§ Order for Second Reading read.1080
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the proposals embodied in his Bill were simple and unpretending. The first of the objects of the Bill was to secure for workmen that protection which Parliament, by the Act of 1880, desired to give them, but which many employers had managed by legal chicanery to deprive them of. The fact was that many thousands of workmen had been deprived of the benefits of the Act by being virtually compelled to contract themselves out of it. The first provision of the Bill, then, was to render null and void any such contracts. The next provision was to secure that the employés should not be deprived of their right of action by reason merely of the fact that as between them and the chief employer there was introduced another contractor or sub-contractor, with whom there might be privity of contract with the workman, but who being introduced as an intermediary between the chief employer and the workman, prevented the latter from bringing an action for injury sustained by reason of the defective condition of the plant or anything else as to the condition of which the head employer was morally responsible. Another provision was that in those cases in which notice had in effect been given, or in those eases in which it was perfectly clear that notice of a formal kind was not necessary, it should not be incumbent upon the injured party to furnish such a formal notice as was required by the Act of 1880. Further, that it might be in the power of the Court to allow an action to proceed, even though there might be in the notice given to the employer some technical defect which, in the strict construction of law, might be held to vitiate it. He was anxious also that a very great injustice which had been almost unavoidable under the earlier Act in respect of the amount of compensation recoverable by an injured workman should be removed. In the Act of 1880 the amount of compensation payable was limited to the very trifling sum of three years' wages of a person employed in that particular capacity—a provision which operated hardly on a youth on the eve of entering into receipt of a man's wages, and to remedy that injustice in such cases; but he proposed to limit the amount which 1081 could be awarded in certain cases to £150, unless that amount was clearly inadequate. He further proposed that actions brought by workmen for injury sustained should not be removable to Superior Courts unless the amount of compensation claimed exceeded the sum of £200. The next section of his Bill defined the word "workman" and made it include seamen. He understood that the representatives of the shipping interest were arraying themselves against the proposal, and he had tried to find out why this organized opposition was threatened. He was assured that the shipowners were hostile to the proposal not so much because of the compensation they might have to pay on account of injuries to their men in the United Kingdom as on account of the uncertain liability they might incur with regard to the sailors in their vessels in foreign parts. If that were the case he would accept an Amendment exempting shipowners from liability under circumstances in which it could be shown that their liability was unreasonable in respect of injuries sustained abroad; though before doing so he should like to ascertain the sense of the House on this subject. The Bill also altered the definition of the term "person having superintendence intrusted to him," as at present, if a superintendent wore engaged more or less in manual labour a sub-employé was debarred from obtaining any compensation from the chief employer for injuries sustained. This was in his judgment a grievous blot in the Act of 1880. Finally, the Bill provided for the continuance of the Act of 1880 as amended, and repealed the section which said that the Statute should last only to the end of the year 1887. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Mr. CHARLES RUSSELL)
said, he would indicate what the Government suggested for consideration by the House as the proper course to adopt in reference to this measure. In the first place, he might remark that the Government had complete spmpathy with the main object which the hon. Member had in view. In saying that, however, he wished to 1082 guard himself against being supposed to commit the Government on several important points. There was also a Bill standing for a second reading under the charge of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), which dealt with the same subject-matter as the present measure. It was much shorter and not so far-reaching as the Bill of the hon. Member opposite. The Act of 1880 was a new departure in legislation, and to a great extent a tentative measure, and its principle was at the time much debated in that House. He did not mean to suggest that the Government intended to withdraw from the principle embodied in the Act, far from it; but the fact that it was then treated as a new departure in legislation and as a tentative measure suggested that probably the time had been reached when it would be very convenient that the whole subject should be referred to the consideration of a Select Committee of the House. The Government suggested, therefore, that the subject-matter of this Bill and of that of the hon. Member for Morpeth, should be referred to a Select Committee. With regard to a large class of employés, he thought there would be a disposition on the part of the House to make it impossible for them to contract themselves out of the Act; but he said that in relation to the narrower definition of the Act of 1880, and not to the wider clause of this Bill, which would include clerks and managers of businesses, or persons engaged in supervision. This might be right; but it was necessary to consider the matter before making so great a change. He agreed with the hon. Member that seamen were entitled to full protection; but it was clear that different considerations applied to that subject-matter than those which were applicable to the cases meant to be dealt with by the Act of 1880. It was obvious that to fix liability on an employer for the result of accident when he could not by any exercise of his control or discretion prevent the accident presented a very different case from that when an employer was or might be on the spot. While he (the Attorney General) desired to see the fullest practicable protection for so important a class as seamen, it might be necessary in their case to have special provisions as to notice to employers and so forth. He wished to guard the Government against any announcement of a positive 1083 opinion on any of the topics he had referred to; but the course which the Government suggested was that this debate should be adjourned, and that a Select Committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into and report upon the subject-matter of the two Bills in question.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he did not understand exactly what course the Government recommended—whether it was that they should assent to the second reading and then refer the Bill as proposed, or whether it was that they should adjourn the debate on this Bill, as well as upon the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth, for the purpose of having the principle involved discussed fully and fairly before a Select Committee. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL assented.] The latter would certainly be the more convenient course. He must, however, call the attention of the House to the fact that in the Act of 1880 there was a clause providing that it should only be tentative and remain in force until the year 1887, in order that the country might see how its provisions worked. Having a great deal to do with employers and employed in the great manufacturing constituency which he had the honour to represent, he was quite certain that the great object of the House ought to be to promote good feeling between employers and employed. Great objection had been taken to the Act of 1880, because some employers had contracted themselves out of it, and therefore that the employed did not get the full benefit of the Act. On the other hand, there were other questions to be considered, such as the habit of employers in Northern counties insuring themselves against accident. He would not, however, now discuss the question at length, for he thought the Government, if he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly, had taken a very proper course. Before the Act of 1880 was made perpetual or an addition made to it, he thought that both employers and employed had a right to have the question fully discussed, in order to see now the Act had worked, and how the proposed extension of it would be likely to work. As he understood it, the proposal of the Government was that the whole subject of the Act of 1880 should be referred to a Select Committee, and that the debate 1084 on this Bill and on the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth should be adjourned until that Committee had reported. As the Session was still so young, there would be ample time to discuss these Bills at a later period without running the risk of not coming to a conclusion upon them.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD
said, he thought that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down distinctly showed that he did not mean anything like the same as the Attorney General, because, as he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman, he proposed that the question of these two Bills should be referred to a Committee. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had informed the House that nothing was further from his purpose than to sow dissension between employers and employed; but in reality he inferred that he was not in favour of referring these two Bills to a Committee, but of referring the general principle involved in the abortive Act they were endeavouring to amend. That, he hoped, hon. Members would do all in their power to prevent. The Bill which it was sought to amend had seen perilous times in the House, and what was the result? It was a result of which, speaking as a lawyer, perhaps, he ought not to complain, because he should think it had created more litigation than any Act passed for many years past. But he thought that was the very thing which hon. Members who sought to amend the Bill wished to prevent. The object was to simplify the provisions of the Bill of 1880, and to do away with litigation. The Attorney General had alluded to another Bill, likely shortly to come before the House, which was in charge of the hon. Member for Morpeth; but he (Mr. Lockwood) was not aware that that Bill was a better one than the Bill introduced that night. He believed it agreed in the main with the present Bill. He took it that those who were interested in amending the Act of 1880 wished, if they could, to prevent the employer from contracting himself out of the Act. That was the first great principle to be fought for in the amended Bill. It was said by those who opposed that Bill that this principle would interfere with freedom of contract. That was not the first time they had heard about this bogey of "freedom of con- 1085 tract." It was all very well to talk about freedom of contract; but he knew something about these matters, and he would ask what was the freedom of contract in the well-known case of the Earl of Dudley? It was held that the placing of placards up in a colliery bound the workpeople to the contract contained in those placards. He contended that when working men came to the House and said they wanted protection, the House was bound to protect them. There were many cases in which, with regard to the testing of machinery and the limitation of the hours of labour, freedom of contract was already interfered with, and if the working men expressed a wish to be protected there could be no further discussion of the principle of the Bill, and the law must be amended in that respect. Another question of principle was involved in the provision with respect to notice of action. In ordinary cases persons were not entitled to notice of action; but only certain corporations and official persons like magistrates were entitled by Statute to notice of action. He could see no reason why employers should have notice of action given to them in respect of injuries sustained by their workmen, which in 99 cases out of 100 occurred on the masters' own premises. Then with regard to leaving the matter to the discretion of the Court. He spoke with all due respect of the Court and its discretion; but he contended that all words with reference to discretion had better be left out of the Bill, for discretion really implied litigation. For his own part, he believed that many hon. Members would be quite willing at once to go to a division on the principle involved in this Bill and the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Morpeth, and that if they did so they would be in a better position than if they referred the Bill to a Select Committee.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS)
said, that he had been invited to state explicitly the views of Her Majesty's Government as to the course to be taken in respect to this Bill. Her Majesty's Government thought that the subject-matter of the Act of 1880 and the subject-matter of this Bill and of the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) should be referred to one Select Committee. For that purpose he 1086 should suggest that this Bill should be adjourned for a reasonable time, until the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth could be brought forward and read a second time. In that way all questions would be placed before the Select Committee for their consideration. It was not possible to refer both Bills to a Select Committee at once; that course could only be taken when the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth had been read a second time. It would be much better, therefore, to refer all questions to a Select Committee, which, it was probable, might be appointed within the next month or six weeks, by which time the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth might be reached. He might say that he made this proposal in no spirit of hostility to the present Bill; but it appeared to him that the Select Committee ought to have the whole subject before it. If it was necessary now to decide the question, he should express himself in favour of the principle of this Bill. The Act of 1880 required amendment in several matters, including the power to contract out of it and as to the limitation of the amount which employers might be compelled to pay. He would, therefore, ask the House to allow an inquiry to be instituted into the whole subject, with the assurance on the part of Her Majesty's Government that they agreed with the general principle of this Bill. He would remind the House that before the end of this Session a Bill ought to be passed dealing with the Act of 1880, and it would be better for the Select Committee to have the whole matter before them than a Bill dealing with only one part of the question. Before 1887 an Act must be passed renewing or continuing or otherwise dealing with the Act of 1880; and it would be much more convenient, therefore, that the Select Committee should deal with all questions. He trusted that the House would adopt the plan proposed by the Attorney General, with the assurance that the Government would appoint a Committee to deal with the whole subject.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
rose to a point of Order. He wished to know whether, if this Bill were read a second time, it would be possible immediately afterwards to read the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth, on the ground that the smaller would be included in 1087 the less? [Loud laughter.] He meant that the less would be included in the great. He also wished to know whether it would be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to give a guarantee to the House that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee before it had passed the second reading?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the second question put to him by the hon. Member was not one for him to decide. With respect to his first question, he could only state that it would not be possible to anticipate the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL
This is a question which, beyond any other, ought to be discussed in a spirit of good temper and moderation by both sides of the House. There is one important class—namely, the colliers employed in our coal mines, whom we are bound to take into our consideration. No class of men is more worthy of consideration than the working collier who pursues his calling, day after day, contending with the forces of nature and mechanical science under circumstances of the utmost danger and difficulty. It must be remembered, in discussing questions of this kind, that it is essential to the welfare of the working man that the capitalist should be secure of the capital he advances, and that he should be encouraged to invest his fortune in dangerous occupations rather than invest it in Consols and Railway Debentures. ["Question!"] This is the Question; and I beg to tell those hon. Members who cry "Question!" that the sooner they devote themselves to the subject before the House the better. In the constituency which I represent (Wigan) there exists a large insurance fund, consisting of contributions both from the masters and men. In consequence of the existence of this fund the men are able to contract themselves out of the Act, and the masters are not forced to come under its provisions. The contract consists in this—that the masters contribute 25 per cent of the fund; and the advantages which the collier gains under this condition of things is, that when an accident happens, involving loss of life or injury, there is no uncertainty, delay, or legal cost involved, but the injured man, or, in the case of a death, his representatives, come upon the insurance fund the very next day. There is a 1088 certainty that advantage may be taken of the fund without any deduction whatever for the heavy cost which always attends the initiation of legal proceedings. I appear here to-day on behalf of the colliery proprietors; and I wish to remind the House that in many cases when an accident happens in a colliery all evidence of carelessness or negligence is swept away by the accident itself. I believe it would be found in many cases that if this insurance fund were altogether done away with, and if the sole reliance of the working collier was to be upon this Act, when a grievous misfortune happened, he would by the act of this House in passing the present Bill be entirely deprived of all remedy in the hour of his greatest misfortune and his deepest need. We ought not to allow ourselves to be carried away by fervid appeals to our sympathy; but we are bound to have regard to all the circumstances of the case, and to bear in mind that the working collier himself gains great and signal advantage by being able to contract himself out of the Act as now allowed by law. Not only is he allowed to do so, but he is almost encouraged to enter into a contract. As regards the Bill of the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor), I do not wish to discuss it at any length. I was certainly surprised to hear the opening speech of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. He said at the beginning of his speech, if I rightly understood him, that the subject had not been well discussed hitherto; and towards the end of his observations he informed us that the matter was thoroughly debated in 1880, and that little more was to be said upon it on the present occasion. The fact is, that although the period of the Session was somewhat advanced the Committee stage of the Bill occupied a considerable time, and the Bill was debated carefully clause by clause, nay, almost word by word. There are only one or two points which I think it is necesssary I should mention before I sit down. The first is a matter alluded to by the