HC Deb 19 March 1862 vol 165 cc1834-53

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, and hoped to be able to satisfy the House of the necessity which existed for the adoption of this or some similar measure. That necessity appeared to him to arise from the condition of the law at the present time regulating the responsibility of masters to their workmen in cases of accident. When he stated that it was only so late as 1837, and then for the first time in Westminster Hall, that a claim was made by a workman against his master for damages on account of an injury sustained by him through the negligence of his master, hon. Members would understand the reason for their being called upon to Consider this subject. When that claim was made, the judges were completely taken by surprise. They expressed their astonishment at such a proceeding, and held that no such claim having been preferred before was a proof that no such claim could be recognised at law, and they at once directed a verdict for a nonsuit. The judges on that occasion assigned, indeed, some reasons for the rule of law which prevented a workman claiming damages from his master for an injury received owing to his master's negligence. Those reasons, were derived from principles of jurisprudence; but with great deference to the judges, he did not think that the reasons which they assigned were the true reasons for the then existing state of the law. So far from the law being founded on principles of jurisprudence, as had been suggested—that was to say, upon principles of expediency and convenience—it was founded upon the history of legislation, and might be traded back to the time when the working people of England were in a state of bondage scarcely removed from slavery, and when the villain was not entitled to sue against his master. The statute-book was full of laws regulating employment, but it was always in the interest of the master that the Legislature interfered. A great plague during the middle ages, which swept away great masses of the working people, while it spared the masters, caused the relations between masters and men to assume a new and improved aspect. In the time of Queen Elizabeth another great social convulsion occurred, and led to a reconsideration of the laws regulating the industry of the people. Among other changes, the law then enacted that a workman should be hired by the year, and that if he were injured in the service of his master during that period, the master should continue to pay him his wages; so that, in point of fact, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the master was practically responsible for injury done to his servant. That House had never considered these questions unless compelled to do so by great political events; and after another long interval, when the throne of George II. was threatened, in 1746, the law affecting the responsibility of the master to the workman was reported to be in a most unsatisfactory state. A new law was accordingly passed, providing that questions generally arising between masters and workmen should be examined and decided by justices of the peace. By one of the provisions of that Act, in cases of non-payment of wages a workman was allowed to appeal to a justice. If a workman established a complaint against the master, he was not entitled to damages or compensation for the injury he might suffer, but might obtain a discharge from his master's service. The master, on proving a breach of a contract entered into with him, would be entitled to recover damages; but if the workman proved his case, he was cast upon the world, and that was the satisfaction he obtained because the master had not fulfilled his obligations towards him. The fact that no suit such as he had referred to had been brought until 1837 was owing, he thought, to an impression created by the state of the law, that Parliament had by its legislation determined the question as between master and workman. Another reason was that, from the condition of the working man, he was not in a position to appeal to the higher courts of law to obtain redress for his grievances. Another reason was to be found in the state of the superior courts themselves; for although a poor man could sue in those courts, the pursuit of justice there was expensive, complex, and unsatisfactory, and none but the rich thought of entering them, because they only were able to maintain a suit that was likely to be contested. In fact, it was not until within the last twenty or thirty years that the doors of the courts in Westminster Hall were thrown open to the people at large. There was another reason why such a case should not have been brought before the courts in Westminster Hall before the period he had mentioned. In the earlier organization of industry, accidents and causes of accident were comparatively few, because industry was in its simple form, and every workman had the sole command of the entire operation in which he was engaged, and, if he sustained an injury, by principles of law—with which he did not ask the House to interfere—he would not be entitled to sustain an action against his master. If a man were injured by the wilful act, neglect, or default of another, he was, as a general rule, entitled to go to a court of justice and obtain damages, whether the act was performed by the party himself or by the person employed by him. That was the principle which he wished to extend by the Bill, because he held that if a person were not responsible for all the persons he employed, the most injurious consequences would