HL Deb 22 June 1883 vol 280 cc1260-4

, in rising to put a Question to Her Majesty's Government as to their intentions with respect to railway continuous brakes, said, it was now six years since the Board of Trade had issued a Circular to Railway Companies, specifying the conditions which they considered essential to an efficient brake, and urging the importance of its adoption with a view to safety in railway travelling. In order to secure information being given to Parliament on this subject, an Act was passed in 1878 making it compulsory on Railway Companies to give periodical Returns of the number and kind of brakes in use upon their lines. Notwithstanding the unsatisfactory nature of those Returns, which was admitted by the Board of Trade, no steps had been taken by Her Majesty's Government. As long ago as 1880, the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), in answer to a deputation, said— If the Companies set their backs against the wall, and will defy public opinion, and ab- solutely refuse to be guided by the recommendations of the Board of Trade, there will be no alternative but for Government to lay a statement of the whole case before Parliament, and point out how ridiculous is our position, and ask for further powers as may be necessary. In the meantime, nothing had been done beyond laying Returns before Parliament, which Railway Companies regarded as a proof of their power to resist Parliamentary interference. In consequence of Her Majesty's Government not attempting to do anything, he (Earl De La Warr) had introduced a Bill last Session which passed the second reading, but which was rejected on going into Committee on the Motion of the noble Lord who was Chairman of the Directors of the Great Northern Railway (Lord Colville of Culross). It seemed to him that the position of Her Majesty's Government, as represented by the Board of Trade, was, as regarded this question, a very anomalous one. The Board of Trade said that it was a very essential element, to insure safety in railway travelling, that there should be efficient brakes. Six years ago they stated in their Circular— There can be no reason for further delay; and the Board of Trade feel it their duty again to urge upon the Railway Companies the necessity for arriving at an immediate decision and united action in the matter. They not only urged the importance of an efficient brake, but they also specified the kind of brake which they considered necessary, and they would authorize the use of no other. Yet the Railway Companies laid every year Returns before Parliament, showing that these regulations were not complied with in a large number of instances. The Board of Trade also admitted that the Returns of the number and kinds of brakes in use were highly unsatisfactory; but what was the result? The evil was admitted; the remedy was known and acknowledged; but six years had elapsed and nothing had been done. He know the argument was used that it would be better to let the Railway Companies adopt a brake for themselves, and there was no one who desired this more than he did. But were the Railway Companies doing it? That was the question. Let their Lordships look at the Returns; the last Return was made in December, 1882. There were, he believed, about 79 Companies; and out of these there were only six who had, to any extent, complied with the requirements of the Board of Trade. They were the Great Western, the Midland, the London and Brighton, the North-Eastern, the North British, and the Great Eastern. These had a considerable number of engines and carriages fitted with brakes as recommended by the Board of Trade. Several other Companies had a small number only of their engines and carriages so fitted. Among these latter, one of the most important lines—the Great Northern—had only two engines and 14 carriages fitted according to the requirements of the Board of Trade. Then, among those Companies which were using brakes which did not comply with the conditions which were considered by the Board of Trade to be essential to an efficient brake, were the North-Western, the Great Northern, and many other Companies, employing brakes which were not continuous throughout, or were not self-acting, or were applied by the engine driver only, or by the guard only. Briefly, it appeared from the Returns of the Railway Companies themselves that only six Companies had fully complied with the requirements of the Board of Trade; about 20 other Companies had partially done so; while more than one-half of the Companies had ignored them altogether. He would not enter into further details; but he asked whether that was a state of things which ought to continue? The Board of Trade had come to the conclusion, after a long and careful consideration of the question, that brakes of a certain description were necessary for safety in travelling. Railway Companies, with few exceptions, had not adopted them, and, as far as he was informed, did not intend to do so. If a Bill were introduced by a private Member of their Lordships' House, the argument was used that it was a question for the Government to deal with. He quite agreed with that; and, therefore, he would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intended to deal with it; and, if so, whether in the manner described in the Circular of the Board of Trade of August, 1877?


said, that, although he had been for many years connected with the direction of an important Railway Company, he had no connection with any Railway Company at the present time, nor had he had any for the last seven years; and, therefore, he could speak with impartiality on this subject. If any real necessity existed for the application of these brakes, public opinion would call for them. The public had not demanded them; and he thought the matter was one which might safely be left to the Railway Companies themselves, seeing that it was in the obvious interest of the Companies to carry their passengers as safely as they could. Besides, the large amount of business done by the Railway Companies with an immunity from accident which, of late years especially, had been extraordinary, showed that the Railway Companies were adopting, of their own motion, continuous brakes, or such other contrivances as they found conducive to public safety. It must be further borne in mind that it was impossible to devise any particular form of brake which would suit the peculiarities of every railway, when the different gradients that existed on them were taken into consideration. He thought it was a subject that ought to be left entirely to the experts interested in it. He objected to grandmotherly legislation such as the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) was in favour of, and thought that no private Member of either House ought to originate legislation dealing with the question to which the noble Earl had drawn attention.


My Lords, it is not possible, during the present Session, for the Government to deal with the continuous brake question; but I may say, at the same time, that the experience gained since the Circular of 1877 was written only confirms the Board of Trade in the necessity for the conditions which were then set forth being adhered to in any system of brakes which may be adopted, and the necessity for uniformity is also made apparent every day. The Board of Trade regret that many of the Railway Companies have not thought it advisable to adopt a brake complying with the conditions suggested in the Circular; but while the number of Companies who have done so is small, still some progress is being made in the matter. If the noble Earl himself were to introduce a Bill for the purpose of making it compulsory upon Companies to adopt a brake complying with those conditions, the Board of Trade would be happy to support such a measure.