§ (4.5) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
When I put upon the Paper the Resolution I am about to move, I was not prepared for the wonderful object lesson which has since been afforded by the great railway strike in Scotland, and which gives a forcible illustration of the necessity of asking the House of Commons to assent to a proposition something like that which I lay before it to-day. The motive for putting the Motion upon the Paper was contained in the words of one of the Board of Trades' Inspectors last autumn. At that time Major Marindin, one of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade, reporting upon a fatal accident on the South Western Railway, in which a driver and a fireman had failed to observe a signal, had said—It is not difficult to account for the conduct of these men, who, I feel convinced, must have been asleep, or nearly so, upon the engine, for they had at the time been on duty for nearly 16½ hours. It hardly needed this accident to show the enormous risk which attaches to the employment of drivers for these inordinately long hours, for it has often been pointed out in previous similar cases, and apart from this, it should be patent to all that there is a limit to human endurance, and that a driver cannot be considered to be in a fit and proper state to perform his very responsible duties after working for such a length of time.At that time also we were expecting the Returns of overtime work during the months of September, 1889, and March, 1890; and that Return has since been issued. Whilst my action 905 was entirely independent of the struggle between the employers of labour and those they employ north of the Tweed, still that struggle affords a remarkable illustration of the real position of the workers on the railways, particularly as it affects the safety of the traveling public. The struggle illustrates the nature of the services that railway men render to the community, the impotence of Trade Unions to effect a prompt and satisfactory settlement, and the duty of the State to see that railways are worked reasonably in order to obviate serious danger and enormous inconvenience to the public. The House has a right to know the facts, and to deal with these questions as well as the general question which I propose to bring before it. I may say, at the outset, that so far as my immediate object is concerned, I desire it to be understood that I am not advocating a statutory limitation of the hours of railway workmen. I wish rather to obtain, indirectly, the relief of railway workmen from those excessive hours which Directors feel are unjust, by a reasonable extension of the powers of the Board of Trade to enable them to make the conditions of railway work compatible with the interests of the public and of the men themselves. The figures in the Return for the months of September, 1889, and March, 1890, prove that excessive hours of labour are not an abnormal incident, but that they are part of a system; in fact, that the railway lines are undermanned, and this involves the constant recurrence to overtime work which produces the astounding figures we have in the Return. Now, it must be noted that the Returns are not for anything like the period the men demand. Railway men have asked, again and again, for a ten hours day for drivers, and for an eight hours day for signalmen; but this is a Return of overtime worked beyond 12 hours a day; and if 10 hours had been taken as a normal day the figures would have been still more astounding. Taking the 12 chief English and Welsh lines, find the Caledonian and North British lines, the total number of men employed is 55,278. Of these 33,179 worked over 12 hours in September, 1889. This is a proportion of three to five. Of drivers and firemen, 22,592 worked over 12 906 hours; the number of instances in which they did so was 219,791; and this is at the rate of about 10 per man, or once in every three days. The number of instances in which men worked 15 hours and over was 69,825, or more than three per man. The number of instances in which the men worked 18 hours and over was 7,341, or one in every three. The case of goods guards is nearly as bad, and, indeed, on some lines it is worse. There is another column in the Return which deals with the case of men who, after having worked for over 12 hours, have been called on to return to work without having had an interval of at least eight hours' rest. The cases in which the men have been called upon to return to work without an interval of eight hours were 4,366 in England, and 327 in Scotland. As compared with 1887–88 these figures show a slight diminution in England, and an enormous increase on the Scotch lines, to which I have referred. The Return does not give the cases of men who returned at short intervals after working, say, 11½ hours; and in many cases in which men had worked about 12 hours they may be called upon to resume work after two or three hours' rest, and of these there is no record. On some of the minor railways the figures are still worse. The goods guards, engine drivers, and firemen, and, in some instances, signalmen also, were employed over 12 hours in both months of the Return on the Great Eastern and Midland Railways, the Wrexham, Mold, and Connah's Quay Railway, the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway, the North Staffordshire Railway, the Colne Valley Line, the Neath and Brecon, the Hull and Barnsley, the Furness Railway, the Cleator and Workington Junction Railway, and the Brecon and Merthyr Line. The minor lines in Scotland contrast favourably with those in England and Wales. The resumption of work after insufficient rest is also abnormally frequent. On the Eastern and Midland the cases were over 57 per cent., on the Rhymney 77 per cent., and on the Wrexham and Mold 76 per cent. Some of the longer railways do not come out much better. For instance, the cases on the Brighton line were 52 per cent., on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire 55 per cent., and on the South-Eastern 52 per cent. 907 For all-round overtime the Lancashire and Yorkshire Return was the most discreditable. I am glad to compliment the South-Western, which has made nearly a clean sweep of overtime, and the North - Western has made a considerable reduction in the number of cases of excessive hours over 15 and 18, and of resumption of work without sufficient rest. The Caledonian Returns compare favourably with those of two years ago, as regards long hours over 18 and 15, but I cannot say the same with regard to the North British, whose Returns are deplorable and discreditable. Their Returns show a marked increase in the number of men employed over 12, over 15, and over 18 hours. It is notorious that matters are worse now. Since the opening of the Forth Bridge there has been an enormous increase of labour and strain put upon the staff of the North British Railway Company. It is equally notorious that that company has made no effort to increase its staff so as to meet the strain adequately, and there has consequently been a large increase of overtime labour. The Return shows that in regard to engine drivers working for 18 hours and upwards, as compared with the Return for 1887–8, the increase was from 554 in September, 1887, to 927 hours in September, 1889, and from 514 in March, 1888, to 1,016 in March, 1890. This increase of overtime work on the North British goes very far to justify the present strike of the railway servants, who have been provoked to revolt against what I must call a form of white slavery. The cases of overtime among signalmen, shunters, and platelayers are not so numerous, but such cases do occur. One case has been mentioned to me of a signalman on the Great Western having been on duty 10 hours, and then going on duty at the end of that time for 10 hours more as fog signaller. Besides the hours these men have to work, many of them have to walk long distances between their homes and the places where they carry on their duties. On parts of the North-Western line they are practically 14 hours away from their homes on a 12 hours' shift. The case of shunters is also a case which deserves consideration from the right hon. Gentleman and the House. There have been 908 for years a great number of fatalities among shunters, and these are largely owing to the stupefying and exhausting effects of long hours of labour. The Report of the Royal Commission of 1877 stated that in the opinion of the Commissioners—If, in any action, civil or criminal, in which the proof of negligence on the part of a railway company is essential, the mere fact that a servant whose act or neglect was in question had been at his duty for an excessive period were itself accepted as primaâ facie evidence of such negligence, the general motives to regularity would be strengthened.As an instance of the hours worked on the North British Railway I may refer to the case of a driver who between April and December, 1890, worked in successive fortnights from 152 to 203 hours, which is from 14 to 20 hours a working day. These facts are simply appalling, and quite unjustifiable. Some of the facts proved before the Royal Commission in 1876 were quite as startling. A goods guard on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway worked 248 hours in a fortnight, and days as long as 23, 27, and even 34 hours were worked on the Great Eastern Railway Company, while a driver on the North British Railway worked 108 hours in six days, leaving only an average of six hours a day for rest. A witness was asked whether there was no limitation of time by the rules of the company. He replied that no man ought to go on duty again until he had had eight hours' rest, but he admitted that in the instance just given the rule had been broken almost every day. According to Mr. Galt, of the 16 classified causes of railway accidents, excessive hours of labour is the most easily preventable. Mr. Findlay, of the London and North Western, admitted that 10 hours a day was enough for a working day; and Sir James Allport, of the Midland, stated that the conditions of railway work constituted a tremendous strain both upon drivers and signalmen. He stated in 1876 that drivers and signalmen had often to keep in their minds the relative positions of three or four trains and signals at the same moment. If that was so in 1876, any one acquainted with railways would know how much the difficulties of working them had increased since then. I think any hunting man in the House would infinitely prefer 909 taking a young horse over the stiffest of unknown countries to taking an express engine down from Euston to Perth with only the few days' coaching which some of the "blacklegs" had had, who had been trusted to drive engines within the last few weeks. They have had to undertake most responsible duties without the slightest knowledge of the signals, and only a general knowledge of the engines they have to drive. There have been several lamentable accidents on the Scotch lines during the strike, and a great risk of many more. I think the travelling public are much indebted for their safety to the admirable skill, patience, and loyalty with which the men have carried on their duties. Attention has been repeatedly drawn to the question of excessive hours by the Inspectors of the Board of Trade. In his Report on an accident at Wortley East Junction, on the Great Northern Railway, by which 35 persons were injured on the 29th of December, Major Marindin said—The driver and fireman of the Great Northern engine had at the time of the collision been on duty 18¼ hours, which is far longer than any driver should be allowed to work either for his own sake or that of the travelling public. It is true that these hours were, owing to the fog, abnormal, but even his regular hours, 13, are too long.In the last few days a large number of these Reports have been issued, in which similar comments are made on the long hours of railway servants. General Hutchinson, reporting upon a collision near East Croydon on the Brighton Line, on December 10, where 18 passengers were injured, calls attention to the fact that the booked hours of four of the servants concerned in the collision (from 12 to 14¼) are objectionably long, and are liable to be constantly exceeded. Two Reports of Major Marindin show how the Companies neglect repeated recommendations. A collision occurred at Preston in July, 1889, on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and in that case he reported that the hours worked by the driver were a great deal too long, and added, "No man can keep his attention up, so as to be an efficient driver, for a period of 15 hours." In a case at York, two months later, in which 13 people were injured, the driver had been on duty for 15½ hours. Major Marindin urged that— 910In the last accident upon the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, which I investigated, I had to call attention to the excessive hours of duty of a driver, who had been on duty over 15 hours; and as such long hours are neither fair to the men, nor safe for the travelling public, it is high time they were put a stop to.You will find that many of the Reports show that the signal men or drivers have only been on duty for four or five hours when an accident occurred. That means that the men were exhausted before they commenced work by previous overwork. It is said that men are anxious to take overtime, and no doubt that is, in some cases, true. A case has occurred of a man volunteering after 12 hours' signal duty, to go on for 12 hours, more, in order to relieve a comrade whose child had died. Three or four hours later an accident occurred, and the signalman was blamed for it. What we complain of is that when recommendations have, in a great number of instances, been made by the Board of Trade, there has been no real recognition of those recommendations. On nearly all the great railways of the country it is still the practice of the companies to book men on or book men off, for a period of time which the Railway Companies know perfectly well by their experience will be exceeded by two or three or four or five or six hours. This is going on all over the country, and I venture to condemn those concerned in railway management, expressly on the ground that by booking men for hours, which they know will be exceeded, they are causing great risks to the public, and are earning their dividends by saving the wages of the few extra men who ought to be employed, if the lines were worked on a system tolerable to human nature. And the Returns for one month show that there were no less than 70,000 such instances of over 15 hours consecutive work. There is one case to which I drew attention, and which led to a correspondence between the Board of Trade and the Brighton Railway Company. Two years ago an unfortunate man was employed in fog-signalling on that Company's line. He was nearly 60 years of age, and had been long in the service of the Company. He was engaged in fog-signalling for no less than 21½ hours out of the 24. This was on the last day of 1888, in bitterly cold 911 and foggy weather He had six hours' rest, was then put on again, and two hours later was cut down by a passing train. The Board of Trade most properly drew the attention of the Company to this fatality. Mr. Sarle, in reply, said the men were willing to undertake the work, and it was difficult to obtain men of adequate knowledge for such responsible and difficult work as that of fog-signalling in crowded parts of the line near the Metropolis. The Secretary to the Board of Trade made a very proper reply to Mr. Sarle.There could be no doubt that the hours during which the man was on duty were excessive, and the Board of Trade admitted the difficulty of conducting the traffic during the prevalence of dense fogs. He pointed out, however, that such a condition of the atmosphere was now so common that it should be provided against by a permanent increase in the staff of Railway Companies rather than by exceptional overtime.He added—That an excessive desire on the part of the railway servants to increase their earnings should not be indulged in so as to become a source of danger either to themselves or to the public.''The remedy there laid down is exactly what I ask the Board of Trade to take powers to apply to night. I say it is a shame that the companies should not train more engine-drivers, firemen, fog-signalmen, and other railway servants, with the object of preventing this undue strain on their staff. I would next urge that the men have put forward their demands for shorter hours in a reasonable way. The President of the Board of Trade may remember, though he was not in Office at the time, that one of the first actions of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants 15 years ago was to lay before the Board of Trade a memorial in which they ascribed many accidents to excessive hours and insufficient staffs. They suggested that the Board of Trade should take power to direct the Companies to adopt safer modes of working their lines. This I am heartily glad to be able to thank the President of the Board of Trade for having done the year before last. These men also asked the Board of Trade to make of the Railway Commission a sort of Board of Arbitration or Conciliation for dealing with Such disputes as that which is now convulsing Scotland. I do not attach 912 exclusive importance to the wording of the Motion I have laid before the House. On the contrary, if the President of the Board of Trade would agree to set up a Board of Conciliation which might be absolutely impartial in dealing with these questions, I would not oppose that as a solution of the matter till the further question of hours became riper for solution. I wish to point out that these men have not been animated by a desire to make a sudden and malicious pounce on the increased earnings of the companies, but that for the last 20 years they have consistently urged the claim that their hours of labour should be shortened. I do not think it comes well for the Railway Companies to sneer at the men and say the only thing they have in view is to get a few shillings more pay. The men are asking what the Board of Trade have told them repeatedly they ought to have, and what Mr. Findlay, of the North Western Railway Company, told them years ago was the basis of a fair day's work. Their claims are reasonable, and ought to be considered in a reasonable spirit. The North Eastern and the Taff Vale Companies have practically assented to the claims made by the men. It is a striking fact that no one in Scotland has been put forward by the Directors to challenge the men's demands. What the Directors have said is that they will not treat with the Trades' Unions, and that the men must return to work and trust them to treat them with justice. What has occurred in Scotland is simply this: The Scottish lines, and especially the North British, have been carrying out great improvements which are likely to result in an increase of profits to the companies, and they have very largely done so by pinching and starving their staffs and undermanning their lines, thus paying for the improvements at the expense of the men. Deputations of the men have gone to the Directors, and the result has been that the leaders of the deputations have been cashiered on the first pretext. Mr. Galt, in his separate Report as a Royal Commissioner, drew attention to the case of a guard who had given evidence of long hours before the Commission, and who was in consequence turned off his line. I feel that the spirit of tyranny which animated that 913 company in 1876 is the same spirit that is animating the North British Company now, and I shall continue to hold that opinion unless they give some better evidence of being fairer and juster in their treatment of their men. The men have had recourse to their Trades' Union, and have put forward spokesmen who are in an independent position, and cannot, therefore, be interfered with by the Railway Companies. The action of the Company has even roused the indignation of the Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke), who said recently that the Scottish lines were acting contrary to common sense and the spirit of the times in not recognising the existence of Trades' Unions as representing working men. After that remark of the Solicitor General I do hope that Members on both sides may deal with this question in no Party spirit. The Railway Companies have insisted that their men should act the part of slaves, instead of rational men, who could and would discuss the conditions of labour. The position of the Trades' Unions in this struggle constitutes the strongest argument for saying that, when the shareholders have been fined to the amount of £150,000, and the trading public to an almost incalculable amount, the State should intervene and bring such a state of affairs to an end. Such a strike is a great crime. Who are the criminals? Ask yourselves what is the fundamental question on which the strike has turned. Does any one dispute that the men ought to work 10 hours or less instead of the enormous number of hours they have worked? No representative of the North British or the Caledonian Companies will, I think, stand up in this House and challenge the substantial justice of the men's demands for a reduction of hours. Then the question arises, "Can the companies afford to grant that demand?" The gross receipts for the last year on the principal lines were £75,500,000, as against about £66,000,000 in 1884, so that there has been an increase of about £9,500,000, or 15 per cent. In the first half of the year 1890 the gross increase on the main lines was £1,492,000, and in the second half it was £1,175,000. Twenty-one companies show an increase of £801,000 earned by an increase in working expenses 914 of only £356,000. Thus the extra money has gone largely to reproductive works, and hours and wages have remained the same. I should like to compare the positions of the London and North-Western and Midland lines with those of the Caledonian and North British lines on this point. I find that in 1884 the net revenue of the North-Western and Midland lines was considerably less than the working expenses, whereas on the Caledonian and North British the net revenue was slightly-greater in that year than the working expenditure. In 1890 the net revenue of the North Western and Midland lines was still considerably lower than the working expenses, though representing an increase in the profits of those lines, whilst in the case of the Caledonian and North British there was a very considerable surplus of net revenue over working expenses. The amount of wages paid per train mile is an important consideration to bear in mind. On the North Western and Midland the wages per train mile were about 3d. in 1884. In 1890 they had risen to practically 3½d. On the two Scotch lines the wages per train mile were practically 2½d., both in 1884 and 1890. This means that the latter lines—and the same observation applies to some of the English lines—are persistently undermanned. In the days of depression they have starved the staffs, and now that the time of prosperity has come they have not increased the number of their men sufficiently to meet the increase of work, and the greater complication and difficulty of the work. I say there is money enough to do justice to these men, and when it is shown, on good authority, that they ought not to work more than a certain number of hours in a day, and that they have to work, in many instances, 15 or 20 hours a day; some authority ought to be able to say that a system which wears the men out in body and soul should be put an end to. I think it is marvellous that the North British Company should not have considered that it would be wiser to make some fair concession to their men on this, question of hours before they arrived at the present condition of affairs. Is it not insensate folly, on the eve of the 20th century, to treat men as if they were children or slaves? 915 What are the two features of the times? Now at last education has gained a hold upon the working classes, and for the first time the working classes have almost universally had power placed in their hands by the Parliamentary vote. Education has, at the same time, enormously multiplied the wants and desires of the working classes, and has enormously diminished the amount of crime. That is a tremendous fact. It means that the wants and desires developed in the new generation are legitimate aspirations for higher and more refined conditions of life and labour. These facts must lead to a considerable change in the relations of capital and labour. And I say it will be the height of unwisdom in any body of employers, in any political party, and in any Ministry to turn a deaf ear to these demands. The Board of Trade is the protector of the public, and it is the protector of these men. Railways are monopolies granted by the State under strict conditions of service being rendered to the travelling public. The Board of Trade has the responsible duty of seeing that service rightly and properly carried out, and I ask them by my Motion to deal with the question from the point of view of their responsibility in regard to railway safety and to the fair and just carrying out of the State monopoly granted under the supervision, and in some sense under the control, of the Board of Trade. I do not wish to say a word to disparage the administration of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. Hicks Beach), the greater part of which I admire, but I think the right hon. Gentleman has incurred grave responsibility in not acting on the provisions of the Railway Regulations Act. It is notorious that every provision relating to the safety of the public—such as those referring to block-signalling, and so forth—has been violated again and again. The Board of Trade has on this point incurred a very serious responsibility, and a vaster responsibility would have rested on them if, during the past few weeks, some ghastly catastrophe had occurred in Scotland. They have had memorials laid before them by Scotch authorities begging them to deal with this question. The Board of Trade now had power to issue orders for the safe working of railways. [Sir M. HICKS 916 BEACH: No.] They could, at any rate issue orders as to the use of the block system, inter-locking of signals, and things of that kind, and at any time, by using the powers of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1889, they could have brought matters to a head in Scotland. I think the House is entitled to have an answer now to the issues I have raised. What I ask the Board to do is to take power, when evidence has been afforded that these excessive hours are continually being worked on railways, to issue an Order limiting the times at which men can be booked on and off. I would say, for myself, that if a suggestion as to the establishment of a Board of Conciliation were made, I should not be inclined to press the question of State interference too far; but, still, I think that when you have figures as striking as those I have laid before the House, a strong case has been made out for interference of some kind, with the object of bringing the present state of things to a conclusion. I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the excessive hours of labour imposed on railway servants by the existing arrangements of the Railway Companies of the United Kingdom constitute a grave social injustice, and are a constant source of danger both to the men themselves and to the travelling public; and that it is expedient that the Board of Trade should obtain powers by legislation to issue orders where necessary directing Railway Companies to limit the hours of work of special classes of their servants, or to make such a reasonable increase in any class of their servants, as will obviate the necessity for overtime work,"—(Mr. Channing,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (4.58.) MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)