be likely to ensue. From 1837 the courts of justice had been attempting to build up a code of law, and a system of jurisprudence, applicable to the relations of master and workmen; but they had failed, because they had not the power to succeed. They came to the consideration of the subject within the narrow bounds of the law they were to administer. They found themselves fettered by the negative principle that a man was not entitled to go to a court of law. In a Scotch case which came on appeal before the house of lords, in which the question was whether a mine-owner could be held responsible for an injury a collier had received, Lord Cranworth declared— When a master employs a servant in a work of a dangerous character, he is bound to take all reasonable precautions for his safety. It is the master's duty to take care that his servant is not induced to work under the notion that tackle or machinery is stanch, when, in fact, the master knows, or ought to know, that it is not so; and if from negligence in this respect damage is received, the master is responsible. If the Lord Chancellor had stopped there. and if that were the law of the land applicable to all cases, it might go a long way to relieve courts of difficulty; but the Lord Chancellor added— It is very true, if a master employs several servants in the same operation, the persons engaged being competent persons, should an accident happen to one by the neglect of another, the master is not held responsible If the law had been kept within the limits of the principles then laid down, there would have been no difficulty; but questions had arisen which had involved it in complications. Lord Cranworth had remarked in the house of lords, in a Scotch case— A master, by the laws of both countries, is liable for accidents occasioned by his neglect towards those whom he employs. And Lord Brougham added— He is answerable generally for the state of his tackle; which in that case was defective, and had occasioned the damage and accident. It had been held that, if a statute imposed a duty upon a master in relation to his workmen, then the master was liable for the consequences of neglect, whether personally cognizant of it or not; but that position was entirely subverted by the general principles to which he had referred. In the case of an action brought by a seaman against a shipowner, it was decided that the seaman could obtain redress if injured by the neglect of the master to put medicines on board, because that duty was imposed by statute; but that he had no claim for injury sustained from the unseaworthiness of the ship. His own proposition was that, whether the duty be imposed by statute or by moral obligation necessarily resulting from the nature of the contract, it was equally incumbent on the master to fulfil it; and that if he failed to do so, and thereby inflicted a grievous injury on the man he employed, he was bound to give compensation. The distinction which had been drawn could not be upheld. He did not complain of the Judges for having made it; it was the necessary result of the difficulties in which they were placed in having to administer an antiquated common law, applicable to the state of society existing, 500 years ago. In the case of certain lactones, the attention of that House had been drawn to certain specific neglect of duty on the part of employers which had resulted in injuries to workmen; and dealing with the particular facts brought under notice, it had enjoined upon masters to do certain things for the protection of their workmen, imposing liability to pay compensation for the consequences of neglect. A number of laws had, likewise, been passed for the regulation of mines. Factory owners had asked why they had been singled out for this penal legislation; and he had always felt the force of the question, seeing that there were many employments which imposed greater duties upon employers than did factory labour. He therefore asked the House to give the same protection, and to impose the same responsibility, in regard to every other branch of industry. The Judges having held that a master was relieved from responsibility to his workman on account of injury for which he would he liable to any other member of the community, if he only employed a competent person, the consequence was, that if a man were wealthy enough to interpose a screen between himself and his workman, he could, under the existing law, wash his hands of all responsibility; if not, and if he busied himself in looking after the work, and endeavoured to protect his workmen, the very fact of his interference would, under the operation of the law, render him responsible. This position of the law left courts of justice to try the absurd issue whether a man was competent. The Courts having decided that a master was not responsible to his servant for injuries done by a fellow-workman, there might, perhaps, be less objection to the present state of the law if the definition of "fellow-workman" could be confined to what was really a fellow-workman—namely, a man manually doing an act in conjunction with another; but the Courts having held that a person employed in any branch of an undertaking was a fellow-workman with others so employed, but with those employed in another branch, the result was; that people who had no relation with each other, who had no possible connection with each other, and could not have, were brought into a state of solidarity in respect to their conduct to which they ought no more to be subject than any other members of the community. The Courts