HC Deb 06 March 1901 vol 90 cc737-63


Order for Second Reading read.

MR. HUDSON (Hertfordshire, Hitchin)

The Bill which I desire the House to read to-day is a very short one, containing only one clause of five lines, but it is a Bill which will do away with the hardships from which all those who farm land by the side of railways suffer; who now see their crops damaged by fire caused through sparks or cinders emitted by railway engines, and are unable to claim compensation, the railway companies claiming to be protected by statute. All that is asked by this Bill is that railway engines should be put on the same footing as locomotives which travel upon the roads, and made liable for any damage they do. It will probably be said by the representatives of railway companies that the railways have adopted the best known methods for preventing the emission of sparks from the engines, and no doubt the different lines vary materially in this respect, thousands being seen on some lines and very few upon others. What is the secret? That on some lines a spark catcher is inserted in the funnel of the engine. If that was done with all engines very little damage would result.

In support of this motion I might read an anonymous letter which I received a few days ago with the intimation that it might suit my business. Not knowing what my business might be, I opened the letter and read— If fire break out in the shocks or standing corn, and it he destroyed, he that kindleth the fire should surely make restitution. That is really the principle which is embodied in this Bill. I notice that no Amendment to the Bill has been put down. I suppose that the railway directors who occupy seats in the House either admit the justice of the measure or think that the Bill is of such small importance that it is not worth their while to oppose it. Without detaining the House further, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

*MR. JEFFREYS (Hampshire, N.)

speaking in support of the Bill, said the object of the Bill was to put railway locomotives upon the same footing as road locomotives. It was only fair that if through the emission of sparks from the engines they damaged the crops of the farmers whose land lay by the side of the railway, the company should be made liable. In the previous session this question had been brought to the attention of the Board of Trade, and questions were asked as to whether the President of the Board of Trade was aware that the railway engines did not carry spark arresters, or in any ease whether any inspector had looked into the engines to see if they did carry spark arresters, and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was No; that the Board of Trade, although they were supposed to see to the spark arresters, were not in a position to do so. A great many of these so-called sparks, were not sparks at all, but cinders varying in size from a quarter of an inch in length to an inch and a half, and it was only reasonable to suppose that if these were thrown into a held of growing corn they would do a great deal of damage. It was almost impossible to trace the engines which emitted these sparks, but in the case of Twinch v. Great Western Railway a man actually saw the fire begin, and he was able to trace the train and the locomotive. The case went to trial afterwards, and damages were assessed against the railway company. There was another case, against the Midland Railway Company. In that ease the sparks were seen coming out of the engine. But these cases were notable exceptions, and generally nobody could trace the sparks when they came from an engine. Very often the damage was done in the dark, and in the ease of an express train it was almost impossible to trace the engine. If the railway companies took reasonable precautions, and had their engines fitted with spark guards, that damage would not be done. The guards were taken out of the engines in order that the speed might be greater. Last year he asked a, question of the First Ford of the. Treasury about the bringing forward of This Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman stated that the President of the Board of Agriculture hail not had notice that a great deal of damage had been done. The Central Chamber of Agriculture in a very short time afterwards gathered information with respect to the serious and widespread injuries inflicted on agriculturists throughout the country on account of fires caused by sparks from engines. The Return related to seventy-five separate fires in eleven different counties.

The law had been laid down that railway companies had a statutory Tight to run locomotives along their own lines, and so long as they took reasonable precautions and were not guilty of negligence they might do what they liked on their own lines. They were not liable to pay compensation for damage unless tiny failed to take reasonable precautions. He thought he had shown that they dill not take reasonable precautions in this matter. In order to attain a high late of speed they took out the spark protectors or arresters which were intended to prevent the fire and cinders from coming out. In dry summers there were many farmers whose crops were; liable to he set on fire by sparks from engines, and it appealed to him that this was especially so in the ease of the southern railways. Crops might be absolutely destroyed by fire and yet no compensation was allowed. Surely he had made out a good case. If the railway companies obtained statutory powers which gave them a great monopoly, they certainly were supposed to run their railways without causing loss or damage to their neighbours. Surely when they did great damage to the property of men who were in many cases small farmers, it was not unreasonable that they should pay for it.


The damage complained of in Scotland from this nuisance is more in respect of woods than crops, and the excellent measure which is now before the House could not have been introduced I at a more appropriate period of the year, because it is during the month of March that in Scotland at all events, most damage is done to plantations. A plantation of my own was set on fire by sparks from engines no fewer than eleven times in the course of one month, but, although the particulars were taken down at the time by witnesses, was advised by my legal agent that it would be useless to bring the matter before the courts, because it was hopeless to expect any compensation.

Last year, when various questions were being asked the President of the Board of Trade on the matter, I asked whether the increase in the number of fires in recent years, which I think is indisputable, I was not due to the great increase in the number of rapid trains, and the President of the Board of Trade said he had no information on the subject. The Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society sent out circulars, with schedules, which were tilled up. I think a copy of the Returns was sent to the Board of Trade, but at any rate thirty-one examples of fires were given, twenty-one of which related to woods and plantations. The damage done in the twenty-one cases of woods and plantations amounted to £2,300, and in only nine of these was application made to the railway company for compensation, and in one of the nine only was the claim (of £4) paid. The feeling is that it is useless to go to the court, because it is impossible to obtain any compensation. The damage to the agricultural crops is also considerable. It is estimated at about £830. This Hill is called the "Sparks Bill." I think it should be called the "Live Coals Bill," for the size of the sparks is anything between one and two inches. I remember once on a journey between Stranraer and Ayr watching the coals as they were ejected from, the engine, and the size of the coals was enough to sot any place on fire. It would be impossible under these circumstances to keep any plantation free from the risk of fire.

