HL Deb 20 March 1882 vol 267 cc1254-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the subject was one with which the House could not be wholly unacquainted. It had for some time past been periodically brought under the notice of Parliament. The Railway Accidents Commission in the year 1877, after hearing much evidence and as the result of many experiments, recommended in their Report the use of con- tinuous brakes. Shortly after this, the Board of Trade, in consequence of the inaction of Railway Companies in the matter, issued a Circular urging upon them the importance of the question, and pointing out what was deemed necessary for an efficient brake. Little, however, was done; and in 1878 a Return was ordered by Parliament from all Railway Companies to show what kind of brake was in use upon their lines, and the number of vehicles fitted with it. Since that time these Returns had been made, and the last, ending December, 1881, had just been laid upon the Table of the House. Not a few Members of the House were Directors of Railway Companies; some took an active part in the business of Railway Boards; and to them the question of continuous brakes must be one with which they were familiar. Therefore, their Lordships would receive all information which might be necessary for arriving at a fair and right conclusion upon an important matter which much concerned the public safety in railway travelling. In all questions relating to railways this should be considered—that for more than half-a-century railways had been extending their influence and their usefulness until they had become almost the only means of locomotion for the public generally; and it was important to remember that they were in the hands of private Companies who had had considerable powers granted to them by Parliament, and that with certain limitations the public were dependent upon them as regarded charges for conveyance of passengers and goods, convenience in travelling, and also as regarded safety and precaution, so far as possible, against accidents. Parliament, having conceded these powers to Railway Companies, was in a great measure responsible for the right use of them. It could not, therefore, be urged with any reason that Parliamentary supervision ought not to be employed. At the same time, it was far better that Railway Companies should move forward themselves without Parliamentary pressure. But there were occasions when pressure might be necessary, and where the public safety demanded it. By this Bill Parliament was not called upon to give an opinion upon a great engineering question, or to decide a controversy upon a subject with reference to which it could not be expected to be in possession of sufficient information to arrive at any conclusion, but only to insist upon such an amount of action on the part of Railway Companies as they were all agreed it would be necessary to make at some time or other. He believed that now there were really not two opinions as to the necessity of the adoption of continuous brakes. He did not think there was anyone who was conversant with railway management who would say that, safety in railway travelling being in question, it was not necessary to have an efficient continuous brake. But if they looked to what had been done by Railway Companies, did they find that such progress as might have been expected had been made? The last Return now showed that after nearly five years that the question had been before Parliament not so much as one-half of the vehicles and engines of passenger trains had been fitted with a continuous brake of any kind, and, as remarked by the Board of Trade, "some of the brakes so returned very imperfectly fulfil that designation." He was speaking of railways as a whole; but by referring to the Return it would be seen that some Companies were exceptions to the general inactivity which had prevailed. Seeing that, he had therefore brought forward this Bill, the object of which was to make it compulsory upon all Railway Companies to employ an efficient brake upon all passenger trains—not a particular brake, such as the Westinghouse, or Clark's, or Fay's, or Smith's, or any other, but only that it should be an efficient one and fulfil certain conditions which were considered necessary for efficiency. The conditions were those which, after mature consideration, had been adopted by the Board of Trade. The conditions were as follows:—(a) It must be efficient in stopping the train, instantaneous in action, and capable of being applied without difficulty by engine-drivers and guards; (b) in case of accident, it must be instantaneously self-acting; (c) it must be capable of being easily put on and taken off the engine and every vehicle of the train; (d) its materials must be of a durable character, so as to be easily maintained and kept in good order. Those were simple requirements; there was nothing in them which might not readily be carried out, and with reference to them he might quote the words of one of their greatest engineers, James Watt, that "in mechanism the supreme excellence is simplicity." But with reference to the second condition—"In case of accident it must be instantaneously self-acting," he had one observation to make. Some objection had been taken to this requirement of what was sometimes called automatic action. He could not, however, but think that this arose from a misunderstanding. The automatic or self-acting principle, as it was better called, was intended to apply chiefly to cases of accident, such as breakage of the train. No doubt, it was an objection that the self-acting principle should admit of the brake "creeping on," as it was termed, when not required, thus causing delay and perhaps accident, of which instances were recorded. But if care were taken that self-action should only operate in cases of accident, it would seem in a great measure to remove the objection. Clause 1 of the Bill contained the regulations he had referred to. Clause 2 made the Company liable on whose line a vehicle not properly fitted was running, whether such vehicle belonged to them or not. Clause 3 gave power to the Board of Trade to make certain exceptions. Clause 4 gave jurisdiction to the Railway Commissioners to enforce the Act. Clause 5 gave power to the Board of Trade to inspect the rolling stock of every Railway Company whenever it was thought fit. Such were the provisions of the Bill, and as three years were given for the completion of what was required, he did not think that Railway Companies would have any reasonable cause of complaint. At all events, he was sure that the Bill would receive the best consideration at their Lordships' hands, involving as it did questions of the public safety in travelling, the lives and injuries of railway servants and, at the same time, the interests of Railway Companies themselves. The noble Earl concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Earl Be La Warr.)