hon. Member—namely, that most difficult question of responsibility. It is clearly out of the question that every employer should be rendered liable under this Act for the misconduct of every one of his work-people. I know no subject of greater difficulty, or one more worthy of being investigated by a Select Com- 1089 mittee. Then comes a vexed question, which the hon. Member has also mentioned—namely, the extension of the principle of the Bill to other classes, including sailors. That is a subject of large dimensions; and not only is it a large, but it is also a very difficult subject to handle, and will require careful searching out. I am unable to say whether the hon. Member behind me, the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Forwood), wishes sailors to be included in the Bill; but he will probably address the House upon that part of the question, as I have no title to speak on their behalf. I do hope that, whatever change may be made in the law, the Statute will be such that it will not, and cannot, break down in practice. I trust that it will be so clear in its terms that no intelligent working man in this country will have the slightest difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of the Statute under which he pursues his calling. Then, again, supposing the law, after our deliberations are concluded, leaves any freedom in the matter, I trust that it will be a real and true freedom, so that if any man contracts himself out of the Act he will do so of his own free will for his own liberty. ["No!"] I do not understand these interruptions from the other side of the House. I am speaking in favour of the freedom of the working man; and if hon. Members challenge my observations I would ask what is the kind of liberty they desire to give to the working man? Another point is that the notice, if notice is to be given, should be of a simple character, and not fenced about by technicalities or the institution of artificial machinery; nor should it contain any of those snares which are so prejudicial in daily practice to the artizan class of our population. I was reluctant to rise; but I felt it my duty to take part in the debate, and I certainly do hope that a temperate discussion, which I have no doubt will take place upon this Bill in the course of the present Session, will result in placing the law in a satisfactory position—that the capitalist may be encouraged to invest his capital, and that the working man may feel secure from loss in pursuit of a hazardous and dangerous occupation.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
I wish to make a suggestion to the House which I think would meet the views of 1090 both sides of this question. I think that all agree with the observations of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it is desirable, in some form or other, that the whole Act of 1880, and not merely the part of the subject included in this Bill, should be reported upon by the Committee. It would be a most convenient course that the Committee should inquire into the whole subject. On the other hand, Gentlemen who are in favour of this Bill, being, as I think, a large majority of the House, desire that the course may be taken in this case which is sometimes taken by the House—namely, that the Bill should be read a second time; and then, since it is only a short time before the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) will come up for discussion, and, as I think, no one would desire that a Bill proposed by my hon. Friend should be excluded from the consideration of the Committee, it would only delay the decision of the Committee a short time if we were to wait until we read that Bill also a second time, and referred it as well to the Select Committee. I would suggest, further, that it should be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to inquire into the operation of the whole of the Act of 1880, and thus enlarge the power of the Committee, so that they may be able to deal with the whole subject, as well as with both Bills. I think that would be a satisfactory way of bringing the whole topic under the consideration of the Committee. If this course is acceptable to the House, I think we should read this Bill a second time, on the understanding that within a short time the whole subject will be brought under the consideration of the Committee.
§ MR. BURT
I have for many years taken a very keen interest in the subject now under discussion, both before I became a Member and since I became a Member of the House. Together with my hon. Friend the late Mr. Macdonald, I took an active part in advocating the measure which is now the Act of 1880. I believe that that Act has produced great benefits to the working people. Those who advocated it did so not merely as a means of getting compensation for widows and orphans, but generally for securing the safety of the workmen themselves; and the universal testimony of Inspectors of Factories, In- 1091 spectors of Mines, and those who are connected with Benefit Societies and Trade Unions among the workpeople, is that the Act has been invaluable as a means of protecting life and limb in connection with industrial occupations. Well, Sir, the main difficulty or cause of dissatisfaction which has arisen in connection with the Act is that a certain number of employers have compelled their workmen to contract themselves out of the benefits of the Act. As a body, the employers have accepted the Act loyally, and those who have contracted themselves out of it are quite the exception. As far as the working men and the Trade Unions are concerned, their desire is to have the Act made compulsory. As the House knows, in the last Parliament as well as in this I introduced a measure to deal with the subject. It went to a division in the late Parliament, and I was defeated by a very large majority. With regard to the Bill which is now before the House, and which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor), I may say that I entirely approve of it, and I can say that with the less hesitation, because the hon. Member has really appropriated the provisions of my Bill and embodied them in his, although his Bill deals also with some other matters which, in my opinion, it is desirable to deal with, but which I had omitted. As far as I am concerned, I am quite prepared to accept the proposal which has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, to read this Bill a second time, because it is very important that we should affirm the principle of the measure by assenting to the second reading. With regard, however, to my own Bill, I must make an appeal to the Government. I beg to thank hon. Members who have spoken approvingly of the provisions of that Bill; but I would point out to them that the position in which the measure now stands is not a very advantageous one, and therefore I hope the Government will afford me facilities for having it read a second time. I do not think it will be necessary to press the matter at any length; but I tope that Her Majesty's Ministers will endeavour—and I think they can do it if they like—to give facilities for having the Bill read a second time, after which I think it would be of advantage to the complete and satisfactory settlement of the whole question that the subject 1092 should be remitted, as has been suggested, to the Select Committee that will sit upon the present Bill.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
I have listened with great pleasure to the remarks which have fallen from the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), and I think it would be most satisfactory that the Bill of the hon. Member should also be submitted to the consideration of the Select Committee, because at the last Election it was that Bill which was before the constituencies, and to which the attention of candidates was directed. Indeed, I am sorry to find that the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth has been postponed for that of the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor); but I am glad to hear from the hon. Member that he does not object to the Bill of the hon. Member for Donegal, and that it practically coincides with the provisions of his own measure. That being so, I freely accept what has fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I hope that, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, the two Bills will be referred to a Select Committee, so that the same Committee may deal with them, and with the Act of 1880, and present a Report to the House on the whole subject. I have always been averse to power being given to any persons to contract themselves out of an Act of Parliament. If we pass an Act of Parliament we pass it for the whole of the Realm, and not as a voluntary or permissive Act for any persons to contract themselves out of. That was the view which I took in regard to the Agricultural Holdings Act, and other measures of a similar nature. At the same time, I should be extremely sorry to put unadvisedly any compulsion on those masters who, as the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) has just pointed out, have acted so well towards their workmen in the contracts they have made with them, and from whom the workmen have got more than they could have obtained under the Act. I refer to such cases as that of the London and Northwestern Railway Company and certain large brewers, who have provided for their workmen in a much better way than they are provided for under the Act of Parliament. We must take care that, in preventing workmen and masters from contracting themselves out of the Act, we do not put an end to those salutary contracts which now exist, in many 1093 cases, between masters and workmen. It is on this ground that I think the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. Like the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell), I may say that many of my constituents are affected by the Bill; and it is one of those matters to which my attention was frequently called during the General Election. Questions were put to me in reference to the propriety of amending the Act in the direction proposed by the Bill introduced last year by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). There is one other point to which allusion was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lockwood)—namely, the question of notice. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that there is no reason why, in actions of this sort, there should be notice any more than in any other action. The notice should be the same as is required under Lord Campbell's Act in the case of compensation, and there should be no further limitation than there is in actions generally. With regard to the other details of the Bill, it is not necessary that I should detain the House by any criticism; because, as the whole matter is going before a Select Committee—not only this Bill, but the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth—together with the Act of 1880, there is every hope that there may be produced by that Committee and laid before the House a measure which will place the whole question upon a satisfactory basis.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