It should surely be possible to prevent this state of things. I believe it is stated that there is a remedy before the law, but that is not our experience, and it has been laid down by high legal authority on the law of railways that there is no such remedy. An example is given in the case of the owners of a flax store near a railway line. The place was set on tire by a spark from a passing engine, and the proprietors brought an action for damages, on the ground that the engine was improperly constructed, in respect that it had no spark arrester. In reference to that case. "Deas on the Law of Railways" contains the following: The defenders maintained that in the more modern engines the use of spark arresters had been given up, both because they impaired the efficiency of the engine and because other means as efficacious to prevent the issue of sparks were adopted. The House of Fords held, affirming the First Division, that no negligence had been proved against the company; and the observation was made by Ford M'Laren, that railway companies are not under a legal disability to improve the efficiency of their engines merely because such improvement may tend in some degree to increase the risk of setting fire to adjacent property. In delivering judgment in the case referred to, the Ford Chancellor said— It is now well-settled law that in order to establish a case of liability against a railway company, under such circumstances it is essential for the pursuers to establish negligence. The railway company having the statutory power of running along the line with locomotive engines, which in the course of their running are apt to discharge sparks, no liability rests upon the company, merely because the sparks emitted by an engine have set lire to adjoining property. Hut the defenders, although possessing the statutory power, are undoubtedly bound to exercise it reasonably and properly, and the test whether they exercise the power reasonably and properly appears to me to he this. They are aware that locomotive engines running along the line are apt to emit sparks. Knowing this, they are bound to use the best practicable means, according to the then state of knowledge, to avoid the emission of sparks, which may be dangerous to adjoining property; and if they, knowing that the engines are liable thus to discharge sparks, do not adopt that reasonable precaution, they are guilty of negligence, and cannot defend themselves by relying upon the statutory power. About the law as I have thus expressed it, I do not think there is any controversy between the parties to this litigation. What we maintain is that reasonable precaution has not been adopted, and that serious damage is done for which at present there is no remedy. I beg cordially to support the Bill.

MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)

As a farmer coming from a constituency where fires have occurred through sparks from railway engines, I desire to express gratitude to the hon. Members who are moving and supporting this Bill, and to express the hope that it will pass, as it surely is most reasonable to provide that where damage is done by fire from engines compensation should be paid by the owners of those engines. As has been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, locomotive engines used on the road are already liable for compensation for damage caused by fire, and it cannot be anything but reasonable that the same principle should apply to fire caused by railway engines. It is needless for me to assure the House that agriculturists do not fail to appreciate the advan- tage of railway communication in their districts, but at the same time we feel, as has been proved, I think, by the hon. Member, that these fires occur largely from the lack of precaution and care on the part of the railway companies. We think that if the railway companies in case of neglect had to pay for that neglect, they would be far more careful to avoid causing fires. I would say this further—farmers find it difficult enough already to carry on their industry with a fair degree of success, without having unnecessary difficulties of this kind placed in their way; and I venture to say that the present moment is most opportune for this Hill. If it is passed it will do considerable good to agriculturists, and to the owners of plantations arid fences, and will not cast an unreasonable burden on the railway companies themselves.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

There is undoubtedly a good deal to be said for this Bill. There is a good deal of hardship caused, especially in dry summers, by sparks from engines, and undoubtedly both in England and Scotland a good deal of damage is done, not only to plantations, but also to the various crops close to the railway. But I do not think that the matter is quite so simple as my hon. friends who moved and seconded the Second Beading seem to think. They founded their arguments in favour of the Bill on the fact that locomotives on highways are obliged to pay for any damage that they may cause. It seemed to me that they have totally forgotten that in the one case the locomotive passes along the highway which is provided by the county council or the nation, or whoever it may be, at no expense to the owner of the locomotive unless he happens to live in that particular parish; but the railway company have paid considerable sums for the land on which their engines travel. They have not only paid the owners for the land, but they have caused a considerable improvement in the value of the adjoining land by bringing railway communication into the districts in question. My hon. and learned friend the Member for the Hitchin Division says that compensation has been paid above the market value of the land which is purchased. I think I have shown that a railway company is in a very different position from the owner of a road locomotive A railway company, after having spent large sums in buying the land and making the line, must surely be allowed to carry on its business. If damage is done through the negligence of the, company, then undoubtedly compensation should be paid. My hon. friend who seconded the Bill spoke of the coals which came from the engines. Did he photograph the coals when they came out, or how did he know that they came out?


I can answer that. They were seen to fall out of the engines.


My hon. friend says there are no Amendments put down. I do not think we can put Amendments down at this stage. Amendments are put down on the Committee stage, and I certainly intend to put down an Amendment, which I hope will be carried. In remedying what is perhaps a, hardship we must take care that we do not create another hardship. It seems to me that the Bill is very carelessly drawn, for this reason—the Bill says "where damage is caused to crops, hedges, or plantations." Supposing that the crops, hedges, and plantations are there, they cannot be moved away; but I think it ought to be carefully indicated that the Bill should apply only to growing crops, and not to crops left carelessly by the side of the railway. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a man having a damaged crop from collecting it and putting it in an exposed place by the side of the railway, where it would be exposed to the sparks from passing trains, and then coining and saying, "This has been burned by the railway company. It was an excellent crop at the time it was gathered in." We know that such things are done, and they will be done in future. Therefore, before this Bill passes into law I think it should be carefully safeguarded by words which will show that it is only to apply practically to growing crops. The Amendment? put on the Paper last year was to insert the word "growing" in front of the word "crops." I do not know whether that is a proper Amendment, which would carry out my object, but there are lawyers in the House, and if it is wrong they will correct me. I should think that it is very important that in safeguarding the interests of the farmers it should be borne in mind that railways are of great importance to the country, and that a sum equal to nearly double the amount of the National Debt is invested in them. We should not allow ourselves to be actuated too much by sentiment.

*MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said he was not quite sure that he could not rest the case against the Bill on the speeches of the mover and seconder. They limited their arguments to cases where it could be shown that there was negligence on the part of the railway companies. In such cases the law of England applied, and no Bill such as this was necessary. If his hon. friend had shown any case in which the existing law would not really suffice to punish a railway company for negligence, he could understand the bringing forward of the measure. If these cases of damage arose from the failure to use proper spark arresters, the owners of the crop, or plantations had their action at law. They had chosen the wrong remedy by coming to Parliament with this Bill.

He was not acquainted with the procedure before Scotch sheriffs, and he did not know why proof was more difficult in Scotland than in England. So far as Scotland was concerned, the remedy should be so to amend the procedure under the Scotch law as to obtain the result that, where negligence had been shown, the consequence of that negligence should be visited on those liable for it, and who the law said already should suffer for it. It was no use appealing to the analogy of the road locomotive. By the law applicable to road locomotives, if negligence was proved, but was shown to be the negligence only of the driver or stoker of the locomotive, the owner of the locomotive got off altogether. In the case of railway locomotives, although the company's servants might be guilty of negligence, the railway company alone was liable. If the Bill passed, the law would revert to the provisions of the ordinary common law of nuisance, and if sparks from engines were a nuisance, railway companies would be liable. If they were not they would possibly not be made liable even if this Bill passed. He found from reference to the best-known text-book on the law of torts, that in order to prove nuisance it was necessary to prove that the property was used in a manner not necessary to the ordinary enjoyment of the property. Therefore it they passed this bill they would find themselves no better off. Parliament had as clearly as possible laid down that the property railway companies had to be used for a specific purpose—the running of trains; and that purpose could not be carried on without a certain amount of risk. That risk had been fully discounted by compensation, and was more than set off by the fact that in many of the parishes the railway companies paid as much as 75 per cent. of the rates. In the case of some parishes the railway companies paid the whole of the rates. If they passed this Bill, not merely would they make a new departure in the fundamental principles of our law, but a great injustice would be done. He submitted that the grievance was one of procedure and proof, and not of the substantive law of the case. The substantial justice of the case did not require that railway companies should be made liable for this particular kind of damage. He respectfully asked the House to reject the Bill.


said the hon. Member for Peckham had urged that the Bill ought not to pass because the owners of the railways had spent a lot of money buying the land and constructing the lines, that was perfectly true, but they had not bought the adjoining land. If in the conduct of their business they did injury to property on that land, and were guilty of negligence, they should pay compensation. His right hon. friend the Member for the Hallam Division said that Parliament had conferred certain definite rights on railway companies, and that there was no reason now why they should go back on that.


I said that Parliament had conferred certain rights and laid certain duties on them.


said the locomotives were now provided with forced draught. It was quite likely that the conditions had so changed that it was perfectly right the law should be amended. Railway companies naturally objected to this Bill, and would like to throw agriculturists back on all the legal technicalities involved in proving negligence in order that it might be impossible for them to obtain compensation. What agriculturists wanted was a simple Bill by which they could get rid of these technicalities. They felt they had a legitimate grievance, and asked Parliament to deal with it.

SIR E. DURNING - LAWRENCE Rill (Cornwall, Truro)

said he had several times suffered from fires, one of which destroyed nearly 100 acres of trees. Many thousands of pounds would not have repaid him for that damage. Compensation was nothing to him; what he wanted was prevention. The House might not he aware that quite recently the chimneys of nearly all the locomotives had been lowered to the smallest possible level. The railway companies should he compelled to adopt means to prevent the emission of sparks, so that fires could not take place.

MR. BELL (Derby)

I just want to say a few words as to how this Bill affects the employees of the railway companies. What has hitherto been said has had reference to the effect on other people, and I desire to intervene from another standpoint. I have had considerable personal knowledge of railway working, and I am not with out experience of fires caused by sparks from engines. I have witnessed such fires, and I have know ledge of eases where compensation has been paid by railway companies for damage done in that way; and I have known cases where damage has occurred by reason of arson having been committed—cases in which the crops alongside the railway have been set on fire, not accidentally by sparks from an engine, but willfully by some persons or persons unknown.

As to this Bill, I do not say for a moment that I am going to oppose it but I am bound to declare that, as it stands, it is not framed in a manner that satisfies me. It seems to me to leave too much scope for evildoers—that is to say it seems to me to make railway companies responsible for the acts of ill-disposed persons. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said there were many cases of fires in which they could not trace the engines from which the sparks had come. If such is the case, I fail to see how you can rely upon the Bill to bring home responsibility against the railway company and show that it was the railway engine which set fire to the crop or the wood. Where proof is forthcoming, I certainly hold that the railway company should be responsible. To my mind, it is desirable that a provision should be inserted in the Bill requiring railway companies to adopt protectors or spark arresters to their locomotive boilers. I happen to know that the absence of such things very often operates to the detriment of the employees themselves, who are perfectly innocent of offence in the matter. II the Bill passes in its present form, the companies might issue instructions to their employees, ordering that they should not allow sparks to be emitted from the engines. The case would be similar to that of the emission of smoke from locomotives. The London County Council, in a large number of instances, prosecute railway companies for allowing smoke to be emitted from their locomotives. When these prosecutions take place the companies punish their employees by fine or suspension. Hon. Members here will agree with me that it is a matter of great difficulty, nay, that it is a matter of impossibility, to work engines with coal without some smoke being emitted, therefore I say that the companies in inflicting punishment inflict it for what their men cannot help. That is why I have risen to say a few words on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to railway companies making their engine chimneys lower than usual. I deny the accuracy of that statement. It is not that the chimneys are lower than usual, lint that the boilers are getting higher than usual. The height of the chimneys is exactly the same as it was when the boilers were much smaller. We know that the public demand greater speed—they want to get from one point to another in much, less time—and the result of all this is that the engines have to be worked much harder, and the difficulty of working the trains is much greater for the employees. Therefore there is some danger of their being subjected to fines and suspensions if the Bill passes as it is in its present form. If in Committee the Bill can be so amended that the object in view can be attained without injuring the railway companies in cases in which they are not guilty and without injuring the employees in eases where they are not guilty, even though the company may have been negligent in not providing against the emission of sparks from their engines, I shall be glad to see it amended. I hope those in charge of the Bill will bear in mind the few remarks I have made on these particular points, and so make the Bill easier to pass from the employees' point of view, the companies' point of view, and also in the interest of those who suffer through these fires.

MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)

said the hon. Member seemed to be afraid that the Bill would have the effect of punishing the railway companies for the burning of crops with which the companies had nothing whatever to do. He was quite sure that those who were introducing this Bill had no such desire. The object was that the companies should be made liable when negligence had been proved against them in the construction of their engines. It was all very well to tell poor farmers that they had their remedy at law. At present, even if they were fortunate enough to detect the particular engine that caused the fire, the duty was cast on the farmers of proving that that particular engine was negligently constructed. If this Bill became law, all they would have to show was that sparks came from ail engine running on the company's line. Ho hoped the House would recognise that that was a very reasonable and proper distinction in the interest of those who had crops growing in the neighbourhood of a railway. His hon. Friend the Member for Beckham sat for a constituency which could hardly be described as an agricultural one. The "crops and growing timber" in Beckham were almost a negligible quantity. His contention that a farmer might collect damaged crops and pile them up in the neighbourhood of a railway was ridiculous. Prevention was much better than compensation. If the onus was cast on the railway companies of paying for damage when it was proved that they had caused it, they were perfectly capable of preventing that damage, and they would prevent it.

MR. CORRIE GRANT (Warwickshire, Rugby)

Some of the arguments adduced this afternoon in support of the Bill are not likely to commend them- selves to the House. We have had Moses instanced as a legislator. An hon. Member said he was going to follow Moses. But will he accept Moses as an authority in dealing with the land question? Is he prepared every fifty years (I think it was) to redistribute the whole of the land of the country, and to resettle the land system? Another hon. Member said he should support this Bill because he had had his wood burned. There is no argument which this House resents, and rightly resents, more than a personal argument—the demand for a change in legislation because of a personal injury. I would not support the Bill for a moment, if a hundred different crops had been injured, unless there was a general grievance. What I complain of is that the Bill has been supported on both sides because of personal injury suffered. Such an argument ought not to have been put forward in support of the measure at all. The question the House has to consider is a very simple one. Is there a hardship made out in the present state of the law? Does the present law put the onus in the right place? If it does not, ought it to be changed? Perhaps hon. Members who support the Bill have not brought forward as many cases of injury received as might be found, but I think it is the experience of every Member who has been before an agricultural constituency, that if one matter is mentioned to him by the farmers who have railway lines running through their farms it is that they are suffering from this grievance, and at the present time have no adequate remedy.

The hon. Member for the Hallam Division opposed the Bill first of all because, I think he said, he was a railway director. That is not a reason likely to commend itself to the House. He opposed it secondly because railway companies in some parishes paid 75 per cent. of the rates. What about the parishes in which they pay only 5 per cent. I Are they to pay damages where they pay 5 per cent. of the rates, and no damages where they pay 75 per cent? What have the rates imposed upon the railway companies to do with this grievance of the farmers? All the advocates of the measure are called upon to prove on this motion for Second Reading is that a grievance exists. I submit that the fact that farmers have constantly suffered from this damage is not met by the answer that the railway companies are unfairly rated in other parishes. I think the hon. Member for Derby made a lair criticism of the Bill when he said the language is not as accurate as it ought to be. That, however, is a reason for not rejecting the Second Reading, but for amending the Bill in Committee, and if the Bill gets into Committee, as I hope it will, the hon. Members responsible have already made an offer to make the Bill as thorough, as simple, and as effective as possible, and it will have to be all those things if it is to work with any measure of success.

COLONEL MILWARD (Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)

Nobody who travels a great deal by railway can doubt that there is a, case for some Bill of this kind. Every summer there are crops destroyed by sparks from engines. The advocates of the railway companies appear to be rather frightened as to the injury this measure will inflict upon the companies. I do not believe this House would ever pass a measure which was unjust to railway companies; the railway companies are far too largely represented and have far too many spokesmen for that to happen. I do not like to quote America, but the fact remains that this pamphlet by Professor Shaw, who was employed by the Royal Agricultural Society to visit America, and see what was done there, will have to he answered by the companies. There is no doubt that in America year after year improvements have been made; these arresters become more and more scientific; they do not stop the draught, or prevent the engines attaining a, very high rate of speed, but they do prevent the emitting of these hot cinders or sparks which set fire to the crops. What is done in America can certainly be done in this country. I admit that the railway companies ought to have a considerable allowance of time, perhaps a couple of years, in which to adapt these arresters to their engines, but it is perfectly evident that it can be done, and is done, without any great expense to the companies. Therefore, in the interests of the farmers I think this Bill should be allowed to go to Second Beading in order to be considered in Committee, and the interests of the railway companies can then be safeguarded as far as is necessary.

MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

I am the representative of an agricultural Division, and also, to some extent, a railway director. I can therefore take a perfectly dispassionate view of this little Bill. It seems to me that the grievance is not so serious a one as has been represented, It is practically a question of who is to bear the expense of the insurance. It is unquestionably the fact—and the hon. Member for the Tunbridge Division would have known it if he had been at a familiar with compensation cases—that a landowner in selling his land to a railway company or the construction of a line receives very considerable compensation for those very dangers to which allusion has been made. Therefore, if the railway company is now to bear the whole onus of compensating the farmer or landowner or tenant for loss by fire, it will practically pay twice over for the same thing. But the grievance is of much smaller dimensions than one would suppose from the exertions of this professor who has been travelling the country photographing cinders at the expense of the Royal Agricultural Society. Looking at the matter as a comparatively small one, and believing that as soon as the law has been accurately ascertained it will be the duty and well within the power of either the farmer or the railway proprietor to pay the small insurance necessary for protector against this danger, I shall certainly support the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

As a representative of an urban constituency I bring an open mind to this matter. I want to put one point to the House which has not yet been much dealt with. This evil, and it is an undoubted evil, arises very largely from the omission of the railway companies to take proper steps to secure those improvements in engines which would prevent sparks and cinders being scattered. I am afraid the difficulty of proving negligence under the existing law is practically deterrent, and makes it really impossible for the farmers to obtain, compensation. As between the two interested parties, the railway company, whoso plea is that they have done all they can to avoid negligence, and the farmer, who is entirely passive in the matter, I am inclined to think, on the principle of abstract justice, that the onus of proof ought rather to attach to the railway company than to the farmer. But I do not think it necessary to go quite so far as that. I believe the grievance of the whole question arises from the, fact that the companies rely on the difficulty of proving negligence, and do not take the proper precautions which are taken in other countries. I believe they will not do this unless the liability is thrown upon them, and therefore, although I do not at all deny that there is some difficulty in the matter, I think we should find, if this Bill is passed, the first tiling the companies would do would be to use those inventions which are used in other countries, and by way of prevention more than by way of providing for damages we should get rid of this grievance.


I think the House ought to realise that the claim made on behalf of the railway companies is nothing less than that the companies have an inherent right to burn other people's property. I admit frankly that in the result this Bill will probably go further than appears on the surface, and perhaps further than is indicated in the Memorandum attached to the measure, but I am quite prepared to join issue upon the general principle that these companies have the right to burn other people's property. It is quite obvious that railway companies do acquire land in order that their trains may run to the benefit of the public, that their engines must work in all seasons of the year, and that accidents must occasionally arise from sparks; but the question is, whether the expense of those accidents ought to be borne by the railway companies, or by the unfortunate people through whose property they run. I have no doubt whatever that the expense ought to be a, charge on the railway companies. The question of woodlands raised by the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs has not been much touched upon. In the case of woodlands the crop is of much greater value than ordinary agricultural produce, because it is of longer growth. The interpretation of the law as it at present stands is a great discouragement to the increase of woodlands in parts of the country where woodlands ought to be increased. No one who knows the highlands of Scotland, or the waste-lands in the north of England or in Ireland, can doubt that it would be a great advantage to the country if those districts were afforested, and no one who knows anything about the economy of forestry can doubt that such plantations are most profitable when they are in the neighbourhood of cheap transit for the wood that is grown. That is precisely where it is most dangerous to grow wood. A person wishing to make a plantation in, the neighbourhood of a railway must face the fact that on each side of the line a waste space of eighty yards must be left, then a deep trench provided to stop the surface-fire of heather or other inflammable, materials on the ground, and a, strong hedge planted. I know that those circumstances have been a strong deterrent. The question of the course taken by railway companies to prevent the escape of sparks has been raised. I cannot pretend to be an expert on the construction of engines, but I do know that whether or not, railway companies take precautions they certainly expect their engines to create fires during dry weather, because on such occasions the lines are patrolled, so that the possibility of fire is in the minds of the directors. Under these circumstances, I sincerely hope that this Bill will not only pass its Second Reading, but will be carried into law.


This very innocent measure proposes to introduce a very grave legal anomaly. The general law is supposed to be infringed in regard to a class of cases of negligence extremely limited in character, and to the detriment of an industry which, though sufficiently large in its scope, is only one of many industries carried on in immediate contact with our railway systems.

I submit to the House that the existing law under which the railway companies have to conduct their enterprises is quite a sufficient protection to private property. It is the duty of a railway company to take all due care in the construction of their engines, in the provision of their appliances, and in the actual working of their locomotives. This Bill docs not propose to infringe that general rule; it introduces an exception not applicable even to all the machinery in connection with the locomotives on our railway systems, but in connection only with that very small department of its mechanical appliances which has relation to the emission of sparks. I ask the House if they will pass a measure of legislation, in regard to which the rule applicable to the imposition of liability upon a railway company remains the same in regard to all their mechanical appliances, except when you conic down to such details as are concerned in the emission of sparks, in regard to which subordinate class of mechanical appliances there is to be a, liability tin the railway company, although it may be that they have used the utmost degree of care to prevent any accident occurring. I submit that that is a very grave anomaly. Under the law as it now exists, if a farmer suffers injury to his crops or hay stacks by the emission of sparks, he has only to show that there is a spark-catcher well known which might be introduced by the railway company in connection with the construction of their engines. He certainly does not, suffer from lack of sympathy on the part of the jury, and if a sympathetic agricultural jury come to the conclusion that a spark-catcher might easily have been obtained by the railway company and ought to have been attached to the engine, the farmer is entitled to compensation. It is said that the law has become unworkable because negligence can never be proved. I entirely dissent from that proposition. In my own experience I have known many cases in which negligence has been proved, and I have known many more cases which the railway companies have settled out of court, because they knew that with an agricultural jury the farmer would have had all the chances in his favour. What is graver still is that this is a protective measure in the interests of a particular industry. The farmer, and the farmer alone, is to be protected, and he is to be protected not in regard to all his property, but in regard only to a very narrow class of property. His crops, haystacks, hedges, and perhaps woodlands, are to he protected, lint if his house is burned down, from exactly the same cause and under the same circumstances, this measure gives him no protection whatever. And what is to happen to other industries than agriculture? If I am the proprietor of a mill, and the roof of my mill is fired by a spark, I am to be ruined without compensation, but the fortunate farmer whoso crop close by is consumed by fire, caused by I perhaps the same engine, is to be in the happy position of being provided by the railway company with a complete indemnity. Under this measure there is to be one law for the farmers and another law for the rest of the community; one rule applicable to agricultural property and an entirely different rule, enforced on different principles, applicable to other portions of the community. This would but render confusion worse confounded, and for these reasons I ask the House to reject this unprincipled measure.

