HC Deb 20 February 1899 vol 66 cc1561-89

Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words— And we humbly represent to your Majesty the urgent need of extending the powers of the Board of Trade in order to establish efficient inspection of the working of the railways of the United Kingdom, and of the introduction of a Bill for the greater safety of the men engaged in shunting operations, whereby there is good reason to believe that the heavy loss of life and serious non-fatal accidents now taking place on railways would be materially reduced."—(Mr. Maddison.)

* MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

Mr. Speaker, in rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I desire to be as brief as possible, although, Sir, I am conscious, and I think the House will agree with me, that the subject of the safety of railway men is one of great importance, and it needs no apology from me to introduce it to the House to-night, for some of us think Parliament has no worthier task than in seeking to make safer the lives of the workpeople of this country. And I must admit, Mr. Speaker, that I was a little disappointed, although I am not in the habit of expecting very much from this Government, at the absence from the Queen's Speech of any reference to the great question of railway safety, for there had been apparently inspired paragraphs in papers of some considerable standing which led us to think that something would be done in this direction. Now, my Amendment divides itself really into two parts. It asks for wider powers to be given to the Board of Trade, and for the introduction of definite legislation with respect to one part of railway work. At the present moment, strange as it may appear, there is really no inspection of railways at all. It is true that before a line can be opened there must be an inspection by a Board of Trade officer, who must give a certificate before traffic can be run, but after the opening ceremony has taken place neither an inspector nor a sub-inspector has any standing, can make any inquiry until after an accident has occurred. Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not here to deny at all that great good has been done by inquiries which have been held into the causes of accidents after they have occurred, but I do submit, Sir, that it would be far more to the purpose if practical men could go into the shunting yards and various other places on railways much in the same manner as Home Office inspectors can go into factories. But, Sir, at the present moment it does not remain here; for if honourable Gentlemen ever read the reports of the Board of Trade inspectors they will not need to be told that not only have they no powers of inspection before an accident, but that their duties largely consist, even after accidents, in pointing out what they believe to have been the cause of some collision or accident, and making pious recommendations, and, as I think the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will admit, it depends entirely upon the gracious consent of the railway companies of the kingdom whether these recommendations are adopted or not. So much is this the fact, that it is a very usual thing to read in an inspector's report that he is calling attention to the causes of an accident which he had previously pointed out, some five or six years before, were the causes of an accident which had happened on the very same line and under similar conditions. And then, Sir, when you come to the sub-inspectors' recommendations, you have this, which I cannot help but call a grave scandal, namely, that a sub-inspector may have pointed out quite clearly an obvious defect in the working which has caused loss of life and limb, and his report has been sent to the companies, but on many occasions his recommendations have been deliberately and wilfully ignored. Now, Sir, honourable Gentlemen may say that it is not likely that a great railway company can be called upon to put into operation every little suggestion made by sub-inspectors, and that sub-inspectors are only human, and that they are, therefore, liable to err. But, Mr. Speaker, I. do not take those technical questions about which there may reasonably be considerable difference of opinion, but I take defects in railway work which it does not need a railway man to pass an opinion upon. Let me give the House one example—one will suffice. I think we shall all be agreed here that a dark shunting yard is a source of danger to the men who have to marshal and manipulate railway traffic. Shunting, as I shall show in a moment or two, ranks among the most perilous of all callings, and the dangers of that calling are intensified, as we all shall admit, by the absence of necessary light for the men to do their work in. Mr. Speaker, some two or three years ago—and I am sorry to see that these reports are not issued annually—there were eight cases on the London and North-Western Railway, to take one line, where the sub-inspector had pointed out dark shunting yards. And what was the result? The report declared that in five cases the recommendations were altogether ignored. Now, Mr. Speaker, I said it was a scandal, and I repeat it, that any railway company should subject its men to needless danger, danger merely for want of lighting. These instances might be multiplied if necessary. So much is there need for increased powers being given to the Board of Trade that a short time ago the present Board of Trade sub-inspectors declared that there was no need for an increase of their number, and the President of the Board of Trade has, I think, more than once quoted that statement of his sub-inspectors as a reason that he should not increase their numbers. But the reason that these sub-inspectors gave was that the present powers of the Board of Trade are so limited that it is quite useless, in their opinion, to increase the number of sub-inspectors unless they have more powers to pursue their inquiries. Well, Mr. Speaker, personally I am no great advocate for State interference, and would only have it when absolutely necessary. We also all realise the dangers that come from too much centralization; but the history of railways shows conclusively that improvements in safety appliances do depend upon compulsion, and that in that department of railways where the pressure of the Board of Trade has been greatest, there the results in the saving of life and limb have shown the most considerable improvement. Why, Sir, when we take the figures referring to passengers, I find from the Board of Trade returns, that in 1874 there was one passenger killed in every 5,550,000 travellers, and one injured in every 296,000 travellers; while in 1897 safety had so much improved that there was only one passenger killed in every 57,000,000, and only one injured in every 3,000,000. So that, Mr. Speaker, I am justified in saying that, where there has been the greatest attention given to safety appliances, there the result has been the best. But the fact is that down to the time of the late Liberal Government—and then largely on the initiative of the late Mr. Mundella, and ultimately carried out by his successor, the President of the Board of Trade, there was no means at all by which accidents which affected railway men as distinct from the general public, were inquired into. It was only at that period, when some specially flagrant case was pointed out in this House, that inquiries were instituted into accidents to railway men. The result was that, while great attention was given to the safety of passengers, railway men went to their death with no more notice taken of it than a more paragraph in the newspapers and a figure in the written report to the Board of Trade. Nothing was done to inquire into the cause of accidents to railway men; but if perchance a passenger was involved in the accident, in every case there was a Board of Trade inquiry by one of the inspectors of that department. I hope I have shown that those inquiries which can now be made into accidents in which the public are not involved are robbed of their value, because the sub-inspectors are confined to the mere accident which has taken place. They have no power to examine the yards apart from the accident, and make a report or recommendations which the department has the power to enforce. Well, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to trouble the House with too many figures, but just to show the terrible state of affairs to which I am trying to draw the attention of the House, and that the matter is really a serious one, let me quote a few figures. Well, taking the number of men who manipulate the railway traffic of this country, and excluding a large number of clerks, mechanics, and others who are included in the Railways Regulations Act of 1898—I find that in 10 years from 1888 to 1897 no fewer than 4,751 railway men fell at their posts, and that there were 30,271 railway men more or less seriously injured. In those 10 years in killed and wounded there was a total of 35,022. Now, I submit, Mr. Speaker, that these figures are very serious, that they represent a huge amount of suffering and anguish, physical and mental, and that they often mean penury and poverty for the families of these men. Altogether these facts and figures make up a very strong case for exhausting every resource which we possess, in order that we may, at least, minimise this awful loss of life and limb. My case is that these resources have not been exhausted, and that the President of the Board of Trade, if he had the powers and the resources, could do a great deal to reduce the fearful list I have given to the House. But if we leave the general aspect of the question for the particular—take, for instance, shunting—operations, then, indeed, the percentage of accidents can hardly be equalled in any other calling. Why, Sir, I find that from the Board of Trade Returns—from which alone I quote—that amongst shunters, goods' guards, and breaksmen there were in ten years no fewer than 1,277 tilled and 17,094 injured, and that the total