had often said, that if a clerk were sent in a railway carriage by desire of a railway company, and were injured in consequence of the misconduct of the driver of the train, both being persons engaged in a common employ, the company were not responsible to this clerk. So with regard to the case of a workman working in a mine underground, to whom the master was not responsible for any injury he might sustain through an act of misconduct on the part of those who worked above. What justice was there in the principle which declared, that if a learned counsel were sent by a railway company a journey by a railway in order to conduct a case for them, he would be entitled to claim damages for any injury he might sustain; but if a clerk were sent with him to aid him in the performance of his duty, and were injured at the same time, he should not be entitled to recover, because he was their servant? If a master was responsible for the injury done to a workman who was not engaged in the same business as the person by whom the injury was caused, then he ought to be responsible for an injury done to one who was engaged in the same business, because the workman had no discretion as to the choice of persons employed by his master. To make the proposition of law more ridiculous, it had been held by the Courts that if a man-servant were in- jured, who was not in the common employ, then the master was responsible. If two servants were brought together to conduct an operation, and they happened to be the servants of two different masters, and one servant by his negligence inflicted an injury on the other, then the master was responsible. That was a complication of the law which ought not any longer to be maintained. Was it not wise, then, he would ask, in that particular instance to make manifest to the working people that Parliament was ready to give them the same measure of right and justice that every other class of the community could obtain in the courts of justice? But he would not confine himself to the justice of the case alone; he would ask the House to consider it as a question of policy. When the law was in a state of confusion, was it not right to attempt to remedy that confusion? Parliament had thought it right to deal with similar cases before; where, then, was it to stop? When perfect freedom of industry was given, the House was startled by persons coming to it and saying that the lives of the people were being destroyed in consequence of that freedom. He was sensible of the difficulty of the course in which they were embarked, but they could not arrest it; they were obliged to go farther, from the fact that free industry had proved a failure. The disclosures which were made before the passing of the Factory Act proved that it was a failure, because they led to a measure which Parliament looked back upon as a marvel of legislation. What did the Factory Act effect? Why this, that the workmen employed in the factories of Lancashire should be allowed time to eat their dinner, and forthwith masters were obliged to curb their ardour in the competition of free industry. The reports of the Inspectors of Mines and Factories showed, that while there were many gentlemen to whom the utmost credit was due for the care, skill, and humanity with which they conducted their operations, yet that there were other persons engaged in the same branches of industry who, for want of capital or skill, proper care or humanity, but with a very keen regard to their immediate profit, neglected those precautions and duties which the better conducted members of these branches of industry were always ready to perform. It had been shown that much of the evil that existed was the result of a stinted management. It could often be traced that the man who embarked in an enter prise of that nature had not the capital to regulate it in a manner consistent with the safety of the people he employed; and if they made him responsible, he would not embark in an enterprise which, as Mr. Alexander showed in his report in 1860, required large means to have it carried on with a reasonable degree of safety. But, under the present system, the consequence of penurious management, or insufficient means, would be only to throw the burden off the shoulders of the employers upon the poor rates of the country On the other hand, his Bill would prove a benefit to all well-conducted men, because it would prevent them being brought down by the injurious competition of those who would not come up to their own moral standing. The tendency of the reports on factories went to show how necessary it was to bring home to all those who set in motion bodies of workmen a direct and immediate responsibility for the well conducting and well regulating of their undertakings. Mr. Horner, in his report on factories in 1859, stated— If there were brought under the eye of every mill-owner, every half-year, a detailed account of the accidents reported and of the causes of them, such a picture would be very likely to induce him to take measures against the recurrence of accidents of a similar kind in his own mill by all practical means,"—and he added the melancholy fact,—"but such, of course, is obviously impossible. Now he (Mr. Ayrton) was endeavouring to follow that course, and he thought the only way in which every accident would be brought under the eye of every mill-owner was to make him personally responsible. He would then become acquainted with the circumstances under which the accident happened, what caused it, and he would have his mind quickened to the consideration