§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
said, that in moving that this Bill be now read the 1155 second time, he would endeavour to prove that the law on this subject as it now stood was unjust to the great body of the people and unequal in its operation towards workmen, and therefore that it was calculated to produce not an active diligence on the part of the employers in obtaining the best skilled men in carrying on their works, but the reverse. The principle of liability was an old one and manifestly just; it was this—That if one individual injured another, the person injured had a right to claim damages for the injury which had been done to him; and it was also this—That if a person employed another person to do a certain work which he ought to do himself, and the employed person was injured, the employer was responsible for the injury done to that person who had become his alter ego. That used to be law. Now, however, according to recent decisions, managers might be employed by masters to superintend works of a very extensive kind, and though injuries might be suffered by some of the employés the employers were not responsible, it having been held that every person employed by a master was a fellow-servant, and that, therefore, liability in regard to civil injuries was out of the question. But that law was a recent interpretation: it was not, he contended, founded upon any statute, but was to be found in the accumulated opinions of Judges—or it was, in other words, Judge-made law. It was first heard of in 1837, in the case of "Priestley v. Fowler." The plaintiff was a servant of the defendent, and while in his service he was injured. He brought an action to recover damages—but Lord Abinger held it to be the law that for an injury sustained through the fault of a fellow-servant the employer was not responsible. It then appeared for the first time that risk was a portion of the workman's contract. The country had not long to wait before other cases cropped up of a similar character, and as these decisions went each took a wider range than those which had gone before—that, indeed, and the doctrine took equal hold of the English and the American Bench. Now, up to the year 1856 the law of Scotland was that an employer was liable for the action of one servant towards another—and no doubt during the debate they would be told so authoritatively. There were numberless 1156 cases recorded of that description: one case in particular, to which he wished to refer in justification of his Bill, was that of Read and M'Guire against the Bartonhill Colliery Company, in the county of Lanark. Read and M'Guire were two pitmen, and there was an engineman named Lindsay. The duty of the engineman was to lift the workmen up and down. On one occasion he failed to stop the engine when he should. The men were carried over the head-gear; the men fell down the shaft and were killed. The widows brought an action against the company for damages. Up to that time damages were granted in all such cases in Scotland, and in the case of both men damages were awarded by the jury at the Court of Session. Afterwards the matter went to the Inner Division of the Court of Session, and then an appeal was made from their judgment to the House of Lords. In 1857 the case came before Parliament, when the House of Lords reversed the ordinary law of Scotland, for it was found that Lindsay was a fellow-workman of the two men, that Read and M'Guire had entered into a common employment, and that that common employment was a common risk. That decision startled the entire population of Scotland, who took an interest in the question. If Read and M'Guire had desired to injure Lindsay, they could only have done so by entering the engine-house. Undoubtedly there was a community of employment, but there was certainly no community, of risk. Then there was the case of Wilson v. Merry & Cuninghame, wherein the defendants were ironworkers and coal masters, carrying on business in three Scotch counties and in Ireland. One of their works was known as the Woodhall Colliery. There worked at them a young man named Wilson. The supposed manager was a person named Neach, who said to Wilson—"I am the manager of another colliery; if you go there you will find better and more profitable employment." Before Wilson entered upon his work, before he even went to the place, Neach had directed that a scaffold should be laid across the shaft. To a certain extent that was done; but a portion of the scaffolding was left open, through which the ventilation came up. When the young man was going down the fire damp came up; there was an explosion, the young man fell to the bottom, 1157 and was killed. The mother believed that she was entitled to compensation for the loss of her son. An action was brought against the company at the quarter sessions. The case went before a jury, and a verdict was found after three days' trial, with £300 damages. The case went a second time before a jury, and again there was a verdict. Then there was an appeal to the House of Lords. The case was considered on the 20th May 1868, when the House found that Neach was simply a fellow-workman, and that Robson, a partner of the firm, was the manager of the colliery. He did not see the Lord Advocate in his place. The right hon. Gentleman acted as counsel for the poor widow on that occasion, and he (Mr. Macdonald) could appeal to the Lord Advocate in regard to the facts of the case. That case quite disposed of the principle of liability—one man might be appointed to be the manager of mines in three counties, he might be appointed manager of all the mines in England, and being regarded as a fellow-workman with all the men employed in all these mines, all security for life and limb would be at an end, and the workmen would have no legal claim against their employers for negligence committed by the nominal manager. It was against these decisions that the workmen of this country so strongly complained, and the Bill he now asked the House to read a second time was intended to meet this injustice. The Home Secretary had stated on another occasion that this Bill was not well drafted; but it should be recollected that the Bill dealt only with a principle—it was not the duty of those who supported it to lay down what exceptions there should be from it. If that had been attempted some would have said that the exceptions did not go far enough, while others would have said that they went too far. Therefore, the Bill avoided all exceptions, but if any hon. Member thought that any class ought to be excepted, he could come forward and argue the question in Committee. The Bill, he ventured to say, was in its present shape unassailable. It had been before some of the most eminent jurists of the country, and they had declared that it was adequate to amend the law, and was, in fact, what the present state of the law demanded. He had intended to keep clear in his argument from allusion to 1158 any particular class of persons; but he was compelled to alter his course in this respect, in consequence of what had occurred last week on occasion of a deputation to the Home Secretary, who made a statement to the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill struck at one interest and one class of persons—the impression sought to be conveyed being that it would place the mine-owning interests in a position of danger, forasmuch as that the disasters in mines were owing not to the carelessness or mismanagement of the owners, but to the recklessness of the