I rise to second the Motion of my hon. Friend. I am very thankful that he has put the question forward, and I am only sorry there is not some one in the House of Commons who can speak directly on behalf of the workmen who are employed on the various railways of the country, as it will, I think, be admitted that there are plenty of gentlemen in the House who can speak on behalf of the shareholders of 917 the Railway Companies. My hon. Friend has found himself in strict harmony with a great authority on railways, and one who, while he sits in this House, is at the head of large railway undertakings. I refer to Sir E. Watkin, who has said—Railway strikes ought not to be allowed at all, but should be put down with the strong arm of the law or the stronger arm of public opinion.I might say, by way of interjection, that if those who manage the Scottish Railways had been amenable to public opinion, the strike that has been prevailing there would have been finished ere this. We all acknowledge that public opinion is on the side of the workmen. Public opinion recognises and fully admits that the demands of the workmen in Scotland are reasonable, not only as regards the hours of labour, but in the request made that negotiations should be opened with representatives of the employers, that these should meet the spokesmen acquainted with the work on railways in the various grades, and that in a mutually reasonable and manly way they should together settle the grievances that now exist. It is unnecessary for me or any hon. Member to get up and offer in any way to supplement what has been said by my hon. Friend who moved this Resolution, nor do I think it would be very easy for any hon. Gentleman to minimise my hon. Friend's statement as to the long hours of hard labour these men have to go through; but there is one reference I should like to make to a remark of my hon. Friend, in which he used an expression which we in Trades Unions understand as a technical term—the expression, "blacklegs," as describing a certain section of workmen, and I noticed that hon. Members on the other side received the expression with indications of disapproval. My hon. Friend was remarking upon the serious danger to those who travel on Scottish railways through the employment of inexperienced hands in the train service, and I infer from the signs of dissent that hon. Gentlemen do not recognise that danger. [Cries of "No, no!''] Then I apologise for my misapprehension, and hon. Gentlemen have no contention with us on the point. We are agreed on both sides; those who represent capital and those who 918 represent labour are agreed that the hours the men work are excessive and unjust. Then, if employers will not enter into negotiations with those who show proper credentials as representing the men, I say there should be some authority—some Board—to step in and say these things shall be settled in a reasonable and amicable manner; and if this were the case, there would be no need for any hon. Gentleman here to interfere in the question. I wish to make myself understood. I approve of the Resolution simply because it does not contain a proposition that legislation should fix the hours of work. If this Resolution contained a legal definition of the hours a man should work in all or any special trades, I should not stand in the position I now occupy. What I recognise in the Motion is a proposition that the Board of Trade should have power to interfere, and I assume that the Board would only exercise that power in cases where employers and employed were not agreed. There would be no occasion to interfere if companies took a course similar to that followed by the North-Eastern, which company, in consultation with their employés, came to an arrangement as to the hours of work at Christmas time. The intervention of the Board would only arise in urgent cases, and there would be no legal fixing of a number of hours. My hon. Friend remarked that the only opposition that could come would be from those who fear a reduction in their dividends. Well, it is the safety of the public and the welfare of thousands of men who work on the railways, and the opportunity of leisure and improvement, on the one side, with the claims of capitalists and demand for dividends on the other; and as in some measure representing the men, I do not hesitate to say which scale ought to kick the beam. This is certain, that railway profits come from the public, and I am quite sure that people will not object to some extra charge in order that the men who work the trains may be employed at reasonable hours and for proper pay. My hon. Friend has stated that there are 248 gentlemen in this House who are interested in railways; and if that be the case, may I offer this rough suggestion: that a man is not a machine, and that he cannot work beyond his strength, and 919 that if a capitalist tries so to work him, then the value of his services will be lessened. For capitalist and worker it is far better that the hours of labour should be reasonable; for if a capitalist strains his powers against the workman, he will lose by the work he gets. These long hours are imposed upon the workmen. There are some who object to the word "imposed," and say the men are not compelled to accept the conditions. Why is there this strike in Scotland? Because the Directors refuse to meet the demand of the men for shorter hours. We know the weapons that are drawn and used in these struggles, and ofttimes the logic of poverty and distress defeats the cause of right. In the present case the weapon upon which employers depend is the cupboard—they hope to starve the men into submission. I speak the voice of labour, and I appeal to every hon. Gentleman who will ere long have to appear on an election platform, where he will say the welfare of the working classes is a cause he has at heart, and I ask him what answer he can return to electors if he assists in imposing further burdens on the railway servants. These men on the Scotch railways are demanding no more than their right. They supply, as my hon. Friend has said, an object lesson for the debate, and all we ask is that such men shall be saved from a cruel and unjust imposition, it having been made clear that their cause is right. It has been said the men are perfectly content to work overtime for extra pay. The strike in Scotland belies that statement. The demand of the men is that a week's work should consist of 60 hours. Will any hon. Gentleman here say that a man on a locomotive with a train, peering into the darkness, anxiously watching the signals, every nerve on the stretch, all his energies taxed, is not long enough employed with a day of ten hours? I think there can be but one opinion upon that. We are trying to step in and save these men from a cruel and scandalous injustice imposed upon them. This Resolution would save us from that contortion of justice so often shown in the verdicts arrived at after fatal railway accidents. A man is kept in a signal box for 14 or 16 hours, or a driver is on duty for 17 or 18 hours; an accident occurs; evidence is taken; 920 the man is indicted, and often a verdict of manslaughter is returned against him. I speak now with all the moderation I can use; but I say it is not the man who should be indicted, but those who force him to work so many hours together upon duties that require all his energy and attention. I have nothing further to say. I take on myself, in the name of railway servants and in the name of large bodies of labourers, to speak as in a united voice. I should hail the time when a Representative of railway servants could stand here and describe to the House the actual situation; but while there is no such direct Representative here, it is incumbent upon us to speak as the advocates of the cause of labour, and thus I second the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ (5.14.) MR. HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
My hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder have put us under an obligation by the temperate and discriminating manner in which they have introduced this Motion, and for myself I may say that I could not help responding somewhat to the unsophisticated and earnest eloquence with which the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Wilson) put the case before us just now. Both hon. Gentlemen must have felt that a large portion of their case met with a sympathetic echo from this side of the House. I very much regret one expression, however, which fell from the Mover, and which was out of harmony with, the general tenour of his speech. The hon. Member used the term "blackleg" in describing a man who sells his labour in the open market and who is in a perfectly legal position. Such language may possibly be excused in the heat and turmoil of a labour contest among excited men; but it ought not to have been used in this House. It is unfair and unjust. Apart from this phrase, I am bound to say I agree with a very large portion of the hon. Member's speech. Of course, he stated the case ex parte, but there are few of us who cannot confirm more or less the facts and testimony he has given. Further, I would say that if it can be proved—and I think it can be abundantly proved—that there are grievances, very serious grievances, from which the men suffer, it is a very unfortunate thing that in the present state of general excitement, in the present 921 state of the labour market, that great employers of labour, and especially great companies, should not forestall these great agitations by meeting the men somewhat with reasonable concessions before matters reach an acute stage. I know that some of the great lines in this country long ago met their men upon these questions equitably and fairly, and that there are now no disputes in England like many of those in Scotland. A very serious responsibility rests on capitalists who allow disputes to reach a stage which makes it difficult for us to justify them. I would go farther, though I may not be altogether supported by Members on this side, and say I could never understand how it is that either single capitalists or a corporation of capitalists should refuse to meet representatives who enjoy the confidence of the men. The great body of working men have not the art or the knowledge which would enable them to put their case in a clear and satisfactory way before their employers. There is also a very considerable danger that any of the men who should take it upon themselves to represent the views of their fellows might involve themselves in personal peril. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to urge that the great employers of labour should put aside some of that prestige which has hitherto attached to them, and receive and consult with in a conciliatory manner the acknowledged envoys of the men. Having made these admissions, I am bound to say that there is one portion of my hon. Friend's speech in which I cannot agree. I am extremely jealous of all cases of interference by outsiders between the capitalist and his men. I feel we are verging upon enormous difficulties when we permit philanthropists to intervene in questions which, after all, are fiscal questions, and can only be solved in accordance with the laws of supply and demand. Labour is only a commodity bought and sold in all the markets of the world, and if you attempt to fix its price by limiting its amount, you must eventually do mischief to the employé and also to the capitalist. This used to be an old-fashioned truth of political economy, to which some of us are still attached. We have consented to legislate for the helpless, and that the Board of Trade should intervene 922 in certain cases, but that is for the protection not of the individual, but of the public. It is only on such grounds that the Board of Trade is justified in interfering. I feel that the less we whet the appetite of the Board of Trade for interfering in the disputes between workmen and masters, the more wisely we shall act. I agree with the observation quoted from the hon. Member for Hythe (Sir E. Watkin) that the one thing needed in all these cases is to let in the floodlight of public opinion upon the conditions on which the workmen are employed, and that must ultimately have its effect. When a Royal Commission sat in 1872, a number of English lines, in accordance with its Report, changed the rules for the employment of their servants, and at this moment the regulations are exceedingly rational and are most satisfactory to the men themselves. I would suggest, as an alternative to Boards of Arbitration—a proposal to which I see all kinds of objections, and which does not commend itself to my judgment—that we should converge public opinion, and bring it to bear on this subject. I would suggest to the Government—ortherwise some of us with the views we entertain will not be able to oppose the Resolution of my hon. Friend—that they would do wisely to allow some form of Committee of this House, or Royal Commission, to take evidence, not ex parte, such as the hon. Member for Northamptonshire made use of——
§ MR. HOWORTH
No doubt a portion of the statement was founded on Returns, but a large portion of it was from ex parte evidence.
§ MR. CHANNING
The whole argument of my speech was based on the Returns of the Board of Trade and the Reports of its Inspectors.
§ MR. HOWORTH
Of course, I accept the hon. Member's statement. I was under a misapprehension, for I supposed that a portion of the hon. Member's argument was based upon other than official evidence. In any circumstances, there would be brought before the Commission an amount of evidence such as must necessarily affect the opinions of the large mass of the Railway Directors in this country without endangering a position which this House would not like 923 to see endangered—namely, that trade disputes should be managed by the parties to the dispute rather than by the intervention of this House or any Department of Her Majesty's Government. My right hon. Friend would meet the wishes of many Members of the House if he could see his way to the appointment of such a Royal Commission.
§ (5.25.) MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
After the speech we have just heard I desire to say a few words. The substance of the speech of the hon. Member for Salford comes to this: that we should leave a settlement of the difficulties as much as possible to the force of public opinion, or, as he said, we should endeavour to get public opinion to converge as strongly as possible on the parties to these trade disputes, with a view to bring about better arrangements of hours and conditions of employment. Now, I think if there is any course of events which can illustrate the carrying into practice the theory of the hon. Gentleman and the policy he recommends, we find it in relation to the railway strike in Scotland. Though public opinion has been brought to bear upon the dispute in the strongest possible way, yet is there very little effect to show from it. Before dwelling upon that, let me say we have in the Motion of my hon. Friend a statement of grievances, and a remedy suggested. I will not weary the House by referring to any further facts or figures; sufficient have already been given, and we have had the case put strongly, carefully, and eloquently by the hon. Member for Durham in the interest of the men. As soon as the Motion appeared on the Paper we foresaw that the remedy suggested by my hon. Friend would be met by the argument brought forward by the hon. Member for Salford—"Why not leave this to the force of public opinion?" Now, what has been taking place in Scotland during the last four or five weeks? My hon. Friend has pointed out from the Returns how the Scottish Railway Companies, and particularly the North British among the larger companies, show among the worst as regards excessive hours of labour, and he also showed, I think, that this was not an occasional excess, but a continued and persistent imposition of excessive 924 labour upon the men. I have had some acquaintance with this question for the last seven or eight years, and I know that during this time this question of excessive hours of labour on Scottish railways, and particularly upon the North British, has been a continual grievance. Over and over again deputations have come to us from our constituents urging this matter upon our consideration. I and my friends have attended meetings on the subject, and generally our advice has been to the men, "Urge your demands upon the Directors temperately, moderately, firmly, and if they are reasonable men, you are sure to obtain some satisfaction for your demands." Well, the men continued to do this every year, yet they received very little satisfaction. Within the last four or five weeks they have taken the matter into their own hands, and have gone on strike. How have we endeavoured in Scotland to converge public opinion upon this question? Such opinion has been evoked from all kinds of sources, not merely representative of the Unions of the workmen and of Trade Councils, but of other Public Bodies throughout the country. These bodies have summoned special meetings, and have passed resolutions on the subject, and I think I am perfectly within the mark when I say that there has been an absolutely unanimous judgment with regard to the substantial nature of the grievances of these railway men. There has been no hesitation on the part of the general public upon this matter. The public have been furnished not only with Returns presented to this House, but also with statements by the men themselves. They know that the men are compelled to work at least 12, hours a day, and are paid by the fortnight of 144 hours, and that as a result there is a system of continuously working for excessive hours. Now, at Edinburgh we have had at least two large public meetings on the subject. The Town Council have memorialised the Board of Trade upon it, and the Trades Council, which represents the general body of working men, have adopted a similar course. Public meetings have likewise been held in Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Mother-well, and other places where the railway 925 population is large, and all have agreed that the grievances of the men are real and their demands moderate. What is it they ask? First, they asked that which has, I believe, always been conceded on some of the English railways—namely, a 10 hours day. But when they saw they would not probably be able to get that, they made a concession, and through the hon. Member for Haddingtonshire they asked the Directors for a 60 hours week and overtime beyond those hours. The Directors, however, told my hon. Friend that the men must return to their employment before their request could be considered. Then the matter was taken up by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and next by the representatives of a large public meeting at Glasgow, but in each case the Directors gave the stereotyped reply that the men must first return, to their work. Lastly, as showing the moderation of the men, they secured the intervention of a distinguished and popular nobleman, who is also a Railway Director—Lord Aberdeen—and the Executive of the two large representative Unions of the men passed a resolution setting forth a statement of the men's case and of their demands, and asking him to see the managers of the railway. If he (Lord Aberdeen) were satisfied that the promise of the companies to redress the grievances of the men would be substantially carried out, then the men would accept his simple assurance to that effect, and immediately return to their duties. They put the matter wholly in Lord Aberdeen's hands. Those who have followed up the different phases of this dispute know that a point was made against the railway servants because they left their work without due notice. Well, the men in the resolution they sent to Lord Aberdeen stated it was only fair he should be put in possession of the full facts, and they therefore acknowledged that a grave error was committed in leaving work without legal notice. The men having thus made another conciliatory proposal, what has been the result of putting the matter in Lord Aberdeen's hands? The resolution was conveyed to Lord Aberdeen last Monday, and the answer appears in to day's newspapers. His lordship in that reply says he is highly 926 honoured by the confidence reposed in him, and fully understands the terms submitted. He interpreted the document in a reasonable rather than in a rigid spirit, and he goes on—It is with sincere regret that I have to inform you that after negotiations and careful inquiry and consultation, I do not find myself in a position to offer—on the basis of your resolution—the advice which is therein contained.Thus attempts at mediation have failed. Every one knows that Lord Aberdeen is an eminently suitable man to be chosen to conduct such negotiations as these, and as a result of his intervention we find that the statements made over and over again by the Scotch railway managers to the public, that they are willing to redress the grievances of the men is, in his judgment, not to be relied on, and that they have no real intentions to give substantial satisfaction to the demands of the men. Thus the mere act of converging public opinion on this dispute has had no definite result. The men in urging their claims have shown conspicuous moderation—a conspicuous desire to be conciliatory. They have also given way upon points of form; they have been ready to waive their demand that the Unions should directly negotiate with the Directors; they have agreed to waive all questions of personal dignity, and they have entrusted their case to various public men. Surely if public opinion could have brought about a settlement, it would have done so, for no effort has been spared to secure that end. I therefore think that the case of my hon. Friend in favour of something like direct legislative interference—or at least intervention by a Government Department—is greatly strengthened by this statement of facts. I will only urge one subsidiary argument on the subject. In the course of the past few years railway legislation has been progressive in the direction my hon. Friend desires. The Bill passed two years ago imposed certain duties and restrictions on Railway Companies in the interests of public safety, and we now ask the Board of Trade to go a step further. We want it to be placed in possession of a power to step in, and, in the name and interest of the public, compel the two parties in a dispute such as is now going on in Scotland to come to some 927 amicable and reasonable arrangement. We ask this in the interests not only of the men but of trade generally, for during the past few weeks the trade of Scotland has been paralysed and the safety of the travelling public greatly endangered. We do not desire to limit the discretion of the Board of Trade as to the means by which it shall act upon the Railway Companies. We do not wish to limit its discretion as to the legislation it may see fit to introduce, but we are declaring the existence of a very great grievance for which no substantial remedy is at present provided, and we ask the Government in the interest of the public to provide such a remedy.
§ (5.45.) MR. C. T. MURDOCH (Reading)
The spirit of the Resolution is one with which I am sure many Members of this House are in accord, but still its terms are not such as can be accepted. We cannot, for instance, admit that the Railway Companies impose excessive hours of labour upon their men, for we contend that where the railway servants work overtime it is generally by reason of circumstances over which the Railway Directors have no control. If the Returns as to overtime which are furnished to the Board of Trade are analysed it will be found that in a great majority of cases in which goods drivers, firemen, and guards have worked over 12 hours has been due to the prevalence of fog or to interruption of traffic by special trains, or to other similar causes. Again, the House should not forget that the hours furnished to the Board of Trade do not represent the actual hours of which the men are at work. Take the case of a goods driver. He goes to the engine shed where his engine is, and finds the fire alight, but he is required to be at the shed at least half an hour before the actual commencement of his work, and that time is counted as part of the time he is at work. There is also half an hour at the end of the journey counted in the time of his run. Again, goods drivers, firemen, and guards always have nine hours' interval before undertaking the return journey, by the rules of the service. Frequently, however, it is found that where a driver living in the country runs a train to London, he prefers to shorten the interval and get home as quickly as possible, and thus it is that the interval is 928 shortened. Again, with regard to signalmen. You will find, from the Returns presented to the Board of Trade, that the instances in which signalmen are kept at work beyond 12 hours are comparatively rare. During the past 18 months three classes of signal boxes have been established on most of the lines. When a signalman's duty is continuous and exacting, it is in an eight hours box; when it is less exacting, it is in a 10 hours box, and in the 12 hours boxes the number of trains dealt with is very small. There are very few signal boxes in which the men do over 12 hours' consecutive duty. I think the hon. Member for Northamptonshire ignored the fact that within the last 12 months a very considerable amount has been added to the working expenses of railways in consequence of the increased wages paid to the men. Again, if he will examine the Returns, he will see that on the great lines there has been a large increase in the number of signalmen as well as of goods guards and firemen. Passenger guards do not work long hours, and it does not necessarily follow that they are at work all the time returned. There is generally an interval between the up and down journeys of the trains of which they have charge, but the interval is always counted in the hours of work. The hon. Member for Northampton seemed to think that the Railway Companies had not taken any notice of the recommendations of the Board of Trade. But let me call attention to a Report made by Colonel Rich with regard to the deplorable accident on the Great Western line at Norton Fitzwarren. That Report showed that the signalman, who was the principal cause of the accident, had only been on duty a short time before it occurred; but it was pointed out that the regulations of the company with regard to shunting had not been complied with. Sir Henry Calcraft, in forwarding the Report to the Great Western. Directors, called attention to the cause of the accident, and urged the necessity of providing refuge sidings at all stations where trains were likely to be shunted in order to allow other trains to pass. He also recommended the company to consider whether a simple signalling contrivance suggested by the Inspector could not be advantageously 929 adopted. The Great Western Company almost immediately on the receipt of that Report set aside a considerable sum for making refuge sidings on the section of the line between Bristol and Exeter. They have since also had before them many contrivances where by when a signalman has once shunted a train temporarily on the main line his attention cannot be withdrawn from the fact it is there. I would also point out, as Colonel Rich remarked in his Report, that on the Great Western Railway there is at the present moment an enormous amount being expended in securing the greater safety of passengers. And other railways in the United Kingdom are adopting a similar policy. Now, we cannot accept the Resolution moved by the Member for Northamptonshire. The terms of it are not at all in accordance with the facts; but I do say this, on behalf of the Railway Companies, that they have not the slightest objection to an inquiry into the working of the lines or into the duties imposed on the men. I think that if such an inquiry did take place it would be found that many of the figures which have been brought before this House by the hon. Member for Northampton will bear explanation, and that the case for the Railway Companies will be considerably better than he has made it. I should like to say one word with regard to the Board of Trade's recent requirements on various railway lines. In accordance with the powers granted under the Act of 1889 Railway Companies have been called upon to provide within a specified time most important alterations in their systems, including locked telegraphs, interlocking signals, continuous brakes, and a reduction in the number of mixed trains—trains partly goods and partially passenger. Seeing that the alterations could not be carried out without a considerable expenditure of time and money, a fixed period has been allowed for the work. The time has not yet expired, but the companies are rapidly pressing forward the changes, and no doubt they will be completed by the time fixed. I regret very much that hon. Members who have taken part in this discussion have not confined their attention to the principal part of the Resolution, but have imported into the debate the question of strikes. This is most unfortunate. The 930 House and the public generally have at heart the interests of railway servants, and I believe that amongst the commercial classes it is felt where unfortunately a strike does take place upon a line, it is far wiser to let the men and the Directors come to an arrangement rather than allow outsiders to interfere. Upon most of the great lines, the relations between the Boards of Directors and their servants are extremely amicable, and only a short time ago a number of Great Western drivers at a meeting passed a resolution expressing a hope that the Directors would negotiate with nobody but their own servants. I am perfectly certain of this: that unless the amicable relations now prevailing are interrupted by outsiders, they will continue, and the public will be infinitely better served. I hope the hon. Member for Northamptonshire will withdraw his Resolution. It will be a great pity if he does not, because the inquiry to which we are quite willing to consent, would have far better results than the adoption of the Resolution.
