HC Deb 19 May 1886 vol 305 cc1440-65

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

Mr. Speaker, in rising to move the second reading of this Bill, I feel, Sir, that some apology is due to the House for the fact that a measure of such importance, dealing with so great and wide interests, and specially affecting the functions of a great Department of the State, should be brought before the House by a private Member. I can only assure the House that I took the step of introducing this Bill after consultation with those whose experience is much greater than my own. I may also remind hon. Members that when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade introduced the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill, I did my utmost to urge upon him the advisability of dealing with the question of railway safety in that measure, as well as railway rates. Sir, I feel that the difficulties of a private Member carrying a measure of this kind through the House are so great that I strongly hope that the case which is to be laid before the House and the Government to-day may induce the Government to consent to the adoption of this Bill, or to hold forth some promise of dealing with this question on the lines we propose. Sir, this Bill rests on three propositions. The first is that the Railway Companies, in return for the concessions under which they have carried out their commercial enterprizes, have assumed certain duties—one of which is to provide the maximum of safety for the public and their servants. The second is that a large proportion of the accidents involving loss of life and personal injury are preventible. The third, that when it can be shown that accidents are preventible, the State ought to interfere to insist on the discharge of their duty by the Railway Companies. I know, Sir, that I shall at once be met by the answer that railway accidents have diminished. It would, indeed, be surprising, considering the wide adoption of safety appliances and arrangements within the last 10 or 12 years, if accidents had not diminished. But I cannot admit that there has been any substantial diminution; and, in the classes of accidents specially covered by the clauses of this Bill, hon. Members will find, in the Reports issued by the Board of Trade, that there is a remarkable persistence of the types of accidents to prevent which is the chief object of this Bill. Take, for instance, the figures for fatal and other injuries from falling between carriages and platforms, and at level crossings. And, when we turn to the worst of all, the loss of life and injuries among the railway servants in all the operations connected with shunting, it amounts to a national scandal. But, Sir, it is really immaterial whether accidents have diminished or not. The real point is, whether the accidents which do occur can be prevented? The recent Reports of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade show conclusively that a very large number of accidents are due to the absence of safety arrangements, while other accidents are due to the fact that safety appliances are improperly worked. Well, Sir, what have we been doing, what are we doing, or what are we called on to rely to remedy this state of things? We are told, in the first place, to rely on the principle of responsibility — that the compensation which Railway Companies are compelled to pay will be a sufficient inducement to them to adopt the necessary precautions to insure the safety of passengers and servants. As to compensation, I think hon. Members will agree with me that it is not a powerful weapon. I may point out that whereas the total working expenditure, the cost of running a train mile, varies from about 2s. 6d. to a little over 3s., the amount of compensation for personal injuries which has gone to make up this sum has only been from a halfpenny down to one-sixth of a penny — less, in fact, than 1 per cent of the working expenditure. Then, as to responsibility, how has that principle been applied? When have we heard of a Railway Director being put on his trial, where the neglect of precaution has led to a fatal accident? The principle of responsibility has been applied; but it has not been applied to the Railway Directors, nor to the Railway Managers. It has been applied, again and again, to the unfortunate railway servant. It has been, too often, some poor signalman, or pointsman, or engine-driver, who has, perhaps, been exhausted by too prolonged hours of work, who has been doing his best to discharge his duty under great difficulties, and who has not been guarded against error by safety appliances, whose judgment has failed at the critical moment. It is men like these who have been brought to justice, and made the scapegoats of the neglect of their superiors. At inquests, held on the railway premises, and under the eye of railway officials, verdicts of manslaughter have again and again been brought in against railway servants; but I am glad to notice, in many cases, when these men have gone before a jury at the Assizes, they have been acquitted. Then, Sir, the second method of checking accidents has been the method of publicity—the system of the Returns of accidents under the Act of 1871, of the extension of the block system, and of the interlocking of signals and points under the Act of 1873, and of the application of continuous brakes under the Act of 1878. These Returns, of course, have their value. But I affirm that, when they are closely examined and compared with the facts stated in the investigation of accidents by the Board of Trade, the Returns are found to be untrustworthy. Take the block system. Practically many lines of railway are returned as being worked on the absolute block system; whereas it is found on examination that in practice the absolute block system is evaded and set aside. Passenger and goods trains are allowed to enter block sections under a warning arrangement, or with caution tickets, on several important lines. Goods trains are even allowed to advance towards a fouling-point on converging lines of rails without a ticket. In the last Report of the Board of Trade an accident is dealt with which might easily have been a serious disaster. At what is called the Crewe Junction of Chester Station two excursion trains were allowed to advance on converging lines of rails on the warning arrangement plan, and a collision occurred. And, in the Report of the accidents in 1883, attention is drawn to the fact that one of the regulations of the Railway Clearing House itself permits goods trains in shunting to pass beyond the signal box into a section which is not clear, and to be worked by hand signals. That is, the Railway Clearing House itself authorizes an evasion of the block system, which destroys its value. Take a case like that of the Somerset and Dorset Railway. That is a single line, and it has been returned as being worked on the absolute block and train staff system. There have been repeated accidents; and a fatal accident, which occurred only in February last, has brought out the fact that instead of being worked on the absolute block and train staff system, as stated in the Return made to the Board of Trade, the