workmen. He challenged the mine-owners to substantiate that assertion; and he would meet it by the declaration that if the law were properly carried out, if the mines were properly ventilated, there would be no explosive gases to ignite, and consequently it would be impossible for the most reckless workman to bring about an explosion. While these conditions were neglected every explosion was a crime, and those who permitted a state of things to exist which made an explosion possible were morally guilty of a crime. Then why should not employers be held liable for the default of their managers and those left in charge of their works? Works in this country were not carried on upon the ground of philanthropy, but for gain; and he contended that the argument that if this Bill should be passed it would prevent capital being embarked in various trades and works had no foundation in fact. This was the first time that the question had come before the House of Commons in the shape of a Bill, and therefore the first time that hon. Members had been called upon to vote on it. He had no doubt that the power and weight of the Government would be brought to bear against the Bill, and it was likely that that majority which was in their hands would throw it out, but he reminded the House that though they could reject the measure, yet the question was one which must sooner or later be settled; and now was the best time to settle it. Every village depopulated and every railway accident caused more petitions to be sent to that House against the present state of the law; and, therefore, he trusted that it would be amended. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill, and to thank the House for the courtesy which had been shown to him.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Macdonald.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he thought it right to intervene thus early in the debate, because it appeared to him that the question before the House being essentially a legal one, it would facilitate the discussion on the Bill if he were to state what the actual state of the law on the subject was. The hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald), perhaps naturally, had spoken rather warmly on the subject of his Bill—no one would blame him for that; but he had, at the same time, indulged in many arguments in support of his measure which were, perhaps, not quite germane to the question. The hon. Member had with perfect accuracy said that the owners of mines were bound to keep their mines free from explosive gases, and that if the mines were altogether free from such gases no explosion could occur. He quite acquiesced in the remark; the mine-owners were, under the present law, under the obligation to take the necessary precautions to secure the absence of gases, and if they failed to obey the law in that respect they would be liable; but he could not see that there was anything in the hon. Member's Bill which, would impose upon them any additional liability in that direction. The question which the House had to consider was, whether it would be expedient to make the very sweeping changes in the law which the hon. Member proposed to introduce. Let them consider what was the law with respect to masters and employers of labour at the present time. As the law now stood, employers of labour were liable to the utmost farthing of their fortune in damages for accidents which might happen in consequence of the negligence of their servants, whilst those servants were in course of carrying out the ordinary duties of their employment—that was to say, in regard to those who were not in the same employment—and a very onerous and severe obligation this imposed upon masters. He would take as an instance the case of a greengrocer who happened to have a horse and cart in which he sent out the vegetables. Suppose his servant, whilst out with the cart, negligently ran over someone in the street, who was seriously injured. 1160 The damages that resulted might be very heavy. This would be a very serious thing, but he did not complain of it, for it might be right and just that masters should pay to the utmost far thing for damages occasioned by their servants. But the matter stood on a different footing when they came to the question of liability of masters for damages occasioned to servants by the negligence of fellow-servants. But it would be an erroneous conclusion were the House to assume that the servants of employers were altogether without protection. A master was in the first place bound to see that the machinery employed in the business in which his servants were engaged was suitable for the purpose. If the machinery was defective, or rotten, or unfenced where it ought to be fenced, he would be liable for all the consequences of his neglect. He was bound to take every reasonable care to insure that proper and fit servants were engaged as his workmen. If he failed in these matters he would be held liable without the aid of this Bill. The question was, whether the liability of the master should be carried still further. What the Bill proposed was simply this—that whenever an accident happened to a person in the employ of a master in consequence—not of any neglect on the part of a master to obey the requirements of an Act of Parliament or to insure the engagement of competent servants, but in consequence of the negligence of a fellow-servant, the master should be liable for the damages that ensued. Was that a reasonable or just proposition? Take the case of a mine. Assume that the master had done all in his power to insure that the machinery was fit, that intelligent and careful servants were engaged, and that he had obeyed all the injunctions of the Act of Parliament. In consequence of excavations that were going on in the mine some reservoir of gas was laid bare; some workman reckless of his own life and of the lives of those associated with him in the mine took a light to the place where the work was going on; an explosion occurred, and 20, 30, 40, or 50 people met with their death. According to this Bill the master would be responsible for the damages that ensued. Assume that 50 colliers were killed, and that they had been employed at good wages—£2 a- 1161 week, or, perhaps, much more:—there would be, perhaps, 50 families to provide for. It was difficult to know on what principle juries assessed compensation to the families of the deceased in such cases. Perhaps they did not act on any principle. If a man earned £2 a-week, it would not be outrageous to say that he spent £1 upon his family and kept £1 for himself. If the man was 30 or a little above 30 he might, but for the explosion, have gone on working 10, 20, or 30 years. Perhaps the jury multiplied the earnings that the family would have received by the number of years that the man would probably have been able to work. In each of the 50 cases of death which he (the Attorney General) had assumed, putting it at a moderate figure, the jury would assess the compensation at £500, and the master would be saddled with a liability altogether of £25,000. The law at present said it was not just to do that; and it said so for this reason—when a workman entered into an employment he knew what the risks of that employment were, and he knew that the risk would probably arise from the negligence of those associated with him in that employment. Those risks, and his knowledge with regard to them, formed part of the elements and bases of his contract. There were many dangers connected with mines, and miners