§ (6.0.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanarkshire, N.E.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has shown an anxiety that the railway strike in Scotland should be eliminated from this discussion. Not only has he deprecated any allusion to it, but he would seem desirous of persuading the House that it is altogether foreign to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing). I do not at all complain of the moderate way in which the hon. Member opposite has just presented his own views to the House, but I venture to think that, if he represented, as I have the honour to do, a district in which the strike, and according to our view, the misguided conduct of the Railway Companies has spread misery and disaster among a large industrial population, he would not regard the strike with so much calmness and indifference as he has evinced, but would be glad, as I am sure the House is, to join my hon. Friends on this side of the House in an endeavour to draw from it some light on the subject dealt with by the Motion now under discussion. I am quite sure that the House and, I may add, the country generally look with a good deal of anxiety for the answer Her Majesty's Government are about to give to the 931 demand made by this Motion for some action on the part of the Board of Trade. The case for such intervention has already been put pretty fully before the House by my hon. Friends, and therefore I do not intend to detain the House long on the subject. But I think the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down may fancy that he has partly persuaded the House of the truth of his contention that there is in reality no grievance on the part of the Railway servants, and that the complaints that have been made about the effects of long hours are founded upon no substantial fact. The Mover of the Resolution has adduced statistics from the authentic Returns which have been laid before the House, and I will only supplement the figures by giving a few illustrations of the hours that have been worked by railway employés in my own constituency, and that within the last month. I find that one man, an engine driver, worked 84 hours in six days, or an average of 14 hours per day; another worked an average of nearly 14½ hours; another averaged 13 hours and 50 minutes; another 15 hours and 35 minutes; another 14 hours and 30 minutes; another 14 hours and 10 minutes; and another 15 hours and 6 minutes, I venture to think that these simple figures will be convincing. I could give stronger ones in individual instances, as I have had cases furnished to me in which men have worked for 48 hours out of 60; but I prefer to take the more moderate instances I have given of excessive over-work as average samples, and I maintain that those hours are such as call for some expression of opinion on the part of this House, and for some consideration as to whether a remedy cannot be applied. It has been said in the course of this Debate, that that the Scotch strike is not the result of a genuine demand for shorter hours, but under that cover it is in reality a demand for more money—that the men are willing to work long hours and that all they want is increased pay, I may state that I have been acquainted with this question for many years in my own constituency, and I have no hesitation in giving a most emphatic denial to this cruel aspersion. I say it is cruel, because, when men are found to be 932 working an average of 14 or 15 hours day for a week, we do not require to look for any greedy or unworthy motive for the demand they make for the shortening of those hours. I think that the common instincts of humanity are sufficient to guide us, without looking for any avaricious motive. I will go further, and say from my own knowledge and experience of these intelligent and respectable men, who stand high in the ranks of the industrial classes, that the motive which actuates them in making this demand is the desire for further opportunities of improving their education, the desire for home life and for increased facilities for communion with their families. Well, the question is, what remedy ought to be applied? The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Howorth), in his fair and courteous speech, observed that this is not a case for the philanthropist, but that it is one for the influence of public opinion. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) has, I think, shown that every machinery which public opinion could apply has already been brought to bear on the Scotch Railway Directors. It is not to philanthropy that we apply. We appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, not as a philanthropist, but as the representative of a Public Department. We appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as the head of the Board of Trade, and we give intelligible reasons for doing so. The Railway Companies occupy a very exceptional position. They are constituted by Acts of Parliament, and are in the enjoyment of peculiar powers and privileges, which give them practically a monopoly of the traffic of the country. In return for these exclusive privileges, and in the interests of the welfare and safety of the public, we are, I hold, entitled to hold and retain in our hands certain powers of control, and it is on this ground, and on the ground of the semi-public nature of the service which is rendered, that I say my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire is entitled to ask that the Board of Trade should possess some sort of control over the hours of labour. I for one do not expect too much from the intervention of the Board of Trade; but I do 933 expect something. If the men were free to treat through their unions face to face with their employers, I do not think that any intervention on the part of the Board of Trade would be required. But the employers refuse to recognise the union on a point of punctilio, which is highly unbecoming at a moment when misery and disaster are spreading through the land. Only to-day I received a letter from a respected constituent of mine telling me how the railway strike was causing hunger and destitution in quite a different trade. It is grievous in such a state of things to contemplate the attitude of the directors in refusing to discuss terms with the men. At any rate, whether the men were right or not in making the concession, they showed a spirit of great concession and conciliation in consenting to treat with the employers on any other basis than that of the union. In the long run, I contend, these unions will be found absolutely necessary, for the men's protection, and I trust they will never be induced to give them up. If strong unions were established, the men on the one hand and the masters on the other, from the unions I feel assured that we might obtain Boards of Conciliation or Arbitration, which would render the intervention of the Board of Trade unnecessary. But as it is, not withstanding the clear voice of public opinion, the employers decline to adopt any such course. Even after the large concessions which were offered through Lord Aberdeen they decline to come to terms; and when they take take such an attitude we say it would be a good thing if the Board of Trade had power to step in and say, "We cannot tolerate these things any longer; we can no longer allow the employment of the men for these excessive hours to the danger of the public." Such a control would have the effect of making it compulsory on the Companies to treat with the men in a reasonable manner as to the hours of labour. I will not further detain the House, but I have felt impelled to say these few words, because my own constituency is so deeply affected by what is going on; and now that the matter is before them, I trust that we shall receive an answer to-night that may satisfy the reasonable expectations of the public.
§ (6.12.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET, Dublin University)
I propose to engage the attention of the House for a short time only, and I need hardly say not as claiming to speak on behalf of the Government. I desire merely to speak for myself, leaving it to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to represent the views which the Government entertain on this subject. But as I happen to be connected as a director with one of the great railways—the London and North Western Railway—incriminated by this Motion, I should like to be permitted to say how the case stands with us in regard to overtime, and I venture to think that if the House will allow em, I shall be able to present the case in a different aspect from that which has been sketched out in the Resolution and painted in the speech of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, and of those hon. Member who have supported his Motion. What I principally, complain of in this Resolution is its wide and sweeping character. This is not a Resolution directed against the action of the North British or any other Railway Company of whose action any hon. Member may disapprove; it is directed to the whole of the railway systems of the United Kingdom. It is composed of two parts, the first part insisting that—The excessive hours of labour which are imposed on railway servants by the existing arrangements of the Railway Companies of the United Kingdom constitute a grave scandal.
§ MR. PLUNKET
It is printed in the paper as I read it. The second part of the Resolution deals with the allegation that these excessive hours cause great danger to the railway servants and to the public. As to the first of these charges, I will only ask leave to deal with it very briefly. So far as it is a general accusation, it is apparently, intended to stir up discord between the Railway Companies and their servants. I hope to show that so far as the great Railway Companies of the country are concerned, they are utterly without foundation. As regards the Railway Company with which I have the honour to be connected, there has never been and 935 there is not now the smallest difference between the Company and its servants. The most cordial relations have always prevailed between them, and I can join cordially in all the praises justly bestowed on the admirable character and conduct of the men. I think the only definite charge made against the London and North-Western Railway Company by the hon. Member who introduced the Motion was the great hardships imposed on the servants of the Company, by their having to walk long distances to the signal boxes. I can inform him that that charge is a most unfortunate one, and is exceedingly uncalled for. For it happens that the London and North-Western Company have built a greater number of cottages for their employés than any other Company, for the express purpose of locating them near their work, and they are still engaged in such building That is the only specific charge, I think, which the hon. Member has made against the London and North-Western Company. But what is the first of his general charges? It is that the hours of overtime, which are imposed upon railway servants, are a grave social injustice. What is the meaning of the words "imposed upon the servants of the Companies?" The fact is this: that it is a contract entered into voluntarily and freely by the men, for a week of 60 hours, well paid, and with extra pay for any overtime which exceptional circumstances may render necessary. I say that any person who who really knows what eagerness there is amongst the workmen of this country to enter the railway service, anyone who knows the liberal terms on which those railway servants are engaged, the constant work they obtain, and the opportunities of advancement which they have, will see that it is perfectly absurd, that it is a misuse of language to speak of these terms, which are willingly accepted as part of the contract, as being "imposed" on the servants of the Company. Where, then, is this great social injustice? What are the facts with regard to overtime? I can assure the House that the only difficulty we have in the matter is not any complaint on the part of the men about overtime, even in individual cases, not even reluctance to accept overtime, 936 our only trouble is to prevent the over zealous servants of the Company indulging in occasional overtime against the regulations which we have made in the most stringent way that we can, to prevent the occurrence of overtime, except in certain exceptional cases. I am not going into the question of the present unfortunate conflict in Scotland, nor into the general question of Trades Unions. I shall, on this occasion, express no opinion upon these questions. I will merely say that I believe there is no kind of employment in the country into which Trade Unions have been introduced to such a small extent as in that of railway servants. I dare say for very good reason, because hardly in any instance has any necessity been felt for recourse to such action. But the really important part of this Resolution is the latter part, and if the insinuations are generally well founded, it is a matter not only for indignation on the part of the House but one for very grave apprehension. A great deal has been said about the Returns which have been presented to Parliament by the Railway Companies, in obedience to the Act of Parliament. It is an old saying that it is easy to twist figures in any direction to make out a case, and especially when the figures dealt with are so complicated and so numerous as they are in this voluminous Return. I shall only ask on behalf of the London and North Western Company, with which I am connected, to deal with the question of overtime, but I believe a similar, or nearly similar, case can be made out for all, or nearly all, the great railways. In fairly arguing this question it does not do to say that there are 70,000 cases of overtime. The importance of the 70,000 cases depends upon the number of men employed, and the number of hours they were engaged, as covered by this Return. I am going to quote a few figures, on which I can assure the House they may rely absolutely, to show the case of the London and North Western as to the average amount of overtime which is worked by their servants. Of course, the figures of these Returns appear very large in the aggregate, but when you take the total number of men employed, and the number of working days, the average of 937 overtime is very small, indeed, having regard to the nature of the employment. The total number of instances of overtime has been reduced to a daily average by dividing it by 26–26 days being taken as the working days of a month—and this daily average, divided between the total number of men employed, shows the daily percentage of men employed more than 12 hours a day. With reference to passenger guards on the London and North-Western Railway, the total number employed in March, 1890, is set out at 449. For that month only three of these were employed beyond the 12 hours, or a daily percentage upon the total number of men employed of .025. Perhaps the House would like to know how this calculation will compare with the Returns presented to the Board of Trade. I will compare as I go along. I have said that the percentage was .025; three years ago the figures were 3.18. That shows a considerable diminution of overtime effected by careful rules in that period. I take the case of the brakesmen for the same month. The total number is 1,373, and the number of instances of overtime is 783, or 2.19 against 8.17, three years ago. Next, engine drivers and firemen. The total is 5,652, and the number of instances of overtime is 30,457, or 20.72, as against 29.16 three years ago. As to signalmen the figures are 2,293, number of instances 180, or .3, as against 64. Examiners: Total, 636; number of instances 176, or 1.06 as against 3.46. These figures show that there is really a very small percentage of individuals who are engaged in working overtime on that railway. And to summarise my remarks, I may say that practically the only class of railway servants who are subject to irregular hours of working, or to what may seem to be excessive hours, are engine drivers, firemen, and guards. But it must be remembered that these men are in many cases not working with the trains during the whole of the time they are represented to be, that they have considerable intervals of rest, and the hours of working given include the time they are in attendance before the starting of the trains. But one must go a little further in order to realise how shadowy is the charge that is made. There is really no excessive use of over- 938 time. I have here a few statements which I shall ask the leave of the House to read from a memorandum which has, been very carefully drawn up by the officers of the North-Western Railway. They will give the House a practical insight into how this overtime is worked on the railway of which I am speaking, and they will show that the officers of that company have done everything that it is possible for them, to do in order to comply with, the policy adopted by Parliament and to reduce overtime to its minimum. I hope the House will be a little patient with me while I read some sentences from this document, because if the House is to come to a conclusion upon so serious a matter as altering its deliberately adopted policy as regards the relations of railway employers and railway workmen, it ought, at least, to understand thoroughly what is the practical working of the machine with which they propose to interfere. I think that these extracts will show that, so far at least as the London and North-Western Company is concerned, the company through its officers has done, and is doing, all that is humanly possible to minimise the risks of overtime, and, also will prove the absolute necessity of overtime in certain cases; that, is if the public require a company with but one railway to conduct both a rapid passenger traffic and a vast amount of slow goods traffic. Let me first of all take the case of signalmen—At busy stations and junctions, and stations such as Euston, Watford, Bletchley, Wolverton, &c., there are three signalmen appointed for each cabin, which results in shifts of eight hours for each man—the first man usually coming on duty at 6 a.m., the second at 2 p.m., and the third at 10 p.m. At posts of secondary importance, but on the main line, as, for example, Sudbury, Pinner, King's Langley, Atherstone, &c., there are five men for two cabins, so that by utilising the fifth man for the relief of the four others the whole five get 10 hours duty each. On branch lines and at places which, although on main lines, are merely intermediate posts, and not in themselves very busy or of great importance, the majority of the cabins are twelve-hour posts—that is, there are two men for each cabin, one coming on duty at 6 a.m., and the other at 6 p.m., the men taking day and night duty in alternate weeks. On lines which, while they are not trunk lines, cannot by reason of their importance be called branch lines (as, for instance, the Liverpool and Manchester, Rugby and Birmingham, and Liverpool and Wigan) the 939 cabins are eight, ten, or twelve hour posts, according to the varying circumstances of each case. On what is called the southern division, extending from London to Stafford (exclusive of branches), there are in all 112 signal cabins. Of these 39 are eight-hour posts, 31 are ten-hour posts, 42 are twelve-hour posts. There are practically no signal cabins on the London and North-Western Railway, where the men work more than 12 hours. It should be borne in mind that at many of the places where the men are on duty 12 hours the work is light, and comparatively few trains are passing. In addition to the regular staff of signalmen filling the regular posts of duty, who number 2,293, the company have 125 men continually employed for relief purposes in case of sickness or of men requiring special leave of absence, besides which upwards of 350 men ordinarily employed as porters or in other capacities have been trained in signalmen's duties, so as to be competent to relieve the regular men in any case of emergency which may arise.Now, I contend it would not be possible, unless you establish with a lavish hand an utterly useless staff of servants, to contrive a system which would more carefully guard against the necessity of overtime arising for signalmen in the cases I have taken. Then let us take the case of passenger guards—The hours of passenger guards are regulated by what is known as a 'roster'—that is to say, that, supposing there are 10 guards attached to a certain station, a table is drawn up which practically divides the day's work into 10 portions, each day's work for one man being numbered from 1 to 10. The men take these portions consecutively, changing once a week, so that each man will work through the 'roster' in 10 weeks, and will be No. 1 the first week, No 2 the second week, and so on. The 'roster' for the main line or through guards are so drawn up as to provide for each man working as nearly as possible 10½ hours a day, including half an hour before the departure of their trains; but in some cases, owing to the exigencies of the train service, the men have to work more than 10 hours, and as much as 12, 12½ and even 13 hours, but in such cases they get a rest day, and so only work practically only work five days in the week, or a total of from 60 to 70 hours per week. The hours of the local guards are arranged on the same principal by means of 'rosters,' but they are on the average longer than those of the through guards, and vary from 12 to 13½ hours, including certain intervals between the arrival of one train and the departure of another, which they are at liberty to utilise for meals and for Testing. These intervals are often very considerable, and in a great number of cases, although 12½ or 13 hours may elapse between a man leaving home in the morning and returning at night, he has intervals of rest during the day amounting in the aggregate to three or four hours, and his actual time of working is thus reduced to about 7½ or 8 hours.I know this is rather a dull statement, but really these are circumstances on 940 which we must base our judgment on this practical and most important question. I think the figures I have read to the House must have satisfied all hon. Gentlemen present that every possible precaution has been taken, to equalise the work of the men and to impose as little excessive work on each man as possible. Here is the way that overtime comes in, especially in the case of brakesmen and engine-drivers—For about seven or eight months in the year the goods trains run fairly well to time-table time, and it is an exceptional circumstance for them to be as much as an hour late, but no doubt during the worst months of the winter—say, from November to March—late running is frequent and unavoidable, and it is in view of this fact that the greatest difficulty in regulating, the hours of the brakesmen arises. The men are instructed in every case where they find they are likely to be on duty by reason of the delay of their trains an unduly long time, to report the fact to the station-master at the next station they stop at, in order that the latter may telegraph forward to the nearest place on the journey at which a substitute can be provided, and the man be relieved. No doubt, in spite of all precautions, cases do sometimes arise, and in the nature of things will always do so, in which the hours of the men are unduly prolonged; but the company use every means in their power to minimise these cases, and the men are exhorted to co-operate with those in authority over them in effecting this object. Brakesmen are not allowed any regular meal hours, as they have ample facilities for getting their meals while on the journey, and stoves are provided in the brake-vans to enable them to cook or warm their food. At the principal centre comfortable lodging-houses are provided for the men free of charge, so that they need lose no time in obtaining refreshment and repose at the end of the journey.Not only are they exhorted to co-operate with those in authority, but if they break through the rule thus laid down, and do indulge in excessive overtime, they are punished, and unless they are able to give a satisfactory account of the delay, the men are actually fined by the company. Now this is almost the last quotation I desire to make, but as it refers to engine-men I am sure the House would like to know how and under what circumstances their employment is regulated—The hours of duty of engine-drivers are fixed by a 'roster' and on the 'link' system in the same way as the hours of the guards and brakesmen. The principle upon which the 'rosters' for the passenger service are made up is that of restricting the hours of each man to a maximum duty of 12 hours per day, in addition to which he must be on duty with his engine an hour before the train starts and half-an-hour after finishing. This makes 941 a maximum of 13½ hours for a day's work; but in cases where the maximum is reached a rest day is allowed, so as to restrict the total hours for the week to not more than 60. It must be borne in mind, moreover, that the men are not in all cases actually working during the whole of the time that elapses between their leaving home and returning, as it frequently occurs that there are considerable intervals of rest between the arrival of one train and the departure of another. In the case of goods drivers the time fixed by the 'rosters' is restricted to 10 hours time-table time, which, with the addition of one hour before starting and half-an-hour after finishing, makes up a maximum day of 11½ hours, but, as in the case of the passenger drivers, the total hours for the week are restricted to 60. The object of keeping the maximum lower in the case of the goods men than in that of the passenger men is that goods trains are more subject to delay than passenger trains, and therefore the time fixed is more liable to be exceeded. The limits of 13½ hours for passenger drivers and 11½ hours for goods 'rivers are treated as maximums, and the drosters' are compiled so as to restrict the working day as far as practicable to 10 hours. It is to the company's interest to do so, as all overtime made after 10 hours have been worked is paid for at the rate of time and a quarter.Then the Memorandum goes on—Of course the great difficulty in dealing with engine men's hours of duty, especially of goods drivers, is the same which arises in the case of the brakesmen—namely, that whatever arrangements may be made beforehand, they are liable to be upset by delays to the trains arising from bad weather, fogs, engine failures, breakdown, or other unforeseen circumstances. To meet this contingency the most careful arrangements are made for providing relief men to take the places of those who may have been detained on duty for a number of hours reaching to or exceeding the maximum of 13 hours, and the men, like the brakesmen, are instructed in such cases to put themselves in communication with the station-masters and co-operate in the arrangements for their own relief.I have a similar Memorandum with regard to shunters, but as the most important part of this case turns on the employment of brakesmen of goods trains and engine drivers, I will not trespass further on the patience of the House with regard to the shunters. There is no doubt that in the Return which has been presented to Parliament some very striking figures occur even in the column relating to the London and North-Western Railway Company. But the percentage set opposite to those figures in the Return—one in a thousand—proved how entirely exceptional they are. There do appear some instances in which men have worked hours which would really have 942 been a most unconscionable strain upon the endurance of the men, and which would render them quite unfit for work if it was a thing that happened frequently. Certainly it would be a scandalous thing if such instances were allowed to occur where they could possibly be avoided. But the contention all through this Debate has been that the railway companies force their men to this extreme strain upon their strength. The very opposite is the case. Not only do justice and humanity dictate to the company that they should abstain from doing so, but their direct pecuniary interest also. Every instance of overtime is an additional burden on the Railway Company. The truth is that the isolated instances to which I have referred, in which men are worked for very long hours are caused by circumstances which it is perfectly impossible to foresee or to control. Take, for example, a case where a railway engine runs off the line at a certain distance from any station. The engine driver must stick by his engine: it may be for many hours beyond the time contemplated in the duty entrusted to him. But every hour, every minute, of that time will be set down as overtime, and will appear in the Return as part of the overtime, worked on the London and North Western Railway. I should like to give the House one or two instances of how this overtime is really worked out. Here is one:—On the 6th of October a brakesman, of Manchester, was in charge of a train from Rochdale to Accrington, and was on duty—it seems a very long time—15 hours and 15 minutes in consequence of a delay which occurred to his train through the line being blocked by an engine which left the rails. The lines over which the train ran belongs to the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and there was, therefore, no possible chance of the man obtaining relief until he got back to Manchester. In another case a driver and fireman from Crewe were on duty owing to an error of judgment for 21 hours and 40 minutes. On the matter being reported and investigated the driver was fined. How is it possible for any Railway Company to make provision against a case of that kind. But down goes this case in the Return as a case of a man working for 21 hours, and 943 we are told that the company has committed an act of great social injustice to its servants, and that it has apparently most guiltily caused danger to its servants and the public. The real truth is that cases of overtime are not normal, they are exceptional and they are deplored by the companies when they occur. I think I have shown that the companies have taken every possible precaution to prevent their occurrence. They have even gone so far as to punish their servants when they break through the regulations and work overtime, and I say that under these circumstances it is absurd and most unjust to the great Railway Companies of the Kingdom to charge upon them such cases as I have spoken of, as either unjust to the men or guiltily dangerous to the public. I shall not comment upon the proposal which is made at the end of the resolution. I do not very clearly understand the hon. Member to adhere to his original proposition.