trains have been worked, and the crossing arrangements of trains meeting each other have been made by telegraph by an official at Bath. I do not think, therefore, that very great reliance can be placed on the remedy of "publicity." Then we have the powers exercised at present by the Board of Trade. The Board has the power of instituting inquiries into the causes of the accidents reported by the Companies, and of making recommendations based on these investigations. But the only real power which the Board possesses is that of postponing the opening of new lines, and of new parts of old lines, until the requirements they have laid down as indispensable for safety, as regards permanent way and the general equipment of the line, are completely satisfied. This power has repeatedly been used with the very best effect. But, Sir, there appears to be this anomaly—that just where the power is most needed—in the case of single lines—this power has no legal force. It is one of the requirements for the completeness of a line that it should have double rails, and a single line is, by that very fact, imperfect and incomplete. The practice is for the Board of Trade to license the opening of a single line on receiving an undertaking from the Directors that the line shall be worked on one of three specified plans for securing safety. But this undertaking has no legal force. It cannot—I believe I am right in stating—be enforced in a Court of Law, and the only real power the Board of Trade has in this matter is to proceed against a Company for making a false Return as to the system of working. As to the investigation of the causes of accidents, and the recommendations of the Inspectors, these recommendations have no legal force whatever, and their only weight with the Railway Companies is their inherent reasonableness. The Reports show that the recommendations have again and again been neglected. Where the defects which have caused an accident have been pointed out they have not been removed, and repeated accidents have been the consequence. In the Report on an accident at Cowdenbeath, in 1882, the Inspector says that urgent remonstrances have again and again been made as to the neglect of the North British Railway Company in not adopting the block system on their Fife-shire branch lines, with the result of repeated fatal accidents. I do not know what is the present position of these lines. But even supposing the recommendations have now been complied with, is it right that we should have had to wait till the repetition of disasters had quickened the sense of duty? It is no secret, Sir, that the Board of Trade has exercised its powers in other ways to enforce railway safety. When Companies have introduced Bills into Parliament to obtain extended powers, the Board of Trade has, in several instances, used its power of postponement not only to enforce its requirements on the new parts of the railway, but to insist on the adoption of safety appliances and other improvements on the old parts of the line. This has, doubtless, been most useful; but, I ask, would it not be better for the Board of Trade to exercise such a power in a straightforward manner, and by statute, than by stratagem and obstruction? It seems monstrous, too, that if the recommendations of the Inspectors of the Board as to the removal of defects which have brought about disasters are of any value, they should not be enforced and carried into effect promptly. And surely, Sir, it is most inconsistent and illogical that, while the Board of Trade is empowered to assert and enforce a standard of public safety on new parts of a line, it should not have the same power in re- gard to the older parts of a line, where human beings run exactly the same risks. Now, Sir, these confused and imperfect powers are consolidated in this Bill, and made a reality. I have, I hope, given some reasons for the Bill in pointing out where existing means fail to prevent accidents. But there are other arguments on which this measure rests. The Bill embodies the principles laid down in the recommendations of the only important Royal Commission which has thoroughly thrashed out the question of railway accidents, and which sat from 1874 to 1877, and reported, I believe, in February, 1877. That Commission reported in favour of this extension of the powers of the Board of Trade which I now propose. None of the recommendations have, as yet, been acted upon, except the question of compensation to servants in the Employers' Liability Act of 1880, the operation of which is now before a Select Committee of this House. Further, the principle of the recommendations of this Royal Commission was practically adopted by the Board of Trade during the last Liberal Administration, and accepted by the then Liberal Ministry, and sanctioned in the Railway Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) in 1884. Now, Sir, I fear I have trespassed somewhat too long on the kind indulgence of the House; but I cannot but feel that this measure represents the wishes of a very large section of the public, and that I should not be doing justice to the case which has been intrusted to me if I did not say something as to the practical necessity for the proposals of this Bill. To deal first with the question of brakes, I would ask any impartial man who has looked into this question, who knows the history of "the battle," or, rather, "the muddle of the brakes," whether he does not really think that many hundreds of lives would have been saved, and that, leaving aside personal injuries, a vast amount of the money of railway shareholders might have been saved, if the Board of Trade had been enabled to intervene effectively some time ago? Hon. Members will have in their recollection that, after the important brake trials at Newark, the Board of Trade issued a Circular which defined clearly the necessary requirements of brakes if they are really to be effectual—and that the most important of these requirements were that they should be instantaneous in their action; that they should be self-acting; and that they should be continuously applied throughout the train and to the engine. That Circular also drew attention to the advantages of uniformity. It was pointed out that, on the through lines running to Scotland, it was of the greatest importance to be able to use the same type of brake throughout, and that accidents had frequently occurred, or been aggravated, by having the rolling stock fitted with different brakes. This difficulty, I believe, is now practically in process of being removed. But I cannot think it can have been very satisfactory to the shareholders of some of these railways that they should have been obliged, by want of uniformity, to pay for fitting their rolling stock with two, or even with three, different brakes on the same vehicle. I maintain it has been clearly proved that the requirements of the Board of Trade Circular are sound. Yet we actually find that, perhaps, the greatest and most important line in the whole country—the London and North-Western—still has nearly half its rolling stock fitted with an antediluvian brake, wholly unsuited to the requirements laid down by science and experience. We are