I must confess that in this matter Her Majesty's Government appear to have no very definite idea of the course which should be adopted. Ten minutes ago the promise made on their behalf in regard to this Bill and the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) was that they should be referred to a Select Committee, and that pending that reference there should be an adjournment of the present debate. But, for some reason which is still concealed by Her Majesty's Ministers, that proposal to adjourn the debate has now been abandoned; and we understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unable to divest himself of the instincts which possessed him when at the Home Office, now intervenes and overrides the decision of his Colleague the Home Secretary; and we are told that the Bill should now be read a second time 1094 ["No!"] I am in the recollection of the House; and I am prepared to maintain, in the presence of hon. Members who heard what passed, that there was a distinct understanding come to, at the instance of the Home Secretary, that there should be an adjournment of the debate. But, however that may be, the effect will be slight so far as the merits of the Bill itself are concerned. Those who are friendly to the principle of the Employers' Liability Act, and those who desire an extension of the provisions of that Act, know that the time must shortly arrive when it will be necessary to decide whether that Act shall be made perpetual or be allowed to lapse; and along with this consideration will have to be considered the question of its extension, or whether it shall be made more restrictive in its character. Whether the Bill is now read a second time or not, the object of those on behalf of whom the late Home Secretary has spoken is that the Committee to whom it is referred should get to work at once, and that hereafter the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), who is, I should say, the real patentee and person with a true right to ask the House to consider the subject, should also be referred to the same Committee. The Select Committee will then be in a position to consider and take evidence on the whole subject, including the question of the actual operation of the Act of 1880, which has now been working for five years. There seems to me to be really very little difference between the two proposals; and I do not see why Her Majesty's Government should have had so much difficulty in making up their minds in the matter. We are perfectly willing that the Bill should be now read a second time on the understanding that hereafter the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth, which stands on the Paper, but not in a very favourable position, for to-morrow fortnight, should be referred to the same Committee.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS)
I can only say a few words with the indulgence of the House; but if hon. Members will allow me I will explain how the matter stands. We propose that the present Bill should be deferred after it has been read a second time—["No!"]—that in the meanwhile a Select Committee shall be appointed, and that the two Bills—the one now 1095 before the House, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt)—be referred to the Committee. There can be very little difference in reading this Bill a second time on the understanding that the Bill of my hon. Friend is also read a second time, and that, in the meantime, a Select Committee be appointed to consider both Bills. When the Bill shall have been read a second time, I shall move to refer it to a Select Committee, and that it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to call witnesses, and to inquire not only into the two Bills submitted to them, but also into the Employers' Liability Act. The Committee will be at once appointed, and when the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) has been read a second time I shall move to refer that Bill also to the same Committee.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
This being the first occasion on which I have had the honour to address the House, I desire to make only a few remarks, the more especially because several hon. Members who sit near me on this side of the House do not approve of the course proposed by Her Majesty's Government. Notwithstanding the explanation which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, there cannot be a doubt that the Government have executed a serious change of front as to the course to be taken on this Bill. They began by agreeing to the suggestion that the debate should be adjourned for the purpose of having both measures referred to a Select Committee. That, I think, was a proposal which was made by two Members of the Government—namely, by the Attorney General and by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. At that moment in comes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then we find that the whole thing is to be reversed. It is very hard for us to know what the reason of this change of front is. I can only conceive that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department must have used his influence with the right hon. Gentleman who is now, in the absence of the Prime Minister, occupying the position of Leader of the House, in order to induce the right hon. Gentleman to make that change of front. But if we cannot approve of the action of the Government, neither can we—and I say it with due humility—approve of 1096 the course taken by the Leaders of the Opposition. We had reason to believe that the proposal to adjourn the debate was welcomed by the Front Bench below. It was our desire that the difficult questions involved in the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and therefore I approved of the suggestion to refer this Bill to a Select Committee; but I did not approve of the proposal to first read the Bill a second time, for that would pledge the House to its principle, of which I and others on these Benches disapprove. That principle involves the very common Radical nostrum of compulsion. Compulsion, in my opinion, is a principle which is noxious, except where it is unnecessary. Let me remind the House that in speaking on the question of compulsion the hon. Member who introduced the Bill spoke of the Ground Game Act, passed in the last Parliament. The reason why that Act is not more noxious than it has been is because it was entirely unnecessary, the condition of agriculture having been such that tenants could exact what terms they liked from landlords without the intervention of the Act. With regard to the present Bill, it is by no means in the interest of the employers that I am speaking. I believe that to pass a Bill of this kind would be directly against the interests of the workmen. I was talking the other day to a colliery owner in Lancashire, and he told me that when the Employers' Liability Act was passed, in the last Parliament, he called his men together, and said to them—"I do not wish in any way to defraud you, and therefore I would suggest that we should try this Act." And, consequently, they tried the Act of Parliament for a year, and at the end of the year the men all went to my friend and asked him to be allowed to contract themselves out of the Act. [A laugh.] Hon. Members may laugh—in fact, they do laugh—but, as a matter of fact, it was a very reasonable ground on which the men objected to the Employers' Liability Act. The point is this—although, on a matter of this kind, I speak with the greatest humility—on the occurrence of an accident to one of the men he is obliged, in nearly every case, to bring an action at law in order to recover the compensation due to him under the Act. If he cannot prove negligence—which I am 1097 told it is very difficult thing indeed to do—he has not only to bear all the injury which the accident may have inflicted on him, but to pay the costs as well. Consequently, the man thinks twice, or even thrice, before he goes into a Court of Law to exact compensation. The men prefer very much the voluntary method of getting compensation for an accident through the action of a mutual Insurance Company. Some hon. Gentlemen seem to think they may have the benefit of both systems. But they ought to remember that an Act of a compulsory kind is very unpopular indeed with the masters, and that the tendency of it will be to prevent the masters from giving' the assistance they now give to the insurance funds. If that is the case the men would have to fall back on the Compulsory Act, and, if so, I wish them joy of it. I think I have said enough to show that there are very good reasons why many Members on this side of the House should object to the passing of this Bill. But I think that is a question which may justly be referred to a Select Committee, provided the House does not bind itself to the principle of the measure before the Committee has sat; and, therefore, I have the honour to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Viscount Cranborne.)
