§ Order for Second Beading read.
in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, reminded the House that the present state of the law was that a man should be liable for injuries to another that resulted from his own personal negligence. An employer was also liable for injuries inflicted upon a third party, being a member of the public, by a man in his employment in the course of that employment. That law in regard to injury inflicted upon a third party was enunciated by the Judges in the time of Charles II. Further than that, however, the employer was not liable for injury inflicted by his employé on a third party, where that third party was a man also in his 1086 employment. This latter law was founded on two assumptions. One was that a man working with another had opportunities of knowing the qualifications and disposition of his fellow-workmen, and therefore of protecting himself against any negligence on his part. Another reason assigned was, that a workman accepted the risks naturally incident to the employment entered upon, among which must be taken to be the incompetence of his fellow-workmen. It was in 1837 tat the law first took that shape, in a case in which the two men concerned were equals in the employment of their master, or nearly so. Gradually since that time the defence of "common employment" to claimsagainst employers had been expounded in a series of judicial decisions, till it had come to be held that every man in the employment of a particular master was the fellow-workman of every other man in the same employment, no matter what their respective positions or their respective functions might be. The result of those decisions by the Judges was that the law had been brought to this state—that the workman had no claim at all against the master for compensation unless he could prove negligence on the part of the master himself. In the case of large industries where the master stood altogether too remote from the workmen, or where the master did not himself exercise the functions of an employer at all, the workman was left without anyone against whom, even in cases of negligence, he could enforce a claim, for compensation. The Scotch Judges, after the doctrine of common employment had been enunciated by the English Judges in 1837, appeared for some time to have refused to recognize it at all as a part of Scotch law, and when by the English decisions they were forced to adopt the doctrine of common employment, they still struggled to keep it within limits, for the Scotch Judges in repeated decisions, where a workman claimed compensation from his employers for injuries which he had suffered at the hands of another man in the same service, had regard in deciding the case to the equality or inequality of the two men in the same service, and did not recognize the superior servant as a fellow-workman for that purpose. Moreover, the Scotch Judges in their decisions limited the doctrine of common employ- 1087 ment by distinguishing between servants employed in different departments, and who, although they might be serving the same master, were yet really not working together in common. Gradually, by several appeals which were carried up from the Scotch Courts to the House of Lords, the decisions of the Scotch Judges were overruled. The House of Lords took the view of the law taken by the English Judges; but it was not till so recently as 1867 that by a final decision on appeal to the House of Lords the view of the Scotch Judges was overruled, and the Scotch law was held to be identical in regard to common employment with that large and developed view which had been in the meantime arrived at by the English Judges. That gradual development of the defence of common employment, and the full stage which it had at length reached, both in Scotland and England, had given rise to a considerable sense of wrong on the part of large classes of workmen. They complained that their claim for compensation was now absolutely reduced to cases in which they could prove personal negligence against the master. The law resulted in this anomaly—that if a man was working in a small undertaking in which, as it were, he was in contact with, and received orders from, his master, he, at all events, might have a person against whom he might establish a claim for compensation; but if he happened to be employed in a large undertaking, in the management of which the master personally took no part, he was absolutely without remedy, although lie might be acting under the orders of a man who was, to all intents and purposes, master. It was held, moreover, that men were fellow-workmen who had no community or vicinity of work, and who might be absolutely unknown to each other. In fact, as the law stood, common employment might be defined as simply service under the same master. It was not surprising, under these circumstances, that a cry for redress should have arisen on the part of a considerable number of workmen. Various suggestions for dealing with the law as between employer and employed were made. Some people said—"Sweep away all liability on the part of a master for injuries inflicted by men in his employ on any third person, and let him be responsible only for his own personal 1088 negligence." Others, on the contrary, said—"Sweep away the non-liability of the master for injury to a third party in all cases, although that third party may be in his own employment." Both these positions had the advantage of being simple, intelligible, and, in the eyes of their respective advocates, logical; but he believed most Members of that House would feel that, having regard to our present circumstances and habits, they were not practical, and would not in the present day be accepted as equitable. Anyone injured by a person in the employ of another would hardly be content to be told—"You have a remedy against the servant, who presumably cannot pay you compensation; but not against the master, who presumably can." Again, it would be felt that to make a master indiscriminately and unconditionally responsible for the act of anyone among, perhaps, 100 or even 1,000 workmen in his employ, whom he himself could not possibly know or control, would be to impose on him an unreasonable and, in some cases, an intolerable burden. The Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government took a viâ media between those two extreme proposals. It provided that a master should be held responsible, not only for his own personal negligence, but that he should be responsible to third parties in his employment, if they suffered injury through the negligence of persons to whom he deputed the exercise of his own powers as a master instead of carrying them out himself. Accordingly, if hon. Members would look at the Bill, they would find that the 1st clause made the master liable to have claims of compensation brought against him by a workman in his employment by reason of defective works, machinery, or plant. The master now was only liable for injury inflicted upon a workman by defective machinery if the workman could show, first of all, that there was a defect; and, secondly, that the master had personal knowledge of, and was negligent of, the defect. The master, also, escaped from compensation if he could show that the workman, by silence or otherwise, acquiesced in the defect. It was provided, however, by the Bill, that a workman should be entitled to claim compensation on proving the existence of a defect or preventable fault in the machinery, although that defect could not 1089 be brought home to the personal negligence of the master. Further, the Bill provided that a master should be liable for the negligence of any person in his service who had superintendence intrusted to him. This clause would be applicable to overseers to whom the master deputed his authority to see that the men did their work. Again, a master would be liable for injury arising from the negligence of a person in his service to whose orders and directions the workman injured was bound to conform. It was proposed, further, that a claim might be made for compensation against a master for the act or omission of any person done or made in obedience to the rules or bye-laws of the employer; in fact, for faulty bye-laws or rules. Moreover, a master would be liable to a claim for compensation for injury caused by an act or omission done or made in obedience to instructions given by any person to whom the authority of the master in that behalf was delegated. These were the five cases in which the 1st clause of the Bill extended the liabilities of masters. There was also this Proviso—Provided always that a workman do not materially contribute by his own negligence to the cause of the injury.The principle of the Bill was the restriction of the defence of common employment, and the effect of the measure would be to bring back the law to what it was understood to be in England till 1837, when the case of "Priestly v. Fowler" was decided, and to bring it back in Scotland to the position in which it was understood to be so recently as 1867. This was the principle which, in a different degree, had been recommended by the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, and it was also recommended in no less than three special rival Reports submitted by Members of the Select Committee of that House on Employers' Liabilities in 1876–7. Her Majesty's Government, thinking this was a sound principle, examined the various Bills on the subject that had been submitted to this or the other House of Parliament. They found that the Bill introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) in 1879 was based on this principle, and that it substantially embodied their views on the subject. Accordingly they determined to submit that Bill to the House. 1090 Incidentally, the adoption of the Bill had this advantage—it was a measure whose provisions had already been before the House and the country, and it had gained in principle a very large amount of support. Notice had been given by an hon. Member of his intention to connect with this question the question of insurance. He wished to point out that the Bill dealt with accidents to a workman occasioned by the personal negligence of his master or the negligence of those to whom the master deputed his authority. Outside the limits of the Bill there remained the vast majority of accidents, such as those arising from a workman's own fault, and those which were caused to a workman by the fault of other workmen equal in rank to himself. Outside the Bill remained all accidents that were unavoidable or unaccountable, and such as were the act of God. He had yesterday been present with the Prime Minister at the reception of a deputation of railway and other workmen, and it had been stated by a railway man on that occasion that from a statement of the directors nine-tenths of the accidents on railways were due to the fault of the men themselves. If that were the case, the directors of railways need not feel any extraordinary alarm at the burden which was likely to be cast upon them under that Bill. It was the view of a considerable number of masters that they should be answerable only for accidents caused by their own negligence; but it was also the view of a considerable number that it was a sound principle that the master should also be liable for the neglect of those to whom he deputed his authority of master, instead of exercising it himself. With regard to the question of insurance, it seemed to him that it was wholly distinct from the subject-matter of the Bill, which simply raised the question whether the liability of a master for acts caused by his own negligence ought to be further extended. The Bill only proposed compensation for accidents of that kind. There remained for insurance all that larger field of accidents unaccounted for or unavoidable, and those arising from the neglect of workmen of equal rank towards each other. He had heard the objection made, and possibly it might be started again in the course of this discussion, that the knowledge which the workman 1091 would obtain that he could claim compensation for injury would render him more neglectful, and that appeared to him to be an imaginary objection. No doubt, there were many workmen who were "daredevil" people and careless of their own lives; but he did not think such men would be rendered more reckless and anxious to endanger their lives because of the knowledge that they could claim compensation. If that argument was sound, it would act equally if the principles of insurance were adopted. Then it might be said that the Bill would lead to a great amount of litigation. In anticipation of that objection he would venture to say this—that litigation might be a bad thing in itself; but surely if the existing law was considered to be unjust, it was no valid reason against providing a remedy that there might be additional litigation. But he was not aware that litigation was specially abundant 30 or 35 years ago in the Law Courts, before the law had been brought to its present state; because, in the vast majority of cases, if the workman had a legal claim to compensation, it would probably be arranged between himself and his master without recourse to the Law Courts at all. At all events, if a change of the law led to a certain amount of additional cases being brought into Court at first until decisions had been obtained under the new law, that would only be a passing multiplication of the cases, and it would not be a proper argument against any alteration of the law. Nor could he attach any importance to another objection that he anticipated—the argument, namely, that the Bill, if carried, would be a terror to the capitalist; that he would be afraid to enter on industrial enterprize; that capital would be withdrawn from industry; and that the working classes would thereby suffer. He would wish to point out that the great industries of this country grew up before the doctrine of common employment was laid down, and industry had not been checked by the then state of the law. In Scotland those industries grew up and continued to flourish, although the modern doctrine of common employment had not been applicable to Scotland in its full development until the last 13 years. It might, perhaps, be further alleged that the Bill would place an additional burden on British industry in its competition with foreign indus- 1092 tries. In answer to that argument, he might refer the House to the laws of France, Germany, and Italy. In these countries the master was liable for compensation to his work-people to at least the extent, if not to a greater extent, than was proposed by this Bill. He believed that the Belgian law also was similar in principle. Then, again, he might be told that that which this Bill proposed to effect in giving the workman a legal claim to compensation was now already done by every fair-minded and liberal employer. Well, he was glad to think that that was the case, and he was willing to believe that the large majority of the employers of this country were so liberal-minded as to deal justly with their workpeople if they had suffered an accident while in their employment. Then the effect of this Bill would be simply to give the workman a legal title to that which he now received only as a bounty at the hands of his employers. He would occupy no more of the time of the House than was necessary, and had endeavoured to compress his introduction of the Bill as far as possible. He hoped the House would be willing to affirm the principle involved in the Bill by reading it a second time, and when they got into Committee he should not object to agree to such Amendments as might be thought necessary to render the provisions of the measure more clear. Nor should he object to the introduction of modifications if, after due consideration, such should be considered advisable. Before sitting down he must repeat that it appeared to him that the question of insurance was one perfectly distinct from the principle raised in this Bill, and that to mix up the two questions would simply be to impede the progress of both and to lead to a considerable amount of confusion and difficulty in our legislation. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodson.)
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
thought the better course would be that they should not debate this Bill on its merits until they knew precisely the course which the Government proposed to pursue. There would probably be a general concurrence in the principle that some al- 1093 teration of the law was required, and as the second reading would pledge them no further than that, it would be premature to raise a debate on the details of the question. He therefore regretted that his right hon. Friend had entered into detail; and he very much regretted indeed that his right hon. Friend did not at present see his way to incorporate the principle of insurance in the Bill. The Bill was to be committed pro forma. That meant that the Government would introduce extensive alterations. Under these circumstances, they must reserve to themselves the right of taking the course they deemed best on becoming aware of the effect of the new proposals. He sincerely trusted that the Government would introduce some scheme of insurance into the Bill. He assured the Government, in the interest of all concerned, they would cover the whole ground, or nearly so, if they dealt boldly with the question of insurance. As the matter stood, he almost doubted whether his right hon. Friend understood the scope of the Bill he introduced, as he appeared not fully to apprehend the liability of employers in regard to accidents arising from negligence as the Jaw now stood. He should not go further into the matter now; but he earnestly said this—if the Bill covered a large space, it was a very dangerous Bill, and must be carefully considered; and if it covered, as his right hon. Friend believed, only a small space, it would be more to the credit of the Government and to the interest of all parties that the Bill should be made to cover the whole question of compensating men for all accidents of every kind whatever. Of course, it was well known that for one accident arising from the negligence of the employer or his agents, ten occurred that did not come within that category. Masters were prepared to come forward and meet the men; a large number of masters would be prepared to contribute pound for pound with the men in order to provide funds for the sufferers by accidents of every land. He thought the Government would throw away a golden opportunity if they did not seize the present moment to deal with the question before irritation ensued in consequence of the passing of this Bill. His right hon. Friend did not seem to attach much importance to that; but it was a point of very great importance.