all familiar with the saying attributed to the Chairman of the London and North-Western Company as to automatic brakes—that any man must be mad who would trust his safety to an automatic brake. I think the London and North-Western Railway have had some reason to learn the value of automatic brakes. Several times accidents have occurred on their line from trains breaking in part on inclines, notably at Wigan in 1884, when Colonel Rich commented very strongly on the defects of their brakes. And only the other day an accident took place at the New Street Station at Birmingham—in the presence of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and the hon. Member for the Handsworth Division of Staffordshire (Mr. Wiggin)—from the fracture of a coupling, when a very serious collision might easily have come about had not the space the train had to run down the incline and on the level prevented it. This and other accidents would have been prevented by an automatic brake, which would at once have arrested the vehicles which had broken away. Now, Sir, the North-Western have recently decided to adopt a new system, and are fitting about half their rolling stock with a vacuum brake, which I believe I am correct in stating is substantially the same as the brake the failure of which brought about the terrible disaster on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway at Penisstone in 1884, when 24 persons were killed and a very large number injured. To touch for one moment on another requirement in the Bill. Two recent accidents on the Metropolitan or District Railways, where a carriage in the middle of a train left the rails, and might easily have brought about a ghastly catastrophe, show the imperative necessity for electric communication between the guard and the engine-driver. I might deal with other points; but I turn at once to the questions which specially affect the safety of the railway servants, who suffer so terribly in life and limb. In one of the Reports laid before the country by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Henry Tyler), the hon. Gentleman dwelt on the startling and melancholy record of the casualties among railway servants, combated the theory that they suffered from their own recklessness, and pointed out many ways in which the work of railway servants might be made less dangerous. The recommendations in his Report are all covered by the proposals of this Bill—as, for instance, the question of better spaces for the working of the trains in shunting and other operations, and the question of improved couplings. For a long time there had been many practical inventions which would remove the necessity of the men going between the buffers to couple or uncouple waggons. Hon. Members might be aware that this question has excited much attention in America. In the States the goods traffic was conducted in long covered cars on bogey trucks, nearly as large as a Pullman car. It was obvious that there was infinitely less coupling and uncoupling to do, as compared with our system of a large number of small trucks. Then, too, owing to the adoption of the centre-buffer arrangement in the States, the accidents which occurred were of a much less serious nature—the loss of fingers and similar injuries of a trifling character—compared with the injuries to the body of being crushed between the buffers, the usual type of accident here. Yet, in several of the American States laws had been passed in the last few years compelling the Companies to adopt some kind of safety coupling within a specified time. There had recently been held some practical trials of couplings—automatic and non-automatic—by the kindness of the South-Western Company, at Nine Elms. These trials had been carried out by the railway servants themselves, and the prizes provided by their own funds. It was clearly shown that there are many useful and practical inventions for dealing with this danger. And I may mention that it is stated that one of the satisfactory couplings can be applied to railway stock at a cost of £1 per truck. The railway servants ask, and ask with reason, that when Railway Companies are prepared to spend £3 10s. on electric communication to give their first-class passengers a sense of security against a Lefroy or a Müller, who may be found on the railway once in 20 years, they should also be willing to spend 20s. on a railway truck, in coupling or uncoupling which a shunter or a goods guard may have to risk his life once a week. Then, Sir, there is the question of overtime work. I might give the House many recent instances of excessive hours of work among signalmen and engine-drivers. But hon. Members are so familiar with this subject that I shall not attempt to occupy the House with details. The clause in the Bill as to overtime is virtually the same as was proposed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) in 1884, and is of so moderate a nature that I do not think it can be quarrelled with. To sum up, I would say that this Bill is not the mere expression of the views of a group of individuals. It is the direct legislative outcome of the Report of the Royal Commission. It is the carrying out of the deliberate decision of the previous Administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) and of the Board of Trade at that time. Further, Sir, this Bill comes before the House with the emphatic approbation of a large section of the public. It has been supported by nearly 200 Petitions from railway servants in every part of the country, and also by many public meetings. I appeal to this House to give it a favourable reception on behalf of the railway servants of this country. They have discharged, and are discharging, dangerous duties with loyalty and devotion, and they have the right to ask that those duties should be discharged under recognized conditions of safety to life and limb. Most of us here have travelled in the old times when safety arrangements had scarcely been introduced at all; when crowded express trains rushed through stations and junctions where our safety depended almost wholly on the unaided judgment of railway servants. We owe a debt, Sir, to the brave and loyal men whose cool heads and steady hands protected us from disaster under circumstances of the greatest difficulty. We owe it to them; we owe it to the widows and orphans of the thousands who have perished in serving us; we owe it to the men who are toiling now for us, and to their families, that we should insist that such appliances and such arrangements as have been proved to reduce human fallibility to a minimum, and to secure the maximum of safety for all, should be provided for the working of our railways. In conclusion, Sir, I sincerely trust that after the representations made to-day, the Government may either see their way to support the second reading of this Bill, or else that they may hold out such a decided intimation that they are prepared themselves to introduce such legislation based on its general principles as will give encouragement and satisfaction to the 350,000 railway men in whose name I have addressed the House to-day. I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Houghton-le-Spring)

