§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to 1753 Question [2nd July], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" (for Committee on the Employers' Liability (re-committed) Bill):—
And which Amendment was,
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.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he must insist on the necessity of referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The subject required a, great deal of careful consideration, owing to the various conflicting interests both of masters and men engaged in different trades and pursuits which had rules and customs peculiar to themselves. It would be impossible to lay down rules applicable to all these multifarious trades and pursuits. The House had not the requisite knowledge to do so, and the task could only be successfully undertaken by a Committee upstairs. Was it reasonable that one man should be liable for the negligence of another? He denied that it was either morally just or legally right. No doubt, on both sides of the House there was the deepest sympathy for the working men. Both sides wished to do what was right and just with regard to the working men; but what was the proposition of the Government? It only extended to some particular cases, and those were very few compared with those described as accidents; and he asked the attention of the Attorney General as to whether he had not known a long trial lasting some days, the question being to determine whether the event was the result of accident or of negligence? In his opinion, the Bill was not so logical as that of the hon. Member's (Mr. Macdonald's), because that hon. Member's Bill applied to all cases of negligence; whereas the Government confined it to cases of negligence on the part of those placed in a position of 1754 superintendence. He thought the best course was to provide compensation by way of insurance. In that case, no trial need take place, and the injured workmen would be compensated on the right and proper scale. For 40 years the law had been as it was now, and during that period employers and employed had entered into contracts under it. It would not be said that the workmen could not contract with their employers, and for this reason—that they were members of great Trades Unions, which were strong enough to dictate the rate of wages that should be paid. Employers of labour, he had heard on good authority, were disposed to be very generous, and to be ready for insurance purposes to put down sovereign for sovereign with their workmen. Was it not worth while, then, to inquire whether a system of insurance which would work satisfactorily to all parties could not be devised? It was a question which could well be considered fully and calmly by practical men in a Select Committee. The case of railway servants stood on a different footing, and he regretted that it had been used at the late elections as a lever for the intimidation of candidates. He opposed the Bill in its present form; and in reference to railway servants he thought their case ought not to be included in a general measure. The wages of miners and other persons engaged in dangerous employments were equal to the pay of a captain in the Army, and were something more than the emoluments of a curate in the Church. He, consequently, did not think they should claim to supplement those high wages by compensation in case of injury. He considered they should not pass hastily a Bill which would only lead to litigation; and he asked the House to take into consideration his counter scheme, which would do justice to all.
§ MR. MACDONALD
asked leave to withdraw the Resolution which stood in his name with reference to common employment.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
rose to a point of Order. This was the second occasion on which the hon. Member for Stafford had risen to withdraw his Resolution, and it was desirable to hear from the Speaker whether this was in Order or not. He should like to know from the Government whether they were in favour of the Amendment?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not speaking to a question of Order. On Friday last the hon. Member for Stafford applied to withdraw his Amendment, and I put the usual Question, "That the Amendment be, by leave, withdrawn." Leave was not given, and now the hon. Member renews his application.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, he only wished to know exactly the position in which the House stood. The Resolution of the hon. Member for Stafford stated that—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;and before he was permitted to withdraw it the House ought to be informed as to what was the attitude of the Government in the matter. Were they in favour of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Stafford or not? If they were in favour of it, there was all the more reason for sending the Bill to a Select Committee. If they were not, then, he asked, what bargain had been come to between Her Majesty's Government and the hon. Member for Stafford which induced him to withdraw that which he considered a cardinal proposition. Until a satisfactory explanation had been given on that point both by the Government and the hon. Member for Stafford, he should certainly oppose the withdrawal of the Resolution.
MR. HINDE PALMER
thought the motive of the hon. Member for Stafford in seeking to withdraw his Resolution, as well as the attitude of the Government in regard to it, was sufficiently clear from what had preceded. In submitting the Resolution the hon. Member for Stafford distinctly intimated that he did not wish to retard the progress of the Bill; and the Government had stated, over and over again, that they distinctly repudiated the hon. Member's proposition.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
hoped that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stafford would be allowed to be withdrawn. It was intended there should 1756 have been a decision as to whether the question should or should not go to a Select Committee; but the Government had met them in a fair way, and it would, therefore, be far better to allow the Amendment to be withdrawn.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, that, with a strong desire to save the time of the House, he would not insist upon a division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. KNOWLES
moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, with the view of afterwards instructing them to consider—Whether efficient provision cannot be made for all persons injured during their employment, and for the widows and orphans of those killed by accident, by an insurance fund contributed by masters and workmen, and whether the same would not be more beneficial to the workman than the right of action proposed to be given by the Bill.The hon. Member said, that, having listened with great attention to the debate as far as it had gone, he had come to the conclusion that the Bill was so surrounded by difficulties that it could not be satisfactorily dealt with in a Committee of the Whole House. To confirm the principle of the Bill as at present drawn would only be to give rise to further agitation, which would be kept up until the liability of employers would be made to extend to the humblest among the employés entitled to give orders in manufacturing or mining operations. As to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Stafford, no doubt it had been withdrawn simply because pressure had been put upon him by the Government. [Mr. MACDONALD: No.] If the Government passed the Bill before the House, they would affirm the principle of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Stafford. In moving his Resolution the hon. Member referred to two or three cases, which he seemed to presume supported his views with regard to common employment. In the case of an engineman and a collier, or a miner, he said that there was no common employment between the two. In his (Mr. Knowles') opinion, there was a common employment between an engineman and a miner. He meant by an engineman not an engine driver, but the person who attends to the engine by which the miner was let down to his work in the 1757 mine, by which his produce was brought to the surface, and by which he was himself brought back to the surface when his day's work was done. If there was no common employment between these two he did not know what constituted common employment. It was said that the proposed alteration of the law would only assimilate the law of this country to that of France, of Germany, of Belgium, and of other countries; but it seemed to be forgotten that the conditions of the labour market in the different countries differed most materially. In Belgium, for instance, women and children were employed in work connected with mining operations without any restrictions whatever; the working classes were paid at the rate of about two-thirds of the amount received in this country, and their hours of labour were about a third longer in duration. [Mr. MACDONALD dissented.] The expression of the hon. Member showed that