§ MR. KNOWLES
I do not think -we can improve an unjust law by extending it. The Bill of the Government is one of very serious importance to employers and workmen and the widows and orphans of workmen. The late Government saw very great difficulties in the way of extending the present law, and hence the question was referred to a Committee of the other House just before the Dissolution. I cannot see anything unreasonable in asking the Prime Minister to follow in the footsteps of the late Government on this question, in order to see how far it would be safe to extend the present law, or whether an alternative scheme of insurance would not cover the whole ground better. I cannot but look upon the proposal of the Government as one that would be dangerous not only to the interests of those engaged in large commercial undertakings, but to the workmen. I can view it as meaning nothing but confiscation of mineral property at all events. But this Bill would affect the farmers and agriculturists. For instance, if a man got hurt with a thrashing machine, or a hay cutter, or a mowing machine, or a plough, there would be ground for an action. So far as I understand the present law, there is a definite line drawn between what is common employment and what is not common employment. If that is so, there, no doubt, seems a great deal of reason in extending it. If you say a master abdicates his functions and leaves another man to manage his business, you say—"Why should not he be responsible for that man?" Well, there seems a great deal of justice in that; but you must remember that there is a danger of making an employer responsible for that for which he ought not to be responsible. As regards the litigation I have just spoken of, there is no doubt that it would be very serious if this Bill should become law. The right hon. Gentleman says—"Well, if it does create more litigation, why should a man be debarred from bringing an action against his master if he is in the right?" But it certainly would be widening the field a good deal for those purposes, and every accident would be grounds for a law suit, whether the man is in the right orwrong, and in all cases the master would be saddled with the cost of the defence. In fact, I was told by a lawyer the other day this. He said—"Certainly I should 1095 not say anything against the Bill, because it is the best thing that ever came for us lawyers." On another occasion, speaking to a gentleman -not in this House now, but who has his name on the back of one of these Bills, he said—"I do not know anything against the Bill, and I will not condemn it; but I know one thing—the Law Courts will not settle it for 30 years if it should pass." Well, that was the late Government's Bill, and I think this is a great deal? worse. What 'would be the consequence if a Railway Company should have half-a-dozen law suits going on with some of their workmen at one time? The result would be that the men not themselves engaged in the law suits, instead of minding their various occupations, would have their minds rivetted on what was going on, and would sympathize, to a great extent, with their comrades, and I am not so sure that that would conduce to the safety of the travelling public. I think it would be rather the reverse. At this point I will just read an extract as to what the engine drivers think about this matter. At a meeting held the other day of the members of the Engine Drivers' Insurance Association, they referred to the building of an orphanage for the purpose of providing educational training for the various grades of the children of those unfortunately killed on railways, and the engine driver who spoke said he was not aware whether the proposed orphanage was going to make any progress or not. He believed that a great deal depended on circumstances, and that the Compensation for Injuries Bill, which was, he thought, before Parliament, if carried, would affect it. So far from that measure, if passed, being of any good, he was of opinion that it would only create animosity between masters and servants, and in the great proportion of those cases where men recover compensation, the compensation would be eaten up by law expenses. Could they force a Railway Company to pay for accidents caused by the men themselves? I have just received a letter saying that the Bill would do more harm than good. I believe that as soon as this Bill is settled we are prepared to go on with the orphanage. I have every reason to believe that feelings like these exist in other places, and are getting more widely spread every day. 1096 At Chester this subject, I know, had a great deal to do with the elections, and I believe the promises were very profuse indeed as to what some gentlemen would do if they were only returned to Parliament. Some of them were bottled up with the engine men in the committee room, and great promises were made. I do not say this of the right hon. Gentleman specially. He and his opponents seemed, to vie with each other as to which could make the most promises. I know amongst the colliers in certain districts—and amongst others that know the importance of this Bill and know its significance—they would much rather be without it.
§ MR. KNOWLES
Well, now, I need not say that in the mining industries of this country 500,000 people are employed. One in every live are injured to some extent or another every year. As regards the railways, I know one extensive line, and quite as well managed as any other line in the Kingdom, and in one year out of 41,000 people employed there were 2,376 accidents. Those, I contend, if this Bill becomes law, would be all cases for either the County Court or the Superior Court. I grant that nine-tenths, or probably niueteen-twentieths, would get nothing. But look at the consequence of their getting nothing. What is to keep their wives and families? What I want to say, though I have not sufficient eloquence to express it to my own satisfaction, is this—that the cruelty to the working classes themselves by such a measure as this would be most deplorable. The masters would be arrayed against their workmen, they would have to subscribe large funds—or at least suggestions are now thrown out respecting such funds—the necessity for which will arise, if this Bill passes in the most modified form, in order to defend themselves. And having subscribed to that, they would certainly not willingly subscribe for those that would get no compensation after going to law. I have taken a great interest in provident societies, having been connected with one of these dangerous occupations all my life—that is, coal mining. I have always had some institution to provide for the widows and 1097 families of those killed. Probably those small institutions have not made quite such large provisions as I would like to see, but they have done something; and, as a rule, they have contributed to the wants of the injured people, and the people have been satisfied with it. We have institutions existing at the present time which are doing an enormous amount of good in this direction, to which the masters contribute something, but certainly it is not a large amount. The masters, in some instances, contribute 10 per cent; in some 15 per cent; but the men generally pay the great bulk of the money themselves. If it were referred to a Committee to consider this subject, the Committee might consider what should be the amount that should be contributed by the workmen and the employers as well; because if it were made general it would cost very little either to workmen or masters to make provision for all cases of accidents. Well, of these societies there is one in Northumberland and Durham with 68,000 members, with upwards of £45,000 a-year, and with an available balance of £76,000. There is another in Lancashire and Cheshire, which I have been most connected with, that has 31,000 odd members and a revenue of upwards of £25,000, besides £18,000 of available property. There are 115,000 miners now contributing to and belonging to these societies. Well, then, I need not say that almost all the railways in the Kingdom have something of the kind. They have means of providing for sickness and death in various ways; but, whatever their modes may be, if the Committee which I propose should hear the evidence, they would have the opportunity of judging what to recommend in this House of a tangible character, which would provide for all these people, however they may be killed—whether from their own negligence, whether they had contributed to it, or whether it was from pure accident. Any man knows that nine out of every ten would get nothing if this Bill were to pass; but in every case the master would have to pay expenses. Therefore, after he had had many cases he would be disposed to compromise the matter; but if this Bill passes, with whom could he compromise it? Not with the injured man himself; are there not others? Yes, and those others are the very people who have been trying to mislead 1098 the working classes to support this Bill. These people we should have to compromise with, putting the workpeople and the employers in their hands, who are not at all times desirable men to deal with. Those are the only people that would benefit by this Bill; while the employers and working classes would be injured to a considerable extent. I know it will be said that if we have a mode of insurance it would make the employers careless, because they would say—"Oh, the men are provided for; we shall have no litigation, and therefore we do not care about them." Will any sensible man believe such a statement as that, when we look to the enormous injury that is done, and the great destruction of property after a mine accident, a railway accident, or whatever the accident may be? If it should be a railway accident we know the public will naturally travel by the best conducted and safest line, so that it is to the interest of the Railway Company to have everything as safe as possible. As to accidents in coal mines, only the other day the Home Secretary was asked whether he would assist in getting the bodies out of the Abercarne Mine? He then received information that the owners had already spent £20,000 unsuccessfully, and it might cost £50,000 more to recover the remaining bodies, and they did not know but that it might cost £150,000 more. Well, when we come to look at the destruction of property to such an extent, it is likely that the owners of these mines will employ the best men and the best means to take care of their property. Then those men are themselves just as liable to accident as other workmen. They are men with families, and they are men affected by others, because they are of their own class, and whose position has been made in consequence of their superior knowledge, superior ability, steadiness, and carefulness. Not only so, but we have the superintendence of the Home Office. The Homo Office has the appointment of these men, the mine managers; they have to undergo an examination, and have a certificate from the Home Office before they can be employed. The owner selects from one of these the best man, and the most competent man he can get. As regards railways, we have also, in addition to the great destruction of property, the supervision of the Board of Trade. We 1099 have that coming down on us rather heavily, if all its conditions are not complied with, and every care is not taken. Further than that, we have what I should call those rather ironical but censorious questions asked in this House whenever an accident occurs. There is also the Press and the public, who do not censure the owners of property in the most gentle terms. Taking all this into consideration, I hope and trust this House will refer this Bill to a Committee, so that they may consider whether, under all the circumstances, it is advisable to extend the present law at all; and, if not, whether it would not be advisable to lay down some rule of friendly and mutual help to provide for all the accidents that occur. I hold that it is every employer's duty to provide for the safety of his workpeople under any circumstances. The safety of life and limb ought to be the first consideration with every employer and every man. I believe, generally, it is so; but I grant that there are employers who are careless in some trades. In that case, if it is thought proper, let the Government appoint more Inspectors. If they have not sufficient power to deal with these matters under the present law, give them more power; put any restriction you may choose or dare—and when I say dare, I do not speak of Gentlemen on the Government side of the House personally; but I mean any restriction that we dare—so as to enable us to compete with our neighbours on the Continent. I say, give them more power, appoint more Inspectors if you choose; let them stop works wherever they find the work is dangerous or being carried on in a dangerous manner, whether it is a railway, or a mine, or anything else. It is to all our interests that there should be no danger. There are thousands of employers, probably, who do not make any provision for their men in case of injury; but if we had a Committee, and that Committee recommended that provision should be made in every case, it would be compulsory on everybody, and everybody in case of accident would be provided for. Now, Sir, these accidents that I have attempted to point out which are so enormous, unfortunately, and would give rise to an enormous amount of legislation, might be obviated by some such insurance as I have suggested. But I 1100 contend, also, that the commercial interests of this country are of sufficient importance not to be sacrificed hastily; at all events, not at the instigation of a body of a few men who try to extract a promise at an election. I think, at all events, their interests ought to be weighed calmly and considerately by the legal Gentlemen of this House. I think the trading community have a right to appeal to the Government for protection in these matters; and I trust | that the Government will take it into their very serious consideration not to establish the principle of this Bill until they have further evidence as to how far the law ought to be extended, or whether some alternative scheme should not be adopted which would be better for the working classes as well as for the employers. No doubt, a good deal of pressure has been brought to bear. People that have been injured have gone about asking alms, and other people have gone about to ask contributions for the widows and children of men killed, and some have gone about probably on crutches. The public say—"Ought not something to be done for these poor people? Can't Parliament do something?" I say Parliament can do something, and ought to do something; but Parliament ought not to do something which would keep masters and men in a state of continual litigation, but make it compulsory that there should be mutual insurance for providing for these people without uncertain and costly litigation, which would not provide for more than one out of every twenty cases. In speaking of the justice of the present law, there are, no doubt, some cases of injustice; but would there not be more cases of injustice if you extend the principle of this Bill? Where we have one case now that miscarries for want of justice and discretion, we should have hundreds if you extend the law one iota. I do contend that, fine as the line that is now drawn may be, if you do break down the barrier. You cannot close the door again; you will have adopted the principles, and you can never stop till you get down to the bottom—to the lowest grade of men and women who have power to give an order. I speak under correction from the Attorney General; but that is my feeling, and I feel very strongly on the point. I contend, if the House passes this Bill, they must include something in it that would 1101 give mineowners power to relinquish their leases, or it will confiscate their property. I would take half the value for my property now that I would have taken a week ago, in consequence of what has fallen from the Prime Minister. I do expect a reasonable reply from the Prime Minister. The question is a reasonable one; and, seeing that the late Government had given a Committee of the other House to consider these matters, I did anticipate that the fair and reasonable request I am making would have been complied with without hesitation. Let them say, if they like—"Confirm the principle of this Bill and we will give you a Committee." I appeal to the Prime Minister to re-consider it for a moment. If he would turn over in his mind the real importance of this measure, I feel sure he would comply with my request for a Committee to see which is the most honest, safest, and best way of approaching the subject, and what would be the best manner of dealing with the matter for everybody. I believe this is the most revolutionary measure ever brought into this House against the trading community of the country. Now, taking this measure into consideration, there would be in the mining trade grounds for 100,000 actions a-year, and on the railways nearly as many; for, as I pointed out, there were upwards of 2,000 accidents on one railway alone. I contend that every accident would be, under this Bill, ground-work for litigation; and I am afraid that there is a certain class of people who, unless it is attempted to compromise claims through them, would put the machinery for actions into work. That being the case, is it desirable that we should injure our workpeople, their widows, and orphans, and not provide some means for a livelihood for them, rather than spend the money in Law Courts? However frivolous an action might be, the employer would have to defend it, and hence there would be an enormous cost. Could any commercial enterprize, or any place of business prosper, if the master and men were always to be at loggerheads or at litigation with one another? What would be the consequence to a mine owner, or to a Railway Compan,y, if they were to be in perpetual litigation with their own workmen? The right hon. Gentleman opposite might say the result would be 1102 nothing but ruin to both; but I should say that before the Bill goes to its last stage—if it is the determination of the Government to press it on to that, though I do trust it is not without referring it to the Committee—I certainly should ask that we have some clause added allowing us to abandon our leases, because the Bill is virtually confiscation. I beg to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report on a system of general in. surance against such accidents as are proposed to be dealt with by the present Bill.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report on a system of general insurance against such accidents as are proposed to be dealt with by the present Bill,"—(Mr. Knowles,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CRAIG
As a new Member, addressing this House for the first time, I must ask its indulgence while I make a few remarks with regard to this question now in course of consideration. Having had considerable experience in the management of mines, and being an employer of labour in connection with colleries, I shall confine my attention strictly to the probable effect which this proposed legislation will produce upon that industry. I think, Sir, that the proposition of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles) relates to that which, in my opinion, will prove the best method of settling this question of compensation; and I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has not been able to see his way towards the introduction of a system of insurance into this measure. A compulsory system of insurance would give relief to all who are injured, and it would also compensate the legal representatives of all those who lose their lives during employment. It would do this without necessitating a law suit in order to establish a claim by proving culpable negligence on the part of super-intendents or managers. It being general, it would provide the funds necessary to meet all cases without inflicting ruin upon any individual employer at whose colliery, even under the best management, there might be a serious disaster. 