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I think that the action which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government places us in a very considerable difficulty in regard to this matter. I am unfortunate enough not to have been present in the House in the early stage of the debate, so that I did not hear what fell from the Attorney General, and I only heard part of what fell from the Home Secretary; but I understand that what passed was this—The original policy of the Government was precisely that which has just been suggested by my noble Friend behind me—namely, that the whole policy of the Employers' Liability Act should be considered formally and completely by a Select Committee, and for that reason they proposed the adjournment of the debate on this Bill, and further proposed that, at a later stage, the Bill and the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. 1098 Burt) should be referred to the consideration of that Select Committee. That proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was, I understand, accepted as a fair and proper mode of dealing with the question. Subsequently, however, it was objected to by some Members sitting on the other side of the House, and also by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill). It was objected to first by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Lockwood), who spoke with considerable force against the principle of freedom of contract, although I am not quite sure that the hon. and learned Member would support interference with freedom of contract if applied to his own Profession. It was also objected to by other hon. Members who addressed themselves to the subject. The result of that was that the Home Secretary said he approved of the principle of the Bill now before the House; but, at the same time, he approved of an adjournment. That was a certain step in advance. There was further debate, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose and said he approved of the principle of the Bill, which led him to support the second reading on the present occasion, thereby entirely departing from the understanding arrived at with my right hon. Friend. I confess that I was not a little puzzled by what had passed up to that stage; but I was still more puzzled when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) accepted that proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It does appear to me that, by agreeing to the second reading of the Bill, the House commits itself to the principle of that Bill—that being an old and well understood rule. Now, what are the principles of the Bill? I must not debate them on this Motion; but they are principles which, to my mind, are of vital importance in the settlement of the question; they are principles which, if carried into effect, would fatally interfere with those advantages which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) has told the House have been given to the employed by many employers of labour, and which he expressed his great desire to maintain. If that be so, the House is asked this evening to assent to a principle of no little importance when it ac- 1099 cepts the second reading of this Bill. It seems to me to be a matter of real necessity that this question should be thoroughly sifted and investigated. Next year it must be dealt with by Parliament, and it is so difficult a matter that no inquiry can be too thorough or too searching—I was almost going to say too long—["No!"]—if you can secure its final and satisfactory settlement. But if that inquiry is to be undertaken, surely it should be approached, so to speak, with an open mind. Surely it should be approached without the preliminary acceptance of any principle as to a change in the law, especially a change of such great importance as would be effected by the Bill which is now before the House. I must say, for myself, it does appear to me that the suggestion of a Select Committee is a very proper and necessary suggestion; but that the Committee should be appointed without reference to this or any other Bill—in point of fact, that it should go into the inquiry——
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is now discussing the Main Question, which is irregular upon a Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I beg pardon. I will only say, in conclusion, that it appears to me, the adjournment of the debate having been at first suggested by Her Majesty's Government, as the mode in which they proposed to deal with the subject, it would be wise for the House to adhere to that proposition. By doing so they would leave the whole question open, as it ought to be left open, for the consideration of the Committee.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
The Government do not defend the literal consistency of the course which has been taken either on this or that Bench. If it were desirable—which I have no wish to do—to enter into recrimination on this subject, I should say that the late Home Secretary (Sir E. Assheton Cross) took one view, that the late Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) took another, and that then the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) reverted to the old position. With regard to the Government, there is no doubt that my right hon. Friend suggested that the 1100 whole subject should be referred to a Committee. As the debate went on our views underwent a modification. I am not in the least ashamed to confess it, and it is frequently the case in debates in this House that as they go on opinions become modified. What is the use of debate in this House unless it is to modify views? The Government, however, stand in a very different position with reference to the substance of this question from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has affirmed that we agree with the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree with the principle of the Bill; at all events, he has not yet made up his mind. As regards the Government, the only question affecting them is one of procedure with reference to a matter upon which we are agreed in principle. I quite admit that it would be a different question if we were agreed upon the principle. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary suggested that it would be consistent with the opinions of the promoters of this Bill and the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) that a particular course should be taken. The supporters of the principle of the present Bill demurred to that course being taken. I think it was perfectly reasonable that we should consider that objection, seeing that we agree with them in the main substance of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and some of his Friends, including the noble Lord the Member for Darwen (Viscount Cranborne), whom we heard with satisfaction, expressed opinions that were altogether different, and opinions with which we do not concur. But there are further stages of the Bill after it leaves the Select Committee on which it will be possible to raise any question as to principle; and, indeed, in the Select Committee itself it will be quite possible to do so. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite are not precluded by any means from further opposition to the principle of the Bill. Under these circumstances, and after the concurrence of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley), the late Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, I do not think that hon. Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House have any right to complain of the course we have taken. 1101 My right hon. Friend said the difference between us was so infinitesimal that it was not worth discussing. There is no intention of acting in any way unfairly to hon. Gentlemen opposite, or on this side of the House, who demur to the principle of the Bill, seeing that they will be able to discuss that principle here-after. And therefore I hope, on the whole, that without any warmth of feeling on the subject the course which I have suggested will be adopted.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken does not often succeed in throwing oil upon the troubled waters, and he has certainly not succeeded in doing so to-night. He has not only thrown overboard the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but he has also thrown over a former Colleague of his—Lord Monk Bretton—because, when Mr. Dodson (now Lord Monk Bretton) had charge of the Employers' Liability Bill in 1880, he brought it forward as a tentative measure, for the express purpose of having it reconsidered after it had been in operation for a few years. The object which I had in view in assenting to the Motion for Adjournment, and the object of the adjournment itself, was to provide that the inquiry of the Committee should be deferred until it could have the opportunity of considering that which Lord Monk Bretton said in 1880 ought to be considered—namely, how far the Act had answered its purpose before it was made final, or its provisions extended. The whole object of the adjournment, which is the Question upon which I am at the present moment speaking, was in order to afford a proper opportunity for having the whole matter discussed. I suggested that the debate should be adjourned for the purpose of securing the appointment of a Committee, and that the Committee should sit without the principle of this measure having been affirmed by the House in the first instance. ["Order!"] If lam out of Order the Speaker will correct me. I say that the object with which the adjournment of the debate was suggested in the early part of the evening was this—that before we assented to the principle of the Bill by reading it a second time we might have the experience of the Select Committee, together with the evidence adduced before them, 1102 and the conclusion they may arrive at, whether the principle of the Employers' Liability Act ought to be extended or not. That was the sole object I had in proposing the adjournment of the debate; it is the reason why I shall support it now; and it was the reason why the suggestion was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is simply because other hon. Members have made other suggestions that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed a different course, although he did not hear a word of what was stated in the earlier part of the discussion.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
I bog the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. He is mistaken. I have been present throughout the debate, and I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I am glad that I was mistaken. I am only sorry that my remarks had no effect upon him, and I am still more sorry that the arrangement proposed by the present Home Secretary had so little effect upon him that he was induced to get up half-an-hour afterwards and make a different proposal altogether.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL
As a new Member addressing the House for the first time, I would claim its indulgence. As an employer of labour who has loyally accepted the Act, I rise for the purpose of expressing my conviction that it is for the interest of the working man himself that he should have the power of contracting himself out of the Employers' Liability Act.
