§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Charles Forster.)
§ MR. W. FOWLER
, in rising to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read the third time upon this day three months, said, that he regretted extremely to have to oppose the Bill; but there was one matter which required the attention of the House, and that was the 63rd clause, which empowered the Company to make bye-laws for regulating the times and conditions under which traction and other engines, or traffic of a heavy or dangerous description, might be passed across any level crossing or over any bridge of the Company's railway. His reason for opposing the Bill was, that this clause seemed to him to involve an alteration of the general law of Parliament by a Private Act. It was, he thought, of the greatest importance that no General Act of Parliament ought to be altered by a Private Act of which adequate Notice had not been given. He had only heard of this provision in the Bill from a letter which had been sent to him; and when he proceeded to examine the clause, it struck him, upon comparing it with the Statute, that it was distinctly an alteration of the general law. In the General Act, there were clauses establishing a code of regulations in regard to the matter dealt with by this section of the present Bill, 977 which code was clearly altered by the Bill. With the greatest deference, he maintained that if it were necessary to alter the provisions of a General Act which had been applied to the whole of the Kingdom, it ought to be done by a measure introduced by the Board of Trade, so that the House should have a proper and satisfactory guide, and not be allowed to feel that the law was being altered in one particular district, while it was allowed to remain unchanged in other localities. As he had said, the section of the Bill to which he took objection referred to the times and conditions under which traction engines, locomotives, and heavy traffic were to pass across any bridges of the Company at level crossings or over bridges. It also empowered the Company to restrict and limit the weight of such engines, machines, and vehicles, as well as the number which might be taken across or over any level crossing or bridge at the same time. Now, these were matters which were all provided for by the Act of 1878, and the local authorities had power to see that everything was properly arranged. Under this section he understood that the local authorities would be practically put on one side, and regulations might be made by the Board of Trade and the Railway Company to the entire exclusion of the local authorities. In the next place, the clause authorized penalties to be imposed on persons acting in contravention of Section 6 of the Locomotives Act of 1861, in the case of any bridge over the railways of the Company which the Company were liable to repair. Under the Act of 1861 no penalties were imposed, and this was clearly a regulation which altered the general law. It was a most material change. He would not say that it might not be quite right to make a change. He did not say whether it was so or not; but what he contended was that the change ought not to be made by means of a Private Act, He knew it might be said that the clause had been introduced into the Bill in order to secure the safety of the public. That also might be so; but if it was necessary in this particular instance, it was also required for the rest of the Kingdom, and he did not see why the provision should be inserted in a single Act applying only to one railway system. In Sir Erskine May's book upon Parlia- 978 mentary Practice, it was laid down in regard to the repeal of Public Acts by Private Bills as follows:—It has been questioned whether a Public Act may properly he repealed by a Private Bill; and undoubtedly such provisions demand peculiar vigilance, less public laws be lightly set aside for the benefit of particular persons or places.He entirely agreed with Sir Erskine May, that any such attempts should be regarded by the House with the utmost vigilance. The House had no Notice of those Bills; nobody knew anything about the provisions they contained; and the Bills themselves were generally brought on and disposed of before half-past. 4 Any important question involved in a Private Bill was not fought out in a Committee upstairs, as it would be in the Whole House, where everybody knew what was coming on for discussion. A Private Bill, even when opposed, was discussed in Committee in a totally different way. A certain amount of opposition might, no doubt, be raised, but the opposition was not at all the same as would take place if the questions were discussed in the Whole House. It seemed to him that the result of inserting this section in the present Bill would be to create a great conflict of authorities in the districts affected by it. It would be difficult to know whether the local authorities had the power, or the Railway Company under their bye-laws, and that was a difficulty which ought not to be allowed if Parliament could avoid it. On the contrary, they ought to make the law as clear as they possibly could. He was told, by a circular which had been sent to him, that the trade concerned in the manufacture of these engines would be much affected by the passing of the clause, because, in future, the whole power would be in the hands of the Railway Company to say what the weight of the engines should be, instead of having the matter regulated, as it was now, by a General Act. The Board of Trade, no doubt, would exercise some authority and control; but he maintained that it was a question which ought only to be regulated by a General Act, and that it ought not to be competent for any Railway Company to pass a bye-law which might have the effect of injuriously interfering with trade. It was clear to him that it was the duty of the House to 979 prevent such a section from being introduced into a Private Act of Parliament which varied the provisions of a General Act already passed by Parliament. His objection was one of principle more than of detail, and in conclusion he begged to move that the Bill be read a third time on that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months," — (Mr. William Fowler.