HL Deb 23 April 1896 vol 39 cc1490-5

, in moving that this Bill be read a Second time, said, it might have been as well if he had explained, on its introduction, that it was brought in by the Local Government Board, and was a legacy from the late Government. The use of locomotives going at a very fair pace had become common in some countries on the Continent and in America, and it was natural that the subject should have engaged the attention of those who wished to use them and to make them in this country; but they found themselves obstructed by impediments which did not exist elsewhere. Jealous of the public safety, Parliament had passed stringent laws as regarded the use of locomotives, and, while it had been liberal as regarded weight and width, it had been very careful as to the pace at which it might go, The law provided that there were to be a certain number of persons in attendance, and that one was to precede the locomotive at a certain distance with a warning signal; there were also provisions as to the lights to be carried and as to the steam being under proper control. The most serious obstacle, however, arose from the definition of a locomotive as "a locomotive" propelled by steam or other mechanical power, and the Courts had held that the definition was applicable to any vehicle that was not propelled by a man's legs or drawn by a horse's. The Courts had held it to be illegal to ride on a tricycle moved mechanically unless the regulations were observed and there were three men in attendance, one walking 40 yards in advance with a flag in his hand. It was obviously impossible for light locomotives to be manufactured and used under these conditions of the law. Pressure had been brought to bear upon the late Government and the present one, and, therefore, he, as the mouthpiece of the Local Government Board, had introduced this Bill. There were enthusiasts who believed that as soon as the law was altered, our whole system of conveyance of persons and goods was to be changed; that carriage folk were going to do away with their horses; that the farmer was going to take his produce to the nearest market town on a wagon with a motor of some sort in it; and that in London people were going to ride about on omnibuses with rubber tyres electrically propelled over asphalte. He did not imagine that these improvements would come as rapidly as enthusiasts suggested; but he must admit it would be possible, provided the law admitted of it, within a short time to see electrically-propelled carriages running about the streets of London, at about the same pace as public carriages went now, as comfortable as they were now, and charging about the same fares as at present. He was informed that at this moment there were persons who were prepared to put upon the streets of London, if the law would allow them, electrically-propelled omnibuses which they maintained would be as convenient in every respect as the present popular means of locomotion. The method adopted in the Bill was, first of all, to exclude light locomotives from most of the provisions of the present Acts applying to locomotives, and then to put down a certain number of restrictions which should apply especially to light locomotives. The method was sweeping in some respects, but, on the other hand, it was very careful in others. There was to be a limit of weight to two tons. It was legislating somewhat in the dark, because we had no experience in this country of what would be the best maximum; but, as far as could be ascertained, the limit would cover the majority of the vehicles that were being used on the Continent. On the other hand, the maximum of two tons would, he was informed, entirely exclude electrically-driven omnibuses; but Mr. Chaplin was quite willing to consider any evidence as to what the maximum weight ought to be. Inquiries had been made of various companies using heavy carts, vans, and wagons for goods traffic. As far as he could make out, the heaviest wagon in ordinary use in the streets of London would weigh 2¼ tons. Our omnibuses weighed 1¾ tons. An instance had been given him of a wagon or cart used for the conveyance of large pieces of metal, not, however, through the streets of London, which weighed seven tons, drawn by horses. The weights he had given of wagons related to the wagons only with absolutely nothing upon them, without the weight of the motor in their ease, that is the horses; and it was a matter for consideration during the discussion of the Bill whether, in imposing a maximum as regarded locomotives which would include the weight of the motor, it would not be fair to take into consideration, as a matter of comparison, the weight of the motor in the case of omnibuses and carts. To a pair-horse omnibus weighing 1¾ ton it would be fair to add 1½ ton for a pair of heavy horses. Another special provision as regarded light locomotives was that they were not to draw any other vehicle. That, it seemed to him, was a wise provision, for it would be observed that there was no limit as regarded pace, further, of course, than the particular provision put into the Bill and the general provision which applied to the driving of carriages. They were to be driven so as not to cause any injury to any person or thing; as the heavy locomotives were limited to four miles an hour, it was obvious that a drastic change had been introduced in favour of light locomotives. It was a wise provision that these locomotives should not draw anything after them, for if there was any danger to be apprehended from a locomotive being allowed to proceed at a rapid pace that danger was far more than doubled if allowed to draw anything after it; in turning corners— for instance, the swaying of the hinder vehicle, if going at a great pace, would cause serious risk of danger to other vehicles passing at the corner. It had been contemplated that the removal of present restrictions on locomotives would result in farmers and other movers of agricultural produce being able to depend on these light locomotives for the carriage of their goods to market, and they would become practically independent of the light railways, or feeder railways, so much talked of in these days. This was undoubtedly a matter for the consideration of their Lordships. These light locomotives were to be so constructed that no smoke or visible vapour was emitted there from. That was a change from the present law as to the heavier class of locomotive, which provided that they should consume their own smoke. But, as a matter of fact, they did not consume all the vapour emitted from them. This Bill provided that all kinds of vapour coming from the locomotives were to be invisible. A gentleman using these locomotives on the Continent informed him that in certain states of the temperature it was impossible to prevent a certain amount of vapour coming from the locomotive being visible, and he feared that if there was as much as a puff from a cigarette he would be fined. That was a rather exaggerated view, and if it was shown upon undoubted evidence that it was impossible to manufacture one of the machines so as to keep the vapour emitted invisible he was sure the President of the Local Government Board would take that point into consideration and introduce amending words which would remove this disability. Special provision had been made for the keeping and use of petroleum, so that, if the law was not sufficient at the present time to secure the safety of the public as regarded this explosive, regulations might be made by the Secretary of State. In the third clause it had been prominently brought to notice that if any person negligently drove a light locomotive, it rendered him liable to a penalty; and in the fourth clause the Local Government Board reserved to itself the right to make regulations as to light locomotives on highways. As regarded heavy locomotives, it had been complained to the Local Government Board that different regulations existed in counties bordering on one another, and there should be one set of regulations for the whole country. The President of the Local Government Board had introduced a provision to meet this. The method of the Bill was to exclude those provisions of the law which applied to the present class of locomotives, and to impose certain other provisions which should cover these light locomotives; and it was stated in a proviso in the first clause that "nothing in the section shall affect any power for the general regulation of traffic on highways," and the opinion of the legal advisers of the Board was that, if one of these light locomotives was held to be a carriage, then there were a considerable number of legal regulations and Acts which the owner or driver of a light locomotive would have to comply with if he wished to conform to the law. He did not think he need detain their Lordships any longer on this Bill. He hoped they would give a Second Reading to it. There was not the slightest doubt there was an earnest desire in the country that a Bill of the kind should be passed; and, although the Local Government Board admitted that they had had, perforce, to draft this Bill in the dark as to what were the best provisions to put into it, owing to the fact that they had no experience of these light locomotives in this country, they believed the Bill was well conceived to meet the objections that had been raised to the law as it at present stood and to give an opportunity to manufacturers of experimenting in these machines and improving, perhaps, on those already made in foreign countries, and also giving an opportunity to those who could afford these light locomotives (though they were expensive) to encourage manufacturers, and by degrees produce that experience which at present the Local Government Board lacked. He should be prepared to consider any Amendments their Lordships might suggest, and he would bring them under the notice of the President of the Local Government Board, who would give every attention to them. ["Hear, hear!"]