got much higher wages than other operatives did. We had heard of miners who enjoyed all the luxuries of life, and whose favourite daily beverage was champagne. Miners got higher wages than the bulk of other operatives, perhaps because their work was very fatiguing and arduous, or perhaps because it was not a pleasant thing to labour in the bowels of the earth, or perhaps because their occupation was exceedingly dangerous and they were liable to suffer through the negligence of those with whom they worked. The law only prevented a servant from recovering against his master for injury in his employment when the injury arose through the negligence of a fellow-servant, and the reason of that prohibition was that the servant who had been injured was in a common employment with the servant through whose negligence the injury happened. As far as he (the Attorney General) could discover, the only way in which the law operated with severity upon the 1162 servant was this—that it was very difficult for the Courts to define what was a common employment. Servants were often prevented, as the law now stood, from obtaining compensation for an accident which happened through the default of a man who could not be regarded as being in the position of a fellow-servant. For example, an accident might happen through the negligence of an over looker or a manager, who was practically in the position of the master himself. As the law now stood, a servant in such a case might be unable to obtain compensation, because the over looker or manager might be regarded as being in the position of a fellow-servant. He did not say that the matter was clear, because he knew there were dicta the other way; but there had been decisions in this country and in Scotland also which would go to that extent. Now, that to his mind was a hardship, and it would be well if that hardship were removed. But that was not the hardship dealt with by this Bill:—what the hon. Member proposed was to impose unheard-of liability upon the master, who was to be made responsible for every act of his servant. The design of the Bill was to introduce a most sweeping alteration in the law, which to his mind would work gross injustice. He was not sure whether it would not be right to have some inquiry into the subject—he was not speaking on behalf of the Government—but as the Bill would establish a mischievous principle he hoped the House would not allow it to be read a second time. It might be said that workmen desired such a measure as this. As far as he knew, they were not clamorous for it. He had the honour of representing a very large borough (Preston), where there were a great number of workmen engaged in almost every kind of perilous employment that could be conceived, and whenever they had a complaint, real or imaginary, which they thought should be remedied by an alteration of the law they generally appealed to him; but no appeal had been made to him on this matter. He thought some alteration in the direction he had mentioned might be made in the existing law so as to render it more just to the workman; but he did not think it would be right to give a second reading to the Bill.
§ MR. DODSON
said, that there were cases in which the principle of "common 1163 employment," as laid down in "Priestly v. Fowler," had been lost sight of. The rationale was that a man in common employment with another should not have a remedy against the master in the event of an accident, because he had the fullest opportunity of judging of the capacity and character of his fellow workmen, and of considering what were the risks to which his employment exposed him. The present position of the law was well illustrated in a recent case of an accident on a railway. In the case of "Waller v. the South-Eastern Railway Company" it appeared that a train was thrown off the line through a defect at a particular point in the permanent way, and the guard was killed. The representatives of the guard sued the company for compensation; and it was held that the guard and the platelayer or foreman who had charge of the permanent way were in a common employment, and therefore that the guard had no claim to compensation. It appeared to him that in such a case the rationale of common employment altogether broke down. There was no more community between the guard and the platelayer than there was between the engineer who drove a train along a line and a clerk at a station who sold tickets to passengers. Unless by special means the guard could have had no knowledge of the capacity or conduct of the plate-layer, and consequently could not guard himself against the risks of common employment. He thought a guard might in such circumstances be regarded as being in the position of a passenger, and have his remedy. He agreed with the Bill in this respect, that common employment as now interpreted should not be allowed as a defence against a claim upon a master for injury received by a servant in his employment. Considering the novelty of the subject and the advantage of its being thoroughly considered and discussed in the House, he was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill. If the House hesitated to go into a Committee of the Whole House upon the Bill, that was no reason for rejecting it on the second reading. Let the Bill be read a second time, and if the House was not prepared in its present state of information to discuss it in Committee of the Whole House, let it be referred to a Select Committee, and when the Report came from that Committee 1164 let the matter be discussed in the present or a future Session.
§ MR. FORSYTH
said, the law was perfectly clear on the subject, although, in his opinion, the reason on which the decisions of Courts of Law proceeded was not altogether satisfactory. That reason was that the employment rested on contract. Now a contract was either express or implied. There certainly was no express contract, and it could only be implied on the ground that it was the general understanding that a person employed undertook to run the risk of injury from the negligence of a fellow-servant without seeking to make the master liable, or, in other words, that such was the law. The law imposed upon a master these liabilities. He must employ proper servants and proper material, and must do all in his power to render the employment of his servant safe and free from peril. The present law was in a most anomalous condition. If a man entered a shop and injured himself by stumbling over a bale of goods, or by falling into a hole, improperly left there by a servant of the shopkeeper he had a right of action; but if at a dinner party a basin of soup were thrown over his coat, or, still worse, over the dress of his wife, by a servant, he had no right of action against his host. If a dog worried a sheep the dog's master was liable, but if the dog worried a human being the master was not liable. Was it, however, reasonable to ask the master to do more than employ proper people and proper material for the purpose of effecting his object? How could he know when one of his servants would, in a moment of carelessness, commit an incautious act? If this Bill passed every employer who engaged a number of labourers would contract himself out of the Act, for he would before taking them make them sign a paper stating that they would not proceed against him in consequence of injuries sustained by them owing to the negligence of a fellow-servant. While he could not vote for the Bill he should like to see an inquiry into the whole subject.