number of the grades only averaged in each of these years about 19,000 men. I would also, Mr. Speaker, call attention to the fact that if you take the last five years and compare them with the first five years, you have an increase of 20 per cent. in the injured in shunting operations. It is true, I am glad to say that in the fatalities there was some slight reduction. But when we leave aggregate figures and come to percentages, which after all is the only accurate way of reaching the true condition of affairs, what do we find? We find that in 1897 one breaksman in every 264 was killed, and one breaksman in every LI was injured. Why, Mr. Speaker, these figures are so large, these percentages ire so terrible that, although from a variety of causes I have had occasion to consult the Board of Trade Returns for many years, I myself felt that there must he some error. But when I found in the following year's returns a similar tale told, then I confess I felt alarmed at the increase of these accidents. When, however, we come to those exclusively employed in shunting operations the case is still worse. In 1897 there was one shunter in every 203 killed, and one in every 12 injured. Mr. Speaker, we sometimes hear of the courage of our troops and of the dangers to which the are exposed. Why, a British soldier enployed in slaughtering Dervishes in the Soudan has a safe place compared with the railway shunter. You may take the average death roll of our wars, and you will find nothing worse than goes on from year to year in the shunting yards of this country. And, Mr. Speaker, this comes home to the working classes of this country, and I hope that the House will feel the gravity of the case I am trying to place before it. Now, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make one point very clear. I am not here to-night, or anywhere else, and I never have done it, to make wholesale charges of cruelty and the lack of interest in human life on the part of the railway companies of the United Kingdom. I have said many hard things, and probably will again, of the railway companies, because I believe that they have been justified; but I have always said, and I say it here, that the British railways, on the whole, are amongst the best managed, with the best organisation of its kind, of any railways of any country in the world. I believe that there are a variety of causes for this, mainly through the splendid vitality and fidelity, and magnificent skill and discipline of the men who conduct the traffic with its increasing speed and complexity. The improvement shown in the safety of the passengers is a result too, in great measure, of the skill and courage of the railway men. No doubt these good fellows have not been protected like the passengers they have so often saved; but up to a few years ago there was no public opinion on the subject at all, and the men suffered terribly. I am not here as a senti- mentalist who imagines that you can conduct railway traffic without loss of life and lamb. I fully admit that where you have movement of vehicles—movement which is of great speed in many cases—and in others, which is worse, great congestion of traffic, where you have to move a lot of waggons and coaches with very little room to do it in, then it is inevitable that men will suffer both in life and in injury. But I suggest that the moment you show that any particular calling is perilous, and the more you emphasise the dangerous character of the calling, then that is a stronger reason for placing on you the greater duty to do everything you can to minimise the danger. Well, I submit that this has not yet been done, and that it will not be done until the Board of Trade has greater powers. But, Mr. Speaker, I always try to be practical, and I tell the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade very plainly that, personally—and I am sure my opinion is shared by many honourable Members of this House, and by railway men generally—I believe the country will never be satisfied until this Department has the powers indicated in my Amendment. But if the right honourable Gentleman can give us a definite assurance that he will, during this present Session, introduce a Bill dealing with automatic couplings, then, with the consent of the House, I shall not press the Amendment to a division. My object in moving this Amendment is to get something done for the benefit of the railwaymen of the kingdom. The little I know of politics has taught me to get all I can when I can, and then to go on trying for the rest; and if the right honourable Gentleman can give us, as I have some little hope he may, because during the time I have been in the House and from personal observation before that period I have seen that he is fully alive to the gravity of this question—if he will give us some assurance that he intends to take action this Session we shall be satisfied What we want is automatic couplings, and we want them because they will prevent one of the great causes of coupling accidents, for they will remove the necessity of men going between the vehicles. I admit that this will at first involve considerable cost to the railway companies. Some honourable Members suppose that because labour Members have not a large stake in the country they are therefore indifferent to the feelings of capitalists, but I think I may repudiate any such accusation, and I would point out that although the cost will be considerable, it must not be forgotten that this is a matter which concerns men's lives and limbs. I do not demand the immediate and universal adoption of an expensive change like automatic couplings, but we do want them introduced as quickly as possible. We do not say that every railway company in the kingdom must apply these couplings to their stock within a short period; we have sufficient knowledge to prevent us making any such absurd demand. All we ask is that they shall proceed to apply these couplings as soon as possible. We know what was done at the time of the introduction of continuous brakes. The President of the Board of Trade knows very well that his returns show that the quantity of stock unequipped with continuous brakes is being reduced year by year, and I venture to say that if this House had not intervened, instead of there being only about four per cent. of the stock not now equipped with these brakes there would have been 40 or 50 per cent. Therefore we say that we are quite prepared for the gradual introduction of automatic couplings so long as reasonable activity is shown in the matter. It has been said by some ill-informed people that this is a mere movement to benefit certain patentees of automatic couplings. But here, again, we have a good precedent in the case of the continuous brake. What did the Board of Trade do in regard to that? They did not say, "We will have only one automatic brake," but they wisely drew up some conforming conditions, and then said, "We do not care where the brake comes from, or who invents or manufactures it, but, in order to conform with the Board of Trade standard, you must do certain things." Exactly the same thing could be done in the case of automatic couplings. Before I conclude I want to refer to the American Coupling Law. America has been the great slaughter-house of railway men. No one can read their statistics without a shudder, even after reading our own, and that is saying a good deal. There can be no doubt that the British railwayman was almost twice as safe as his American brother before the introduction of the Coupling Law. America is a great land for individual enterprise, and the law as to railways is very different to what it is in Great Britain. But even in America so terrible was the loss of life from shunting that in 1893 a Coupling Law was passed through Congress, and through the Senate. May I be allowed to quota a few figures? Up to the end of 1897 over 70 per cent Of the entire stock in America was equipped with an automatic coupler. Bearing that in mind I have to say that in 1893, the first year of the adoption of the Act, there were 433 men killed in coupling and uncoupling; while in 1897, with only 70 per cent. of the stock equipped, 214 shunters were killed; 11,277 were injured" in 1893, and 6,283 in 1897. Without wearying the House with further figures I may point out that the net result is, on the testimony and authority of official statistics regarding American railways, that the introduction of automatic couplings has effected a saving in life and limb of something near 50 per cent. I think I have said sufficient to show that the question I have introduced to the House is one of great importance, and that it has an enormous effect on the lives not only of railwaymen, but also of women and children. What I ask for to-night is not the State management of railways—and I suppose some honourable Gentleman will tell us that no one wants to manage the railways through the Board of Trade—but with all due respect for that Board I did not think we should care for that What we do want is an effective system of inspection, a system which, will enable the inspectors to go on to the lines before accidents have occurred, and which when accidents do occur will give the Department some power to enforce its regulations. As a last word I have only to express the hope that the right honourable Gentleman will show the railwaymen of the country and the nation at large that he has realised what this means to the brave fellows who manipulate our traffic from day to day and from night to night. It must he admitted that he has not exhausted all the means at his command to reduce the number of accidents. I am quite convinced that by the introduction of automatic couplings the saving of life and limb on our railways would be quite as great as it has proved to be on the American lines, and if the right honourable Gentleman can see his way to introduce this reform, and if the House will accept it, Parliament will never have done anything more worthy of its great traditions than passing an Act which will affect such a laudable purpose.


