstood. If it saved a few lives in one direction, it would be the cause of loss of lives in another. The number of boilers employed in England for generating steam under pressure was considerably above 110,000, and this would require a large number of Inspectors; their salaries could not be large, and the natural object of each would be to report "no accident in my district;" and in order to arrive at this result, he would insist on such requirements as to limitation of pressure and style of boiler as would lead to a bad economy of steam and wasteful use of fuel. And what would be the result of this? It was a lamentable but well-known fact that for every 1,000,000 tons of coal raised 10 lives were sacrificed, and bad economy of steam would necessitate the requirement for a greater amount of coal. It would also lessen responsibility, and unwisely interfere with that which was the greatest factor in English prosperity. Such being the case, he trusted that the Government, although they might sympathize with the sufferers, would not legislate without duly considering the subject; and while he pressed most strongly upon Government the provisions of a measure such as he had brought before Parliament, which would lead to full inquiry and throw a heavy burden upon any negligent steam user, he entirely deprecated anything which would check progress by placing control in these matters in the hands of men not qualified for such work.


remarked that experience had shown that the accidents which arose in connection with the use of steam were very serious, and thought that the time had come when something should be done to guard effectually against the loss of life arising from boiler explosions, due either to some imperfection in the construction of the boilers, or to their being carelessly conducted. He would suggest that Associations might be formed in different parts of the country for the purpose of protecting life and property from such explosions. Hon. Gentlemen might not possibly be aware that the House of Commons was warmed by no less than four boilers, and every possible precaution was taken by the Government for insuring the safety of the lives of Members. If such precautions were taken to secure the safety of Members of Parliament, surely Parliament ought to take as great a precaution for insuring the safety of the lives of those who were engaged in the working of mechanical industries all over the country. He thought the Government should give a helping hand to any scheme which might conduce to the preservation of life and property.


said, that he had had something like 40 years' experience, directly or indirectly, with steam engines, and had at the present moment some 4,000 or 5,000 horsepower engaged. If, therefore, he was not a disinterested witness, at all events he had some experience with regard to the matter before the House. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had spoken of the case with which that class of accidents could be dealt with, and, no doubt, in these days of electricity and knowledge of the gases composing water, many old and false notions were exploded. He agreed with the hon. Member that, in many instances, accidents could be traced to defective construction or to want of due care on the part of those who had boilers under their inspection; but he was far from agreeing with the hon. Member that there was still not much to learn in connection with boiler explosions. With regard to inspection being an infallible cure, he had known cases in which boilers had exploded immediately after an inspection, and immediately after boilers had been pronounced safe from all peril and risk. The hon. Member said the principle being accepted the details would be easily settled; but in this and in many things it was the detail that presented the difficulty. The risk that enginemen incurred had been mentioned, and education suggested; but the fact was, if a quasi-system of education were to be imposed, that education must be extended downwards to others—firemen, &c.—who had work to do with engines. Those who had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and had looked into the engine-room, would remember that in the number of men engaged upon the engine there were nearly 20 firemen, and so forth, to every one engineer. Education, then, if introduced at all, must be extended to all these; but he doubted the advantage of this as evidenced by examination. From his own experience of working men, he could quite believe that many men, who were perfectly competent to undertake the care of a steam engine, and in whom he would place the most implicit trust and reliance, would break down under any examination that might be imposed upon them. He was not prepared, however, to oppose the proposition which had been made.


said, he was of opinion that inspection would do harm instead of good, and that no case had been made out by the hon. Member (Mr. Bart) and his supporters. He pointed out that the soundness of boilers did not always depend upon their age, because those which had been in use some time were surer to be in good condition than perfectly new ones. Statistics showed that there were five times as many deaths caused by omnibuses, cabs, and carriages in the streets of London as were caused by boiler explosions; and would the supporters of this Motion advocate an inspection of every driver and coachman, and require that they should pass an examination? There was not a gentleman's house in London or in the country but was furnished with steam boilers for heating and cooking purposes; would the hon. Gentleman advocate an inspection of the cook, and require her to pass an examination as to whether she knew the effect of allowing water to flow into an over-heated boiler? The fact was that there was no end to this kind of legislation, and he hoped the Government would give no encouragement to it. He thought it would be a great injury to trade to carry this Motion, and he advised the House rather to have some faith in the manufacturers, and to believe that they possessed some degree of humanity and desired to do justice, besides being fully alive to the necessity of protecting their own property. Let the House not relieve them of their responsibility, but leave them as they were, and not put the country under any more restrictions; for he felt the people were suffering very much indeed from being over-inspected already.


said, he thought it would be well if the Government adopted the greater portion of the Resolution, and founded upon it immediate legislation in mercy to the steam users themselves. In his opinion, there ought to be compulsory periodical inspection of boilers; and if such a system were vigorously carried out, he believed the so-called accidents arising from boiler explosions would cease. Unless boilers were regularly inspected, some day or other they must inevitably burst. He had himself asked the House to adopt measures bearing upon the question, but had not succeeded in his object. He had, however, been able to induce the Government to institute an inquiry as to the whole subject; and a Select Committee having reported in favour of inspection, he hoped it would be enacted in a modified form. If legislation had taken place some 10 years ago, when he introduced a Bill on the subject, some thousands of lives would have been saved and many serious injuries avoided.