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PORTMAN
said, that, as Chairman of the Committee who had considered the Bill, he was anxious to say a few words in defence of the course which had been taken by the Committee. They had considered that the evidence before them was exceedingly strong in favour of the clause which had bean introduced by the Great Western Railway Company into the Bill; and as to any hardship or difficulty that might be thrown in the way of owners of traction engines, in moving them from one part of the country to another, he believed that it existed only in imagination. The best proof he could give the House was this. Mr. Grierson told the Committee, in his evidence, that there were many owners of these traction engines who gave notice of their intention, before attempting to cross a level crossing upon an occupation road. The proposed change in the law would in no way benefit the Great Western Railway Company. On the contrary, it would impose upon them a certain amount of additional trouble and expense, which, however, they were quite willing to incur in the interests of the travelling public, because they felt that it was dangerous to the public safety to continue to allow these engines to cross the railways without notice or regulation of any kind whatever. He could assure the House that, personally, he had taken a considerable amount of interest and trouble in the matter; and he had himself put several questions to Mr. Grierson as to the way in which it was proposed by the Railway Company to carry out any bye-laws which might receive the sanction of the Committee. If he were allowed to quote a few extracts from the evidence of Mr. Grierson, the 980 House would see that the difficulty which had been raised by the hen. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) was quite an imaginary one. Mr. Grierson explained the manner in which notice was to be given, and said—There are many owners who do give notice throughout the line.—The Chairman: To whom is the notice given?—Witness: To the nearest station master. If some distance from a station, notice could be given to the ganger, who is always within a mile.It was further pointed out that the regulations to be laid down would, when drafted, be submitted to the Board of Trade for their approval. He might further mention that, as a matter of fact, this clause was introduced into the Bill at the instance of the Board of Trade themselves. The Committee had Colonel Yolland before them, who explained very fully the reasons which induced the Board of Trade to give their support to the introduction of such a clause. They felt that they had no power to enforce these regulations, unless the matter were taken up generally by the great Railway Companies; and if the House agreed, as he hoped they would, to pass this Bill with this clause in it, he believed the result would be, either that a general law would be enacted on the subject, or that every great Railway Company would take the question up, and introduce bye-laws for themselves, to prevent the inconvenience, and, even more than that, the dangerous risk they incurred of having a serious accident occur from the passing of these engines across their railways without adequate notice and regulation. It was, he thought, most objectionable to sanction their passing of a level crossing without any consideration for the convenience or safety of the line.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, that, as one of the Directors of the Company interested in the promotion of the Bill, he wished to say that his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset (Mr. Portman) had shown good reasons for granting the powers which had been inserted in the Bill. So far as the Railway Company themselves were concerned, they really had not seen any other course than that which they had pursued. They felt that the Railway Company were frequently exposed to very great danger—he might say to an appalling danger, so far as the public were concerned—and that, at any mo- 981 ment, a serious accident might be occasioned by the inconsiderate use of the powers claimed by the owners of these engines, who had the right to make use of an occupation road. They now claimed the right of crossing these occupation roads on the level at a slow pace, without giving the slightest notice to the Railway Company, and sometimes within a short time of the passing of a train. The whole gist of the demand of the Railway Company was, that they should have notice, and that the owners of these unwieldy traction engines should intimate to the Company when they intended to cross the railway, so as to prevent a great danger