, in supporting the second reading, said, he had heard it objected that the Bill was a measure of an extreme and almost revolutionary character, and one calculated to impose a most unfair and dangerous responsibility upon employers. To meet this 1165 objection he would show that it merely proposed to substitute for the present law of fellow-servant, a legal presumption based on equity consistent with the national policy regarding other species of contract, and which the experience of Scotland proved to work well and satisfactorily. For what this Bill proposed to do was simply to place the contract between employers and employed on the basis on which, in Scotland at least, it stood until so late a period as 1858. Down to that period there could not be the slightest question that the law of Scotland, as universally interpreted by Scottish Judges, as to employers' liability for injuries, was precisely what the law of the United Kingdom would be if this Bill were to pass. Down to 1850, this was never disputed; but about that time the law as to the non-liability of employers for injuries sustained by one employé at the hands of his fellow having been prominently set forward in various judicial decisions in England, several cases were brought before the Scotch Courts, in which, founding upon these English decisions, it was attempted to upset what had, up to that time, been regarded as an incontrovertible principle of Scottish law. In the case of Dixon v. Rankin in 1852 an employer attempted to escape liability for the death of a man in his employ through the carelessness of his fellow-workman by pleading the English judgments on the subject, and arguing that they should govern the decision of the Court of Session. But Lord Cockburn said—The plea that the master is not liable rests solely on the authority of two or three very recent decisions of the English Courts…. If this be the law of England, I speak of it with all due respect, but it is most certainly not the law of Scotland. I defy any industry to produce a single decision or dictum or institutional indication or any trace of any authority to this effect, or of this tendency within the whole range of our law.Another Judge pointed out that the difference arose entirely from the fiction which had become engrafted upon the English law of labour contracts, to the effect that every man who engaged in any employment contracted to undergo all the risks which the carelessness or incapacity of his fellow-workers might expose him to without recourse against his employer. What the law of Scotland 1166 was the Lord Justice Clerk explained thus—The law of Scotland as to the contract of service in regard to such matters is perfectly fixed, and admits of no doubt whatever. The master's primary obligation in every contract of service in which his workmen are employed in a hazardous and dangerous occupation, for his interest and profit is to provide for and attend to the safety of the men. That is his first and binding obligation, I should say paramount even to that of paying for their labour. In this obligation is equally included, as he cannot do everything himself, the duty to have all acts by others whom he employs done properly and carefully in order to avoid risk. The obligation to provide for the safety of the lives of his servants by fit machinery is not greater or more inherent in the contract than the obligation to provide for their safety from the acts done by others whom he also employs….The recklessness of danger on the part of the men (said the Lord Justice Clerk) is a result of the trade in which the master employs them, and he is bound in all such cases to have such superintendence as will exclude all preventible risks.Now this was very much the nature of the responsibility which the law imposed upon railway companies when they contracted for a service in which the public might be exposed to danger. The law considered this responsibility necessary in the interests of public safety, and guarded it with such jealousy that it refused to allow a railway to contract itself out of it. Then as to the justice of the change proposed by this Bill. Here, again, he would quote the words of Lord Cockburn in the same case. He said—I have rarely come upon any principle that seems more irreconcilable than the English principle to general legal reason. I can conceive some reasons for exempting the employer from liability altogether, but not one for exempting him only when those who act for him injure one of themselves. It rather seems to me that these are the very persons who have the strongest claim upon him for reparation, because they incur damage on his account.He thought that these strongly-expressed opinions of eminent Scottish Judges as to the superiority of what was then declared to be the law of Scotland—of what the Bill before the House proposed should become the law of the United Kingdom over that artificial exceptional legal presumption which had been imported into the English law of labour contracts—ought to carry great weight with the House. The law as declared in Scotland was, however, changed, or, more strictly speaking, declared to be 1167 different from what Scotch jurists and Judges had ever conceived it to be, by the decision in the House of Lords in the case of the Bartonhill Coal Company v. Read—a case in which their Lordships' judgment concluded with this significant passage—The House would say nothing about costs, as the judgment of the Court below seemed to be fully warranted by the previous decisions in Scotland.The case of mines had been especially relied upon as proving the injustice of this Bill. He (Dr. Cameron), however, maintained that it was in the case of mines that the greatest benefit would result from its adoption. There was not one mine accident in ten but could be avoided by proper precautions and vigilance. Government inspection could at best be but fitful and remittent: let, however, the mine-owner once understand that his responsibility for injuries to his workmen was put on the same footing as that of a railway towards its passengers, and the result would be to secure a more thorough and effective inspection of mines than would result from the expenditure from the National Exchequer of ten times the amount at present expended on mine inspection.