MR. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)

I desire to say a few words against this Bill. I am quite willing to accept the challenge of the hon. Member who desired to place before the House the issue that the railway companies claimed the liberty to burn other people's property without compensation. I think the hon. Member did not do justice to his own knowledge of the present law.


I frankly admit the railway companies have the right under the existing law—


I will endeavour to make good my proposition, if you will permit me. What is the procedure by which a railway company obtains power to make its railway in the first place? My hon. friend appears to ignore altogether the fact that the railway company, when it takes lard for the purpose of making a railway, pays compensation not only for the value of the land, but also for all consequential and future damage it may do. ["No."] I am not surprised that hon. Members dissent from this view, because it shows that they are really not aware of the law as it stands at present. It is open to the landowner, and the landowner exercises his option, to make a claim not only for the value of the land, hut for all incidental and consequential damage to the remainder of his property. He is at liberty to set up a specific claim before the arbitrator if there is a risk of damage to his property, and he has therefore to let the land to the farmer at less rent, and the arbitrator will give him compensation for that. ["No."] Somebody says "No." Several cases have come within my own recoflection—

*MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that the owner of the land can get compensated for the contingent risk of having his woodlands burned by sparks?


Yes, I do.


There is no instance of it in the books.


I mean if his land is taken. If a railway is made through a district for the first time, some land must he taken along the whole length of the line. Of course it is possible, but very improbable, that the limit of the land the company wished to take might just extend to the boundary of the land of that particular owner, and in that extremely improbable case the rule to which I have referred would not apply. It applies only when a portion of a man's property or land is taken. I may put it in this way. If a landowner has 100 acres of land, of which twenty are taken for the purpose of a railway, he has it within his power, as regards the remaining eighty acres, to set up a specific claim. If he can prove to the arbitrator that there is any danger of his suffering loss from sparks emitted on the railway, he can substantiate his claim for compensation. What the railway companies desire in all fairness is, not to be at liberty to burn other people's property, but to be protected from having to pay twice for the same risks.

The case which has been made out for this Bill is insufficient, I think, for this House to act upon in setting up the anomaly in law to which the hon. and learned Member opposite has so clearly called attention.

Let me point out what the position of the railway companies is. A railway company exercises its powers under statutory authority, and it has at the same time a statutory obligation. The company is liable for all cases of damage where either the engine has been improperly constructed or negligence in using it has been proved. The company therefore has compensated the landowner for his land; it has paid compensation for the risk of injury as regards the future; it has a statutory obligation to run its trains by means of these engines, and there is no known method by which this danger can be escaped. In that case Parliament has said, and I think fairly, that unless you can show that it is within the power of the railway companies to take adequate precaution against this danger, they ought not to be called upon to do that I which is an impossibility. Therefore I venture to say that so far as the railway companies are concerned they are entitled to ask the House to reject this Bill. There is a perfect and perfectly simple remedy, which has been referred to by the hon. Gentleman for the Louth Division. It is in the power of the farmer to insure his crops against this I risk for an almost infinitesimal charge. If there is the slightest proof of negligence the law is open to the farmer, and he can get compensation, so that it is not a fail position in which this Bill seeks to place railway companies. I think the case for the Bill has not been made out, and I hope the House will reject the measure. I have been hoping that we should hear from the President of the Board of Trade the views of the Government on this matter, so that the House should have their guidance in coming to a decision.


In the few words I shall address to the House on the subject of this Bill it must be clearly understood that I am expressing not the opinion of the Government as a whole, but only my personal view.

This is a measure which has really more to do with the Department of my right hon. friend the Minister for Agriculture than with that over which I preside. It is essentially a Bill in the interests of agriculture. I notice that if the Bill was passed it would apply only to crops, hedges, or plantations, so that if by a spark from an engine an accident occurred to a store of any sort the owner of such store would be obliged to have recourse to the existing law, whereas the change in the law now proposed would apply to farmers, and farmers alone. As has been pointed out, the measure would not apply to all damage done even to the property of farmers, but it is an undoubtedly important change of law in regard to principle. If only the question of value were at issue, I do not think the amount of damage would be very great; but, as I say, the Bill if passed would introduce a very important alteration of principle into the law.

The present law governing the liability of railway companies has been very clearly stated by more than one speaker this afternoon. What is proposed by the Bill is, in a very limited number of cases, to change the whole, principle of the law, and to say that a railway company should he liable, although no negligence whatever has been brought home to them. In the Memorandum affixed to the Bill the analogy of road locomotives is invoked. I would point out, however, that the cases of road and railway locomotives are entirely different, because the former are not confined to a single road, nor do the proprietors own the roads over which they travel, and no compensation has been paid in respect of adjacent lands.