differences of opinion existed; and, therefore, there was the greater importance for instituting such an inquiry as could take place before a Select Committee, which would have the full facts before it. It was further worthy of remark that in the countries to which reference had been made in support of the present proposal the relations of labour to the State were very different from those existing in this country. There the State owned the mines and the railways, and if colliery proprietors made no profit they had to pay no royalties—the Government taking the precaution to employ the best means of providing that profit should be made by appointing Inspectors to see that the operations were conducted on the best principles; but whether there was profit or not made upon English mines, those working the mines had to pay both royalty and rent, and there were instances in this country where rents and royalty to the extent of £15,000 and £20,000 a-yearwere paid, and no profits were made at all. There were many other differences between the conditions of labour in Continental countries and our own, which made an assimilation of the law as difficult as it would be unjust. In those countries to which he had referred there was a very arbitrary mode of settling disputes. If a strike occurred, before very long the military were called out. The proposals in the present Bill 1758 were calculated to destroy the freedom of contract, and he did not think that the House would be willing to go back to the practices which had obtained in the days of feudalism. He did not think that the hon. Member for Stafford would like to return to the days of serfdom and slavery which existed when the present law was passed, and there were only masters and men; but if they were to do away with freedom of contract they were going back to the old days of serfdom. He contended that up to the present employers of labour had done their duty to their employés. He did not like the existing law, for it was admittedly unjust; many celebrated lawyers and Judges had said so. Upon it, however, bad as it was, their institutions were built, and if it was altered the foundations of their great commercial undertakings would be rendered very unsafe. He could see nothing that was fair in the Bill. Nothing in the Bill indicated that it had proceeded from people of experience, and he could only come to the conclusion that it had originated with a class whose object it was to harass the employers of the country, and to set masters and men at loggerheads with one another—a class, in fact, whose very existence depended upon the keeping of masters and men at variance, whereas the success of trade rested in a great measure upon both classes working in harmony. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) had said that he could not see how compulsory insurance could be practical. He (Mr. Knowles) was confident that a practical method could be devised by a Select Committee which would satisfy ever body, and be an enormous boon to workpeople injured in their employment. It had been stated that this matter of insurance had been brought forward in consequence of this Bill. Well, he might point out that in a pamphlet written by Mr. Campbell, a gentleman of very considerable importance upon the subject, he stated that he had always known of such a provision as insurance for meeting accidents in dangerous employments before and since 1862, and he (Mr. Knowles) had since known the institution to gradually grow all his life. At all the collieries with which he had ever been connected arrangements were made to meet the consequences of accidents; but they were not of a permanent character. Since 1862 societies for the 1759 permanent relief of injured colliers had been growing, and they had done a great deal of good. If this Bill was passed the master would not be responsible for more than 5 per cent of the accidents, and what was to be done with the other 95? His object in sending the subject before a Select Committee was that the whole 100 should be provided for. That morning he had received a letter on the present Bill from a legal gentleman, in which he said that his sympathies were all with the Liberal Government; but he regretted that they had taken up such an arbitrary, slovenly, and ill-considered piece of amateur legislation as the Bill of Mr. Brassey, and he also regretted that the Attorney General had stated that the question of insurance had now only come to the front; whereas two witnesses gave evidence with regard to it to the Select Committee that had sat upon the subject. The necessity for an investigation was shown by the fact that the Government appeared not to know that for many years compulsory insurance had been in operation in Germany, and had? worked well. The Select Committee appointed by the late Government did not understand the question. The Government did not realize the importance of it. The Committee did not give prominence to this feature in their Report; and they, consequently, did not know that compulsory insurance in Germany had worked well. Now, these were the opinions of a legal gentleman who had considered the question well. As to the Bill now before the House, it should be remembered that it went much beyond the lines of their Report. The Committee reported that no extension of the law was desirable. He (Mr. Knowles) would enter his feeble protest against the alterations being proposed in the present law. The Bill he regarded as both undesirable and unnecessary, and it was anything but a compensation Bill. It was a litigation Bill, for all the compensation would be swallowed up in litigation. In the conversations that he had had with employers on this subject during the last two or three years, not one of them expressed themselves as desirous of shirking any fair and just responsibility. He trusted that the Government would not ignore the deputation which waited upon the Premier a week or two ago. It consisted of gentlemen who represented capital to 1760 the amount of between £1,200,000,000 and£l,300,000,000. They had considered this question over and over again for the last three years, and they had tried all sorts of ways to meet the question, with the result that the only method of preventing the continuous heartburnings of the workpeople was by some mode of insurances. If Government would give them an opportunity of submitting such a scheme to a Select Committee it would be fairly considered. It had been asked why the opponents of the Bill as it stood did not put their views on paper and let them be discussed in Committee of the Whole House; but he could see no force in such a suggestion, because in such Committee there was no opportunity of examining witnesses, and hon. Members who only kept domestic servants had no opportunity of gaining information as to the work of miners, who spent the greater part of their time underground, with nothing more to guide them in the conduct of their work than the dim and glimmering light of safety-lamps. In Committee of the Whole House there would only be a scramble for Amendments, and nothing like justice could be done. The Government, with their large majority, would affirm the principle of the Bill. Some gentlemen said the Bill would not be so bad as he feared, because employers generally of both political Parties believed that no Government would do such a gross piece of injustice as this Bill would involve. But now that those people who felt confidence in the protection of the House saw that the House was moving in so dangerous a direction, they saw it was time to realize their position. The feeling against the Bill was thus growing every day, and the numerous Petitions against it showed that people were getting alarmed. One firm, with a capital of £3,650,000, who employed many thousand workpeople, had, in their Petition against the Bill, stated that it would render it difficult, if not impossible, to compete successfully with foreign nations, and that all coal and iron property in this country would be very largely depreciated in value. Another argument he held against the Bill was that it would inflict injustice upon a large number of persons who had invested their money in mining property, which would be largely depreciated in value if the Bill passed. 