HC Deb 02 July 1880 vol 253 cc1399-423

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Dodson.)


in rising to move— That no measure dealing with the Employers' Liability for Injuries sustained by their Servants can be accepted as a satisfactory solution of the question which admits, as a ground of defence in any action or proceeding brought for the recovery of damages or for compensation in respect to bodily injury or loss of life, that the person by whose negligence the injury or loss of life is alleged to have been occasioned, was employed in a common employment with the person killed or injured, said, he had no intention to impede the progress of the Bill; but it was desirable that he should point out to the House certain things in connection with the subject of employers' liability that perhaps the House was not aware of or did not understand. The present law inflicted an injustice upon the workmen, and it was very desirable that some effective measure of redress should be considered and passed. In this country, and in every other country, the most dangerous form of law was Judge-made law, and for the reason that it was continually altering and changing, and in that state which Lord Cairns described as maturing. He feared, however, that it was maturing in the wrong direction, affecting as it did the liberties and rights of the people. He admitted that the case of Priestly v. Fowler, which was decided by a single Judge, not on appeal by the House of Lords, ruled the cases in England; but it had no power over the Scotch Courts. In Scotland the law was even broader than the Bill brought in by the Government, and that was seen from a case that occurred in Scotland many years ago. In that case two men were killed in consequence of the engineer who wound them up from the pit falling asleep in the middle of the operation. That case came before the Scotch Court, and was decided in favour of the wives and children of the two men. It was then removed to the House of Lords, where the decision was reversed on the law as in-terpretedin the case of Priestly v. Fowler, and the Judge whom the case originally came before said that might be the law of England, but he hoped and trusted he might never live to see it the law of Scotland. In another case, the colliery manager, who acted in every respect as the employer, was held to be the fellow-workman of the man who had been killed; and, therefore, the employer was not responsible. The argument had been used that if the doctrine of common employment were removed it Would be oppressing the employer, and that capitalists would take their money elsewhere, and thus damage the interests of the country. He did not believe that such would be the case, because the capitalists were wise enough not to take their capital away from the country where they could find the best use for it. Then it had been said that if the law were altered in the direction he had indicated, and the doctrine of common employment were taken away, that there would be an increase of litigation without number. But they were not without experience upon that matter, and a high authority had said that experience was their best teacher. It was recorded as the law of France a considerable time ago that employers could plead the doctrine of common liability for accidents to the workmen. A case happened in the year 1842 in France, where, in the highest Court, it was decided to the effect that it ought to be no bar to a workman to make a claim for compensation that the injury was done by a fellow-workman. What was the case? Litigation was scarcely known of since. In France, Italy, and Belgium no litigation took place, and in the case of Germany the laws had been modified from time to time, and the principle of the Bill introduced by him into the House of Commons this Session was being considered by the German Parliament, and the object of that Bill was to destroy the possibility of litigation, and to declare that it was no bar to the claim of a man that he was a common workman. He moved his Amendment in no spirit of hostility to the principle of the Bill introduced by the Government. That Bill went a considerable distance; but he wished that it could have gone further. In matters of that kind, he believed that a compromise was the best way out of the difficulty; therefore he accepted the principle of the Bill, in the hope that the Government would, from the expressions they had heard that day, take courage and go forward until the doctrine of common employment was erased from the Statute Book and the decisions of the Courts.