of the subject. Mr. Baker in his report, in 1860, drew a comparison between the number of accidents that occurred in different kinds of factories. It appeared that in the cotton mills there was one accident to 261 persons, in the woollen mills one to 348, and in the silk mills, where the manufacture was more simple, one to 2,251. But in Nottingham, where a large number of people were employed among machinery not protected by law, there were in 1859 a total of 2,294 accidents, giving a proportion of one accident to 27 persons; whereas, where manual labour was employed, the accidents were but one in 2,251. He was not charging that vast disproportion upon the employment of machinery, but still the fact with regard to Nottingham remained. In Lancashire and Cheshire, in a population of 2,400,000, the number of deaths from violent wounds were—of males, 1,666; of females, 631 per annum; and the deaths from fractures and wounds—of males, 827; of females, 143. But in Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, out of a population of 1,113,000, the number of violent deaths to males was 393; to females, 129; and the deaths from fractures were 129 to males; to females, 22; thus showing the large difference which resulted from a somewhat normal condition of industry. A man of business with whom he had been conversing on this subject gave it as his opinion that any concern which was not able to compensate a workman for; an injury done him ought to be given up. He hoped the measure which he was submitting to the House would be considered upon its own merits. No influence had been brought to bear upon the House. If there were any objections to the form of the Bill, they could be discussed in Committee. All he proposed was that the workmen should be enabled to recover an amount of compensation limited precisely to the degree of injury sustained—the loss of wages and the expenses of the doctor consequent on the injury. He had thought it wise to restrain the working men from presenting petitions on the subject, as he preferred to leave the matter entirely to the justice of the House. He trusted, therefore, his hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney General) would permit the Bill to go into Committee, and assist him with such suggestions as his knowledge of the law might enable him to make. In conclusion he moved the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he would not follow his hon. and learned Friend through all the stages of the discursive speech which he had made, commencing with the period of villainage and dwelling on the calamitous effects of the plague, but would confine himself to the consideration of the existing law, and of a matter to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had scarcely devoted a single word—namely, the provisions of his own Bill. On the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill, he had expressed a hope that the mea- sure would not seek to extend unduly the liability of masters, but the hope so expressed was entirely disappointed. He would therefore state the reasons which had led him to the determination rather to move the rejection of the Bill than to agree to its being sent to a Committee. He had well considered the measure of his hon. and learned Friend, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be not only unjust to the employer of labour, at whom it might be said to be levelled, but also to the workman, in whose interest and for whose protection, no doubt, it was intended. Its provisions, he thought, were such as to be incapable of amendment. The existing law was a reasonable and just law; the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend went to an extreme; and he could not satisfy himself that it would be possible to substitute any measure of liability which should go beyond the existing law, and yet should stop short of the liability proposed by that Bill. At present the liability of the master was limited to the use of due and reasonable care; but the Bill would, under all circumstances, make the master insure the safety of the employed, so far as regarded his fellow-workmen. Therefore it would be almost trifling with the House if we were to make no objection to the second reading. The House would bear in mind that the discussion which had been raised with reference to the liability resulting from the relation of master and servant had no bearing whatever upon that other class of liabilities where agents or subordinates were Employed, either as regarded persons who had contracts with the principal, or as regarded persons between whom and the principal no contract relation existed. The first case was the ordinary one of contract between a person who offered himself as a passenger to be carried by railway and the railway company. The railway company, in consideration of the fare received, contracted that due and reasonable care should be bestowed in the carriage of the passenger. Railway directors could not, of course, drive the engine, and the acts which they undertook to do must be performed by means of servants or subordinates. It was therefore a rule of common law and common sense that the company must be answerable that the act which they had undertaken to do should be done with proper care. The other case was one also of ordinary occurrence. A shipowner employed his captain and crew to navigate his vessel; other owners did so likewise; and there was a common law obligation on both sides that due care should be exercised so as to avoid collision, and the owner was responsible for the