§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read,
§ LORD BUCKHURST,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he had to apologise to their Lordships for bringing in a Bill the introduction of which ought to have been in abler hands, but the great importance of the subject, and its close connection with the public interests, would insure its ample consideration by their Lordships' 583 House. From the year 1830, when Mr. Huskinson lost his life on a railway—railways being in their infancy in those days—accidents had formed no inconsiderable portion of the railway history of this country. The subject of railway accidents was one of daily increasing gravity, because railways had become the highways of the country to so large an extent that locomotion without them was almost an impossibility. In the year 1858 the number of railway passengers carried in the year was 170,000,000; in 1871 the number was considerably over 300,000,000. But besides the great increase in the traffic there was another element which had to be considered in connection with railway accidents—namely, the growing tendency of railway companies to unite and amalgamate. About 15 years ago there were upwards of 200 different railway companies in this country, but now the number was reduced to about 100. Of 15,000 miles of railway no fewer than 9,000 were worked by 28 railway companies. As an example, he might mention that the London and North-Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Companies were now united for working purposes. These two companies had a capital of over £70,000,000 and a revenue of £9,000,000. They had 2,000 miles of railway, and the last annual account showed, he believed, that in one year they carried more than 40,000,000 of passengers over their lines. He did not mean to say that great advantages might not arise in some cases from the amalgamation of railways, but, looking at the vast amounts of capital and revenue, such as those to which he had referred, and to the vast number of passengers carried by some of those amalgamated companies, he thought there was need of some Parliamentary interference for the better security of the public. The Bill which he had laid on the Table of their Lordships' House, and of which he now moved the second reading, proposed such interference. It proposed to deal with the class of accidents which were the most numerous and more fatal than any others—he meant those caused by collisions of trains. The number of collisions and of accidents by collisions was shown by the Reports of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade to be larger by far than those of any other class. In 1871, out of 159 accidents which were subjects of inquiry 584 by the Board of Trade, 93 were collisions. That was nearly three-fifths of the whole number. Of those, 53 were from defective signals or defective point arrangements, and 32 from the want of a sufficient interval between trains following one another on the same line. The same statistics showed that in 1870 out of 131 accidents 79 were from collisions. The Bill proposed the universal adoption of certain mechanical and other appliances which experience had shown to be an almost perfect means of preventing accidents on the lines in connection with which they had been worked. The Bill proposed for all new railways the adoption of "the telegraph block system," which was intended to secure intervals of space between trains following one another on the same line. By having signal-boxes along the line with telegraph communication between them, precautions were taken to secure any two trains from being at the same moment on the same line between any two of those signal-boxes. The other mechanical contrivance which the Bill would enforce was that of interlocking points and signals, the effect of which was to prevent accidents from a wrong point being moved. If the point moved were the wrong one, a danger signal would at once be shown. For many years this system had been worked on the South-Eastern line, and experience had proved it to be most efficacious in the prevention of accidents. After a certain time—the 1st January, 1878—the provisions of the Bill were to apply to all railways whether constructed before or after that date. It might be said now as it had been before, that it was better to leave such improvements to be carried out by the railway companies themselves. He admitted that on the face of it there was an appearance of truth in that argument; but when he looked to what had occurred in the past, and to what was going on at the present time, he confessed that it was an argument which had very little weight with him. It should be borne in mind that it was now nearly 20 years since the telegraph block system had been adopted on some lines; and in 1854, in consequence of the manner in which it was found to have worked, the Board of Trade, after Reports made to them by their Inspectors, sent a circular to all the railway companies recommending to them the adop- 585 tion of this system in the working of their lines. A similar circular was, he believed, sent out in 1868, and a third one in the succeeding year, to the same effect. But a Return, laid on their Lordships' Table last Session, showed that out of 15,000 miles of railway in the United Kingdom only some 4,500 miles were worked on the block system. That was the result of leaving this improvement for 20 years to be adopted at the will of the railway companies themselves. It further appeared, from the same Return, that on only 187 miles was that system in progress of completion He was willing to make allowance for the great difficulties against which railway boards had to contend—he was aware that it was impossible for them at a given moment to effect all the improvements that they might consider desirable; but he thought that in this matter more might have been done and ought to have been done to insure the public safety. No doubt, the object to be kept in view in Parliamentary legislation should be to interfere as little as possible with railway management. By an Act passed in 1840 the Board of Trade had powers given to it to make inquiries and obtain Returns respecting railway accidents. Another Act was passed in 1842 conferring on the Department additional powers—or rather requiring the railway companies themselves to send in Returns of the accidents which happened on their lines. Under these Acts also, Inspectors were appointed who had collected much valuable information, and had made most valuable and able Reports. But what had been the result of all these inquiries and Reports? Nothing at all. The Board of Trade could make suggestions, the Inspectors could advise the adoption of certain appliances to insure public safety; but beyond that they could not go. The boards of directors, as shown in their published Reports, seldom, if ever, entertained the question of public safety. He was quite aware that the boards of directors represented the interests of the shareholders; but they ought to look to the interests of the public as well as to those of the shareholders. There were above 48 Members of their Lordships' House who were directors of railways, and he would put it to them that though the block and interlocking systems might involve considerable ex- 586 pense, yet it was not such as to be beyond the reach of railway companies. When this question of expense came to be considered, regard should be had to the enormous sums now paid by companies by way of compensation for injuries to passengers and damage to goods. In 1870 the amount of compensation paid for such accidents amounted to £440,000 or thereabouts, and it reached nearly the same figures in the following year. It must be remembered that the amounts so paid were exclusive of the loss the companies sustained from the damage inflicted on their own property. It was calculated that the railway companies throughout the country paid annually something like £500,000 for compensation and damages. He would now leave the matter in their Lordships' hands, and conclude by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Buckhurst.)