said, that, in seconding the Amendment, he had no desire to impede the progress of the Government measure. His object was rather to strengthen the hands of the Government, and, if possible, to enable them to give to the measure before the House substance and vitality, and an element of finality which, at present, it did not appear to him to possess. Its object was to settle a difficulty of a somewhat serious character between em- ployers and employed, in which it was believed that capital had an advantage over labour. The workmen said that they were in an exceptional position, because, while strangers were entitled to demand compensation for injury, workmen could not do so unless they charged masters with personal negligence; and this was a grievance from which they desired to be relieved. He found it suggested, in documents that had been circulated, that this was a sentimental, and not a substantial grievance; but he believed that it was a substantial one. He did not believe that workmen were treated with a want of kindness or liberality. That charge was not made against employers as a class. The other day, at a railway station, he saw an appeal to the public, on behalf of the widow and family of a guard who had lost his life in a laudable endeavour to save that of a passenger, and the Railway Company headed the appeal with a very handsome subscription. What the men said was that they did not allege any inhumanity or unkindness; but they desired that their position should be strictly defined, and that they should have, by law and right, that for which they were obliged to appeal to private benevolence and public sympathy. He had taken an impartial view of that subject, being neither associated with the capitalist, nor representing what might be called a working men's constituency. The origin of the dispute appeared to be extremely doubtful. The matter was first brought to a head about 1837, when the decision was given that common employment was a legal defence. The matter was then brought to the House of Lords from Scotland, and from that time the law had been established and acted upon. There had been circulated a pamphlet by Lord Justice Bramwell, who had discussed the matter at considerable length, and whose opinion was entitled to very great weight, not only because he was a distinguished Judge, but also because he was a worthy and kindly gentleman. He was, however, unable to arrive at the same conclusion as the learned Lord Justice. Of the rule of common employment he found no trace before 1837. No doubt the Judges acted upon what they rightly believed to be a tradition of the law which was handed down to them. He could well understand that in the primitive ages there was some such rule applicable to the small transactions of life, such as wood cutting, hut not in the same sense applicable to the present conditions of society. The origin of this rule was, to say the least, obscure; its parentage was doubtful; and there had been conflicting decisions which had been discussed from time to time. He was entitled to say that the law as laid down was uncertain, was difficult of application, and was exceptional in character. There was a rule of life and of sound common sense that a man was responsible, not only for his own acts, but for the acts of those persons whom, from the necessities of his position, he engaged to carry out acts it was impossible for him to perform himself. This rule was of no recent or obscure origin; it had existed as far back as the law could be traced on the subject. The rule which the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) sought to set aside was an exception to this sound rule of law. It might be assumed that there was a general agreement that the law could not be allowed to remain in its present state. When a proposition of that kind was established, the only statesmanlike way to deal with the matter was to abolish the exceptional rule altogether, and to relegate the persons affected by it, as far as possible, to the position they occupied before the rule of law was laid down. It was said there was no necessity to abrogate the rule, because the object desired could be attained by contract. Theoretically that was an answer; but practically it was nothing of the kind. The workman did not stand upon the same footing as the employer. If the workman proposed to make the employer's liability a condition of service, the employer would say—"The law does not place that liability upon me, and why should I take it upon myself?" The result would be that the workman must accept work upon the terms of the employer, or else he must starve. If it were said that this was not quite so, because workmen combined and acted through their unions, he replied that that fact made it all the more desirable that they should legislate as soon as possible, and that their legislation should, as far as possible, be of a complete and final character. Everything that could be done ought to be done to prevent these questions becom- ing burning questions between combinations of employers and employed. It was said that a change of law would lead to litigation; but that would depend upon circumstances. If the relation of employers and employed were placed upon a reasonable footing, he saw no reason for such a result; and he believed both parties would endeavour to apply the law in a fair and temperate spirit. He could understand that if employers attempted to evade the law by special contracts or notices, and thus to deprive workmen of the advantages which the law was supposed to give them, there would be great dissatisfaction, and there might be serious litigation; but he hoped the law would be carried out in a fair spirit, and that there would not be any great amount of litigation. It would not be just or right simply to abrogate the law of common employment and to do nothing more. If the House had been called upon in 1837 to pass a measure in the sense advocated by the Amendment, no one would have had any cause to complain; but with the immunity of employers since that date there had grown up a kind of vested interest which would have to be compensated to some extent. Several schemes had been formulated to meet that difficulty. One proposal was that the liability should be limited to the sum of £200; and a further proposal was that a person injured should have his average earnings for six years—both of which propositions he objected to. With respect to the question of insurance, he doubted the propriety of an insurance mutually effected by the workmen and employer. He had given considerable attention to the matter; and he thought the desirable course to take, if a scheme of insurance were considered indispensable, would be to give the employer the opportunity of relieving himself from liability by effecting such an insurance on behalf of each workman as would insure to the workman payment of compensation in case of accident, and would afford to the employer a full and absolute defence. The insurance should be effected under Government guarantee, so that the payment should be absolutely secured. If the master chose to avail himself of the authorized mode of insurance, he should be entirely free from liability. The man injured would be certain of his compensation, and he might not have the same certainty in case of mutual insurance in companies. If the master did not choose to avail himself of the means of insurance authorized, his liability should be unlimited, and he should be bound to pay to his workmen such compensation as a tribunal might award.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no measure dealing with the Employers' Liabilities for Injuries sustained by their Servants can be accepted as a satisfactory solution of the question which admits, as a ground of defence in any action or proceeding brought for the recovery of damages or for compensation in respect to bodily injury or loss of life, that the person by whose negligence the injury or loss of life is alleged to have been occasioned was employed in a common employment with the person killed or injured,"—(Mr. Macdonald,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