The hon. and gallant Member is not addressing himself to the Question before the House, which is that the debate be now adjourned, and not the Main Question.
§ SIR HENEY HAVELOCK-ALLAN
I have listened with the greatest attention to the remarks which have been made by the late Home Secretary (Sir E. Assheton Cross); but I am bound to say that they failed to carry any conviction to my mind. I understand him to say that there is a difference of opinion between two right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thrown overboard the Secretary of State for the Home Department; but I am bound to say that, so far as I caught the remarks 1103 of both of those right hon. Gentlemen, I cannot find the smallest possible difference in their action. The question dealt with by the Bill has the greatest interest for many of the constituents I have the honour to represent.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL
Under the Employers' Liability Act, as it now stands, the workmen are able to contract themselves out of it. Now, I think that that is a very proper thing; and the system of insurance which has been established, and to which the employers contribute, is of the utmost advantage to the workman. It provides for him when he is sick, and also for his widow and orphans if he has the misfortune to be killed. I see no objection to a provision in the Act rendering it illegal to make it a condition of employment that a workman should contract himself out of the Act, provided he may do so if he thinks it his interest; but I would point out that in dangerous occupations, such as that of coal-mining, the injuries inflicted upon the workmen which can by any possibility be imputed to the negligence of the employer are infinitesimal—probably not more than 5 or 10 per cent. But many accidents occur in which the injured workmen suppose that negligence can be so imputed, and the consequence is that there is an enormous amount of litigation. So much is that the case that in 1884 the claims made were four times as great as the compensation obtained by the workmen. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that upon the Select Committee which will have to consider the provisions of this Bill this vital question should be carefully sifted to the bottom, because I do not disguise from myself that many workmen suppose that the question of safety is involved. But in dangerous occupations like coal-mining there are Acts of Parliament passed, like the Mines Regulation Act, which are intended to protect the workmen; and if they fail to give them protection they should at once be amended. I have dwelt strictly upon this single point, because I feel that it is the very essence of the Bill now before us.
§ CAPTAIN VERNEY
I have only one remark to address to th.6 House. I am anxious to say a word on behalf of a class of workmen who are entirely unrepresented in this House—the class of seamen. I understand that when the Bill passes a second reading it is understood that the principle of it has been thereby affirmed; and I hope that, in this case, it will be also understood that part of the principle of the Bill which we are about to affirm to-night is that seamen shall be brought under the protection of the measure.
§ MR. FORWOOD
I hope the House will extend to me the indulgence which is usually afforded to a Member who rises to address it for the first time. I may say that I appear here in a dual capacity, seeing that I have the honour to represent a large body of men who are engaged in coal-mining, and that I have also the further privilege of representing another large body of men who are interested in the provisions of this Bill—I mean the shipping interest. With regard to the colliers, I must admit that I originally took the view that they were better off by entering into an arrangement with the mine owners by which an insurance fund was provided, under which a collier, in the case of an accident which, whether it came within the Employers' Liability Act or not, would receive compensation. But upon discussing the matter with the workmen themselves I found—and I honour them for it—that they put in the forefront their anxiety to make compulsory the necessity of protecting life and limb, and that it is not with them a mere question of compensation. They desire to come under the Act in order that they may best protect the mines in which they work and their own lives from accident. Therefore, I feel that as regards the principle of the Bill, as far as it applies to that class of workmen, it is desirable that it should be affirmed, and distinctly affirmed. But there is another point in the Bill which is quite novel, and which has not been considered, I believe, in this House before—namely, the reference to seamen. Now, I would venture to suggest to the House that the position of the seamen and that of other workmen are not analogous. As regards workmen employed in general trade, their work in mines or buildings is carried on under the eye and under the 1105 inspection of their own master or a foreman. But with regard to a ship, the vessel is sent to sea with all that is necessary to equip her and render her seaworthy. The owner provides the host officer and master he can command to control that ship; but once it has left the port and gone away from his sight, he has no further opportunity of exercising that vigilance and constant control over her which the owner of a factory or of a coal mine has, whose works are conducted under his own immediate inspection. As the great national shipping industry has not been alluded to to-night, perhaps I may be allowed for a moment or two to place before the House the exact position of the shipowner, and the difference which exists between his position and that of the manufacturer and colliery proprietor. The manufacturer proceeds with his work under little, if any, inspection; but the case is vastly different with the shipowner. The law recognizes that there are great dangers attending the voyages of a ship; and from the day that a man makes up his mind that he will build a ship until the day that ship loaves her port the shipowner positively hands himself over body and soul to the inspectorship of the Board of Trade. He draws his plans and makes out his specifications, and he has to submit those plans and specifications for the approval of the Board of Trade. I am speaking now of the steam shipowner. Then he has to obtain from a Government Department a certificate that the vessel has been built, prepared, and equipped in a manner sufficiently strong to insure her safe navigation. Even then the shipowner has not a free choice as to whom he shall employ in the conduct and navigation of the ship; but he is bound to employ a master or engineer officer, who must have submitted himself to an examination by an inspecting officer of the Board of Trade and received a certificate as to his qualification. A ship sent to sea is thus, from first to last, under the control of a Government Department. When the vessel goes to sea under the direction of a duly certificated master, she passes absolutely away from the control of the owner; but if this Bill passes, in the shape in which it is now before the House, the owner will become responsible for every act and deed of the officers he employs which 1106 may be construed to have been in any degree an act arising from negligence on the part of the master or other certificated officer so approved by the Board of Trade. Now, Sir, it is very difficult to determine what is negligence and what is an error of judgment on the part of the master or officer navigating the ship. We have hundreds of cases investigated year by year before the Wreck Commissioners, whoso duty it is to ascertain whether the master has navigated his ship in a seamanlike manner, or whether the accident or loss arose from some cause not under the control of the owner, or master, or officers. It is one of the most difficult points the Wreck Commissioners has to decide where comes in the question whether the master was guilty of negligence in navigation, or whether he was only guilty of an error of judgment. In order to show the House how difficult and how intricate that question is, I may say that it may turn upon a point whether the master has cast his lead every hour or every two hours, or upon other matters perfectly out of the control and altogether beyond the cognizance of the owner. If the Court holds that the master ought to have taken a cast of his lead every hour, and that he only did it every two hours, he is held to have been guilty of negligence; and it is proposed, under this Bill, even if the ship may have gone to the bottom, that for such an act of technical negligence the owner of the ship shall be liable for three years' wages in the case of every man who was on board that vessel. That means, in the case of some of our large Atlantic liners, something like £30,000. I think, therefore, that the House will consider that it is a subject of deep importance and great moment, and one that is not to be decided hastily or without careful consideration. There is another point in the Bill to which I must also call attention. It makes the owner responsible, under Section 3, for the negligence of every person who may have been entrusted by him with the duty of seeing that the ways, means, works, machinery, and plant are in a proper condition. Now, large employment is found by the owners of vessels—and I may say at once it is the only profitable employment for owners at the present day, in trading abroad, visiting the home port seldom, but making 1107 voyages inter-colonial, or from port to port abroad. Under this Bill the master abroad will select probably the best engineer and the best workpeople he can find to effect any repairs that may have to be done in a foreign country, but of whom the owner at home has never heard before. If such workpeople do their work negligently or inefficiently, under this Bill the owner at home is made responsible for acts over which it is impossible that he can exercise any control whatever. Now, Sir, the Employers' Liability Act, to which this is to be a supplement, clearly and distinctly sets out that by reason of the negligence of any person in the service of the owner certain penalties shall be incurred. One effect of this drastic legislation will be to increase what, I think, is a very unwholesome practice for the purpose of defeating the Act, and I will point it out to the House in this way. The Limited Liability Act is frequently adopted in regard to the ownership of a vessel. The owners of a vessel constitute themselves into a single Company with fully paid-up shares. If that vessel goes to the bottom the whole of the capital comprised in the shares goes with it, and there is nothing left to represent anybody against whom a claim for compensation under the Act can be made. The effect will be to do away with the private ownership of vessels, which still very largely prevails in this country, and to force every owner to take advantage of the unwholesome provisions of the Limited Liability Act in regard to the ownership of vessels. The result would be that instead of giving protection to the sailors the owners would absolutely escape scot-free, owing to the desire which would spring up to evade the provisions of the Bill. I have pointed out these practical points—I hope the House will consider them practical points—for the purpose of directing the attention of the Select Committee, which I hope will be appointed to consider this measure, to the important fact that it involves a new departure as regards the question of seamen, and requires very careful attention at the hands of any Committee which may be appointed. In regard to the general principles of the Employers' Liability Act, so far as it affects the pocket interest, in forcing manufacturers and others who employ 1108 labour to provide good machinery and appliances, I cordially sympathize with the object of the Bill. All I hope is, that the House will not allow their sentiment to run away with their reason, and induce them to strain a point against the general interests of the country.