to the travelling public. At present, they were not obliged to give any notice whatever; and, as a matter of fact, the opponents of this clause had refused to give notice until very lately. The consequence was, that the Company were put to considerable trouble and expense, and they had to send persons down to take care that due provision was made for the passing of these level crossings. Without previous notice, it was just possible for an express train to reach the crossing just at the time one of these engines was passing it, which would place the public travelling by it in a position of imminent and appalling danger. He might instance a case in which a train had been pulled up only within four or five yards of reaching one of these traction engines, and an accident might happen any day under the existing state of the law. The Railway Company were, therefore, of opinion that a penalty should be attached; and that it was also necessary to alter the weights at which the engines were constructed, so that the Board of Trade, in the case of excess, should have the power of control in the matter. The object of this part of the clause was to guard against the excessive weight of the traction engines breaking down the bridges, or crushing down the line. Penalties were attached for any breach of the law. The Company did not ask Parliament materially to alter the law, but to make it more efficient, by attaching penalties to a breach of it, and he was sure the House would agree that their demand was only reasonable. His hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) rested his objection, principally upon the fact that the making 982 of a change in the law and the imposition of penalties ought to be done by a General Act, and not by a Private Bill. It was quite true that, to a certain extent, the clause did alter the general law; but what were the Railway Company to do? Under the existing state of things, they found that the greatest possible danger arose to the public. It was said that the Board of Trade ought to bring in a Bill themselves. That might be so; but the Board of Trade had not taken that course, and the Railway Company, being responsible for the working of their own line, had thought it right to put in this clause, suggested, not by themselves, but by the Board of Trade in the interests and safety of the public. It was said by his hon. Friend that the Company had given no Notice to the House of their intention to introduce a clause which would change the general law. They were unable to give any greater Notice than they had done. They had given the full Notice required by the Standing Orders, and no objection was taken except in one or two instances. The clause was generally accepted as a reasonable provision, and the Chairman of the Committee to whom the Bill was referred had told the House the reasons which had induced the Committee to grant these powers. It would be a very hard measure of justice indeed to adopt the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, and to throw out this Bill because a clause of this nature had been inserted in it, seeing that it was simply a clause introduced at the suggestion of the Board of Trade in the interests of the public, and that the Railway Company were desirous of meeting the requirements both of the public and of the Board of Trade. There were no means of amending the Bill now, and the Railway Company had done all they could to give due Notice of their intention. When the Bill was before the House for a second time, it might have been opposed upon the second reading; and as to the assertion that there was a want of Notice, the Parliamentary agents looked pretty well after these things, and no objection whatever was raised on the second reading. When the Bill went before the Committee, the Committee agreed to insert the clause; and the only effect of adopting the Amendment of his hon. 983 Friend the Member for Cambridge, would be to throw out a Bill on account of a clause which had been inserted—in good faith both towards the Board of Trade and the public—to endeavour to provide for the public safety, and to fulfil the requirements of an important Department of the Government. It was said that there was no precedent for such a clause. Now, there was a precedent for the course which had been taken in this case. Indeed, there were more than one casein which the general law had been altered by clauses introduced into Private Acts of the Railway Companies. Two years ago a clause was sanctioned by Parliament which bore very much upon the present case. Two years ago the Great Western Railway Company found that the offence of trespassing upon their line had no penalty attached to it. They accordingly introduced a Bill, in which a clause was proposed to enable them to fine persons who were found trespassing on their line of railway. The Committee, to whom the Bill was referred, adopted the clause, and it was inserted in the Bill. The reason which induced the Railway Company to take that action was, that a great loss of life annually occurred in consequence of persons trespassing on their lines of railway; and, in 1882, power was given to them to impose penalties upon all offenders. The clause had worked most successfully, and it had been accepted in principle by the Board of Trade, and by the House. Indeed, in the Railway Bill now before the House, his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had introduced a clause exactly