HC Deb 07 July 1905 vol 148 cc1478-92

As amended (by the Standing Committee) considered.

MR. MOUNT (Berkshire, Newbury)

, in moving a new clause in substitution for Clause 2 in the Bill, said that in Committee it was urged that as certain stringent liabilities were being imposed upon railway companies it was only fair that the companies should be empowered to take precautions to protect themselves against the risk of fire arising from sparks emitted from their engines. The promoters were willing to accede to that request provided the precautions taken did not unduly trench on the rights of others. Under the Bill a railway company on payment of compensation had a right to enter a plantation or wood and adopt such precautions as they thought fit to prevent injury by fire to such plantation, and it was further set out that in the exercise of that power the company might cut down trees or shrubs without obtaining the consent of the owners. That was a stringent provision, and there were many ways in which the exercise of the right might cause serious damage. In many places plantations had been planted for the purpose of shutting out the view of a railway line, and the cutting down of trees without the consent of the owner might cause damage which the payment of money would not compensate.


intimated his willingness to accept the Amendment.


said in that case he need not further labour the point, but simply move.

A clause. (Powers for the extinction and prevention of fire). (1) A railway company may enter on any land and do all things reasonably necessary for the purpose of extinguishing, or arresting the spread of, any fire caused by sparks or cinders emitted from any locomotive engine. (2) A railway company may, for the purpose of preventing or diminishing the risk of fire in a plantation, wood, or orchard through sparks or cinders emitted from any locomotive engine, enter upon any part of the plantation, wood, or orchard, or on any land adjoining thereto, and cut down and clear away any undergrowth, and take any other precautions reasonably necessary for the purpose; but they shall not, without the consent of the owner of the plantation, wood, or orchard, cut down or injure any trees, bushes, or shrubs. (3) A railway company exercising powers under this section shall pay full compensation to any person injuriously affected by the exercise of those powers, including compensation in respect of loss of amenity, and any compensation so payable shall, in case of difference, be determined in England and Ireland by two justices in manner provided by Section 24 of The Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, and in Scotland by the sheriff in manner provided by Section 22 of The Lands Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1845."—(Mr. Mount.)

Brought up, and read the first and second time.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)

, in moving to insert "or moorland" in line 1, said he had known cases in which eighty or 100 acres of grass had been destroyed by fire before the persons told off to put down such outbreaks could appear on the scene. It was a question of the destruction not only of heather and grass, but also of fences. Moreover, when fire got into peat mosses it often remained there for weeks, and could only be extinguished by heavy rains. He begged to move.


said he did not know what the legal aspect of the matter might be, but he would have thought that "land" included "moorland." As, however, there might be a legal distinction, he would accept the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the clause— In line 1, after the word 'land' to insert the word 'or moorland.'"—(Sir Mark Stewart.)

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

MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W. R., Keighley)

thought that the Amendment was altogether unnecessary. There might be different kinds of land to which the technical term of "moorland" would not apply, with the result that the Amendment would tend to limit the operation of the clause.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

thought that to name any particular kind of land would limit rather than extend the operation of the clause.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR JAMES RANKIN (Herefordshire, Leominster) moved to amend the new clause so as to require the railway company to obtain the consent of the owner before entering any plantation, wood, or orchard for the purpose of taking precautions against the risk of fire. His objections had been largely met by the new clause, but he desired that the consent of the owner should be necessary before the company entered on the land at all. Under the clause there was no limitation as to the land they might enter, nor was there any definition of "undergrowth" which they might cut down without consent, whereas before they cut down bushes the consent of the owner was necessary. It was difficult sometimes to tell the difference between bushes and undergrowth, and great hardship might be inflicted unless the words he proposed were inserted. Without some such proviso the remedy would really be worse than the disease. If the Amendment were agreed to he would propose to leave out all words after "purpose," as he thought the clause would then cover everthing that was required. He did not wish to prevent the passage of the Bill, as he regarded it as a useful measure, but he thought the amenities of land adjoining the plantations should be protected.

SIR JOHN DORINGTON (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)

seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the clause— In line 7, after the word 'engine' to insert the words 'after having obtained the consent of the owner of the plantation, wood, or orchard.'"—(Sir James Rankin.)