acts and omissions of his servants. Therefore it was impossible to deny that there was a general rule that in such cases the master should be answerable for the neglect or misconduct of his agent—the legal maxim was Respondeat superior. But he denied that that principle of law applied to the case to which it had been sought to make it applicable, so that a master who might have taken all due care and reasonable precaution in providing proper tackle and machinery and competent servants, should be liable for the act of one of two servants in his common employ, which might result in the injury of one of them. He denied that, A and B acting together as fellow-workmen, one of then), B for instance, was the agent of the master. The intention of the engagement between the parties was not that the employer should himself be the co-operator or collaborateur of the workmen, but that the person who engaged to work under a master should work with his fellow-workmen. That was the bargain into which he entered, and that was undoubtedly the practice in all operations of manufacture. He would now state the existing law upon the matter under discussion, and he would then ask the House to consider whether the Bill would not, if passed into law, rather exaggerate than remedy existing evils. First, as to the liability of masters for their own defaults, his hon. and learned Friend had unintentionally understated the matter. He (the Attorney General) could hardly conceive how any reasonable enactment could go beyond the existing law. A master was liable for every consequence of his own negligence or breach of duty, and that principle applied equally to persons who employed 1,000 workmen and to those who employed only a few. He could not agree with his hon. and learned Friend that this first became law in the case of Priestly v. Fowler. The words of the Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1858, with respect to this point, were to the effect, that extreme caution should be taken not to relax the rule, which obtained with respect to servants in a common employ, that masters should not be liable for injury inflicted upon one servant by another. He also laid it down that such was, no doubt, the ancient law. The next case to which he should advert was one of appeal from Scotland, in which it was laid down by the House of Lords that the master was bound to take all reasonable precautions to secure the safety of his workmen, more especially if the employment in which they happened to be engaged was dangerous. There was also another ease, in which a workman was killed in a mine, and in which it was held that the master was liable for the accident occasioned by his neglect towards those who were in his service; and, having cited these cases, he thought he had said sufficient to satisfy the House that, in accordance with the existing law, a very just and considerable amount of responsibility was imposed on the employer, and he did not think it would be fair to increase that responsibility. There remained, then, the other point argued by his hon. and learned Friend, of the non-liability of the master for acts done by one of his servants, whereby a fellow-servant was injured. The law applicable to this matter was that a master was not responsible to his servants for injuries occasioned by the negligence of a fellow-servant in the course of a common employment, provided reasonable care had been taken to employ servants of competent skill. Even here the master was not free from a large responsibility, for he was hound to use due care and caution, not only in having proper machinery and tackle, but to have proper persons to superintend it. The duty of the courts of law was, having established the general rule of law, to determine whether the particular case before them came within that general rule. In illustration of the point he might quote the case which had been brought in 1854 before the Queen's Bench, and in which complaint was made against the defendant, the owner of a ship, by a mariner who had served on board the vessel during a particular voyage. The plaintiff, in the first place, urged that the ship was unseawor thy, in consequence of which his health had suffered; and, secondly, that injury had been done to him in the same respect owing to the fact that certain medicines which the law laid shipowners under an obligation to supply had not been placed on board. The Court in that ease held that the first charge could not be sustained, inasmuch as there was no allegation that the owner did not believe the vessel to be seaworthy, and no warranty of her seaworthiness had been given; but a different decision was arrived at with regard to the second allegation, it being declared that the law prescribed to the shipowner that he should put on board his ships on their voyages specified drugs and medicines, and that for the injury done to the mariner in consequence of the omission to take a precaution which the law imposed upon him the owner was responsible. He might further observe that he believed the rate of wages was in many instances increased because of the greater risk which workmen had to encounter in the prosecution of particular employments, but that circumstance, however, ('id not absolve the master from the necessity of providing proper persons and machinery for carrying on the work. The House could, under these circumstances, not fail to see that, while a reasonable responsibility was imposed on the master, the exemptions from liability which he enjoyed were hedged round with many guards and precautions.