who had an Amendment on the Paper to the following effect:— That while it is desirable workmen should be placed on the same footing in regard to compensation for accidents as the general public, equality should be sought rather by altering the general principle on which compensation for accidents is now awarded, than by merely abolishing or modifying the existing exceptions to it, said, that neither of the hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken had insisted at any length on the grounds which had influenced them in calling the attention of the House to the Amendment which they had advocated. The real ground which had influenced them he believed was this—that under the law, as it stood, and even as it would stand when modified by the Government, workmen were not placed on an equality with the general public, in the matter of compensation for accidents. So long as that inequality existed, this question would never be finally or satisfactorily concluded. So far, then, he entirely agreed with both the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. But while he so far agreed with them he saw the greatest objection to the particular solution which they proposed, which was to leave the law as it was with regard to the outside public, but to produce the desired equality by modifying it with regard to workmen. Now, either the wages of workmen were de- termined with reference to accidents or without reference to them. If insurance against accidents was included in the present rate of wages, which he believed to be the fact, workmen, by the operation of this Bill, would be paid twice for the same risk. If compensation was not included in the wages of a workman, then practically this was a Bill for modifying the consequences which resulted from the free operation of contract between master and workman. How far were they prepared to carry such a principle? Many employments were exceptionally detrimental to the health and life of those engaged in them, not because they were liable to accidents, but because they inevitably produced disease. Did the wages of those workmen include insurance against those risks? The advocates of the present Bill (if they were consistent) must hold that they did not. They must also hold that the masters of such workmen ought to be compelled by law to insure the lives of their workmen in addition to paying them wages at the market rate. Was that a course which the House was prepared to enter on? The solution which he ventured to suggest, and which he had endeavoured to embody in the Amendment he had placed on the Paper, was to produce equality between the workman and the general public, not by placing the workmen in the position of the general public, which was the proposal of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), but by placing the public in the position now occupied by the workmen. He admitted that this would produce a very large change in the existing law. But was the existing law either just or reasonable? It compelled a man to pay for the infliction of injuries in which he neither directly nor indirectly had any hand. He might employ the best and most careful workmen, he might take the utmost pains to secure the very best machinery, he might leave no stone unturned to secure the lives of his workmen, and yet he had to pay damages for injuries for which he was in no sense responsible. Such a law could not be regarded as equitable; but it might be thought necessary or expedient. It might be supposed to be the only means of making employers of labour careful of the lives of the public. So regarded the present law belonged to the Criminal Code in regard to its objects, though to the Civil Code in its procedure; and was naturally enough, therefore, very clumsy in its operation. Among other instances of the absurdities to which it led was that damages were awarded not at all in proportion to the carelessness which produced the accident, or even to the amount of injury it caused, but were largely determined by the position of the persons who suffered by it. The Government should take into consideration the whole state of the law as it existed. Their present proposal combined many of the evils which existed under the present law, and many of the evils which would be introduced into it, if the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) had his way. The Bill would unduly interfere between employer and employed, and would tend to promote litigation, while it would not secure that final solution of the question which the House had a right to expect.