, in seconding the Motion, said, he thanked the hon. Member who had moved the second reading (Mr. Channing) for having brought so important a matter under the attention of the House. This was not, however, a new matter, for it had been before the country and both Houses of Parliament in previous years. He was quite prepared to admit that there was sufficient selfishness in us to enable us to say that if the matter in hand only appertained to a certain class, and did not affect our purses, we might be led to look lightly upon it; but the measure that had been submitted to the House that afternoon provided very largely for the safety of the public, as well as for the safety of the railway servants themselves. The hon. Gentleman the Mover of the second reading of the Bill (Mr. Channing) mentioned two or three objections that, perhaps, might be taken to it. He observed that it might be taken as an objection that this measure was an interference with the profits of the Railway Companies. He (Mr. John Wilson) thought that the time had gone by when money should be placed against men; and, therefore, money should not be allowed to stand in the way of such a Bill as this. This was not a matter which should be left to be settled by the workmen and their employers. He would grant that there were certain things that ought to be, and should be, left in the hands of the workmen and their employers, and he would be the last one there to ask for State interference where workmen could make their own arrangements; but he thought that, for the safety of the public, a matter like this should not be left in the hands of the employers and the employed. There were many cases in which questions might be left to private opinion. A gentleman, say, employed a coachman who was careless; that coachman might take out a coach with a wheel that was likely to come off, and so long as the careless man only hurt himself, it did not much matter, but so soon as he injured the members of the community, he (Mr. John Wilson) thought the State ought to interfere. The measure before the House was one which the workmen had taken upon themselves to meet to the best of their ability. They had by speech and by action tried to show that they were desirous that the best means and the best inventions should be adopted in order that no unnecessary expense might be incurred by the Railway Companies in introducing safety appliances for their men. The principles of this measure had been before the Trades Union Congress for some three or four years, and resolutions had been passed affirming it, and asking the House of Commons to deal with the matter. He remembered being at the Congress when the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was discussed, and when resolutions were passed to the effect that the Congress was desirous that the Bill should become law. In order to show the earnestness of the workmen with regard to this subject, he might state that the railway servants gathered together by their small contributions a sum of £500, to be offered as a prize for the best railway coupling that could be found for promoting safety. It was no selfishness which led men to this idea, but it was the desire that their lives should be safe, and that what they did should be done with efficiency and security. He did not desire to waste the time of the House, because he would like to see, if possible, the measure pass. He was not a very great reader himself, but he had read in one of Lord Bacon's books that ignorance was bliss. He might say that ignorance had been bliss in his case, for when he had been travelling along the railway he had believed until lately that the block system was in universal use on our lines; but he very much feared now that that was not so. He considered that men who had to work 12 hours a-day in a signal box were engaged too long in a labour which involved the safety of the lives of human beings, and he did not believe that it would cost the Railway Companies more than at present to allow their men in the signal stations shorter hours. The Bill asked for 12 hours of work and nine hours of rest. He ventured to say that the employé would not get nine hours of rest, for the time would be encroached upon by family affairs and family duties. He (Mr. John Wilson) had never been in favour of class representation in that House; but he felt it would be a great advantage if they had in the House a railway man who could speak accurately of the technicalities of his trade. Many accidents happened through the coupling, recoupling, and shunting of trains, which had to be carried out within a certain time, and it was often that a man when in a hurry through his impatience placed himself in a position of danger. In the absence of an experienced railway employé to argue the case of the servants of the great Railway Companies, he hoped that the House would compel the Companies to adopt the best means of procuring the safety of those in their employ, and that of the general public using their lines of railway.