1761 The Prime Minister, a few days ago, speaking on the proposal to give local option as to the sale of intoxicating liquors, admitted that if such option were given, the question of compensating the publicans whose property was depreciated in value would have to be considered. He should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared with a proposal for the compensation of mineowners, whose property would be rendered almost valueless if the Bill were passed in its present form? The present system of insurance was all very well; but one great difficulty in working-provident societies was that the men often went away to some other locality where such societies did not exist. Besides, the insurances were not like those against death or old age. The men were assessed at a very low rate in order to cover the risk of accident. If a man insured, again, for a railway journey, he paid his insurance money for his journey, and if he did not get injured he did not get anything returned to him. Again, that was lost and scattered to the wind, and, of course, rather fortunate for him. So, workmen running risks paid their quota towards those who had not been equally fortunate with themselves. If they could, by legislation, compel men and masters, because masters wanted more compulsion than the men, to accept the principle, provident institutions would cover a far wider area than they did at present. For instance, it was every man's duty to educate his children; but they found the people did not accept the moral obligation, and they had to pass an Education Act in order to compel parents to do so. Then, again, every man was under a moral obligation not to overwork his wife or his children; but it was found that many traded on them, and Parliament stepped in and said—"We won't permit you to trade upon them and work them more than they can stand." He thought there would, therefore, be no injustice in masters saying to their men—"We engage you in a dangerous occupation, and you shall contribute your 1d. or your 2d. per week," the masters, at the same time, being compelled to do the same. Was it any hardship that a man should be told—"You shall pay 1d. or 2d. per week in order to make provision for yourself and family in case of injury during 1762 your hazardous employment, or, if killed, to provide for your widow and orphans?" There was never any hardship nor anything degrading in such a course. Unless such a system were made compulsory, the masters could never be induced to contribute their quota, although he was convinced that they were willing to do what was right in the matter. Workpeople would do what was honest if they were led in the proper direction; it was not they who wished for this Bill, but only the agitators who had persuaded them that this Bill would make them more comfortable and more independent. Where the workpeople understood the question they did not want this Bill. He heard the other day from a man who, having been offered £100 by a railway company for damages sustained in a railway accident, went to law and recovered £105, only to find that the whole of that sum was swallowed up by the lawyer's bill. Many such cases would be met with if this Bill became law. It might be said that the evil of litigation would cure itself in time; but, in the meantime, how much misery and loss would have been sustained! A Select Committee, it was said, meant delay; but if preparations were made for the inquiry during the Recess, there was no reason why the Report should not be presented by Easter or Whitsuntide at the latest, when more time would remain for legislation than was afforded now. Nobody would suffer from the postponement, and the only loss would be one year's crop of lawsuits. He fully agreed in the remarks made by the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. J. W. Pease), and believed that 19 out of every 20 men were indisposed for any extension of the law, or, in fact, wanted the present Bill at all. It was only through one or two going amongst them, representing that they wanted to obtain something that they would never realize or be kept independent in the case of accident, that a number had been induced to wish for it. He believed that the working classes would rather have some mode of insurance, so as to have a certainty, than to have to be dragged through Courts of Law. The amount of money which would be spent in litigation, but which might be employed in the creation of an insurance fund, would be enormous. The fact was, that the Bill had been hurriedly brought into the House. He did not believe 1763 that either the late or the present Government saw the full bearings of it when they introduced it. He hoped a Select Committee would be appointed to consider whether some alternative scheme, more just both to the working classes and to the employers, could not be devised. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) had compared this measure to the Mines Regulation Act, and had remarked that when the latter Act was passed all the coalowners thought they were going to be ruined, whereas the result was that they were none the worse off. When the Mines Regulation Act was originally brought forward in its crude form it was a dangerous Bill, though nothing like so ruinous as this. After four years' discussion in that House the Mines Regulation Act was brought into its present state. In that case there was a limit to the liability which, under the present Bill, would be unlimited. He need not point out that no trade could prosper where masters and men were in constant litigation. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester knew what would be the effect of this Bill he would not press it. The right hon. Gentleman's position seemed to be that of an election agent. He had got a Bill to pass and he must pass it, and he had got the Law Officers of the Crown to assist him. If those learned Gentlemen would put aside their law and apply their common sense to the subject, they would feel as strongly about the Bill as he (Mr. Knowles) did. The result of passing the Bill would not be to the credit of the right hon. Gentleman. It would do no good to anybody, but would injure both employers and employed. If the Government refused a Select Committee, they would lose a golden opportunity. He believed that before such a Committee evidence could be given to satisfy them that an alternative scheme of insurance would be better, not only for the employers but for the employed. In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman moved—That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and that it he an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to consider whether efficient provision cannot he made for all persons injured during their employment, and for the widows and orphans of those killed by accident by an insurance fund contributed by masters and workmen, and whether the same would not be more beneficial to the workmen than the right of action proposed to be given by the Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the first Question to put to the House would be that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and the second part of the Amendment as to the Instructions to the Committee could afterwards be put if the Amendment was carried.
§ MR. KNOWLES
said, he would move it in any way consistent with the Rules of the House. He would, then, simply propose that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and if that proposal were assented to he should be happy to agree to any Instructions the Government might think right to give the Committee.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be referred to a Select Committee,"— (Mr. Knowles,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
supposed that there was no Member to whom the House would listen more willingly and patiently than to the hon. Member for Wigan who had just sat down; because it was within the knowledge of the House that the hon. Member was himself largely interested in the trade and in the industry of the country, had great practical acquaintance with this particular question, and a knowledge of the subject which the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. War-ton) candidly and honestly acknowledged that he did not possess; and, moreover, it was well known to many that his relations with his workpeople had always been of a most honourable nature. He was, however, somewhat in doubt whether the hon. Member was speaking against the Bill or was speaking against time. He could say, however, on behalf of the Government, that they had no right—and they certainly had no inclination—to complain of the fullest and most careful discussion of the measure. They knew very well that it touched great interests, and the trade of this country was so complicated that it was difficult at first sight, without very careful consideration, to see what was the exact incidence of a Bill of this kind, and to what degree the various interests might be affected by it. But 1765 he was bound to say that it appeared to him that the greatness of the interests concerned made the Representatives of those interests in the House altogether too timid. They had the hon. Member for Wigan telling them that it would render the great properties invested in mines and similar undertakings almost worthless. He could only say that if the hon. Gentleman could show that one-tenth of the accusations he brought forth were justified, he (Mr. Chamberlain) would be the first one to try and induce his Colleagues to withdraw the Bill from the House. Sidney Smith used to say that Consols were the greatest fools in Europe. He would not say that of the interests concerned; but he would say that whenever this question was touched they were always met by exaggerated apprehensions. The hon. Member had confessed, with regard to the Mines Regulation Act, that he and those who worked against the Bill had entertained exaggerated notions and apprehensions.