, while he was most anxious that everything should be done to secure the safety of the public, was somewhat fearful lest there should be undue interference with manufacturers as to the mode in which they should conduct their business. He thought there should be inspection of some kind, but did not approve inspection by the Government. The system of centralization which was now adopted must lead to an increase of the public expenditure; but it was not on this ground that he objected to the proposal. He did not think that inspection by the Government would be at all satisfactory; but he knew that the inspection which had been carried on by the voluntary Society existing in Manchester had been of a most satisfactory and useful character. What would he propose in the place of compulsory inspection? There were two means which they should adopt in order to make boiler explosions less frequent. The first was, whenever a boiler explosion occurred, an officer should be sent down from the Home Office to be present at any inquest. In that way the Government would get a certain amount of information with respect to accidents and explosions. The second was, where it was proved that an explosion occurred through negligence or gross carelessness on the part of the owner, he should be liable to be proceeded against and made to suffer in pocket. Again, there was the hope of a superior class of men being engaged in working the boilers, and so reduce the number of these unfortunate accidents. He could not give his support to this Resolution, because he did not see a clear way of carrying it out, and because he was opposed, in the present state of business, to interfering with it or with the prosperity of the trade of the country.


said, if the Resolution meant compulsory inspection, as would appear from the speech which his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) delivered in support of it, he should oppose it. If, however, it meant the encouragement of voluntary inspection, he highly approved of it. As to the Government inspection, he deprecated it, not because he was more careless of human life than the hon. Members who had supported this Resolution, but because he believed, if they wanted to save human life, the system of Government inspection would inevitably remove the sense of responsibility from the minds of the steam users. The hon. and learned Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) had quoted the recommendations of the Select Committee which sat in 1871; but he made a most remarkable omission, for he entirely refrained from alluding to what was the most important recommendation of that Committee, which was that it should be no defence, when an action was brought against the owner or user, being the master, that the damage arose from the neglect of a servant. That, he thought, was a most important point in the recommendations of that Committee. The fact was that the universal experience of Government inspection and interference had been to show that it had been prejudicial to the interests of human life and of progress. For instance, the Board of Trade interfered with the construction of vessels; and some years ago, one of the ablest officers of that Board—Mr. Gray—published a pamphlet, in which he gave a whole list of instances which showed the evil effects of Government interference, and how they had laid down certain rules as to the positions to be occupied by water-tight bulkheads—which, if they had been followed, considering the progress which was then being made in the matter of shipbuilding, might have led to the ships going to the bottom. Then there were also rules as to the carrying of boats, laying it down that a ship must carry a certain number of boats according to her tonnage, and this was done irrespective of the consideration of whether she was a collier or an emigrant ship. No one could appreciate the value of voluntary inspection more than he could do; and the Courts of the country, so far from being inclined to attach too little importance, sometimes erred on the side of attaching too much importance, to such an inspection. This was apparent from a case which the Mover of the Resolution before the House had referred to in the course of his speech. As to the position of the men, he did not see how the Government could possibly undertake the examination of enginemen, or that that examination would give any greater protection. The Government could not tell whether a man was a drunken or a sober man; and if they once commenced to issue licences and grant certificates, there would be no stopping anywhere. He knew the ship carpenters wanted to get certificates from the Board of Trade, and there had been a proposal for the physical examination of seamen to ascertain whether they were fit for their places; and so, if they carried out the Government examination of these enginemen, they could not logically stop short of having an examination of persons who were in charge of kitchen boilers. He was once consulted by the Society of Enginemen on this subject; and he made a suggestion, which seemed to him to be one which, if adopted, would enable them to carry out their views, and go as far as they ought in this matter. He pointed out to them that he had no doubt that a certificate from a competent body would be highly regarded by steam users; and he reminded them that at the present moment certificates were given by the Society of. Apothecaries, the Pharmaceutical Society, the Society of Engineers, and the Society of Architects. All these Societies were chartered, and the certificates were recognized as being of value and importance. But how did these Societies get their charters? They commenced by granting certificates, and they proved to the public that the knowledge upon which they insisted was of value, and that the persons who got their certificates obtained higher wages, and were more sought after by employers. Therefore, they obtained a charter; and he told the Society of Enginemen if they did the same, and granted certificates of such a character, and if those certificates proved of sufficient value, they need not despair of obtaining for them some form of State recognition.