§ MR. HERMON
, as an employer of labour, disclaimed any desire on the part of manufacturers to shirk any responsibility which fairly attached to them; and he could not recollect any case in which a master had repudiated his responsibility for the act of his overseer or manager. This Bill, however, in its present shape, was of the most sweeping character; and he hoped to hear in the course of the debate such expressions as would induce the hon. Member to leave the matter in the hands of the Government. There was nothing more injurious to trade and manufactures than piecemeal alteration of the law, and he suggested that a Royal Commission or a Committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into the subject, with a view to a general amendment of the law in those points in which it should appear to require amendment. He would illustrate the unlimited scope of the Bill as it stood by showing that it might be applied to domestic service, so that if through one maid-servant in a house carelessly leaving a pail on the stairs her fellow-servant fell over it and broke her leg, the employer 1168 of both would be made responsible. Much as he desired to see the law improved, he must oppose that measure in its present form; but he hoped the present discussion would prepare the way for a satisfactory solution of the question.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, the Bill would make a very sweeping change in the existing law—a change which he was sure the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) never contemplated. Its effect would be this—If the chambermaid of the hon. Member were to put a fellow-servant into a damp bed, and the latter were thus to contract rheumatic fever, the hon. Member would be liable for the negligence of his servant. At the same time he admitted that the present state of the law was not satisfactory, and he was prepared to support the second reading in the hope that if the Bill went into Committee its provisions would be considerably limited. The doctrine of common employment had been pushed too far. There was a class of cases in which workmen were bound to obey the orders of the representative of the master—a representative who might be a competent person, but still might be negligent, and refuse to carry on the work in a proper manner—and, in such cases, though the workmen might suffer from the failings or negligence or refusal of such a man to provide what was necessary for carrying on the work, yet they had no remedy in the way of compensation for injuries so sustained, because they were in a common employ. That, surely, was not a proper state for the law to be in. It was a state of things which was not consonant with our common instincts and views of justice. The Lord Chief Justice of England had expressed himself strongly on the subject of the injustice of the existing state of the law in regard to cases of a similar character. In one case it was held that a clerk in the employ of a company, being sent by train on an errand of the Company had suffered from a collision, could not recover compensation because he and the engine-driver were in common employment. Other learned Judges had given similar judgments. Surely, it was the duty of the House to endeavour as far as possible to meet the just claims of a class of persons who were so much exposed to accidents. The Bill ought to 1169 meet that class of cases—extending the liability of masters to cases of negligence on the part of persons representing them, and establishing some limitation of the doctrine of common employment. Though the Bill was faulty as it stood, he trusted that it might be allowed to go to a second reading, with the object of amending it in Committee;—particularly so as to limit it to cases in which it should appear that legislation was really necessary.
§ MR. KNOWLES
said, he would support any measure the object of which was the moral and social welfare of the working classes, having been connected with them for many years; but he thought the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford would prove mischievous and do great injury to them. The hon. Member for Stafford professed to speak as a practical man; all he (Mr. Knowles) could say was, that if his remarks were intended to illustrate his practical knowledge he knew very little. The cases quoted by the hon. Member occurred before the passing of the Mines Regulation Act. From his practical knowledge the hon. Member declared that where there was no gas there could be no explosion; but in a mine which was as free of gas as that House and with regard to which every care that human ingenuity could suggest was taken, the first stroke of the pick might liberate a great deal of gas. Did the hon. Member tell the House that when that gas showed itself the men ceased working? The men were the first to observe danger, and they knew were to find it. He could teach the hon. Member in 10 minutes how to know when a mine had become dangerous. (A laugh.) The hon. Member laughed, but was his practical knowledge sufficient to enable him to say whether the statement was right or wrong? Only a practical man could find out where the danger was. As to the question of responsibility, take the case of two men engaged in reparing a shaft. Every care was taken to provide good material and proper arrangements for the work; but, after all, one of the men fell off the scaffolding. Was the master responsible for that? Surely the master was not to stand there while they were doing the work. Again, as to accidents in coal mines. If six men were working, one being engaged in bringing the coal down and the others 1170 engaged in front of it, and the one brought the coal down without giving the others notice, and injured them, was the master responsible? There always would be accidents—they could not obviate them altogether. The last Mines Bill was very stringent; so stringent as to be almost mischievous. He had an accident in one of his collieries, which showed what gas would do and how it would act. He knew it was a fiery mine, and he worked it as such; he provided five times the ventilation required by the Act, and had taken every possible precaution, that experience could suggest; yet an explosion occurred, and nearly every man in the mine was killed. The manager of the mine had been down only 10 minutes before the explosion, the ventilation was perfect, and everything seemed to be correct; and no one to this day could so much as guess the cause of the accident. That accident cost him, besides £100,000, the lives of probably the best men he ever employed—in fact, he would never be able to replace them. They were of the old stamp of colliers, not the new stamp, who could not do half the work of the old class of men. He had lived long enough to know that those masters were most successful who took the greatest care of their men. He would go so far as to say that men ought to have good wages, they ought to be well fed, well clothed, and well housed; for how could the collier or the ironworker, for instance, work well if he were not well fed and well rested? Would this Bill do that? No.; it would encourage nothing but carelessness and idleness. They had many societies in operation in the North of England to redress the sufferings occasioned by accidents and in other ways. Did they find the hon. Member encouraging these provisions? The societies to which he referred devoted their money to good objects and did not allow it to be frittered away in encouraging strikes and paid agitators. Some of these societies had been very successful. One, after meeting every claim for compensation, had a balance of £28,000. By the contribution of merely 3d. per week by the men in the mining districts of the North, compensation was provided for injuries, the masters subscribing 20 per cent; and if there were added to this what they had to pay in poor-rate very ample provision indeed would be made. While, however, 1171 the societies were successful in Lancashire, Northumberland, and Durham, a society in North Staffordshire had not been successful, for after being in operation for six years the number of members did not reach 1,000. What influences had been at work in North Staffordshire he could not say; but it was time the colliers should judge and act for themselves. Instead of introducing Bills of this kind, he thought the hon. Member for Stafford would do better to give the workmen good advice—advise them that they were thinking and responsible beings—that they were best capable of discovering danger, and could prevent it far sooner than their employers, and that they should rather form societies to make provision for themselves in case of accident, than rely upon legislation of this kind, which treated them as children and slaves more than as persons capable of taking care of themselves.