HC Deb 27 July 1908 vol 193 cc881-2
MR. MADDISON (Burnley)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the compulsory adoption of automatic couplings in the United States in 1893 has reduced coupling accidents by 80 per cent. in one year, the average reduction during the last six years being over 70 per cent., notwithstanding an increase of 70,000 men and 523,083 vehicles; whether the proportion of coupling accidents acknowledged by the railways in the Return of shunting accidents for 1907 exceeds 24 per cent., or 1 in 4, of the 3,221 shunting accidents recorded in that year; whether the Royal Commission on Accidents to Railway Servants in July, 1899, condemned the shunting-pole system and urged trials of automatic couplings and like appliances; and whether he will exercise the powers vested in him under The Railway Employment (Prevention of Accidents) Act, 1900, and institute exhaustive tests of the various automatic couplings offered, with a view to secure an appliance that will reduce coupling accidents in this country.


I fear that my hon. friend has misread the American statistics. Coupling accidents in the United States, including fatal and non-fatal alike, appear to have been reduced by 80 per cent. between 1893 and 1902, that is to say in nine years, not in one year. Since 1902, however, there has been a considerable recrudescence. For whereas the lowest figure of 143 fatal accidents was attained in the United States of America in 1902, in the five years 1903–1907 the number of fatal accidents of this class in the United States has varied from 243 to 311. I am aware that the figures are not in all respects comparable with the total for this country—which only varied in the same period from 9 to 23—but they indicate that an automatic coupling is not an absolute safeguard. On the general question I must refer my hon. friend to the Report of the Railway Employment Safety Appliances Committee which has just been circulated, and in particular to Colonel Yorke's memorandum attached thereto.


Is it not the fact that that Committee instituted no te3t at all of their inquiry.


I did not follow the actual course of the Committee investigation, but the Committee was very highly qualified for dealing with the subject, and it had on it representatives of the men.

MR. HUDSON (Newcastle-on-Tyne)

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the use of automatic couplings adopted in America does not obviate the danger of fatal accidents?


I said they were not an absolute safeguard. Other accidents arise as the result of automatic couplings.