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


thought that if the remedy were worse than the disease the necessary antidote would be that compensation should not be payable unless reasonable precautions against fire had been taken. If an owner had bramble bushes near a railway he was almost inviting a fire. He did not think any hindrances ought to be put in the way of the companies taking the necessary precautions. In fact, he rather welcomed the proposal, because the cost of the precautions, instead of falling on the owner as hitherto, would in future have to be borne by the companies. He did not think there would be any difficulty in arranging the necessary precautions with due regard to the amenities of property, and he considered the clause quite reasonable as it stood.


pointed out that the insertion of the words would make the sub-section quite unnecessary. An Act of Parliament was unnecessary to enable anyone to enter upon land with the consent of the owner. It had already been provided that if a fire broke out the company might enter upon land for the purpose of extinguishing it, and it could not be said that that was an unreasonable provision. What was desired was a farther power for the company to enter upon land and take any reasonable precautions to prevent the outbreak of fire. The suggestion of the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs had come rather late in the day, and in view of the present position of the Bill the consideration of that suggestion could not with advantage be now entered upon. He appealed to his hon. friend not to press the Amendment.

COLONEL PILKINGTON (Lancashire, Newton)

said that he had had some experience in this matter and he should be delighted if the railway companies had that power.


That is not the point. The question the hon. and gallant Member is dealing with has been disposed of in the new sub-section. This Bill deals only with steps to be taken to prevent fires breaking out.


hoped the hon. Baronet would not press his Amendment.


said that as his Amendment did not find favour with the Committee, and as he was anxious that the Bill should pass, he begged leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington) moved an Amendment to insert after the word "enter" the words "thereon within twenty yards of the railway fence."

MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)

hoped the promoters would accept this Amendment. Nearly all the alterations in Grand Committee seemed to be in favour of the railway companies, and it was a pity that when a private Bill was introduced, in order to get it through all kinds of interests should be placated and their Amendments agreed to simply in order to pass the Bill. It was very serious to give railway companies power to enter into covers and go any distance into them. He thought the House would be wise in accepting this Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the clause— In line 7, to leave out from the word 'enter' to the word 'and,' in line 8, and insert the words 'thereon within twenty yards of the railway fence.'"—(Sir Joseph Leese.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."


said that it had been I shown that twenty yards was not satisfactory in every case. The railway companies were only being allowed to take such precautions as were absolutely necessary, and he trusted the hon. Member would not imperil the progress of the Bill by his present proposal.


said he had known cases where every precaution had been taken for forty or fifty yards, and even then cinders had frequently dropped over that distance.

MR. LYELL (Dorsetshire, E.)

said he should support his hon. friend in the lobby if he pressed his Amendment to a division. It had always been intended that one of the principal effects of this Bill should be to compel railway companies to adopt such inventions as were I available for the prevention of these sparks flying about. At the present time there was no inducement for railway companies to adopt these inventions. To give these companies leave to go any distance into plantations or other land to cut down bushes which they might consider were liable to catch fire, would be putting into their hands a power which would be extremely liable to abuse.

SIR EDWARD STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

said he was not one of those who regarded railway companies as people who were always ready to meet them very fairly, but in this particular instance he thought they had met them fairly. The principal complaint of the hon. Member for Barnstaple was that cover owners and shooting tenants would be affected. He wished to point out that this Bill was not brought in in the interests of cover owners or shooting tenants, but its object was to ensure that the crops of farmers should not be damaged and that if they were damaged by sparks from engines the farmers should receive compensation. The farmers were quite satisfied that their case had been fairly met by the railway companies.

MR. EDMUND FABER (Hampshire, Andover)

assured the House that railway companies were really desirous of finding something that would prevent sparks, but they could not do so without reducing the power to get up steam.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said this question had been thoroughly threshed out in Committee. The railway companies had no desire to damage plantations, for which damage they would have to pay. The object of the clause was to enable the companies to clear the ground ahead of a fire and thus arrest its progress; and to take precautions against the recurrence of a fire. The course of a fire might be more than twenty yards from the railway and if a limit was put in it would render the clause useless.


asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.

Amendments proposed to the Bill— In Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after the word 'when' to insert the words 'after this Act comes into operation.' In Clause 1, page 1, line 16, to leave out the word 'Act' and insert the word 'section.'"—(Mr. Mount).

Amendments agreed to.

MR. SOARES moved an Amendment to Clause 1 to enable action for damages to be brought under it up to £500 instead of merely £100. He said all the alterations in the Bill seemed to have been made in favour of the railway companies. However, he did not see why they should be protected. The Bill was one to protect farmers, and why should the farmers' claim for damages under the Bill be limited to £100. Much more serious damage might be done to standing crops. He, himself, would like to see no restriction at all. He did not see why railway companies who had committed damage should not pay the whole amount; but, if some limitations were desired, he was willing that it should be £500. He begged to move.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 1, line 18, to leave out the word 'one,' and insert the word 'five'—(Mr. Soares)—instead therof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'one' stand part of the Bill."