similar to that which the Great Western Railway Company put into their Bill in 1882. Surely that was a precedent to satisfy the House that Parliament had not abstained from altering the general law and imposing penalties, where they were of opinion that the necessities of the case demanded it, in order to put a stop to practices which the general law had been found nugatory to prevent. He hoped the House would agree to read the Bill a third time. It would be a very hard measure indeed to throw out a Bill introduced for other purposes, on account of a clause inserted specially at the instance of the Board of Trade, and required in the interests of the public safety. At any rate, the 984 House might well pause before they rejected the Bill on that account, because it would have to go to "another place," where there would still be an appeal. His own opinion was that the proper course for his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge to have taken would have been to appeal to the House of Lords, if he entertained so strong an objection to the principle of this clause; but it would be extremely hard to throw out the measure, as his hon. Friend was now endeavouring, simply on account of one clause contained in it. If the Bill were read a third time now, it would go up to the House of Lords; and if that House disapproved of the clause, they had full power to strike it out.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that although, as a rule, he was generally inclined to view with suspicion the proposals and action of Railway Directors, he wished to express an opinion that, in this case, the House ought to support them, and not be led away by the appeal of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler). He would point out to the hon. Member that he was taking a heavy and an unpleasant responsibility upon himself, which he (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought the House would feel disinclined to share with him, and that was that if, owing to the statements the hon. Member had put forward, the House threw out the Bill, and an accident occurred, in consequence of carelessness on the part of those in charge of a traction engine, which involved loss of life, that loss of life would be attributed to the action of the hon. Member. What was the Motion of the hon. Member? He thought it was a pure technicality, and rather a miserable technicality. Yet, for the sake of this technicality, the hon. Member was willing to risk the loss of human life. At the time the Locomotive Act was passed in 1861 these traction engines were very little known or understood, not having been fully developed; but he thought that anybody who lived in the country would know how extremely little care was exercised in conducting them by the persons in charge of thorn, and what trouble they gave to the county authorities by breaking down the bridges and cutting up the roads. Accidents continually arose from the total want of 985 caution which distinguished the persons placed in charge of them. He thought the person, who had put the present clause into the Bill had strong reason for doing so. All they had done was to do that which the House of Commons always tried to enforce upon Railway Companies as part of their duty — namely, that they should make proper provisions for the safety of human life. Under those circumstances, he trusted the House would support the efforts of Railway Directors to comply with the suggestions of the Board of Trade.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
said, that, as one of the travelling public, he must add his voice to that of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock in opposition to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler). He was satisfied that this clause was a necessary one; and it would be highly objectionable, because it altered the general law, to say that a hard-and-fast line should be drawn, and that it should not be accepted. It was most necessary, from time to time, to frame bye-laws for regulating the use of railways in the interests of the safety of the public; and, not unfrequently, when bye-laws were passed, they became subsequently incorporated in a General Act. This was an experiment which the Great Western Railway Company proposed to carry out, and he believed it would prove of great advantage to the travelling public. The Company simply asked, by a bye-law, to give protection to the public; and this bye-law was not only approved by the Board of Trade, but had been introduced at the instance of that Board. It was a source of extreme danger to have these heavy traction engines passing over a line of railway, without any practical control being exercised over them, they being merely conducted at the simple motion of the persons in charge of them. All that the clause did, was to provide that the Board of Trade should have the supervision of any regulations which might affect the moving of traction engines over level crossings, and that Department might safely be trusted to exercise their discretion in a proper manner. These locomotives formed, at the present moment, an element of great danger to the travelling public. According to the evidence of Mr. Grierson, before the Committee, all 986 that was required was that the owners of the engines should give notice to the railway authorities, before proceeding to move them, so that proper precautions might be taken for the protection of the public.
