HC Deb 03 February 1891 vol 349 cc1715-27

(11.1.) The following Notice stood in the name of Sir M. Hicks Beach:— That, having regard to the fact that the employment of Railway Servants for excessive hours is a source of danger both to the men themselves and to the travelling public, a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether, and, if so, in what way, the hours worked by Railway Servants should be restricted by legislation.


I wish to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee is preceded by a preface which is in the nature of a separate Resolution, and does not come within the order of Reference. The more proper and ordinary course would be for him to move that a Select Committee be appointed. What the terms of Reference should be it will be for the House to judge.


I beg to move the Motion in that form.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether, and, if so, in what way, the hours worked by Railway Servants should be restricted by legislation."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)

(11.2.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

It appears to me that the Amendment of which I have given notice falls to the ground, in consequence of the alteration in the form of the notice of the right hon. Gentleman.


I understand the hon. Gentleman intended that the words he has placed on the Paper should come after the first word "hours." There is no reason why they should not come after the second "hours."


I have to thank you, Sir, for that suggestion. Perhaps I may be permitted to explain why I desired to move my Amendment. I regret that the preparatory part of the right hon. Gentleman's notice has disappeared, because that preparatory part contains the word "excessive," which really is the whole point of the Resolution. I think we must read the appointment of this Committee in the light of the discussion which took place on the 23rd of January. On that day the feeling on both sides of the House was such that a very unusual step was taken by the Government. The President of the Board of Trade suggested that the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) should withdraw his Resolution, and that he (Sir M. Hicks Beach) should substitute for it a very strong declaration on the part of the Government, and propose a Select Committee. I will not dwell upon the policy of appointing a Select Committee, further than to say that I by no means see its necessity. The Board of Trade, in my opinion, are in possession of ample information in the shape of Returns from the companies and Reports from their own Inspectors; and I cannot understand why they do not at once proceed to take action. However, the President of the Board of Trade proposes a Select Committee, and I am not here to oppose its appointment, but I submit that the Committee ought to be founded upon, and guided by, the very strong declarations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman in his speech on the 23rd of January. Let me recall some of the right hon. Gentleman's statements, because they are extremely important, falling as they do from the Member of the Government who represents the relations of the State to the railways. The right hon. Gentleman said— I am bound to admit that in my opinion the Reports of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade show that the safety of the officials and of the travelling public is affected by excessive overtime worked. In the years 1889 and 1890 there were 122 inquiries into railway accidents by Inspectors of the Board of Trade. In 14 of these cases the accident was found to have been more or less due to excessive hours of work on the part of railway servants, principally of drivers and firemen, and 24 separate instances of overtime were given in these cases. And then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say— But the question is whether these Returns do or do not prove excessive overtime, extending far beyond any necessity of this kind, and I am bound to say that in my judgment they do; and more, that they show that there is more overtime on some lines than can be required by any difference between the circumstances of their traffic and the circumstances of other lines with less overtime. The right hon. Gentleman, from his gestures and voice, still stands to his declarations, and, therefore, we have it that, in moving for this Committee, he believes that a case has been made out of excessive overtime. My object in proposing this Amendment is to prevent what sometimes happens on Select Committees, namely, that when a Committee sits upstairs those interested who do not take the view that a case has been made out at once proceed to call evidence at more or less wearisome length, and claim that the case has still to be proved. The other night the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works came down to the House with a pile of papers, and argued that there was no excessive overtime. That kind of thing should not be permitted on this Committee; but the Committee should act on the assumption that excessive overtime has been proved, and proceed at once to apply a remedy. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, after the word "hours," to insert the words— As disclosed in the Returns from the Railway Companies, and the Reports from Inspectors of the Board of Trade."—(Mr. John Ellis.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I think hon. Members will admit that in this matter I have been fair and straight-forward, and have endeavoured to carry out to the letter the promise I made to the House. You, Sir, have ruled that the first sentence in my Resolution is out of order. Of course, I do not for a moment question your ruling. I adhere absolutely to the words which the hon. Member has quoted from my speech on the Resolution of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, and I can assure the House that I will be no party, if it should be my lot, as I suppose it will, to serve on this Committee, to an attempt to delay the proceedings by an inquiry into matters which I consider to have been proved. I hope that with that statement the hon. Member will be content, because I would point out to him that owing to the alteration of the Resolution the insertion of the words he has moved would rather weaken the powers of the Committee than otherwise. It would not at all carry out what he intended when he gave his notice. I entirely abide by the words I used the other evening, as to the excessive hours worked by railway servants.