1103 Now, I have never been able yet, in discussing this matter with those interested in the settlement of the question, to find any valid reason urged against insurance. The only objection I can remember being urged against it is this—that in the event of a mutual insurance the men might be required to pay their money for demands which would not be made, and inasmuch as they are migratory and move about from place to place, that money would remain in the hands of others, and would not be applied to their benefit. Well, no doubt, in questions of this nature, there are difficulties; but it very much depends upon the temper of those who are interested in the settlement of them whether those difficulties prove to be insuperable or not. Now, I think there would be one way of applying these surplus funds, which would, at least, lead to the mutual benefit of employed and employers. It has been stated that a great number of these accidents arise from the negligence and incompetence of managers. Well, Sir, there is, no doubt, a difficulty in getting competent managers, and my experience is that that difficulty has been enhanced since the passing of the Mines Regulation Act, which has narrowed the area from which you can draw managers of mines. There is another difficulty, and it is this—that in certain mining districts where a manager is required to manage mines you are frequently obliged to get him from another district where the conditions of mining are totally' different. For example, in North Staffordshire a mine is quite different from those in the county of Durham; and we are frequently obliged to get managers from that district who, however competent they may be in Durham, have to spend a considerable time before they are competent in Staffordshire. Now, it seems to me that in connection with insurance it would not be an improper or incompatible adjunct to have a Mining School or College in each district, supported out of the excess of the funds which might be contributed for that purpose, to be used in educating the sons of miners for managers; and then we should evolve, as it were, from the mining population, the future managers of collieries. They would then have an opportunity of acquiring the scientific knowledge which is now beyond their reach; because it is quite impossible that a miner should be able to send 1104 his son to serve an apprenticeship, and to pay £200 or £300 of fees necessary for that purpose. We should also have in a district managers who had a special knowledge of that district. Now, I think that, should there be an excess of funds, this would be a very proper way of applying them, and would certainly work to the benefit of both the employers and the employed. If we consider this proposal in connection with the complex and uncertain state of things at a colliery, I think it will appear that insurance offers a far better method of solving this great practical problem than is provided in the Bill now submitted for second reading. It should be kept strictly in view during this discussion that an official organization of a colliery-consists of a gradation of officials, from the general manager down to the ordinary workman. There is an agent, who appoints an engineer to take charge of all the surface and the machinery both above and below ground. This engineer appoints the enginemen and the several mechanical superintendents. Then underground there is an overman, who has charge of all the underground work. He appoints the firemen, who have charge of the ventilating arrangements, the examination of lamps, and so on; he also engages the superintendents, who have charge of the transit of the material from the working place to the pit bottom. It will, therefore, appear to the House quite obvions that in the event of an accident it would be a very nice question to decide whether any of those superintendents were to blame or not. It is one of those cases of divided responsibility; and it would be extremely difficult to place the saddle, as it were, upon the right horse. But one thing is certain, and it is this—that every accident that happens will be succeeded by a law suit, and there would be the strongest incentive on the part of the workmen to bring about a law suit in order to prove some of these superintendents guilty of culpable negligence, so that the owner might have to pay compensation. It would be equally certain that every employer would resist to the utmost such a claim, not only on account of the amount of money involved, but also to clear himself from the moral blame that would attach should his manager be proved guilty of culpable negligence. Hence, it seems to me that there would be far more wasted in law 1105 suits than would suffice to compensate for all cases arising from the causes enumerated by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill. He classifies them in this way—that a small proportion is due to neglect or incompetency of management, and that another proportion, probably rather larger, is due to the negligence of the workmen, and that there are a certain number attributable to causes over which you have no control, or what may be designated purely accidental. Now, Sir, it seems to me that this—the principal defect of the Bill now before the House—will induce additional litigation, and that it will widen the differences now existing between the employers and the employed. But there is another point in which I think it deficient; and in calling attention to it I am bound to confess that I think that doctrine of common employment, as set forth by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech to-night, is inadmissible. I cannot myself see the compatibility or consistency of including the managers and superintendents in this liability, and, at the same time, excluding those injuries which arise from the neglect or wilfulness of the workmen. I am quite aware that in saying this I am arguing the case against my own interests as an employer; but I was not sent as a Member to this House to defend my own interests. There are many of my constituents who are working men and working colliers, and I should be unfaithful to the pledges I gave them if I do not state my views upon this point freely, candidly, and impartially. Now, it is said that this common employment ought at least to be upheld so far as it relates to workmen. I fail to see how that position can be upheld. The employer has the entire control over the engagement of the men, just as he has over the engagement of the superintendents; and, that being so, if he is determined to retain that power, he cannot escape from the responsibility attached to it. But it is said that the men know those risks, and that they take them into account when they engage to work down the mines, and that the wages paid for these mining operations are upon a high scale, and are accepted with the full knowledge of the risk which attends them. Well, Sir, this may be quite true as an abstract proposition—it is probably so in practice to a certain extent—but when reduced to its proper limits and expression, I do not think it 1106 would be applicable to the case in question. If men were engaged for the first time to take part in a dangerous employment, or on special occasions, no doubt they would take into account the risks incidental to it before they agreed to go into that employment; but we are dealing with a case where men are trained to the employment from youth to old age, when they become accustomed to the dangers, and entirely lose sight of them. I do not think there is any quality which bears more strongly the impress of Nature's hand than that which renders us indifferent to the dangers with which we are in daily contact, and with which we become familiar. But for this we could not continue such an employment as mining with either comfort or safety. I do not myself believe that any working collier, when he does engage to go down a pit, ever thinks of the danger at all. It is never present in his mind. Hence, Sir, I believe, from practical experience of many hundreds I have engaged, that the law of supply and demand governs wages in mining just as it does in all other employments, irrespective of the element of danger. As an employer, I must say that I very much prefer the Bill which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) to the Bill which is now before the House. It is more consistent; and although I am aware that, by including in the liability those injuries arising from accidents occasioned by the negligence or wilfulness of the workmen, there would be more to pay for compensation by the employer, yet there would be less to pay in the aggregate, because owners or employers would never think of contesting any of the cases, and there would not be the cost of litigation. I think that by including both classes of injury it would have the effect of bringing about, by a social arrangement, the insurance that is sought and is so much desired by legislative action. For my own part, I should feel myself at liberty to enter into such an arrangement. I should feel that there would be no moral blame attached to me; but, in view of the provisions of that Bill, I could not do so, because if we arrange in all cases in consideration of those specified in that Bill, it would mean a practical confession that all accidents were brought about by the negligence of the managers; but if the whole were included, then I think it 1107 quite possible that employers, upon economical grounds, would seek insurance against all accidents. Now, Sir, with regard to the cost of such an arrangement, it has been stated to-night that it would be something frightful—that the trade could not support it. Well, I admit that it would be a serious case if all those claims came upon individual owners. I do not know who, being acquainted with the dangers incidental to mining, would like to remain in a trade if he had to meet individually the great liabilities that might arise any day from an accident. It would, in fact, bring ruin upon him; and although for 20 years I have been so fortunate as never to have had an explosion in mines under my management, yet I would seek at once to escape from such a liability. But when it is spread over the whole trade it is not so very serious a matter. I have made a calculation from statistics of past years of the deaths and injuries occurring in 1877, which year was an exceptionally heavy one—the year of the Blantyre and Pemberton accidents—and I find that, taking all the deaths and all the non-fatal accidents, the whole of the compensation would amount to something like a halfpenny per ton upon all minerals drawn. I do not think that the coal trade at that rate would be seriously affected; but three farthings at the most would cover all, and would give ample compensation, and hence the insurance would bring about a state of things which would not inflict any hardship upon the trade generally, and would not bring about conflicts between employers and employed, nor would it be all lost, because the bereaved and the injured have now to be maintained out of the poor rates and charitable contributions, and therefore it would not be an entire loss, but rather in the way of a substitution of one method of support for another. I believe that if this Bill be passed giving the power of mutual insurance and settling questions once for all, we should gain from another direction; we should make the work more popular, and generally could get a better class of workmen. I do not know that there is anything more distressing in this country than to contemplate the working man going to his work in the morning not certain that he will return, and knowing that, in the event of an accident, poverty and pauperism are staring his family in the lace. Nothing can be more discourag- 1108 ing or more distressing; whereas, if he had the assurance that his wife and family would, under such circumstances, be provided for, and would not become paupers, I think it would have a tendency to induce in his mind that honourable ambition to raise himself and them a step higher in the social scale, by his industry, and thereby he would become not only a better workman, but a better citizen. I think that will be brought about by this principle of insurance; and I shall exceedingly regret if the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way, before the discussion closes, to import it into that measure. I think it will give general satisfaction to the workmen of the country that the Government have brought this Bill in so soon after their accession to power; but I think they will not be satisfied with this Bill as it stands, and I believe, from all that I can learn, that it will be extremely unsatisfactory to the employers. I sincerely trust, therefore, that this insurance will be admissible, and that this great question will be settled once for all.
§ MR. MACLIVER,
speaking on behalf of the railway servants, denied that there was no demand for legislation on the part of that body. He knew from, experience that they were anxious that the Bill should become law. They had already done all that could be done by mutual insurance. For example, the Railway Servants' Society, numbering 14,000 members, paid annually about £10,000 for the benefit of its subscribers, besides establishing an orphanage at Derby, and an orphan fund, last year, at Leeds. The simple question was whether the working men of the country were, or were not, to receive compensation for an admitted grievance. That question was agitated very largely during the late Elections; and he was told, on crediblo authority, that no fewer than 400 Members of the House had pledged themselves to support a measure of that kind. He should be very unwilling, as an employer of skilled labour, to press anything on employers which would be against their interest or detrimental to the prosperity of the national industries; but he thought the time had come when they ought to do something in this matter. Among the working classes with whom he had come into contact, there was a strong feeling that the question should no longer be left unsettled. They were grateful to the Government 1109 for having brought in the Bill; and he thought that not only working men but employers owed the Government a debt of gratitude for having introduced a measure which, in his judgment, ought to receive the full confidence and support of the House.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was certain the desire in the breasts of all of them was to do justice to masters and men; but he must declare that the Bill as it stood contained principles which involved a monstrous liability on the part of the masters. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill (Mr. Dodson) used the word "preventible;" but that was not in the clause. It had been held that a Railway Company was not responsible for a latent defect in a tire; but he supposed that under the Bill a master would be responsible for the consequences of any small defect in the metal of which his machinery was made, and not the person who made the machine. He called that a monstrous liability. The manufacturer of the machinery ought to be liable. The case of a person suffering from the negligence of a fellow-workman was unprovided for, but it would be provided for by a system of insurance; and, in the interest of the working men, he wanted every case to be provided for in which a poor man suffered in life or limb. He hoped the Government would give attention to the views of practical men on both sides of the House. He had heard with great satisfaction the speech of the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Craig), and he concurred with him that mining' operations would be impossible under this Bill. He trusted the Government would re-consider the subject and follow suggestions which had been made, and which, if carried out, would prove more beneficial to the men and more just to the masters than the present Bill.
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, that several speakers, including the hon. Members for Wigan (Mr. Knowles) and Glamorgan (Mr. Vivian), had declared that they spoke in the interest of working men; but he (Mr. Macdonald) wanted to know what body of working men had ever deputed them to recommend to the House a system of insurance? This newborn zeal for insurance was to his mind of a very questionable character; and he denied that these hon. Members had been deputed by the working men to 1110 speak on their behalf, either individually or collectively, for a system of insurance would be simply a system of licence to destroy life. The Bill was supported by those who were in favour of it, in the hope that the doctrine of common employment would be removed, and that the working men of England would be placed on an equality with the remainder of the public; and, so far as it went in that direction, it had their hearty approval. Most hon. Members had received a document this morning, issued by the Mining Association of Great Britain, which was circulated for the purpose of prejudicing their minds against further legislation in the direction of compensation. That document referred to 1,200 cases of loss of life through accidents in mines. Well, it was his opinion that out of those 1,200 cases, 1,100 were the consequences of preventible causes. Juries and Inspectors of mine3 had condemned the entire system upon which the working of these mines was carried on, and had expressed the opinion that the disasters occurred through disregard of what science taught. For instance, with regard to the demand for a second shaft in coal mines, which demand was met with statements that if it were complied with the mining interest would be ruined, yet the demand was complied with after the Hartley Colliery accident, and since then there had not been a life lost owing to the want of a second shaft. He maintained that the doctrine of insurance would have the effect of enabling employers to continue their reckless conduct; and if it were adopted, it would be to call on districts where no accidents occurred to pay for accidents which, with ordinary care and the avoidance of parsimonious management, ought never to have occurred. If the Government persisted with this Bill, as he hoped they would, they would do more for the benefit of the working classes than they would by any system of insurance. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill (Mr. Dodson) had spoken somewhat haltingly of the law of other countries on the subject; but the principle of the measure would not go so far as the present law of France, where, since 1844, no case of compensation had been tried, because it was then decided that the plea of being a fellow-workman was not a bar to compensation. Nor 1111 were there such cases in Italy, for the same reason. The law of Belgium on the subject was the Code Napoléon. In America the law differed in accordance with the views which predominated in the different States; but in New York a Bill had been brought in to make the law there similar to the law of France, while hon. Members might see in the columns of The Daily Telegraph that the discussion of a measure such as that which he himself proposed was, at the present moment, engaging public attention in Germany. Members of the German Parliament had assured him that though the principle of assurance was established in Germany it was unsatisfactory, and regarded as an encouragement to the destruction of life. Taking all these facts into consideration, the alarm which seemed to be felt by many hon. Members on both sides of the House in connection with the question seemed to him to be wholly unfounded. The cry as to insurance did not, he might add, come from the working men, in proof of which he could state that although the system of mutual assurance had existed for 16 years among the pitmen of Northumberland and Durham, and they had thereby tested all the benefits which accrued from that system, yet they were the most clamant in the whole country for an alteration of the law. They felt satisfied that a real protection was only to be obtained when the owners were compelled to pay in purse for the negligence of those they employed; it was an attempt to deceive them; and he trusted the Government, if they did not deem it consistent with their duty to go the length which he desired, would, at all events, abide by the very letter of their measure, for it would, he believed, do more to put an end to the utter recklessness with regard to human life which prevailed than any system of insurance which could be devised.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
said, he rose to give a cordial support to the second reading of the Bill of the Government, because he was fully convinced that the time had arrived when such an alteration of the law as that which was proposed should be made. He supported it the more readily, because of the assurance which had been given by the Prime Minister that in assenting to the second reading the House would be 1112 committing itself, not to details, but simply to the principle of the measure. He saw, however, some difficulty in the way of making the Bill as perspicuous as it ought to be, owing to the loose phraseology of the clauses; and he feared, if it stood as at present, it might give rise to litigation to a large extent. For instance, in the second line of the 1st clause appeared a word upon which the whole question as to the extent of the increased liabilities proposed to be created would turn. He meant the word "workman." That was a word unknown to the law. He gathered from the Bill, and from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that the measure was designed to extend the liability only of those who were the owners of large undertakings, of large corporations, such as railways. But it had been held that a man's gardener was a menial, or servant; and supposing such a man were injured by the action of a fellow-servant, would a Judge be justified in saying such a gardener did not come within the meaning of the Act as a "workman?" Would the employer in that case be entitled to have claimed from him compensation for the negligent acts of a servant? He did not think that was the intention of the Government. But he would go further, and observe that he found by the measure that it was proposed that claims for compensation should be brought in the County Court, and not "elsewhere." He desired to ask, and he believed they might expect to be told, why the words "or elsewhere" were introduced. From evidence he had at his command, he did not believe that the County Courts enjoyed, to a peculiar extent, the confidence of the classes of the community to which this Act would chiefly refer; and he thought the subject should have the right of choosing the Court in which he should bring any action which he might be entitled to bring under the proposed Act of Parliament. The President of the Local Government Board drew a broad distinction between insurances against the calamities which it was sought to provide against by the Bill, and insurance against what he called accidents. Were accidents the only things against which they insured? Did they not insure against life and against marine risk? If the liability 1113 were transferred to the shoulders of the employers, would it not at once be provided against by them by such an annual provision as would partake of the nature of insurance? He had had an opportunity of ascertaining the views of the working classes in matters of this kind, and he intended to support the second reading of the Bill, because he knew that among those classes there was no desire to have the recommendation of Select Committees on such affairs. He was under the impression that the measure need not be referred to a Select Committee, as proposed by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles), because he believed the obligation to insure was one which had better be founded upon interest, and he could not see how it could be enforced by legislation. He was anxious that the question should be settled at the earliest possible moment. He could not agree to the Bill of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), as it would create a great and new liability of uncertain amount, which would have its effect upon capital, and which would certainly have its effect upon wages. They had better be cautious how they proceeded. They had better proceed by-steps, ascertaining as they went along the effect of legislation in this direction. For this reason, it was his intention to support the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, that it would be a waste of the time of the House to enter upon an examination of the Bill until it was before them in the shape in which the Government intended finally to submit it for acceptance. He did not hesitate to say that, in his opinion, the law with regard to common employment was somewhat overstrained, and that a reform of it in the interest of workmen was only a measure of justice. He objected, however, to having any very wide alterations in it made, and he thought most of the alarm to which the Bill had given rise was due to the unsatisfactory way in which the main clause was worded. But after the assurance which had been given by the Prime Minister in the early part of the evening, it would, he thought, be well to pass the second reading with as little delay as possible. He would, however, suggest the appointment of a Special Committee to see how far they 1114 could engraft the principle of insurance upon the Bill.