That being the state of the existing law, he should, with the permission of the House, proceed to consider the proposals for a change in it as they were embodied in the Bill under discussion. How, then, he would ask, did the Bill affect the liability of masters in those cases in which accidents were attributable to their own neglect? It provided that— Whenever any workman or servant was injured in consequence of his master, or any person employed by his master, not doing any act or providing anything which might be requisite or proper, or doing any act or providing anything which might be improper, in or for carrying on the undertaking in which any servant or workman was employed by or on account of his master, then such servant or workman should be entitled to recover from his master damages for such injury by action at law. Now, he wished to know whether his hon. and learned Friend desired or not, by the use of those terms, to introduce an alteration into the existing law? If he did not desire to effect a change, then his Bill was unnecessary; but if he did—which of course must be the case—he was, he thought, mischievously interfering with the intelligible rule of law by which the responsibility of the master was at present established, and to which he had already adverted. As matters stood, a master, so long as he exercised "reasonable care and diligence," was tolerably safe; but what employer, he should like to know, would be sale under the operation of a measure which made him responsible in case he omitted to do "any act or provide anything which was requisite or proper?" What, he would ask, was to be considered "requisite" and "proper"? What master would be safe if the case against him were submitted to a jury with all their sympathies in favour of the poor persons who had suffered some mutilation or lost some relative, and if the jury were to form their judgment, under the Bill, on the point as to whether some proper act had been done or something which was requisite to be done had been omitted? But if the Bill, so far as it related to injuries resulting from the default of the masters themselves, was objectionable; what, he should like to ask, was to be thought of the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman so far as it applied to the responsibility of the master for the omission or act of a workman in his service, by which injury was occasioned to his fellow-servant in the prosecution of a common employment? The provision of the Bill which he quoted evidently introduced new words into the legislation on the subject under discussion—words the precise operation of which it might take years to determine—and would affect the master however anxiously he might have endeavoured to secure the safety of those in his employment, and however liberal his outlay with that object might have been. He might, for instance, have in his service, among a large number of competent and skilful workmen, one who in the main possessed those qualifications also, but who upon a particular occasion might be guilty of some act of omission, or might do something which it was not proper to do, and for the consequences of the conduct of that one man the master would be responsible under the Bill—a state of things which, considering the great magnitude of the operations carried on in our manufactories, and the vast numbers engaged in their prosecution, would involve an amount of liability which he had no hesitation in saying it was frightful to contemplate. Indeed, he was not sure that if such a proposal were to be carried into effect, it would not lead to an evasion of the law by means of special contracts between masters and servants to waive the provision to which he alluded, or result in driving the trade and manufactures of this country to other quarters, in which legislation so vexatious and narrow-minded did not prevail. They had had a recent instance of the enormous amount of suffering and loss which might be the result of a single accident in a coal mine. He would, therefore, ask the House to suppose the case of a coal mine, in which the greatest pains might have been taken with the ventilation, the setting-up of well-arranged machinery, and the employment of competent workmen, in which, notwithstanding all those precautions, an explosion might ensue from the neglect of a single man in not duly guarding against danger from the light of a lamp, and he would ask whether the master who, having done all that could be done to insure safety, and who would be morally as free from blame under the circumstances as any Member of that House, ought in common justice to be rendered liable to the extent which the Bill proposed for all the mischief that might be consequent on the negligence of a single person in his employ. He might also instance the case of a factory in which similar precautions against, accident to those to which he alluded had been taken, and he would appeal to the House to say whether a large manufacturer was, as the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets proposed, to be required to become the insurer of all his workmen, which would be the practical effect of the learned Gentleman's measure. He further would advert to the case of railway companies and their extensive operations in support of the view which he wanted to impress upon the House. As a final instance he would mention that of a ship, which the owner might have taken every means to render seaworthy, and had manned with the most skilful crew he could find, yet which, owing to no fault of his, was wrecked, and all the passengers lost, perhaps because the captain in the course of navigating her took some rather dangerous short cut, and he would ask whether it was reasonable that the widows and children of all on board should have a right to come on the