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Accidents By Steam Vessels And Railways

Volume 117: debated on Thursday 19 June 1851

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said, that during the last few months a number of fatal accidents had occurred, connected with steamboats, steam machinery, and railways; and, as it appeared, particularly at Glasgow, Lewes, Chester, and Bristol, that they had resulted from the gross and culpable negligence of the persons engaged in working the machinery, he begged to ask the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade whether it was the intention of the Government to propose any measure during the present Session for the more efficient protection of persons travelling by steam vessels or railroads, or of those employed in working steam machinery?

said, the question put by the noble Lord related to three different subjects. The noble Lord inquired if it was the intention of Ministers to introduce any measure for the purpose of affording protection and security with reference to steam vessels, and steam machinery employed in factories, as also in reference to railways. Now, with regard to steam vessels, it was his (Mr. Labouchere's) opinion that the law was in a very defective state. In consequence he had introduced a Bill, which had been read a second time, and which, he hoped, would receive the sanction of the House, as thereby the law would be placed in a more efficient state as regarded steam machinery on board vessels. With regard to the second part of the question, the machinery employed in factories, he was not prepared to introduce in the present Session any measure conferring on the Government more power in the supervision of machinery used in factories than they at present possessed. However, the matter would receive his consideration; but for the present he was not prepared to go further. Lastly, as to whether it was the intention of the Government, in any way, to take into their hands increased power of supervision with a view to protecting the public against railway accidents, he could assure the noble Lord that the subject had received his most anxious and attentive consideration. He had come to the conclusion that any measure of a general description or application that might be introduced to diminish the responsibility of the directors, would be attended with more harm than good. As regarded security to passengers, he had carefully considered the various suggestions and propositions that had been made; but he could find no regulation of such general and universal application as that they could be laid down by Parliament as applicable, under all circumstances, to all railways. Therefore, he should object to giving any department of the Government that which they could not exercise properly, but which the directors could, namely, the superintendence of the details of railways, upon which, after all, the security of the public depended. Therefore, in the present Session, he was not prepared to introduce a Bill to increase the power of Government in this regard for the public safety.

presumed that the Government had had their attention directed to the admirable report of Captain Laffan upon the accident on the Cheshire Junction line; and inquired if, in that case, they had considered whether they should not direct the law officers of the Crown to prosecute the directors for the gross negligence which had led to the accident.

replied, that the case to which that report referred had been made the subject of a coroner's inquisition, and a verdict of manslaughter had been returned against the directors. Therefore, it could not be expected that, after such investigation, the Government should institute a prosecution. He believed these inquiries were attended with much benefit in calling attention to the accidents, and thereby stimulating the directors to adopt measures to prevent the recurrence of similar accidents.