said, he had no intention of opposing the Bill. Thirty or 40 years ago he saw a good many experiments made in light road engines; in fact, he was once driven down to another place in a light traction engine. But they had ignominiously to retreat because Sir Charles Barry did not make the road wide enough. He was glad the noble Lord had brought this Bill forward. But he was sorry to say that what he laid great stress on was what, to himself, was the great flaw in the Bill—that no carriage or wagon should follow these light machines. On that point the noble Lord gave the House a reason which he himself did not think sufficient—that they might militate against light railways. He did not believe in light railways, for the simple reason of cost. Of course, they must lay their permanent way for light railways as much as for heavy ones, although not at the same expense. The cost of construction, it was said, would be £3,000 a mile. That, to his mind, would stop the whole thing, and it would be a pity to make a railway which would be nothing but a failure. He did not know if he was over-sanguine, but he thought these light locomotives might be of the very greatest benefit to the farmers. ["Hear, hear!"] They had accommodation lanes from the farms to the main roads, and he did not see why the farmer or his wife or servants should not go down to this lane end to meet the light locomotive drawing that which would take his light produce to the market or nearest railway station. If the Bill facilitated the transit of farm produce from the farm to the market town or railway station it would fill a great void and meet a great want. ["Hear, hear!"]


desired to ask a question about the Bill. Though turnpikes were abolished, there were still certain bridges and roads where tolls were yet leviable. The only Act by which road locomotives were subjected to toll was that of 1861, Clause 1. But light locomotives were entirely exempted from the operation of that Act, and as all these tolls were measured by the number of horses which were attached to each vehicle they drew, they would be freed from tolls. That was obviously not the intention of the promoters of the Bill, and he had merely called attention to the matter so that his noble Friend could correct the omission if it was required, as he believed it was.


would, of course, give consideration to the question of traction raised by the noble Viscount, and would also bring the matter of tolls and bridges to the attention of the Local Government Board. He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.