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford dealt with a most important subject, and though it went rather beyond the necessities of the case yet it was deserving the attention of the House, and for his part he should give it a cordial support. He had taken the opinion of those interested in this question, and he did not believe that they desired to go the full length of the Bill. On the contrary, he believed when the law was explained to them they were quite prepared to acquiesce in a measure rather short of that before them. What was wanted was first, that employers should be held responsible for the ordinary safe conduct of their business, and for the substantial character of their plant and machinery; and, second, that the doctrine of common employment should not be carried too far—that was, so as to cover occupations which were independent of one another. It was certain that practically, by recent decisions, the responsibility of large employers had been destroyed, and it had been proved impossible for workmen to make the owners responsible for injuries they might receive in their employ. As had already been stated by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) until recently the Scotch Law was more liberal than the English law. He might further point out Lord Ardmillan held in the Court of Session that the doctrine of common employment ought not to be carried so far as the English Judges 1172 had done. Soon afterwards—in the year following, in fact—the law of Scotland was reconciled to the law of England by a decision of the House of Lords. He had listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Stafford, who had introduced the Bill, and he did not think the hon. Gentleman wished to go the full length of his own measure. He believed if the Bill were restricted to the two rules to which he had referred, it would give great satisfaction to the country, and he would support its second reading. They had already dealt partially with the same question in the Merchant Shipping Bill, and they had there made the shipowner responsible to his seamen for the seaworthiness of the vessel. He thought the same principle should be extended to other trades. He hoped that the House would read the Bill a second time.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
expressed a hope that the Bill would be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. There could be no doubt that the Bill in its present form went further than was desirable, but it was equally certain that the existing law was in a most unsatisfactory state, and that a clear case had been made out for amending legislation.
§ MR. PEASE
said, that whatever might be the result of the discussion, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) might be well satisfied with having brought that important subject before the House. The debate had, however, run a good deal off the actual lines of the Bill, and had turned a good deal on the doctrine of "common employment." Now, if he was asked whether the doctrine of common employment was clearly defined, or was in a satisfactory state, he should say that it was not in a satisfactory state, because it was not clearly defined. If the hon. Member for Stafford said that those who voted for the second reading must be understood as supporting the Bill in its entirety and as a whole, then he could not vote for it; but if, on the other hand, the hon. Member said that he admitted the Bill went too far, and all that he wanted was that the doctrine of common employment should be better defined, then he (Mr. Pease) would vote for the second reading. The hon. Member for Stafford alluded in feeling terms to the scenes which took place at 1173 the catastrophes which he described. Now, his own experience was less than that of the hon. Member; but no one who had seen any of these catastrophes, and who had the heart of man, could feel otherwise than strongly about them, or would not desire to do all he could to allevi ate the suffering they occasioned. But then he denied that the Bill would obviate these catastrophes. The great and worthy, and to a certain extent the successful, object of the hon. Member's course, had been the adoption of measures for the saving of life, and he had obtained the passage of measures valuable not only to the men, but to their employers, but he feared this Bill would tend to increase very materially the risk to human life. Let him illustrate this by cases that had been referred to in the course of the discussion. Take the case, for instance, of the engine-man drawing the other men over the pulley. If the engine-man knew that the men he was drawing up hour by hour and day by day would be compensated by the masters if any accident happened to them by his negligence, or if the men who were working side by side knew that if the negligence of one of them occasioned injury to the others, and that these others would be compensated in like manner by the masters, would this, he would ask, tend to make either the one or the other more or less careful? It certainly seemed to him that it would tend to make them less careful. Therefore, the tendency of the Bill, so far from promoting the object to which the hon. Member had devoted his life, would constitute a retrograde march on his own line. Now, with regard to the guards on railways, no doubt a railway guard got increased pay because he ran an increased risk. He travelled a certain number of miles, and he was paid considerably higher wages than he would be if he never travelled at all. The Bill would lessen his wages if he was otherwise compensated for this risk. In like manner it would lessen the wages of the miner, because at present the wages of the miner were in like manner a compensation for the risk he ran. If the employer had to pay more for the risk of accidents, it was clear that that would increase the expense of labour and of production. He could not, therefore, afford to pay so much for wages, and that would have to be taken into 1174 account in settling their amount in arbitration or in any other way. Neither, indeed, would it be fair that a man should have quite the same wages if he did as if he did not run the same risk. Then take the case of skilled labour, which he might illustrate by an instance which lately came under his notice. He saw the other day a contract with a diver from Liverpool, who was to be employed under water on some work. He undertook to go into the water, and to undertake a certain risk. If the risk was incurred, and he was killed, his representatives were to receive a certain sum on his death; so that here was the risk of death provided for by a direct contract. It seemed to him that in other employments the same thing was done indirectly by adding to the wages, in order that the man might undertake the risk himself. They must always recollect that it was careless men they had to deal with. That was an important consideration. Now, if this Bill were carried out, it would, bearing that fact in mind, be seen to be likely to lead to interminable disputes between masters and men. The litigation would go before a British jury, and what chance then would a master of large reputed wealth have against a poor pitman killed in his employment, or in his mine? He had the return of a hospital in his hand, one of several which he had procured, and he would ask anyone who looked through these papers impartially, whether it was not most probable that several of these men had not in a great measure contributed to the accidents by their own carelessness. The first half-dozen were entered as suffering from falls of stones from the