§ SIR ANDREW FAIRBAIRN
trusted that, as a large employer of labour in the North of England, he might be allowed to say a word on this important measure. He confessed that the words of the Bill regarding machinery to some extent puzzled him. He desired to know what was to be the position of employers of labour with regard to workmen who met with accidents in attending to machinery, which was certainly dangerous in itself, but without which the business and industries of the country could not be carried on? There was considerable risk to men so engaged, and yet they were but doing their duty in attending to such work. He wished to know whether, in such cases, the employer of labour would be responsible, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would afford him an explanation on the point? Although an employer of labour, he intended most cordially to support the second reading of the Bill, because he thought they ought to do all they could in order to meet the fair demands of the working classes. He trusted, however, that those defects which had been pointed out would be considered, and that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would allow those who had a knowledge of labour to consult with him on the subject.
§ MR. BIDDELL
said, he was of opinion that if the amount of compensation were made equivalent to two years' wages the equity of the question would be fully met. He fully approved of the provision relating to County Courts, and would suggest that the compensation should be paid to workmen in weekly instalments instead of a lump sum, which they would be likely to spend foolishly. He wished, however, to ask whether the Government meant that employers were to be allowed to contract themselves out of the Act? He was inclined to support the principles of the Bill; but believing that the details ought to be discussed by a Select Committee, he should, if the Amendment were pressed, give his vote in its support.
§ MR. C. JAMES
drew a distinction between those who worked above ground and those who worked in mines. The former had the opportunity of estimating 1115 the extent and nature of the risk which they ran; while the latter from the moment they arrived at the pit's mouth were unable to see or ascertain where danger awaited them. They had to "stand, as it were, the racket of the negligence of 300 or 400 men;" and that such men should have no claim for compensation in the event of injury was most unfair. He trusted the Government would stand by the measure they had introduced, and be firm in their resolve that these poor people should have right done to them. In that view he should have great pleasure in supporting the second reading.
§ MR. EWART
said, he should not like the discussion to close without a word being heard from some Member from Ireland. Ireland was not a very largo manufacturing country; at the same time, this was a subject in which they took a considerable interest. It was his intention to vote for the second reading of the Bill, because he believed that the law as it at present stood was not fair, and inflicted great injustice upon working men. But he was of opinion that the House should proceed very gradually in altering the law, because the trade of the country would not bear to be harassed in the way that it would be if the Bill were to pass in its present shape. There was one class in the country who would rejoice very much if so many openings as the measure now afforded were given to litigation—he meant the Legal Profession, Even at the present time he knew that manufacturers had been harassed and coerced to make too many allowances by the very threatening of legal proceedings under the law as it at present stood. He trusted, however, that the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, in order that a really safe measure might eventually be passed that would not endanger the trade of the country, which was so much threatened at present by foreign competition.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, the question under discussion was one closely affecting the class whom he represented, and with whom he had been long connected. He congratulated the Government on the courage they had displayed in grappling with this difficult question. It was a question which the late Government had under their consideration for a considerable time; but they, he supposed, like wise men, preferred to leave 1116 a subject which had so many and varied and difficult aspects to be dealt with by their successors. But while he thought the Government had been bold and courageous in going so far as from the employers' point of view they would be taken to have gone, he, and those with whom he was associated, regarded the Bill before the House as a weak contribution towards the settlement of this difficult question. There could be no reasonable settlement of this question which did not absolutely abolish the law of common employment. That was the only logical solution of the problem. At its best the Government Bill treated the workman's just demands in the spirit of compromise. These demands amounted to no more than that they should be placed on precisely the same footing with regard to the law of compensation as that in which all other classes of society were placed when injured through the negligence of an employer or the carelessness of an employer's servants. There had been much exaggeration of language in that House with regard to the proposals of working men. They did not wish to hold employers responsible for accidents over which neither they nor their managers could have any control; they would never dream of holding an employer liable in the building and engineering trade for such casualties as the loss of fingers or of a hand, injuries to the eyes, ruptures of blood vessels through lifting heavy weights. No caution or foresight on the part of an employer could prevent such accidents as these, and he would be the last to vote for any Bill which would make employers liable for such accidents. Accidents, also, were constantly occurring which were mainly brought about by the negligence of the sufferers themselves. For that class of accident the Government were not asked to provide. Out of 13 accidents, by reason of which the secretary of the trade society to which he belonged paid £700 from an accident fund, in 1875, only four would have justified an action against the employer if the law of common employment were abolished. In 1876, out of 18 accidents, costing the fund £1,050, only three could have been the subject of actions in the desired state of the law; in 1877 actions might have been raised in four only out of 24 cases of accident. Another secretary 1117 with a large and unexampled experience in these matters informed him that in 1879 his society granted £100 for accidents in each of 27 cases, and only three of these accidents could have justified an action against the employer, even if the "common employment" doctrine were abolished. This average would apply to the accidents provided for out of the funds of the other large trade societies of this country. As a matter of fact, there was really very little difference of opinion upon the subject between the large and respectable employers of labour and the workmen. Employers of the highest skilled labour who sought experienced managers, whose machinery was of the most approved description, and whoso plant was sound, would find accidents of the kind for which workmen wished to have the power of claiming compensation almost impossible. But there was a class of employers who systematically purchased plant left off by large firms, and used it, with unskilled labour, to compete in price with larger and more respectable firms. It was against these firms that the workman asked protection; and he contended that unless the doctrine of "common employment" was abolished, the workman had no security against a careless, an avaricious, or a designing employer. As a stonemason, it had been his business to work on platforms raised by men called "scaffolders." He did not employ these men, and had no control over them; yet, had he lost life or limb through their unskilfulness or negligence, it would have been no consolation to his wife and children, who would be left unprotected in case of his death through the carelessness of those who had the management of the works, to be told that he and the "scaffolders" were in common employment, and that the law debarred them from the right of compensation. This should show that the theory of "common employment" was absolutely absurd, and could only result in the grossest injustice. There was only one sound foundation in which to act in legislating on such a matter, and that was the foundation of truth and justice. With regard to the question of insurance, the proposal was no doubt, very good in theory; but the moment they applied it in a practical form it would be found utterly to fail and break down. He had been compelled, in the course of his life, 1118 to pay a considerable sum out of his weekly wages to meet the occasions of accident. The system was, no doubt, very good for those who suffered by such accidents; but the moment he left the employment all his careful savings for years were gone to the winds, irretrievably and uselessly. That was the difficulty they had to meet. If workmen could reckon upon as constant employment as the members of the Civil Service, the case would be altogether different. The party with whom he acted viewed this insurance proposal with reasonable and well-grounded suspicion. He asked whether it was possible to pass a law giving an employer power to stop a certain sum every week out of the wages of his workmen, when the Legislature had condemned the truck system? It was impossible, and it could not be for a moment entertained. But there was another aspect of this question. If it were not illegal, was it not immoral, to establish a scheme by which those who employed workmen were to be held irresponsible for accidents occasioned by their own rapacity, their carelessness, or neglect? Why not make a proposal in the interests of the general travelling public who ride on railways? He had travelled last night on the Great Western Railway, and he took the precaution to insure his life. But if he happened to be seriously injured through the neglect of the Railway Company, the fact of his having the forethought to provide for his family in the event of accident would not prevent him from proceeding in a Court of Common Law against the Bail way Company for compensation. Unless a general law on the subject of insurance was proposed, he would repudiate any attempt to place the working man in a different position to the general public by casting upon him an obligation to contribute from his weekly wages any sum intended to cover the risk of a fatal or serious accident. It was absurd to suppose that any man would wantonly sacrifice a limb for the mere purpose of securing a certain sum of money. They might as well suppose that a railway passenger would voluntarily place his foot under the wheels of a railway train in order to obtain the £500 for which he had insured himself against accident. He also repudiated the notion that working men under an altered state of the law would be less 1119 careful of the interests of their employers, for at present they were more so than many persons would give them credit for. As an example of that fact, he might point to the engine-driver of an express train, whom he witnessed at his post of danger last night, and who only thought of his employer's interests whilst discharging his perilous duties. It was, therefore, absurd to say that workmen would be careless of their own immediate interests if they knew that their families would receive compensation for injuries done to themselves. Further than that, it was not reasonable, because it was not likely that a man would seek mutilation simply to reap a pecuniary gain. They appealed, then, to the Government to be firm on the subject of the second reading of the Bill, for the existing condition of the law had been denounced by the highest legal authorities. He should not, of course, assume the authority or right to warn the House; but he appealed to them as a Representative of those who were ardently and immediately interested in this question, assuring them that an honest endeavour to give a real measure of justice would meet with the unanimous support of the people through-out the country, who were deeply anxious for the settlement of this vexed question, which had been in the past the cause of so much agitation.
§ SIR JOHN HOLKER
said, he had listened with considerable attention and admiration to the speech just delivered, and confessed that he would have been better pleased with it if hon. Members had not been threatened in it with the wrath of their constituencies. They ought, he contended, to be allowed to deal with this question without having before their eyes the terror of the poll. He dared say his constituency might entertain a strong opinion upon this subject; but he was not terrified in consequence. He believed his were a very respectable and sensible body of constituents, and he did not suppose that they would refuse to send him again to Parliament because he happened to entertain an opinion which did not agree with their own on this subject. During the course of the last Parliament it had been his duty to consider the question before the House, and he quite agreed with the last speaker (Mr. Broadhurst) that the Government had displayed very great 1120 courage in speedily bringing the matter before Parliament; for if ever there was a difficult question to grapple with, it was the question of the liability of employers for the negligence of their servants. But the Government were a bold and venturous Government, and they had brought this question before the country at the very earliest moment available for the purpose. He should, however, have expected that the Bill presented to the House and the country would be a carefully, scientifically, and artistically prepared Bill, one which expressed the views of the Government in clear and distinct language, leaving as little room as possible for doubt, controversy, and the intervention of the Courts of Justice. But the Bill was not of that character. It was a short Bill, and that was its only merit. He entertained views on the subject before the House which differed from some that had been expressed, and which were, he feared, not of a popular character. Before touching the general question, he wished to draw attention to some of the provisions of the Bill. He was aware that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had said that the Bill would be committed pro formâ, and that it was only a sort of skeleton which might have to be filled up as the debate went on. This statement placed the House in a difficult position, because they could not easily understand the provisions of a measure which was not placed before them in the shape it was ultimately to assume. Was the Bill, he asked, one which the House could fairly accept, supposing it to be granted that the law required improvement? The first matter to which he would draw the attention of the House was the provision which the Bill contained in respect to personal injuries caused by defective machinery or stock. If he rightly understood the law as it was at present, if a master knew of defects in his machinery or plant, or had reason to believe it was defective, or had not exercised ordinary care, he would be liable for injury to his workmen by accident. That was the law, and, so far as he knew, no one complained of it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, however, who, he assumed, was responsible for the Bill, would make masters guarantee, so far as their servants were concerned, their plant and 1121 machinery and the safe condition of their works. Now, was that reasonable? Why should a master be held responsible for some defect in the construction of works in the erection of which a skilled architect and skilled builders had been employed? Had he been culpable in any shape or way? Let them take the case of a master who had purchased a steam-engine from a most eminent firm, and let them suppose a breakdown in consequence of some defect in the engine. Ought the master to be liable in such case? Then, there was the question of latent defects. According to the law at present no one was liable for latent defects in machinery—that was, defects which could not be discovered. It had been held that a railway company was not liable for an accident to passengers caused by the breaking of an axle which contained a flaw. But what would be the case if the Bill were to pass? The driver, the stoker, the guard, or any other railway servant who might happen to be injured, would be entitled to compensation from the company. Therefore, this state of things would exist. That the company's servants would be entitled to compensation, while the passengers who had paid their money to be carried would not be entitled to one farthing. Was this really intended by the framers of the Bill? If it was, it was a monstrous proposition to lay before the House; if it was not intended, what could be said of the accuracy and care displayed by Government in the preparation of the Bill? He came next to the paragraph in the Bill which said that the master would be liable for the negligence of any person in his employ who had superintendence intrusted to him. Now, was that a sufficiently explicit and definite definition? What was meant by a person who had superintendence intrusted to him? There was hardly one industry in which there were not numbers of persons who had superintendence intrusted to them. In a mine the lamp-man had such superintendence. In a cotton factory, where there was a self-acting mule at work, there was also a man having such superintendence. Was it intended by the Bill that, if an accident were to happen which could be traced either to the lamp-man in a mine or to him who had care of a self-acting mule, the master should be responsible? Was 1122 such a casualty to be regarded as throwing liability on the master? If it was, he should like to see it defined more clearly; otherwise, the result must be that in every case a question would arise which would have to be settled by the Courts of Law. There was another phrase in the Bill to which he objected. It said—Or by reason of the negligence of any person in the service of the employer to whose orders or directions the workman was hound to conform.There, again, a wide door was open for difficulty and doubt, for it was scarcely possible to point out the workman to whose orders somebody was not obliged to conform, and a master might thus be made responsible almost without limit. But he should like to know what was to be the consequence of the negligence of the person for whose conduct the master was made to suffer? A great many illustrations had been drawn, in the course of the discussion, from coal mines, and he did not see why he should not go into them as well as other hon. Members. Suppose a man had command over a boy who was a drawer in a coal mine, and suppose he was guilty of a piece of negligence in respect of an order in consequence of which a great number of persons were injured, were they all to have a claim for compensation against the owner, or only the drawer? He should be astonished if any Court of Justice should decide, in such a case, that the master would be liable to anybody who happened to have been injured, and he must protest against one of the greatest and most difficult questions which had ever engaged the attention of the House being dealt with in so slipshod a fashion in a Bill by which it was proposed to settle it. Again, in the next paragraph, a master was made liable for the action of any person or any act done or omitted to be done in obedience to rules and bye-laws laid down for the conduct of his business. He should, however, scarcely have thought that it required a Government Bill to settle that point, for, according to the existing law, if an employer laid down a rule, and that rule was followed, and the consequence was that injury was inflicted on somebody, he would be liable. But the Bill went on to say that he was to be liable if a rule were acted upon, or omitted to be acted 1123 upon, in obedience to instructions given by any person delegated with the authority of the employer. Now, who could tell, he would ask, who was a delegate or not? Was a signalman a delegated authority to give a signal to a driver of a train to come on or not, as the case might be? That was a sort of question which would have to be relegated to Westminster Hall; and it was not desirable, he contended, to throw on the masters of this country, not only an overwhelming liability, but the costs of litigation in addition. He spoke in no adverse spirit of the Bill; but he had expected a well-drawn Bill from the Government, a Bill which he might possibly have disapproved of on principle, but which would have contained some sort of principle, and which would not be open to the objections that could be brought against this Bill. He could quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who had a mind which could grasp all these difficulties with the greatest possible expedition, should say that the Bill was, perhaps, not quite satisfactory, and that he would listen to the suggestions which were thrown out, and then re-commit the Bill pro formâ. In making these observations, he must not be understood to contend that the law was on a satisfactory footing; but he could not wholly agree with those who were of opinion that a perfect remedy for its defects could be provided by doing away with the doctrine of common employment, and he thought hon. Members should look at both sides of the case. The law as it stood, shortly put, was that a master was liable for the negligent acts of his servants to the outside public to any extent, but that he was not answerable to a servant in his employment, if the injury inflicted on that servant had been inflicted by the negligence of a fellow-servant. Now, he did not see himself the reasonableness of making a master liable for the acts of his servants. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): It is the law.] He knew it was the law; but he did not entertain the view of some that the law was the perfection of wisdom, and he did not see the justice of making the master responsible for the negligent acts of all his servants. He, of course, admitted that if a master chose to depute the management of his business 1124 to somebody else, that he would be liable not only to the outside public, but to his own servants for the acts of the man whom he had put in his place. In dealing with a corporation, which was simply an abstraction, the person who managed the business of that corporation must be liable in the same way as if the master were an individual; and a railway company, necessarily conducting its business through an agent, must be liable for his acts both to the outside public and to their servants. But he could not see the justice of going further. Let him suppose the case of a man who had a coachman, a man of good character who had served him well and without any accident for years, and that one fine day after having had, perhaps, a bad bilious attack, he drove on the wrong side of the road and knocked down an eminent physician, or it might be a lawyer, his employer might be called upon to pay thousands of pounds in the shape of damages. Where, he would ask, was the justice in that? Had the master been guilty of any neglect? He had taken care to secure the services of a good and steady coachman. But if, instead of a person who might be supposed as keeping a carriage to belong to the opulent classes, he took the case of a greengrocer or a costermonger who got a man to drive his cart and that man drove over somebody, where, he would ask, was the justice of making either the greengrocer or the costermonger responsible for that act—perhaps, the last farthing he possessed? Of course, if an employer did not take care to have proper servants he would, without the aid of the present Bill, be liable for the damage done by them. He quite admitted that the subject was one with which it was difficult to deal in a logical fashion—it could not be dealt with logically unless the country was prepared for a very extensive alteration of the law. There were only two ways of dealing logically with the question—either to abolish that rule as to common employment and give servants the same rights as the outside public, or to "level down," so to speak, and free masters from all liability except for the acts of servants in authority both in respect to their own servants and the outside public. To meet the case of railway companies, it might be enacted that all carriers of 1125 passengers should insure passengers as they did goods. But both those courses would involve a change in the law for which he believed the country was not prepared. It only remained, therefore, to deal with the question in an illogical manner. Now, the idea of the late Government was to make employers responsible for the acts of servants in authority so far as their own workpeople was concerned. The present Government went much further. Without diminishing in any respect the responsibility of masters to the outside public, they proposed to render them responsible to their servants for all accidents that happened through the negligence of fellow-servants, or nearly all. It had been said that comparatively few accidents happened through the negligence of servants. That, however, he did not believe. As far as his experience went, nearly all the accidents in certain branches of industry happened through the negligence of servants. He protested against the Bill because it was badly drawn, and because it involved a bad principle. That principle was to render masters liable in a way that would inflict enormous injury upon the industries of the country, and it appeared to him that those industries were sufficiently handicapped already. At the same time, he did not see that any good would result from opposing the second reading; because it was possible that after the Bill had been re-committed it would come out in a very different garb, and one which although they might not like more, yet they might dislike less. The principles of the measure as it stood, however, was one against which he felt bound to protest.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, there seemed to be a general consent to the second reading of the Bill, and therefore he should confine his observations to the criticisms that had been passed upon it. The criticisms of his hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken (Sir John Holker) were easy to reply to. He understood the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) to say that there was a general feeling that some alteration must take place in the law, and that that was so was proved by the prominence the question had occupied in the General Election, and by the fact that the late Government had 1126 attempted to deal with it. The Government, in complying with that demand, had thought it right to introduce a Bill embodying principles which had already been considered by the country. It could not, therefore, be said that their measure was hastily prepared, or that no sufficient time was allowed for people to acquaint themselves with its provisions. It had been said in some quarters that there was to be a new Bill under the form of a re-committed Bill; but that was not the intention of the Government. The principles of the Bill would be found in any Bill which the Government intended to pass; and though there would be an alteration in one or two details, there would be no alteration in the principles of the measure. His hon. and learned Friend (Sir John Holker), who had energetically and almost eloquently at that Table denounced the injustice of the measure, had hastily left the House—a circumstance which he (the Attorney General) regretted, for he did not know that he had ever seen his hon. and learned Friend so demonstrative in his energy as he was in denouncing a principle which, if he had read the Bill with the ordinary care with which he trusted his hon. and learned Friend read every matter intrusted to his advocacy, he would have seen did not exist in it at all. Both his hon. and learned Friends commenced their criticisms on the earliest lines of the proposed clause, which ran thus-—Where after the passing of this Act personal injury is caused to a workman by reason of the defective works, machinery, plant, or stock connected with the business of his employer.What was the mistake which both his hon. and learned Friends made? They assumed, because they had not carefully considered the effect of the remainder of the sentence, that an employer was to be liable for every injury resulting to a workman from such causes, and that a passenger would not be able to claim compensation where a workman would. This was not what was contained in the Bill, and he complained that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston had given the weight of his authority to such a criticism without having taken the trouble to consider the whole clause, which was to the effect that where personal injury was caused 1127 to a workman by reason of the defective works, machinery, plant, or stock connected with the business of his employer, the workman should have the same right of compensation and the same remedies against his employer as if he had not been a workman in the service of such employer. Thus, the master was only to be liable if he had been guilty of negligence or want of care in ascertaining the fitness of the plant. Indeed, the whole object of the Bill, as far as it related to defective plant and machinery, was to put a workman in exactly the same position as a member of the general public. Another objection raised by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston was that the principle of the Bill was not logical, and that if the Government had been desirous to act properly they ought to have accepted the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), to have got rid of the defence of common employment in its entirety, and to have made employers of labour liable for the negligence of any servant whereby injury was inflicted on a fellow-servant. Such a criticism might well lie in the mouth of those who had always agreed with the hon. Member for Stafford; but his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston was almost the last person in that House who ought to apply such a criticism to this measure. His hon. and learned Friend himself introduced a Bill in this House on the subject in 1879, and the late Government also introduced another Bill in the House of Lords by the hand of the late Lord Chancellor in the first Session of the present year. The present Government was denounced for proposing that an employer of labour) should be liable for the negligence of employés who had superintendence over other workmen; but, in point of fact, the Bills brought forward by the late Government in 1879 and 1880 contained exactly the same principle, only in different language. While this measure spoke of a person with delegated powers of superintendence, the late Government called him "a servant in authority." Further, the Bills of the late Government were confined to the owners of railways, mines, and other manufactories or works; whereas the operation of the present measure would extend to all kinds of employment, 1128 whether it was agricultural or manufacturing, or of whatever kind. He therefore claimed of those who sat by the side of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston at least absence of criticism on the principle attempted to be established by this Bill, for although it had not been framed on the exact lines of the measure of the late Government it embodied exactly the same principle, and the only difference that existed was one of phraseology, coupled with an extension of the operation of this Bill to employers generally. With reference to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles) he must express a hope that it would not be pressed, because if it were carried this Bill could not be read a second time, as it was in effect to substitute the appointment of a Select Committee of Inquiry for the Bill; for if the former were carried, the latter must be defeated. The measure criticized by the hon. Member for Wigan was not that which was now under the consideration of the House. The Bill criticized by the hon. Member was that of the hon. Member for Stafford. The Government, however, did not make the employer liable for the negligence of servants in general, but only for the negligence of superintendents and persons in authority. They had, therefore, taken a middle course in making masters responsible only for the acts of those to whom authority had been delegated. Now, it had been said in the course of the debate that the Bill ought not to be passed in its present form because a substitute had been found for its provisions in a common insurance fund, and that the Bill was consequently unnecessary. It had also been suggested that the Bill should be sent to a Special Committee in order that the subject of insurance might be dealt with. He did not think that course practicable. If the difficulty of insurance was to be so dealt with that all accidents should be compensated, it was useless to talk of the admission of that principle into the Bill. In fact, the suggestion was only now made for the purpose of defeating the Bill) Could it be supposed that they could introduce into this Bill a provision to compel both master and workman to contribute towards an assurance fund? Such a course would at once render the Bill useless and unnecessary, and those 1129 who saw any practical mode of making compulsory insurance take the place of the Bill had better introduce a Bill of their own with that object. He quite admitted that the principle was one which had actuated a great many of the employers of labour in this country; but he did not understand how this benevolent action was to be converted into legislative action. Nor had he ever heard it mentioned as a subject capable of practical legislation till the Bill had been forced by the constituencies upon the attention of Parliament. If the Bill passed there was no reason to apprehend that it would stay the effect of that benevolent principle, and if it brought it into still greater operation so much the better; but he could not regard it as a possible basis of legislation. As things were now the workmen contributed from their wages to insure themselves against accidents of all kinds, no matter how caused, and their funds were under their own control. At present, these workmen were independent; but if a scheme of compulsory insurance came into operation they would lose their independence, and a system that had hitherto worked well would be changed for one that presented endless practical difficulties. What was the Bill to do with such workmen as did not choose to subscribe to an assurance fund? Let them not attempt any course which might disturb the right feeling existing between employer and workman. Let the masters and men both understand that they had the power of contracting themselves out of this Bill if they liked to contribute voluntarily to a compensation fund. He confessed that the more he considered the question of insurance, the more he was struck both by its benevolence and by its practical defects. An appeal had been made to the Prime Minister to send the Bill to a Select Committee on the ground that the question of insurance might alone be considered. [Sir E. ASSHETON CROSS: No, no !] If not, he did not know why any Select Committee should be appointed. The provisions of the Bill were fully discussed by the Committee of 1877; and it would be only a waste of time to go a second time before a Select Committee, when they could only repeat the evidence they had already heard so lately as 1877, for he was not aware that any fresh evidence would now be forthcoming. The 1130 Government could not consent to appoint another Committee, unless it was suggested that new knowledge on the subject would be thereby gained. Some time had elapsed since Lord Shand had pointed to insurance as the remedy for objectionable or excessive liability for accidents, and his suggestions, which were not listened to then, were accepted by the workmen for the first time now that they had the Bill before them. The view which the Government presented was that the principle of insurance was an independent thing, and must not be introduced into a measure of this kind. It would be of the greatest possible benefit, but it could not be treated as a matter of legislation in substitution of the present measure. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart Wortley) had complained that the word "workman" used in the Bill was unknown in legal phraseology. The word, however, was not unknown; it was used so recently as the Employers and Workmen Bill, 1875, and by the Government; and "workman" was a term known to the law and constantly acted upon. He did not believe that the Bill would have the effect predicted for it by hon. Members opposite. There would be no greater liability thrown upon farmers by its provisions in the event of one workman being injured by being pushed by another upon a threshing machine; and in the case of a man being injured by turning machines in the course of using them, he had only to say that the law remained as it was. The position which the Government occupied was that it was admitted that an alteration of the law was necessary. They had to deal with the law as it existed; and even if that law was unjust—which he did not admit—what they had to do was to render it other than unequal in its operation. If an unjust law, it must be made equal in its injustice. He did not admit, however, that it was unjust. It had been impossible to adopt the suggestion of abolishing common employment. A master and workman had one common interest, and too great a liability should not be cast upon one or the other. That would injure the workman as much as the employer of labour. It had therefore been thought well that a middle course should be pursued, and the Government had introduced this Bill believing that it 1131 would be for the general benefit. No one wished that liability should be cast on the employer so as to depreciate property; and if it should be thought right to consider whether in certain industries a limit should be placed on the extent of liability, there was a precedent for such consideration in those measures which had controlled the liability of shipowners. He thought he had heard an offer made by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles) to the effect that in consequence of this Bill his property would be so depreciated that he would willingly accept one-half of what it was worth last week. An hon. Member near him, on hearing that remark, made this observation—"Done with you." He (the Attorney General) did not think the hon. Member for Wigan would make the offer under circumstances where it was likely to be accepted. The principle of the Bill was one to which the Government intended to adhere until it should be successfully embodied in legislation.
MR. STAVELEY HILL,
in supporting the suggestion that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, said: I venture to detain the House for a few minutes upon a subject which has been brought forward by the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of this Bill as though it would have no effect except upon the large trades, the mining trades, the railways, and the shipowners; and the right hon. Gentleman who has brought forward the Bill to-night spoke of it has having, perhaps, "some terror to the great capitalists." I venture to think, Sir, that the persons who will be most affected by this Bill are the tenant farmers and small farmers. Let us look, Sir, at the two points in which the Bill seems to touch them. In its 1st clause—Where personal injury is caused to a workman by reason of defective works, machinery, plant, or stock connected with the business of the employer,—the employer is liable. We all know that a farmer, though trying to have all useful machinery and plant for the work of his farm can by no means always insure that it shall be of the highest quality or in the highest condition; and, if not, then he becomes liable to an action at law, for, depend upon it, the person injured will always be able to get plenty of so-called scientific witnesses to say how much better the poor farmer's machinery 1132 might have been. Again, the farmer is liable for injury to a workman when the injury is caused by the negligence of a person "to whose order the person injured is bound to conform," or "who has superintendence intrusted to him." Take a waggoner, going out with a lad of some 14 or 15 years old. The man has probably begged his master to let the boy go with him, and has only been allowed to take him on his saying how safe the lad will be with him. The man gives some silly order, tells the lad to take off the chain without stopping the waggon, or does something of that sort, and the poor lad is injured or killed, and the master is tobeliable. Nor is that the worst of it. By the very fact of making the master liable in law you prevent his coming out liberally at once as he would have done, the waggoner declares he has been guilty of no negligence, and the master defends the action. The boy's friends persuade the waggoner to admit that he has been guilty of some negligence, as "the master ought to pay;" and in Court he says, "Well, perhaps he oughtn't to have done it," and the jury giving a verdict accordingly, the poor farmer finds himself let in for a couple of hundred pounds damages, and as much more in costs. I think, Sir, we may complain that the House has not been dealt with quite fairly by Government in this matter. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question at the beginning of the evening, said he should wait to see what suggestions were offered in debate, and the right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill said he should be guided by the Amendments that were hereafter put on the Paper. I think that when a great revolution is proposed in the law, such as that which is contemplated by this Bill, we ought to have the whole matter clearly before us. Remember that this Bill goes far beyond the recommendations of the Committee in 1877. The Chairman, Mr. Lowe, who went the furthest, only proposed in his draft Report that—15. The Committee, therefore, recommend that the funds of every industrial undertaking shall he liable to compensate any person employed in such undertaking- for any injury he may receive by reason of the negligence of any person exercising authority mediately or immediately derived from the owners of such undertaking, with this qualification that the liability to indemnify shall not extend to persons who, though exercising authority, are bonâ-fide employed in actual labour as distinguished from superintendence.1133 And in the Report which was adopted by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry, (Sir Henry Jackson), and accepted by the Committee, the recommendation was—12. Your Committee are of opinion that in cases such as these, that is, where the actual employers cannot personally discharge the duties of masters, or where they deliberately abdicate their functions and delegate them to agents, the acts or defaults of the agents who thus discharge the duties and fulfil the functions of masters, should be considered as the personal acts or defaults of the principals or employers, and should impose the same liability on such principals and employers as they would have been subject to had they been acting personally in the conduct of their business, notwithstanding that such agents are technically in the employment of the principals. The fact of such a delegation of authority would have to be established in each case, but this would not be a matter of difficulty.I think, Sir, before we go further in this measure, which affects so seriously the largest trades in this country, we should have before us the measure on which the Government intends to rely.