§ MR. CHANNING
I Said I adhered to the proposal, but added that I thought it would meet my view and that of other Members, if something in the form of arbitration was arranged, something similar to what the railway servants asked for 15 years ago, namely, the reference of disputes to some body like the Railway Commission.
§ MR. PLUNKET
Well then, is it not a very strange thing to come to this House with such charges as are levelled against the Railway Companies in this Resolution and conclude in such a vague way as the hon. Member has done? If this Resolution is carried, we shall place on the records of this House most calumnious statements as regards the management of the great railways of this country in their dealings with their men, and we shall create a feeling against the companies as regards their measures of protection, for the public. I do not think the House ought to be called upon in this off-hand way, and upon such slight evidence as has been adduced, to reverse the policy long ago deliberately adopted by Parliament of not interfering beyond what is absolutely necessary between employers and their servants, but of leaving the responsibility and the risk to rest with those who are invested with the power.
§ (6.53). MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
I, in company with others, have listened with a great amount of pleasure to the extremely interesting Paper which the right hon. Gentleman has read to us on, the subject of the working of the London and North Western Railway Company. The right hon. Gentleman has given us his reasons for selecting this Company for the eulogium he passed upon it. He has told us he is nearly connected with the interests of the Company, and therefore, no doubt, the House in accordance with its usual custom listened with great interest to the observations of the right hon. Gentlemen as to the position of the venture with which he is so nearly and closely connected. But when we remember that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Channing), in introducing his Motion, alluded to the case of the London and North Western as one which in the main was an example to be followed by other Railway Companies, it does appear to me that the right hon. Gentleman has been engaged in a work of supererogation in defending a Company with which he is so intimately connected.
§ MR. PLUNKET
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the hon. Member who introduced this Resolution said that all the companies, in England and Scotland were equally bad. [Cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. CHANNING
What I said about the London and North Western Railway Company was that it had made very important reductions in the overtime work, for 15 or 18 hours and upwards.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD
I think I am right in saying that so far from wishing to point the finger of scorn at the London, and North Western, my hon. Friend called attention to it for the purpose of showing that the Company has lately been behaving a great deal better than formerly. And what is the kind of case the right hon. Gentleman establishes by the voluminous figures he has given us? It is how well a company can be made if it only tries. What we complain of is that often. Railway Companies have not followed the example of the London and North Western in the matter of the time during which their employés are engaged in the work of the company, and 945 also in the question of overtime. The right hon. Gentleman has figures which are not at the disposal of the rest of the Members of the House, and for some time, I at any rate, did not appreciate the source from which he drew the figures. The figures with which we have to deal are contained in the latest return, which is dated 1890. The right hon. Gentleman has said there may be instances of overtime, but that they only occur in the cases of engines going off the line, or of some unforeseen circumstance or error of judgment. What was the state of things in 1890? 91.45 per cent. of the engine drivers and firemen were employed for 12 hours and upwards. There were 19,098 cases in which men worked 13 hours. Did 19,098 engines go off the line? Were there 19,000 errors of judgment? If the right hon. Gentleman would take the trouble to compare the position of his company in 1890 with its position at present, I do not think he would use such hard words as he did of my hon. Friend. What stronger argument could my hon. Friend adduce on behalf of this Motion than the condition of things which has been deposed to by the authority to which we have just listened? Had there been on the Scotch railway lines a condition of things similar to that which exists on the great and prosperous line, the London and North Western, the present terrible strike with all its terrible accompaniments would never have taken place. To what conclusion then are we driven? That there are instances in which other Railway Companies refuse to follow the good example we have heard of to-night. All my hon. Friend asks is that in such cases there should be power given to the Board of Trade to intervene. For my part I trust the House is not going to let the matter be shuffled off on a Commission, and I hope my hon. Friend will pursue the matter to a Division.
§ (7 2.) MR A. E. GATHORNE-HARDY (Sussex, East Grinstead)
I do not wish to intervene for more than a few minutes. I had not intended to speak at all, and I do so now only because I think I can show that the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Lockwood) is under a grave misapprehension with regard to the speech 946 just delivered. He seems to think that the right hon. Gentleman on the Bench below (Mr. Plunket) gave figures different from those he himself has taken from the Return. As a matter of fact, the figures given by the right, hon. Gentleman were nothing more nor less than an analysis of the official figures giving a daily instead of a monthly average. If you declare that there are 91.45 men employed for more than 12 hours a day, and then say, "Look how many engines that means running off the lines, and how many errors of judgment," and so forth, no doubt it sounds plausible; but when you take the figures and analyse them, and find that in the case of each individual they mean the small percentage that the right hon. Gentleman specified, it raises a very different question. I confess that I, for my part, am not partial to an inquiry, whether it be by a Royal Commission or whether it be by a Parliamentary Committee, into the management of railways; but I cannot help thinking that the speech we have just listened to, and a great many of the arguments used by Members on either side of the House, are a proof that something of the kind is in this particular instance necessary. I cannot help thinking that it is demonstrated to everyone who is not led away by mere rhetoric, but who deals with the figures and with the speeches of those who argue the question that there is a great misapprehension as to this matter. Take the remarks that fell from both the Mover of the Motion and the hon. Member who seconded it. Both said, and rightly, that if the safety of the public demanded some sacrifice of the dividends of shareholders, the shareholders should give way, and the safety of the public should be considered. As a matter of fact, this point of overtime is far from being a saving to railways, and is beyond all doubt a very great source of expense to them, and one which they would give a great deal to get rid of. Take, for instance, the normal case of brakesmen, drivers, and firemen, on a goods train—and the great majority of the cases that have been alluded to are derived from these particular sources. With regard to the signalmen, I think I could show that overtime does not often arise in regard to them if I cared to go into the question, especially by referring 947 to certain railways with which I am intimately acquainted. As to the other cases, there is no doubt that from time to time men do work possibly as much as 15, and occasionally even a larger number of hours. But how is that time made up? It is made up in this way: Owing to the precautions taken for the safety of the public, the goods trains men are shunted into sidings, and yet, although they are not then engaged in arduous duties, and though their time is lost to the Railway Companies, they are paid overtime or time and a quarter for all the time so occupied. So far from this being a saving to the companies or the shareholders, they lose by it. It is impossible, I maintain, to lay down with regard to these hours of railway servants a Procrustean rule. There are many cases in which eight hours might be too much; there are certain signal boxes where men ought not to work that length of time, and there are others where men might work 12 hours and yet the labour would not be excessive. You cannot compare the position of a signalman at Cannon Street or Doncaster Stations, for instance, with that of a small branch line where, perhaps, there are only three trains running a day, and those very well known. You cannot treat the labour of men in small signal boxes like that of the other class, as being continuous. Without wishing to throw ridicule on anyone, I should like to mention a case which shows the absurdity of the inferences which some people draw from the figures. I wish to draw attention to a case in which a man is put down as working 15 hours a day. I happen to have analysed this case. It is that of a man who ran an excursion train down to the seaside in the morning. It took three hours to run down. He spent nine hours at the seaside, and ran the same train back in the evening. He appears on the list as one of the men who is overworked to the extent of a 15 hours stretch in the day, and this is one of the cases referred to which go to make up this indictment of hardship and upon which a great deal of stress has been laid. If I believed it was possible for any regulation of the Board of Trade to do away with this working overtime, I, as representing one of the railways in this country, would very gladly assent. Everyone who has 948 anything to do with the running of a line must know very well that one accident must cost a railway more than the employment of a larger number of extra men. But the difficulty we have in regard to goods trains is that no amount of consideration that I can see would enable us to lay down a hard-and-fast line as to how the men are to be worked for any particular time. Naturally, if passenger traffic is going wrong, goods trains have to be shunted in preference, and have to wait a considerable time. All the Railway Companies that I know are incurring a capital expenditure for the purpose of making additional sidings and bringing into use appliances so as to bring this source of difficulty as far as possible to a minimum. I say it is impossible, by laying down any such regulation, or asking the Board of Trade to lay it down, to put an end to working overtime. Believe me, the manager of every Railway Company in the country is quite as much alive as any Member in the House to the desirability of making all possible effort in this direction. I will not be led into discussing the question of the present attitude of the North British Railway Company, because I think it has drawn away the attention of the House from the real question it has to decide. I believe myself that the effect of the evident misapprehension which prevails in the House is the reason why, in this particular instance, there ought to be some sort of inquiry. With regard to the question of Boards of Arbitration and Conciliation, so far as I can see there is nothing touching upon them in the four corners of this Resolution, and I cannot myself see how that question is to be dealt with. If the House were to interfere in labour disputes in the interest of the safety of the public, then I say it would have to interfere not merely with the action of the employers, but with the action of the employés. If it is a dangerous thing, both to the men and the public, that men should be worked overtime, then how much more dangerous is it, at any rate to the public, that railway servants should leave their employment without notice, leaving the trains and the signals at the mercy of the resources of the company. I know that every Member who advocates the case, of the 949 companies is taking up an unpopular position, but I believe if it be a right position, no one on either side of the House will shrink from his views; and I trust that when hon. Members have expressed their views, those who differ from them will at least give them credit for sincerity.
§ (7.15.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)
I would give fall credit to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down for doing what he thinks his duty in representing the side—and there are always two sides to a question—of the Railway Companies. We have had the advantage to-night, and I say it sincerely, of hearing the case of the Great Western Railway Company from an hon. Gentleman who represents them, and the case of the London and North-Western Rail way from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and now that of some smaller railway from the hon. Member who has just sat down. I only regret that he should have devoted so much of his speech to attacking what is not in the Resolution. He insisted with considerable emphasis that it is impossible as to hours of labour to lay down a hard-and-fast line. The hon. Member who brings forward the Motion entirely agrees with him as to that, and for that very reason he does not propose a Procrustean rule. He does not propose, even, that the Board of Trade should lay down hard-and-fast lines; but what is proposed in the Resolution, if it indicates anything, is that the Board of Trade should obtain powers by legislation to issue Orders to Railway Companies where necessary, directing that the hours worked by their men should be reduced wherever there are bad cases. That is what is proposed, and for that I intend to vote. There exists in the Act of 1889 a section under which the Returns are made. which have been so useful to-night, and it is due to the hon. Mover (Mr. Channing) to observe that it was he who first obtained those Returns. He wished them to have been fuller, and they were only given by the Government in their present form as a compromise. Such as they are, they have furnished ample material for argument, and his whole case is founded on them; but the facts are only laid down in large figures, and it is necessary to have, an analy- 950 sis before their meaning can be surely ascertained. I do not think much has been gained by two hon. Members who are interested in railways drawing attention to exceptional cases in which the men gain by overtime; the question must be regarded broadly. I believe the men as a body are opposed to working long hours in spite of the increased amount they make in wages. We have been told that the practice of long hours and overtime is not systematic; but there is a phase of overtime work in connection with my own constituency of Perth against which the men loudly complain, and which is carried on systematically. The system is, that the men who are worked for one week 15 hours a day and more are given very short hours ill the next week, the object being that the company may not have to pay for overtime, which is calculated upon the fortnight. Many days the men are left at home all day, or had out only for a few hours. I think this House will feel that human nature is not so constituted that it is a sound principle to work men one week for 15 hours a day or so, and the next week let them remain idle—the object being to pay as little overtime as possible.
§ MR. A. GATHORNE-HARDY
I may say I know of no such case as that to which the hon. Member alludes. There may be such a case in Scotland, but our men are all paid by the week.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
It is the case, I believe, on one or two Scotch railways, and I am glad to have called attention to it. I think the House and the country may be congratulated on the opportuneness of the Motion. It has not been brought forward in connection with the Scotch strike, the notice of Motion having been given before the strike took place. But this is an opportune time for expressing the sentiments that naturally arise in discussing the question. All the expressions of feeling in this Debate have been such as will, I think, be well received by public opinion. The House may safely accept the principle of the Resolution, because we are not dealing with an ordinary case of employer and employed—we are not interfering in the conditions of labour generally, but are dealing with an altogether exceptional case. We are justified in interfering on 951 the ground that the Railway Companies have obtained certain powers from Parliament in the public interest—and Parliament will always be jealous as to the use of powers so granted, especially when, as happens in most cases, they savour very much of the nature of monopolies. Most railways have—what was not anticipated when the railway system was first instituted—a monopoly of traffic, both as to goods and passengers. Their rates are fixed by Parliament, and I think it was intended to be stipulated that the service should be good. If the service, on the contrary, breaks down, it is time for Parliament to revise the terms. I think a strong primâ facie case has been made out to-night, not against all the Railway Companies, but against many of them, that the hours worked are so long as to be dangerous to the public, and that, at all events in extreme cases, there should be some limit to the powers of the companies to expose the public or the men themselves to the risk of accident by overstraining their servants. I think it will be sound policy in the case of these Public Companies to arm the Board of Trade with power to interfere.
§ (7.26.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
I have not the fortune to be a Director of any Railway Company, but for a great many years I have taken a great interest in this question. As a boy, in order to qualify myself for the work of an engineer, I served as fireman for a long time, and, in addition, I performed the still harder duties of a cleaner and a lighter. I certainly think that if the London and North Western and the Great Western Companies can manage to work its engine-men and signalmen for reasonable hours, other companies can do the same. The difficulty that is felt by Directors of Railway Companies in regard to overtime has not been very fairly put before the House. The men, I know very well, are willing at times to work overtime. We are dealing with an exceptionally intelligent and willing class of men, who are ready, knowing perfectly as they do the importance of the work they are engaged in, to do that work. But because Directors may say it is difficult to prevent men working, I say it is the duty of someone, whether Directors or others, to prevent the men working the extra- 952 ordinary hours. The average hours, as shown by the Returns, are very excessive indeed, and the causes of those long hours are not exclusively accidents and breakdowns. It is well known to superintendents and others before a train starts whether the men employed on it will be at work an excessive number of hours or not. The case of the engine-driver who was sent to the seaside for a day is spoken of as being one of no great hardship. That may be so; but it is quite possible that the engine-driver did not want to be at the seaside, and that he wished to spend his leisure hours in doing other work at home. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade what notice is taken by the Department of the Reports of Inspectors? Inspectors are called on from time to time to hold inquiries into accidents, many of which, no doubt, though not all, result from the over-working of officials. I should like to know how far the Department has taken action upon the Reports of its Inspectors in these cases. I know very well that the right hon. Gentleman keeps a watchful eye over his Department; but I should like to know what is the use of these costly inquiries if they do not lead to remedying of the evils so plainly put forward by the Inspectors. With regard to the number of hours, it is repeatedly said the men ask for overtime; but I doubt whether this is the case. I know it is on one, where the week consists of seven working days, the men being called upon to work on Sundays and receiving no extra pay for work on that day, because at the time of entering the service they agreed to seven days' work in the week. Though the subject is not always put forward in that way, really the demand of the men is less for an increase of pay than a reduction of hours. It is impossible for men to get away at the end of a normal day of 12½ hours. It may be said there is an allowance of time for meals, but it is often the case that men cannot get away for meals; a man may get half an hour from 9.30 to 10, and again an hour between 3 and 4. Over and over again men cannot get away for meals, because they have to wait for an overdue train. I hope hon. Members will not allow the matter to be prejudiced by the introduce- 953 tion of circumstances connected with the Scotch strike. I think it has been clearly shown that the grievance lies in the question of overtime—the men cannot get away to their homes. Whatever you pay a man, if you keep him at work from 6 in the morning until 7.30 in the evening, he cannot have the advantages other men enjoy—home-life, rest, or recreation; he sees little of his children; he cannot have the recreation afforded by clubs and reading-rooms if he works 13 or more hours a day. I sincerely hope the President of the Board of Trade may see his way to giving a reply that will be satisfactory to us. I think the terms of the Motion are sufficiently vague, if I may say so, sufficiently wide to admit of such an answer, though not for a moment conveying official support to the eight hours movement. Here is an exceptional case, and if a Department of State having sufficient powers does not exist, it ought to exist, for the regulation of this question, and I fully believe the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides could bring such pressure to bear upon Railway Directors that would put an end to the evils complained of.