(11.14.) MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)

As the Motion out of which the proposition for the appointment of a Select Committee springs was in my name, I may be permitted to make one or two remarks upon the present position of the question. I cordially accept what the right hon. Gentleman has just said as to the manner in which, he approaches this Committee, but I must say I think we require a little more. I believe that those interested in this question will only be satisfied if they hear from the right hon. Gentleman a distinct indication that if the Committee reports, as I hope it may do, and without any undue delay, in favour of some legislation in the matter, the right hon. Gentleman will take the necessary steps to carry such legislation in the course of the present Session. I do not know whether we are to understand the President of the Board of Trade as assenting to that proposition; but if there is no assurance we shall continue, in spite of the goodwill expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, to regard the appointment of a Select Committee at all with a certain amount of suspicion. I must say I regret there has been any necessity in the view of Her Majesty's Government for the appointment of a Select Committee. I should very much prefer to see legislation entered upon at once. We have it acknowledged in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, we see the evidence in the Returns placed before the House, that these men have been grossly overworked; we have this further acknowledged in the repeated representations and recommendations of Board of Trade officials, who have urged the desirability of a reduction of the hours of duty for railway servants. I really think that, just as two years ago the continual accidents showed the necessity for the adoption of a certain brake on railways, so the Scotch strike might have brought the Board of Trade to its senses and have shown the necessity of action in regard to hours of service. I hope inquiry will be confined to really practical evidence bearing on the method of carrying out the positive pledge that something shall be done to meet these excessive hours of work and to put an end to them. There should be no undue delay in the proceedings of the Committee. Further, I must press most strongly upon the right hon. Gentleman the absolute duty which lies upon him, in case the Committee report in favour of doing something to end this state of things, which according to the Returns has continued for six years past, that he will take such steps as are possible for legislation this Session.

(11.19.) MR. SALT (Stafford)

I hope the inquiry will, at any rate, be a thorough one. I do not see any reason why it need be an inquiry of any great length; a week or two, I might say, would be sufficient time to put before the Committee the necessary and particular facts of the case. There is one point which I think has not been quite grasped. It is not the interest or desire of any well-managed Railway Company that there should be any overtime when it can be avoided. Overtime arises very much from the necessities and peculiarities of certain kinds of traffic, and that is one question which might be fairly considered by the Committee. Another remarkable part of the question is that in the great majority of cases overtime is by no means disagreeable to the men themselves. I have many friends among the men working on railways, and I know that some of them have complained that they have not been allowed to work overtime. That is a point upon which the Committee may make careful inquiry, and if in the result it is shown that the companies should be restrained from employing overtime work under some sort of penalty, it will also be necessary to establish some sort of penalty to prevent the men from engaging in overwork. I am very anxious the Committee should enter on its investigation, not on behalf of the Railway Companies, but in order that the wishes and wants of the men may be ascertained; that what is fair to the men should be ensured by legislation, and that any fear of danger to the public from lengthened hours of railway service should be removed. All that is necessary is a fair and impartial inquiry into matters extremely difficult, and in regard to circumstances having many peculiarities and varieties.

(11.22.) MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)

If my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Ellis) had decided to proceed with his Amendment I should have suggested the addition of the words "and from other sources," and I think the President of the Board of Trade will admit there are other sources, in addition to the Inspectors' Department and the official Returns, from which the Committee might derive valuable imformation and assistance. But my hon. Friend does not intend to move his Amendment. I understand he rests satisfied with the very emphatic assurance given him by the right hon. Gentleman that he intends this to be a thorough and exhaustive inquiry, and that no time shall be lost before the Committee enters upon its proceedings. It think it will be generally regretted in the House that there is no Representative of railway workmen in the House who could take his place on the Committee, where his knowledge would be of the greatest assistance; such a man as Mr. Tait or Mr. Harford, for instance. Mr. Tait is a distinguished law-abiding citizen, and, had he a place here among us, would be an ornament to the House of Commons, and would greatly assist our deliberations. This I say without fear of contradiction. Under the circumstances, we may trust the assurances of the President of the Board of Trade, and I hope he will do his utmost to secure that the railway servants will have early and ample opportunity of representing their views to the Committee.

