HC Deb 04 June 1889 vol 336 cc1857-68

I wish now to move "That the House at its rising do adjourn till Monday, the 17th of June." This date has been arrived at after some hesitation. At the same time, I wish to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the consideration they have shown to public business for the last two days, which makes it possible to propose a longer adjournment than I thought it right, under the circumstances, to have a few days ago.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House at its rising this day do adjourn to Monday, June 17."

* MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

I think the House may congratulate Her Majesty's Government both on the progress made in the last day or two with business, and upon the decision arrived at to extend the holidays. But I rise to ask the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to tell us what the business will be on Monday the 17th, and for the Morning Sitting on Tuesday. It is necessary to have this information, because notices will have to be given today.


I intended to rise immediately after the Adjournment Motion was carried, but I may as well state now what we purpose. On Monday and Tuesday we propose to take the Army and Navy Estimates, and on Thursday the Scotch Universities Bill. I think this will be convenient to the House, and I hope we shall get the Second Reading of that Bill. Imme- diately after the House meets again I shall move that Government Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions shall take precedence of all other business on Tuesdays. I think the House will not be indisposed to yield us this.


Reverting to three o'clock sittings?


I wish with regard to that question to suit the convenience of the House. The usual course is to revert to three o'clock sittings, but if hon. Members prefer a Morning Sitting the Government will raise no difficulties. The usual course is undoubtedly to revert to the three o'clock sittings.

* MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

In relation to this point, I would ask the Government to consider how it affects the sittings of Committees. The two o'clock sittings are very inconvenient for Members serving on Committees, and there are some important Committees will be sitting on Tuesdays and Fridays for the remainder of the Session. I wish to add another word or two by way of justification of the House before the public. It has been stated in the public Press within the last few days that Supply has never been in such a state of arrear as it is in at the present time. I am not going for a moment to say that we have made any rapid progress with Supply. I am well aware that a large amount of time has been devoted to Supply in this as compared with previous Sessions, and this raises a question which the House will some day have to consider in connection with Supply. But what I now wish to point out is that, whereas on July 9, 1888, Classes 1 and 2 of the Civil Service Votes, there were remaining 33 Votes undisposed of, we have this year on June 4 only nine Votes remaining to be taken in Classes 1 and 2, and we have also disposed of the Telegraphic Vote. Therefore, I think it is not fair after the tribute of praise we have had from the Leader of the House for our critics in the public Press, who are always finding fault with the House of Commons, and especially with the Opposition, to say that public business is in a state of arrear this year as. compared with former years. Public business is more advanced before Whitsuntide this year than for many years past, so far as Supply is concerned.

* MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I take the opportunity offered by this motion of asking the President of the Board of Trade, whether he can see his way to reconsider his decision as to legislation which was Practically promised last year, for the promotion of public safety in connection with railways. I heartily approve of taking Supply early in the Session, and I think the state of business would justify the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the question this Session. It seemed to me last year when this question was discussed, there were very few points of difference between those I have the honour to represent in this matter and the Board of Trade. I wish to acknowledge most cordially the great efforts made by the President of the Board of Trade during the last three years to clear off arrears of legislation in relation to his Department. When at the close of the Session we reckon up the Departmental Bills the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in passing, I do not think any Department will be able to show a better record. But while making this acknowledgment, I must really complain that legislation to which I am referring did not have a foremost place in the right hon. Gentleman's programme, legislation that is imperatively demanded by all the railway employés in the country, and which, it can be proved to demonstration from the official documents of the Board of Trade, would in all human probability result in a sensible diminution of the still terrible list of deaths and injuries. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have given precedence to such Bills as the Merchant Shipping Tonnage Bill, the Merchant Colours Bill, and others. We are not asking, as the right hon. Gentleman very well knows, that the Board of Trade should take upon itself the duties of railway management. In urging that the Board of Trade should take power to enforce its recommendations, I shall not be met by that antiquated argument. It is about as rational as to say that Local Authorities turn themselves into architects and builders when they insist on certain standards of sanitation. Again and again, when I and others have called attention to the causes of serious accidents, the right hon. Gentleman is forced to admit the Board of Trade has no power to remove them. The Returns of the past year add many reasons for the passing of such a measure. Again and again has the Department pointed out to the Directors of Scotch lines the serious risks of marshalling mixed trains with goods vans and waggons in front of passenger carriages, but the warnings were disregarded, and we had an accident on the Highland line that might have been attended with serious loss of life, but happily the saloon and other carriages which were dashed down an embankment were empty. Then there is the question of communication between passengers and drivers and guards. The opinion of the Board is that means of communication should be made compulsory with regard to all trains, not limiting it to trains that proceed 20 miles without stopping. There was an instance on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire line, where an accident at Hyde Junction, accompanied by serious loss of life and injury, would, in all human probability, have been prevented had there been communication between passengers and driver. There was no point last year to which the right hon. Gentleman agreed more fully than as to level crossings, and when I recently put a question as to two cases that I have frequently brought before this House, he must have been dissatisfied at having to reply that he still had no power. One was the typical case of Todmorden Junction on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The Board of Trade and the Local Board of Todmorden have for years pressed on the Directors the necessity of erecting a bridge or constructing a subway to communicate between platforms at a junction where three thousand passengers interchange daily. So also at the Milford Haven Station of the Great Western Railway, where there has been loss of life, the railway company will not erect a bridge for the protection of their servants and of the public. In this case the conduct of the railway company seems to me to be a disgraceful instance of the misuse of a monopoly, for they are using their power and the knowledge of the danger for the purpose of extorting from the inhabitants a contribution towards the building of a bridge which in ordinary consideration for the protection of life the company ought to have constructed long ago themselves. I do not wish to detain the House beyond establishing the importance of the subject I am raising. I may say that I speak on behalf of the great body of railway servants in the country, and the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out when I say that it is not quite my fault that I had not a previous opportunity of bringing this subject before the House. There are many matters I might touch on as showing the necessity for extending the powers of the Board of Trade. There is the question of couplings. The Return which the right hon. Gentleman promised last year cannot be completed from the fact that nearly half the wagons used on railways are the property of private owners, and are not registered or under the control of the Board or of the companies, and it is impossible to obtain the facts in regard to them. That in itself is a serious danger. In regard to overtime work, there we now, in Lord De La Warr's Returns, ample material to deal with that question. In the early part of this year we had a case of revolting cruelty, the death of a miserable fog man from this overtime work. I would suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman contemplates legislation on the point, he should approach it from the same point of view as the law regarding the undermanning of a ship. The Secretary to the Board of Trade very properly replied to the railway company, when they made the excuse that they had not a sufficient number of trained fogmen, it is the duty of the company to provide a sufficient number of men for the purpose. The Board of Trade might compel additions to the staff, where in the view of the Inspector such additions are necessary for safety. I owe an apology to the House for detaining it so long, but I must plead the importance of the subject to many thousand railway servants who have a right to be heard on a matter in which the safety of their lives is concerned. Many petitions have been presented to the House on the subject, and I am sure Members on both sides are anxious to give fair consideration to the claims of a body of men who give to their work a high degree of intelligence and a still higher degree of loyalty to duty, men to whose hardships and patient endurance we have again and again owed our protection from the gravest dangers. I gladly recognize the good legislative work for which the President of the Board of Trade has this Session been conspicuous, and if he can add to that work the carrying through of a Bill for the better regulation of railways, he will accomplish a work that will be the means of saving many lives, give general satisfaction, and I think I may add he will not meet with opposition from any section of the House.


I have no right to complain that the hon. Member has taken the opportunity of bringing this matter forward nor of his manner of doing so. He was prevented by an accident for which nobody is responsible from calling attention to the subject on a previous occasion. If I decline to enter into the matters he has raised it is not from any disrespect to him or want of appreciation of the importance of the subject, but simply beceuse I have very little to say in regard to it. I am not quite, I think, in agreement with the view expressed by the hon. Member as to the increase of danger to railway servants and the travelling public, and the degree to which legislation would remove it. I think that the record for 1888 will show a decided improvement in the number of accidents, and I very much doubt whether such accidents as did occur could have been obviated by anything Parliament could do as the hon Member anticipates. A very strong force of public opinion is now brought to bear upon railway authorities through the agency of this House, the Press, and the Board of Trade, and it is to that public opinion that I rather trust for the removal of evils. With regard to overtime. I am inclined to think that remedial legislation is not possible, and that publicity alone can effect the cure of any evils that exist. With reference to other matters, however, I admit that it would be possible to alter and improve the law, and if there were any reasonable chance of a measure being adequately discussed at this period of the Session I should certainly produce one. But, having regard to what has passed this Session and to what is yet to come, I could not hold out any hope that I shall be able to deal with the subject this year. I have not overlooked it, however, and I have a measure on the stocks which I hope to make public in one way or another, either during the present Session or during the autumn, so that the principles of the Bill may receive that criticism and discussion which ought to be bestowed upon them by the railway authorities, the railway servants and the public. In this way I hope to put the question in a shape in which it will be ripe for legislation next year.

* MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)

Before the question is put I desire again to ask the Government even now at this late hour, to reconsider their position in regard to the Commission on the Welsh Sunday Closing Act, which position has given rise to the greatest dissatisfaction throughout the Principality. Let it be clearly understood that neither I or the Welsh people desire to make any complaint as to the personal qualifications of any of the distinguished gentlemen who have been appointed to the Commission. But it is of the utmost importance not only that the Commission should act impartially in this matter, but that they should have the confidence of the people. It is with great regret that the Welsh people find that no one conversant with the Welsh language has been appointed on the Commission. It is true the Secretary speaks Welsh, but that is only an admission that a knowledge of the language is desirable, and there is an earnest desire that there should be a knowledge of the language upon the Commission itself. Another grievance is that, although Nonconformists predominate so largely in Wales, not a single Nonconformist is to be found among the Commissioners. Among the Commissioners is a gentleman of high position and character in the person of Lord Emlyn, but at the same time it must be remembered that when he sat in this House he was one of the two Welsh Members who voted against the Welsh Sunday Closing Bill and I think he expressed his opinion by speech against the measure. Lord Emlyn not re-elected; his views are not in was harmony with the Nonconformists, who form the great majority of his former constituents, and we know how continued opposition hardens and crystalizes opposing sentiments. There is great doubt whether Lord Emlyn is a Commissioner in whom the Welsh people have confidence for the impartial consideration of this matter. I need not go through the list of Commissioners, but I may say that I do not know that they possess special qualifications unless ignorance of the Welsh language is a qualification. With one of them, Mr. Horatio Lloyd, I have the honour of personal acquaintance, and for him personally I have the greatest respect. His selection as a Commissioner is, however, unfortunate on another ground, for he has indulged in sweeping assertions as to what he believes to be a vicious characteristic of the Welsh people. I again urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary the desirability of adding to the Commission two gentlemen possessing the qualifications I have referred to. It is matter of deep regret that we have not the services of Lord Herschell on the Commission. It was after consultation between Members of both sides representing Welsh constituencies, that the unanimous desire was evinced that Lord Herschell should be asked to serve as Chairman, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that when a Member from either side waited upon him in relation to the matter, it was merely to urge this modest request, and certainly with no intention of infringing, as he seems to suppose, the high prerogative of his office. Perhaps I may take this opportunity of asking if Lord Herschell had accepted the Chairmanship of the Vaccination Commission at the time when the deputation waited upon the right hon. Gentleman? If he had not then, I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman should ignore the suggestion pressed upon him by the united Welsh representatives.

* MR. T. ELLIS (Merionethshire)

I wish to endorse the complaint of my hon. Friend. The circumstances attending the appointment of this Commission made it specially necessary to take care to constitute a Commission acceptable to the general body of the Welsh people. The Act was attacked in a series of anonymous articles in a Tory paper in Cardiff. Wales and its representatives cared little for the attacks of a paper which habitually attacks Welsh institutions. The request for a Royal Commission came not from Wales, but from the Tory Member for a Lancashire Borough who owns the paper which made the attacks on the Welsh Sunday Closing Act. This request was forth with granted. The requests of Welsh Members to the Government are, as a rule, refused, while the request of a Tory Member on a subject relating to Wales is granted immediately, although he has no connection with Wales except such as he derives from the ownership of a Tory newspaper published in the Principality. In appointing a Commission that the Welsh people did not ask for or want, it was incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman to appoint one that was, at any rate fair and reasonable, and which would command the assent, respect, and confidence of the Principality. But what did he do? He appointed one Gentleman connected as a landlord with Wales—not a Welshman himself, but once a representative of a Welsh constituency in this House. This Gentleman was the only Welsh Member who opposed the Sunday Closing Act; and his own county, part of which he owns, marked its sense of his conduct by rejecting his candidature on the earliest possible opportunity. Who are the other four Commissioners? One of them is an old Member of this House, who was defeated by the hon. Gentleman who asked for this Commission, and to whom the Government so willingly granted the inquiry. This Gentleman was, I suppose, put on the Commission as a sort of consolation for defeat. He is the only Member of the Commission known to have any sympathy with the political and religious views of the vast majority of the Welsh people. The other three Members of the Commission, though the Home Secretary says they have not publicly expressed their views on the Sunday Closing question, are known in Wales as strong and in some cases bitter opponents of the views of the majority of the Welsh people. One of them is a County Court Judge figuring largely in Unionist circles at Chester, and another is a Chairman of Quarter Sessions in a neighbouring Tory county. If the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had gone into the highways and wherever he could in England and Scotland, he could not have found four public men more objectionable to the Welsh people than four of the persons he has appointed. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman could very easily have found County Court Judges in Wales who would command the respect of the Welsh people of all shades of political and religious opinion. Would the right hon. Gentleman like the question of the Union between England and Ireland, or the question of the existence of the House of Lords, to be entrusted to a Commission composed of advanced Radicals hostile to those institutions, and including Mr. Davitt and the hon. Member for Cork? In the opinion of the Welsh people this Commission is composed in much the same way. Though I do not suppose we shall make any impression on the Government on this occasion. I am glad my hon. and learned Friend has taken the opportunity of giving expression to the deep and bitter dissatisfaction felt by the Welsh people with the constitution of this Commission.

* MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)

The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made several allusions to me which were rather uncalled for. He has attributed this Commission to my interference. It is quite true that I asked a question on this subject, but I had absolutely no communication with Ministers before putting the question, and I think I shall be borne out in that by the Home Secretary when he addresses the House. The hon. Gentleman has said that a number of articles have appeared in a paper of which I am part proprietor attacking Sunday Closing in Wales. That is perfectly true, but those articles were not written from a partizan point of view, but were the reports of a Commissioner appointed to find out the facts in regard to the actual working of the Act. My sole reason for interfering was not simply that these articles had appeared in the newspaper with which I am connected, but it was based on the fact that those articles made such an impression upon disinterested men in Wales that Lord Aberdare said that they convinced him the Act ought to be repealed, and that if a Bill for that purpose were brought in he could not vote against it. A similar effect was produced upon Mr. Justice Grantham and others. I knew that the Welsh Members would never draw attention to these articles, and I therefore put the question on the Paper, which drew from the Home Secretary the announcement that this Commission would be appointed. It is perfectly true that Mr. Hibbert, who was once my opponent at Oldham, is on the Commission, but he is an honourable man—one of the stamp who, when appointed on such a Commission, forget their politics, and try to do what is fair and right. I wish that Welsh Members on the other side would occasionally act in the same spirit. It is not for me to defend the composition of the Commission, but it seems as if nothing would content the two hon. Members who have spoken but a Commission composed entirely of Welsh dissenting ministers.


The observations of the hon. Member for Merionethshire leave the matter in a very peculiar position. While the two Welsh Members have declared that the people of Wales do not care for this Commission, they have occupied the time of the House of Commons with questions as to who the Chairman of the Commission is to be. I have been blamed because Lord Herschell was not appointed Chairman of the Commission, but I am not aware that the noble Lord, for whom I have the highest respect, speaks Welsh; and he therefore failed in what hon. Members opposite consider an essential accomplishment. I take the blame upon myself for not attaching to the representations made to me with regard to Lord Herschell that grave significance which I now understand is attached to it. I should have had the greatest pleasure in appointing Lord Herschell, but the President of the Local Government Board, who was perhaps more wide awake, secured him for another Commission before I could make the application, and Lord Herschell could not sit on two Commissions at once. I spent two weeks of intense mental anguish in trying to discover five men who were not committed on this Sunday Closing Question, but unfortunately the noise of this agitation for Sunday Closing had so filled the country that I could only find three such men. The Chairman was one of those. He is a man of very great business faculties and of positive integrity. County Court Judge Horatio Lloyd is a man of impartiality, who is not committed on this question, and who has a considerable familiarity with the habits and wishes of the people of the Principality. I hardly know what amount of education is necessary, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, to enable a person to know Welsh wishes. Sir R. Harrington is a man of singular calmness and impartiality. He is one of my personal friends, and I have often admired this Gentleman's legal knowledge and acumen. With regard to the other members of the Commission, I appointed two gentlemen who had committed themselves, one on one side and the other on the other. I thought Mr. Hibbert was a most desirable person to serve on this Commission; he had voted in favour of Sunday closing and local option, and his record was therefore immaculate. The fifth member had committed himself on the other side. The only endeavour has been to appoint a fair Commission, who will secure the confidence of all who desire a full and impartial inquiry.


to speak.

* MR. W. H. SMITH (interrupting)

I would remind hon. Members that unless the Motion for the Adjournment is taken by ten minutes to seven, no adjournment will be possible.

SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

I do not wish to interfere with the adjournment, but I want to make one appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. He has said that when the House meets again he intends to take the Tuesdays. The right hon. Gentleman will only get four hours a week in that way. The Government are strong, and have got on so well with their business that I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman to be merciful and just to leave the private Members their little ewe lambs.

Question put, and agreed to