I ought, perhaps, to apologise for again addressing the House to-night, but I feel so strongly on the subject of this Amendment that I feel bound to second it. I am glad to do so because I have had frequent opportunities of seeing the awful separations between relatives, and have witnessed the effects of the terrible shocks caused by catastrophes among railwaymen, and anyone who has had such an experience should naturally wish to do all he could to prevent a recurrence of them. My honourable Friend has given statistics with reference to the loss of life, and therefore I do not feel called upon to weary the House with figures. He has referred to automatic couplings, and has explained what has taken place in America, showing how the legislation there adopted has had the effect of greatly reducing the loss of life. When that Bill was passed it was provided that five years would be given in which the railways should have power to alter their stock, and the result has been that in 1898 two-thirds have been fitted with automatic couplings, and in 1900 automatic couplings will be fitted through the whole of the cars. But, besides that, the Americans have added the continuous brakes, which they caused to be fitted even to the freight cars. I do not know whether it will enter into the views of the President of the Board of Trade to turn his attention to that very desirable change, but, generally, his powers seem to me to be far too weak for the great work which is cast upon him. Without at all saying anything in their disparagement, I do not think that the railways of England are likely to introduce far-reaching amendments without some compulsion, and I hope from the rumour which has been referred to by my honourable Friend that the Government has in contemplation some Bill, which will perhaps not immediately, but in the lapse of years, enforce upon the railway companies of England the application of automatic couplings to their carriages. In 1886 there was a conference at Derby in order to hit upon some coupling which would best answer the purposes of saving life. Malicious people have said that the conference was called in order to prove the excellence of the existing couplings. I do not know how far that is true, but I hope that the Board of Trade will be able to take fuller powers in order to insist upon automatic couplings being introduced to prevent this loss of life. I hope that the Government will take its courage in both hands, with its large majority of 140 votes, and venture upon such an undertaking, and force the railways gradually to adopt automatic couplings. There are other means by which accidents can be avoided; one of those is that every wagon should be fitted with two brakes, one on either side, which would prevent many of the unnecessary passages of the shunters underneath the carriage. It is, perhaps, a counsel of perfection to say that each wagon should be fitted with two brakes. I am aware that that reform would cause very considerable expense, and perhaps it would be advisable not to insist upon such a change till a later period, but it seems to me that while we are endeavouring to find means to prevent loss of life, double brakes would be a great advantage. I am afraid that if that were proposed the President of the Board of Trade would have some opposition from the railways, and his greatest opposition would be from collieries, and from private companies. But I hope that danger will also be obviated, and that this Government will not fear to meet the unpopularity which will be gathered from those changes. Nobody can exaggerate the importance of good lighting, in the early morning, in the shunting yards, and in several cases which have come to my knowledge it has been noticeable that it has been on foggy mornings that the most heartrending accidents have taken place, and I heartily recommend to the President of the Board of Trade a system of inspection in which this question of the better lighting of yards will be better cared for. Then there are the steam capstans which are used for the purposes of shunting. They are always an element of danger. I do not say that where they do not exist accidents do not also happen, but these steam capstans run a great number of revolutions, and have a rope attached to the wagons, and every now and then the rope breaks, and in the immense velocity which is given to the rope, the man who is tending to the wagon is caught, and his life is lost. If a treadle were attached to the capstan, then when it was likely that an accident would happen that could be used, and no further revolutions could take place, and the danger would thereby be much diminished. As things are, it is a question of running some considerable distance and stopping the engine, and perhaps two or three minutes will elapse before the victim will be released from the danger he is in. This may be a small matter, but yet it is the cause of a great number of deaths, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will not think it beneath him to give his attention to these matters. I have very great pleasure in seconding the Resolution.