§ MR. KNOWLES
explained, that what he did say was that he objected to the crude Bill as it came into the House; but, after four years' discussion, it was made a different measure.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
was glad to hear that the Bill as it left the House was so satisfactory. That was the first time he had heard a mineowner say so. He knew very well that the hon. Member declared at the time that the Bill would be the ruin of the country, inasmuch as it would so hamper the home industries that their workmen and the employers would have no chance with competition abroad. The hon. Gentleman had said that this Bill was 20 times worse than the Mines Regulation Bill. Well, the extra cost thrown upon the mineowner under the Mines Regulation Act was 6d. per ton; some put it at 1s. It had been estimated that the extra cost to the mineowner under this Bill would be ¼d. per ton, or l–24th of the liability imposed by the Mines Regulation Act. He was right in reminding the House that the same objections were taken to the Factory Acts when they were first brought before the House; and he might quote some expressions of opinion in reference to legislation with regard to the merchant shipping, and also for the security of the public on railways. They knew, however, that 1766 those industries had not suffered, but had gone on developing and improving; and he ventured to think that it would be so in the interests now represented to be in such a state of alarm by the hon. Member for Wigan. He thought they must say that the discussion on this measure, protracted as it was, cleared the ground and paved the way for further progress. They were able to estimate the objections taken to the Bill, together with the alternatives proposed for the acceptance of the House. One thing was very marked, and that was that everybody agreed that something must be done, and that a clear case had been made out for an alteration of the law, and that the sooner the alteration was made the better would it be for all interests concerned. It had been made clear that the objections to the Bill were practically confined to two classes—the representatives of the railway interest in the first place, and of the mining interest in the second. The great bulk of the trading interests of the country were perfectly silent on the subject. ["No, no!"] Well, he had seen objections taken by the general trade of the country to the Bill known as that of the hon. Member for Hastings, but none to the Bill before the House. But the case for an alteration of the law was precisely the strongest in those two cases from which the greatest objections came. The agitation began in connection with the railway interest, and arose from that almost monstrous interpretation of the law which recognized as fellow-servants the working-man earning 80s. a week and the man drawing £2,000 or £3,000 a-year as general manager. They had been told on a previous occasion by the hon. Member for Wigan that there were, on the whole, 500,000 persons employed in the mining industries of this country, out of which number about 100,000 persons were annually killed or temporarily maimed annually by accident! So that, the whole of those so employed were killed or disabled every five years. There must be something wrong in the system under which such an enormous waste of human life and under which such an enormous amount of human suffering became possible, and a change might surely be able to remedy this state of things. The objections taken to the Bill were really to the original draft as it was 1767 introduced to the House and before the modifications, which were promised by the President of the Local Government Board in his opening speech, were made. No doubt, the original Bill created some exaggerated alarm; but the ground for this had been removed by the alterations. These alterations had all been indicated by his right hon. Friend in his opening speech, and, without affecting the main principle of the Bill, they were intended to define its application more clearly. The Government had limited the definition of the term "superintendent" until it came to be a person delegated with authority—a master or a person having others under his control, in contrast to persons employed in manual labour. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) had told them there was no principle in such a definition; but, for his part, he thought otherwise, as he felt confident there was a real distinction between persons in that position of authority, acting in lieu of the master, and for whom the master was expected to make himself almost personally liable, and in whose selection he must exercise particular care and attention, in contrast with the ordinary workman who could in no way exercise control. Then, they had made another modification, to which the hon. Member for Wigan had not alluded, which had a most important bearing on all the objections which had been urged against the Bill—they had limited the amount of liability. They had left no longer any room for extortionate demands; and what they had done was in the interest of the workman as well as of the employer. There was no longer any reason to expect any difficulty would arise from extortionate claims being made upon the employers. The alternative proposals made by the opponents of the Bill would, if accepted, impose much greater liability on the trade and industry of the country than was contemplated by the Bill itself as it now stood. Take, for instance, the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry. He had urged that the law could not be left as it now was, and that he was willing to accept the principle of the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), if he was granted certain concessions. Now, what were those concessions which the hon. and learned 1768 Member for Coventry said he was willing to adopt? The Bill which the hon. Member for Stafford introduced would make employers liable for acts of negligence of every workman in their employ. The hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. D. Davies), for instance, had 4,000 workmen in his employ; and, therefore, if the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford was introduced, the hon. Member for Cardiganshire would become liable for the acts of negligence of the whole of his 4,000 workmen, whereas the Bill before the House would only make the hon. Member liable for 50 out of the 4,000. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry asked that he should receive concessions limiting the compensation to £150, whereas the present proposal was three years' wages. The average wages of the county would not produce more than £200; and, therefore, all that the hon. and learned Member asked in return for raising the liability about 80 times was that damages should be reduced from £200 to £150. That was sufficient to show that hon. Members did not really understand the effect of the present Bill. Then, with respect to the alternative of "compulsory insurance," the hon. Member (Mr. Knowles) said he was willing to pay £1 for £1 paid by his workmen, and was willing that that should be not for accidents occasioned by negligence, but for all accidents to which workmen were liable. But he also said that the Bill did not deal with one-twentieth of those accidents. Thus, while he said the Bill was going to ruin all the mining industry of the Kingdom, he was willing to undertake a liability which could be proved authentically to be ten times greater than the liability which could be incurred under the Bill. Could those arguments be serious? Were they really presented with a view to acceptance by the House, or were they only put forward to delay the progress of the Bill? Of one thing he was certain. If their proposals were carried into effect, the persons whom they represented would say that the Government proposed to scourge with whips, but their Representatives proposed to scourge with scorpions. There was clearly an admitted grievance on the part of workmen, although the extent of that grievance was open to difference of opinion. 1769 Among the grievances which existed there was another which had not been considered, and that grievance was that there was a positive immunity granted to large employers as compared with smaller employers. [Mr. MACDONALD: Hear, hear!] If the smaller employer extended his business, and substituted for his own personal inspection that of managers, the workmen were left without any compensation from the manager in case of an accident, and so the employer, at present, escaped all liability. Now, if it was admitted such a grievance existed, surely it was wise to attempt to remedy it, and it was almost dangerous to meet much a grievance with the answer non possumus. Agitation continued, the House was stormed, and hasty legislation was the consequence, which was much more injurious to the interests involved than it would have been if the matter had been taken up in time. There were now before the House three separate proposals. First, there was the proposal of the hon. Member for Stafford, and, as they had been urged to speak frankly on the matter, his right hon. Friend said, in the plainest possible terms, that the Government were unable to accept the principle of that Bill. He was not quite sure that there was not some ground for difference between a stranger and a workman. A stranger was entirely outside the operations; a workman was, to a certain extent, a partner in an enterprize, and to a certain extent he might be called upon to share the risk. On this ground, and on the ground that a principle which would involve so indefinite a liability would interfere with trade and enterprize, they had found themselves unable to accept it. The hon. Member for Stafford had not been over anxious to press his conclusion, and he had written a letter in which he had pointed out the nature and extent of the grievance of the workman, and had suggested that it should be met by making answerable for negligence not only the employer, but all those exercising a delegated authority. That modified view of the case was the one which they had endeavoured to meet by the Bill. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Balfour) would also abolish the distinction between the workman and the stranger, and he would do it, not by elevating the workman to the position of the stranger, but 1770 by depressing the stranger to the position of the workman. He would lessen the existing liability of the employer, and would not extend it in the case of the workman. No one but the hon. Member had been bold enough to support his view. One effect of that would be that the Railway Companies would be relieved from liability in respect of accidents; and he did not think the public would travel in peace of mind if they knew that they were deprived of the security furnished by the fact that a Company would have to pay a heavy penalty for injury due to negligence. The third proposal was the Bill of the Government, and what, it did was to lessen a practical grievance. It was not possible to obtain finality in this or any matter; but if the Bill were passed the case for interference would be very much weaker than it was at present. Now, what real objection could be urged against the Bill as it now stood? The most serious was that urged by the hon. Member for Wigan—that it would encourage litigation. To lessen the risk of that the Government entreated the assistance of the House; and if there were any way in which the liability to litigation could be reduced, the Government would be glad to accept it. But the general argument was an argument against all concession of legal right, for, if there were no law, there would be no litigation. They could not have a legal remedy without opening the way to litigation. Whether, in practice, the amount of litigation would be as serious as was supposed he was inclined to doubt. One or two questions might arise; but as many decisions would settle them once for all. The probability of litigation had been immensely lessened, if not altogether removed, by the proposal to limit the maximum amount of compensation. The largest sum a workman could receive would not generally exceed £200, and in a vast number of cases it would be much less. No doubt, the employer would make an effort to come to some agreement; and as a sum of from £20 to £50 would represent the difference between the claim and the offer, it was not likely that sensible people on either side would waste the money that should go into the pocket of one party or the other. Whether the Bill would do anything to expose us still further to foreign 1771 competition, and how far it would do so, depended upon the amount of compensation; and when it was reduced to an amount which represented an average of a farthing per ton on every ton of coal raised, it could not be urged that that would seriously affect our ability to compete with foreign enterprize. This was not a new proposal; it would only restore the law to what it was before 1837. No doubt, the hon. and learned Member for Coventry would dispute that opinion; but it was abundantly endorsed. The hon. and learned Member would not dispute that the Government Bill would make the law less onerous to employers than was the law as laid down in Scotland previously to 1862; and it had not been shown that trade in Scotland had been hampered by a law much more stringent than that proposed. He also believed with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) that there was no doctrine similar to their own in any other country; as in Belgium, Germany, and Italy it was altogether unknown, and from Prance he had a letter stating that the number of accidents in Trench mines was very much less than in England. He would be very sorry, however, to lay much stress upon that statement, although it could not but show that no wrong would be likely to result if a similar principle of liability for negligence was adopted in this country. He might further say that the Government did not believe in the principle advocated of compulsory insurance, of which no practical proposal had yet been laid before the House; at the same time, they were willing to consider any Amendments designed to give practical shape to the suggestions which had been made with reference to insurance. He understood there had been a meeting of hon. Members who opposed the Bill, in order to see whether they could mature a scheme of insurance. He did not know whether they came to an agreement—[An hon. MEMBER: No.]— but he inferred they had not done so, because no Notice of an Amendment indicating such an agreement appeared on the Paper. A question would arise as to whether a scheme of insurance was to apply to all accidents, or only to those contemplated by the Bill. If it was to apply to all, the liability it would impose upon the trade of the country would be ten times 1772 greater than that proposed by the Bill. Then the question would arise—where was the House going to stop? If they were to have a system of compulsory thrift, why should they not adopt the scheme advocated by the Earl of Carnarvon in "another place?" He did not see any more reason for compelling a workman to insurance of this kind than he did for forcing every man to insure his house or his life. The proposal of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), that the master's contribution to an insurance fund or the sum thereby insured should be a set-off, was rather a complicated one; but, still, it was worth that consideration which could be given to it in Committee. He was afraid it was uncertain whether, by accepting this or any other proposal, they could conciliate ail opponents of the Bill; because many objections went much deeper than that there was no scheme of insurance, and, indeed, went to the principle of the measure altogether. There was no reason to believe that in a Select Committee the proposals would assume a more definite shape than they had done in the House; and he could not but look upon the suggestion of insurance as a dilatory plea, which would have the effect, although it might not have the intention, of stifling the Bill altogether. There was no reason to apprehend indefinite liability, because liability was carefully limited, and he did not see why it should not be met by a system of voluntary insurance. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wigan concluded his speech by an earnest appeal to the Government to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. In the first place, let him say that the matter had been inquired into in the most exhaustive way by a Committee three years ago, and on which Committee the hon. Member himself sat. What reason was there for supposing that anything new on the subject of compulsory insurance would be laid before a fresh Committee? The natural result of sending the Bill to a Select Committee would be to delay its progress. Besides, he thought a Select Committee was not the proper tribunal to whom to refer it. They were not dealing with mines and railways only, but with various other interests also, which could not be represented on a Select Committee, and were likely to be represented on a Committee of the 1773 Whole House. He had already said that the hon. Member for Wigan had frankly admitted that the effect of referring the Bill to a Select Committee would be to make legislation impossible this Session. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry had said he would use his best endeavours to secure an immediate Report, so that they might proceed in the present Session. But the hon. and learned Baronet knew that he could not necessarily control the action of those who might happen to be his Colleagues. It was perfectly absurd to suppose that if the Bill were referred to a Select Committee the result would be other than he had described. If that were so they would have an agitation, because this was a question which interested a great number of people. The hon. Member for Wigan had spoken about a great number of Petitions having been presented against the Bill. Did the hon. Gentleman recollect that there had been a much larger number presented in favour of the Bill, and that it would be much easier to get a great number of signatures in favour of the Bill than against it? On the one hand, they had the almost unanimous opinion of the working classes of the country in favour of the Bill; and on the other hand, they had a more or less divided opinion on the part of the employers. He did not say that the Bill was perfect; but the Government were ready to come to the consideration of Amendments in Committee with a frank and open mind. He trusted that they would be allowed to make progress. A Select Committee was a natural resource of a Government that did not want to legislate, and of a Parliament that was weary of legislation. This Government or this Parliament was not yet tired of legislation. If Parliament would approach the question with a hearty goodwill they might settle it, at all events, for a time, and they might remove great injustices and glaring irregularities, and make a real contribution to the contentment and also to the security of the working population.