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

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said, that the Bill had been brought before the House, in a manner which left nothing to be desired, by the hon. Member who seconded the second reading (Mr. John Wilson). The object of the Bill was one with which the House would sympathize most heartily. The hon. Member who had just sat down remarked that they wanted in that House an hon. Member who was an experienced railway man to state the case of railway employés to the House; but he must say that after the speech of the hon. Member the cause of the railway employés had lost nothing by the manner in which he had presented their case. It was not his intention to oppose the Bill in any way; but speaking on behalf of Railway Directors generally, he (Sir Joseph Pease) could say that they were most anxious to adopt every contrivance calculated to save human life. For the last 20 years, to his knowledge, the Railway Directors of the country had examined and looked into the latest and best means of preventing accidents on rail ways and protecting human life. He could say, speaking for his own Company—the North-Eastern—that there was no accident involving damage or loss of life that the Directors had not inquired into and probed to the very bottom; and he had no doubt that the same vigilance was exercised by other Companies. He did not believe that the Railway Directors of the country deserved to be spoken of in the manner referred to by the hon. Gentleman who had first spoken (Mr. Channing). Railway Directors had done in the past, as they were now in the present doing—they endeavoured to adopt appliances which would facilitate the traffic and help the public, and which would add to the safety of human life. As to the block system, he believed that there was not a railway in the Kingdom on which it was not in use. All those appliances which the hon. Gentleman would force upon the Companies were being most rapidly adopted; but the work meant great change and research. There was now on all the principal lines a block system in active and daily operation. The cost of the system was great. He was told of the fact that the block system on the Great Northern cost about £120,000 a-year to work it; and on the railway with which he was connected — the North-Eastern — it annually cost considerably more. The system had answered, for it facilitated the traffic, and gave greater safety. Some reference had been made to a poor line like the Somerset and Dorset line, which had never paid a dividend, and it was stated that it had not been worked on the block system; but this could not be taken as a sample of the railways throughout the country. The Railway Companies had, after long investigation, adopted and applied interlocking signals; and now on every line in the country some particular system of interlocking signals was being carried out. Then, in the course of the debate, something had been said about the continuous brakes, and one speaker said that such brakes ought to have been in use long ago. He denied that that was a fair way of putting the matter. The continuous brakes were many in principle and design. It had not been decided which was the best; and he did not suppose that the Board of Trade would undertake to settle the point as the hon. Gentleman had suggested. The Railway Companies, some time ago, sent a Commission over to France to inquire into the nature of the continuous brakes in use on the railways of that country, and they had brought over a railway van with the experimental brakes in general use, and experimented with it on the Brighton and South Coast and, he believed, the South-Eastern Railways. It was also the subject of experiments on the North-Eastern Railway. There were, as he had said, a great variety of those brakes before the public. There was the Westinghouse brake, the vacuum brake, and am automatic vacuum brake, and the brake which the hon. Gentleman had despised, known as Mr. Webb's brake. Of this latter brake he knew nothing; but Mr. Webb's shops at Crewe were the model railway shops of the day. The Companies were doing what they could in the matter to settle on the best brake. Then, as regarded the want of uniformity in the railway platforms throughout the country, every Company had its own standard for platforms; but it was impossible in some cases to have all platforms, even on the same line, of the same height. Take, for instance, the Central Station at Newcastle-on-Tyne, where the platform was much lower than the carriages; but that was an engineering necessity which could not now be easily altered. In some cases the platforms at stations had to be higher than they could be at others. As to the question of communication, the Bill provided for improved communication between guards and drivers; and he admitted that the cord system did not at present meet the requirements of the Board of Trade. No Railway Board objected to such communication, and experiments on the subject were going on from day to day by which it was hoped a better means of communication might be obtained. Then as to wide spaces near stations, it was not the fault of the Companies that this was not so, for it was only experience that had shown how needful wider spaces were. Railway stations that had at one time been in the country were now in the middle of towns, and in other places the towns extended close up to the stations, where land was difficult to procure. With regard to overtime, the question practically was between the employment of three men or two men in the 24 hours. It was only on lines where there was a great interval between the passing of the trains and where the men had one or two hours' rest at a time that only two men were employed in the 24 hours. Such a system as was proposed with regard to the Return of overtime to the Board of Trade would defeat its own object. Overtime frequently arose in matters over which there was no human control. For instance, an engine-man with his train in a fog had to put it into a siding because of the approach of a mail train, and had to remain there for a considerable period. That was a case in which a man had naturally to work overtime. He quite agreed that where a man had worked long overtime he ought to have a corresponding time to rest before going to work again. He would suggest that the Board of Trade might have power to ask, in case of complaint, for a Return of the overtime in question. His belief was that the Railway Companies had not neglected these things. But coming to the practical object of the Bill, while he admitted the loss of life on railways was appalling and much to be deplored, he denied that Railway Companies had neglected any of the provisions necessary to insure the public or their servants' safety; and, therefore, the remarks of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Channing) on that head were somewhat uncalled for—remarks which would rather tend to injure his cause than to promote it. He did not, however, object to the Bill being read a second time, if after the second reading it was fairly considered by a Select Committee, before whom those interested in the railways of the country could be heard. If any regulations by Acts of Parliament, or any increased supervision by the Board of Trade, would diminish loss of life, no objection would be raised by those who represented the railway interest in that House or anywhere else.

MR. H. ROBERTSON (Merioneth)