If we once admit an important change of principle of this kind, will it be possible to resist further changes in the same direction should they be proposed? Suppose, for example, that a horse harnessed to a carriage were frightened by the passing of a railway train, and ran away; if the principle of the Bill is accepted, it appears to me it would be impossible to resist a claim for compensation in such and other cases.

These, in my opinion, are the objections to the present proposal. I do not deny that there may he difficulty in certain cases in proving negligence. At all events, it is possible that railway companies have not taken sufficient care in

every instance to secure that their locomotives are provided with spark-preventing appliances. I do not know what my right lion, friend behind me may have to say to this, but I would earnestly suggest to him that his company, in concert with other railway companies, should look into this matter, and ascertain what are the best appliances used in other countries for the prevention of sparks. If they did that, and it was shown that the companies had adopted the best possible appliances, then the present law would probably be held to be sufficient to meet the evil. Speaking for myself, I shall vote against the Bill.


rose to continue the debate.


I beg to move that the Question be now put.


Although the Bill has been under discussion but a comparatively short time, it appeared to me before the hon. Member rose that the debate was almost exhausted. I shall therefore, under the circumstances, accept the motion.

Question put accordingly, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The House divided:—Ayes, 307; Noes, 80. (Division List No. 40.)

Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Brookfield, Col. Montagu Condon, Thomas Joseph
Allan, William (Gateshead) Brown, Geo. M. (Edinburgh) Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)
Allen, C. P. (Gloue., Stroud) Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson Craig, Robert Hunter
Allsopp, Hon. George Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Cripps, Charles Alfred
Ambrose, Robert Bull, William James Crombie, John William
Anson, Sir William Reynell Bullard, Sir Harry Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)
Archdale, Edward Mervyn Burdett-Coutts, W. Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton
Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis Burke, E. Haviland- Cubitt, Hon. Henry
Ashton, Thomas Gair Burt, Thomas Cust, Henry John C.
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Butcher, John George Dalziel, James Henry
Atherley-Jones, L. Buxton, Sydney Charles Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan
Bain, Colonel James Robert Caine, William Sproston Delany, William
Baird, John George Alexander Caldwell, James Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-
Balfour, Maj K. R.(Christch'rch Cameron, Robert Dillon, John
Banes, Major George Edward Campbell, John (Armagh, S.) Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cockfield
Barlow, John Emmott Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Dorington, Sir John Edward
Hartley, George C. T. Carew, James Laurence Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)
Bathurst, Hon. Allen B. Carvill, Patrick G. Hamilton Doxford, Sir Win. Theodore
Bell, Richard Causton, Richard Knight Duffy, William J.
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Cavendish, K. E. (N. Lancs.) Duncan, James H.
Bigwood, James Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Dunn, Sir William
Black, Alexander William Chamberlain, J. Austen(Worc. Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin
Boland, John Channing, Francis Allston
Bond, Edward Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith- Charrington, Spencer Elibank, Master of
Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex Cochrane, Hon. Thos H. A. E. Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas
Boyle, James Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole Ellis, John Edward
Brand, Hon. Arthur G. Colville, John Emmott, Alfred
Broadhurst, Henry Compton, Lord Alwyne Faber, George Denison
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw. Lowther, Rt. Hon. James (Kent Redmond. John E. (Waterford
Fenwick, Charles Loyd, Archie Kirkman Reid, Sir R. Threshie(Dumfries
Finch, George H. Lucas, Reginald J.(Portsmouth Rentoul, James Alexander
Fisher, William Hayes Macdona, John Cumming Richards, Henry Charles
FitzGerald, Sir Robt. Penrose MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A. Ridley, Hon. M. W(Stalybridge
Fitzroy, Hon. Edward Algernon M'Calmont, Col. J.(Antrim, E. Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Flannery, Sir Fortescue M'Crae, George Roche, John
Flynn, James Christopher M'Dermott, Patrick Rolleston, Sir John F. L.
Forster, Henry William M'Iver, Sir Lewis(Edinbro, W. Russell, T. W.
Carlit, William M'Killop, W. (Sligo, N.) Sackville, Col. S. M. Stopford
Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H.(City of Lond. Majendie, James A. H. Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)
Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans) Malcolm, Ian Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. E. J.
Gordon, Hn. J. E.(Elgin & Nairn Maple, Sir John Blundell Schwann, Charles E.
Gore, Hon. F. S. Ormsby Markham, Arthur Basil Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Martin, Richard Biddulph Seely, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Goschen, Hon. Geo. Joachim Massey Mainwaring, Hn. W. F. Sharpe, William Edward T.
Graham, Henry Robert Maxwell, W. J. H.(Dumfriessh. Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B)
Grant, Corrie Mellor, Rt. Hon. John William Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire
Green, Walford D.(Wednesb'y) Milner, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick G. Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Greene, Sir E. W. (Bury St. Edm Milton, Viscount Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Griffith, Ellis J. Milward, Colonel Victor Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E.)
Groves, James Grimble Montagu, G. (Huntingdon) Smith, James Parker (Lanarks
Gurdon, sir W. Brampton Montagu, Hn. J. Scott (Hants Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Hall, Edward Marshall Moon. Edward Robert Paey Spear, John Ward
Halsey, Thomas Frederick Mooney, John J. Spencer, E. (West Bromwich)
Hambro, Charles Eric Moore, William (Antrim, N.) Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)
Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Ld. G.(Midx More, Rbt. Jasper (Shropshire) Stanley, Edward Jas.(Somerset
Hamilton, Marq. of(Londond'y Morley, Charles (Breconshire) Stevenson, Francis S.
Hammnond, John Morrison. James Archibald Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart
Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil Morton, Arthur H. A.(Deptford Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.
Harmsworth, R. Leicester Motion. Edw. J. C.(Devonport) Stone, Sir Benjamin
Harris, F. Leverton(Tynem'th. Mount, William Arthur Stroyan, John
Haslam, Sir Alfred S. Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C. Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley
Hay, Hon. Claude George Murphy, J. Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Hayden, John Patrick Murray, Col. Wyndham(Bath) Sullivan, Donal
Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale- Nannetti, Joseph P. Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir A. D. Newdigate, Francis Alexander Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G.(Ox. Univ.
Heath, Arthur H. (Hanley) Nicholson, William Graham Taylor, The dore Cooke
Heath, James(Staffords, N. W.) Nolan, Col. John P.(Galway, N. Tennant, Harold John
Heaton, John Henniker Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South) Thomas, Alfred(Glamorgan, E.
Helder, Augustus Norton, Capt. Cecil William Thomas, David Alfred(Merth'r
Helme, Norval Watson Nussey, Thomas Willans Thomas, F. Freeman Hastings
Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H. O'Brien, Kendal(Tipperary Mid Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
Hermon-Hodge, Robt. Trotter O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Thorburn, Sir Walter
Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.) O'Connor, James(Wicklow, W. Tollemache, Henry James
Hobhouse, Henry (Somerset, E. O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Tomkinson, James
Holland, William Henry O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.) Tufnell, Col. Edward
Hope, J. F (Sheffield, Brightside O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) Tully, Jasper
Hoult, Joseph O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo. N.) Valentia, Viscount
Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham) O'Kelly, James(Roscommon, N Wallace, Robert.
Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil O'Malley, William Walrond, Rt Hn. Sir William H.
Hudson, George Bickersteth O'Mara, James Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Hutton, John (Yorks., N. R.) O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens Wanklyn, James Leslie
Johnston, William (Belfast) Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay Warner, Thomas C. T.
Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan
Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.) Palmer, George Wm.(Reading Welby, Lt.-Cl. A. C. E.(Taunt'n
Joyce, Michael Palmer, Walter (Salisbury) White, George (Norfolk)
Kearley, Hudson E. Parkes, Ebenezer White, Luke (York. E. R.)
Kennedy, Patrick James Partington, Oswald Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Kenyon, Hon. Geo. T. (Denbigh Pease, Herb. Pike (Darlington) Williams, Osmond (Merioneth
Kinloch, Sir John George Smyth Peel, Hon. William Robert W. Willougbby de Eresby, Lord
Lambert, George Pemberton, John S. G. Willox, Sir John Archibald
Lawson, John Grant Percy, Earl Wilson. A. Stanley (York, E. R.)
Layland-Barratt, Francis Perks, Robert William Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington) Pilkington, Richard Wilson, John (Glasgow)
Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Pirie, Duncan V. Wilson, J. W.(Worcestersh., N.
Leigh, Sir Joseph Plannner, Walter R Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)
Leighton, Stanley Power, Patrick Joseph Wrightson, Sir Thomas
Leng, Sir John Price, Robert John Wylie, Alexander
Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward Young, Commander (Berks, E)
Lloyd-George, David Pym, C. Guy Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)
Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham) Quilter, Sir Cuthbert
Lonsdale, John Brownlee Randles, John S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Jeffreys and Mr. Munro Ferguson.
Lough, Thomas Rankin, Sir James
Lowe, Francis William Reddy, M.
Aird, Sir John doubling, Edward Alfred Morris, Hn. Martin Henry F.
Anstruther, H. T. Cray, Ernest (West Ham) Nicol, Donald Ninian
Arrol, Sir William Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury) Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)
Balcarres, Lord Greville, Hon. Ronald Parker, Gilbert
Balfour, Rt Hn Gerald W(Leeds Harwood, George Penn, John
Banbury, Frederick George Henderson, Alexander Platt Higgins, Frederick
Beach, Rt. Hn. W. W. B.(Hants) Higginbottom, S. W. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Blundell, Colonel Henry Horner, Frederick William Renshaw, Charles Bine
Brigg, John Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry Rickett, J. Compton
Brown, Alex. H. (Shropshire) Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley) Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Cavendish, V. C. W.(Derbysh.) Jackson, Rt. Hn. Wm. Lawies Ropner, Colonel Robert
Cawley, Frederick Joicey, Sir James Royds, Clement Molyneux
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Jones, David Brynmor (Sw'nsea Rutherford, John
Chapman, Edward Kimber, Henry Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander
Coddington, Sir William King, Sir Henry Seymour Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. Myles
Coghill, Douglas Harry Kitson, Sir James Simeon, Sir Barrington
Colomb, Sir John Chas. Ready knowles, Lees Thornton, Percy M.
Cook, Frederick Lucas Laws, Andrew Bonar Mason, J. Cathcart (Orkney)
Corbett, A. Cameron(Glasgow) Lawrence, William F. Whiteley, Geo. (York, W. R.)
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Davies, Sir Horatio D.(Chath'm Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Wilson, H. J. (York, W. R.)
Fergusson, Rt Hn Sir J.(Manc'r. Macartney, Rt. Hon. W. G. E. Woodhouse, Sir J T (Huddersf'd
Fielden, Edwd. Brocklehurst MacIver, David (Liverpool) Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart
Firbank, Joseph Thomas M'Arthur, Chas. (Liverpool) Yoxall, James Henry
Fison, Frederick William M'Killop, Jas. (Stirlingshire)
Goddard, Daniel Ford M'Laren, Charles Benjamin TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Lawson Walton and Mr. Cohen.
Gordon, J. (Londonderry, S.) Melville, Beresford Valentine
Gordon, Maj. Evans-(Tr. Hmlts Middlemore, J. Throgmorton

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.