The House is placed in an unfortunate position with regard to the present debate. During the debate on the second reading of the Bill complaint was made that we were not discussing the real Bill; and that complaint has, I think, proved to be well founded. In what position are we now? A Bill has been read a second time on the distinct understanding that, for purposes of discussion, the House should be in the same position as if the real Bill, and not the original Bill, was being debated. But how has that been carried out? Why, a real, practical discussion is prevented, for the Motion to go into Committee is met by an Amendment which, though not equivalent to the negative of the second reading, at any rate prevents the House from expressing its opinion upon the substantial question involved. The opponents of the Bill, who stood by on this promise, and let it be read a second time, object that the Bill goes too far; but the issue raised by the Amendment which will be put from the Chair is not whether the Bill goes too far, but whether it goes far enough, as the hon. Member for Stafford who moves it asserts that it does not. The result is that a proposition, to which the Government do not assent, and which the majority of the House repudiate, prevents any vote on any other of the Amendments on the Paper, several of which raise questions, and suggest modes of dealing with this legisla- tion, of the highest value. The second reading has been assented to, not because the House likes the Bill, for it does not; the feeling of the House is against it, and its true supporters are few and far between. It has been submitted to as a necessity that cannot be avoided. My idea is that so strong is the individual feeling against this Bill, that, if in this House we voted by ballot, the result would be very different to what it is. For my own part, however, I look the position in the face; and I accept the necessity for legislation as established and inevitable—and that being so, I disclaim any intention of talking this Bill out or frittering away its provisions, and I shall do what I can to make it work out as a settlement of this most serious question, but with due regard to all interests involved. When once this line of action is resolved upon, it becomes important to see how it can best be carried out; and I concur in the strong desire which exists on both sides of the House that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee; but that, we are told, the Forms of the House make impossible. I cannot but think it very unfortunate that such should be the position of a most important social measure; but as the Bill cannot be sent upstairs for full and calm consideration, there is all the more necessity that it should be fully discussed in the House. What, then, will be the practical effect of the measure upon the great industries of the country? The House now stands as arbiter between two great factions. On the one hand we have the capitalist, whose capital is the result of foresight, economy, courage, self-denial, and industry—of the exercise of all those qualities which made England what it is; on the other hand we have the working classes, whose share in our economical system is as important and necessary as that of the capitalist, and who have as much interest as we have in keeping up the great edifice of British prosperity. The capitalist is alarmed at this Bill. It is the fashion to sneer at the proverbial timidity of capital. Admit this timidity, but recognize it, and be careful not to drive capital out of the country. The working classes, or some sections of them, have taken this agitation up, and with them it has become a burning question; and on their part, as well as among employers, there is great and natural anxiety as to the course the House will adopt. With the working classes that anxiety is aggravated by the mistaken notion that the present law was directed against them as a class. I have always asserted that this is an utterly unfounded idea. No such notion is to be found in any legal conception or expression of the law, and does not exist in fact. The present law is, in fact, based upon this fundamental ground—that the rule of natural justice is that no man ought to be legally responsible for any misfortune resulting from an act for which he is not morally responsible. There are certain exceptions, and the question we have really to consider is whether those exceptions should be extended. I do not stop to consider whether the exceptions are new and the law old, or the law is old and altered by new exceptions. That discussion is now profitless, and will only secure more or less contradiction from some hon. and learned Members near me, whose opinions on the abstract question differ from my own. I recognize that difference of opinion; and, however strong my own views may be, I, in all sincerity, am ready to admit that they may have been warped by circumstances, or may be wrong. I feel that I am right; but I concede that there is a considerable amount of authority against me. And, therefore, I admit that something has to be done. The most logical solution of the problem is that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford; but I fear that is the least practicable. Indeed, I suppose that my hon. Friend himself hardly imagines that the law can now be altered in the direction he indicates. He would make the moral and the legal responsibility coincide. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Stafford would make every employer liable for everything which happens to everybody in his employment or out of it. That is logical, too. Indeed, I am far from seeing how the interests which that hon. Member is understood to represent are to gain very much by this Bill. If a platelayer is killed on Monday by the negligence of a fellow-servant in authority, and gets compensation, a platelayer who is hurt on Tuesday, by the negligence of a fellow-servant not in authority, will not get much satisfaction out of the new law; and we may be having further proposals to meet his case, and to inclose employers in one comprehensive net of lia- bility. Is the object to insure safety? is the proposed law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford has asked, a police law? If by fining you intend to make employers more careful in selecting materials and superintendents, why do you stop at fining? Why do you not send them to prison for negligence on the part of agents, which, if brought home personally to themselves, would be criminal? But is such a Bill as this to be carried through at a Morning Sitting? I do not wish to stop the Bill. I will be party to no obstruction. What I ask is that adequate opportunity should be afforded to the House for fully discussing it. As the result of a bonâ fide discussion, I hope that the Bill may be made a fair and equitable settlement of a vitally important question—that it may prove, not the mere result of hustings promises, but the deliberate outcome of the wisdom of Parliament applied to one of the most difficult of social problems. There seems to be considerable diversity of opinion as to the object aimed at. Is its object to protect the lives of workmen? If I could think that such would be its effect in a single instance, I, for one, would withdraw from all opposition, and would hurry the Bill on; but I do not believe it will have any such effect. The House must remember that the interests that most dread the Bill—the mining interest, for example—are carried on—every single operation of every day's work is performed under the direct supervision of officers appointed for the purpose by the State. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the protection thus afforded is sufficient, or as much as is practicable. But it is said that, apart from its effect, this Bill raises a question of justice, and is to be supported on that ground. No one can have any other feeling in reference to a demand for justice on any question than one of sympathy. But on a matter like the one before the House, where the relations both of employers and of workmen are intimately concerned, questions of justice or injustice are not simple and easy, but of great difficulty and delicacy. Both sides claim justice, and both sides allege injustice; possibly the truth may lie between them. It, therefore, becomes important to consider whether that justice which is desiderated by both cannot be obtained by means of a fair compromise which would have the effect of allaying instead of aggravating the differences now existing between labour and capital, to the disadvantage of both. I cannot admit that there is any compromise in one side merely conceding half of what is asked. There must be something conceded on both sides, in order to bring about a bargain likely to be a permanent settlement of this difficult and delicate question. The only-course open, as far as I am able to see, is either to leave the existing law alone, or to amend it in such sort that the employés may be satisfied without terrifying the capitalists whose money is invested in the various industries in this country. This is without doubt a danger of this, and the best thing to be done is to reduce that danger to a minimum. After much deliberation, I have come to this conclusion—that if this new liability is to be put on employers it must be limited in amount, so that the employers may know the maximum they may have to provide in case of the worst accident, and, knowing it, may provide against it by insurance. I wish the House to understand that I am against compulsory insurance. Put it how you will, insurance to which anyone is compelled to contribute is only a tax in disguise; and I recognize the impossibility of such a tax. I only ask for facilities. I am bound to admit that in the Bill now before the House the Government has recognized the principle of limiting this new statutory liability, and I desire to thank them for this concession. But they propose to carry it out by confining the liability of employers to the amount of a limited number of years' earnings of the person injured; but I do not think that this means of carrying out that principle is a wise or satisfactory one. It seems to me that, notwithstanding what my hon. Friend the Member for Eye has said, this proposal will be a perennial well of litigation. I can imagine no more tempting subject for unscrupulous lawyers than the inquiry into three years' probable earnings of any workman; and the House must not lose sight of this practical consideration—that every law-suit would be at the cost of the employer, who would necessarily have to pay costs when the plaintiff recovers, and who never receives any costs when the plaintiff fails, for the simple reason that no plaintiff, under this Bill, would have any means for paying costs. Now, the only hope of escape from this most serious practical difficulty will be found in fixing some maximum sum. In the Workmen's Trains Acts, the sum of £100 has been fixed, and that has worked well in practice. But take that, or any other just sum. What will, then, be the employers' position? He will, at any rate, know the worst; and it will then be for him to secure the means to discharge this new liability when it comes. He can only do it by insurance; and I suppose that the course he will take will be to ascertain the number of his employés, and multiplying that number by the extreme limit of the sum fixed, to induce as many persons in the same peril as himself as he can get to form some sort of combination by which they may cover their liabilities up to the amount of the maximum sum they would have to pay in case of the greatest imaginable disaster. For years the actuarial value of these risks will be doubtful; but they will eventually be discovered. Large premiums on such insurances will have to be paid, and the capitalized value of those premiums will represent the burden which this Government Bill is proposing to put on the struggling industries of this country; and that at a time when, according to my information, they are least able to bear any additional weight. Eventually, doubtless, this weight will fall upon the consumer; and, so far as home trade is concerned, will adjust itself. But the interim disturbance will be very serious; and I question whether, in competition with the foreigner, we shall ever cease to feel it. I also hope, Sir, that, in addition to fixing a definite maximum sum, the Government will admit clauses which will facilitate arrangements for insurance between employers and employed. What could be more simple than such a provision as this? Suppose you fix £100 as the limit under the Act, and then provide that if the master and workmen together agree to effect an insurance for any equivalent or greater sum, such insurance shall exclude the operation of the Act. No one would be hurt by such a provision, and it is obvious that it would tend to promote insurances, which mean providence and economy. But under the vague scheme of the Government, the employer would be unable to know the amount of his liability or danger, or to enter into any agreement with the employed for effecting an insurance which should free him from liability. If Her Majesty's Government will intimate that they have no objection to the principle of this proposal, and will consent that the Bill shall be sent to a Select Committee, which I can undertake, on the part of those interested, shall sit with a determination to forward rather than retard the passing of the measure, they will be remembered, not as having brought forward this Bill for political purposes or as a weak-kneed concession to agitation, but as having made a bonâ fide effort to arrive at an equitable and reasonable solution of one of the most difficult problems ever presented to Parliament. I do not think that they will be able to work out these complicated proposals on the floor of the House in Morning Sittings in July; but there may be some hope of doing it if the Bill is referred to a Select Committee. The late Government had this subject forced upon them, and they have seen how difficult it was to deal with; but it has by no means been forced upon this Government; they have rushed at it. I have heard it said that they had picked up the Bill somewhere about the platform of the Chester Railway Station. That, of course, is a piece of electioneering jocularity; and I have no doubt the Government have taken the matter up seriously and honestly. Still, whatever may have been the intentions of the Government, it is evident that they have not yet quite mastered the subject. But, while giving them credit for their good motives, I trust they will not force the Bill on without giving those who would be most affected by it an opportunity of being heard by a Select Committee of the House. I have thought it right to make these few observations, though I have not thought it right to divide the House; and, as the Notice Paper now stands, it will not be possible to do so on the Motion for a Select Committee.