said, he had devoted a large part of his life to the making and promoting of railways in this country, and he must say that the great want they experienced in the working of railways was to find men who would take care to see that all signals were in good working order; and if this were done they should find that there would be fewer accidents and loss of life. When the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. John Wilson) spoke of those railway servants who exposed their lives in the discharge of their duty, he begged to say that there was one class of railway servants who devoted themselves more than any other to the public service and the preservation of human life, and that was the higher class of railway officials. He would not compare the man who had to do with the mere mechanical operation of running along the line with the man who had constructed the line safely, or who saw that the whole system of the railway was uniform, and that if any accident occurred or any change took place in the daily work of the system it had the means of adapting itself to the circumstances and providing for the safety of the public. He did not think there was a country in the world which possessed a body of men superior in ability to those of this country. He believed that from what he knew of Railway Directors they did everything that they could to make the railway system of the country free from accident and safe for the general public. All the regulations suggested in the Bill before the House were now in force on most railways; what the Bill proposed was to make them compulsory, and to throw on the Board of Trade the duty of carrying on the regulation of the railways throughout the country. He (Mr. H. Robertson) was entirely opposed to this course, because it would have the effect of doing great mischief—namely, taking away from the railway management of the country the responsibility it now undertook and discharged. The Bill before the House would appoint officers under the Board of Trade to carry out the duties prescribed in the measure. There were matters which it was better that the Board of Trade should not have the decision of, otherwise the root of railway responsibility was struck at. He had great respect for the officials of the Board of Trade; but when a new officer was appointed he would like to ask how he had got his experience? An engineer employed for years at Malta, in charge of a dock, might have had no railway experience in his life. He, for one, should object to any such change in the law. The Board of Trade had officers in the Railway Department, many of whom were men with no experience of railway matters; they were, it was true, men of education, and after blundering for a short time they obtained that information which enabled them to serve the Board of Trade. It should be remembered that there were not born railway engineers. He knew men who, after a short time, had acquired a very great knowledge of railway matters, though at first their knowledge was so deficient that it could not be of any service in railway management or control. If the Bill was to be carried, as was proposed, in its present form, everything that it provided for would have to be carried out under the Railway Department of the Board of Trade. With reference to the new proposals of the Bill in the direction of improvements, it might be well to state that most, if not all of them, were already adopted by the Railway Companies. It struck him that persons interested in the Bill might also be interested in some patents. But the practical application of what might be useful was one of the most difficult points for a Railway Manager to decide upon. There was hardly anything more difficult than to put into general application rules and regulations of a particular character to I be carried out by the Board of Trade. One objectionable feature about the Bill was that it was to apply to all railways—to the great railways of the country as well as to the poor railways. There were railways and railways; and he had had something to do with getting the capital together for railways that he had been instrumental in having constructed in both North Wales and South Wales—not only as engineer and as promoter—and he could tell the House that there was great difficulty in a poor part of the country in getting the public to subscribe the capital. The landowners would be induced after a while to take shares, and then the tradesmen in the localities that would be benefited by a railway; but in the long run they always found it difficult to get the capital together. Did the House think that it would be any easier to get railways made in poor districts if this Bill were passed? The Board of Trade would, if the Bill were passed, enforce its provisions against all railways—whether they were rich or poor, extensive or limited in their mileage. The inconvenience of this would not be felt only in this country, but in nearly all the railways in Wales and Ireland, which, as the House and as Irish Members knew, were struggling concerns in many parts of those countries. The Railway Companies now coming into existence were greatly hampered by the regulations of the Board of Trade. New regulations were enforced against the new railways that were unknown on the old railways. [Mr. MUNDELLA: Hear, hear!] There were new conditions with regard to bridges, and the manner in which they were to be built, and the old railways under their respective Local Acts were not liable to the new conditions and regulations. Then when a railway was made, three or four years, say, after its commencement, it was put to heavy expense in order to meet the requirements of the Board of Trade. The requirements of the Board of Trade if carried out in regard to some railways, and especially in reference to Irish railways, would involve a very heavy rate of expense, where in reality it was not wanted in the interests of the public safety. It was by no means necessary to enforce vigorously all the Board of Trade requirements over railways on which the trains ran at moderate speed, for trains travelling at a slow rate did not require the same precautions for safety as fast travelling express trains. Besides, most of the new lines made in poor districts were worked by the large Railway Companies. That was so in the district where he was acquainted with small lines. He thought it was worthy of the consideration of the Board of Trade whether there should not be a second class of railway, so that, while sufficient could be done for the public safety, the requirements might not be too great for small Companies to meet, who had, perhaps, spent all their capital. The Bill before the House would compel all railways to adopt the changes comprised in it; therefore, on that ground alone, it was faulty. He would not, however, object to the second reading of the Bill. He thought that the Bill might be referred to a Select Committee; if so, it would require a great deal of alteration, and he hoped that these points would be considered; if they were not, he thought that the Bill was one that ought not to pass.