§ MR. LAING
said, that having had long experience in the directorate of large Railway Companies, he took a special interest in the working of institutions which were for the benefit of railway servants. He fully and frankly accepted the principle upon which the Bill was founded. He held that it was indefensible that the widows of railway guards, engine-drivers, and stokers should have no claim to compensation in cases which entitled passengers to compensation. In his opinion, assurance ought not to be set up as a substitute for the principle contained in the Bill. These assurance associations, however, had been of the greatest possible value, and there was, so far as he could see, no reason why the system of assurances should not go on concurrently with the legal remedies which the Bill provided. He did not think they should interfere with the right of workmen in the employment, say, of railway companies, to continue associations and insurances founded on mutual goodwill. On the contrary, he should deprecate any legislative compulsion of this kind, If a man found himself better off under an assurance company, he would support any proposal to allow him to contract himself out of the Act. If the company he represented were to abandon this voluntary system, and fall back upon the hard-and-fast letter of the law, he was quite sure they 1134 would gain pecuniarily. The voluntary contributions of his company were about £11,000 a-year, and he was quite sure that that sum would far more than cover the cost of any compensation they would likely have to pay under the Act. In accepting the principle of the Bill he must not, of course, be understood as binding himself to its details, and he hoped steps would be taken to provide, as far as possible, against the increase of litigation. They could not establish a right without giving a legal remedy, and the great danger they had to experience was from the existence of a class of attorneys who made it their business to get hold of claims for compensation and work them to their own advantage rather than that of their clients. They ought, therefore, to do all they possibly could in the Bill to limit and prevent litigation, and it would be a great step in that direction if they adopted the principle foreshadowed by the Attorney General, of having a fixed amount—say, some multiple of the weekly wages—to be awarded in certain cases. The Railway Inspectors of the Board of Trade, when an accident occurred, might also be empowered to decide whether the case came within the Act or whether the Railway Company were to blame, and expensive litigation might in that way be to a great extent avoided. As to the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, looking at it from a railway point of view, he saw no necessity for taking that course, and he should be perfectly willing to leave the Amendment of the Bill in the hands of the Government and the House, believing that they would give fair consideration to any practical suggestions. He, therefore, gave his cordial support to the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, the question was whether the important subject of insurance should be considered by the Committee. No one could deny that of the whole question, representing 100 parts, not more than five parts would be met by the legislation proposed by the hon. Member for Chester, leaving 95 parts still to be dealt with. The Prime Minister had urged that the Bill should be read a second time pro formâ and recommitted; but the right hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) had repudiated what was understood to be the pledge of the Prime Minister, and it was ob- 1135 vious from the speech of the Attorney General that the Government had determined to carry this Bill, having made up their minds that the question of insurance—the 95 per cent of the whole—was beneath their notice. He thought the Government had lost a great opportunity. With their great majority, they seemed to say they would simply make it a question of difficulty between employer and employed. ["No, no!"] He said "Yes, yes;" and he hoped the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles) would go to a division in order to ascertain whether the Government were in favour of dealing with 95 parts, or only five parts of this question. Hon. Members who came from the hustings reeking with pledges to the working men might be disposed to follow the Prime Minister's lead in this matter; but, as a Liberal of 44 years' standing, he warned the Government that they were missing a great opportunity of dealing with the relations of the employers and employed in a broad and statesmanlike manner.
said, he was afraid it was the intention of the Government, as indicated by the Attorney General, to endeavour to include the agricultural classes within the provisions of their Bill, This would be one more apple of discord thrown in by the Government. He did not know what deity it was that made the Government a present of all these discords.
§ MR. BURT
congratulated the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) on the excellent speech he bad delivered, and also the Government on the course which the Attorney General had stated they intended to take in regard to the Bill. There had been a considerable advance on the subject since it was last discussed in that House, for it was now conceded on all hands that the present law was indefensible. He trusted the Government would not consent to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Such a course would only tend to delay, and reveal—what the evidence taken by the last Committee abundantly showed—that the views of masters and men on the question at issue were diametrically opposed. Great apprehensions were expressed concerning the effect of the Bill if it were passed in its present form; but the same phenomenon had been witnessed in connection with the Mines Regulation Act, and the mine-owners now 1136 in the House, he was happy to see, were not less well-clothed or less well-fed than they were before that much-abused Act was passed through the House. He had witnessed with great satisfaction the unanimity and enthusiasm with which the opponents of the Bill advocated insurance. Now, insurance was a very good thing, and he had always advocated it himself; but it could not be accepted by the working classes as a substitute for that Bill. He trusted the Government would not listen to the overtures made to it on that point, but that they would deal with the great question of compensation on the lines they had laid down.
§ SIR HENRY JACKSON
said, that after the assertion of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) that not a single hon. Member in the course of this debate had uttered a word in favour of the existing law, he would confess that, after many years' study of this subject, he was old-fashioned enough to remain convinced that the existing law was really based upon reason and justice, and that the demand for this legislation was not well founded. Perhaps hon. Members might say to him, "Why, if you think so, do you not divide the House on the second reading of this Bill?" He would have taken that course if he thought that by doing so he could hope to maintain the existing law; for, notwithstanding the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth about the vain fears of the operation of the Mines Regulation Act of 1873, he believed the passing of this Bill would, for a time at all events, produce an economical revolution, of which the House did not appreciate the effect or the danger. But it was useless to "kick against the pricks." This agitation was one of the first results of our democratic Constitution. It was impossible not to recognize that there existed out-of-doors a feeling so deep and so passionate that the present law was unjust, that he feared it was hopeless to bear up against it; and he thought the best course to be taken by those who shared his views would be, not to struggle hopelessly against a stream which would overwhelm them, but to endeavour to find some sort of compromise, or come to some terms which might result in a settlement of this vexed question. The question was one of great difficulty; and he felt by no 1137 means sure that the Government had made up their own minds how to deal with it. Among the measures which proposed to settle the law, the only one which dealt with the question on a logical footing was that of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald); yet no one, except that hon. Gentleman himself, had ventured to go the whole length of the argument, or to advocate the abolition of the defence of "common employment." The House did not know to what extent the Government measure would be persisted in. It was said that the change to be introduced into the Bill would be merely matters of definition and alterations in detail; but the whole question might turn out to be one of definition and detail. The Report of the Select Committee of 1877, for which he was primarily responsible, yielding as much to sentiment as influenced by logic, recommended that there should be an alteration of the law by making an employer responsible for the acts of him who was designated vice-master. This proposal was to meet the case of railways and other large corporations, where, from the nature of the case, there could be no personal negligence. If the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman proposed only to go so far as that, he, for one, should recognize it as a compliance with the recommendations of his own Report, and would not have a word to say against it. On the other hand, all were agreed that to go the length proposed by the hon. Member for Stafford would be in the highest degree impolitic, if not dangerous. The Government claimed to have found a middle course, but, in truth, they had gone a long way in the direction desired by the hon. Member for Stafford; and in the Bill which they had presented there was a total absence of definition and of precision; and he defied anyone to say in respect of what officers, servants, or persons the new liability would attach. If the Bill was to be a Bill of definitions, and if the definitions were satisfactory, the discussion might cease. But the House was called upon to debate a Bill which was not final, and, as it were, to treat this important subject rather as a debating society than as a Legislature, simply, as he feared, because the Government had received deputations of persons whose interests were affected, and wanted to satisfy them and to show the country that it was in earnest. He felt that the 1138 Government were in a somewhat difficult position and were pledged to legislate; but they should legislate deliberately, and submit nothing but matured proposals. In this case he did not know what was meant by the principle of the Bill, or how far this principle depended upon details. The Bill would materially affect both capital and labour, and it ought to have been submitted by the Government in something like a definite form. He had never been able to see how insurance could be made compulsory. If it were voluntary, legislation would not be needed; but if it were to be made compulsory, it could only be worked by the creation of a great State Fund, to which employers and workmen alike would be compelled to contribute; and if this would not become a mere tax, what else would it be? He could understand the objection on the workmen's part to a compulsory insurance tax, as they might remember the effect attributed to the facilities for marine insurance, and be not unreasonably alarmed lest, like those facilities, its operation might produce recklessness and danger. Nor did he see how it was fairly possible to adjust the incidence of insurance among men shifting from one employment to another. With every desire to treat this, not as a Party question, but as a social question, he could not see his way to vote with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles). But there was another aspect of the matter which the Government seemed entirely to have overlooked. There were two Reports submitted to the Committee of 1877. One was that drawn by himself, which was adopted by a large majority, and the other was that of the then Mr. Lowe. This proposed that every person exercising a delegated authority, however far down in the scale, should be, as regarded the workman, in the position of the master for the purpose of attaching liability to the employer; but, then, Mr. Lowe shrunk from unlimited liability, and proposed to restrict liability to what he called "the funds of the enterprize;" and that was the recommendation of the Eeport. Before the Bill was forced on the employers of the country it ought to be considered whether, consistent with its principle, some limitation of this kind could not be introduced. There was no lack of precedents. Under the Merchant Shipping Act there was a 1139 limit to the liability imposed upon the shipowner. Then, there was the case of the workmen's trains, which the late Lord Derby forced the railway companies to run. The parties came to terms, and it was arranged that in case any accident happened to a workman travelling by one of these trains the compensation under Lord Campbell's Act was to be limited to £100. These were precedents which he hoped the Government would carefully consider. They were imposing on capital new obligations, and were subjecting employers to new liabilities. This was exciting great alarm and some soreness. The alteration in the law was all in favour of one class, and all against the other; and, as this change was the spontaneous work of Parliament, it was surely open to Parliament to impose conditions upon the benefits conferred, and to consider whether there should not be some statutory restrictions on this new statutory liability which would remove a great deal of the apprehension which was entertained out-of-doors. He hoped this might be made an opportunity for a real settlement of the question. If the hon. Member for Stafford and those who worked with him would accept the Government Bill as a real settlement, great good would be done; but if they choose to regard it as a mere instalment towards that wider measure of which they sometimes heard, the House would have but a sorry prospect before it. If the Government, by considering both sides, could assist in the settlement of the question, not as a class question or a Party question, but so as to put an end to the question, they would deserve well of the House and country; but to secure that result, he could assure them that they would fail unless, in good faith, liberally, and reasonably, they attended to the suggestions made in a conscientious desire to prevent the measure from becoming a serious national disaster.
§ MR. COURTNEY
wished to say a few words on this occasion. He approached the question with entire impartiality. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) said he was satisfied with the present law; but that was not quite consistent with the very able Report of which he was the author in 1877. It was not consistent, either, with his recognition of the fact that the present law was not tenable. Now, it appeared to him that the present 1140 law could not be defended in its entirety. According to the present law, if a servant, through his negligence, caused' some injury to a stranger, that stranger had an absolute and unqualified remedy against the servant's employer. If, however, the injury happened to a fellow-servant, there was no remedy whatever. There was an inconsistency in that position. On the one hand, it was said with great force that the remedy which the stranger had was not defensible in the way of justice; on the other hand, it was said with equal force that as long as the remedy existed in the case of the stranger, you could not draw a distinction that would hold water and say that the fellow-servant should have no remedy whatever. Consequently, they had been drawn to this conclusion, that the present law was, as regarded servants, a bad and unjust law. If the law itself was inherently bad, there was much to be said in favour of exceptions from it, however arrived at. The result, so far as the exceptions were concerned, might be very good. He ventured to submit that the present liability of the employer for injury done by servants to strangers was a bad liability, in so far as it was an unlimited liability; but it was a good liability, in so far as it might be reduced to a limited form. If the person who suffered the injury had no remedy except against the servant who inflicted it, he was liable to a very great injustice. If the employer was liable in an unlimited degree for the fault of the servant, against which he could not guard and in respect of which he had taken the greatest pains by making the best possible selection of a servant, he also was subject to great injustice. It was by making the employer liable only in a limited degree that the true solution of the question was to be found. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry had referred to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, which he believed were most pertinent. They put the captain in a position which exposed servants to the greatest possible risk, but they were very careful to limit the liability of the owner of the ship. They reduced the liability of the employer in the case of injury to strangers to a certain amount per ton of the value of the ship with which the captain was intrusted. Let them apply that principle in the case of fellow-servants, and they 1141 would find a solution of the question. With regard to the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) that it would inexpedient to do so. The labours of a Select Committee would be fruitless, and would afford a remarkable example of an endeavour to extend the sphere of Government beyond its proper limits. How, he might ask, could a Committee discover the precise quota of insurance money to be contributed by the employer and the employed respectively? The suggestion of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles), and his offer of a pound for a pound was a rough-and-ready idea, which, whether good or bad, could not be regarded as a principle of legislation. The real question for the House to consider, if the solution of the problem was to be found, was not in the denial of liability on the part of the employer, but in the limitation of his responsibility, and how that limitation was to be practically applied. The Government had thrown the Bill upon the House, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, "simply as a reduction of the present plea of common employment." If that was all that was intended, a great deal more would be wanted in the way of machinery and provisions before the project could be accepted by the House. Now, were the Government going to re-cast the Bill after committing it pro formâ, or did they mean to allow the question to be worked out by a Select Committee? For his own part, he did not think that the question could be worked out by a Committee; the most satisfactory function of Committees being to choose between two different principles of legislation, and not to work out the practical details of a measure. He hoped, then, that the Government, having acquired some knowledge of the difficulties of the question, would put before the House, not merely another sketch, but a mature project, embodying the proper principle of legislation on the subject, the chief of which principles he held to be the limitation of the liability of the employer measured by the amount of the trust reposed in the person to whom authority was delegated.