I have no connection with any railway company, and, therefore, I speak quite impartially upon these matters. But I always study the figures in regard to accidents on railways, and I have been overwhelmed in so doing by the comparison between the loss of life and limb upon the part of the passengers, and the loss of life and limb on the part of the men employed. The honourable Member who moved this Amendment made a most effective speech, and I am sure that every honourable Member of the House must consider this to be a very serious matter. I will not rely upon my own recollection for figures in connection with this matter, but will give them from authority. What I want to impress upon the public, as far as I can possibly reach the public, is that amongst one class, the shunters, the number of accidents is most appalling. The honourable Member talked about the risks run by soldiers and sailors. I do not wish to enter into the question, either of the risks they run, or of their heroism, but I do know this, that the percentage of cases amongst the shunter class of railway servants alone is equal to the loss of life in the whole of the British fleet for a year. If that is so, it is capable, or ought to be capable, of being removed. The honourable Member has said that he does not cite a wrong without giving a remedy. He has given us a very practical suggestion about what is happening in the United States. He has pointed out that the very subject to which he has called attention has been found so obviously one which demanded public action, that the United States of America adopted whatever remedies came to hand. When a remedy has been sought for and found, it appears to me that it should be adopted, and we all know the reasons in favour of this proposal for automatic couplings. I have received an account of the experiments which have been made with these new couplings and automatic brakes. I do not know which is the most successful, or which is the cheapest. That the thing can be done is amply proved by the fact that it is done, and has been done, by a country which is much larger than our own—that is the United States of America. The suggestion of the honourable Member seems to me to embody a reasonable proposal, and it is not reasonable to suppose that no remedy can be found for the state of things which exist now. Of course, it cannot be done on a single railway. I will make this suggestion: Cannot we insist upon this: That whenever a goods truck is built, or comes into the yard for repairs it shall be fitted with these appliances, and that a reasonable time for so doing shall be given by the Board of Trade. The examples which the honourable Member has cited seem to me on all fours with the matter of automatic couplings. The provision of continuous automatic brakes on passenger carriages has been made almost obligatory on all railways in the United Kingdom, and it seems to me that some such provision should be adopted with regard to the goods traffic for the sake of the life and limb of those enlaced in shunting operations. This view of the matter is the view of a perfectly independent Member of this House, who has spoken as to facts as he knows them to be, and which he thinks it is a reasonable thing to ask for a change in this direction. I have not the slightest reason to suppose that the attitude of the Government is anything but sympathetic towards this proposition. I do not believe that this continuous loss of life is a thing which they desire to sec going on, but I think they should give every encouragement to the idea embodied in such an Amendment as this. Although I trust that the honourable Member will not force this Motion to a division, yet I feel sure that he has the sympathy of a very large majority of the Members of this House.

* MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

The honourable Member for Brightside has given to the House a number of figures which it is unnecessary to repeat, and he has directed the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the necessity of the Board of Trade enforcing upon the railway companies the automatic couplings which have met with so remarkable a success during the last four years in America. That is a recommendation that I identify myself with most heartily. But it is not sufficient that the automatic couplings should be introduced for the diminution of a certain number of accidents in connection with shunting, because I am sure that there are other suggestions with which the honourable Member for Brightside will also agree. Automatic couplings are quite necessary, but better and additional brakes would also help a great deal in the same direction. If we adopt either suggestions, even then we cannot but recognise that with these extra appliances there is a need for a still further change in the direction of accident prevention. For instance, I believe that even if you have automatic couplings and shunting poles, more men will absolutely be required. I am positively convinced that the under-manning of the shunting staff is almost as fruitful a source of inquiry as the absence of automatic couplings. The President of the Board of Trade ought to insist upon a larger staff in the shunting yards than many railway companies are disposed to give, and even where we have automatic couplings and shunting poles and more men, many of the existing yards are insufficiently lighted, and the condition of the permanent way, through grease, and skids and other obstructions, is the frequent cause of serious accidents. Having said that, I come to another point. I do not doubt but what the President of the Board of Trade will say something that will satisfy my honourable friend the Member for Brightside, because both the Board of Trade and the Home Office have had brought home to them recently the frightful and needless sacrifice of human life that is going, on, not only in our railways, but in our mines. May I ask the President of the Board of Trade to remember that, beyond the recommendations which have been made, I would direct his attention to one source of accidents in another direction. Let us follow for a moment the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway from Victoria to Clapham Junction; there you will find on several of its lines and viaducts a tremendous reason why men have their lives needlessly sacrificed because of the large Pullman cars which these railways are adopting taking up at certain angles more room than the other carriages. We find that men are exposed under those conditions to a great risk. I know of one viaduct in my own district in which, when there are Pullman cars running in opposite directions, the platelayers have the greatest difficulty in escaping them. I myself have seen plate-layers at Battersea Junction viaduct compelled to jump out of the way of the Pullman cars going in opposite directions, to a wall with a drop of 60 feet on either side, in order to avoid being crushed by the oncoming trains. The President of the Board of Trade should prohibit the six feet way being filled up with sleepers, especially when trains are running through. He should further see that the causes of the cutting up of plate-layers that have recently happened should no longer continue, and that plate-layers should have out-look signallers, so that they might have a reasonable chance of escape. Take for instance the case of that brave fellow who was killed in driving the royal train. That in itself is sufficient to prove that all over-head bridges of our railways should be made of sufficient height to enable the man to stand at least half-way up his tender without having to run the risk of having his brains knocked out, as was the case with that unfortunate and brave fellow. It is not sufficient that automatic couplings should be made compulsory, but that also the bridges should be made higher than they are. In addition to that I might mention that there are plenty of spaces on many lines between goods trucks and adjoining walls which are of not more than two or three feet in width, when at least a six feet space ought to be the recognised space. As the right honourable Gentleman is desirous of saying a few words upon this important subject, I do not think it is necessary for me to say more, but I hope he will give a promise of legislation dealing with this subject, and I trust that where legislation will not meet the difficulty that administrative changes will be enforced. Certainly we have no right to see the men on the railways slaughtered as they are. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Belfast mentioned the relative risk of life between railway-men and soldiers. I have this comparison to make; that there were 29 British soldiers killed at the battle of Khartoum, and that there were 501 railway-men killed on our railways last year. There were 148 killed in the Balaclava charge, and there are considerably more shunters and brakesmen killed every year in the industry of our railways. It seems to me to be a curious fact that the man who is paid for getting killed rarely gets killed. In 15 years, from 1872 to 1886, out of 1,407,000 troops liable to be engaged in battle, there were only 1,396 killed in action, and in that same period of 15 years there were 8,400 men killed on our railways, and a total of 6,500 civilian workmen killed in the same period. We cannot permit this wanton sacrifice of human life to go on. Officers in the Army and Navy, to their credit be it said, look after the protection of their men, and do everything in their power to prevent the needless slaughter of those who are placed under their command. Unfortunately, we have not, in relation to our railwaymen, officers who take up the same position with regard to the railway industry as a colonel of a regiment does with the soldiers under his command. The nearest substitute to that kind of a man in the railway world is the President of the Board of Trade. Every year in his army of industry there are 500 men killed, and 67,000 more or less injured. They are killed by the neglect of the most elementary causes, and through the lack of administrative control which the right, honourable Gentleman himself can provide, and I would respectfully suggest to him that instead of allowing colonels of the Royal Engineers to be present at a coroner's inquest after a railway accident has happened he should appoint sub-inspectors and chief inspectors of railways to examine lines and to make suggestions, and their advice should be forced upon our railway companies, and if he does that I am sure that the 50s per cent. diminution of accidents in America which we have witnessed will be followed by a remarkable diminution in the number of men injured and killed in this country. I appeal to him to so draft his Bill, and to so model his legislation, as will cause automatic couplings to be promptly introduced, and also that he will bring in the other reforms that have been suggested. If he will do that he will save much litigation to the railway companies, and he will save hundreds of families from being thrown cither on the Unions or Provident Societies, and also will prevent many widows and orphans from being thrown upon the protection of the State. These are matters of elementary precaution without which the slaughter and injuring of these men will go on. It is for the right honourable Gentleman to tell the railway companies that this killing can go on no longer, that in England killing on the railways is murder, and it is for him to define that, and if he does not do that with half the courage with which he has done similar things which he has been requested to do, notably with regard to certain works on the River Thames, then I shall be much surprised. If he does it we shall see the saving of life of 150 or 200 a year, which will be an instalment of a still further reduction when these improvements are forced upon the railway companies by the right honourable Gentleman and his department.

MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)

It seems to me that it is a great injustice to charge the railway companies with want of care with regard to the safety of their men. On the contrary, I know that they have the greatest anxiety for them, that they do exercise the greatest care for them in endeavouring to prevent accidents, and that they have the greatest concern when any accident happens to those who are under their control. The honourable Member who proposed this Motion did so in a most temperate and reasonable speech, and put forward various proposals, the most noticeable of which was with regard to the adoption of automatic couplings. Now, Sir, I think that question is one which is not yet in a position of being solved with regard to British railways. If it is solved presently I think you will find that it can be impressed upon the railways, and can be introduced with that tact and discernment which the Board of Trade always shows. I do not think that it follows as a matter of course that the system which fits the needs of America will fit the needs of this country. The circumstances here are very different to those of America, and it is very probable that a fresh and different system will have to develop, and when it is developed I think it will be accepted by the English railways in the same way that automatic brakes have been accepted; but I would like to point out that there are a good many different things that will have to be considered. For example, we have been lately pressed, with regard to the carriage of cattle, to adopt screw couplings as against chain couplings, which it is urged would result in the great relief of the cattle during their transit. Of course, if automatic couplings are to be introduced they will save the cattle equally as well as the screw couplings, but at the same time there are other reasons to be considered. It must be understood with regard to all these things that a railway company has always this to consider. These things are no doubt desirable, but what about the cost? During the last half-year there has been an enormous increase in the amount of the gross takings of the companies, but this increase in their earnings has been used up in the working expenses. You cannot expect the companies to do more than spend their increased earnings in the working expenses, and you cannot expect them to continue to do that. Are you prepared to grant the companies greater freedom in the amount of the rates that they are going to charge? It is easy to some people to press for these expensive reforms, and at the same time to demand reduction in rates, but if you want to have all these additional improvements then you must expect the public at large to pay for them; if the public at large do not pay for them, then you will certainly find that the railway companies will not introduce them. In regard to specific improvements of this sort, I think you will find that as soon as they are proved to be satisfactory there will be no difficulty in getting them introduced; but there is another argument which has been used by my honourable Friend opposite, and which is to me a very dangerous one, because it is not one which in my opinion will add to the safe working of the company, and that is, that inspectors shall be appointed, and shall be allowed to criticise, and to make such suggestions as they think fit. That, to my mind, is a very dangerous suggestion. If you have inspectors of that kind you take the responsibility of the line off the shoulders of the officials, because these inspectors would consider every earthly possibility of an accident occurring, and demand every possible protection against accident. What would happen if these men were appointed? You would have people coming in and calling upon the companies to make experiments, not out of their own pockets, to prevent the risk of accidents, but out of the pockets and at the risk of the railway companies. That sort of interference would be a very dangerous thing. The inspectors would only have one object, and that would be to avert the responsibility from themselves. If these inspectors were appointed either one of two things would happen. Either you would have the responsibility taken off the shoulders of those who were really in charge, or else you would have the companies sheltering themselves behind the fact that the inspector had been over the line and found no fault with the work that was being done. No, Sir; you must leave the responsibility with the men who are in charge. They have to work the line, and they have very severe penalties cast upon them in the case of accidents happening. Accidents are nowadays most expensive things. Those who are in charge of a line have not merely that feeling of horror which comes over a man when he finds that persons under him have been killed or injured, but there is also the feeling as to the very serious penalty which comes upon the company in the case of an accident. You must leave to the company and those in charge of the line the duty of saying that the line is safe. If there are matters of specific importance, they I think can be dealt with by the railway company, and if it is a matter of responsibility of working the line, then I think the Board of Trade is wise in leaving it to the discretion and in the charge of the Company.