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
said, that one might suppose, from the character of the remarks which had fallen from previous speakers, that Railway Companies left those level crossings totally uncared for and unattended, and that the public could cross and recross them at any moment they thought proper. But what was the fact? At level crossings there was a gatekeeper. ["No, no!"] There was at every level crossing he was acquainted with; and he could only say that if the Railway Companies did not place a gatekeeper at every level crossing, they ought to do so. Level crossings were essentially dangerous, whether in charge of a gatekeeper or not, and if Railway Companies were so negligent of the safety of the public as to leave a level crossing uncared for and unattended, they were highly reprehensible. He hoped the House would allow him to direct their attention to one important fact. These traction engines had now been in general use for 20 or 25 years, and no accident had ever occurred to a railway train through the passing of such an engine over a level crossing. He had asked the officials of the Great Western Railway Company the other day if they could give a single instance in which an accident had happened from a traction engine passing over a level crossing, and the reply was —"No, we cannot; but we have been very near it." If an accident should happen, it would be in consequence of the neglect of the Company in not properly supervising their railway; and it was clearly their duty to guard their own property. He would put the case upon higher ground. Steam power had become a necessity in modern agriculture. Agriculture, in the present day, could not be carried on without steam power, and but for the assistance it gave, a large portion of the strong land of the country would go out of cultivation; Parliament ought not, therefore, to sanction impediments to its use. The Railway Companies were empowered to build bridges, and they ought to see that they were strong enough to resist 987 damage by the passing over them of these steam traction engines. Those machines ought to be used, subject only to regulations laid down by the local authorities.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not consider it a part of my duty to express an opinion upon Private Bills as a rule; but this is an exceptional case, in which, in the public interest, seeing that the public safety is concerned, it is as well that I should give the House my view on the matter. I must confess that I think the course pursued by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) a most extraordinary one. He actually proposes that the Railway Company in question should be punished, by being treated in the mariner he has suggested, in consequence of there being a clause in the Bill which was not inserted in their own interest, or at their suggestion, but at the suggestion of the special Department charged with the duty of watching over the public safety. He raises a question of principle, and asks I whether it would not be desirable to settle the whole matter by a General Bill. I dare say it would; but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what are the difficulties in the way of passing a General Bill. He knows that if we had to wait until we obtained a favourable opportunity for introducing such a measure in a Session crowded with general Business, such as this is, that we should have very little prospect of bringing it to a successful issue. Meanwhile, he knows that there is a constant source of danger existing on this particular line, which this clause is intended to obviate. One of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade (Colonel Yolland) has reported in favour of such a provision, and has declared that accidents which might have been attended with most serious results, and brought about untold loss of life, have several times been within an ace of happening in consequence of the want of sufficient precautions in this matter. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Howard) says there is no danger to be apprehended, because the Railway Companies are obliged to keep caretakers to take charge of the gates at every level crossing. The hon. Gentleman evidently knows a great deal more about traction engines than he does about the management of railways; because, as a 988 matter of fact, caretakers are never placed at level crossings over occupation roads. It seems to me that it would be unfair to burden Companies with such an obligation as that proposed; and I think the scheme in the Bill a very reasonable one, and that there is not the slightest fear that it will interfere with legitimate trade, for their bye-laws will have to be submitted to the Board of Trade, who will take care that everything is contained therein necessary for the public safety. I hope the House will not throw out the Bill, because, as I have said, the Department with which I am connected has introduced this provision purely in the interest of the safety of the public.
§ MR. MACLIVER
said, that after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), he trusted his hon. Friend (Mr. W. Fowler) would not proceed to a Division against the third reading of the Bill. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had opened up an interesting topic by his speech; but, at the same time, he (Mr. Macliver) was bound to say that no Company in the country had ever taken greater care of life and property on their line than had the Great Western. They were greatly to be commended for the policy hitherto pursued; and, therefore, he desired to join in recommending that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, he had no wish to put the House to the trouble of a Division. Therefore, he would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. He wished, further, to say that it would be perfectly easy for Her Majesty's Government, if so minded, to allow the Bill to be read a third time, on the understanding that the clause would not be proceeded with in "another place." His object in moving the rejection of the Bill had been to get a general expression of opinion from the House on the matter. He begged leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to (Queen's Consent signified).
§ Bill read the third time, and passed, with a New Title.