(11.25.) MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the terms of Reference would allow the Committee to consider other, and what I may call indirect, ways of checking overtime, as well as the direct way of legislation, or passing an Act to prevent it. I know a great many railway servants strongly hold, as I incline to do myself, that the best method of checking overtime is to make each day stand by itself as a matter of work and payment, not computing each week as 60 or 72 hours' work, and reckoning the overplus as overtime. Let each day stand by itself, and the time over 10 or 12 hours be paid for as overtime at the rate, say, of time and a half, not setting the hours, long or short, against each other over the week. I am not going to argue the question whether this is the best way of treating overtime, but I should like to know whether it will be possible to deal with a suggestion of that kind?




That satisfies me entirely. I thought it would be so, but was not clear on the point. I am extremely glad the Committee is to be appointed, and was quite prepared to adopt the proposal when it was made during the Debate the other night. As the right hon. Gentleman has not made, up his mind as to the best form of legislation on the subject, it is desirable we should have a Committee to take evidence from railway servants and experts, and I believe the inquiry will result in valuable recommendations. I think it is reasonable to ask that there should be legislation this Session on the lines of the Report of the Committee; for if the Committee should disagree, or should the Government disregard the findings of the Committee, I fear we shall be little better off, for we have no chance of dealing with the subject this year without the assistance of the Government. However, I cordially welcome the prospect of an inquiry.

(11.28.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)

I cannot join altogether in the satisfaction expressed at the proposal to appoint a Committee, but I rather join in the protest against the appointment of a Committee at all. The case for some restriction of the excessive hours of overtime was clearly made out in the Debate last week; it was supported by evidence in the hands of the Board of Trade, and I cannot see what useful purpose a Committee is to serve. The result, judging from some of the speeches we have heard from the other side of the House, will be that the Committee will present a divided Report. Some hon. Members who spoke during the Debate certainly gave no indication of supporting a proposal under which there would be Government intervention in the question of railway hours of labour, while other hon. Gentlemen on this side are pledged in favour of interference, so the result may be expected of a divided Report, and that may be regarded as a means of shelving the question. The experience we have had in Scotland lately shows that whatever may be the experience of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Salt) in regard to the sentiments of railway men as to overtime, those views are not shared by the railway men in Scotland. A case is clearly made out for Government intervention, and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) has expressed himself in favour of such intervention. In his speech at Kilmarnock he warned the Railway Associations that the number of railway accidents due to overwork might necessitate the framing of regulations by the Board of Trade to ensure the safety of the travelling public. I protest against referring this subject to a Committee—a proceeding which will probably end in shelving the question for another Session.

(11.30.) SIR CHARLES DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)

It is unfortunate that hon. Members should attempt to disparage the work of the Committee before that Committee is appointed. All along, with few exceptions, an endeavour has been made on the other side of the House to throw doubt on our sincerity on this side in this matter, and to make out that they alone have the interests of the men at heart. In truth, the charge of insincerity has no foundation whatever, and if anything were wanted to show how baseless is the suggestion, it would be the line adopted by the President of the Board of Trade himself in Scotland last autumn, and long before the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton was heard of, when the right hon. Gentleman, in the most impressive and solemn manner, warned Railway Companies of the responsibility they were incurring in this matter, and that if steps were not taken to remedy the evils it might be necessary to proceed to legislation. That ought to be a sufficient answer to the suggestions of insincerity. I quite understand the position of the hon. Member (Mr. Channing), who brought forward his Motion on January 23, and it is quite natural he should wish to press his efforts to a conclusion; but it is unfortunate that since January 23 he should have written to Scotland pointing out the value of his suggestion as compared with the very small value of the Government proposition. It is very well for the hon. Member for Leith to say that the Board of Trade is fully possessed of knowledge on these matters, but that is a matter for the Board itself to decide. Surely the Department ought itself to be allowed to judge whether or not it has sufficient information, and whether or not the appointment of a Committee is the best means of acquiring further knowledge on the subject. The President of the Board of Trade certainly cannot be charged with indifference in this matter. I believe not only that good will come of the proposed inquiry, but that it is quite possible the result will be legislation during the present Session.