roof, the most deadly cause of mine accidents in existence, and a far worse source of danger than fire-damp, or anything of that kind. Now, under this Bill, all these men would be compensated by the master, unless he could be proved to have contributed by his own negligence to the accident, and this would, in his opinion, hardly ever clearly be done. Then there was another case of an accident, which consisted in the breaking of a wire rope, by which a man's leg was broken—where was the fault; was the rope in fault, or was the man going too near it when the accident took place? But he need not go through the list. He had said sufficient to show that it must 1175 lead to a great increase of that litigation which they must all be very anxious to avoid. He would now turn to the instances given by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. There was the case of accidents arising from the shunting of railway goods trains at warehouses. Now, the railway companies had made the most stringent regulations on this subject; but under the Bill they would be liable to pay compensation for accidents which they had done their best to avoid and prevent. He could not find any proof that the Bill was sought by the country. There was only 34,000 signatures, representing all trades, in the Petitions which had been presented. From his own district he could only find the names of 276 men, out of one of the largest mining constituencies in the Kingdom, and while he mentioned that, he might also mention that there were 55,000 subscribers to the Northumberland and Durham Provident Society for Pitmen. Now, seeing how wonderfully organized all these trades were all over the country, he must say that he thought the desire of the country for the passage of the Bill had been very much exaggerated in the statements made to the House. He must also take notice that there were two very awkward Government notes appended to two of the Petitions which had been presented. Toa Petition presented by the hon. Member for Stafford was appended a note to the effect that out of 900 of the signatures many were by the same hand; and a similar note was, he saw, affixed to a Petition presented by the right hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Adam). Therefore, looking to these facts, he must say that he saw no great indication that the Bill was required or asked for by the country. He thought, indeed, that he might say why it was not required. The hon. Member for Wigan had referred to the Northumberland and Durham Miners' Provident Institution. On the society's books there were 55,000 men, and also 10,000 boys, and it had an income of £40,000. It was now paying annuities to 280 widows and 550 children by way of compensation. There was a great number of small accidents, all of which were provided for out of its funds, and there had been subscribed to the funds of that institution by the owners no less a sum than £16,000 within the last few 1176 years. How could they, he would ask, work the compulsory system of compensation suggested by the Bill alongside such a voluntary system as that? If the employer of labour was to be responsible for the accidents in the wholesale manner provided by the Bill, these voluntary societies would fall to the ground. The men would not subscribe, because they would know that the master would compensate them in case of accidents, as no man was designedly careless; and the employers would not take both the legal and the voluntary responsibility. Then there was another thing to which he would call attention, that was to the fact that they had in Northumberland and Durham—and, he believed, the same was the case in other districts—what was known as the payment of "smart money"—that was, the payment to men who met with accident while following their employment of 6s. a-week, however the accident might be occasioned. That would no longer be paid if the Bill passed. The extra risk run by the men being compensated in the way he had shown, the question of legal liability would not come under discussion. Morally, if not legally, the liability was acknowledged by the masters in their contributions to these institutions. What be complained of in the difference between the voluntary system and the Bill was that the voluntary system took up all accidents, whether occasioned by negligence or not, while the Bill would only take up accidents described as occurring through no negligence of the men themselves, and would leave the others to go to and to be provided for by the parish. To this fund in Northumberland and Durham 300 colliers had subscribed. They would do so no longer if the Bill passed, as the Bill would apply to both railway and mining interests. He would now say a word with respect to the former in the same way as he had done with respect to the miners. He had in his hand a letter from Mr. Oakley, the manager of the Great Northern Company, who stated that they had on that line a sick club, which was managed free of expense to the Company. They had on the list now 100 widows, and also servants of the Company, and also a large number of children. The fund was provided by subscriptions, and to it the Company 1177 subscribed. In addition to this was the Railway Provident Society, which had prospered so well that at the present moment they had £70,000 in hand, so that the annuities to the widows would be not only paid, but fully secured. Then he might inform the House that every leading railway company in the country had special funds of the same kind, to which the companies themselves contributed in a very liberal and generous manner. That was the case, he might state, either from his own knowledge or from information before him, with respect to the Great Eastern, the South-Western, the Great Western, the Midland, the London, Brighton, and South Coast, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and also the London and North-Western. He would venture to put it strongly to the hon. Member for Stafford, who had charge of the Bill now before them, whether he thought that if he could carry the Bill that voluntary system which he had described could go on working alongside a compulsory system, making every one accountable for accidents happening in his service through the negligence of another workman. The Bill, he said again, would only touch those special cases where the circumstances were such as to bring them under the clauses conferring or exacting compensation from the masters under the circumstances which satisfied the legal rule as to the conditions under which such compensation might be exacted on the one hand; on the other hand, the principle laid down in the miners' and railway associations was that when a man had met with an accident, whether by his own negligence or not, he would receive compensation if injured, or, if he was killed, his widow would receive an annuity. That would come to an end if the Bill passed, and in this case the Bill, instead of benefiting, would, in his opinion, do an inconceivable injury to the working classes, whom the hon. Member for Stafford was anxious to serve.
§ MR. RODWELL
said, all seemed to admit the unsatisfactory state of the existing law on this subject, but all seemed equally agreed that the Bill of hon. Member for Stafford went too far. His own opinion was that if the Bill passed in its present state it would prove unworkable and would lead to great hardship and oppression. The proper 1178 tribunal to deal with this question was the same tribunal that had dealt with the Labour Laws and he hoped the Government would see their way to an inquiry into this subject by a Royal Commission. Such an inquiry would be better conducted by a Commission than by a Select Committee; and, meanwhile, he should move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. He did not undervalue the importance of the subject. On the contrary, it was the very gravity of the question which led him to make this proposal. The Bill would revolutionize our law; it would alter many social and domestic relations. For example, the farmers would be exposed to great liabilities, owing to the introduction of new implements worked by steam; and before such changes were made the whole subject should undergo inquiry.