said, it was a repetition of an old cry, to say that if inspection was rendered compulsory the steam-owners would be relieved of all responsibilty. Judged by its results, Government inspection had proved most beneficial. But for inspection—they might call it paternal government if they liked—the annual loss of life in coal mines would probably now have amounted to 4,000 or 5,000, and the non-fatal accidents to five times that number. The beneficial results in factories had been in some districts even greater than in coal mines, although the system of inspection was not by any means as efficient as it ought to be. It was idle to talk of the responsibility of the steam user. He was responsible for his boiler, and for the brickwork with which it was surrounded, because they were his property, which he lost if they were in any way injured; but there his responsibility ceased, for the widows and orphans of the men killed in an explosion were sent without compensation into the workhouse and turned over to the ratepayers. Increased inspection was required, and an Act to declare that when the accident was the result of the negligence of a fellow servant that should be no bar to an action for compensation against the steam-owner by the representatives of the men killed. He should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Morpeth.


agreed with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. H. B. Sheridan), that a great proportion of the boiler explosions could not properly be called accidents. In 99 cases out of 100, the exercise of proper care would show that if matters were allowed to go on as they were an explosion would inevitably result; and, therefore, he felt justified in saying that in the majority of cases of boiler explosions gross negligence, gross ignorance, or a wish not to spend money would, probably, be found to be the true cause. He had been much struck with the remark made to him by a member of a voluntary Association in Manchester, to which reference had been made—"We scarcely need, when we go to inspect a boiler, to ask any questions. The boiler speaks for itself. It tells us it is going to explode, if you only know the language it speaks." The good that had been done by the Manchester Association was incalculable, and his only wonder was that that and similar Associations were not used more all over the country. He thought his hon. Friend—if he would allow him to call him so—the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) had acted very wisely in leaving out of his Motion "Government inspection," for the country, at present, at all events, was not prepared for it. He sympathized with him in his object. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) that everything that could be done in this direction ought to be done. But the question was, what was the wisest way of doing it? He had not the great horror of inspection that some had. He had seen the good fruits produced by it. Notwithstanding the enormous increase in the quantity of coal produced, the number of lives lost from mine explosions had steadily decreased from the time the system of inspection began. If it had not been for the inspection of factories, the loss of life from accidents by machinery and other things would now have been frightful. In no other branch of inspection had its advantages been more clearly proved than in the case of places where gunpowder and other explosives were manufactured. He could not, therefore, say that he entertained an objection to inspection per se. As to Government inspection, he did not think the country would care for it, and the case put forward for Government inspection had not, he thought, been proved. He could not help thinking that a great deal might be done by means of those voluntary Associations of which they had that evening heard so much. The suggestion had been made that, in all cases where death followed an explosion, the Home Office should send someone down to be present at the inquest, in order to ascertain where the responsibility rested. Well, he quite agreed that was a most commendable course; only it was a proceeding that had been in force in the Home Office for some time. Wherever explosions had been reported this course had been followed, and he believed with very beneficial results. His noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade had placed at his disposal, when necessary for the purposes of an inspection of a boiler or a building, officials competent to make a scientific examination; also, the services of the Wreck Commissioners were available in cases of insurance or death, if the Government thought it necessary that an investigation should take place. Therefore, he took the opportunity of assuring the hon. Member for Morpeth that the Government were alive to the importance of the points put forward, and to the necessity, where there was an explosion occasioning death, of seeing that justice was done, and the responsibility brought home to the right persons. As to having an examination such as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman, he could only say to have such an examination of persons all over the country would, in his opinion, be impossible. A valuable suggestion, he thought, had been made by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). He believed that a certificate issued by such an Association as the Manchester Steam Users' Association would be of the greatest possible value, and the holders of those certificates would be persons sought out amongst all others for the purpose of taking charge of boilers. He was quite sure that Association would take the matter into consideration; and if the proposal could be put into operation, he was sure the Association would not wait to be requested to give it effect. Now, what were they to do with the Motion? He could only say that, so far as he was himself concerned, he should still go on pursuing the same course that he had hitherto taken, and should continue to give his attention to the subject, He did not think they would gain anything by dividing on the Motion. People might draw an inference that there was some difference on the matters involved, while there was not. The only difference of opinion, he thought, was as to the best manner of accomplishing the object in view. He would suggest that it might be well for the hon. Member for Morpeth to content himself with the general expression of opinion obtained, and to be satisfied with its effect on the country at large. This advice, he assured him, was sincerely and honestly given.


said, he could not profess to be altogether satisfied with the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman; but, at the same time, yielding to the advice of his Friends and the wishes of the House, he should beg leave to withdraw his Motion, reserving to himself the right to watch the subject, and to bring it forward in a less objection able shape.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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