owner of the vessel for compensation? He should, therefore, contend, that while the proposed change would be injurious to the employer, it could hardly be deemed to be very advantageous to the workmen themselves, who had generally a greater knowledge of the risk which they were likely to incur in entering on any employment than the masters by whom they were engaged. He objected to a scheme by which Parliament was asked to defend men who ought rather to be left to rely on their own intelligence and energy, and mentioned that the immediate effect of the Bill would be likely to be to induce the master to enter—as he might do—into an express bargain with his workmen, in accordance with which he would be relieved from the responsibility which the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to cast upon him. If the hon. and learned Gentleman were disposed to go further, and say that he would make such a bargain illegal, then he would be departing from those principles of leaving labour unfettered of which he was, no doubt, an advocate. Again, it might happen that the wrongful act or omission by the fellow-servant might be wilful, and so wicked as to amount to a criminal offence; and in that case only did his hon. and learned Friend wish to guard the master against any responsibility in the matter. But let the House consider the inconvenient issues that must arise at any trial under the Act. If they adopted the proposal in the Bill, they must be content that in a civil action between two persons the question should have to be decided whether a third person—the fellow servant of the party injured—had committed a misdemeanour or a felony. The proposed change would, if adopted, inflict injustice upon the masters, and tend to foster habits of recklessness in the workmen; and he should, in conclusion, for the reasons which he had stated, confidently submit to the House that no good grounds for a second reading had been advanced, and should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, that the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill had alluded to the relations of the working classes to those above them, and he proposed to place the parties, as he said, on an equality; but the Bill would impose upon masters a greater responsibility towards their servants than towards the rest of the public. No doubt several remarkable cases of injury from accidents had recently occurred, but in such cases it was desirable to apply the remedy to the grievances which were proved to exist, rather than to pass a sweeping enactment like that under consideration, which might be supposed to include all the cases which could possibly arise, but which, while it professed to provide for equality of responsibility, would throw upon masters an entirely novel responsibility towards their servants, and one under which they did not now lie towards the public. Nay, more; the Bill would actually require the master to take more precautions for the protection of his servants than of his own family. Suppose a coachman by negligence to upset his master's carriage, killing himself, injuring the wife of his master, and breaking the arm of the footman; the footman would, if the Bill passed into law, have a remedy against the master. Nay, if both he and the coachman were looking at a Punch and Judy show or a party of jugglers, and so caused the accident, the footman was to have the same remedy. The Bill was intended to apply to all classes of persons, and provided that a man and his servant should do everything which was proper and nothing which was improper; but there would be no certain standard to decide what was proper or improper. Take the case of a mine, in which a regulation was made by the owner that the miners should leave the workings when the fire-damp exploded in the lamps. If some men disobeyed the rule, and caused an explosion, the owner of the mine would under the Bill be responsible, and responsible to every miner, to those even who had seen the regulation habitually broken and had not informed the master. And that was what his hon. and learned Friend called justice. In the case of a ship which should be run upon a rock by an error of the steersman, the crew would have a remedy against the owner, even although he had employed an experienced captain and authorized him to engage a suitable crew. In every occupation of life similar injustice would be worked by the provisions of the Bill. If nine men, for instance, undertook work which required the strength of twelve, and an accident occurred, the employer would be liable, although the men had voluntarily and willingly undertaken the work, and knew the responsibility which they incurred. The existing law was perfectly clear and distinct, and afforded protection to the working classes, who had every opportunity of access to the Courts of Law. The only fear was that courts and juries had gone too far. The rule was that masters were bound to use all due and reasonable precautions for the protection of their servants, and that rule had been laid down by Lord Wensleydale and Lord Abinger, by the Court of Exchequer and by the House of Lords. Nor could any rule be more fair and just. In all the affairs of life a man exercised even with regard to himself only due and reasonable care and caution, and why should he be required to use greater care with regard to his servants? The Bill, in fact, proposed to make the master an insurer to his servants; and its effect would be to diminish the care which they would exercise for the protection of themselves and their fellows, and of their master's property. In some cases, no doubt, it was right that the Legislature should require that extra precautions should be taken, but it was too much to ask the House to legislate in all cases to the extent proposed by this Bill.