§ MR. SCHREIBER,
who had given Notice of an Amendment that the House should go into Committee on the Bill that day three months, said: Sir, Her Majesty's Government, I am certain, will not complain of any amount of discussion which this measure may receive. 1774 First, because this particular Bill has never had a second reading; and next, because, as has been already seen, discussion helps the Government to understand the consequences of its own proposals. Now, Sir, when this question was first brought under the notice of this House, we were told, in peremptory tones, that "it was time we made up our minds and passed a Bill." It will hardly be believed that when a Member of the Government went so far as to address that language to the House of Commons, the Government itself had not performed the preliminary exercise of making up its own mind, as is shown in the altered provisions of the re-committed Bill before us. Well, then, after the very interesting and instructive debate of last Friday on the Bill, I cannot deny myself the hope that fresh light may again have broken on the minds of Her Majesty's Ministers. For example, there was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson), who never addresses this House without instructing it, and who is always so sensible that, if I did not know he was an eminent lawyer, I should have thought he was a layman. Well, the hon. and learned Gentleman pleaded—and pleaded passionately—for three things. First, that the Bill should go to a Select Committee; next, that a maximum amount, say, of £100, should be named for compensation in the Bill; thirdly, that the principle of mutual assurance should receive recognition in the Bill. His prayer was, at the time, refused; and if, having considered the matter in the interval, Her Majesty's Ministers still persist in that refusal, I see nothing for it but to labour with the same persistence for the rejection of the Bill. My first objection, Sir, to this Bill is founded upon considerations of time. We are still too near to the late General Election. We ought to wait till that event has receded further into the distance, and we are able to legislate in colder blood. Brought forward at this juncture, the measure has too much the appearance of a "bill" drawn upon the capitalists of the country to pay an electioneering debt. Further, if, in the present state of Public Business and at this period of the Session it is impossible to make a good measure of this Bill, then every hour spent upon it will be an hour wasted. But, Sir, I go 1775 further, and I say that whatever the state of Public Business, whatever the period of the Session, and whatever the time at our command, we shall never be able to make a good measure of this Bill. For what is its real character? It is a Bill, Sir, to harass the employer, to multiply accidents, to vex capital, to reduce wages, and, generally, to "kill the goose which lays the golden eggs." It is, then, a Bill most strongly to be resisted in the interests of the very class who have forced this question to the front. Now, I do not know, Sir, what pledges hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House may have given to their constituents; but I gave none on this, or any other question, unless, indeed, it were that I would do my best to prevent the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government from ruining the great interests of the country, and which pledge I now discharge by my opposition to this Bill. What, then, is the position of the employer? His interests and the requirements of the existing law already impose upon him extreme carefulness in the prevention of accidents, which have their most fertile source in the carelessness of the men. And what does this Bill do? It extends the liability of the employer by setting up a division and sub-division of delegated authority; it increases his risks by tending to make the men less careful; and, having extended his liability and increased his risks, it subjects him to heavy fines, levied under these new and most inequitable conditions. Now, Sir, that the liability of the employer will be increased by the delegation and sub-delegation of authority is evident already; that the workman will be made less careful is not, perhaps, so apparent; but what other effect can the knowledge have than that, in the event of an accident, he or his representatives will be compensated out of the employer's pocket? And this is not the only way. The Bill, if it is to come into general operation, will be fatal to the system of mutual insurance, which is the best security for increased carefulness, by making it the interest of each man to keep a watch upon his fellow. This Bill, Sir, and mutual insurance are alternatives which exclude each other. If this Bill is to prevail it will be fatal to mutual insurance, which is educating the workman in providence and carefulness. If 1776 mutual insurance is to prevail, why are we wasting our time upon this Bill on this, the 6th of July? And now, a few words with respect to the real bone of contention—the payment of compensation. I shall be told that if almost all accidents have their origin in the carelessness of the workmen, the employer has only to prove it and he will not be fined. But how is he to prove it, when all the witnesses are retained on the other side? Besides, I dare say that to the Law Officers of the Crown, who spend their lives in the extatic contemplation of interminable law-suits, nothing seems so natural, or even agreeable, as that an employer should carry his workmen into the County Court; but I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the relations which now obtain between the best of masters and their men are so strained and difficult that it only requires the able assistance of a few local attorneys to make them altogether impossible. In this matter, Sir, no greater evil can befall the men than to hand them over to that parasite of their class, the pettyfogging attorney. Well, then, is the employer the person who ought to bear this fine? The Government will say, of course, he is; but this Government displays a wonderful aptitude for being liberal with other people's money, and strongly reminds me of the man in Sydney Smith's story, who was so moved with a charity sermon that he emptied both his neighbour's pockets into the plate. For myself, I shall think that the equities of the question are better understood when I hear what compensation the State offers to an employer in the event of his stock, his plant, his mine, his property being injured by an accident having its origin in the carelessness of the men. Can, then, employers bear this fine? In the present state of trade they cannot. With one conspicuous exception, better known to me than to any hon. Member of this House, but well known to many hon. Members of this House, the ironmasters of South Wales, during the late depression of trade, closed their works rather than continue an unprofitable manufacture. Since this Government was formed we have had again a heavy fall in the prices of coal and iron. Let these gentlemen once think that the Government proposes to lay upon them burdens greater than they can bear, and they 1777 may close their works again—this time without the conspicuous exception. And if they do I would have the Prime Minister look to it, for he will hardly realize his Estimates of Customs and Excise. That, Sir, would be a wholesome lesson, and would teach the right hon. Gentleman the obligations of the State to those great pioneers of industry, whose capital must be profitably employed if the taxes are to be paid. Once more, Sir, from what fund is the employer to take this fine? If out of the labour fund of the employed, wages must fall. If, as I think more accurate, out of the pockets of the consumers, prices must rise, and we shall lose our markets. In either case this Bill should be opposed, not so much on behalf of the employer whom it fines, as of the workman whom it will ruin. And now, Sir, a few words as to the "muddle" into which all Public Business is getting—this Bill included. It is due to the utter incapacity of Her Majesty's Government to understand the House of Commons, or their un willing-ness to take this House into their confidence. Three measures are now before us which this House detests. I need not name them; but this is one of them. Between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary there would seem to be a division of labour and a distribution of parts. The latter threatens the House of Commons, and the former coerces his own majority. But Party allegiance may be strained until it snaps; and to threaten this House is the surest way to stop all legislation. Let me recall the experience of 1866, when we deposed a Minister who threatened us, and changed a Government rather than pass a Bill which we disliked. And let me invite the right hon. Gentleman to take some account of the wishes of his faithful followers, and of the stubborn resistance of his opponents, and allow this Bill to go to a Select Committee.
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
thought this was a question on which they ought to attach weight to the opinion of those who knew something about the relations between employers and employed. In the speeches which had been delivered he failed to find any justification for the legislation which was now being proposed. The President of the Board of Trade alluded very slightly to the Select Committee which investigated this question. He did not 1778 wonder at this, because the Report of the Committee was wholly adverse to the lines laid down in this Bill. The Committee reported that no case had been made out for any alteration of the law relating to the liability of employers to their workmen for injury in the course of their employment except in three cases —that of Corporations, that of employers who delegated their authority, and that of contractors, whose men were considered not to be in common employment with those who were engaged in similar work in the same place. With these exceptions, the Committee stated that no case was made out for legislation; and yet the Government were now proposing, on their own Motion, and, as he thought without justification, to alter the existing law on wholly different principles. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to think the law had been altered in 1837; but that was not the opinion of the Committee. He wanted to know what justification there was for the Government, without any investigation, coming forward and proposing this tremendous alteration of the law? They adopted the crude measure of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey); but, immediately after throwing it on the Table, they saw the necessity of taking it back and introducing into it material alterations. The President of the Board of Trade had said that those who asked that the matter should be duly considered put forward a dilatory plea. He denied altogether that such was the case. He was not in the House when the Home Secretary characterized those who proposed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee as "ringleaders," and he was glad he was not present. This was a very grave question. They were dealing with the whole of the industries of this great country, introducing new relations between employers and employed in opposition to the Report of a strong Committee; and were those who asked for further consideration to be told they were putting forward a "dilatory plea," and to be called "ringleaders" in preventing legislation for the good of the working classes? He denied that they were taking any course but what would be beneficial to the working classes. His impression, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, was that he did not see the full extent 1779 to which the present liability of employers would be extended. By the 3rd section, even as modified, if a man were injured through the negligence of another who had any authority delegated to him, the owner was to be liable for the negligence of one over whom he had not the slightest control. He went the entire length of the Committee which reported to the House, and would go further. The person selected by the master to superintend might be regarded as representing the master, and the master ought to be held responsible for negligence on his part. But how to define "agency" was one of the most difficult points which could be conceived. Anyone who had experience of Election Petitions would understand that, and it was still more difficult to define agency in the case of mines. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last spoke lightly of the crop of litigation to which this Bill would give rise; but that was what he (Mr. Hussey Vivian) most objected to. That was a consideration which might recommend the measure to the favour of the lawyers, who lived by litigation, but not to him, who regarded litigation with horror and detestation. He had had a long business life, and throughout the whole of his career had looked upon litigation as something horrible; but that was not the lawyer's view of it, nor was it to be expected that he should regard his bread and butter with horror. A lawyer, therefore, was not a proper judge of the propriety of passing a law likely to entail endless litigation between employers and workmen, nor was he capable of pronouncing a sound opinion upon it; and when he interfered between them and their workmen, and caused serious questions to arise between them, then he (Mr. Hussey Vivian) must deprecate and dissent from such legislation. It had been pointed out by the Member for Stafford that an employer would be bound to prove that the injury was not caused by the act of his agent. But a master must do his best to uphold his agent, otherwise his influence over the workmen would be destroyed. He hoped it would not be supposed that he desired to escape any pecuniary liability which he ought properly to come under; but he strongly objected to the indefinite character of the liability which was likely to be created by this Bill. The Bill proposed that the 1780 injured man was to be compensated at the rate of three years' earnings. How were they to define three years' earnings? He had known wages to change to the extent of 100 per cent. If the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) were adopted, then they would have something to go upon as to what their utmost liability would be, and they might provide against it by means of insurance. It constantly happened that men exhausted their capital in opening mines; little was required to carry them on afterwards. Under this Bill such men might be absolutely ruined. The Government were acting without investigation, and with very little knowledge of the subject. The community of feeling between employer and employed was of a sacred character, and cognate with the relations of a family; and unless master and man pulled heartily together success would not be attained. They must not suppose that any man would be so inhuman as wilfully to endanger life. To allege that this Bill would prevent casualties was to allege a thing that would not hold water for a moment. Speaking for himself, he could say the most bitter moments of his life were those in which he witnessed the fearful results of an explosion in one of his own pits, and saw the unfortunate men carried off in their coffins. Whenever such a calamity occurred, the owners were ready of their own accord to do ten times as much for the relief of the afflicted as this Bill sought to impose upon them. It was not the question of pecuniary compensation they objected to, but the sowing of discord. He did not think sufficient consideration had been given to the question of insurance. A contribution of, perhaps, ½ per cent of the wages, met by an adequate contribution from employers, would be sufficient to deal with all accidents. There would be no difficulty in dealing with individuals, and less in dealing with districts, the fund being managed by the workmen themselves. Already one-fourth of the colliers of the country, or 120,000, were embraced in existing insurance arrangements; and, if one-fourth, why not all? The Government had a golden opportunity of accepting a provision of this kind. The masters were ready to come forward and to assist handsomely in such a scheme; the lessors of mines were as much in- 1781 terested as the lessees, and probably would assist also. This was a paltry Bill, because it would deal with only one-tenth of the accidents that occurred, and it would probably waste in litigation more than it would secure for the injured. Was it to promote discord and yet to provide for only 10 per cent of the accidents, that Government desired to legislate? To do so little and to create such difficulties, was not worthy of a strong Government like the present. If the Government would take up the subject comprehensively, they would find their supporters united; but if they persisted with this Bill, they would be endeavouring to force upon their supporters a measure distasteful to them in order to reverse the legal precedents of centuries that had come down to this country from the time of the Romans. Supposing the House went into Committee, every clause would be fought; and, by-and-bye, the Bill would go to "another place" with all the marks of a battle-field in a civil war, strewn with the corpses of friends and brethren. For these reasons, he urged that it should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
thought it would be better to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but not for the reasons just urged. He took it that, in the main, they must start with the assumption that the law in regard to common employment must be altered; and the only question really was whether the Bill carried out that alteration. The difficulty in regard to a scheme of national insurance was to make it sufficiently far-reaching to comprise all branches of the community. He remembered a case in which a painter was injured by being knocked off a ladder by a railway servant moving a turntable, and, although they were strangers, they were held to be in the same employment. In the same way, the guard of a train starting from York might be held to be in the same employment as a pointsman in London, and the guard could not obtain compensation for an accident caused by the pointsman. He thought an alteration of the law was imperatively called for, and the only doubt which he had was whether the Bill efficiently carried out that alteration. He could not admit that the alteration of the technical rule of law was inconsistent with the Report 1782 of the Committee. The unreasonableness of the rule had become more urgent in modern times through the multiplication of great Companies, in which there was no individual master to be negligent. He should be disposed to affirm that where there was a person who represented the master, although he had no pecuniary interest, yet, if intrusted with authority, he should be held responsible. As the Bill was drawn, it left a question much wider than that to be disposed of. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down seemed to entertain a very low opinion of lawyers, for he regarded them more in the phase of instigators of litigation than in the phase in which they more frequently appeared— that of dissuading their clients from engaging in litigation. It was they who, in the exercise of their profession, saw the injustice of such laws as this, and were most anxious to have that injustice done away with. The true view should be to consider the principle of the Bill as established, and that then the Bill should go to a Select Committee—not to inquire into the principle as to whether there should be an alteration of the law, but as to its operative completion. If they insisted upon the Bill going forward in its present form, there would not be time to pass it.
§ MR. WIGGIN
supported the Amendment. He had a short time since attended a meeting in Birmingham of over 200 large employers of labour, and they passed a resolution to the effect that it was very desirable that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, in order that its provisions might be carefully considered, and calling on their Representatives in Parliament to vote for a proposal to that effect. That feeling was not confined to the employers in the Midland Counties, but extended to the whole country and to Scotland, because the opinion prevailed that the Bill was being pressed on with undue haste, and that it ought not to become law without being fully inquired into. He trusted that the Government would yield on this matter, and that the Bill would return from the Select Committee so amended that he could give it his cordial support.