observed, that three classes of objections had been raised to this measure by the hon. Members for Stafford, Hertford, and Coventry. Those hon. Members agreed that some legislation on this subject was necessary; but they took different views of what the principle of that legislation should be. The position of the Government was this. They found that this question had been before the House and the country for years; that a Select Committee had taken evidence bearing upon it in 1877; and the Government had done their best to embody in the Bill the principle which was the most consonant with public opinion. What were the objections raised to the measure? The hon, Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) held the view that the Bill did not go far enough, and that the defence of common employment ought to be abolished altogether, so that the employer would be liable for all injuries resulting to workmen from the negligence of other workmen in the same employ. He (the Attorney General) did not think the House was prepared to accept that view, for the total abolition of the defence of common employment would cast such a burden on the employer, and cause such a disarrangement in the rate of wages, that the proposal could not be regarded as practicable. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Balfour) took quite a different view. Instead of increasing the liability of the employer, he would diminish it, and would say that employers should not be liable at all, unless they had been themselves guilty of some misconduct. That was a suggestion which it was too late to consider, for the existing law carried the employers' liability beyond that point. More important matter was to be found in the arguments of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson), who had spoken not only as a lawyer, but apparently with a knowledge of the subject which was not entirely theoretical. Now, his hon. and learned Friend admitted the necessity of some legislation. His propositions amounted to this—in the first place, they must alter the law; and, secondly, they must logically either let the law alone or accept the proposition of the hon. Member for Stafford. His hon. and learned Friend apparently did not desire to leave the law as it was. [Sir HENRY JACKSON: I would if I could.] Now he understood his hon. and learned Friend. But why should he desire that result? On account of the injustice of the law? If that were so, why was any alteration inevitable, and why should he admit that alteration really could not be avoided? Why had he not the courage of his opinions, and why did he not endeavour to convince the House of their justice? His hon. and learned Friend's position was untenable. He gathered that his hon. and learned Friend was disposed to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Stafford, and to abolish the defence of common employment. But then in return he asked for concessions that would make the concessions granted in the Bill of no value. His hon. and learned Friend had wished to appoint a fixed sum as the maximum amount that could be recovered—a proposal that he, for his part, thought very unjust. Was it likely that an artizan earning 40s. a week would think himself well treated if he recovered no more than the amount awarded, perhaps, to a boy receiving 10s. or 12s.? The suggested maximum of £150 Was certainly not so just to all parties as the arrangement by which the maximum would vary in accordance with a varying scale of wages. His hon. and learned Friend's second suggestion was one that seemed to have satisfied him that the views of the hon. Member for Stafford were acceptable. His answer to the Bill had been contained in one word, "insurance;" and he seemed to wish that there should be no responsibility as long as the master contributed to the common insurance fund. Now, he believed that that idea of giving the master immunity in consequence of his part in an insurance scheme was a matter that could not be managed by legislation. No doubt it was desirable that the master and servant should enter into a contract, as they easily could do [Lord ELCHO: As yet], and make an agreement, the one to give compensation, and the other not to appeal to the liability created by the Bill; but he could not imagine how the law was to give any real effect to an insurance scheme. Were the subscriptions of the master and the workmen to be levied compulsorily, or in what other way? He thought that the question of insurance could be settled better by personal arrangement than by legislation; and he believed that even his hon. and learned Friend, if he attempted to draw clauses that would get rid of responsibility by a system of insurance, would find the extreme difficulty of effecting practical legislation on that subject. [Sir HENRY JACKSON: Make it their interest.] That was not a matter of legislation. The view of those in charge of the Bill was that insurance depended upon the combined action of employers and employed; and, though they were heartily in favour of it, they had not embodied it in their Bill. He did not think that there was any reason for sending the Bill to a Select Committee. The question of insurance controlled by legislation had come into existence by virtue of the Bill being placed on the Table. ["Hear, hear!"and "No, no!"] At all events, the subject had not even been suggested before the Select Committee of 1877, or a change in the law would certainly have been proposed. [Sir HENRY JACKSON: They suggested no change in the law.] His hon. and learned Friend was on the Committee, and why was he prepared to do now what was not suggested then? Holding views on the subject such as he had described, he could not think that another Select Committee would be useful or necessary. If a Select Committee were appointed, the Bill would still have to come down to the House, where matters of detail would have to be discussed. There were practical men in the House who were well qualified to consider any alterations in the Bill which might be necessary. There was no desire on the part of the Government to press the measure without due consideration. On the contrary, there was every desire on their part to accept suggestions from practical men. His hon. and learned Friend had said that if the votes of hon. Members were to be taken by ballot the Bill would not pass. But why should not his hon. and learned Friend and every other Member vote according to their opinions? Did his hon. and learned Friend mean that he and other Members thought one thing and their constituents thought another? If his hon. and Friend mean that, he ought to have recollected that he was speaking in the presence of a great many employers of labour who had been returned by the men they employed. He believed the judgment of those hon. Members would be different from that of his hon. and learned Friend, and that they would sacrifice what they believed to be their own interest in order to do justice to those who were not present in the House. He did not believe that those hon. Members would vote for what they thought to be unjust as if it were just, or that if they were to vote by ballot they would vote differently from what they would do now. He trusted before the Session concluded that the Bill would receive the sanction of Parliament.