§ (7.34.) MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
Much has been brought into this discussion with which this Motion has nothing to do. Serious as the strike in Scotland is, I do not see how it affects the question of excessive work which is imposed upon railway servants all over the Kingdom. I venture, for a few minutes, to recall the attention of hon. Members to the real point under discussion. We are not concerned with the exceptional position of men employed on certain branch lines, and what an hon. Gentleman said just now, in interesting detail, of the man who was able to enjoy a few hours at the seaside, and so on, is really not germane to the subject before us. A great deal of time, too, was, I venture to say, wasted by the right hon. Gentleman who defended the London and North Western Railway Company in telling us what alterations the company are making in their works, the arrangements for sidings, and so on. These matters have nothing to do with the question, which is simply whether or not men working on railways—guards, signalmen, firemen, drivers, and others— 954 work excessively long hours, and are compelled by Railway Companies to do so. The facts, I maintain, have been established. As to the figures given, by which the right hon. Gentleman opposite brought out his interesting decimal calculations, nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman who read them from his prepared brief that they are utterly and entirely fallacious, because if you spread the amount of overwork over a number of men, some of whom did the work and some did not, you may bring down the individual percentage, but convey altogether a wrong impression. The figures, carefully prepared, as I have no doubt they were, have not the slightest bearing on the subject. This is not a question of overtime in the sense the word is constantly used. It may mean that you are getting from a man as regards his booked time a longer number of hours than he ought to give, part of which ought to be regarded as overtime, but which is not overtime, but regularly-demanded work. Then the term has been used in another fashion, extra work for which extra payment is made; and we have heard credit taken by Railway Companies for so many hours' work obtained beyond the long hours of regular service for which time and a half has been paid. The demand is that a man's work should be 10 hours gross; but you are working men 13 hours, and you do not call the three hours overtime, you call them part of the regular time, and then take credit because you work them another hour and a half, and pay as time and a half. We complain of both. It is unfair to the railway servant that his regular booked time is much too long, and then you allow him to work longer still, offering to the already tired man the inducement of extra pay. So you work a system which is injurious to the railway servants and dangerous to the public. Then we have had a learned dissertation on the law of supply and demand, which was wholly irrelevant. Unfortunately, we have at this moment more men seeking employment than there is employment to be bad, and, as the result, the Railway Companies know that, though the terms they offer are harsh, they can get men to accept them, and do work we say they should not be allowed to undertake. The Railway Companies can get men who are not com- 955 petent for the work, and though the law of supply and demand may control these matters as between the employers and those men they employ, we maintain—and I do not think I need argue it at length—that as between the companies and their staff and the public, you must not allow the companies to imperil the safety and lives of Her Majesty's subjects because the laws of supply and demand allow the companies to get an article they ought not to get at a price they ought not to pay. Now, these men dare not speak out until they can do so in unison by means of such a strike as we now have in Scotland. I can show from a document—the name of the author I will not disclose except to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in whom I have perfect confidence—a letter sent to me as the result of an interview with certain men during my long vacation. I do not wish to give the slightest indication as to who the writer is, but I mention some of the facts referred to as describing not an exceptional state of things, as in the case of the man who had leisure for visits to the seaside, and so on. I take the record of work at three periods of the year, and not a time of exceptional pressure—in spring, summer, and winter. These entries are copied from the man's time book, which shows the exact hours of his work. There is a late and an early time for beginning work. I do not know the technical term used, and I take the entries over a fortnight as they come. The man began work at 8 in the morning, and these are the times he left work:—6 min. past 10; 20 min. past 10; 22 min. past 10; 4 min. past 10; and then comes an entry half-past 1 in the morning. Then comes a comparatively very short day in which, starting at 8.15, he finished at 9.20. But I find this is followed by days beginning at 6 in the morning, and finishing at 7.31, 7.27, and soon. Then, in the month of January, work commenced at 8 in the morning, and finished at 9.45 on three occasions, 9.52, and again at 5 min. past 2 in the morning; after which he was at it again at 8 o'clock, and finished at 7 min. past 9. Now I give entries for the spring season. Work began at 8 o'clock, and the times for knocking off work were: 10.7, 9.50, 1.0, 10.3, 11.32, 11.25, and 9.29. 956 Now, I say deliberately this records a state of things nothing more nor less than scandalous. If anybody will take the trouble to reckon the hours of daily labour, he will find this man worked 14 h. 7 min., 13 h. 50 min., 14 hours, 14 h. 3 min., 15 h. 32 min., 15 h. 32 min., 15 h. 25 min., 13 h. 29 min., and so on. These are not exceptional times picked out for the purpose. I take the entries as they come. This is the way this poor man was worked, and his Sunday rest came once a fortnight. Every alternate Sunday he had to be at work usually from 8.15 a.m. to 9.15 p.m. This is a state of things which ought not to exist, and should not be allowed to exist. I have been waiting and expecting that long before this some occupant of the Treasury Bench would rise and tell us what the Government propose to do, not prefacing his speech by telling us he speaks not as a Member of the Government, but as a Railway Director. Willing as we are to listen to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) this is not what we want. We do not want to hear what the Directors can do, or think they ought to do, or are doing, to relieve the pressure of overwork. We know, as a matter of fact, from these Returns, and others I could mention, what has long been going on unchecked, and the men have no power of redressing their grievances, can bring no influence to bear to set matters right, except by a gigantic strike. It is exactly a question in which this House ought to intervene, first, for the protection of the men, and next, to protect the public from the mischief that must and does arise. If it is suggested that the men like this overtime, let me read what my correspondent says—On the detached sheet you will find how we are worked, with little or no rest, and you will see that after finishing work there is on time left for recreation, for visiting friends, for attending meetings or places of worship, or anything else. We work every alternate Sunday, from 8.15 a.m. to 9.15 p.m., but it is generally 9.30 before we can get away.I find it is not desirable to read the whole of the letter; it might indicate the spot from which it comes, and be prejudicial to the writer. He goes on to say—We get a Sunday off every fortnight and are then too tired and worn out to go anywhere. We have to be in bed half the day on our off Sunday to get rested for the next day.957 This letter tells a tale, piteous and pathetic to the last degree. I do not want to go over the general question, which has been well argued. We have been told that long hours are exceptional and not the regular thing, and that there is a desire on the part of the men for overtime, and here I have given from this man's timebook the hours he has to work, and before he can count overtime he must, in the early period, work 13 hours—that is, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and in the late period from 8 a.m. to 9.45 p.m., or 13¾ hours. This is a state of things that demands our consideration, and we wait with some little curiosity and anxiety to know what is going to be said by the Government. I am confident the facts cannot be disputed, nor can I believe any attempt will be made by the right hon. Gentleman to get away from them. Are you going to give the remedy suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire, or any remedy; or are you going to ride off on some technical objection to the exact words of the Resolution? Surely the time has come for indicating the course the Government propose to adopt, and Member after Member need not go on beating the air with arguments to which there is no reply.
§ (7.43.) MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
I speak as one who is generally favourable to the eight hours movement, but I cannot vote for the Resolution, because it has been fairly urged that that Resolution as framed contains a vote of censure upon the conduct of Railway Companies, who, so far as I know, manage their business with satisfaction to those they employ. Cases of hardship exist, but they are no greater than cases which exist in almost every organised system of production in the country. I have risen to express a hope that Her Majesty's Government will make some proposal to-night which will obviate the necessity of our voting either way. For the proposition as it stands I cannot vote. I have no interest in the management of any Railway Company, but I have considerable acquaintance with railway officials, and I know there is an universal feeling among them that the hours of labour are too long, and that overtime is worked in a way that is a great drawback to the comfort and domestic happiness we all desire the working classes 958 should enjoy. The Resolution does not define what legislative powers the Board of Trade should acquire, and how a remedy should be applied; but if a Commission were appointed with full powers of inquiry into the whole of the subject, how far the State would be justified in regulating hours of labour, the result might give considerable satisfaction to the community. In no case should railway servants be away from their homes for more than 12 hours. It is a matter that requires no discussion that a man habitually away from home six days a week for 15 hours cannot lead a comfortable or even a humane life. We require an examination of the question, whether there should be some limitation of the hours of labour for persons engaged in what may be called dangerous, unhealthy, abnormal occupations, and where men work not as independent units, but as servants of a great organisation or institution. There is no question that in the case of railway servants accidents do sometimes occur through the undue strain placed upon men, but nobody is so unjust as to suppose that Railway Companies do not take every possible care to prevent the recurrence of an accident. I am sure nobody is more anxious to prevent accidents, nobody more interested in preventing them than Railway Directors. But the complaint is that the system under which they engage their men to work is radically wrong. The law of supply and demand does not apply for the regulation of this question. The old Tory theory of Protection—good or bad—was based on the idea that the State should protect the labour of the country, and under present circumstances, when throughout the country there are more men than labour can be found for, and the Railway Companies have too much labour for the men they employ, it may well form the subject of inquiry how far legislative action should compel the companies to employ more men at more rational hours. We may anticipate a distinct public gain from such an inquiry on public, moral, and social considerations. I hope we shall not have to vote upon this Motion at all, but that the Government will consent to an inquiry into the whole subject, including the eight hours question. It is sometimes assumed, that hon. Members on the other side alone 959 represent the interests of the labouring classes, though that is not the case; and certainly, as regards my own constituency, I have willingly pledged myself to do what I can to amend the conditions of life for the labouring classes. The inquiry I speak of would be a step in that direction. I have great sympathy with much that was said by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Channing), who brought forward the Motion, but it was with great regret I heard him make use of the term "blackleg." Nothing is more unfortunate, nothing is more injurious to a good cause in controversies of this kind, than to affix an offensive nick-name to men who are doing simply what they have a perfect legal right to do. I hope that before long the Government will bring before us some practical measure, which will put an end to the cruel system by which men are practically compelled to work such hours that their health is bound to be impaired, and they cannot get the amount of recreation necessary to a comfortable and a civilised life. (8.2.)
§ (8.30.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)
The hon. Member for Northamptonshire must, I think, congratulate himself on the measure of support he has received from the opposite side of the House; for I think the House will have seen that if no one has yet actually promised to vote with him, pretty nearly every one who has spoken on the other side has shown no disposition to vote against him. The hon. Member for the East Grinstead Division of Sussex (Mr. A. Gathorne-Hardy) has spoken of object lessons; and I must say that the object lesson we have received from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Plunket), in reference to the London and North Western Railway, is hardly so much to the point as the other object lesson put before us with regard to the North British Railway. Certainly, the London and North Western Railway constitutes a very important object lesson, as given in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works. If this Debate had been initiated for the purpose of drawing a modest statement from a model director as to a model railway, I for one should have taken no part whatever in it, nor even in the Division which seems likely to follow. But if the case of Scotland be set aside, 960 as is done by the right hon. Gentleman, then I think one of the best arguments that can be used in support of this Resolution would fall to the ground. Now, what is the case in Scotland? The Railway Companies there do amongst them a very considerable business. I do not know whether it is so great as that carried on by the London and North Western Railway, but, nevertheless, it is on a large scale. Now, what do we find has taken place? We find that the whole trade of the country has been paralysed, simply and solely because no arrangement can be come to as to the terms on which the Directors on the one hand and the strikers on the other can meet. I believe that had it been possible to suggest some means of compromise in a manner that would have been acceptable to both sides, the dispute which has now lasted so long and caused so much inconvenience and disaster would not have gone on for more than a day or two. I think, therefore, that we cannot in discussing this question leave the situation in Scotland altogether out of sight. We cannot be placed behind the object lesson afforded by the London and North Western Railway Company, even although there may be a few holes in the mantle which the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to throw over that company. Exception has been taken to the terms of this Resolution, and especially with regard to that clause of it which says—That, in the opinion of this House, the excessive hours of labour imposed on railway servants by the existing arrangements of the Railway Companies of the United Kingdom constitute a grave scandal on justice.No, Sir. I maintain that those hours of labour are more or less imposed on all railway servants as may enter the service of the different companies under their contracts. Unfortunately, those railway servants are not represented before the Board of Directors, and consequently have no means of expressing their grievances to the Railway Boards through their recognised representatives. In view of this fact, I do not think the language of the Resolution is at all too strong when it says that those hours "are imposed" upon the men. For my part, were it not that I am speaking as a representative of the district in Scotland in which there has been most serious 961 difficulty on account of this strike, I should certainly not support any Resolution of this character. I, for one, am very much opposed to any attempt to interfere with the hours of labour by legislation unless the circumstances are such as to render it absolutely desirable, and therefore I should not take part in a discussion of this kind unless a case had been clearly put before the House in which exceptional circumstances have been demonstrated. The case of the Scotch railways was brought before the House by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan), and from that we find that in Scotland there has not been for some time past the means of maintaining safe railway communication. For more than a month railway travelling, not unattended with accidents, although neither of the accidents that have occurred have been of so serious a character as might have been anticipated, still, railway travelling in Scotland has not only been intermittent in service, but has also been accompanied by considerable danger. This is one of the reasons why we think there are some grounds for appealing to the President of the Board of Trade on this subject. Arbitration has been set aside in this dispute, and as it has been made impossible for any understanding to be arrived at we are bound to ask ourselves how long is this state of things to be allowed to continue without our trying to provide some machinery by which this unhappy deadlock may be ended. On the north of the Border there has been very considerable sympathy shown for the strikers, because of the circumstances under which these difficulties have arisen. They have not, perhaps, received that full measure of support which they might have obtained had it not been for the irregularity which occurred at the time of the origin of the strike. Serious exception has been taken to the movement because the strikers went out without notice, and it was felt to be quite impossible to conduct business unless the proper legal notices were observed. At the same time, there is some difference of opinion as to whether the contracts into which the men had entered were not of too severe a character. At any rate, for more than two years the men have been lodging complaints with regard to the hours of labour, and latterly the 962 dispute became a question of the Union. The Directors refused to meet the representatives of the men because they were representatives of the Union. Now, it seems sufficiently obvious that if a state of affairs arises in which it is manifest that there can be no settlement of the dispute unless there are some means of forcing arbitration or some Government power which has power to intervene, then one or the other must be absolutely necessary. I should be sorry to see intervention by a Government Department until every other method had been tried, and had failed; but I think it was shown pretty clearly by the hon. Member for Edinburgh that in the case of this strike in Scotland everything has been done that could possibly be suggested in order to bring this dispute to an end. But all these endeavours have failed; and, therefore, I feel that, under the circumstances, I cannot refuse my support to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire. The conduct on the part of the men on strike has, upon the whole, been marked throughout by orderly conduct and by a proper expression of their grievances. The public support given to the movement has been of a very wide and extensive character. Meetings of thousands and thousands of individuals have been held in every part of the country in support of the reasonable demands of the men; and I believe that there has seldom been known so general a support on the part of the community in a case of this kind as that which has been given to the strikers in Scotland. Now, the result of the strike, if it should go against the men, would be that there will be a greatly increased demand for interference in these disputes by legislative enactment. That, I think, the House will see is quite inevitable. Various leaders of the Socialist Party have been in Scotland, and they have done not a little in order to stimulate the strikers. They have done, I venture to say, good work there. I should be very sorry, for my part, to see that strike fail. If the strike fails we shall have a much wider demand for legislative interference brought before this House than is made in this Motion. If the strike is terminated with the victory of the Directors it will not be the end of this matter. It will come up again in a more 963 awkward form than now. Exception has been taken to the use of the term "blackleg." I should be the last to say anything as to the use of this term which would tend to heat the argument. But what has become apparent in this strike is, that a battle is being fought as between what is called free labour and the labour of the Unions. If employers throughout the country are going to uphold the cause of free labour and denounce what they call the tyranny of the Unions, we have no end of trouble before us in questions of capital and labour. That is the difficulty which I foresee, and it is one which has been brought prominently forward by the Directors of the Railway Companies in Scotland. Therefore, I have no option but to support the Resolution, and to express the hope that the President of the Board of Trade may find some way of helping us out of the mess into which the Railway Boards of Scotland has landed us.
§ (8.50.) MR. J. G. BAIRD (Glasgow, Central)
Sir, I have no reason to complain of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Leith Burghs, and he has dealt with the question of the dispute in Scotland in a fair and reasonable manner. But for that dispute, I do not think I should have intervened in this Debate. But apart from the question affecting Scotland, and to come to the Motion before the House, the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, in moving it, at the outset said he did not desire any statutory limitations of the hours of labour. Well, I fail to see the difference between a statutory limitation and any limitation which the Board of Trade might be empowered to impose. It seems to me that the limit in one case is exactly the same as the limit in the other. The hon. Member wishes the Board of Trade to limit the hours of work for special classes of railway servants. The question will at once arise—what is to be the limit? Take the case of signalmen, which class is that upon which the safety of the public is supposed to depend more than upon any other. Are you to have an universal limit of hours for signalmen, or is each signal-box to be dealt with by the Board of Trade on its own merits, on the basis of the number of trains passing daily? A signalman at 964 a great junction, or on a main line, of course has a great many more trains passing, and consequently has to be constantly in attendance; while a signalman on a branch line may sometimes have a considerable time between one train and the next, and, consequently his actual work may be much lighter. Is the Board of Trade to take into its hands the responsibility of laying down for each signal-box throughout the country what is to be the exact limit of hours of work? If it does, it will have a considerable amount of work to do. Again, take the case of engine drivers, another important class of railway servants. Suppose a day of 10 hours is fixed, is the engine driver on a run which occupies 12 hours, six hours one way and six hours back, to leave the engine two hours before he has completed the trip? That, of course, is out of the question. In the case of goods trains, which are often delayed in sidings, is the engine driver to cease working at the expiration of his 10 hours, no matter where he may be at the time? The fact is that the necessity for overtime cannot be obviated. You cannot fix an absolute limit to the hours of certain classes of railway servants. You may fix a limit of time beyond which overtime has to be paid for in wages; but then you come to a question of remuneration, which ought to be left to be settled by the companies and their servants. There is another point which the hon. Member seems to forget, although I do not think it a very important one. Does the hon. Member suppose that during the long hours which he mentions as being a danger, the men employed are being worked the whole time? He must know that goods trains and others are constantly detained in sidings for a considerable time to allow of the other traffic being worked. Will he explain how this is to be altered? I am sure the Directors and others who have to do with railways deplore the long hours as much as any hon. Member can do. If the Railway Directors had more funds at their disposal, they would be able to employ more men and increase the number of engines. The Railway Directors have to consider the interest of the public, of the shareholders, and of their employés. I daresay a considerable number of the more wealthy shareholders would not object to a 965 diminished dividend; but the small holders would not like a reduction of their scanty profits. The fact is, it comes really to be a question of wages in connection with the dispute between the men and their employers. Where is the extra wages fund to come from? The dividends are not extravagant, and though some of the shareholders might, as I have said, be inclined to submit to a reduction in order that the men might have better wages, many poor people who hold a few shares in railways would feel the reduction of even 1 per cent. as a sensible reduction of their already scanty income. Then, again, the public agitate constantly for a reduction of rates and fares, and are moving the Board of Trade in that direction. You cannot eat your cake and have your cake, and you cannot reduce the revenue at the command of Railway Companies, and at the same time largely increase the working expenses. I am sure that Directors would be only too glad to reduce time and increase wages; but they have to consider the public, who ask for increased facilities involving large capital expenditure, and at the same time to satisfy the demands of the shareholders, who ask that their dividends at least shall not be reduced. It has been disputed that the men are seeking for shorter hours, and that they are really demanding more wages. I do not doubt that there are men who desire shorter hours; but, at the same time, I believe some of them desire to be paid more for their overtime. On Wednesday last Mr. John Wilson, Miners' Agent, Broxburn, speaking at Edinburgh, is reported to have told a deputation from Glasgow—That to concede to the men 10 hours a day and to still give them 12 hours' pay would require an enormous sum of money. They all admitted that it would require some money, and they meant that. There was no use disguising that point. In this strike, and in all other strikes for more wages and more liberty, they were waging a just warfare.So that at the bottom of the whole dispute lies the question of wages. They are asking for 60 hours a week and overtime at time and a half. With reference to the strike, I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that a telegram has been received to say that it has been settled on the basis of a proposal made by Lord Aberdeen. That information 966 has come by telegraph, and I do not know that it has yet been verified. I hope such is the case. I do not care to go much into the subject of the strike, lest I should embitter the feeling of the men who have been induced to return to their work. Still, I must traverse one or two of the remarks of hon. Members opposite, with regard to public opinion in Scotland. It has been said that the opinion of Scotland as on the side of the men. I traverse that statement. I affirm, as I have the right to affirm, that public opinion in Scotland is just as much in favour of the companies as it is in favour of the men. The hon. Member for Mid Durham (Mr. John Wilson) said there is no doubt the public will not object to an increase of fares and an increase of railway rates. I do not think the hon. Member for Mid Durham knows the public of Scotland. He evidently is not aware of the persistent endeavours which are being made, not only by traders, but by those who use the lines as passengers, to get facilities in every shape and form—facilities which go to increase the capital expenditure of those railways, and consequently decrease the funds available for increase of stock, the number of locomotive engines, and any increase which might be desired in wages. Sir, I do not think that the Board of Trade would be well advised to accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire; but if the President of the Board of Trade thinks it right and proper that a Committee should be appointed to consider the whole question of these Returns, and see how far they are brought about by circumstances that may be altered, I, for my part, have no objection to offer.
