HL Deb 19 June 1865 vol 180 cc432-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


desired to ask the noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards) whether it was really his intention to proceed with the Bill. The whole subject was now under the consideration of the Government, and this Bill would deal with only a very small portion of it. The Government were fully alive to the importance of the subject. On occasion of a serious accident that had recently happened on one of the French Railways, owing to one of the carriages having caught fire, and the passengers were unable to escape owing to the doors being locked, the Board of Trade wrote to all the railway companies suggesting that on no occasion should both doors be locked, and the answer was unanimously in favour of adopting the regulation. No doubt the subject was one which deserved the most serious consideration from the Government and from Parliament, and the Government were anxiously alive to the importance of adopting any measures which might be useful for the prevention of accidents, but the more attention was given to the subject, the greater became the difficulties in their way. The more responsibility was assumed by the Government, to a certain extent, the greater would be the amount of responsibility from which the directors would be relieved. As to the argument of self interest, Lord Campbell's Act no doubt had had a most powerful effect. The Board of Trade sent down an Inspector to report on every accident which happened, and recommendations arising from the report were sent down to every railway company. In almost every instance they were followed, but if the railway companies did not follow them, and an accident happened, their Lordships would easily understand how seriously that would affect the verdict of a jury. If the noble and learned Lord pressed his Bill, he should divide against it, as he thought it was not desirable to deal by Act of Parliament with only one portion of the subject.


differed from the noble Earl, who seemed to think that the directors of railway companies would take sufficient precautions for the safety of passengers, because the survivors of people killed obtained good compensation for the loss they had sustained. That, however, was not the way in which the safety of the public should be secured. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was of opinion that the subject ought to be dealt with, though he agreed it should not be done piecemeal, but as a whole. It was very well to say that railway companies had to pay for these accidents; but what the public wanted was to be protected against risks to which travellers on railways were exposed every day. Only that very morning he and some noble Lords then present came to London in a train which, on arriving at the Clapham Junction, was twenty-four minutes behind its time, and be was informed that as many as 400 trains, and by another person, as many as 700, passed through that station every day. These delays continually occurred, but they passed unnoticed, and those who were exposed to risk by them had no redress. Under the old coaching system the guard was compelled to register the time when he arrived at each stopping-place, and in every case of delay some penalty was incurred. A somewhat similar regulation was adopted on railways in re- gard to times of arriving at stations, but as there was no penalty for irregularity it produced no effect. He thought there ought to be some Government Department whose duty it should be to call railway companies to account, not only when persons were killed, but when they were exposed to danger by delays or any other causes. He trusted that the subject would be considered by the Government during the recess, and that one of the first Bills introduced next Session would be for the formation of a Government Department for that purpose.


doubted whether it were wise for a piece of small legislation like this to interfere with the direction and responsibility of railway directors. The only approach to a railway accident he had ever personally seen was on an Austrian railway, where the directors were compelled to send in their time-bills to a Government Department, and were fined for every five minutes that a train was late. He believed that it would be best to leave the matter in the hands of the railway companies, although he did not deny that there might be an advantage in some general supervision on the part of the Government. The subject was well deserving the attention of the Government, and if they could devise any plan of supervision which would not detract from the responsibility of the railway companies, he should be glad to see it adopted. He hoped, however, the noble and learned Lord would not press this Bill further at present.


said, that he had not intended to convey the idea that the Government were indisposed to consider the subject. He had merely stated the general grounds on which it was very difficult for the Government to undertake any superintendence of railways, and he had assumed as a general principle that, in assuming a superintendence they would be diminishing the responsibility of the railway directors. The Government, so far from wishing to avoid this question, were very carefully considering it, and if any of the reports which were made to them should contain any useful or practicable suggestions they would be glad to avail themselves of them.


said, if he could receive an assurrance from the Government that they would take this subject into their consideration with a view to the adoption of some practical remedy he would not persevere with this Bill. He did not think there would be any danger in allowing both doors of railway carriages to be unlocked. On one line he knew that one of the doors was allowed to remain unlocked.


said, he trusted the Government would give some assurance that they would take up the subject with a view to the adoption of some measure which should prevent, as far as possible, the recurrence of such frightful railway accidents as had lately occurred. He believed that a very general opinion prevailed that the subject had not been dealt with by the Government in the spirit they ought to have manifested. The reply given by the President of the Board of Trade to a statement made in the other House appeared to have been most unsatisfactory. There was no doubt that the question was one of considerable difficulty, but the public looked to the Government as a quarter from which any remedial measure must emanate. He could quite understand that it would not be advisable to relieve railway companies from the responsibility which at present attached to them, and that any excessive interference on the part of the Government might be attended with that effect. But there appeared to be a great inconsistency in the present practice. Before a line was opened it was inspected by a Government officer with a view to ascertain its fitness for traffic; when once it had been opened the Government took no further steps to secure the safety of the travellers by it. It was not consistent, to say the least of it, that the Board of Trade should have powers over a railway until the opening of a line; but that from the moment it was opened all power of practical control should pass out of their hands. It would be advisable that more responsibility in case of accident should fall upon the directors of railway companies, especially as those frightful accidents which so frequently occurred were generally attributable to the absence of the most ordinary precautions. Oftentimes they were due to the fact that trains were allowed to follow one another too soon, and the proper time was not kept; but they were also owing in many instances to the fact that the repair of the lines was committed to contractors, who, as long as they were paid for their work, cared but little for the security of passengers and trains. He trusted that the Government would give their Lordships an assurance that some practical measure would be introduced for the purpose of affording better security to the public than at present existed. It might be well to remind their Lordships that though the present Government had been in office for five years the subject had not received the attention at their hands to which it was entitled.

After a few words from Lord WHARN-CLIFFE,


said, that though it would be desirable to confer some additional powers upon the Board of Trade, he thought there was no necessity for such a Bill as that under the consideration of their Lordships. He had never seen the doors of railways shut except for the purpose of preventing the entrance of any more passengers. It would, in his opinion, be most dangerous to require companies to be punctual by making up for lost time by an acceleration of speed; for, on the other hand, it was impossible that time should not sometimes be lost if the unusual quantity of luggage and the unusual number of passengers, which had occasionally to be taken in or discharged at particular parts, were not excluded. There was no doubt that the railway companies themselves had a great interest in the good management of their respective lines; but, at the same time, he believed that some additional general controlling power might, with advantage, be vested in the Board of Trade.


thought it was the bounden duty of the Government to take this matter in hand, and to introduce some measure which would more effectually secure the safety of the public.


said, the Government had been considering the matter, and they would continue to give to it their best consideration, more particularly after the reports which they expected to receive on the subject of the recent accidents. But at present they were not aware of any measure they could adopt that would not produce greater evils than those which it was to obviate; and, under these circumstances, it was clearly impossible for him to give any pledge as to the course they might hereafter pursue.


intimated that, after the discussion which had taken place, he would not persevere with the Bill.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading discharged; and Bill (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.