said, that though he represented a constituency composed more entirely of workmen than any other in the empire, he should give his hearty and unhesitating opposition to the Bill, There could be no doubt that at present, if a master were guilty of negligence, either by raising ineffective machinery or employing incompetent men, he was held responsible for the accident; but in cases where the accident arose from what might be called (he inherent danger of the particular employment, the master ought to be exonerated. The Hartley Colliery accident occurred through the breaking of a cast-iron beam; and although thousands of similar beams were daily in use throughout the country, yet, if the proposed Bill were to pass into law, the owners of that mine would be held liable for damages to every widow and orphan affected by the accident. He thought that the decision of all these cases might be safely left to the Judges of the land. The present law was amply sufficient, and to extend it further would be no advantage to the workman, while it would be a grievous injustice to the employer.


said, that he considered the Bill as one of the most one-sided pieces of legislation that had ever come before the House, and he trusted the House would not read it a second time.


said, that he hoped that nothing which had been said in the course of the discussion would be understood as denying the necessity for special legislation to prevent the recurrence of such lamentable accidents as had recently occurred. He did not think it would be desirable to apply the general principle that masters should bear the responsibility attendant on acts done by their servants in the way proposed by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. There were special classes of employment in which there was a liability to accident, and so far as that liability was incident to the employment, the servant entered into an implied contract, when he undertook the duties, to take the risk of these dangers. In such cases it would be unfair to call in the assistance of legislation. Where, however, it was easy to prevent the occurrence of accidents, it was desirable that legislation should interfere to protect the employed. All agreed that in the present state of the law it would be unfair that the employers should be made liable for every death which had occurred in the sad mining accidents of the North of England; but he was sure they would equally admit that some provisions should be made to prevent the recurrence of those calamities.


said, that as a large employer of labour, he wished to correct an unfair impression which the observations of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill were calculated to produce in regard to the class to which he belonged. He was prepared to say that the great employers of labour took a fair and equitable view of their responsibilities in reference to their workmen. But if the Bill passed, the masters would be plunged into a sea of litigation, out of which he did not see how they were to emerge. Everybody who knew anything of public works would confirm him in saying that the greatest difficulty the masters had was to make the men take even the most ordinary precaution for their own safety. In operations for blasting, for instance—the men were supplied with the patent safety tubes, but as they involved a little more trouble, they would not use them, unless compelled by the overlooker. So in tunnelling, he had seen men stick a candle against the wall merely by the adhesion of the tallow, with barrels of powder ranged just below. As another instance of carelessness, he might mention a case which occurred about four years ago. At one of his large works powder was in use. There was a strict order that no one should smoke in the sheds in which some of the powder was kept. However, one day he thought he got a smell of tobacco, and, on entering the shed, found a fellow sitting in a very unconcerned manner on a keg of powder, and enjoying his pipe while in that position. All he could say was that, had the man been, as he (Sir Morton Peto) was, the father of twelve children, and the keg of powder had blown him into the air, he, as the employer, would have been very much dissatisfied had he been called upon to support the unfortunate offspring. When they were endeavouring to do justice, let them show some degree of fairness towards the master as well as the man.


, in reply, pointed out the special legislation in the Factory and Railway Acts to show that careless management had been with advantage restrained, so far as Parliament could restrain, in particular cases. He should press the Bill to a division, but he wished to announce his intention to prepare another measure, which, while dealing with the subject in the manner he desired, would remove some of the technical objections made to the measure before the House.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second reading put off for six months.