§ (9.2.) MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
Representing, as I do, a constituency largely composed of railway men, I desire to express my surprise that the Government have not long ere this announced their intention of accepting this Resolution; and I also desire to express my surprise that a Member of the Government, and therefore a paid servant of the country, should have got up and made a speech, not as representing any constituency, but as a Director of a Railway Company. I confess I think it would have been better if he had allowed other directors in the House to take care of the com- 967 panies. We have been told that this is a vote of censure on the Railway Companies. I cannot see that at all. It may be, and probably very properly will be, a vote of censure on a company which is not doing what is right with regard to the people of this country. If there are any Railway Companies that are doing what is right and proper both towards their men and towards the public, then this cannot be a vote of censure upon them; but if there are companies which are not doing what is right, and I am afraid there are a good many companies in that category, perhaps it is very properly a censure upon these companies. Surely we have a right here to censure companies. These companies get the right to carry on their business, which is a monopoly, from this House, and therefore from the country, and surely if they are not carrying on their business properly, and nobody can truly say they are doing so at the present moment, we have a right to consider the whole matter in the interest of the country. In that sense all reforms that are brought forward in this House are votes of censure, because to some extent they reflect upon the conduct of somebody. Are we to be prevented in the future from making any reforms in this country because it may be alleged it is a vote of censure upon somebody? I hope that opinion will not prevail. The Resolution has nothing to do with the settling of strikes; but if the idea of this Resolution could be properly carried out it would do something better, it would probably prevent strikes altogether, and that surely is a matter worthy of consideration. I hope this Scotch strike has been settled on terms fair to the men, and bearing in mind the great loss which the strike has occasioned to all classes of people, especially in Scotland, to my mind this is a proper time to consider whether, by legislation or otherwise, we cannot do something to prevent these strikes. That I take to be the actual meaning of this Resolution. The hon. Member who last spoke seems to think this is a proposal to interfere with and limit these companies in some way. I do not read the Resolution that way at all. It is to empower a Public Department to interfere if necessary, and, therefore, not unnecessarily inter- 968 fere with the business of these companies. The Resolution says the Board of Trade shall interfere if they think it necessary on behalf of the people of this country and the workmen on the railways. I think this is a very proper interference, because these companies have the power to do their business from this House. This would not be the first time this Parliament has interfered with the trade of the country. We have interfered with the grocer and milkman, and that trade sacred to the Tory Party—the liquor trade—therefore, why do we not interfere, if necessary, in the interests of the country, with the Railway Companies, who derive what power they have from the people through their representatives in the House? If necessary, we ought to do so. I understand this Resolution to be an appeal to this House, not in a mere Party political sense, but as representing the whole of the country to do justice to an excellent body of workmen. I am sure nobody can deny that the railway servants of this country are an excellent body of workmen, a body whom any country might be proud of, and whom this House ought to be only too glad to protect if necessary; the Resolution goes further because an appeal is also made for the safety and protection of the travelling public. I am sure it is necessary. Take the case of accidents which have occurred recently. There was the accident near Taunton on the Great Western line, an accident which occurred entirely through the gross neglect of the Company in not having a proper servant to do the work—to look after the signal boxes—and also in failing apparently to provide proper sidings. If by this interference we could prevent such a dreadful accident as that, surely we should be doing right. I am afraid that the railway men are not so well represented in this House as the directors of railway companies, who, we were told just now, have a representation here of nearly 250. But I trust that this House will say the time has arrived when the workmen as well as the travelling public shall be protected. I am sorry that, although the Railway Companies are so well represented in this House, they themselves should object to the workmen 969 being represented anywhere else. It certainly has appeared to me from what I have read, that this Scotch strike would probably never have occurred but for the fact that the directors objected to receive the representatives of the men, so as to hear what they had to say. I cannot see why the railway directors should have objected to receive Mr. Tait, who represented the men, any more than they should have the right to have the assistance of solicitors or others to assist them. If the men choose out of their own funds—mind not out of the railway funds—to pay a man to represent them before the directors or elsewhere, surely there ought to be no objection to that, especially when that man is a man selected on account of his knowledge of railway matters. We were told by an hon. Member, who spoke to-night on behalf of the Railway Companies, that there was no danger of any harm arising, because it would be against the interests of the Railway Companies. As a matter of fact, the Railway Companies have not been so particular about their interests. It is not so many years ago that third-class travellers were treated very badly by the companies. Nobody at that time could make the directors understand it was to their own interests to look after that class of the travelling public. Now they are finding out, after many years experience, that it is to their best interests to look after the third-class passengers, who pay the dividends and the expenses. There are many other ways in which it might be pointed out Railway Companies do not consider their best interests. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Baird) spoke about the Scottish people requiring increased facilities with regard to the traffic, as well as in regard to passengers, and he seemed to think that such increased facilities would reduce dividends by creating greater expenses. All experience has shown that the more facilities Railway Companies give to the public, the more profit they make, and therefore there is no proof that in giving facilities to the public, there is any harm to the Railway Companies whatever. If you cannot do justice to the workmen or to the travelling public without reducing the dividends, in 970 my opinion, the dividends must be reduced. There is no question at all in my mind that the time is rapidly arriving when the working men of this country will demand, and properly demand, a larger share of the good things of this world; and if those who have received perhaps too large a share of them in the past have to give up, not the necessaries of this life at all, but a few of the luxuries, I shall be only too glad. I only intervene to-night because I represent a constituency in which there are a large body of extremely respectable men connected with the railways, and because I thought the Government might have given way on this question without the necessity of a five hours debate. I trust the Government will now, not as a party matter at all, but in the interests of the people generally and the trade of the country, see their way to consent to something like this Resolution. It is all very well to propose a Commission, but generally such a proposal means getting rid of the matter altogether. You may depend upon it if the Government, if the Railway Directors in this House, are strong enough at the present moment to put this matter off, there is coming a time and probably very shortly, when they will have to do more for these people than they will be satisfied with at the present moment. My experience of working men in this country is that if you are willing to treat them fairly they will not require to be extravagantly dealt with, but if in good times you refuse to do the little which is necessary to enable them to live with some little regard to the comforts and decencies of life, then you may expect a time bye-and-bye when they will not only demand, but will have the power to compel you to give them a great deal more than they require at the present moment. I do therefore trust that the Government and the House will see their way to arrant this demand. We do not wish to take anything from the companies, we simply wish to empower the Board of Trade to enquire into these matters, and if necessary do justice, not only to the workmen but to the people of the country generally.
§ (9.15.) SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE (Exeter)
I merely rise to express the hope that when my right hon. Friend 971 the President of the Board of Trade rises he may be able to make some proposition on behalf of the Government which will spare the House the necessity of going to a division. I must frankly say that if my right hon. Friend were to meet the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton with anything like a non possumus, although I am a tolerably staunch Ministerialist I could not support the Government. Perhaps my title to speak is somewhat different from that of most of those who have addressed the House from these benches, because I have not the smallest pecuniary interest in any railway in this kingdom. Therefore I do not speak from the point of view of my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works or of some other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from this side of the House. The reason why I trust it may be possible to avoid a Division is this: The main point which struck me in the speech of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire was the suggestion, which was, I think, very acceptable upon that side of the House, that disputes of this kind should, if possible, be settled by some conciliatory means. What I would submit to the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, if he were in his place, is that if he presses his Motion at the present time to a Division it would be a very unfortunate preliminary to the establishment of such a conciliatory Board as he contemplates. If he were to carry his Motion, the Railway Companies, one and all, would feel that they were stigmatised as companies who treated their workmen harshly, whereas, although he spoke with certain vagueness, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton) thought that some companies were guilty and others innocent. I think the passing of this Resolution would be felt by the companies as fixing a stigma upon them, and therefore render them singularly unwilling to co-operate with the Government in the establishment of a Board of Conciliation. On the other hand, if the hon. Member presses his Motion, and it is defeated, the employés of the Companies would consider that Parliament was going into the establishment of a Board of Conciliation after pre-judging their case, and pre-judging it adversely to them. Therefore, if the President of the Board of Trade sees his 972 way to propose the appointment of a Commission or Committee, or to make some suggestion which will in no way impugn the principle of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, in so far as that Motion requires that the grievances of the workmen shall be fully inquired into, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not insist upon pressing the matter to a Division.
(9.23.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
The hon. Member for the Central Division of Glasgow (Mr. Baird) said that public opinion in Scotland is universally against the railway servants in their strike. I have just returned from Scotland, and before doing so I took the trouble to find out what the public opinion of Scotland was. There are some persons who sympathise with the Railway Companies, or, at least whose sympathies are against the strikers; but so far as I can learn these persons are merely the large employers of labour, who feel very jealous of working men's unions, and want to see them defeated every time there is a strike. Outside the class of big employers of labour I think the fraction of the Scottish people which is not in favour of the strikers is very small indeed, and I should say you get a very small fraction of that fraction who have a good word to say for the behaviour of the North British Railway Company. The hon. Member also said that if concessions are made to the men, it must necessarily follow that the dividends of the shareholders will be reduced. That is possibly the case, but at any rate that is not an argument that ought to weigh with this House. Railways are monopolies. People who promote railways, who buy up the interests of former investors, must take the evil with the good. They contract to carry the public and the goods of the public from one point to another. They have had a monopoly given to them because they have contracted. They have contracted to carry passengers and goods continuously, and to say that they are losers in certain events is not an argument that ought to have any weight with the House of Commons. Some hon. Members have said we ought not to make allusions to the very unfortunate railway strike in Scotland. I can hardly agree with that. The latter portion of the Motion proposes to give power to the Board of Trade to 973 limit the hours of work of railway servants in certain cases, and I maintain that the present strike affords a most excellent illustration of the need of the Board of Trade having some such power conferred upon it. I speak on this occasion as the representative of a part of Lanarkshire that is especially affected by the strike, and I contend that the inconvenience caused to the public in my district is such as can hardly be exaggerated. Earlier in the evening an hon. Member on this side spoke of the extreme distress that had been caused in some of the districts by the strike, and I noticed one or two hon. Members laughed. They evidently thought the hon. Member exaggerated, but he did not do so. In my own district there are several of the great steel works of Scotland. Those works employ many hundreds of people; but in consequence of the strike they have been closed for four weeks. The employés are suffering very great hardships because a Board of Scotch Directors have had a quarrel with their employeés. Coal cannot be carried from one place to another, and many of the mines are not being worked at all. Other mines are only being worked one, two, or three days a week. The distress amongst the mining population is really very acute indeed. But it is getting beyond the labouring men. Small shopkeepers in the mining villages and towns have told me how very grievously the strike has affected their trade. They laid in stores for the beginning of the new year, but they have found their trade almost entirely paralysed. I maintain that the distress in the industrial districts of Scotland can hardly be exaggerated. When it is in the power of a few gentlemen from no motive whatever to paralyse the trade of a great part of a country, it is high time, in the interest of the public, that some authority—and the Board of Trade is the most convenient authority—had some power given to it to interfere. Judging from the newspaper accounts one would believe that the strike is a much more partial affair than it is. Every day the newspapers have announced that the traffic was steadily improving. Nearly all the English newspapers have indulged in systematic misstatement for nearly five weeks. I am not in a position to know, 974 but I have a very great doubt as to whether even the Returns published by the Railway Companies of their week's traffic are wholly to be relied upon. I have seen very few mineral trains running, and I suspect that the Railway Companies have included in their week's receipts receipts for goods which they have not yet been able to deliver. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works thinks this Resolution is intended to stir up discord. I do not think anyone who has been to Scotland and seen how far-reaching the effect of this strike is, would regard any attempt to end this strike and avert subsequent strikes, as an attempt to stir up discord. There is only one thing more I wish to do, and that is to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether enquiries have been held or are going to be held into the accidents that have happened on Scotch railways during the last five weeks. Every morning the Scotch newspapers have contained circumstantial accounts of accidents here and there. Only one has been attended by loss of life, but there has been several very serious accidents. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will tell us that the Board of Trade have inquired into all such accidents, and that it has not turned its blind eye to Scotland just now to make matters easier for the Railway Companies in their difficulties. I have felt obliged to make these observations because I believe it is only through the authority of Parliament or some body delegated by Parliament that a great calamity like the present strike can be averted in the future.
§ (9.30.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken credit for the fact that the terms of the Resolution appeared on the Notice Paper of the House before the strike on the Scottish Railways began, but I should have been glad if the circumstances of the strike had been excluded from the present discussion, because they have a rather disturbing influence upon our consideration of the proposal for the establishment of a Board of Arbitration. It leads to confusion to have to discuss in one debate the question of such a Board being instituted and the merits of this particular dispute, whether the men had a right to leave 975 their employment without notice, and the other points involved which have no relation to the Motion now before the House. In regard to the Motion itself as it is worded, I have no difficulty upon public grounds in supporting it, but if I am supposed to sanction any opinion upon the strike itself, I should require a large amount of time to state my views and explain my position. With regard to the Board of Trade having some control over the length of hours on railway employment, I have no doubt as to the expediency of some such intervention, for when I look at the results of inquests and inquiries into the causes of railway accidents, I generally find that the man to whom blame is attached seeks shelter in an excuse that he was overworked. From the regularity with which this plea is advanced, and from the remarks Inspectors of the Board of Trade have made, it is evident that something in the direction indicated should be done. An accident near Taunton, and the evidence showing how long a signalman there had been on duty is a recent instance proving that in the public interest borne regulation is required. Having found one sufficient reason, I do not know that it is necessary that I should seek for others; but, at the same time, if the Government say that this is a large question, and before taking action they require further inquiry as to how the control is to be exercised, how regulations should be framed, whether they should also apply to steamboats, omnibuses, and other forms of public conveyance, I should be quite satisfied with that assurance, as expressing an intention to deal with the subject. I shall therefore vote for the Motion, unless the Government offer to find a better remedy.
§ (9.36.) MR. BIRRELL (Fife, West)
I think I may assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that by his vote he will in no way commit himself to an expression of opinion upon the strike in Scotland, which during the last four or five weeks has occupied public attention. At the same time, I do not think he can be surprised that Scottish Members should see in that lamentable conflict very good reasons for inducing men like himself to support this Motion. Like my hon. Friend who spoke just now, I represent a constituency of which I suppose I can 976 say with safety it has suffered more in trade and general discomfort during the last five weeks in consequence of this lamentable dispute than if Great Britain had been engaged in a war with France or Germany; and when we find this dispute arises from the excessive hours of labour to which the servants of a public undertaking are subjected, and when we find this Motion is based on official evidence of these excessive hours of labour, then, putting the two things together, it is impossible for Scottish Members to keep this strike out of their minds and arguments. I confess I am rather surprised at the modesty of the Board of Trade. It it usual for most Boards to magnify the importance of their functions, and they consider it their duty, like a good Judge, to amplify their jurisdiction. But what a futile and absurd position for the Board to take up! Here we have the Returns compiled by the officials of the Board, showing the extent of this excessive labour, and we have Reports from skilled Inspectors showing the frequency of accidents and the lamentable loss of life resulting from this overwork system. These Reports are laid before us under the authority of the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides, and I should have thought he would have been glad to avail himself of the opportunity of giving effect to the recommendations of his own Inspectors. Are we to suppose that these Reports are mere academic exercises for the amusement of hon. Members or to harrow our feelings? I should have thought they were intended to lead to action. What is the good of sending Major Marindin, Colonel Hutchinson, and others, to inquire and report, trace home the causes, and place the results before us? The Department says, "We can get the information, but we do not know what to do with it." I should have thought a Minister of the Crown would have been glad to have the means of remedy placed in his hands. It has been said by Railway Directors and others that it would be impossible to fix any number of hours as a limit of service in certain cases, and that may or may not be the case; but, at any rate, there must be something in the system requiring change when Inspectors all agree that the hours are excessive and improper. There is no difference of 977 opinion among the officers who make the inquiries, and all we ask is that power should be given to the Board of Trade to prevent its documents becoming little more than waste paper. Some suggestion seems to be made from the other side of the House that further inquiry is essential in this matter. Now, I must say I think the House has already possession of sufficient information. These Reports are not disputed; these Returns are not disputed. What more do we want? We have the information, and I hope we shall have the courage to act upon it. The First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) was angry at the use of the word "imposed," and he made use of the familiar argument that in this free country no workman is obliged to accept any particular conditions of labour unless he likes. I wish it were so. I cannot hear the statement without giving it a flat denial. The poor man must work, or starve, or eat the bread of dependence, which is the worst alternative. If he works he must accept the conditions upon which he can get that work, and it is the duty of the State to see that these conditions are compatible with decent human existence. On that part of the question I do not see any difficulty. Men are obliged to work on the terms offered. No doubt in some trades they can protect themselves. In mining, for instance, when employers are anxious to limit the output, it is not so difficult to come to an agreement as to hours of labour; but when employers are anxious to increase the amount of work I do not believe there is an organisation in any trade sufficient to protect itself against the greed of the capitalist or the brutality of a Joint Stock Company. We have had a Director of the North British Railway making observations which led me to suppose that he would be glad to support the Motion, but he finds himself as a Director in an awkward position. If he does not pay a dividend his shareholders are angry, if his rates are high he offends the public. Between the two he finds himself, honest man, in a difficult position. Well, I should have thought he would have been glad to have transferred some part of his responsibility to the broad shoulders of the President of the Board of Trade, that he would be glad to find that shelter which a trustee seeks from 978 a troublesome heir, saying, "I would be glad to comply with your wishes, but the law will not allow me to do so." In like manner I should have thought a Director would have been glad to say, "We would get more work out of our servants, but we cannot under Board of Trade regulations."
§ (9.41.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I quite agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that there is no necessity for further inquiry. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Howorth) suggested at an earlier period of the Debate that the Government should appoint a Royal Commission or a Committee to make inquiries; but I should like to know into what would a Commission or Committee inquire? The facts about the length of hours are before the House and the country; they are published in the Official Returns of the Board of Trade, and if that Department requires more facts it has ample opportunity of acquiring them without further intervention by the House. I am afraid that this Commission or Committee is nothing more or less than a convenient shelter, which is run to by those who are afraid of affirming the principle which underlies this Motion. What is that principle? That the machinery of the Board of Trade should be set in motion to limit the hours of labour for railway servants. That is a principle in which I cordially concur. I am not afraid of supporting that opinion by my vote, and I shall not be deterred by the promise of inquiry from going into the Lobby in support of this Motion. It seems to me the Returns published are little creditable to the great Railway Companies of England. Honourable mention has been made of the Southwestern Company, which, with the exception of a very small percentage of guards on goods trains, does not work any of its servants for more than 12 hours daily. But if we make honourable mention of one company, we must make dishonourable mention of another company. The South Eastern Company has achieved the infamous distinction of having in 1889 employed 100 per cent, of its drivers and firemen for over12 hours daily.
§ MR. BAUMANN
That is the point. Prom another Return, it appears that 979 the South Eastern is one of the most unpunctual as well as the most inhuman of the Railway Companies in England. I do not think I need spend much time at this hour in establishing the position that the State, as represented by the Board of Trade, is justified in intervening between Railway Companies and their employeés. Railway Companies are the spoiled children of the Legislature. They come Session after Session for powers and privileges, which, so far as I know, Parliament has never denied them; and I think we, who represent the people who give the companies these large powers, are perfectly justified in exacting in return a stipulation that they shall work their servants under reasonably humane conditions. I know there is a very strong feeling against the Motion, on the ground that it is interference with the freedom of adult labour—and it is no use blinking the fact that it is an interference with adult labour—and that is said to be Socialism of the most dreadful description. Well, I have never heard that Lord Macaulay was a Socialist; but in supporting the "Ten Hours Bill," in 1846, he used these words—I hold that where public health is concerned, and where public morality is concerned, the State may be justified in regulating even the contracts of adults.Now, upon this question of interference with adult labour, we hear very extraordinary arguments from all quarters of the House. I hear a great many hon. Gentlemen say, "I am perfectly willing to interfere for the purpose of restricting the labour of railway employeés, not for the sake of benefit to the employeés, but for the safety of the public. We have not a word or shred of sympathy for the unfortunate men who are being injured every day—and the injury they will feel to the end of their lives—by overwork, though there is an overflow of sentiment for the luxurious travelling public, who once in a "blue moon" may be injured in an accident arising from this overwork. I am in favour of limiting the labour of railway servants for their own sake. We are told that intervention is justifiable for the benefit of the public; well, I should like to know whether these hundreds of thousands of railway servants are not also members of the public? They are, and a very 980 deserving section of the public. I say that, though in my own constituency there is no considerable number of railway servants. But hon. Gentlemen who take up this prudish attitude about interference with adult labour appear to forget that adult male labour has already been regulated by the State under two very important Statutes, the "Lord's Day Observance" Act and the "Bank Holidays" Act. There are hundreds of thousands of people who would be only too glad to work on Sundays and Bank Holidays. You have regulated days of labour; why should you not regulate hours of labour? I maintain that the principle of legislative interference with adult male labour has already been affirmed by the Acts I have mentioned. We have ample precedents for such legislation in the United States. Adult male labour is restricted in the State of New York on elevated railways and tramcars to 10 hours daily, and it is a misdemeanour for a company to exact more from a servant. In the State of New Jersey there is a 12 hours day; for the same class of employeés in the State of Maine, 10 hours; there is a restriction in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and in Maryland, where there is a 10 hours day in the State tobacco warehouses, and on street cars and elevated railways a limitation to 12 hours, every breach of the law being a misdemeanour, for which a company is liable to a fine of 100 dollars. In Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and California there is an eight hours day, though the time may be exceeded by private contract. But in California, in all State and Municipal contracts, there must be a clause to the effect that the servants of a Public Body are not to work more than eight hours a day. It may be that the law in California is evaded—that may be so or not; my argument is, that these are examples of legislative interference with hours of adult male labour, and there are precedents for discussing the principle which underlies the Motion of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, that the intervention of the Board of Trade should be invoked to limit the excessive hours of labour imposed on railway servants. If the hon. Member carries his Motion to a Division I shall have great pleasure in following him into the Lobby.
