HC Deb 02 August 1889 vol 339 cc220-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

I notice that Clause 3 of this Bill raises a question of great importance involving, as it does, the safety of trains and passengers. It provides practically that railway servants shall not work more than 12 hours a day, and I am glad that the Board of Trade are thus beginning to take control over the hours of labour. I heartily approve of this principle, and I only regret that the limit has been fixed at 12 hours. In the interests of railway passengers, and in order to secure increased safety for the traffic, I hold that the hours of labour should be shorter, and when we are in Committee on this Bill I shall move an Amendment placing the limit at eight hours instead of 12. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to accept that Amendment.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

This is one of the Bills thrown on the Table of the House without explanation. I have been looking at it, and I must say I think it is very unfair for the Government to pitchfork into this House an important Bill of this nature without any explanation. They ought at least to tell us what their intentions are in regard to it. I am glad the hon. Member who spoke last has given notice that, in Committee, he will move to amend the third clause by inserting eight hours for 12. I see, however, that all the Bill proposes to do in this respect is to call on the companies to make a Return of all of their employés who work more than 12 hours, and I should like to see the Bill amended so as to render it illegal for any railway servant to work over 12 hours in one day. It is not right that the safety of the hundreds of thousands of persons who travel should be left in the hands of men who are working more than 12 hours a day. Now, railways are a monopoly, and I consider that Parliament should have more control over them, and that it should step in and prevent men being compelled, through the competition in the labour market, to work longer than is desirable in the interests of the public safety. Clause 4 raises the question of tickets, and I should like to see the Government modify the existing regulations as to return tickets with a view to allowing passengers to use an out-of-date return half on payment of a sum which would make up the difference in price between the return and the single ticket. In Committee we will try and amend this Bill in the interests of the travelling public. But I repeat that I object to this system of throwing a Bill before us without explanation.


I think the accusation of the hon. Member is most unfair. Hon. Members who have given attention to this subject know very well that this is the second Bill introduced this Session, and that in moving the first I explained its provisions and effect. Since then I have been in communication with various persons in the country, and have found there would be so much opposition to some of its clauses that it would be impossible to pass it this Session. I therefore withdrew that Bill and introduced this, a modified Bill, carrying out certain important provisions with regard to public safety, to which I believe no objection can be taken. With reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Mid Lanarkshire, it may be well to omit the figure 12 and leave the number of hours beyond which cases of overtime should be returned to be fixed by the Board of Trade from time to time. Any attempt to limit the work of railway servants to eight hours a day and no more would, in my opinion, be not only an impossibility, but would be hurtful, if it could be carried out. What would happen if a man had been at work eight hours and an accident happened? Is he not to remain in order to give what help he can because he would be breaking the law? If the hon. Member for Caithness presses his view the only result will be to make it impossible to carry the Bill this Session. I would further say that there are provisions in the Bill of great importance to the public safety at which the hon. Member has not apparently even looked. The first clause, for instance, provides that the Board of Trade may from time to time order a railway company to do within a time limited by the order any of the following things:—To adopt the block system on all or any of their lines, to provide for the interlocking of points and signals on all or any of their lines, and to provide for all their trains carrying passengers continuous brakes, complying with certain requirements Let me state briefly to the House some of the facts which appear in the Report to the Board of Trade upon the accidents which have occurred on railways in the United Kingdom during the year 1888, which Report will shortly be in the hands of hon. Members. I find that these accidents are separated under several heads. Head C relates to accidents from trains entering stations at too great speed. The Report says that of these one accident might have been avoided had there been a continuous brake upon the train; that in another accident the automatic action of the vacuum brake prevented any rebound or consequent injury to the passengers; and that in a third the non-automatic vacuum brake failed to act on the connecting pipe becoming detached, which could not have occurred had the brake been automatic. Under another head, E (Collisions at junctions,) the Report says:— Of two of these collisions a proper system of block working would probably have prevented the occurrence, and one collision, had the whole instead of a third of the vehicles been fitted with continuous brakes, might have been entirely prevented or its effect lessened. The accidents at sidings were 16 in number, and three of them were due to the want of absolute block working, two to want of an efficient continuous brake, and in two instances attention was drawn to over long hours of work. Under the head of collisions between engines or trains meeting in opposite directions there were eight accidents. One of these was due to an improper mode of working the block system; one to a disregard of the rules for working, and the absence of block working; one to a want of proper interlocking arrangements. In one instance the continuous brake appeared to have done good service. With regard to the terrible accident at Armagh, by which 78 persons were killed and 260 injured, the official Report to the Board of Trade says:— This terrible collision would in all human probability have been prevented had the excursion train been fitted with an automatic continuous brake instead of (as it was) with only a non-automatic continuous brake. … Had the block system been in operation the ordinary train would have been standing at Armagh platform. … and the results of the collision would have undoubtedly been much less serious. I think I have said sufficient to show the House the importance and necessity of provisions contained in the Bill which will enable the Board of Trade to enforce upon recalcitrant railway companies regulations which experience has shown to be necessary to safety, and I trust that hon. Members will do their best to aid me in passing the Bill into law.

* MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I am sure that we who have followed the history of this question will entirely acquit the President of the Board of Trade of a desire to smuggle the Bill through the House or in any way to disguise the nature of its provisions. The proposals now before the House have been repeatedly discussed, and at some length by myself and other Members of the House. There are certain points in regard to this Bill to which I should like to draw attention.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,

* MR. CHANNING continued

The hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Philipps) has drawn attention to the question of overtime and to Returns proposed in the Bill, and I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the House to the fact that the wording of the clause does not correspond with the overtime Returns to which the Board of Trade consented, and which were moved for in another place by Lord Do La Warr. These included a column, giving the number of instances in which railway servants, after having been more than 12 hours on duty were called upon to resume work without an interval of nine hours' rest, and giving the number of hours of rest before they were sent out again. I wish to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that this should be made quite clear in Clause 3. I am glad to hear he is willing to make the rule for the number of hours an elastic one; and I heartily support the view that anything like a compulsory eight hours' clause would be an impossibility for railway work, and, in fact, the majority of railway servants are against it, and I sincerely hope no hon. Member will imperil the Bill by the attempt to carry such a clause. In these observations, which I desire to make brief, I cannot help expressing my very great regret that certain portions of the original Bill as introduced by the right hon. Gentleman have, owing to the difficult position in which we are placed by the approaching close of the Session and the strong objections raised by some hon. Members, been withdrawn. I am especially sorry the right hon. Gentleman has not seen his way to retain the clause in reference to coupling. Of course I should not be in order in discussing the clauses now, but I should like to say that the Executive Committee of the principal organisation of railway servants have expressed very great regret that this question of couplings has not been dealt with. I think, if the President of the Board of Trade had introduced a coupling clause more in the form in which I dealt with the subject when I had a Bill before the House, and which merely demanded a certain standard of safety in the matter of couplings, instead of drawing the clause in a way that excited special opposition, it is probable the objections might have been met. But I refer to that and to other points more with the view of emphasising them, that they may be dealt with in the future. I do not understand that the right hon. Gentleman admits in the least that he was wrong in introducing these provisions in the original Bill. I believe he does not abandon the principle of dealing with the danger of men going between the buffers of the wagons, and does not abandon the possibility of dealing with this question in the future. I would say the same in regard to another clause omitted from this Bill, the provision as to subways. Upon this very strong feelings have been expressed by groups of people in many parts of the country who have been in communication with myself, and whose views I have felt it my duty from time to time to bring before the notice of the House and the Board of Trade by the best means in my power. It is a subject I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman has not dismissed from his mind. I am sure he must be as aware as I am of the great importance of providing for the safety of the public at any rate at crowded junction stations. The right hon. Gentleman naturally bases his Bill on the terrible accidents that have occurred owing to the use of non-automatic brakes, and the partial failures of companies to carry out the "block" system. I have given as much attention perhaps as any Member of the House to the very careful, the admirable Reports of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade, and I think the railway companies do themselves injustice when they quarrel with these Reports. These Reports are most fair to the companies, while the real cause of an accident is indicated with scientific accuracy. A railway company which has distinguished itself by its admirable safety arrangements,—the Brighton Railway Company,—two years ago issued a return of the number of instances in which the automatic brake had prevented serious accidents on their line. Now when we have a company voluntarily coming forward and giving this testimony, and when we have these Reports of Inspectors as to the value of automatic brakes, the case for the present Bill is greatly strengthened. I am sorry that there is no provision in reference to communication between passengers and driver and guard. I will not trouble the House with instances, but there are many in which accidents might have been prevented or mitigated by electric or other means of rapid communication. I mention these matters simply to express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, if he has not the opportunity now, give some undertaking with regard to them in Committee, that he will deal with them, meeting the objections of the companies as far as possible, but insuring the safety of the public and railway servants. Meanwhile I support the Second Reading of the Bill most heartily, and hope it will pass unanimously.

* MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I do not intend to discuss the Bill now, as the right hon. Gentleman has intimated his intention of considering Amendments to Clause 3. I only wish to say that in the returns furnished of the number of hours of employment, day and night work should be distinguished, because the night work involves the greater strain, and also the intervals of rest between the periods of employment should be marked. I desire also to express regret that anything like opposition to the Bill should have been offered from this side of the House, and my opinion that it would be unwise for Parliament at any time to impose restriction on the hours of labour.

MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)

I sincerely regret that the Bill was not introduced sooner. As to the appearance of opposition from this side, I can only say that, so far as I know, there will be none that will impede the passage of the Bill into law. There are some points of the Bill that I would like to criticise in a friendly spirit, but I will not do so now because we shall have another opportunity for doing so. But I think the right hon. Gentleman if he looks at Clause 1 again, will see that it is somewhat confined and limited in its character to special kinds of brakes. I should like to see powers taken by the Board of Trade to enable them to introduce such rules and regulations as would cover future inventions for the same purpose. I am sorry to note the absence from the Bill of any attempt to deal with what I must call something more than the convenience of third-class passengers. This class of passengers are the mainstay of the whole railway system of the country, but they have to undergo sufferings upon long journeys, such as those in a better position are hardly aware of. I think it is monstrous that these, the strongest supporters of the railway companies, should be treated in the way they are. I will not go into details with which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is well acquainted. I will confine myself to a general allusion to sanitary arrangements, and when the proper time comes will endeavour to introduce legislation for the better treatment of those who are compelled to travel long distances by cheap and slow trains. I seize the present opportunity of giving public notice that next Session I shall oppose the introduction of every railway Bill, private or otherwise, which does not contain provisions for the better accommodation of third-class passengers. I hope that an honest attempt will be made to secure humane treatment to persons who are compelled to go long distances third class by slow

* MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I wish to express my acknowledgments to the right hon. Baronet for having introduced this Bill, and I hope he is determined to press it should it meet with opposition. I cannot, however, but express my regret that the coupling clause has been omitted. No doubt the clause as it stood was too stringent, but it is a most important question, and involves the lives of many of the servants of railway companies. The coupling clause was the one clause which made the Bill valuable to railway workers, for there are a sad number of men killed every year by being crushed between the buffers of goods trucks. It is a matter for consideration whether one ought not to try even in the Committee stage to obtain a clause on this subject. I should be sorry to do anything to imperil the Bill, but if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to introduce some more moderate clause than that which was originally in the Bill, or to accept some moderate suggestion from an independent Member, I am sure it would meet with little resistance—so little resistance that it would in no way endanger the passing of the Bill. If the Government choose to pass the Bill they can do it, as everything depends on the place they put it on the-Paper as an Order of the Day. Though I think the original coupling clause was too strong, and gave the Board of Trade too much power, I think a modified clause might be carried without much opposition. But even if the Government do nothing as to coupling in this Bill, I earnestly hope it is the intention of the right hon. Baronet to deal with the matter in some satisfactory manner next Session. It is not right that a few interested persons—not railway companies so much as owners of private railway wagons—should be allowed to stop legislation which is so essential to the working men of the country. I do not think the majority of the House would approve of such opposition as that to which I refer, but even should there be strong opposition, I do not think the Government could spend its time more advantageously to the interests of the country than in pressing forward such Bill. I did not hear the speech of the right hon. Baronet in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. Probably he referred to this matter, but if he did not, perhaps he will be kind enough to take note of what I say, and will deal with the subject, if not this Session, at all events next year.

MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I do not know how it may be with Gentlemen who differ from me in regard to this matter, but I must say for myself that I was altogether unable to understand the observations of the hon. Member behind me (Mr. Molloy.) It would be a very serious thing if the Government in its attempt to protect the lives of passengers by rail, and the lives of working men, should take on itself to decide what form of carriage what form of coupling and break, is the proper form for railway companies to use. I am of opinion that the lives of passengers and railway men will be safer in the long run, if these matters are left in the hands of those who understand them best. I cordially approve of the pressure of public opinion being applied, through this House or through the Press, to railway managers, to compel them to consider both the safety of the public and the safety of their men; but if we endeavour in this matter—as we have, in my opinion, sadly too often endeavoured in the past—to give Government officials the power to decide what is the precise form of appliances which shall be used in connection with railways, we shall not be providing for the safety of the public or the safety of railway servants. I am glad now to miss from the Bill the clause providing that the form of the carriage shall be such as is approved by the Board of Trade, and with regard to Clause 4, which may possibly lead to a little confusion, I should like to ask a question. Clause 4 proposes that a passenger by a railway shall either produce a ticket or pay his fare, or give the officials his name and address. The bye-laws of a good many companies provide that if a passenger is found in a railway carriage without a ticket he shall be compelled to pay the fare from the point at which the train started. I do not think it ought to be put in the power of the Railway Company to demand this as a matter of right. The officials ought to be in the possession of evidence on the subject, and if they are not I think they ought to be left to suffer from the consequences of their default. At any rate, it does frequently happen that a passenger without a ticket has not in his possession, and probably has not in the whole world, the amount of money necessary to pay the fare from the point at which the train started. I do not know whether it will be convenient or even possible to clear this matter up on this clause, but if it can be done it should be done. I trust that Parliament will do this act of justice, and will prevent railways for the future from making this claim.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.