There were two remarks made by the honourable Gentleman who brought forward this Motion with which I think the whole of the House will agree. We are all agreed that the railway companies of this country are as a rule well administered—better administered, perhaps, than any other railway companies in any other part of the globe, and I am sure all of us can bear out what the honourable Gentleman said, that we are all practically agreed that, so far as railway administration is concerned, our railway administration is not second to any railway administration on the globe. The other remark with which I am sure we shall all most cordially agree is that we deplore the large number of accidents which occur in the course of railway management. I am also equally sure that the House will agree that anyone who is acquainted with the work that railway servants have to do must have the greatest sympathy with them for the dangers which they incur, and must have the greatest anxiety to minimise those dangers as far as it is possible. The honourable Member's remedy for the grievances which he says exist is that there should be much more State interference than there is at the present time. When the honourable Member for the Partick Division said that this was hardly a burden which the Government were justified in taking upon themselves, an honourable Member ejaculated "Factories and mines." Of course there is special legislation for factories and mines, because there are young people employed in them, and they are dangerous employments, and the House of Commons in consequence has legislated for them, and necessarily there has been a considerable army of inspectors and others appointed to see that the provisions of the Act of Parliament have been carried out; but I think there is a difference between railway work and the work of factories and mines which justifies the Government in interfering in the one case and not in the other. But I confess that if it were prudent for other reasons that the Government should undertake this immense responsibility which the honourable Gentleman would put upon our shoulders—and I very much doubt whether it would be—I confess that I cannot consider that they would be more secure under Government administration than they are under the administration of the different railway companies. What the honourable Gentleman desires is really practically taking the administration of the railway companies and their responsibilities out of the hands of the present managers and placing them upon the shoulders of the Government, and I do not myself believe that, if you were to add to the number of inspectors which we already possess, either the railway administration would be better conducted, or that the safety of those employed would be more secure, or that the results to the travelling public would be as good as they are at the present moment. I am always willing, as the honourable Gentleman knows, to use all the powers which I possess to see that those employed on railways are safeguarded as far as possible, and I am glad to say that the Government does not possess those legislative powers which the honourable Gentleman desires to see placed upon it. I am glad to say that there is hardly a single exception to the rule that, when representations and suggestions are made by the Board of Trade to railway companies, they receive very sympathetically the suggestions and the propositions presented to them. The honour- able Member must know that I do not for one moment say that all shunting yards are as they ought to be, but there has been great improvement of late years, in consequence of the representations made by the Board of Trade, not because of any legislative power that they possess, but because of the manner in which the railway companies have received the friendly representations made to them. But the honourable Gentleman passed from the abstract proposition which he had to make, and proposed certain specific things which he says would greatly add to the safety of life on railways. The honourable Gentleman knows, and the House knows, that in a discussion on the Estimates last year this matter was brought before the attention of the House by more than one speaker, and by the honourable Gentleman himself, and I said then that I proposed to send Mr. Hopwood over to Canada and to the United States with a view of seeing for himself and reporting to me what he saw and thought with regard to the arrangements for coupling in those countries. Mr. Hopwood has now made a report to the Board of Trade, and I am bound to say that the report does carry to my mind the indisputable fact that in consequence of automatic couplings which are now very largely used in both the United States and Canada there has been a great saving of life in respect to those who are engaged in these dangerous operations of which the honourable Member has spoken. I understand that in the United States there are now about 70 per cent. of the goods waggons which are supplied with the automatic couplings, and in 1900 the whole of the rolling stock in the United States will be supplied with those automatic couplings. The saving of life that the change has made is scarcely so great as could be expected to arise, because it is quite clear that when some of the waggons are supplied by one company and some by another company the danger of coupling up waggons must be greater under the new system than under the old, and I think it says a very great deal for the safety of these couplings when we find that since 1893 there has been so large a reduction in the accidents both to life and limb as has taken place in the United States. Mr. Hopwood's report states— In 1897 there were 219 less men killed and 4,994 less men injured than in 1893, the number of men killed being reduced one-half and the number of men injured practically one-half. I understand that when the whole of the rolling stock in the United States is supplied with these couplings that the number of deaths and the number of injured will practically disappear altogether. It is a fact, as stated by some honourable Gentlemen, that these automatic appliances in the United States have been forced upon the railway companies by legislation—that five years was given in order for them to supply themselves, and that was found not to be enough, and that afterwards two years more was given, so that it will eventually take seven years to carry out the operation. In Canada, so far as I understand, there has been no legislation to enforce the adoption of these improvements there, and yet so impressed are they with the improvement and advantages of these automatic couplings that both in the Grand Trunk and the Canadian and Pacific Railways these couplings are being employed wholesale. In the study of the question made by Mr. Hopwood in America, he found that not only was there a great saving of life, but he says that the railway companies in the States which had applied these automatic couplings were so much impressed with the other advantages in working, that they would not go back to the old system, even