said: I think that at this hour it is right that I should state what course the Government propose to take with regard to this Bill. I am sure that there is not a single Member of the House who does not feel sympathy with the object sought to be attained by this Bill. The Bill is not only designed to insure greater safety for the travelling public, but also for that numerous class of railway servants who, after all, are the greatest sufferers by railway accidents. The percentage of the loss of life among railway servants in past years has been appalling, though I am glad to be able to say that it is declining. It has been so large that I think the general public hardly realizes the extent of it. I agree with my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Robertson) as to the character of the railway servants of this country. They form a vast array of 350,000 or 400,000 men, and of every man, from the Railway Manager down to the humblest porter on the line, it may be said there is not a more exemplary class of officials in any country in the world. There is among them an esprit de corps and a readiness to respond to any demand of the public that stands in striking contrast with the feeling of railway servants in almost every other country of the world. I have travelled myself over all the railways of Europe, and over many in America, and all I can say is that I am always glad when I get in sight of an English railway station. There is no man so ready to help you, who is so free from officialism and so unselfish in his willingness to undertake a heavy load, as the English railway servant whenever you meet him. I feel, therefore, that the House will recognize that he has every claim upon us to relieve him if we can, and to diminish his sufferings. But what I want to caution the House about is, that if we undertake legislation, we should endeavour, in our desire to be serviceable to the travelling public and to the servants of the Railway Companies, not to relieve the Railway Directors or the Companies of their responsibilities and transfer them to the Board of Trade. There is a great deal already being done in the direction of this Bill. Many of the objects sought to be attained by it are in steady process of accomplishment. My hon. Friend who brought in the Bill (Mr. Channing), and the hon. Member who so ably seconded him (Mr. John Wilson), do not deny that there is steady progress in the direction of the Bill. Further, my hon. Friend does not demand that the provisions of the Bill, if they become an Act, should be put in force immediately in all cases, because that would be, as he knows, an absolute impossibility. I should like to point out to the House some of the justifications for the measure. There is no doubt we have done what we can in this House to diminish loss of life amongst the working classes by the Factory and Workshop Acts. The effect of all that legislation has been for the general good of the whole community. When I come to read to the House some of the statistics relating to railway servants the House will see that the calamities which befall them do not affect the individual merely, but his family and those dependent upon him. During the last 11 years the total number of railway servants killed in the service of the Railway Companies amounted to 6,584, the total number injured was 26,012. The total, it is clear, amounts to the losses sustained in many battles. There is no doubt that many of the deaths are not preventible. They come from the rail- way servant taking risks to which he has been accustomed in the desire to perform his duty promptly. On the other hand, a great number come from causes which are preventible. I am glad to tell the House that these calamities during the last 11 years show a steady diminution year by year. The number of passengers killed while travelling on the railway in 1874 was 76; in 1875, 17; and in 1879, 75. To show how steady has been the diminution, I will read the list from 1880. In 1880 there were 29; in 1881, 23; in 1882, 18; in 1883, 11; in 1884, 31; and in 1885, 6. So that there was a steady diminution, although during the same period there was a large increase of passengers. The number of passengers killed while travelling was in 1874 one in 5,500,000, the number in 1880 fell to one in 20,000,000, and in 1885 to one in 116,000,000. The number injured in 1874 was 1,613; in 1875, 1,212; in 1878, 1,173; in 1880, 904; in 1881, 987; in 1882, 802; in 1883, 662; in 1884, 660; and in 1885, 435; the number in the last year being the least ever known. If I take the number of railway servants killed the same thing obtains. The number in 1874 was 46, and in 1884 it came down to 13. The number injured in 1874 was 271, and in 1885, 81. The percentage of injured was in 1874 as one in 70, and in 1885 it was one in 163. Undoubtedly the number is still too high, but it is satisfactory to feel there is a diminution. The Bill of my hon. Friend is not a Bill which compels the Board of Trade to take prompt action in all cases. It is a Bill conferring large discretionary powers, which, if the House does confer them, will require to be exercised with great discretion. I agree that the block system which substitutes an interval of space for an interval of time is one of the greatest possible preventives of accidents. It ought to be in operation throughout the whole railway system of the country. It is being introduced to a very large extent. I will tell my hon. Friend to what extent the block system now obtains. On the 31st of December, 1885, it prevailed on double line railways extending to 9,583 miles out of a total of 10,479 miles, or on over 92 per cent of the whole system. It may be said, Why should it not be imposed on the remaining 8 or 9 per cent? The answer is that these railways are very poor, and that it would be very difficult for them to raise the money to accomplish all those changes. No doubt the Board of Trade finds itself sometimes in a difficult position for enforcing its decrees. I know of two Railway Companies running side by side, one of which was well equipped and had all the necessary arrangements for safe working, and the other was as badly equipped as it could possibly be. What was to be done? There were accidents again and again. The Directors were paying no dividends, and as a result there was no interlocking signal at work on their line. When my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was President of the Board of Trade there were two or three accidents on that line. He had no power to enforce interlocking signals, and he had no power to interfere until an application for further powers was made. Then by his resoluteness he was enabled to insist on those necessary parts of the equipment of the line being carried out. This Bill proposes to give us powers to enforce the provision of interlocking signals, double lines, and continuous brakes. The House will recognize that the Board of Trade is eager rather to take too much responsibility than to shirk it; but I feel somewhat reluctant to take all the responsibility which this Bill would put on the Board. There are powers which I think the House might with safety confer and apply; but there are powers also which I think the Board ought not to be pressed to exercise. There is one to raise all the platforms to a standard height on the London and North-Western Railway. That would involve an enormous outlay, and, after all, it is doubtful if the outlay would give greater safety.


said, he admitted that the clause of the Bill was badly drawn, and he would be willing to excise that portion of it.