said, in order to facilitate the Bill going into Committee, after the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, he would, with the leave of the House, withdraw his Amendment. ["No!"]


said, that where this Bill came from everyone knew. It was one of the praiseworthy, if not very successful, attempts of his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) to settle a very difficult question. He did not know whether he was one of those referred to by the hon. and learned Attorney General, who were returned by the men whom they employed; but he had come from a contested election, and he could state that not a word was said to him all the time about employers' liability. But if a question were put to him on the subject, he would say, as he did now, that, as no one could say that the present state of the law was satisfactory, he would be prepared to deal with it. In endeavouring to deal with the question, how-over, they were running a great risk. This Bill, if passed into law in its present state, would do a great deal more harm to the working classes of this country than it would do good. At present working men were very much protected by benevolent and insurance societies; but the moment this Bill was passed every man would think that the law was going to take care of him, and that he need not look out any longer for himself. In the trade with which he was connected there were 117,000 members of various mutual provident associations, to which the masters subscribed as well as the men. These 117,000 were very nearly, if not more than, a fourth of all the men employed above ground, and were nearly one - third of those employed under ground in the coalfields. The funds accumulated already amounted to £112,000, the widows supported by the fund were 720, the children 1,400, and the disabled class 19,000. There would always be a difficulty in working compulsory and voluntary funds side by side. No doubt insurance could be carried out voluntarily; but might it not be encouraged if it were recognized in an Act of Parliament? The unfortunate open- ing for litigation which would be made by the Bill in reference to disputed causes of accident would bring into the mining districts that greatest of pests, the low-bred attorney, who would promote differences between masters and men which did not now exist. In his district, happily, trade disputes were obviated by appeal to the Council of Conciliation; and he was jealous of opening the door in any way to that class of attorney that would produce conflict between capital and labour. The door would be closed against litigation by encouraging the principle of insurance; and if carried out properly it would do much, not only to help masters and men, but to relieve the ratepayers of the country. As the Bill stood, it would do harm to the working classes and to the ratepayers. While heartily assenting to the further progress of the Bill, he earnestly supported the views of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson), though he would not go quite so far in opposition; but he believed it was essential to the success of the Bill that it should deal with the question of insurance.


said, he heard with regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General offered no concessions to the appeals that had been made. Practically, this Bill had not been read a second time, for this was another Bill substituted for that to which a second reading was given. It was a great improvement; but practically it was a new Bill. For one, he could not consent to abrogate altogether the doctrine of common employment. He regretted to hear it said that provisions relating to insurance were incompatible with the principle of the Bill, and must be made the subject of private arrangement. The Bill would give the workman the right to compensation, on which he would rely, and the workman who had been contributing would say that a new law had come into operation which ignored his former contribution and threw the liability on the master. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General was acquainted with the doctrine of set-off, and had heard of paying damages by anticipation. Why not apply these doctrines to insurance, and let the employer set off what was provided by insurance? Under the Factories and Mines Acts penalties were imposed upon employers in cases of injury to workmen, and these penalties were recoverable by the workmen. By the Bill, as it stood, the workmen could recover these penalties as well as compensation. These were matters that could be dealt with only in a Select Committee; and he believed the reference of the Bill to such a Committee would facilitate its being passed. They might very well adopt the principle that the employer should be responsible for the agents he employed; but they could not make him responsible for those over whom he could not exercise direct control.