§ MR. HARDCASTLE
seconded the Amendment, and said if the House declared against the existing principle of law that workmen should accept the ordinary risks of their employment, it would take a course fraught with danger. In his view it was the duty of every man to provide against the contingencies which happened to him in life. The Bill did not profess to avert such risks—it merely provided for compensation afterwards. The whole question, therefore was one of money, and he thought the better arrangement was the relief now afforded by subscriptions, and by the men's own contributions through, the voluntary associations which had been mentioned. He thought that a Royal Commission formed too cumbrous a machinery for dealing with with the subject; and that if the whole subject—not the Bill—were referred to a Select Committee, it would be the most satisfactory result.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Rodwell.)
MR. M. T. BASS
said, he thought some legislation on the subject was absolutely required. He denied that the great mass of the working classes were indifferent on this subject. For his own part he would willing accept an assurance from the Government that they would legislate respecting it without unnecessary delay.
§ MR. TENNANT
thought that while the state of the law was unsatisfactory the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford went much further than was necessary. The grievance of which the working men complained arose less from the principle of law than from the interpretation put upon it by the Judges; for example, by holding that a foreman of works exercising authority over the men was in law a fellow workman, for whose acts the employer was not responsible. He should be satisfied to accept either a Commission or a Committee; but hoped the Government would in any case, do something to remove what the workmen thought a great grievance, without imposing an intolerable burden upon employers.
§ MR. BURT
said, he must defend the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) from imputations of his never having done anything to induce working men to make provision against accident and death, inasmuch as that had been one of the leading objects' of his hon. Friend's life. Whatever might be the result of that debate, the hon. Member might congratulate himself on having raised a useful and valuable discussion. It was important to know to what extent employers should be liable for risk to those in their employment, and he was glad to know that the almost unanimous opinion of the House was that the law in in its present state was not satisfactory. He could easily conceive cases in which it would be most unjust to employers to be made responsible for the recklessness of all those in their employment. He did not think the Bill went to that extent; if it did, he could not support it. But the Bill was valuable in this way, that in cases of community of employment it prevented the employer from raising an unjust defence. He did not think the Attorney General had satisfactorily shown that a master should not be liable for the neglect or incapacity of his managers and officials. With respect to the statements of the wages earned by miners within the last few years and the claptrap that had been sent about the country alleging that they lived extravagantly and drank champagne, he pointed out that, when wages were at their highest, miners did not, even in the best paid districts of the country, average more than £2 10s. per week. If it was said they might save 30s. out 1180 of that sum, he might say that, though, he did not drink champagne, he had found it a very stiff undertaking to maintain a family on £1 a week. The coal trade at present was very bad, and great numbers of miners were working but half time, and earning only 3s. to 3s. 6d. per day, notwithstanding all the risks to which they were exposed. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) as to the advantages of voluntary associations. As to the system of giving smart money which had been alluded to, it prevailed only in the North of England, and not throughout the country generally. He was well satisfied with the spirit in which the debate had been conducted; and seeing that it had been admitted that the law was unsatisfactory, if the Government would give a pledge that they would bring in a Bill of their own or refer the Bill before the House to a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, he would recommend his hon. Friend to withdraw the measure.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, after the course which the debate had taken, one thing, at all events, must be put aside—that there should be on this question any legislation of class against class. At the present moment he had no hesitation in saying that he believed the law to be wrong; but he had no hesitation, also, in saying that if this Bill as it stood were to become law he believed the law would then be wrong. Now, two wrongs did not make a right. He was so anxious that there should not go out to the country any notion of class legislation on one side or the other that he hoped he would be able to induce his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) to withdraw his Amendment and the hon. Member for Stafford to withdraw the Bill. The case had been so clearly stated by the Attorney General that it would not be necessary for him to go into it at any length. With regard to the question of accidents caused by the negligence of a fellow-workman—construing the term in no narrow sense, but taking it as including persons engaged in the same work, either as foreman or manager—he, on the part of the Government, was prepared to state that the matter needed inquiry. A Committee of this House would be perfectly competent to investigate the subject, and 1181 if the hon. Member, instead of bringing this Bill before the House, had put the question in the shape of a Resolution to the effect that this matter required investigation he would have granted an inquiry without a word. He must say, however, that he had listened to one part of the debate with pain. A great many hon. Members, chiefly on the other side, had said—not that they would oppose the second reading because the Bill was wrong in principle, but that they would vote for it for the purpose of pulling it to pieces in Committee. His notion was that when a Bill was wrong it was better to say so at once. He could not, therefore, consent to he second reading. After what he had said he hoped both his hon. and learned Friend behind him and the hon. Member for Stafford would withdraw their Motions, that they might have at once an inquiry into the matter to which he had referred.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
recommended the hon. Member for Stafford to accept the offer of the right hon. Gentleman. He was glad the Government had assented to a Select Committee rather than a Commission.
§ MR. MELDON
having put his name on the back of the Bill was glad of the proposal made by the Government, and advised his hon. Friend (Mr. Macdonald) to accept it.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn: Bill withdrawn.