if they had the choice. My honourable Friend has said that what suited America would not suit us. But can it be doubted for a moment that the ingenuity of man will not rise to the occasion, and that, because our trucks are somewhat different to the trucks of America, someone will not be able to invent an automatic coupling which will suit our trucks as the automatic coupling suits the American trucks? Let it be known that in five years or seven years, or whatever time may be fixed by Parliament, automatic couplings must be put upon all wagons in this country, and I will undertake to say that you will have a dozen inventions in six months applicable to the style of truck used on our railways, and I may inform my honourable Friend that we have had, since Mr. Hopwood has been to America, several proposals of inventors for couplings which would suit our railways, and one of those gentlemen went the length of saying that if I would endeavour to push his particular invention upon the railways of this country he would not mind halving the profit with me. It was a most tempting offer, but the exigencies of political life in this country prevented me from being able to accept it. Then there was the question of cost. If Parliament were to pass legislation of this kind as to automatic couplings being compulsory, if the cost were spread over a sufficient number of years, I do not think that the railway companies would find it an extremely onerous burden, but, as a matter of fact, if it decreases their liabilities to their servants for injuries, and their liability in regard to loss of life, I am quite satisfied that they would recoup themselves very quickly. But I put that question on one side altogether, for I am firmly convinced that if the railway companies of this country can be persuaded that these couplings, if adopted, would greatly save life and prevent injury to limb, that no question of cost would stand in the way of the adoption of this proposal. I may inform the honourable Gentleman that I have already had some negotiations with the principal railway companies running into London upon this subject, and at my request the Chairmen of those companies did me the honour to come to the Board of Trade whilst I explained to them what Mr. Hopwood had seen in America, and gave them my opinions as to what ought to be done in this country. I may add that I have drafted a Bill dealing not only with the question of automatic couplings, but with the question which has been more than once raised—the question of labelling the waggons on both sides, and giving them hand brakes, one on each side, and I am satisfied that if we are able in this Parliament to assent to these proposals they will add largely to the safety of life and limb of the railway servants. But I think it is perfectly right and fair that the railway companies should have an opportunity of tendering to a Committee of the House of Commons their views upon a question which affects them so much, and if I can induce the House of Commons, as I hope I may, at an early period of this Session to read this Bill a second time, I think that the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee, so that evidence can be given to show the railway companies that the fears which they entertain as to the proposals we are about to make are unfounded. I am sure we all desire that the railway companies should be with us in this legislation and not against us, and if we can show, as I am satisfied that we can show, that these proposals of ours are proposals which will ensure the safety of life and limb, I know they will be ready and willing to adopt these suggestions which we are about to make. Under these circumstances, and having regard to the fact that we hope at an early period of the Session to introduce the Bill of which I have spoken, I hope that the honourable Member will not deem it necessary to divide the House upon the subject.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I have to offer my hearty congratulations to the Member for the Brightside Division upon the result of his Amendment. He has elicited a fact which was not mentioned in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, and we now know another item of the Government's legislative programme. It is not my intention to do more than to congratulate my honourable Friend, and also to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade upon the step which he has announced he is going to take. I hope that the right honourable Gentleman will make public the report of Mr. Hopwood of which he has spoken, and I trust also that the House will be able to see the improvement which will follow upon the adoption of these automatic couplings by the railway companies. I have seen them at work in America, and my impression is that they save a great deal of litigation to the companies, and, if that is so, I am sure that they will recoup themselves in a very short time for any extra expenditure which their adoption will involve. I will not detain the House further than this, that I trust the right honourable Gentleman will introduce this Bill soon, that he will nominate the Committee as early as possible, and that he will endeavour to pass the Bill after it has been thrashed out by the Committee. The statistics as to the loss of life among railway servants which we have heard show that this matter is one in which there ought not to be any delay.


With the definite promise of the Bill this Session, of course, I am very pleased to withdraw the Amendment, with the permission of the House, but may I ask the right honourable Gentleman whether he will give a definite promise that this proposed Committee shall report this Session?


The Select Committee is not proposed with the view of shelving the question. I only propose the Committee because it seems to me to be a fair thing that the railway companies should have a chance of being heard.


With that statement, I beg to withdraw my Amendment.

And the Amendment, by leave, was withdrawn.

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

I beg, Sir, to Move the adjournment of the House.


It is seven minutes to twelve. Cannot the honourable Member finish his remarks in that time?


I really do not think so. The subject which I want to bring before the House is a very important one. It affects the loss of a large number of lives every year, and I do not think I can finish my remarks in five minutes.


I can press my objection no further.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I ask your ruling, Sir, as to whether this Question is not out of order, as the matter is dealt with in the Workmen's Compensation Act (1897) Amendment Bill.


I observed that Bill and I sent for a Copy of it. I find that it is a Bill of a single section, proposing to extend the operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act to agricultural labourers, and does not affect the present Amendment, which proposes to extend the Employers' Liability Act to Seamen.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed. Debate arising,

Debate adjourned till to-morrow.