§ MR. MACINNES
The hon. Member opposite has called attention to the case of seamen. May I, with the permission of the House, say a few words in regard to another class who have not been referred to to-night—I mean the railway employés, because no body of workmen will be more largely affected by the provisions of the Bill than those with whom I happen to be connected—I mean the London and North-Western Railway Company. I desire to say a few words as to the position of the men under that Company, and under private firms who have made similar arrangements. I came down to this House entirely prepared to support the second reading of the Bill. Like hon. Gentlemen opposite, I found, on facing my constituents, that there was no question regarded by them as of more general interest. Over and over again my attention was called to the principles of the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt); and I have always claimed to myself the right in Committee, after the Bill should have passed a second reading, to bring forward the case of the railway servants, with regard to which I have special knowledge. The hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor), who moved the second reading of the Bill, said that practically the railway servants in this country were morally compelled to contract themselves out of the Employers' Liability Act. Now, I wish to tell the House that in regard to the very large body of men employed by the London and North-Western Railway that accusation does not hold good.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
The hon. Member must excuse me. I do not think I committed myself to the statement that the great body of railway servants were compelled to contract themselves out of the Act; but what I said was that hundreds of thousands of workmen in the country were compelled to contract themselves out of it.
§ MR. MACINNES
I beg the hon. Member's pardon if I have misrepresented him. I was quite aware that he had not alluded specially to railway work- 1109 men; but as they are a large body, and will undoubtedly be affected, I concluded that his observations applied to them. Now, the position of the railway servants, with whom I have the honour to be connected, is this. When the Act of 1880 became law, the London and North-Western Railway Company called their men together by delegates from all parts of the country, and placed a scheme before them for their consideration. They were not asked to adopt it hastily. On the contrary, they were requested to go back to the country and consider it carefully through their delegates. Some weeks were spent by the men in so considering the scheme. At the end of that time they returned, and accepted the proposition placed before them by an enormous majority of no less than 32,000 in favour of accepting it, against 59 individuals who were unwilling or indisposed to accept the terms of the Company. The proposal was by no means framed with any idea that the Company would benefit their pockets. On the contrary, in the proposals made by the Company the shareholders were required to make a large grant from their resources. Indeed, the proposal was of such a character that instead of spending a matter of some £3,000 a-year, which was the utmost that could have been possibly claimed under the Act, a very much larger sum was voluntarily contributed by the shareholders of the Company. Although I entirely agree with the principle of this Bill, and think that we ought not in this House to pass permissive Acts—that if an Act of Parliament is good we ought to pass it, and if it is bad that we ought to repeal it, but that we ought not to allow permissive legislation—I think that the interests of men who in large numbers have accepted the terms offered to them, both in this and in similar cases, should be fairly considered when the Bill goes before the Committee. A suggestion has been made in some quarters which seems to me to be worthy of consideration—namely, that in cases where insurance funds exist the firms which have created such insurance funds should have public inspection applied to them. Freedom to contract themselves out of the Act should only be conceded when a satisfactory certificate was obtained to prove that no compulsion was being used towards the workpeople. It may 1110 be said that such a proposal is in the nature of a compromise; but I would point out that it is offered in the interests of the men themselves, who, in the case of the servants of the London and North-Western Railway Company, in such a large proportion as 32,000 against 59, after full consideration, expressed themselves satisfied with the arrangement proposed for their acceptance. It appears to me that in affirming the principle of the Bill we ought to reserve to ourselves the right in Committee to consider and deal with this point in the way I have suggested. Even if the clause were introduced, I have said that the arrangement made by the London and North-Western Railway Company is such that the shareholders contribute under it a larger sum than they can be called upon to pay under the Act. The arrangement has been in existence for five years, and with that experience the Directors are ready to refer to their books and accounts, which will establish the correctness of what I have stated.
§ SIR JOHN COMMERELL
If it were not for the speech of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Forwood) I should not have risen to address the House on this subject; but having some experience as a sailor I trust I may be allowed to occupy a few minutes in stating my views upon the question of bringing seamen within the scope of the Bill. If I believed that it would be for the benefit of the seamen themselves that they should be brought under the Act I should at once agree to the principle; but I believe, having regard to the vicissitudes of a sailor's life, that it would not be so. What the hon. Member for Ormskirk said is perfectly true; I quite agree with him that it is manifestly impossible for a shipowner in England to have any knowledge of what is going on in connection with his ship in a foreign part. Supposing, for instance, the engineer is invalided, or dies, the captain of the ship gets the best engineer who can be found in the port to do the work; but bad may be the best. Instances may occur of a man losing his arm or his leg; but is it right that the shipowner should be taxed to the extent of three years' pay for an accident over which he has no control? It is just the same in the case of sailing ships. Upon the ocean, thousands of miles away 1111 from England, with only one officer on deck in charge of the vessel, what may not happen. How can the owners tell, if a man falls off a yard, whether it is caused by a rotten brace or by a shift of wind? I can assure the House that these matters are not easily dealt with at sea, nor can they be easily judged of afterwards. Sailors are, as a class, not partial to lawyers. There is, I believe, a good understanding between owners and seamen at the present time, and I trust that the harmony which exists between them may not be disturbed; but I believe that the result of bringing shipowners under this law would be that this harmony would be very much interfered with. Sir, there are many of my brother officers here, more than ever there were before; and I say that we arrogate to ourselves, notwithstanding the remark of one hon. Member who has spoken, that we represent in this House sailors just as much as officers and shipowners, and as long as we remain here we shall continue to do so. For these reasons I object to shipowners being brought under the Bill.