§ EARL COWPER
said, he concurred in a great deal of what had been said by the noble Lord who moved the second reading. He agreed with him that it would be very desirable to adopt the system of interlocking points and the block system, if not universally, at all events more generally than they were adopted at present. But he was not prepared, and he thought their Lordships would hardly be prepared, to pass so stringent a measure as that now under discussion without further inquiry into the matter. The noble Lord had spoken strongly of the laxity of railway companies and of the little progress that had been made in introducing the interlocking and block systems since their merits had become known. It was true that very little had been done, taking the whole period of the 20 years referred to by the noble Lord; but during the last few years a great deal more had been accomplished than had been done before. Within the last few years railway companies had been giving their attention to improvements, and were very cordially adopting them. The figures 4,500 as the mileage on which the block system had been adopted out of the whole mileage of 15,000 miles scarcely conveyed a fair idea to their Lordships of the actual extent to which the improvement had been carried, because its adoption had been on the most crowded lines, and 587 many of those on which it was not in use were lines with so small a number of trains that the expense of carrying out such a system would scarcely be justified by the advantages. It did entail very great expense and trouble. In some cases, Parliamentary powers for the compulsory acquisition of land would be required before the necessary appliances could be fitted up. The noble Lord had alluded to the objection with respect to Parliamentary interference with railway management. He (Earl Cowper) thought that Parliamentary interference not only with railways but with all other matters ought to be jealously watched; and he was glad to perceive that the old-fashioned plan of letting things alone was again becoming more popular. He did not object to the principle of the Bill, because he wished to encourage the block and interlocking systems; but to say that within five years every railway must adopt these plans was a length to which he was not prepared to go. He would not oppose the second reading if the noble Lord consented to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ An Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day six months.")—(The Earl Cowper.)
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, that the official statistics prepared by the Board of Trade showed that nearly one half the accidents which had occurred on railways since the beginning of the year 1871 might have been prevented by the adoption of the block system, and of the apparatus for interlocking points and signals. He ventured to hope that the introduction of these mechanical appliances would be attended with considerable advantages to railway servants as well as to the travelling public, because not only would it render them less likely to inflict injuries either on passengers or themselves, but their opportunities of performing their duties were improved when the system which they had to carry out was a certain and fixed one. To take an illustration—there was an irregular practice in connection with goods traffic on railways known as "fly-shunting." It was attended with much more danger than the orthodox plan of shunting; but by means of it a greater amount of work could be got through, and therefore it was had recourse to, though nominally it was forbidden by the rules 588 of the companies. If a railway servant was injured by this fly-shunting the directors were able to refuse him compensation on the ground that he had sustained the accident while breaking the rules of the company; but the rule in this case was broken with the knowledge of the man's superior officers, because, without breaking it, the servants could not perform their work. Captain Tyler reported that while many accidents were caused by the carelessness of railway servants, a larger number were the result of the want of proper appliances by which they might be avoided. As this Bill appeared to be a step in the right direction, he hoped their Lordships would read it a second time.
said, he was always glad when he found their Lordships initiating matters not connected with politics, and he was particularly glad when he found young Members of the House—and particularly those who like the noble Earl who had just spoken inherited historic names—making themselves useful in matters which they considered advantageous to the country. But he thought the Bill now before their Lordships was one that the House could scarcely proceed with conveniently at the present moment — more especially as there was a general measure on the subject of railways being hurried through the other House. He hoped that before Monday the representations to be laid before the Government in respect of that Bill would cause them to change their minds; but he submitted that a measure such as the one now before their Lordships could not be conveniently dealt with in the hands of a private Member. A Select Committee on the Bill would have to go to the very bottom of the subject, and investigate not only the block system, but all the systems for preventing railway accidents which mechanical inventors had brought before the world. For this an amount of scientific knowledge and special information would be required such as it was hardly to be expected their Lordships would have in a Select Committee. He had several objections to the Bill, both in principle and detail. He objected to it in principle, because it endeavoured to lay down hard and fixed rules which would make the block system obligatory on lines where there were only two or three trains a day, and where it would 589 be superfluous and of no use. No doubt if the block system wore generally adopted it would diminish the number of accidents, and the amount of money paid by way of compensation for accidents; but did the noble Lord (Lord Buckhurst) suppose that the railway directors would not have adopted it if on full consideration they had not found there were not serious and substantial objections to it, if, as they believed, the English people wanted frequency and celerity of trains? If the English people chose to have all the trains, including the expresses, slow, and to have comparatively few trains, no doubt they might have an almost complete immunity from railway accidents. But he believed that was not what the English people wanted. He believed they were well satisfied to run a small risk of accident for the great convenience of frequency and celerity. Taking the enormous amount of traffic, the extent of mileage, and the vast number of passengers carried, he believed the comparative success in avoiding accidents was beyond what the most sanguine railway authority could have hoped for. He had heard of a calculation which showed that their Lordships were in a safer condition with regard to the average duration of their lives on railways than they would be were they continually sitting on the benches of their Lordships' House. Taking a given number of people pursuing the ordinary avocations of life, the percentage of accidents to them would be greater than that of accidents to the same number of persons travelling by railway. He thought his noble Friend on the cross-benches (the Earl of Aberdeen) had called the attention of their Lordships to a very serious matter, and one that should engage the attention of all the persons connected with the management of railways—and that was the degree of responsibility to be attached to the officials; and he was bound to say that, in his opinion, they would not secure a better action—a better general action—on the part of railway servants by strictly tying them down to the observance of strict mechanical rules. They must permit a certain freedom of action to railway officials—you must raise them above the level of machines, and make them responsible for a judicious exercise of their powers—and to do this they must select the railway servants from a better class 590 than was the case at present. Taking into account the infirmity of all human tribunals, he did not hesitate to say that the railway directors of this country were a wonderful body of men. For a small amount of remuneration they discharged with superior intelligence duties not less onerous than those performed by any other men in England. He objected to this Bill both as to its principle and its details, and he hoped their Lordships would not proceed with it. He should support the Amendment.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, he rather gathered from the whole tenor of the speech their Lordships had just heard, that the noble Lord himself (Lord Houghton) was one of that wonderful body of men—the railway directors of this country. Up to that day he had always thought the House of Lords a tolerably safe place; and he certainly was rather astonished to hear from the noble Lord that their Lordships when sitting in railway carriages were safer than when seated in that House. What effect the noble Lord's speech might have he did not know. He had always listened to his speeches with respect; but he began to think that, perhaps, speeches might have something deleterious in them. As to the Bill before the House, he thought everything that had been said showed the wisdom of the suggestion of his noble Friend opposite (Earl Cowper), that it should be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. He could not agree with the noble Lord who had just spoken (Lord Houghton), that the Bill was one which ought not to have been introduced by a private Peer because of the measure which had been introduced into the other House by the President of the Board of Trade, and which had been pushed forward, according to the noble Lord, with such indecent haste as to cause him consternation. That measure did not deal with railway accidents; and he thought that the excellent Reports of the Board of Trade Inspectors showed that many of those accidents might be prevented by the use of appliances such as those proposed in this Bill. The noble Lord said that the English people did not want the block system because they wished to travel fast, and the block system would prevent them from travelling fast. But that was just one of the questions which 591 a Select Committee would consider. It appeared to him that a Select Committee of their Lordships' House would be one of the best tribunals to whom the consideration of such questions could be referred. Before such a Committee the noble Lord, and those who thought with him, could show all the alleged disadvantages of the block system. He believed the railway directors themselves admitted that the system was in the main a good one, and that it ought to be adopted whenever its adoption was reasonably possible; and in reference to the remark of his noble Friend behind him (Lord Buckhurst), that boards of directors seldom entertained the question of the public safety, he wished to say that he thought that was a mistake. When he was at the Board of Trade he had always found those gentlemen desirous of considering any plans which might be put before them for the promotion of the public safety. He was prepared to support the Motion for the second reading, and to act on the suggestion that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, so as to make it as perfect a measure as possible.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
thought that a Select Committee on this subject would be of no use unless it was a strong one. If the Bill were referred to a Select Committee there ought to be an understanding that some Member of the Government and some noble Lords who were railway directors would serve on it, and that the Committee should have the advantage of hearing evidence from railway officials and officers of the Board of Trade.
said, he could not help thinking that if the subject of railway management were to be inquired into by a Select Committee, the entire subject should be investigated. He could see very little advantage likely to arise from sending to a Committee a Bill which dealt with certain and particular questions only connected with a very great and important subject. He very much doubted whether the subject admitted of being thus broken up into detail. On the other hand, he must, in the strongest manner, protest against the high eulogium which his noble Friend (Lord Houghton) had passed upon the management of railways by the directors of the various companies. It was one which the existing state of things did not jus- 592 tify. They had in the proceedings of the boards only another proof that corporations had no souls. They did, as corporations, things which they would not do or sanction as individuals. He did not say that they wilfully exposed their fellow-countrymen to risk of their lives; but he was afraid that, in order to secure the favour of their constituents, or for the purpose of increasing dividends, railway directors very often adopted a very dangerous system of management. Experience showed that in too many instances the existing system was lax, and required interference on the part of Parliament for the protection of the public. It was not in one or two cases, but habitually the practice of railway directors to issue excellent regulations and then to wink at their being set aside; and that, in fact, was the origin of a large number of the accidents which occurred. Cases had arisen within the last few months which clearly showed that serious calamities were traceable to the overworking of railway officials. For the sake of effecting small savings and keeping up dividends, railway directors frequently and obstinately resisted the adoption of suggestions made to them from the Government Department specially charged with that duty. These things were perfectly notorious, and, being so, required the interference of Parliament. At the same time, he thought there was much force in what had been stated by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Bath), that a Select Committee on this particular Bill was not the way to deal effectually with the great evil which they all desired to remedy.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
agreed with the noble Earl who had just spoken (Earl Grey) that it was not desirable as a general rule to deal with one part only of a great question. On the other hand, they should bear in mind that they had a very long experience of what Government measures on great subjects were, and the delay and difficulty which intervened before those measures actually became law. In a case like the present, he thought that Parliament was entitled to deal with one part of the subject, apart from the question of railway management generally. It would appear that the block system was an excellent one and might be largely extended, and the matter was of such great public importance that he thought it might well 593 be referred to a Select Committee. No doubt evidence would have to be taken and a scientific inquiry entered into; but during the last few years several cases had occurred in which Select Committees had usefully discussed and investigated questions of that nature. He was not himself a railway director, and therefore could not speak with information of their proceedings, or in the rosy colours which had been used by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Houghton). At the same time justice ought to be done to them as to everyone else, and he for one did not think they were open to the charges which were often made against them. During the debate he had extracted from a Blue Book figures which showed that there existed in the public mind considerable misapprehension as to the amount and character of railway accidents. It was far from his desire to relieve railway directors of the just burden of responsibility which rested on them; but, at the same time, he was bound to say that the number and character of accidents on railways were not as great or as grave as was generally supposed. In the last Return from the Board of Trade he found that the number of passengers carried during the year was, in round numbers, 375,000,000, and that of those the killed amounted to only 404, or 1 in 6,500,000. It was, too, a gratifying fact that for years and years past there had been an annual diminution in the number of passengers killed in proportion to the number carried. Without going through each successive year, he would merely state that from 1847 to 1849 the number of passengers killed was 1 in something less than 5,000,000, as compared with the number he had before stated as the return for last year. So that although speed had undoubtedly increased, although the number of passengers had enormously increased, although railway traffic of all kinds had increased in what he must call a dangerous proportion, still the number of deaths from railway accidents had greatly diminished. There was, however, another fact which was of a very grave character — namely, that while the number of accidents to passengers was comparatively small, the number of accidents to railway servants was enormous. There were, he believed, on all the railways about 200,000 officials, and the number killed was 1 in 594 900. That was a most serious matter, and one which threw a heavy responsibility on railway directors who allowed their officers to be overworked, and imposed upon them duties which it was beyond the strength of man properly to accomplish.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he agreed with very much that had fallen from the noble Earl who had just spoken. he could not but think that while the whole system of railway management, from the beginning to the end, might be a very proper subject of inquiry, the question how far particular mechanical contrivances could usefully be adopted might very well be separately investigated. He hoped, therefore, the Bill would be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee.
§ LORD BUCKHURST
stated, in answer to the remarks of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Houghton), who had urged against the use of the block system the argument that it would prevent celerity and frequency of trains, that on no line were trains more frequent than on the Metropolitan Railway, and yet it would be impossible to work that line without the block system. He was glad to find that the Bill would not be opposed, and that there was, as he hoped, a fair prospect of carrying it into law during the present Session.
§ On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.
§ And on Friday, February 24, the Lords following were named of the Committee:
|Ld. Privy Seal.||L. Colville of Culross.|
|D. Somerset.||L. Vernon.|
|M. Salisbury.||L. Wharncliffe.|
|E. Devon.||L. Belper.|
|E. Cowper.||L. Houghton.|
|E. Vane.||L. Buckhurst.|
§ House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.