§ MR. BIRLEY
remarked, that one of the great dangers of this Bill was the 1142 risk of its promoting, if not much litigation, at least much heart-burning, between employers and the employed. It should, he thought, be the object of the Government so to shape their Bill as to remove, as far as possible, any such danger. He believed that the principle of mutual assurance had been so successfully carried out in very large works that it might be made applicable to the nation at large, and he was not certain that if it were made an alternative proposition it would not be readily accepted by masters and workmen. The Amendment placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) would be an entire disturbance of the settlement proposed by the measure before the House. While he should support the second reading of the Bill he was not satisfied with the way in which it was drawn, believing that it was susceptible of much improvement.
§ MR. D. DAVIES
said, he was very largely interested in that question, and he fully admitted that some alteration was required in the law as between employer and employed. He had impressed on the Home Secretary of the late Government the desirability of passing a Bill while they were in power, because he knew it was a very difficult task, and that no Government could perform it satisfactorily to all parties. He felt that after they had a Liberal Government they should be rather wild, and that they would not be likely to pass as good a measure as the late Government would have done. However, he was not there to complain, only of one thing, and that was that he held the Bill in his hand, and he could not for the life of him understand it. He thought that if anybody could understand it he could, because he had had so much to do with workmen. He had formerly superintended works for the construction of railways himself, and he did it so well that, although the works were very troublesome and very risky, and there was a great number of accidents during their execution, yet no workman or any of his relations ever brought an action against him. He had at all times, if he found that he was wrong, liberally compensated the persons who were injured. But he feared that if this Bill, as he read it, had been passed 20 years ago, he should have had to defend scores and scores of 1143 actions. He would have been liable for every ganger. His foreman, an excellent man, told him that if this Bill passed, as he had understood it, he would be liable for the action of 700 or 800 men in his works who more or less gave orders and instructions. Let the line be drawn, and let the employers know where their liability began and ended. All the large proprietors of coal mines and other works looked on him with great suspicion, because he always took the part of the men. As far as he was individually concerned he was not at all alarmed at that measure, because it would have the effect of keeping capital out of the colleries, and, of course, the large coal proprietors would get on. The competition was so great that they could not get a price; but let them stop the introduction of capital—and timid people would not invest their capital—and the case would be different. In the end the people would have to pay for all that, whatever it might be. He had promised some of the coal proprietors that he would oppose the Bill, unless the Government undertook that it should be extensively amended. But he was now relieved, because the Government said that it was to be amended in Committee. As the Government had promised to re-model the Bill and make it understandable, he would say no more. MB. GORST said, he thought the House had reason to complain, not because they had not had a long and interesting discussion, but because they had not got a Bill before them; and he rose not for the purpose of maintaining the discussion, but in order to press for the adjournment of the debate. His reason was that, before passing the second reading of the Bill, he thought it was desirable that the House of Commons should know what Bill it was that they were asked to read a second time. This Bill belonged to the class of what were vulgarly called dummy Bills, and the House was asked to read a blank Bill which the Government was hereafter at its leisure to fill up. Now, he must say that the conduct of the Government in regard to this question had been, to say the very least of it, extremely strange. It was not even a new question—it was not a question as novel as flogging in the Army, or as the recall of Sir Bartle Frere. It was a question four or five years old. There had been two Select 1144 Committees upon it, and it was a question which every person cognizant of the Business of that House had known for two or three years past, and as to which the Members of the present Government must have formed very strong opinions some years ago. It formed a political cry at the last Elections, and the partisans of the Party now in Office were returned in a great many constituencies to propose some measure to settle this question. Well, what ought they to do? He should have thought that they would have met together in the Cabinet to consider the grievance, and would have devised a particular measure by which this grievance would have been redressed and have submitted that measure to the House of Commons. But, instead of doing that, they appeared to have looked about, and to have picked up the first stray Bill they could get. They got hold of the Bill of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey), and he supposed that, having got hold of the hon. Member for Hastings and put him into the Government, they thought they had a right to his Bill also. It was brought in with the names of a number of the Members of the Government on its back, and the House of Commons was asked to discuss that Bill. Well, what happened that evening? The first thing that happened was that the Prime Minister said it was not at all the measure which the Government would eventually propose. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I beg your pardon, I did not say so.] One of the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters was so convinced that that was the meaning of what the right hon. Gentleman said that, being pledged to his co-owners to oppose the Bill, he now felt himself released from that liability. He hoped he was not mistaken in the language which he had put into the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. They certainly understood him that he should like to have the debate continued something after the fashion of the Oxford and Cambridge Unions on the general question, and that from that debate he would pick up a few stray hints as to what was the particular line of legislation that might be most expedient and would go down best with the country; and, having in this way picked up a few stray hints, he would have the Bill entirely re-modelled 1145 and committed pro forma. The right hon. Gentleman would then make up his mind whether that Bill, so re-drawn, should be referred to a Select Committee. He asked the House of Commons was that the proper way in which Her Majesty's Government were to treat a great question of this nature? He asked the House of Commons whether it was fit that they should now pass the second reading of a Bill which they had never seen—a Bill which everyone told them would greatly affect the social interests of this country? He, for his part, was not prepared to take so rash and headlong a course. He was inclined on this question to have a little of that caution which Her Majesty's Government exhibited on other burning questions; and, therefore, he should move that the debate be adjourned, chiefly with the object that before the House was called upon to discuss this question the Government might meet in Cabinet, and might be able to lay before the House some definite and decisive proposal on which the House might express an opinion.
§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gorst.)
said, that the hon and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had asked the House whether they thought this was the right way of dealing with this question? He (Mr. Dodson) would ask him and the House of Commons whether this was a practical way of dealing with the question before them? What was it the hon. Gentleman complained of? He said they had before them a Bill which was only a sketch of a Bill, and which was one he did not understand. [Mr. GORST said, that he did not say that he did not understand it.] He was glad he had elicited from the hon. and learned Member that he understood the Bill perfectly. The hon. and learned Member, at all events, said—he would not quote his exact words—it was only a sketch of a Bill. What was it he wanted? He wanted a more complete Bill. And how did he propose to arrive at it? Why, by adjourning the debate on the second reading of the Bill. How was another Bill to be introduced by adjourning this debate? The proposition which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the course of that 1146 evening would meet the wish of the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he wished what he considered only a sketch of a Bill to be filled up. The right hon Gentleman the Prime Minister proposed that the Bill should be read a second time, and then committed pro formâ, in order to enable Her Majesty's Government to insert certain Amendments which they thought desirable. Neither the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, nor any other Member of Her Majesty's Government, had used the words "re-modelling the Bill," or "substituting a Bill," which was to be entirely a new Bill. They adhered to the principles embodied in this Bill. What was proposed was, that they might insert certain Amendments in order to make the intentions of the Bill clear to hon. Members who did not understand them so perfectly as the hon and learned Member for Chatham. Then, some hon. Member—he thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill)—had spoken as if it were a most extraordinary course to propose to commit a Bill pro formâ, and that it involved a substitution of one Bill for another.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, that what he said was that the right hon. Gentleman would make up his Bill from the Amendments that would be put upon the Table of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that he would take such suggestions as might be given in the course of the debate.
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister did not use those expressions. He thought it would be in the recollection of his hon. and learned Friend that the late Government, which he so consistently supported, not infrequently asked the House to read a Bill a second time and then commit it pro formâ. But if that proposal was not then opposed by their supporters, neither was it opposed by hon. Gentlemen who sat on that side of the House, nor was it necessary to remodel the Bill, or substitute another for it. There was another thing he had heard in the course of that debate that night—namely, that the Bill was to be read a second time pro formâ. In fact, he had never heard of a Bill being read a second time pro formâ. They were not asking the House to read the Bill a 1147 second time pro formâ, but to read it a second time, and thus to affirm the principle of the Bill. [Mr. MAC IVER: What is the principle of the Bill?] He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman who asked that question was present about 5 o'clock, when he (Mr. Dodson) endeavoured at considerable length—he was afraid at too considerable a length—to explain to the House what was the object of the Bill. He believed that he had succeeded in explaining the object of the measure. He was sorry if he had not succeeded in the case of the hon. Member. If he had not conveyed his meaning to the hon. Member when he spoke before, he could not undertake to inflict on the House that speech again. He would suggest to the hon. Member that, perhaps, if he would look at the ordinary organs of information tomorrow morning, he might see what he had said, and might then succeed in acquiring some idea of what the object of the Bill was. Now, as he hoped he had made it clear to the hon. and learned Member for Chatham that the adjournment of the debate would not only not attain the object he desired but postpone it, he hoped he would not insist on dividing the House, but would allow the second reading of the Bill to take place then. He thought there was a disposition in the House that it should be taken. They had had a long and interesting debate, and the Government would be prepared, when they got into Committee, to listen with the greatest attention to any suggestions which might be made by hon. Members on either side of the House, in addition to those which had been already thrown out.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson) had said two things which he thought ought to be noticed. He had said that it was not unusual to commit a Bill pro formâ; but he had said, also, that he never heard of a Bill being read a second time pro formâ. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) would point out to the right hon. Gentleman, in the first place with regard to committing a Bill pro formâ, that whenver he had seen that operation performed, it was almost always—he thought he might say it was invariably—done in this wise; that the Bill was introduced, that it was discussed, and after the suggestions had been made for some kind of alteration, the proposers 1148 of the Bill having indicated generally the nature of the alterations contemplated, it was asked that the Bill might be committed pro formâ in order that it should be reprinted, so as to give effect to the alterations of which they to some extent indicated the character. Now, on the present occasion, they had no indication whatever of the character of the alterations which they wore told would be introduced into this Bill. And when the right hon. Gentleman said that he never heard of a Bill being read a second time pro formâa, he (Sir Stafford Northcote) also agreed with him that he had never heard of its being proposed to read a Bill the second time pro formâ. But what they were asked to assent to then was something like that curious and unprecedented performance. Now, what had happened before any discussion had taken place was, that a question was put to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister by an hon. Gentleman on his own side of the House, as to whether he would assent to the Bill being referred to a Select Committee? and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said, in answer, that all the House would be expected to affirm by agreeing to the second reading of the Bill was that the present condition of the law was not satisfactory, and a further protection against accidents was necessay. Well, that was just what they usually understood when they agreed to the first reading of a Bill. On the introduction of the Bill they were told that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory, and that some further provision was necessary, and upon that statement they assented to the introduction of a Bill generally without any minute description of its character. But when they came to the second reading, they could hardly look upon it as being in accordance with their proceedings simply to affirm that the present state of things was unsatisfactory, Well, of course, they knew perfectly well that there had been a very general consensus of opinion that this was a matter upon which there would be legislation. They had also ascertained this, in course of many years of discussion, that it was a most difficult matter to decide in what way they could legislate so as to attain that object without injury and mischief to trade. The right hon. Gentleman came forward in the very first open- 1149 ing of the Session, in Her Majesty's Speech, and put forward the measures which Her Majesty's Government were going to bring before the notice of the House, and among them a Bill on this subject. They did expect from this that they should have some guidance, and that they should not be told only that this was a most important subject. But Her Majesty's Government had now virtually said that they had no Bill of their own, and that they had picked up one which they found to be already introduced. They brought it forward and were prepared to recommit it pro formâ, and then introduce what alterations they might wish before it was discussed. But, then, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester said was that he explained the principle some time ago, and a question was put to him, from that side of the House, as to what the principle was. He was not very much surprised to hear that question put, because there was in the course of the evening much discussion as to what really was the principle of this Bill. What was the point upon which they proposed to differ from other persons on this subject? The right hon. Gentleman said they would see that in the morning papers, if they would wait till then. He really felt, in this matter, that they had been rather hardly treated by the Government. They had had it constantly impressed upon them that the late Government were not competent to deal with questions of domestic legislation—that they had no firm grasp of principles. He must say that he expected that they should have something like an example from Her Majesty's Government upon that important point. He was disappointed, and he thought the House had really been led into a most extraordinary confusion and muddle on this important subject; and he did earnestly trust, if this were a sample of the legislation they were to expect from the hands of Her Majesty's Government, that, at all events, they would take this warning, that before they brought any measure before them to ask for a second reading, it would be better for them to clearly make up their minds as to what principles they should ask them to vote upon.
said, that, of all the subjects which could be brought before the House, he thought this one was 1150 the least fit to be used as an instrument of Party attack; but so anxious was the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to commend himself to the favour of some among his supporters, that he had made the Motion for the adjournment the occasion of making extremely inaccurate statements with regard to Her Majesty's Government, and had made an attack upon the Government based upon those inaccurate statements. He must say that the statements which were attributed to him were altogether inaccurate. No statement was made by him which, in the slightest degree, could lead any hon. Member to suppose that Her Majesty's Government contemplated making material alterations in the aim of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham attempted to make out a case of that kind, and he certainly made out that which, if accurate, he must admit, would be perfectly fatal. The hon. and learned Member ascribed to him (Mr. Gladstone) a series of expressions, not one of which he used. He used "stray hints as to re-modelling the Bill," and various other expressions attributed to him, upon which the hon. and learned Member founded his own case. But he would most emphatically say that those expressions were either due to the fertility of the hon. and learned Gentleman's imagination, or to the inaccuracy of his recollection. Having complained of the House having been baffled by this proposition of the Government, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that the question was delayed by the course taken by the Government; but he then proceeded to stultify his own statement by proposing, not what in all consistency he ought to have proposed, the rejection of the measure in order that the Government might produce, what he described as a real Bill, but simply the adjournment of the debate, which would have the effect of hanging up the whole proceeding and of prolonging the uncertainty which he said prevailed, and of preventing the Government from taking any further steps in the matter. That was the course taken by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham; and that was the course upon which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, anxious to make this subject the occasion of a Party attack, was, however, utterly unable to come to an 1151 opinion. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell them whether he intended to support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate or not. If the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was accurate in his statement of the facts, he ought to have moved the rejection of the Bill—he was called upon to move the rejection of the measure, if his description of his statements was in the slightest degree a true one. But the statement of the hon. and learned Member was not true; for the words he used were intended to convey, and he believed did convey, that they had heard much upon the subject of this Bill, and had come to an opinion upon it. It had been stated that no discussion had taken place; but he would remind the House that the Bill was by no means a new one, and that it was eminently a Bill of a practical nature, and with regard to which it was peculiarly the duty of the Government in Office not only to obtain the opinions of hon. Members in that House, but likewise to receive information from unofficial sources out-of-doors. In the course of the debate that evening they had been largely favoured with information from hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and he considered that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was entirely wrong in his statement that there had been no discussion upon the Bill. There had been a large communication of the views of his own supporters, and also from those of the Government, and from those sources the Government had derived very great advantage. The right hon. Gentleman stated that that was the first time he had ever heard of a Bill being read a second time pro formâ. He (Mr. Gladstone) entirely denied the accuracy of that description of what was now being done. He made no such request to the House. He stated that it was his desire to frame the Bill in such a manner as could only be done after consultation with those who considered the present state of the law unsatisfactory and were practically acquainted with the matter, in order that proper protection might be given to workpeople against accidents. But he never said that he intended to modify or re-model the Bill in the way suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham. His observations upon the subject of the alterations 1152 which the Government desired liberty to make at a subsequent period of the Bill were confined altogether to certain Amendments in detail. He freely admitted that the Government was prepared to avail itself of any assistance which it might receive from either side, with a view to rendering more clear the main specifications of the Bill. It had been asked what was the principle of the Bill? He believed nothing was more dangerous than venturing upon a strict definition of the principle of most Bills. He had heard from the opposite Bench, when a right hon. Gentleman sat upon it who was a distinguished Leader of the Opposition, observations to that effect. Further, he remembered that when the Irish Land Bill was read a second time, the same right hon. Gentleman said that he assented to the second reading of the Bill because it implied nothing except that the Irish Land Laws required to be altered. It seemed to him that that was very nearly a pro formâ reading of the Bill. He was unwilling to refer to those matters on which the right hon. Gentleman had assailed, in his opinion somewhat prematurely, the legislation of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the complaint which was made of the late Government as being incompetent for domestic legislation; but, so far as he (Mr. Gladstone) was aware, it was not incompetency of domestic legislation which was charged upon the late Government, it was a disposition to make other occupation for the Parliament by the disturbance of the relations of the Empire and to the detriment of its interests. He was sorry to have been obliged to correct the statement of the Leader of the Opposition in his remarks upon the general strain and tenour of the complaints made with regard to the late Government. Probably he might think that he himself (Mr. Gladstone) had been one of the chief offenders; but he would like to know in what speech of his it was that he ever presumed to say that his right hon. Friend was incompetent for the work of legislation? He knew very well that he had acknowledged his competency on several occasions in that House, and had lamented that that competency had been turned to so little account. He left this subject, calling the House to witness that he had no- 1153 ticed it with, reluctance and in a way simply to reply to some of the statements of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. With regard to the question before the House, let them try to extricate it from the additional embarrassment in which the inconsistent Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham had involved it, in utter contradiction to the tenour of his speech. The question had undergone a most interesting discussion. It was now proposed that they should lose the fruits of their labours by postponing the matter, without taking a single step towards its solution. Let them censure, if they would, the conduct of the Government, or say, if they liked, that they intended doing that which they did not intend—namely, to alter the basis of the Bill; but, at any rate, let progress be made. It was admitted that the question was one most deeply and profoundly interesting to classes so large that he might almost call them the nation itself. The nation was anxious to know what they intended to do with it. He called upon the House to oppose the adjournment; and he hoped that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had not been able to give them his opinion upon the Motion, had by that time made up his mind, and might possibly even support the Government.