§ (9.51.) MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)
It is gratifying to know that we are to have the assistance of many hon. Members opposite who are usually not in the Lobby with us. But I am surprised that there are not more of them. There appears to be a fear of the terms of the Motion, although the terms are so wide and open that it is perfectly clear that voting for the Motion will not commit any hon. Member to an "Eight Hours" Bill or any other Bill. All that the Motion proposes to do is to give the Board of Trade a discretionary power of, regulating the hours of work of the railway servants where they may think that the hours of labour are excessive. That may not include all railways, and therefore cannot be said to cast a stigma upon Railway Companies generally. The Board of Trade possessing the powers will only issue orders where such are necessary. No doubt the Board would issue orders to the South-Eastern Company, and it is tolerably certain they would not issue any orders to the South-Western Company. I think it must be clear to the House that undoubtedly a case has been made out for legislative interference in reference to the work of railway men, and the only question that remains is the direction such interference should take. The Board of Trade would not define a certain number of hours to be worked daily by every man in the employment of a Railway Company, because, as we all know a hard-and-fast line of that kind would be unworkable. But it would not be unworkable to lay down a rule limiting the number of hours of regular and overtime work a man should be required to perform in a week or a fortnight. That would not be unworkable, and therefore the scope which is permitted under this Motion is so wide, that I am surprised any hon. Member should think it interferes with any principle he imagines is adhered to by the House of Commons as to fixing the hours of adult male labour. There are many reasons why the Legislature should interfere in a case of this kind. In the first place, a strike of railway servants is not an ordinary strike of workmen against their employers, it is a strike against the community, and that is what it has been in Scotland. Perhaps the Railway Companies, if the 982 strike should terminate now, would lose say, £200,000 in traffic and other ways, but that is not a tenth part of the loss the community has suffered by the strike. In Lanarkshire the men, in many trades, are reduced to idleness by the strike. There is a single factory where 5,000 men are rendered idle by the strike, as many, perhaps, as the number of railway men on strike. In the print works in the Vale of Leven there were at one time 6,000 men in enforced idleness in consequence of the strike. The loss to the community, directly and indirectly, has been enormous. Probably this loss has affected two or three million of inhabitants in a greater or lesser degree; but the loss is spread so widely that it is impossible to make a computation as to what that loss has amounted to. Another reason for interference is the interest in public safety. I think the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Howorth) spoke of the Legislature never having interfered in the question of individual labour; but that is a mistake. This House has interfered many times when the health of persons has been in danger. There are many instances of Acts interfering with the conditions of adult male labour, and this Motion will, if carried, be simply carrying out the same principle in relation to railways which has been carried out in other branches of employment in the country. Such intervention is even more necessary in reference to railways, because of the character of the work railway servants have to do, at least those of them who have to do with the train service. They are onerous duties, they require all a man's attention, there must be no carelessness, and he must be as competent to discharge his duty in the last hour of his day's work as when he began his day's work. There is another reason why the Legislature should interfere, that the men need to be protected against themselves. We have heard to-night of a man who, at the end of 12 hours work, undertook another shift of 12 hours out of kindness to a fellow-workman; and, on the other hand, there is no doubt that a large number of men, for the sake of the extra money they earn, will undertake almost any amount of overtime, and against men who undertake more than they are capable of the travelling public must be protected, and 983 the only way to do that is to apply compulsory powers — powers which the Board of Trade ought to take to prevent Railway Companies employing men beyond a certain number of hours consecutively. Major Marindin, in a Report on a fatal railway accident, said that these accidents would occur until the companies were compelled not to employ drivers and stokers more than a reasonable number of hours. There are many reasons, besides those I have named, why the State should intervene in a question of this kind. It has been suggested that in this Debate we ought not to refer to the strike now going on in Scotland; but I say that had the opportunity not been taken to dwell on the lessons we have learned from that strike, the discussion would have been a very partial and one-sided one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, and likewise, I believe, the Member for Reading, told the House that the Railway Companies were very much against overtime; that it was very costly, and that as much as possible they prevented it. One speaker suggested that all the extra hours mentioned in the Report were overtime. But that is not so, for many cases are mere irregularities. The system prevailing on the Scotch Railways is a 12 hours day, with a fortnight unit, so that a man must work at least 144 hours in a fortnight, and until he does that he gets no overtime. If he has a day off he must make up the time on other days. Now, the mechanics employed by the Railway Companies to build their locomotives only work nine hours a day, while the men who drive the engines sometimes work 18 hours a day and longer. There have been cases in which men have been on a locomotive for 23 hours, and I heard of one case in Glasgow where two men were on an engine for 28 hours. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University gave us a very interesting account of the London and North Western system. No doubt there are some good railways and some bad ones. I submit that the particulars we have show that the strike in Scotland was caused by overwork. In that respect the London and North Western Railway Company were themselves very bad at one time. In the 984 returns to this House for January, 1887, there were given 1,204 cases in which drivers and stokers had been at work for 17 hours. In the return for March last there were only 56 such cases. Again, in the return for January, 1887, there were given 562 cases in which drivers and stokers had been on locomotives for 18 or more hours consecutively, whereas in the return for last March there were only 5 such cases. That shows what a company can do. We have been told that these cases of excessive hours have arisen from unforeseen circumstances that could not be controlled. But is the House to understand that while in January, 1887, there were 1,204 cases beyond control, last March there were only 56? Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University mean to say that all these cases arose from causes which the company could not control? Nothing of the kind. They could have been prevented in January, 1887, just as easily as they were in March, 1890. They were due to bad management in 1887, and are now fewer in number because the line is better managed. Now, as to the Scotch companies—the Caledonian and the North British. The Returns are very interesting, and show that the plea of unforeseen circumstances cannot apply to them. In January, 1887, the Caledonian had 9,912 cases where goods guards were employed for more than 13 hours consecutively. Last March the number had been reduced to 500. In January, 1887, there were 364 cases of goods guards working 14 hours; last March there were only 113. In January, 1887, in 23 cases men worked 16 hours; last March there were only 10 such cases. Thus there was a general improvement. But let us examine the figures relating to the North British Railway. This strike in Scotland has been entirely brought about by the shameful treatment of the employeés on the North British Railway. I may mention at once that in every case the figures for last March are worse than those for January, 1887. In the last-named month there were 107 cases in which guards worked 18 hours and over consecutively. In March last there were no fewer than 245 such cases. How about the doctrine of unforeseen circumstances. Does it apply to this case? The simple explanation is that the 985 railway is undermanned. In January, 1887, there were 724 cases in which drivers and stokers had been employed for 18 hours or more. If this line had been like the Caledonian and London and North-Western Railway, if the management had improved the figures would have been reduced; but as a matter of fact there were 1,016 such cases last March. Therefore, although we have been told that overtime in nearly every case is the result of unforeseen circumstances, yet the House can now see that the real cause is very different indeed. These figures illustrate the necessity for legislative interference in these cases, for remember that although these figures have been for months in the possession and knowledge of the directors of the North British, they have done nothing to remedy the grievance, and thus have brought about the strike. We know that the directors and managers have refused to treat with the men unless they return to their work unconditionally, and trust to their sense of justice; but what sense of justice can there be in managers and directors who allow such a state of things to prevail? I believe the strike might have been avoided if the Board of Trade had issued its mandate to the company to improve its management. The hon. Member for Central Glasgow referred to the question of dividends, but I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that dividends have nothing whatever to do with this question. If a Railway Company never paid a dividend at all it should be as liable to treat its employés fairly and equitably, as is the company which pays the highest dividend. I hope, at any rate, this Debate will induce the Government to accept the proposal before the House, and that the North British will be compelled to treat its servants in a very different fashion in future from what it has done in the past, and I therefore have much pleasure in supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ (10.20.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICK BEACH, Bristol, W.)
The reason I have not addressed the House at any earlier period of this Debate is no want of interest in the subject, or because Her Majesty's Government have 986 not considered the course it will be their duty to take in regard to it. It is because I saw many hon. Members on both sides were anxious to address the House, and on a subject of such singular difficulty and complexity, I own I was anxious to become acquainted with their opinions. There is one feature in the Debate which perhaps I may say has given me unaffected and unalloyed pleasure, and that is the remarkably unanimous and almost childlike confidence which the House has expressed in the Board of Trade. I do not take that as a compliment to myself, but as a well-deserved compliment to the permanent officials in the Department over which I have the honour to preside. But that confidence has been carried by some hon. Members and a good many persons outside this House to an utterly unreasonable point. They are not only confident in us for the future, and willing to repose in us very indefinite power, but they appear to believe we possess to a great extent those powers at the present moment. I have received a very considerable number of memorials from public bodies and other persons in the districts affected by the recent strikes, praying for the intervention of the Board of Trade, and I have been obliged to reply to the effect that the Board of Trade has absolutely no authority to interfere in a dispute between employers and employed. Some of the suggestions that have been made on this point have struck me as remarkable. I have no intention whatever of dwelling on this strike in Scotland. I can assure hon. Members that if by the expenditure of any time and trouble I could have shortened that strike by a single day, no time or trouble would have been spared. But the suggestions have been very vague. I notice this morning in a speech made by the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow that he is reported to have used last night these words—When Railway Companies stood out beyond a certain point in a question of a strike which originated in hours and overtime, in his opinion Parliament and the Government had a right to say something.A good deal has been said to-night, but that does not carry us much further. The right hon. Gentleman, however, went on to say something. He said— 987It was impossible that gentlemen like those should be dealt with by a Parliament in which every employer had on an average several votes, and the employed only an occasional vote.Anyone who reads the Debate of to-nigh will be of opinion that that was a most invidious and unfair statement as applied to the House of Commons. In the course of this Debate we have had several suggestions. It has been suggested that the Board of Trade should set up a Board of Conciliation, and should have some kind of initiative to compel the two parties to a strike to agree, and the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, with some inconsistency. proposed to withdraw his Motion if I accept a proposition which is in no way involved in it. No one knows more about legislative attempts at the establishment of Boards of Conciliation than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield. He was the author of an admirably designed Act, which I am afraid has been almost forgotten, for promoting the formation of voluntary Boards of Conciliation. This Act has fallen stillborn. Boards of Conciliation formed without the interference of Parliament have been most successful in dealing with disputes between capital and labour, and all desire, no doubt, that that system should be extended. But if the Board of Trade are asked to propose legislation in order to enable them to appoint a Board of Conciliation, I should like to ask those who make the proposition, firstly, how are we to compel disputes to be referred to such a Board, and, secondly, how are we to compel the two parties to carry out the award of the Board? I do not wish to argue that matter tonight, but until these questions I have just put can be answered, I believe the idea of the establishment of a Board of Conciliation through the operation of the Board of Trade is nothing more nor less than a chimera. Blame has been largely attributed to the North British Company in the recent strike, and I am afraid blame might fairly be attributed to both sides. I do not wish to say one word of blame of anybody, because I trust the strike will soon be ended, and the news may be true that it is ended already. The question really at issue in this strike was not one of overtime merely. That may 988 have been the question at issue to a certain extent, but I believe the real question at issue was a question of pay—what the length of a normal day should be, and what was to be paid for hours worked beyond the normal day. That to my mind is not involved in the Motion of the hon. Gentleman at all. It is a dispute between employers and employed on a question of wages, and it is a question with which neither Parliament of Government could usefully interfere. Supposing they were to agree to a six hours day and overtime to be paid for at the rate of time and a half, we should none the less have to consider here, on the principles of the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, whether it was safe in the interest of the public and the men themselves that they should be free to work beyond that normal day as much time as they liked. The proposal of the hon. Gentleman is that some kind of power should be vested in the Board of Trade absolutely to forbid excessive overtime. I think that anyone who has at all considered the Returns that have been presented to the House will observe that the complaints of excessive overtime are mainly true with regard to goods and mineral drivers, firemen, and guards. I think my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works addressed a very fair argument to the House with regard to those Returns. He pointed out that they were not so unsatisfactory as represented by some speakers. He showed that taking the total number of men employed, and the number of working days, the daily percentage of men employed on overtime was comparatively small, and he went on to show that overtime does not necessarily mean continuous work; that, for instance, the driver of a goods train might during the period of employment counted as overtime be shunted into a siding or shed and not be absolutely at work; or that a guard might be waiting at London in a comfortable room provided for him by his employers until it was time for him to return to his train for the return journey. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, but it is so. There s no question that the London and North Western Company and also other companies have made provision for their servants, by which they have been able to take rest at intervals when they have 989 been on duty more than the normal hours. Again, a signalman, for instance, in a box at a country station, where there are comparatively few trains passing in the course of his 12 hours' duty, really has very many intervals of leisure, and I can say from my own knowledge that in many of these cases of 12 hours work the day's duty has been as light and is as easy as an able-bodied man could be called upon to perform. I mention these points because I think there are allowances which should fairly be made in estimating what is excessive overtime as proved by the Returns; but 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. 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 the railway servants, principally drivers and firemen, and 24 separate instances of overtime were given in these cases. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somersetshire (Mr. Llewellyn) asked me to state whether anything is done with regard to the Reports on accidents by Inspectors of the Board of Trade which are laid upon the Table of the Houses of Parliament. Well, I can tell him, and the fact is obvious from statements that have been made in the course of the Debate, that the Board of Trade most carefully studies these reports, and addresses remonstrances and advice to the Railway Companies upon any point on which remonstrance or advice can effectively be offered. That is all the law at present empowers us to do, and we do it, and I believe that in many cases that action and the publicity given to the Report of the Inspector have been followed by the necessary improvement in the arrangements for working the railway. I was also asked by an hon. Member what course the Board of Trade will take with reference to certain accidents which he alleged had occurred during the continuance of the unhappy strike in Scotland. Well, Sir, we have taken, and we shall take with regard to any accident of that kind pre- 990 cisely the same course we should take in respect to any accident occurring under other circumstances. We shall be neither harder nor milder towards the Railway Company with regard to them than we should be if there had been no strike at all. An accident must, of course, be of some importance to call for a Board of Trade inquiry, but I must say that the tendency of my own mind would be to inquire more carefully into railway accidents that occurred during strikes than into those that occurred under ordinary circumstances. Now, a good deal has been said on both sides about the feeling of the men in respect to overtime. I think there could be no doubt that, at any rate in the past, much of the overtime that has been recorded has been worked with perfect readiness by the men themselves. I do not say that they have done that altogether from any mercenary motive. The men are, of course, attracted by the prospect of earning extra wages, and who would not be? It is not only that. An engine driver feels towards his engine, even a signalman feels towards his signal-box, something of the pride that a sailor feels in his ship. He does not like to see a stranger mount his engine or put in charge of his signal box. He is zealous, and admirably zealous, in the work which he is set to do. Therefore it is not at finding fault with the men, but as stating a simple fact, very much to their credit, that I say overtime is often due to the willingness of the men themselves to work it, even against the desire of the companies. I say against the desire of the companies, and I will prove it. I know that on one railway—and I believe it is the case on others—there is a rule in operation that drivers or guards are directed to inform the stationmaster where their trains stop, when their hours are likely to be exceeded before they arrive at their destination, and on their making that statement the stationmaster is bound by telegraph to provide for their relief at the earliest station at which it can be given. Yet that rule has had to be enforced on the men by fines, and the fact is a clear proof, if any proof were wanting, that this overtime is often against the desire of the Companies. Much has been said to-night by those who have spoken for 991 the men, which induces me to think that the views of the men are changing on this point—that there is a desire on their part which surpasses the wish to increase their wages, to have in future, free to themselves, sufficient time for relaxation as well as for rest. That is a desire with which I am sure every Member of this House will sympathise, and I would venture to point out to the House that this desire, if it be so, removes a very serious obstacle in the way of getting rid of excessive overtime, either by the regulations of the companies or by the interference of Parliament or the Government. I should like, however, to make one observation on the possibility of preventing excessive overtime. It is absolutely impossible, I venture to say, to prevent it altogether. No one who has entered in the least degree into the necessities—the absolute necessities—of railway working can dispute that proposition. You may have a railway accident which disorganises the whole traffic of the line; trains are delayed, and over time even to an excessive extent, is often necessary on the part of the servants in the interests of the public safety. Or there may be a fog or a snowstorm, or one of the steamers crossing the English or Irish Channel might be delayed by a storm—any one of these things, as well as some unexpected excess of traffic may throw the working of a railway out of gear, and there must be overtime, perhaps excessive overtime, to meet it. That, I think, is a proposition which cannot be disputed. 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. It was remarked, and I think with force, in the course of the debate that the observations that have been made against the Railway Companies are by no means of universal application; that the action of some companies in these matters has been deserving of praise, and that if all companies acted like them there would be no necessity for this discussion, or for the interference 992 of Parliament. That I believe to be true, and I believe also that the fact is a proof that all the companies might vastly improve their position if they only tried to do so. Still there has been progress in this direction. I have compared the Returns of March, 1888 with those of March, 1890, with respect to the eight chief companies in Great Britain as to the overtime of goods drivers and guards—that is to say employment beyond 12 hours and beyond 13 hours—and I find that in six of those eight companies there has been a sensible decrease in the percentage of overtime; one has been stationary, and one, I am sorry to say, has gone the wrong way. I can assure the House that this debate is by no means the first time my attention has been called to this subject. As long ago as October last, speaking in public in the district where the unfortunate railway strike has occurred—in Kilmarnock—I stated plainly my opinion that the Railway Companies ought to take in hand for themselves this question of excessive overtime, that it would be much better dealt with by them than by Parliament, but that it would have to be dealt with by Parliament if they failed to do so. Towards the end of last November I emphasized that statement by an official letter addressed to the Railway Association, calling their attention to the number of cases in which my inspectors had reported that accidents were due to excessive overtime, and requesting them at once to consult and consider what should be done to remedy the evil. I am sorry to say, however, that little, if anything, has been done the Railway Companies, perhaps, have not sufficient influence over each other to remove this difficulty for themselves. I wish they had. I must honestly say, and most Members of the House will share this view with me, that, if the Railway Companies would act in these matters for themselves, it would be infinitely better for the public at large than that Parliament or the Government should interfere. But I am forced to the conclusion that such interference is necessary. And now I come to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman thank the House for the confidence expressed in the Board of Trade, but no where is that confidence more touchingly 993 expressed than in the terms of the hon. Member's Motion. He asks the House to resolve—That, in the opinion of this House, the excessive hours of labour imposed on railway servants by the existing arrangements of the Railway Companies of the United Kingdom constitute a grave scandal on justice, and are a constant source of danger both to the men themselves and to the travelling public; and that it is expedient that the Board of Trade should obtain powers by legislation to issue orders, where necessary, directing Railway Companies to limit the hours of work of special classes of their servants, or to make such a reasonable increase in any class for their servants as will obviate the necessity for overtime work.But neither in the terms of the Motion nor in his speech, nor in the speech of any single hon. Member to-night, can I find the slightest hint as to the regulations which should be made. This House is asked to resolve that the Board of Trade should be placed in the position of a general director of all the Railway Companies of Great Britain and Ireland. And the Board of Trade is to do something—what we do not know—to carry into effect the general principle which this House is asked to affirm.
§ MR. CHANNING
I think I stated in my speech that my suggestion was that an order should be issued by the Board of Trade, where it is found by the evidence, for instance, that the booked times for engine-drivers are such as are proved by experience to constantly result in these excessive hours, requiring the companies to limit or alter the hours of booking those men.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
What does the hon. Gentleman mean? Am I to issue an order that no engine-driver shall work for more than twelve, ten, or eight hours?