MR. BRIGHT (Shropshire, Oswestry)

said he agreed with his hon. friend that the amount to which damages were to be limited was far too low. It seemed to him that if a railway company did damage at all it should be responsible for a higher amount. The higher the amount the companies had to pay the surer they would be to find out an early remedy for sparks. It was only a question, after all, for experiment, and the resources of science were not exhausted.


said he did not think it was wise to penalise railway companies too much. When powers were originally given to railway companies it was very well known that the railways would be run by steam, and that the locomotives would emit sparks. In view of the difficulties which the companies had found in getting a remedy for sparks, he held that it would not be right to penalise them in the way proposed.


expressed the hope that the hon. Gentleman would not press the Amendment. This matter was threshed out by the Committee upstairs, and he thought the arrangement come to was a fairly reasonable one. He would point out that, apart from the protection given under this Bill, the farmer would still have the remedy which he had at present a common law. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the damage done to agricultural produce would be met by the £100 limit.


agreed with his hon. friend that the railway companies had made rather a good bargain in regard to the limit of £100. But there was no mode of getting the Bill through this session if they were going to fight the railway companies on all points. The proposal in the Bill was a compromise, and, as had been pointed out, the limit stipulated would cover most of the cases of damages. In cases where a greater amount of damage was done the loser would not be prevented from pursuing the railway company under common law. In the interest of agriculturists they would do well to take the Bill as it stood, rather than wreck it, and possibly be left in the position of not getting another for years.


said the limitation of £100 was not in itself unreasonable. The Bill left intact the remedy that at present existed at common law, but the person seeking redress in that way had to prove negligence. This Bill was specially introduced to provide another form of remedy. It was particularly hard on a person whose crops had been destroyed that he had to adduce evidence, it might be by experts, for the purpose of establishing negligence. That was peculiarly hard in the case of the smaller tenants. The Bill, as passed by the Grand Committee and amended by the House, relieved the small farmer from that hardship and enabled him to get redress from the railway company. He could not help feeling that the limit introduced in Grand Committee was in itself reasonable and in consonance with the purpose of the Bill. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not think it necessary to divide the House on the Amendment.

MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)

said he felt a great interest in some protection being given to agriculturists; but, knowing the difficulty they had in Grand Committee to get the Bill through, he ventured to appeal to Members opposite to withdraw the Amendment. He considered it would be a great pity to risk the loss of the Bill because they did not get all they wanted. Agriculturists wished no injustice to be done to the railway companies; indeed, quite the reverse. The Bill was a matter of justice, and he hoped they would not risk it by the Amendment.

MR. LUKE WHITE (Yorkshire, E. R., Buckrose)

said they were told by the Attorney-General that agriculturists might suffer more than £100 damages by sparks, but they would still be entitled to have recourse to the common law. It was, however, the very difficulties under the common law which had led to the introduction of the Bill. He felt quite sure that the limit of £100 was far too low. It might be in the interest of those in charge of the Bill that they should suggest some larger sum than £100, and, if they did so, there would be some general agreement.

MR. H. D. GREENE (Shrewsbury)

said that on this occasion he agreed with hon. Gentlemen opposite. At the present time no man could succeed in an action against a railway company for damages caused by fire sparks unless he could bring it home that there was negligence in the management or construction of the engines, and great expense had to be incurred to prove that the engine was not so constructed as to prevent sparking. Coal was now so expensive that railway companies used more bad coal in their engines, and high speed required such a large amount of coal that he did not think there was any doubt in the mind of anybody in agricultural districts that bad coal was in no small part the cause of these fires. That being the state of the law, a one-clause Bill was brought in to compel companies to pay damages whether the loss, however great, was caused by negligence or not, and there was no serious opposition to it; however, since the Second Reading, they were asked to pass a clause limiting the amount of damages which the companies were to be liable to pay to £100. He should vote for the Amendment. The argument that they would get no Bill at all unless the proposals in that Bill were agreed to had no weight with him.


suggested that a compromise might be made by making the limit £200. He thought that would meet all the circumstances of the case.


agreed to the suggestion

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

pointed out that the Bill had still to go through the Third Reading stage. This was the last day available for the consideration of the Bill on Report, and he thought they should not discuss. Amendments at great length. It would be perfectly impossible to pass the Bill unless the Government gave facilities.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments proposed to the Bill— In page 1, to leave out Clause 2. In page 2, line 7, to leave out the words 'No action under this Act shall be,' and insert the words 'This Act shall not apply in the case of any action for damage by fire.'"—(Mr. Mount.)