SIR E. ASSHETON CROSS
said, it had been his intention to address a few remarks to the House upon the subject-matter of the Bill itself; but he did not propose to go into the very interesting questions contained in it at that late hour—12.35 A.M.-—because there would be ample opportunity for so doing at a more convenient time. He only rose, therefore, upon that interlocutory matter which had been brought before the House, to say, in the first instance, that he entirely differed from the right hon. Gentleman when he challenged his right hon. Friend near him (Sir Stafford Northeote) for saying that it was quite novel in Parliamentary history to ask that a Bill should be read a second time pro formâ. He wished to point out that the case referred to by the Prime Minister in connection with the present debate, as a precedent founded on the example of Lord Beaconsfield, when Leader of the Opposition in that House, had not the slightest similarity to the case of the present Bill. Lord Beaconsfield had, as 1154 Leader of the Opposition, allowed the second reading of a Government measure to pass unchallenged by a division, on the assumption that such and such things formed the main principle of the Bill. There was no instance of any Government having brought in a Bill and then saying—"You may accept such and such things which are not in the Bill as the principle of the Bill, and that they shall be introduced and discussed hereafter." The position taken by Lord Beaconsfield, when he was Leader of the Opposition, had nothing whatever to do with the present state of things, when the Government came forward and asked them to read a Bill pro formâ, saying, at the same time, they would present the House with another Bill, which could be discussed afterwards. He wanted rather to recall the attention of the House, although he did not mean to discuss the Bill at length, to the real practical question brought before them in the Bill itself; and he could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had not exactly comprehended the temper of the House in the matter. There were two lines which might be taken with regard to this very delicate and difficult question. They might either say that the workman should be placed in the same position as a stranger, which would, of course, enlarge the liability of the employer very much; or they might say that the law should remain exactly as it was. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said he was not going to take one course or the other; he was going to take the viâ media. But that was the precise difficulty of the question. How were they to take their stand where the viâ media might be? That had been the reason why the question had been hung up so long, and why the late Government took the very sensible and proper course of trying to define in the Bill itself where the liability of the employer was to stop and where it was not. The Bill, in its present shape, failed to satisfy the House and the country on that particular vital point. It was not a question of principle whether the law was to be altered at all. That was a question upon which almost all were agreed. Everybody knew that the country wished the question to be settled. The question, however, was how to settle it, and where was the line to be drawn, so that the employer and 1155 the employed might know where their liability began and ceased? It was all important to prevent law suits between the employer and employed, and not to set class against class; but he could not help thinking that if ever there was a Bill which would do that and promote law suits between parties who were most willing to avoid them it was the Bill then before the House. The late Government had in view precisely the same object; whether they would have succeeded or not was another matter. The course which the late Government had taken was a wiser course than that which was now proposed. What they had endeavoured to do had been to draw a line in the Bill itself, indicating the pre-ciseliability of the employer in each of the different kinds of employment, so that there could be no mistake between the employer and the employed as to where the liability began and where it ceased. They were perfectly aware that it was a question of the greatest difficulty and delicacy; but they they were willing to try how in each particular case the matter could be denned. It would be necessary, when they came really and practically to deal with this great question, as it must be dealt with, to point out by the Bill in the case of the different trades and different employments, not by general terms, but by particular words applying to different trades, where the liability began and where it ceased; otherwise they would get into endless confusion. The late Government had referred the Bill to a Select Committee of the House of Lords, for the purpose of defining, so far as they could, those particular points. He understood the right hon. Gentleman now to say that the principle of the Bill, whatever might be the character of the Amendments to the Bill afterwards to be brought before them, was to be found on the Paper at present on the Table of the House, and that the questions to be determined afterwards were matters of "expression and detail," and that, therefore, he was going to commit the Bill pro formâ, for the purpose of clearing up "expression and detail." If that were so he ventured to say that it was not the practice to ask the House to read a Bill pro formâ, and then ask them to read it a second time simply for the purpose of "expression and detail." In the present case, however, he contended that the 1156 detail was matter of principle. If it was not so, then he asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the meaning of his answer given to the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian), at the beginning of the evening, who had asked him whether, seeing the delicacy of the case, he would not refer it to a Select Committee? The answer given by the right hon. Gentleman was to the effect that he would not state at that moment whether he would refer it to a Select Committee or not; that it would be a matter for further consideration, but that he was anxious for debate; that the Bill should be read a second time, and that, having had the advantage of the debate, he would then commit it pro formâ for the purpose of presenting another Bill. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman was wrong in shaking his head; if the Bill was altered on such a point of what he maintained was one of principle it must be another Bill. In order to ease the mind of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire, the right hon. Gentleman had said that "all the House will do by consenting to the second reading of the Bill will be this—it will consent to the principle that the present condition of the law is not satisfactory, and that further protection against accidents is necessary." Now, that was the sole principle which they had obtained from the Prime Minister himself; but it was simply an abstract resolution that the question called for legislation. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had said that no one could be deceived by his words on the course suggested by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire. But he (Sir P. Assheton Cross) would go back to the time when those words were uttered. The hon. Member for Glamorganshire wanted the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee, and why the Government could not consent to that he did not know. However, after the question of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire had been replied to, the hon. Member got up in his place and said he had been going to make a speech on the Bill; but now that he had heard from the Prime Minister that this was not the Bill, but that it was to be committed pro formâ, he would not do so. It was, therefore, quite clear that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, made before the present debate had begun, had 1157 convinced the hon. Member for Glamorganshire that the Bill eventually to be discussed was not the present Bill, but was to be another Bill. In dealing with this question, he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) desired that the course taken by the late Government should be pursued by the present one, and a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite were of the same opinion; and the course which they still pressed upon the Government was that the Bill, after it had been read a second time, should be referred to a Select Committee. He had never expressed any opinion against the principle that the Bill ought to be altered. He had not made those statements for the purpose of avoiding or stopping legislation, for he believed honestly and truly that legislation would be facilitated by the matter being referred to a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman must feel that this was a question which vitally concerned an enormous number of persons throughout the Kingdom, both workmen and employers, each of whom were entitled to have their views thoroughly represented. He implored the Government to refer the question to a Select Committee, and assured them that they would receive every possible assistance from hon. Members on both sides of the House; but until he heard distinctly from Her Majesty's Government as to that, he could not possibly answer the question whether or not he and his hon. Friends would support the Motion for adjournment.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, they had at last come to the real issue; the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was a proposal to throw over the Bill. The question to be considered was, should there be a measure on the subject of the relations between employers and their employés, during the present Session of Parliament, or should there not? The intention of the Government was to pass a measure to deal with the subject in that period, and it rested with the House to say whether the Government should succeed in their intention or not. They went to issue upon that point with the right hon. Gentleman, who had made one of his dilatory pleas for postponement. The right hon. Gentleman said there had been a Committee which had entered into protracted labours and had satisfied neither employers nor the employed, What 1158 reason was there, then, to expect that another Committee would result in anything better? The Government were prepared to carry the measure through; and if the House should not support them in their determination the country would know whom to hold responsible for the defeat of the measure, and remember that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was one of the ringleaders in opposition to it.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that the more they heard from the Treasury Bench on the subject of this Bill, the greater became the confusion in which it was involved. The right, hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had told them that he and his Colleagues were prepared to take issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) upon the question whether the measure should be allowed to pass into law that Session. But that was not the issue. His right hon. Friend had proposed that the Bill should be read a second time, and that then, in the ordinary course, it should be referred to a Select Committee. The proposal of the Government, as stated by the Prime Minister earlier in the evening, was that the Bill should be read a second time; that it should then be committed pro formâ, when certain alterations would be inserted by the Government; and that when that course had been taken the Government would decide whether it should then be submitted to a Select Committee or not. The Secretary of State for the Home Department had told them that the simple proposal of his right hon. Friend was a dilatory plea, and that the measure would not be passed this Session unless the proposal of Her Majesty's Government was assented to. Why, the proposal that the Bill should be first amended by the Government and afterwards referred to a Select Committee was far more dilatory than that of his right hon. Friend. Again, the Secretary of State for the Home Department said—"You have had a Committee on this subject, which sat a long while and presented a Report which was satisfactory to neither party, and now you wish to refer again the whole question to a Select Committee." No such thing. His right hon. Friend never proposed to 1159 refer the question to a Select Committee. His proposal was that the Bill should be referred in the ordinary course. He ventured to say that anyone accustomed to the Forms of the House would know, from the intricate and delicate nature of the question, that the proposal to refer a Bill to a Select Committee was a course specially directed to the furtherance of protracted legislation. One would imagine that his right hon. Friend had invited the House to a discussion of all the principles that would be brought before the Select Committee; but he had only suggested that the Bill should be referred in the ordinary course, and the Government, speaking by the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had made no answer whatever to that very proper suggestion.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he believed there was a general desire that some such Bill as that before the House should become law. They had to decide as to what course would be most likely to lead to that result. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire said, send it to a Select Committee. On the other hand, the Prime Minister said, let the Government have an opportunity of doing what had been frequently done before—what, in his (Mr. Forster's) recollection, had been done in the case of the Education Act—namely, of putting before the House such Amendments to the Bill as, without in the slightest degree deviating from its principles, would make it more satisfactory to both parties concerned. That would take but a little time, and they could proceed with the measure almost immediately. He believed that there was really no Party feeling upon this question, but that there was a sincere intention to get the matter settled. He thought that, after the course proposed by the Government, they would then be able to go into Committee of the Whole House and get through the clauses satisfactorily. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire advised that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, because, in his opinion, that would be the least dilatory way of dealing with the matter. To his (Mr. Forster's) mind, it appeared that that would be the most dilatory course they could pursue. A Select Committee might be empowered to take evidence, 1160 and in that case they certainly could not get through the matter during the present Session. In the same way, a Select Committee for clauses would take a very long time. The Government was not prepared to hand over to a Select Committee the charge of making these important alterations in the law. On the contrary, they considered that they could frame a Bill which would be acceptable to the House, and that it could be best done by reading the Bill a second time and committing it pro formâ. If there were any real desire to see the Bill passed into law, the Government should be allowed to take the course which, it thought best. In three or four days their Amendments could be made, and the matter could then be proceeded with rapidly.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would pardon him, he should like to say that he certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to state that, having committed the Bill pro formâ, the Government would then consider whether they would consent to send it to a Select Committee.
said, that there was a desire on the part of some of his hon. Friends on that side of the House that he should refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and observations had been made with reference to that. But there were two modes of referring to a Select Committee. There might be a Select Committee with power to take evidence, and one without. Probably, when his hon. Friends were referring to a Select Committee on the clauses without power to take evidence, his right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire considered that they were referring to a Committee to collect evidence. He (Mr. Gladstone) used the expression that if the Government should ultimately feel disposed to refuse the proposal of some of its supporters to refer the Bill to a Select Committee that they would then have lost nothing. In saying that, he was referring to a Select Committee on the clauses of the Bill, and was endeavouring to show that by committing the Bill pro formâ the Government was not pledged to which particular course it should adopt in the ultimate stages of the measure.
§ MR. M. BROOKS
said, he would not stand for one moment between the House 1161 and the division, did he not think it necessary to remind hon. Members of the distinct subject upon which they were debating. Hon. Gentlemen there present had amongst their constituents working men, and let him remind them that the way they gave their votes upon this question would be very narrowly watched. Whether or not any Bill affecting the law of employers and employed was passed that Session, this was, nevertheless, a subject which was a test question at the last Election. Whether they voted one way or the other that night, yet the question would come up again and again, and the votes and the speeches of each hon. Member would be recorded against him in the minds of his constituents. He did not know whether he was in Order in referring to the authority by which hon. Gentlemen sat in that House; but he could tell them that, some day or other, they would come face to face with that tribunal. This was a question upon which they should not be led away by the speeches of hon. Members upon one side of the House or the other, but should keep before them the point that they must decide whether or not a Bill regarding the liability of employers for injuries caused to workmen in their employ was to be passed or not during the present Session.
said, that he should ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Motion. His only object in making it was to get as quickly as he could at the propositions of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said that he would effect that object better by letting the Government take the second reading of the Bill pro formâ. He was willing that that course should be taken. As the accuracy of the statement which he had imputed to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had been questioned, he would say that the words used by the right hon. Gentlemen were these—
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.