§ MR. M'INTYRE
said, he thought that an employer of labour ought to stand in the same position towards those he employed as he did towards the out- 1783 side world, and ought to be equally responsible in case of accident in the one case as in the other. The workman had no opportunity of selecting his fellow-workmen, and the negligence of his fellow-workmen, through which he was injured, ought to be held to be injury by his employer. He submitted that there was no ground for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, and that there was nothing in question which could not be arranged in Committee of the House. He contended, also, that the Bill was in strict accord with the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1871.
said, he wished to represent respectfully to the House that they had arrived at a point when they were perfectly ripe for a decision. The question before them was not the whole matter that was involved in this very important Bill, but the comparatively simple and narrow question whether the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Hardinge Gif-fard) had given his reasons with great brevity and simplicity for thinking that that course ought to be adopted; but, whether hon. Members leaned to the affirmative or to the negative, he put it to the House, as men of business, that the time had arrived when they were ripe for deciding the matter. The subject, he would almost say, hardly admitted of extended debate, for what were the principal pleas that had been put forward? Some hon. Members had spoken in support of the proposal for a Select Committee, but with a frank avowal that they were opposed to the principle of the Bill, and they desired to promote whatever was likely to avert its enactment. Those Gentlemen were, undoubtedly, the minority of the House. The great majority of those who were friendly to a Select Committee, and of those who deprecated such a reference, were, however, agreed in the admission, like the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that an alteration in the law was desirable, and that it ought to be brought about with every possible despatch. Setting aside those who were opposed entirely to the principle of the Bill, he thought there were two classes of persons, two kinds of reasons, to be considered in favour of the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Some 1784 hon. Gentlemen thought that the reason was to be found in pointing to a proposition like that contained in the 3rd clause, which fixed a certain number of years passed in employment, and the wages received in those years, as the rule for determining the maximum of compensation that was to be paid, and urged that that was not a good principle, but that a sum of money should be substituted. That might be, or it might not be—he did not give any opinion on the point at present. It was a question, however, which would be considered with the greatest advantage in Committee of the the Whole House. Moreover, that was a question which, if considered by a Select Committee, could only be decided there on the same class of considerations that would present themselves to the minds of every Member of that House; and if it were so considered and decided, the probability was that the Bill would come back again only to promote renewed discussion. He ventured to add that not only would they gain nothing by the reference to the Committee upstairs, but that they would lose a great deal. Much more thorough and varied light would be thrown upon the Bill when discussed in the House than it would be if the work were undertaken by a number of Gentleman sitting in Committee round a table. But the real argument, after all, which had been advanced in favour of referring the measure to a Select Committee, was the one which seemed to be the most conclusive against the adoption of that course. He referred to the argument that a scheme of general and, perhaps, compulsory insurance ought to be embodied in the Bill. Her Majesty's Government had no disinclination whatever to see the voluntary principle, with all the advantages which belonged to it, applied to the great object of compensation for accidents; but before being disposed to allow the fate of the Bill, so far as it depended on them, to rest on the introduction into it of a plan of that kind, they must ask themselves, as men of business, the question whether those who put forward that proposition, and were so anxious for its adoption, were themselves prepared with a plan which might be carried into effect? Now, on the contrary, there were no elements of that description. It was now five weeks since he had the honour of receiving a deputation, to which an hon. Friend 1785 behind him had referred. There were assembled at that deputation a very large number, not only of persons of the highest influence, but of the ablest men of business to be found in this country; and among those men of business was Mr. Baxter, and there was not an abler man, as far as he knew, to be found among them, and there were many of those men of business who proposed the recommendation of such a plan. But this was an abstract recommendation, and not anything like a practical scheme. It was accompanied by an intimation on the part of some that the thing might be done, and by others with expressions of misgiving and doubt whether it could be done, and with an avowal that it would be a very good thing if it could be done. Now he begged to state, with very great respect, that these were not the kind of proposals that ought to be referred to a Select Committee. In order to justify a number of Members of that House taking into their hands a consideration of that kind, it ought to be already in the shape of a practical project, framed by men of considerable authority and practical experience, instead of being, as it was, a project altogether in the air. They were far more likely to create a method of insurance against accidents if they passed this Bill, and then applied in that manner a spur to the able and vigorous intellects of the Gentlemen who had brought up the subject, than if they referred it to a Committee. As far as the Government were concerned, much as they wished that a plan of that kind should be tried, much as the Government conceived that when they were freely and voluntarily adopted between masters and workmen they were the best of any schemes that could be devised under general liability enacted by Act of Parliament, yet they could not but say that this argument as it stood was an argument against, and not for, reference to a Committee. There was another motive which weighed very much with him in thinking that they would be doing unwisely by referring the Bill to a Committee. The working men of this country were happily, to a certain extent, directly represented in that House, and they were morally and indirectly represented to a much larger extent by the intelligence and philanthropy of many Members, among whom were many great employers of labour; 1786 but their direct representation being small, it was natural that they should view, partly, indeed, with confidence, and partly, also, with jealousy, a reference of the Bill to a Committee upstairs. To conduct an investigation with closed doors would be far less likely to carry the confidence of the working men of the country than if, in open Committee, they gave up all the time that was necessary for a careful and patient consideration of every practical proposal that might be made. For these reasons he hoped the House would decline to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and that it would be able to arrive at a decision that evening.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, he was strongly convinced, notwithstanding the speech of the Prime Minister to the contrary, that the Bill should go to a Select Committee. The Mines Regulation Bill was rejected because the House was anxious that it should come before them in a more complete shape, as it eventually did, after being referred to what was practically a Select Committee; and he maintained that the two cases were similar. They objected, not as the Prime Minister seemed to imagine, to the 3rd clause of the Bill, but to the 3rd sub-section of the 1st clause, which had no limit in it whatever, and which made a master liable for the negligence of any person in his service to whose orders a workman was bound to conform or did conform. In conclusion, the hon. and learned Member expressed his profound regret at finding that the Government intended to press forward the Bill in its present crude condition.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
wished to know whether, in the event of this Bill going into Committee, the Government would be prepared to introduce, or to favour the introduction of, a measure on the question of a general assurance against those casualties of life which were attached to our industries, and to put an end to the Bill now before the House, provided that hereafter a measure relating to insurance was passed?
replied, that if a well-considered plan of insurance were submitted to the House in Committee, it would be the duty of the Government to give full consideration to the subject.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: — Ayes 259; Noes 130: Majority 129.—(Div. List, No. 43.)
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ It being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this day.