(11.34.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

Probably we on this side of the House are more interested in the masses of the people than hon. Gentlemen opposite, and therefore more anxious to see this matter settled. But I make no charges of indifference or insincerity, and least of all do I make such a charge against the President of the Board of Trade. I quite agree that it would be better for Parliament to proceed at once to find a remedy, especially as the right hon. Gentleman admits there is a grievance; but the inquiry is for the purpose of finding out the remedy, not for deciding if there is a grievance, and I accept the proposal for a Committee as the best thing we can get, and probably it will result in something being done another year. I have a proposal in the nature of a Motion, which I presume will not he affected by the appointment of a Committee, but I am satisfied that we could, if the Government chose, at once proceed to consider what by legislation ought to be done to settle these disputes before they come to strikes and damage to the interests of the entire community. As I am a Representative of a constituency in which there are a large number of railway men, I may express a hope that the men will have the fullest opportunity of being heard before the Committee. If the grievance of the men is not fully presented, it will be impossible to find a remedy that will satisfy them, and I particularly urge this point.

(11.36.) MR.J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I do not think that in a discussion of the terms of Reference for this Committee, charges of insincerity should be exchanged. It is our duty to define as clearly as we can the position the Committee is to take up. But I particularly wish to refer to a point alluded to by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt). He said he found a great number of men were in favour of overtime, and that may well be. But the reason is, that the ordinary wages are so low that men find it necessary to work long hours to augment their ordinary remuneration. I am confident that if the Committee does not inquire specially into this question of overtime, its labours will be worthless so far as railway men are concerned. Before all things, when we come to the question of hours of labour, the question of overtime must be considered, and unless some strong impediment is put in the way of overtime you will not reduce the hours of labour, and the Committee will not attain the object for which it is appointed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not rely on any other methods of checking overtime, but will take into consideration the best means of suppressing it. We have had an illustration as to what can be done by the result achieved on a railway line south of the Thames. At a meeting of the shareholders last week the Chairman showed how the Directors had voluntarily, in the interest of their men, brought about the result we desire to attain by this Committee. If other Directors would act in the same spirit there would be no need for a Committee, but this instance demonstrates the possibility of doing that we desire to see carried out.

(11.40.) MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

In my view the scope of the Reference is too limited, and it seems to me we might have made this an opportunity for obtaining information as to the relations between employers and employed in all cases where the two interests work together for the public in a direct fashion. We have had in times gone by troubles between employers and employed in the matter of gas supply, and we may look forward to possible troubles in relation to Electric Light Companies; we have also had disputes between Tramway Companies and their servants. Disputes in these various departments of labour concern the whole community, and the real justification for this Committee is the public safety, and it might well be that in the mind of Parliament the public convenience is an equally good justification. Therefore, I regret that this opportunity should be lost for obtaining a sound and well-considered opinion from the House on this matter, and I trust that before long the wisdom of Parliament may be turned in this direction.

(11.41.) MR. J. E. ELLIS

Having regard to the satisfactory assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman, I do not propose to trouble the House with a Division.

(11.41.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I did not take any part in the discussion on January 23, but I take this opportunity of pointing out what appears to me to be the essence of the objection taken on this side of the House to the terms of the Motion. It appears to me the Motion is a little illogical, because it commences with reciting the fact that the employment of railway servants for excessive hours is a source of danger both to the men themselves and to the travelling public, and that, indeed, has been established by the Returns presented to the House, and, therefore, it may be taken as indubitable that such excessive hours are a source of danger; but then the Motion goes on to propose that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether the hours should be restricted by legislation.


Order, order! I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Preface to the Motion has been struck out.


I apologise for my error, Sir. I was not present during the earlier part of the discussion. Another point I wish to mention has reference to what has been urged by my hon. Friend—that a proper amount of evidence shall be taken from the men themselves. I make no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that this is done, but may I ask, in addition, that he will guarantee that the men who give evidence, possibly against their own Directors, shall be protected from the consequences of their action? It is exceedingly difficult to get men whose livelihood depends] on the will of their employers to give evidence that may tell against the action of their employers, without being satisfied that they will not suffer in consequence. We know the insidious methods sometimes used by employers to get rid of men who have had the boldness to stand up for their rights, and I hope this matter will not be overlooked. In my opinion, a strong case has been made out for immediate action, and it is a pity that time should be wasted on an inquiry by Committee, and I hope that legislative action on the Report of the Committee may not be thrown over for another year.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether, and, if so, in what way, the hours worked by Railway Servants should be restricted by legislation.