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Railway Accident Commission—Case Of Frederick Harcombe

Volume 229: debated on Thursday 1 June 1876

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Question

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been directed to the case of Frederick Harcombe, a goods guard lately dismissed from the service of the Taff Vale Railway Company, without the usual recommendation of character, in consequence of having given evidence before the Railway Accident Commission; and, whether he can suggest a remedy for such a proceeding, or any means by which Harcombe can be compensated for the loss he has sustained?

, in reply, said, that he had received a complaint from this man, who said that he was dismissed by the railway company in consequence of the evidence that he gave before the Commission which was appointed to inquire into the question of Railway Accidents. It was quite clear that, as Secretary of State, he had no power to say what coursethe man ought to take in order to procure compensation if he had been wrongfully dismissed, nor had he the slightest power to inquire whether the railway company had sufficient justification for dismissing him. All he could say at the present moment was that he represented the man's case immediately to the railway company. Their statement was that they dismissed this man because he gave untrue evidence. That was a question which must be decided elsewhere, but he (Mr. Cross) thought it his duty to write a letter to the railway company, which, with the permission of the House, he would read—

"The Secretary of State, while he is unable to give any direction, or offer any opinion as to the merits of a matter which is not within his jurisdiction, feels it his duty to point out the evil results which will follow if the notion were to get abroad that the fact of a servant in the employ of a railway company having given evidence before the Railway Commission, even if not quite in accordance with the views of his employers, were deemed a sufficient ground for his not being employed any longer by the company. The Secretary of State must further remark that in his judgment the responsibility incurred by any company adopting such a course would be serious, unless the grounds upon which they acted were very strong. It is obvious that a serious obstruction would be thrown in the way of the proper investigation by the Railway Commissioners of the questions brought before them if servants were to be under the dread of dismissal for the discharging faithfully a public duty, even though something might come out in evidence which was distasteful to their employers."
He must throw the whole onus on the railway company; but they ought to be able to make a very strong case before taking such a proceeding as this.