said, he did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, as with part of it he heartily concurred, believing that the time had come when it should be made compulsory on Railway Companies to employ continuous brakes with every passenger train. As to the part with which he could not agree, it referred to the automatic action of the brake, respecting which there had been many experimental trials, resulting in a great divergence of opinion among practical men. Some engineers approved of it, while others, men of great experience, did not, but, on the contrary, saw in it a new element of danger rather than of safety. Only recently a serious railway accident in America was attributed to the use of automatic brakes. He thought that legislation on so intricate and novel a matter ought rather to emanate from a Government Department than from an irresponsible Member of Parliament. It was only a few days ago that a very important meeting was hold of Railway Chairmen and Engineers on this very subject; and he believed that ere long communications would take place on the subject between the Railway Companies and the Board of Trade. He would, therefore, recommend his noble Friend, if he would not withdraw the automatic portion of the Bill—a step which he (Lord Colville of Culross) would ask him to take—that he should give time for the consideration of the whole measure, and to that end that he should postpone the Committee to a distant date.


said, he thought the object of this Bill was undoubtedly a very good one. On the whole, this system of brakes had been found desirable; but, at the same time, he could not agree with his noble Friend who introduced this Bill (Earl De La Warr), in what he rather gathered were his very sanguine expectations as to the results which would arise if the general adoption, or compulsory adoption, of continuous brakes was carried out. The noble Lord who had just sat down (Lord Colville of Culross), and who was, of course, a very great authority on such subjects, stated that many engineers were not of opinion that the general adoption of such a brake would be a real benefit. The same difference of opinion was observed in the case of another railway invention—the block system—and his noble Friend, if he remembered rightly, introduced a Bill to render compulsory the block telegraph system. That Bill was referred to a Select Committee, presided over by a noble Duke who sat near him (the Duke of Somerset), and they spent a great deal of time and at- tention on the subject; and the result was that the Committee did not recommend that the Bill should be made law. However, he observed that since that time the block system had, to a very large and increasing extent, been adopted by the various leading railways. There was nothing, so far as he could see, in this Bill which would check the railways in the efforts which they were now making to carry on experiments, and to increase the efficiency of those breaks; but, at the same time, he thought that if this Bill were read a second time, it would require considerable amendment in Committee—more especially with regard to the conditions as to the requirements of any brake. His noble Friend, no doubt, would affirm that these conditions were the same as had been put forward by the Board of Trade; but very little reflection would show that there was a very great difference between a Circular issued by a Department—a Circular which might be modified or recalled at any time—and such provisions embodied in an Act of Parliament. These remarks applied particularly to the provision as to self-acting brakes. It was quite obvious that if a brake was; self-acting in case of emergencies, it would be self-acting on other occasions. He had seen an express train on a steep gradient brought to a dead stop, contrary to the will of the driver, by an automatic brake, and unable to proceed down hill. Had it not been that such a situation involved danger, there would have been something ludicrous in the spectacle of an express train being brought to a dead stop in this way. His noble Friend had explained that that could be avoided in the future; but, at the same time, it illustrated the difficulty they must necessarily experience in laying down rules in a matter of this kind. He did not know whether the Board of Trade would be enthusiastic in their reception of the Bill, seeing that it would impose such a difficult task upon them; but if Parliament thought it necessary that this addition should be made to the duties of the Board of Trade, he had no doubt they would get a Vote of Supply for extra assistance. The whole question was much more difficult than at first appeared, because the Board of Trade had to strike the judicious mean between such interference with the Railway Companies and other great interests as would take away responsibilities from these bodies, and those regulations that would enable the Board of Trade to exercise that amount of control that would satisfy the country that they were fulfilling their duty as the guardians of the public safety in such matters. Therefore, he had no doubt their Lordships would feel that this Bill, if read a second time, would require very careful consideration in Committee, and in that expectation he was prepared to support the second reading. He would add that, on the whole, the Bill was looked on with favour by railway employés as calculated to enable them more safely to fulfil their duties. In the expectation that Amendments would be introduced into the Bill in Committee, more especially with regard to the automatic clauses, he should vote in favour of the second reading.


said, that, on the part of the Government, he did not propose to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill. Several experiments had lately been carried on by some of the largest Companies, and there was a general desire expressed by them to come to some definite solution of this question. No doubt there were several clauses which would require discussion and amendment; but these matters could be left for the Committee stage. He trusted that the noble Earl would postpone the Committee until as distant a date as possible, say, until the month of May, in order to enable the communications which were passing between the Board of Trade and the Railway Companies to be further advanced. The subject was one of great importance, and, from its peculiarly technical character, required great consideration in dealing with it.


, in reply, said, he would postpone the Committee till after Easter, and then fix it at such a time as would be convenient to the noble Lord and the Department he represented.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.