I am glad of it. Then as to coupling appliances, I do not think it would be well to make the Board of Trade the judges in this matter of deciding what improved coupling appliances should be used. I do not see any objection to furnishing a Return of the overworking of railway servants. Those long hours are a great source of danger. There is no harm in making this Return to the Board of Trade. I do not think I should be justified in refusing to give the Bill a second reading. I hope the House will agree to the second reading, and to have the Bill then sent to a Committee upstairs, where the railway servants and the Directors can be heard. I have no doubt that by that means the object of my hon. Friend will be attained.

MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Hardcastle)

said, he objected to the way in which the responsibility would be divided by this Bill between the Board of Trade and the Railway Companies. There were some powers contained in this Bill which it would be unwise to give to the Board of Trade, and which would have the effect of stopping invention among railway engineers, and stereotyping present systems. In conferring increased powers on a Department of the State, two conditions ought carefully to be examined. The first was that they did not unduly diminish the responsibility of the Railway Companies, and the second that the powers that were proposed to be intrusted to the Department should be reasonable. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) that the clauses of this Bill required very careful consideration, and he therefore cordially approved of the proposal to refer the measure, after it had been read a second time, to a Select Committee.


said, that he had much pleasure in agreeing with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella) that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.

MR. PLUNKET (Dublin University)

said, that he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the second reading of this Bill, understanding that it would be referred to a Select Committee. He entirely sympathized with its main object—namely, the protection of the lives of railway servants. He believed that by that method of procedure the objects which the promoters of the Bill had in view might possibly be attained. He rose only to protest against the extraordinary statement by the Mover of the Bill, that the London and Northwestern Railway Company were using an "antediluvian kind of brake" over a great portion of their line. As a Director of the Company he was able to say that from the first they had spared no pains or expense in securing the best brake they could get, and in the opinion of the highest authorities the brake they were now applying was the very best which had yet been invented. He thought the London and North-Western was one of the very last Companies to be charged with indifference to the public safety. They laid down four lines of rails with special regard to that consideration, when, perhaps, they would not have done so if they had consulted only the interests of their shareholders. He repudiated with amazement the charge which the hon. Member, without any special knowledge or title to speak on the subject, had thought fit to bring against that Company, on whose behalf he was not at all afraid of the closest examination and inquiry. It was to the interest of Railway Companies, above all others, to prevent accidents occurring upon their lines.

MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

said, as one of the backers of the Bill, he must express his satisfaction with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), and that the Government were going to support the second reading of this Bill, seeing that during the last 10 years the number of persons killed on our railways was 6,000, while the number of persons maimed was 26,000. He had no doubt the Select Committee, with the assistance of the special knowledge of the Railway Directors and other experts, would be able to improve some clauses. The points objected to by the Government were not of principal importance. He hoped the Committee would be promptly appointed, and that it would get to work at once, so that the Bill might become law in the present Session.

MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)

said, he had no doubt the Select Committee would deal with the Bill satisfactorily. He desired most distinctly and clearly to express his great sympathy with the object of the Bill, which was, in so many words, to effect the greater safety on railways both of passengers and railway servants; but he did not concur with the facts, so-called, stated by the hon. Member who moved the second reading (Mr. Channing), and he certainly did not concur in some of his deductions. The hon. Member said com- pensation for accidents had had no effect on Railway Directors and shareholders; but he would remind him of a serious accident which happened recently on the line he was connected with—the Caledonian Company—which involved a cost to the Railway Company of £55,000, while the fares in the train which suffered were only about £10. That cost represented about 1 per cent of dividend, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman that 1 per cent was a matter of considerable importance to the shareholders. He hoped the suggestion would be taken into account that there might be two classes of railways. The Bill was a proposal practically to confer upon the officers of the Board of Trade the decision of what should be the arrangement for working railways, and he would impress upon the House that even officials of the Board of Trade were human, and were not always of one mind. At one period they recommended and insisted upon one thing, and later on they changed their views, or new men came in, and different arrangements were imposed. All he wished to do at present was to call attention to the fact that the Bill required very great alteration. He wished to say a word as to the care taken by some Railway Companies at least to reduce to a minimum the loss of life. The Company with which he was connected some 12 or 15 years ago resolved to establish a premium fund for the avoidance of accidents. The Caledonian Company had instituted a system of issuing cards to their servants. Every servant of the Company, whose duty permitted him to cause or enabled him to prevent an accident, on entering their service received a card; and if at the end of the year a card was presented to his superior without a complaint upon it—that was to say, that he had not contributed in any way to an accident—a certain sum was paid to the holder. In this way the Company had during the last 15 years paid an average sum of £10,000 per annum as a reward for strict attention to the regulations of the Company.

MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

said, he wished to say one practical word as to accidents, having had considerable experience in dealing with them from an impartial point of view—namely, the professional point of view. His experi- ence had led him to the conclusion that it was not so much a question of machinery or arrangement, as that two things were too often neglected. One was the ascertainment that the servants were properly educated to the use of the appliances which they had to work. The other was the servants not being sufficiently imbued with the notion that it was by blind mechanical obedience to the rules laid down that the safety of the public was secured. He had known many cases, both on sea and land, in which accidents had occurred because rules were neglected in the misplaced confidence that others would observe rules laid down for them. A broke his rule, trusting to B observing his, and B taking the same course, accident followed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.