Amendments agreed to.

SIR MARK STEWART moved an Amendment on Clause 3 for the purpose of extending from seven to fourteen days the period during which notice might be given to a railway company of a claim for damages. He could not think that the railway companies would really object to a fortnight's notice. In some cases farmers lived a long way from the farms and were dependent on shepherds and others for information.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 2, line 10, to leave out the word 'seven,' and insert the word 'fourteen'"—(Sir Mark Stewart),—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'seven' stand part of the Bill."


said this Bill was placing an onerous charge on the railway companies. The whole question whether there was an obligation resting on a railway company to pay would depend on the evidence as to whether the damage had been caused by a spark from an engine. The persons whose crops were damaged could easily give notice within seven days, and it would be easier in that case for the railway companies to trace whether or not they were liable. Fires of this kind not infrequently arose through fires lighted by tinkers, and unless railway companies had notice within a short period they would not be able to satisfy themselves whether they were liable.


said the amount of the claim was limited to £100, and this was not a very onerous burden on the wealthy railway companies of the country. All the new terms of the Bill seemed to be on the side of the railway companies. He agreed that this was a very serious and important Amendment, because it had to be remembered that the people who would suffer were farmers, who were not accustomed to sending in claims for damages. They had to send in notice of their claim and also particulars of the damage within seven days, which was a very short period, seeing that they would have to assess the damage, probably having to engage a value to do it. He considered fuller time should be allowed.


expressed the hope that the hon. Member would not press the Amendment. The matter was discussed by the Grand Committee, and it was agreed that seven days should be the time.


said that the Amendment was very important; and he thought that the Government should make some concession in the matter.


said that it seemed to him the railway companies ought to concede something here. It seemed to him quite a monstrous suggestion on the part of the railway companies that a claim for damages should be sent in in writing within seven days, if the House would excuse him putting it in such strong language. He should have thought twenty-eight days would have been much more appropriate. It meant, if seven days notice was left in, that farmers might be too late. Surely the railway companies were not going to press that. Surely they did not want to evade just claims. Just claims might be too late, for farmers might not be able to get their full claims in writing made out within seven days. He was not going to suggest twenty-eight days, but he did think that for the sake of getting the Bill these just suggestions and claims ought to be met. This seemed to him to be most fair, and he trusted that the House would insist on fourteen days notice.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

said it was only by compromise that the Bill could be got through. The promoters were prepared to accept; the Amendment if they were not asked for any more.


said he should be quite prepared to accept the proposal that seven days should be given for notice, and fourteen days for the preparation of the claim.


said that no argument had been adduced in favour of the retention of the words "seven days," except that damage might be caused by tinkers, whom it would be difficult to trace. He protested against the hon. Member for South-West Manchester regarding this as a great concession, and that no further concession should be given.


suggested that fourteen days should be given for furnishing the particulars of the damage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR ROBERT FINLAY moved to insert in line 10, after "damage," the words and within fourteen days as regards particulars of the damage."

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 2, line 10, after the word 'damage' to insert the words 'and within fourteen days as regards particulars of the damage.'"—(The Attorney-General.)

Amendment agreed to.

SIR MARK STEWART moved an Amendment to insert in line 15, after "land," the words "or moorland." It might be all right in a stone wall country; but in the Highlands the heather would burn like tinder.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 2, line 15, after the word 'land,' to insert the words 'or moorland.'"—(Sir Mark Steward.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'or moorland' be there inserted."

MR. SEYMOUR ORMSBY-GORE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)

said that what the Amendment really aimed at was the protection of grouse. The damage in that case might be very excessive; and he should certainly vote against the Amendment.


said that under the terms of the Bill "moorland" was excluded.


said that his hon. friend who seconded the Amendment was not only politically, but personally, a neighbour; and he was quite sure his hon. friend would agree that there were many moors which ought to be more frequently burned. It would be a most difficult thing to trace the origin of a fire, and in the case of moorland it would be difficult to assess the damage that had been done, because fires on the moorlands usually took place in those parts which were most neglected. He hoped his hon. friend would withdraw the Amendment.

Question put, and negatived.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 2, line 24, to leave out the words 'Compensation for Damage to Crops,' and insert the words 'Railway Fires.'"—(Mr. Mount.)

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 2, line 24, at end to insert the words 'This Act shall apply to agricultural land under the management of the Commissioners of Woods and to agricultural crops thereon.'"—(Mr. Victor Cavendish.)

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

(King's consent signified), Bill read the third time, and passed.