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not put this point by way of controversial argument, but as a practical difficulty. It seeems to me it is a practical difficulty of enormous importance, and when I heard the Member for West Fife shire suggesting that it was the easiest thing in the world for the Board of Trade to undertake it, I confess I felt disposed to congratulate him that he had not had the experience which I have had of the work imposed by Parliament, I am afraid at 994 my own instance, upon the Board of Trade during the past two years. I will not go into the question of railway rates, which is not strictly germain to the present debate, but the Railway Regulation Act of 1888 enabled the Board of Trade to order all Railway Companies to adopt continuous brakes in passenger trains, to adopt the interlocking system of signals, and the block system throughout their lines. The opinions of experts and of the railway managers themselves were practically unanimous as to the wisdom and the necessity of all these provisions. The orders requiring them to be adopted were obviously of a comparatively simple and definite character, but I can assure the House that I have had the greatest possible difficulty in adapting the orders to the circumstances of the different railway lines throughout the United Kingdom, varying as they do from the great London and North Western to some trifling small local line in the North of Scotland or the West of Ireland. When it comes to a question of employment, what is it that the hon. Member asks me to do? The hon. Member asks me, for instance, to forbid the employment of signalmen for excessive overtime. Supposing I were to fix the maximum hours of signalmen at 12 hours. A 12 hours day for signalmen is a very easy day's work in certain cases, but there are signal boxes where eight hours is a very hard day's work indeed, and where even half that time is more than any one man can do without rest. Am I to settle what should be the hours of work in every signal box on every railway throughout the United Kingdom? That is the task which the hon. Member would seek to impose upon me, and, more than that, he asks me to fix the number of men which I may consider adequate to be employed in the service of the railways. ["No."] But he does, for he says—Or to make such reasonable increase in any class of their servants as will obviate the necessity of overtime.I merely put these points to the fairness and good sense of the House. How is it possible for any Government Department, with any staff at its command which Parliament would be likely to sanction, to undertake such a gigantic task as this; and if it did 995 undertake it, what would be the result? Supposing we fixed maximum hours for drivers, or signalmen, or guards, and an accident occurred, because those hours proved too long in some individual case: would not the Railway Company be able to plead, "We have done what the Board of Trade required us. These hours are within your rules. Your inspectors report, no doubt, that they were too long in this particular case, and that the accident was due to that; but our responsibility is gone?" On whom would the responsibility rest? Would it rest on the Board of Trade? Would this House be content that any Government Department should undertake responsibility, practically, for the working of the railways, without owning them and managing them as well? The idea in the hon. Member's mind is a dangerous idea to me beyond everything, for this reason—that it seems to me to lead up to the purchase and working of the railways of the United Kingdom by the State. I cannot conceive anything worse than that for the service of the public or the railway servants themselves—nothing more dangerous for political corruption in this country. The hon. Member seems to agree with me. He disclaims that idea. I am excessively glad to hear it, because it brings us nearer together than I thought we were. I am content to admit, as the Railway Companies have not dealt with this matter as they ought to have done, that the time has come when Parliament should carefully consider whether, and in what way, it should interfere; but I contend that it is impossible to overrate the difficulty of defining that interference—what it should be, and within what limits it should be confined, so as to avoid what I think this House wants to avoid, any diminution of the responsibility of the Railway Companies for the management of their own lines. If the hon. Member's Motion is adopted, the House will affirm a vague principle without the faintest explanation on the part of those who have supported it, as to the mode in which they would carry it into effect. Sir, in this matter I mean business. I want to do something practical. Let this House, if it likes—I cordially agree with the view myself—let it affirm its objection to excessive overtime as danger- 996 ous to the travelling public, and to the men themselves. Let it appoint a carefully chosen Committee, not to delay action on this matter, but to inquire whether legislation is possible, and, if so, what that legislation should be. Let us come to that resolution now by an unanimous decision, apart from Party feeling, with a desire to provide for the safety of the travelling public, and of the men, and yet, at the same to time, to preserve the essential responsibility of the company. I believe we can come to such a resolution, and what I would suggest is this: I would ask the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion, and if he agrees, I would propose in its stead—That, in the opinion of this House, 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 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.
§ (10.55.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
As to the importance of this Debate and the questions raised in it there can be no dispute. There are involved in it the interests of the great Railway Companies, perhaps the most powerful and the greatest corporations in this country. I am not going to throw any stone at the Railway Companies or their directors. I have had at one part of my life too intimate a knowledge of the manner in which these great concerns are conducted not to render to them a tribute of respect for the spirit, intelligence, and integrity which they display. I believe that nowhere are these great corporations conducted with so much regard for the convenience of the public, and, generally speaking, the welfare of their employés, as in this country. Therefore I shall make no attack on them in this Debate. On the other hand, there are the men employed by them, who are to be counted by thousands, and even by hundreds of thousands, and I think no one who has thought of the exposure railway servants have endured during the past few weeks in the weather we have had can fail to believe that these men have exhibited a courage and endurance equal to any soldier in the field. Besides that there are the public at large, whom the men serve, and they 997 have great interest in the welfare of both. Now, Sir, what is it we have been called upon to debate to-night? My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, in a speech, the ability and moderation of which everyone will recognise, proved to demonstration the fact that there is going on in this country a system of overtime which overtaxes these men, which is injurious to them, and which is dangerous to the public. That is a proposition which cannot be denied. It was sustained in a speech of great ability and earnestness by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, who spoke with great authority on behalf of the class to which these men belong. How was it met? It was met—I hope I may say it without disrespect—by the weird sibyl of the Conservative Party. We always listen to him with respect, whether he dictates to us in the columns of the Times, or to his own party in this House, and he says, in effect—"For Heaven's sake do not let us be compelled to vote against this Motion. Do contrive for us some means of escape, if it is only a Committee or a Commission of Inquiry, so that we may not vote against it." The hon. Member spoke words of wisdom which sank deep into the Treasury Bench. I saw the consultation which took place, and as usual the hon. Member for Salford proved infallible, and his suggestion was adopted. Then the debate continued, and there was the usual procession of railway directors, who one after another got up and declared that there was no grievance to remedy at all; that everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It was true that occasionally the men might work beyond ten hours, but that was an accidental circumstance which arose from a condition of things that could not be avoided. Then my right hon. Friend the Commissioner of Works, "garbed in white-robed innocence appeared." I quite believe in my right hon. Friend's innocence; but it is not against the London and North Western Railway that this Motion is directed. He spoke of the company with which he is connected, and that speech contained the most interesting and lively statistics. But what would you think of a Member who, upon a Bill to amend the law of larceny, should say, "I assure the House of Commons on my honour that I 998 never picked a pocket in my life?" We know that my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works never picked a pocket, but that is no reason why there should not be a Bill to amend the law of larceny. The question here is, is there a grievance to be remedied or not? I remember when the railway directors and the railway interests were all-powerful in this House, and that when a dozen directors got up one after another the Government had to do what the directors ordered them to do. Those days have disappeared with household suffrage. And though I regret with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham that the railway workmen have not their personal representatives in this House, at all events they have representatives who are disposed—and who if they were not disposed, would be compelled—to guard their interests. Therefore I do not think that all this procession of Railway Directors which we have seen to-night, declaring that there is nothing to remedy at all in this case, is likely to prevail with the House of Commons. Indeed, it has not. Because if they do not confess for themselves, at all events the President of the Board of Trade, with a certain delicacy towards his colleagues, has confessed the offences of some of the Railway Companies; he has admitted that they ought to remedy these grievances; that they will not; and that they are not likely to do it unless they are compelled. At this late hour I will not go into figures, but with these Returns before us it is sheer nonsense to talk of this overtime being the result of inevitable accident. It is nothing of the kind. There are hundreds and thousands of instances, even in that impeccable company the London and North-Western itself. What is the fact? In the best companies the great increase of their business has made it enormously difficult for them to meet the demands upon them; but the best of them have made efforts, and they are meeting those demands. I would here remind the House that the scale of this Return is a 12-hour scale, while that in operation on the North Western is a 10-hour scale; and, therefore, whatever is in excess of 10 hours is in itself overtime. The other day one of the directors of a northern railway was talking to me on the subject of the 999 strike in Scotland, and he said, "Why, in Carlisle Station, on the north side, there is a 12-hour system, and on the south side a 10-hour system." How is it possible to maintain such a contrast as that where two systems are in absolute contiguity? It is impossible. Where there is a grievance of this kind, is the House of Commons to attempt to deal with the matter? The President of the Board of Trade, inspired by the hon. Member for Salford, wishes to get rid of this Resolution. If I might venture to advise the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, I should not part with my Resolution. I have had some years' experience in the House of Commons, and I have learnt that if you want to do anything, and you bring forward a Resolution of this kind, you had better stick to it if you hope to accomplish any practical object. It has been said that public opinion ought to be sufficient in these matters to affect the Railway Companies. Well, Sir, if public opinion had been sufficient to affect the Railway Companies it would have stopped the strike in Scotland. I believe that all reasonable opinion was against the conduct of the directors. I do not quarrel with the President of the Board of Trade for not having entered upon the question of the strike. The opinions he expressed to-night are a condemnation of the directors in Scotland. Every one knows that the conduct of the North British Company is intolerable, and the whole contention is whether or not overtime ought to be restrained. Unfortunately public opinion has not been allowed to stop this contest. There are organs of public opinion, both in England and Scotland, which have kept this strike alive. I have been ashamed to read the brutal language addressed to the men in this conflict by the Scotsman in Scotland and by the Times in London. They have instigated the masters not to yield—not to make any terms with their men, not to accept anything but an absolute and unconditional surrender. I read an article in the Times the other day in which it said the strike was over. Well, Sir, that has been extremely unfortunate, and now we have to see what is to be done in the matter. One of the great evils in this question is that the companies have not chosen to meet their men. They have laid down the prin- 1000 ciple that they will have nothing to do with Trades' Unions. In my opinion that is an extremely foolish principle. What are the Trade Unions? They are the recognised representatives of the interests and wishes of the men. What would you think of one of two nations, who had gone to war and desired to make peace, starting by saying it would not treat with the Government of the other country? What an absurdity that would be! Can there be anything more absurd than the language of the Directors when they say "We won't treat with the Trades' Unions. In my opinion these recognised organs of the men are the best means of settling these questions, and I believe that all of the most intelligent capitalists are of that opinion in dealing with questions of this kind. Now, Sir, is there any objection to deal with this question by some Public Authority? It does not raise at all the question of dealing generally with the hours of labour. In dealing generally with the hours of labour you would have to deal with traders on the ordinary footing, and Railway Companies are not traders of an ordinary kind. They enjoy a monopoly created by Parliament. They are responsible to Parliament, and are in many respects governed by the Executive. Why do you order them to use the block system or a particular kind of brake? The Government has accepted the responsibility, and surely the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade must see that by ordering a particular kind of brake he is responsible for any accident it may cause.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman receives a complaint in his official capacity, and upon that he interferes with the brakes used by the Railway Companies in a manner he would not adopt in any other trade. But there is another point to be borne in mind with regard to the position of the men, the railway system is not an open trade. Men are brought up as servants of the Railway Companies, and they have not got the market that men in other trades have. They can only go to the monopolists. That places the whole question of the labour of the Railway Companies, 1001 who confine their labour to a restricted market, upon an entirely different footing. Of course, there is the element of public danger in the matter, and that cannot be left out of sight. But I do not wish to enlarge upon that. Then it will be said: "You are interfering with the freedom of contract." Well, I thought even Her Majesty's Government had got past that. The Minister of Agriculture at one time entertained a horror of that blessed word "compulsion." Let me remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of one of their favourite legislative proceedings, I mean the Allotments Act. That was a compulsory Act, and when it was passed they said the new power of compulsion would lead to voluntary effort. Well, just the same will happen in this case. Do you believe that if there had been an authority that could interfere with overtime the strike in Scotland would have ever taken place? No, it would not. The fact of such an authority existing would have caused the company and the men to come to an arrangement. I was surprised, I must say, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should raise all those difficulties, which are no difficulties at all, about his arranging the hours of labour for a particular class of men. That is not what is contemplated. If a company systematically worked its men overtime, it could be brought before either the Board of Trade or some other public authority. It would be brought before that authority accused of having a general system of overtime. An inquiry would be made into the question whether it had a good system like the London and North Western Company or a bad system like that of the North British Company, and an order would be made upon it to amend its system generally, and that its system should be put upon a reasonable basis, and should not admit of a day of 15, 17, or 18 hours. That is business. It is perfectly easy when, a man does not want to do a thing, to find every possible reason for not doing it by raising every conceivable difficulty. That is not what we intend at all. We desire to-night to make this declaration. I do not place in the Board of Trade that childlike confidence which the right hon. Gentleman thinks would be misplaced. If, instead 1002 of vesting it in the Executive, the Government thinks it better to leave a general thing of this kind to the Railway Commission, which is a body outside the Executive Government, and if it likes to amend the Resolution in that form, I would ask my hon. Friend to assent to it. That would be a body outside the Executive Government to whom a charge of that kind against a Railway Company might be properly referred, and it would be heard on behalf of the men on the one side, and on behalf of the company on the other; and the company would be ordered to amend its system in a reasonable manner on the basis of a fair standard, and afterwards it would be for the tribunal to see that it was so amended as to prevent the evils which had been condemned. That seems to me to be a perfectly intelligible proposition. That is what we desire here to see accomplished, and to push this matter over to a Committee is to leave it in a most unsatisfactory state. I believe already that this discussion will have done a great deal of good, and if it is true, as I believe it is, that the strike in Scotland has come to an end, this discussion to-night may have done something to bring about a settlement. I believe that if you establish some tribunal of this kind you will be very seldom called upon to use it. I am quite as much against the notion of interfering with the details of railway management as anyone; but I believe the knowledge that there lies behind an authority which can compel justice to be done as between the parties, and reason to be observed in the time of the employment of these men, would obviate the necessity of ever going into those details at all, and would compel a reasonable settlement of such disputes as we have seen. That is the object which I understand my hon. Friend has in view, and I hope the House will support and affirm the Resolution.
§ (11.24.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
Mr. Speaker, I wish to say a few words in reference to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. The President of the Board of Trade admitted that a 1003 case had been made out for the consideration of the House with respect to the excessive hours of railway servants, and he has suggested that some practical means should be taken by this House to ascertain how Parliament could fitly deal with the subject, and whether legislation is required in cases of this kind. I have listened attentively to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and he has not suggested any method by which practically this evil, which is admitted by my right hon. Friend, could be dealt with.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I beg pardon. I think I suggested something should be done by an Act of Parliament appointing a tribunal.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that by an Act of Parliament somebody, whether the Board of Trade, the Railway Commission, or some other body, is to do something which is not to interfere with the details of railway management, but which is to lay down some general principle applicable to the circumstances we have to deal with, and which will avert the evil which we all agree ought to be averted. My right hon. Friend, on the other hand, has made a practical proposition to the House. He has proposed that the question shall be examined by a strong Committee of the House, with a direction as to whether legislation cannot be proposed which shall have practical effect, so as to escape all the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby feels, but which he has not dealt with. We admit the grave importance of this question to the railway workmen of this country, who deserve all the credit which the right hon. Gentleman has given to them for their zeal in the service of the public, for their courage, and for their endurance in circumstances of great difficulty and hardship. But let us be practical in dealing with the question. We desire to assist in the object which the hon. Member has in view, and we do not desire to evade it, as we should possibly evade it, by accepting this Resolution to give power to the Board of Trade to direct Railway Companies to limit the hours of a special class of their servants, and so on. My right hon. Friend might in those circumstances 1004 receive a Report, and might write on the authority of the Board of Trade, stating that it was necessary that orders should be issued providing that railway servants should not work overtime, and that such reasonable increase in the number of servants should be made as to obviate the necessity for working overtime. There would be a correspondence between the Department and the Railway Company in fault. I should like to know whether that would include any substantive method of enforcing the authority of the Board of Trade? But this has a double effect. If the Board of Trade is responsible for directing that the hours of work shall be such as are satisfactory to the Board of Trade, there would be a demand, on the other hand, that the railway servants should be called upon to work during those limited hours. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman will then see that we are interfering with the details of railway management which we are incapable of enforcing, and dealing with difficulties which are more serious than any we have attempted up to the present time. Let a Select Committee consider this very grave question; and if they can come to any conclusion—as I hope and trust they may—which will enable the Government to propose legislation on the subject, then we may arrive at a result which will be satisfactory.
§ (11.31.) MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)
The two Members of the Government who have addressed the House have said that those who support this Resolution have nothing practical to propose. I reply that the Resolution itself contains a perfectly practical proposal. Coming fresh from contact with those who are concerned in this strike, I may state that there are three classes of men who are chiefly concerned in it—the signalmen, the drivers, and the guards, and they consider they have a grievance which affects the public as well as themselves. In the signal-boxes men are occasionally kept on duty for hours which are not only beyond the power of human endurance, but for hours which are inconsistent with the safety of the public. Engine drivers are kept on their engines for 16, 17, and 18 hours. These are facts which have been proved in evidence. 1005 What we ask is not a restriction of the general hours of labour, but for some interference in the public interest—that the Board of Trade should have power to send down its Inspectors to inquire into complaints as to excessive hours, and should have power, by means of bye-laws, to forbid the employment of certain classes of railway servants for more than reasonable hours. This is a moderate and simple proposition, and it is one that does not require to be considered by a Committee. It only requires a small amendment of the Act of 1888, and the proposal would not throw upon the Board of Trade any functions it is not perfectly competent to discharge. This question has been discussed from two different points of view. One point of view has been that there is a grievance which affects the public in such a manner as to justify legislative interference. Not only are Railway Companies monopolists, but they are monopolists who have made very large profits at the expense of the public. We do not grudge them that. Their Stocks have been split and sub-divided in such a way that it makes it difficult to calculate their value; but undoubtedly, compared with what was originally paid, they stand at an enormous premium. I hold that it is not unreasonable that in the public interest we should ask for the simple powers contained in the Motion to be conferred on the Board of Trade. But when we come to the wider question involved, I feel, not on abstract grounds, but in the interest of labour, that we are brought face to face with a very grave difficulty. From what I have seen of strikes I do not believe that the question at issue in a single one could have been satisfactorily disposed of by an Act of Parliament, and if this House were called upon to deal with these disputes it would have no time to discuss any questions but those of the relations of labour and capital. I am, however, glad to think that we are not coming to that. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby that this Debate marks an epoch in the history of the relations of labour and capital in this country. Such a Debate could not have taken place 10 years ago. It has been made possible by the extension of the 1006 Franchise. Even hon. Gentlemen opposite feel the pressure of their constituents, some portion of whom belong to the labouring class, and that is the explanation of the moderate tone of the President of the Board of Trade's speech, to which I listened with much interest. The right hon. Gentleman laid down principles very foreign to those which used to be urged on both sides in this House. It seems to me that we have made a great step forward. But, still, we are only at the beginning of wisdom; we have not yet reached the end. What was the question which agitated the public the other day in connection with this great strike, which we trust is drawing to a conclusion? It was, were the Railway Companies to recognise the federation of labour: whether they were entitled to say that for the future the formula should be master and servant instead of capital and labour. It seems as if a great Party issue is about to be fought out on that question. We shall have to say whether we on this side at all events ought not to insist on the recognition of the principle that the working people of this country are as free and have as perfect a right to federate against capitalists as the capitalists themselves possess. You will never get smooth relations between employers and employed until you recognise that principle. What have you in Northumberland and Durham? My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth could give the House some interesting information as to Trades Unions. He could tell it that the Trades Unions in those counties are big enough and strong enough to appoint men of business to negotiate with the employers. You rarely hear of any friction in the relations of employers and employed there. But until you concede that the workingmen of the country have a right to federate, I do not believe you will have anything like smoothness or freedom from friction. I do not rely on legislation as a means of getting rid of these evils. I recognise the principle that labour must be on a footing of equality with capital. But that is not the proposition before the House. I, for one, shall support the Motion of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, because it would be pedantry to vote against it, and because 1007 it embodies a proposition which could be easily carried out, and which I believe would work effectually. On the other hand, the suggestion of the Government would merely give the go-by to that plan.
§ (11.40.) MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
As I represent a greater number of railway servants than any other Member of this House, I hope I may be allowed to speak for a few minutes. I desire to ask, in the interest of the railway servants whom I represent, and who are employés of the London and North-Western Railway, whether the President of the Board of Trade intends to move the Resolution he has suggested, and if he will undertake that it shall be accepted as a fact by the Committee which he proposes to appoint that there is excessive overtime, and that that fact shall be the basis of the Committee's inquiry? I also wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will pledge himself to deal with the subject this year. If an undertaking is given that some practical legislation will be proceeded with this year I will support the right hon. Gentleman most cordially. I consider his speech in itself an ample justification of the Motion, for he has admitted that there is excessive overtime worked on railways. With regard to what the First Commissioner of Works said as to the London and North Western Railway Company, I could, if I had time, put a very different complexion upon it.
§ (11.42.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I think I ought to answer the question of the hon. Member. I will again read the terms of the Motion which I said I would propose if it were accepted in substitution for the Resolution of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire. It reads as follows:—That, in the opinion of this House, the employment of railway servants for excessive hours is a source of danger both to the men themselves and to the travelling public—that clearly admits the fact of excessive overtime—and 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.I said, in making this proposal on behalf of the Government, that if the Report of 1008 the Committee should be in accordance with the views of the Government, it would obviously be our duty to give the Report the earliest possible legislative sanction; but it is impossible for any Government to pledge themselves to adopt the Report of a Committee before they know its contents.
§ (11.44.) The House divided:—Ayes 141; Noes 124. (Div. List, No. 13.)
§ Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.