Sir, I shall not detain the House more than two or three minutes. We have had speeches from several hon. Gentlemen; but with the exception of the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease), and the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), we have had none from practical men. I will confine my attention to one practical point. I am one of those who dislike this Bill. It is neither liked by employers nor employed. Here we have an Amendment by the hon. Member for Stafford, which declares that it will not be satisfactory to the employed. I do not dislike this Bill on account of the compensation with which it will saddle the employers. What I dislike is that it will induce litigation to a great extent, and that it will break down all those kindly relations which at present exist between employer and employed. I should, as an employer, much prefer the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Stafford. I have always declared myself in favour of some measure which will relieve those serious accidents to miners; and I believe that the measure brought in by the hon. Member for Stafford, although it would to some extent swell the contents of the cup, would take away that poisonous element which will destroy the good feeling between employer and workman. I do not know any man who endeavours to retain the respect of his neighbours who will remain in the profession of colliery management after the passing of the Bill. I think the great defect is that it is applying indiscriminately a general principle to all the trades and industries of the country. Now, Sir, these learned Gentlemen ought to have known that there are two classes of trades—those that are dangerous, and those that are not dangerous. When an accident happens, in some cases it is almost impossible to discover what is the cause. Look at the Coroners' inquests in reference to mining accidents, where evidence upon evidence is given, and yet no satisfactory result is arrived at. How much more difficult is it to foresee and prevent an accident? I say that there is no accident which happens but what leaves behind it some trace of human imperfection; de-pond upon it there will be a tendency on the part of the employed to bring actions against the employers in order to saddle the manager with negligence, and to obtain compensation. There ought to be a distinction drawn between those employments where the accident can be traced, such as building and other employment above ground, and those employments below ground, where it is almost impossible to ascertain the cause of the occurrence. I prefer the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford, because it is more consistent than the Bill of the Government. I also prefer it because it would remove further back the boundaries of litigation on accidents arising from neglect of follow-workmen, and will be much more to the point, because, under it, there would not arise the necessity of distinguishing between the negligence of one class of workmen and that of another; and, whatever may be the issue, I am sure it will fall considerably below the amount that would arise from more litigation. If general litigation takes place between employer and employed, the disarranging effect upon every trade will be very serious. I think, therefore, this Bill requires a great deal more serious consideration than it has had; and although these learned Gentlemen may give reliable opinion as regards the law, whenever they venture on practical matters they are mere children. I have read all the evidence given before the Committee in 1877, and it is most lucid and trustworthy. Lord Justice Bram-well, so long as he confined himself to the exposition of the law, was clear; but, so soon as he gave an opinion as to the practical effect of the proposed legislation, he sinks down below the rank of a practical witness. In order to show how very necessary it is that this question should be better considered, it is desirable to refer to what Lord Justice Bramwell says. He has given an opinion. He says that cases of negligence by fellow-workmen would be more numerous, and he says that the workmen would be in a better position than the employers for detecting negligence; and, therefore, the employers should not be made liable for injuries of that sort. The hon. Member for Stafford said to him—"Do you know anything of mines?" He said—"Very little." Then you do not know that the work of miners is denned by statute?—I cannot say. I believe there has been a good deal of statutory regulation, and miners have had their share of it. The hon. Member for Stafford said that in mines where 300 or 500 persons were employed, they were required to remain in their own particular working place, but if they left it they were liable to imprisonment. He asked— How can it be said that these men have control over their fellow-men?—I cannot say it is so. I think you have alleged it is so.—No, I spoke generally of masters and servants, not particularly of miners. It would be great presumption of me to do so not knowing about miners. This Bill is founded on the recommendation of that Report. It is on all fours with it. It is a Bill which I had in my hands 12 months ago. It is, in reality, the Bill of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey). We all considered it, and saw that it was really a dangerous Bill. However able the gentlemen may have been who drew up that Report, I say it is not what we should have expected it would be, but is an interference with many important industries, and however learned the drawers of the Report may be, they would probably feel puzzled to state in detail the difference between employment in a coal mine and employment in a cotton mill. We want further knowledge as to this Bill, and to have further discussion; and, depend upon it, that would not take a long time, but would be all the better for the Government, because the Bill would have received due attention before it was passed. I do not intend to offer any opposition to it. I think it is very desirable to have something done. It has been a long time agitated; but I do hope the Government will seriously consider the propriety of referring this Bill to a Select Committee again, in order to have the matter fully and fairly discussed, and especially to consider the suggestions made by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson), with a view of seeing whether in these dangerous employments at least something in the nature of insurance will not be more desirable than the provisions which appear in this Bill as it now stands. I do not think that in this House, as far as I am able to ascertain, there is any employer who wishes to delay the passing of a measure this Session. All they want is a Bill that will not bring them into daily conflict with their workmen. I think it is most desirable, especially in regard to those dangerous employments, that there should be some other principle than that contained in the Bill. I shall not detain the House longer with any observations of mine. I could have spoken on other points; but as time is pressing, and there are probably others who would like to speak, I will only say further that whatever good arises out of this Bill, whether it arises in this House or "elsewhere," it will be to the credit of the hon. Member for Stafford; no one else ever suggested anything relating to a change in the law either to secure compensation or relief to workmen injured by accident during his employment until he did; but I do maintain that it is an error to suppose that this Bill will mitigate accidents when it is passed. I believe it will increase them, because it will drive from the profession of mining the competent persons who are now in it as managers. I can say from personal experience that I have never known a colliery manager who is not first of all anxious for the safety of his men. They are men of courage, men of intelligence, men who are educated for their profession, and who would be seriously interfered with if what is proposed in this Bill were brought about. They are often said to be careless, and it is often said that accidents might have been prevented by them; but these things are generally said by those who have never had experience in colliery management. There is another ground that will show conclusively that this will not lessen accidents. Her Majesty's Government and the hon. Member for Stafford say that if this Bill passes and gives compensation it will induce greater care on the part of employers and managers. It has, on the other hand, been said, I know, by many, that if men had this compensation for accidents it will not make them less careful. That I endorse. I do not believe that any man will injure himself in order to obtain compensation; but surely if this is the case with regard to the men, you will allow it with regard to the managers. If the reception of compensation will not make a man less careful, upon what ground can we come to the conclusion that payment of that compensation will make managers more careful? The Government must, I think, take some other means of dealing with dangerous employment than that proposed in this Bill.


moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Staveley Hill.)


said, that the alterations which had been made in the Bill were matters, not of principle, but of detail. That had been admitted over and over again in the course of the debate, and it was admitted also that the House were anxious that the question should be settled and that the Bill should pass. Taking these two facts together, he appealed to the House, in the name of common sense, to allow the Speaker to leave the Chair. In Committee the details of the Bill could be fully considered.


agreed with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) that the present law was satisfactory. He was further of opinion that in bringing on the Bill the Government had but yielded to agitation.

It being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this day.

The House suspended its Sitting at Seven of the clock.

The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.