SIR JOHN GORST
Sir, I can assure my hon. Friends below the Gangway that my speech shall be very short. I apologize for my temerity in speaking on this subject, and as one of a class said by the gallant Admiral who has just spoken to be peculiarly obnoxious to sailors. I venture to make some observations to the House on behalf of seamen. I should not do so if I were sure that the gallant Admiral the Member for Southampton (Sir John Commerell) was an adequate Representative of seamen. I have an idea that there is a difference with regard to this matter in the Navy as compared with the Merchant Service, and that ordinary seamen do not look at it in the same light as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I have been a supporter of the Employers' Liability Act since the time when it was first brought into this House; and I remember, when I had the honour of a seat below the Gangway on the opposite side, that it was supported at the time by some Gentlemen opposite who are now most eloquent in the denunciation of its principles. I should also like to say that those who have been ardent and consistent supporters of the Employers' Liability Act have never been able to understand why seamen have 1112 been excluded from its provisions. Arguments have been adduced by the Attorney General (Mr. Charles Russell), my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk, and the gallant Admiral who has just sat down, against the Bill, which are just as applicable to the case of miners who worked below ground as to seamen. In answer to the Attorney General's statement, I should like to ask what control the representative of a Mining Company in London has over miners working underground in Northumberland? If a shareholder in a mine is to be made liable for the negligence of managers and overlookers under these circumstances, I say that you should apply the same principle as you apply to him to owners of ships. If the law is good in one case it is good in the other. But, Sir, I happen to know that the exclusion of seamen from the benefit of the Act of 1880, which astonished us so much at the time it was originally proposed by a Liberal Government, was no matter of principle at all. I know how it came about, and I will tell the House how it came about. The right hon. Gentleman now President of the Local Government Board, who at that time was President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), had two Bills before the House—one the Employers' Liability Bill, and the other a Bill making certain regulations with reference to the shipment of grain cargoes for the better preservation of life at sea. The Grain Cargoes Bill, which passed into law in 1880, was opposed by a large number of shipowners, who represent always an important interest in this House; and it was desired to buy off those shipowners, if it could be done, that seamen were excluded from the Employers' Liability Act. They said—"If you exclude us from the Employers' Liability Bill we will withdraw our opposition to the Grain Cargoes Bill." Well, Sir, the bargain was made, and the opposition of the shipowners to the Grain Cargoes Bill was withdrawn, and a clause was introduced into the Employers' Liability Bill that it should not apply to seamen. That is the reason why that extraordinary anomaly was introduced. I should be glad if this Bill were to do away with that anomaly, for which, in my opinion, no justification can be found. I trust the House will excuse me for 1113 having stood for a few minutes between them and a division; but after the speeches made by the hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred I think it right to say that there are some Members on this side of the House who are not in favour of continuing this anomaly.
§ MR. STORY-MASKELYNE
I have listened attentively to hon. Gentlemen on these Benches representing a very important body in this country—namely, the Railway Directors, and through them the railway shareholders. He has expressed the opinion that Railway Directors hold on this question. I beg, Sir, to ask the attention of the House to another body of men who are connected with the railway industry of the country, neither Directors nor shareholders—I mean the employés. I have the honour to represent a very large number of that class of persons; and I venture to think that, when inquiry is made amongst them and if they are represented on the proposed Committee, it will be found that there is another side of the question than that which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northumberland (Mr. MacInnes) has put forward. I know that what I am saying will find its echo when that Committee is called together; and therefore I ask that when that takes place the Committee will be so carefully constituted as to include not only those who represent capital and Railway Directors, but that there will be upon it persons who can speak the voice, language, and feelings of persons employed in mines, as well as that very important class, the railway employés, in whom this House will recognize some of the most valuable and reliable of those who administer to the wants of the public.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Sir, I thought, for reasons I ventured to submit to the House, that the wisest and safest course which the House could adopt with reference to this question was the adjournment of the debate, as originally suggested by Her Majesty's Government. But when I found that the strong opinion of the House was against that proposal, I recommended my hon. Friend not to press his Motion to a division; and, Sir, although I still hold strongly the opinion that it would be better, in the interest of a fair and adequate solution of this great ques- 1114 tion, that we should not pledge ourselves to anything before the inquiry of the Committee which Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to appoint, and, therefore, am still opposed to the second reading of the Bill, yet I shall content myself, as I trust my hon. Friends behind me will also content themselves, by saying "No" to the Question, without putting the House to the trouble of dividing.
§ MR. W. F. LAWRENCE
Sir, representing, as I do, a nautical as well as a shipowning community, I desire to say why I intend to abstain from voting tonight on this question. I shall abstain from doing so because of the proposed inclusion of seamen in the Bill for which a second reading is asked. I will yield to none in my anxiety to promote the welfare of seamen, no less than of shipowners; and, therefore, I intend to withhold my judgment until the Bill is considered in Committee. In the meantime, I protest, Sir, against the inclusion of seamen within the scope of the Bill, after the very short debate which we have had upon the question to-night.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and that it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to inquire into the operation of 'The Employers' Liability Act, 1880.'
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
Sir, I have no objection to urge to the appointment of a Select Committee to consider this Bill, because I am more than gratified by the support of the principle of the Bill which I have obtained from Her Majesty's Government. But I wish to point out that it is further proposed to refer to the Select Committee not merely the Act of 1880 and the Bill which has just been read a second time, but also the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). We should remember that the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth cannot be referred to the Select Committee until it has been read a second time, and that there is no reasonable prospect of its being so read on the day for which it is put down. It is, therefore, clear that a second reading cannot be secured for it at any very early date; and I wish to ask the right 1115 hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) whether he proposes that the Select Committee should, so to speak, rest upon its oars, practically doing nothing, until the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth has been read a second time, or proceed to business as soon as possible? I should also be glad to hear that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared, if the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth is not read a second time on the 10th of March, to afford some facility for its early reading, so that there may be no delay.
THE SECRETABY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS)
Sir, with regard to the last question of the hon. Member for East Donegal, I could not undertake to give any facilities respecting the Bill of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). It is proposed to refer the Act of 1880, as well as the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth when it has passed the second reading, to the Select Committee; but I do not propose that there should be any delay in the matter whatever.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee.