HC Deb 02 September 1880 vol 256 cc1109-19

Lords' Amendments considered.

Several agreed to.


moved that the Lords' Amendment to leave out sub-section 3 of Clause 1, which partially abolished the defence of "common employment in certain cases," be disagreed with.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 13, the next Amendment, to leave out sub-section 3.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Dodson.)


was extremely glad the Government were going to oppose the insertion of this Amendment, which had been moved in "another place" by a distinguished ornament of their Party. The Amendment was utterly opposed to the principle of the Bill, and he should not think a voice would be raised in its favour.


thought the Amendment should be agreed to.

Question put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 11, the next Amendment, agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 13, the next Amendment, disagreed to.

Subsequent Amendments to Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 43, agreed to.


said, he proposed to amend the Lords' Amendment limiting, the operation of the Act to two years, by inserting the year 1887 for the year 1882. He did not think the limitation of time was for the advantage, either of employers, or workmen, or Parliament. It was not to the advantage of workmen or employers; because the term of two years was so short that it would tend to prevent either a voluntary or a natural adjustment of the differences existing between them. It would be disadvantageous to Parliament, because it left them such a short time before they must take up the Bill again. Although he never admired the general principle of the insertion of a limitation of time in Acts of Parliament, in this case it was open to a two-fold objection. The period was so short, that, even if Parliament should find by experience that some clause in the Bill required alteration next Session, it might almost be raised as an objection to doing so that it must expire a year after. On the other hand, if the Bill was found to work fairly well it would be, especially when Parliament was pressed with other Business, exceedingly inconvenient to be necessarily called upon to deal with this question in the Session but one after the present. At the same time, though he objected to any limitation, he was willing, in the present position of affairs, and to prevent difficulties arising between the two branches of the Legislature, to make a concession. He proposed, therefore, to make the limitation seven years, and not two, so that the question would have to be considered by the next Parliament and not by the present. He wished to impress this distinctly on the House, that in no way whatever did the Amendment he proposed fetter the hands of the present Parliament in dealing with the question as soon as it might be found necessary.

Amendment proposed, In page 4, line 43,the next Amendment, after "1880," to insert the words "and shall continue in force till the thirty-first day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty-two, and to the end of the then next Session of Parliament, and no longer, unless Parliament shall otherwise determine; and all actions commenced under this Act before that period shall be continued as if the said Act had not expired, read a second time.


expressed his regret that the principle of limitation should be agreed to, though he would not, in the circumstances, oppose the course recommended by the Goverement.


thought it extremely undesirable that limitations of that nature should be introduced, which would simply tend to unsettle the relations between employers and employed. He could not accept the Amendment of the President of the Local Government Board. He should, therefore, propose to move the rejection of the Lords' Amendment.


said there were already two Amendments before the House, and until the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was disposed of, the hon. Member would not be in Order in making the Motion he had suggested.


was sorry to oppose the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. He regretted the course taken by the other House, and he thought their Amendment a very foolish one. But he thought the shorter limit would be better than the longer. The former would practically be disregarded by employers and workmen; whereas a longer period would tend to the unsettlement of their relations. He hoped it was not too late for the Government to re-consider their determination and to reject the Lords' Amendment.


observed, that the fixing of a time limit, whether long or short, would prevent that re-adjustment of the relations of capital and labour which would be the natural effect of the Bill if it were really operative. Both the inane Amendment of the House of Lords and that now proposed by the Government were, therefore, in his opinion, objectionable. If ever there was a Ministry of good intentions frightened out of their senses by the House of Lords, it was the present Ministry. In his opinion, the introduction of either a longer or shorter period of limitation would be fatal to the whole underlying principle of the Bill; he hoped, therefore, the Government would not knock under on it, but stand firm, in one instance, at least, against the House of Lords.


trusted the Government would reject the Lords' Amendment, as he was convinced nothing could be more mischievous than a limitation to two years. There could not be the same knowledge of the Bill in "another place" as Members of that House had, and the limitation would only bring into contempt the honest efforts of the Government to improve the relations between employer and employed. He hoped the House would stand by the Government, who were animated by a sincere desire to benefit the working classes, and who, on the present occasion, took the course which seemed to them most likely to achieve that result.


reminded the House that the subject, although one of great complexity and full of questions which required the most careful and grave consideration, had not been very fully considered by the Government before they introduced the Bill. The Amendments of the Upper House were, therefore, entitled to very respectful consideration. He was no great admirer of the House of Lords; but if they had unreservedly passed the Bill without discussion, they would have surrendered their responsibility. He saw grave objections to the principle of limitations in general; but, in the present case, he felt that it was perfectly justifiable. The Bill was admittedly incomplete. In two years' time the whole subject would necessarily come up for re-consideration, and the doctrine of common employment would, probably, then be swept away altogether. He did not think the working men would be satisfied with the extension of the time proposed by the Government.


said, he had no particular admiration for the principle of limitation in legislation; but, if a limit of time was to be fixed, a period of seven years was better than one of two, inasmuch as it would do away with any feeling of uncertainty. He did not believe that a limitation would be at all prejudicial to the interests of the working classes. Parliament would never retrace its steps in this matter; the only possible amendment of the law would be in the direction of further concession. But the Government had to look at both sides of the question; and it seemed to them that the employers would seriously suffer from the limitation of the Bill to two years. They would be subject to the Bill meanwhile, and there would be no time for any readjustment of matters which might compensate them in another direction. It was impossible that things could settle down into a new groove in two years, but they would in seven. He failed to see any grounds for the plea of the House of Lords in favour of this Amendment—namely, that the Bill was brought forward at a time when it could not receive full consideration. He could not understand why their Lordships' intellects should be more feeble in September than in any other month in the year, or that they wanted more time to study the measure. Although sent up to them at the end of August, it was discussed in a House as full as was usually seen in May or June, and they actually disposed of it before dinner. That House, it seemed to him, had already sufficiently proved that it could stand its ground by rejecting the most important of the Lords' Amendments. He was not, as he had said, particularly in favour of any limitation at all; but the question was one on which a compromise might fairly be arrived at, seeing that no great practical inconvenience could result from it, and that otherwise the passing of the Bill might be endangered.


hoped the House would disagree with the Amendment; for, in his opinion, either limitation would act injuriously to employers and employed, and in any case it would render impossible the establishment of a satisfactory scheme of voluntary insurance. Everyone connected with accidental assurance companies or the cost of their establishment would understand that the expenditure of the first two or three years was most heavy, and no company could be solidly established to undertake such risks with a limitation of this kind in the Bill.


supported the Government, who, he was willing to believe, were the best judges of what should be done in this matter, with a due regard to the safety of the Bill; and he was surprised that hon. Members opposite, who had been returned to support the Government, should not have the same confidence in them as himself. If he might venture to give advice to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it would be that, in matters of procedure like this, they should defer to the opinions of their natural Leaders.


said, the question of a time limit was not one of primary importance, and he was not disposed to quarrel with the Government over the compromise they proposed. It did not greatly matter whether they waited two years or seven years for a complete measure. He might be permitted to remark, however, in connection with these Amendments, that it was excessively inconvenient that that House, after spending a great deal of time on the Bill, should have its labours summarily overhauled in "another place;" it was an inconvenience which, he believed, would not be long tolerated by the people of this country. He begged to tender his acknowledgments to the Government for disagreeing with the Lords' Amendment to omit sub-section 3, which, to his mind, was the very kernel of the measure. The Bill had already, to his knowledge, produced beneficial results. A large employer of labour in the City had confessed to him, only that day, that he had taken additional measures for the prevention of accidents to his men. This was the true effect hoped for by the class of employed; not the mere assurance of a trifling money payment to a man's widow and children.


said, he was sorry he could not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in supporting the Bill. He contended that if there was to be a period of suspense, the shorter it was the better. The whole subject, he believed, would require to be dealt with again at the end of two years. The Bill was imperfect in many respects, especially in this—that it took no account of the different circumstances of different classes of employers.


said, he did not think it of much importance whether the limit adopted was two years or seven, because the question would, ere long, have to be again dealt with by Parliament. The effect of the Bill, as it must add to the cost of production, would be to reduce wages, and might, therefore, very seriously interfere with the comfort of the very class it was intended to benefit. Such legislation needed more caution than had been bestowed on this Bill. It was framed for the advantage of railway servants to the injury of miners. If the inspectors of factories had done their duty this Bill need not have called for additional measures for the prevention of accidents.

Amendment amended, in line 3, by leaving out the word "two," and inserting the word "seven," instead thereof.—(Mr. Dodson.)

Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment as amended."—(Mr. Dodson.)


urged that it would be much better to have no limitation at all. It seemed to him, after hearing the speeches in the Upper House, that the noble Lord who first proposed such a change had no proper idea or conception of the scope and purpose of the Bill. A limitation, whether long or short, would prevent the formation of a proper scheme of assurance, and would retard the settlement of the relations between employer and employed, and if the Bill needed Amendment, which was very probable, such Amendment would be delayed till the period of the limitation had expired. He begged, therefore, to move that the House disagree with the Lords' Amendment, as amended.

Amendment proposed, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment as amended."—(Mr. Arthur Arnold).


held that the injurious effect of the limitation would fall upon the employers only, and they were quite capable of defending themselves. He could not see that the interests of the workmen would, in the least, suffer by this proposal; or that it would necessitate any postponement of further amendment of the law. He had come to the House intending to vote with the last speaker; but the course of the debate had convinced him that it was the duty of the House to support the proposals of the Government. The Amendment was, on the whole, rather a silly one, seeing that Parliament could amend the Bill, if it thought fit, next year; but the discredit of it fortunately attached, not to that House, but to "another place."


while acknowledging that the opinion of the Government ought to be regarded with the greatest deference by new Members on the Ministerial side, yet observed that no Minister had spoken in favour of this limitation which had been sent down from the House of Lords, and that neither from Minister nor independent Member had he heard any argument in favour of the Amendment on its merits. He could see no difference between this Bill and any other measure of ordinary legislation, and he, therefore, could not but regard the kind of limitation which the Lords' Amendment imposed as of the most dangerous character. He utterly failed to comprehend why, if a limitation in point of time was to be admitted in a Bill which was neither of a temporary, nor of an experimental character, it should not also be inserted in any other Bill whatsoever; or why there should be any limitation in a Bill intended to settle rights, to alter the law, and to affect the relations of an enormous number of persons in this country. The grievance was not a purely sentimental one. Although, as the hon. Member who had last spoken had said, the employers were quite able to protect themselves, it was, nevertheless, the duty of the House to give both to them and to the workmen even-handed justice. It was urged on their behalf, when the Bill was under consideration by the House, that its injurious effect upon the employers would be avoided or minimized by some system of insurance; but if this Amendment were allowed to pass, and the Bill to become only of a temporary character, no firm basis of arrangement could be made, so as to protect the employers from the effects of the Bill. If the noble Lord with whom the idea of a limitation originated wished to benefit the employers, he had entirely misconceived the effect of his Amendment. So far from benefiting them, it would injure their interests; and, though he had hitherto voted with the Government on every occasion on this Bill, he now felt it his duty to vote against the admission of any part of this Amendment.


said, he hoped there would be no misunderstanding as to the position which the Government occupied in this matter. They certainly did not introduce the measure as a temporary or experimental measure, and they did not think any limitation of time desirable. Nor did they regard the limitation of any time for the operation of the Act as being absolute as a matter of legislation, if they thought the Bill should be altered; but, in the present circumstances, they had to choose, not the course which most commended itself to their minds, but that which appeared to them most practicable. They were anxious to carry this Bill during the present Session; and they had to consider whether it would be better to adopt Amendments of the kind inserted by the other House, and see the Bill become law; or, whether they should forego the latter object, and refuse to accept any restrictive clauses. A Liberal House of Commons, perhaps, would seldom obtain from the House of Lords, as it was at present constituted, all it desired. The Government had entered into no negotiation with anybody on this subject. They proposed a concession on a matter which did not affect the principle of the Bill. Their view was, that the limitation proposed was perfectly harmless, and would not, in any way, affect the operation of the Bill. It practically was no limitation at all, as when the law had been in existence seven years, both employers and employed would have adapted themselves to it, and there would be no desire to alter it.


said, he objected altogether to any limitation, as it would cause uncertainty, and lead to a great deal of litigation. He contended that the arguments of the Attorney General were conclusive against a limitation to seven years. In the first place, the Attorney General said the Bill was not brought in as a temporary measure; in the next place, he said that, practically, seven years was no limitation at all. He was astonished to hear a man with a mind of the acuteness of that of his hon. and learned Friend attempting to delude the House with such an argument. It was a limitation with all the vice of a limitation, because it told the employer and the employed that the Bill was a temporary one. If the rejection of the Amendment resulted in the loss of the Bill for the present Session, no one would gain more by it than the Government, because, if the Bill were carried in its present form, it would not redound much to their credit. The Bill was illogical; it was drawn with carelessness; its language was almost unintelligible. As a lawyer, he was unable to say what the real effect of it would be. It would produce an unlimited amount of litigation. If it passed, he believed Her Majesty's Government would regret it, and be the first to propose that it should be amended.


said, this was the 2nd of September, and as the question was, whether a limitation to seven years should be accepted, or the Bill should not be passed, he thought the House should agree to that limitation. He disapproved of all limitation as much as any hon. Member. He would suggest that if the Bill was so defective as represented by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Watkin Williams) the hon. and learned Member might bring in an amending Bill next year for the purpose of introducing those valuable Amendments which he seemed to think might be necessary. If the Bill was so bad, why had the hon. and learned Gentleman never been present in his place to propose Amendments to it?


explained that he had been at Norwich during the time the Bill was in Committee.


was not surprised that many lawyers had opposed this limitation, for he believed that no Bill which ever passed the House of Commons produced more litigation than this Bill would. He doubted whether, at the end of seven years, any Government would be found bold enough to propose to re-enact it. He believed this Bill would injure the working classes, a good deal more than capitalists. It would cause dissension among them, and of that we had quite enough already.


hoped the House would disagree with the Lords' Amendment, that the Bill might go back to the House of Lords and not become legislation this year. The Bill ought to have been referred to a Select Committee.


said, that he had been a firm supporter of the Bill from the beginning, and he thought that hon. Members below the Gangway who had opposed the Bill might now allow it to pass. He had taken the opinion of the hon. Members for Stafford and Stoke (Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Broadhurst), and he thought they were quite competent to advise as to the operation of the Bill. As the Representatives of working men, they were certainly more likely to know what was required than many other hon. Members who had objected to the measure as being inefficient, and they were both in favour of the Bill as it stood.

Question put.

The House divided;—Ayes 72; Noes 33: Majority 39.—(Div. List, No. 165.)

Resolved, That a Committee be appointed, to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to the Amendments made by The Lords to the Employers' Liability Bill, to which this House hath disagreed:—Mr. DODSON, The Marquess of HARTINGTOX, Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, Mr. Secretary CHILDERS, Mr. CHAMBERLAIN, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, Lord FREDERICK CAVENDISH, Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, and Mr. HIBBERT:—To withdraw immediately; Three to be the quorum.