Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question [9th February]—"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the gracious speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament:
We take this first opportunity of offering to Your Majesty our sincere condolence in the afflicting dispensation of Providence with which Your Majesty and this Nation have been visited, in the death of His Royal Highness Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale:
We assure Your Majesty of our heartfelt participation in the universal feeling of sympathy with Your Majesty and Your Majesty's family under this grievous affliction, and in the deep sense entertained by all classes of Your Majesty's subjects of the calamity which the Country has sustained by the loss of a Prince who had won for himself the general affection and regard of Your Majesty's subjects."—(Mr. Hermon Hodge.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.120
§ *(12.25.) MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
I think it is to be regretted that no Member of Her Majesty's Government—that is to say, no member of the Cabinet—is present at the commencement of business to hear what hon. Members have to say in regard to the affairs of the country, and prepared to give explanations that may be asked for. The President of the Board of Trade is entering as I speak, but still I maintain it should be the duty of the Leader of the House to be present on an occasion of this kind. My object, in the first place, is to draw attention to the remote position occupied by the Employers' Liability Bill in the programme of the business of the Session. This, I think, is a just cause of complaint, and we are amply justified in calling attention to it. For five or six years past the Government have dangled this subject before the eyes of our workpeople without making any adequate effort to deal with it. I am perfectly aware that the Government did in the Session of 1888, introdu[...]and, by a sort of sledge-hams[...]cess, and against the protests[...]those concerned on behalf of workmen, brought that measure to a certain stage of procedure in this House. They succeeded in carrying that stage by a considerable majority, but they proceeded no further with it, and since then the only indication shown by the Government that they really have any interest in the question has been by continually finding some corner in the Queen's Speech in which to mention it, but making no further attempt to proceed with legislation upon this important matter. Now the Government have had ample time, plenty of opportunity, with a willing—I might almost say a clannish—majority at their back; and there is no excuse for thus neglecting the interests of the workmen. Had the Government been in earnest with regard to this question, they would have found the House—on this side, at any rate—quite prepared to co-operate with them in passing a good, substantial Bill. But they have not made any such attempt; they have shown no indication of being earnest in this matter. Here we are at what is presumably the last Session of this 121 Parliament—almost at the death-bed of the Government of the day—I mean the political death-bed of the Government. The President of the Board of Trade does not seem to believe it, but I imagine he is about the only man in the country who does not. I say we have indications from all parts of the country, the evidence we had here yesterday seems to indicate that the country, at any rate, is of that opinion, whether the right hon. Gentleman is or not. In my opinion we are undoubtedly near the last hours of the present Government, and they have on this occasion again mentioned this subject almost at the end of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, without any evidence that they are in earnest in regard to it. Indeed, the Leader of the House, in his reply last night, made no mention of the subject at all, treating the whole affair with the utmost contempt and disdain, passing by the Home Secretary's Bill without any reference. Indeed, as Leader of the House, he dealt with some other measures in an original[...]. He practically abandoned the idea of introducing the District Councils Bill, and yet that Bill occupies on the programme a superior position to the Employers' Liability Bill. Well, if the Government have made up their minds not to make any attempt to deal with District Councils, then it is apparently certain, so far as one can draw a conclusion, that to mention the question of Employers' Liability is a mere farce, and that the Government have no intention to make any attempt, direct or otherwise, to deal with the subject. Now, Her Majesty's Government know perfectly well that when in 1888 they occupied a considerable portion of the time of the House, both here and in Grand Committee upstairs, with their Bill, that we were all anxious—as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman was—to dispose of this question once for all; and if Her Majesty's Government had on that occasion shown the least inclination to meet the reasonable demands of the people, by pushing the Bill on the lines of justice, the Bill would have been passed. But the right hon. Gentleman introduced a measure which was not acceptable to the people, which 122 was objected to by all workmens' organizations, and which was condemned by a very large minority of Members of this House. He, standing to his guns, so to speak, refused to make the least concession, and by his dogged resistance the Bill was destroyed. Now, if the Home Secretary should be permitted by the Leader of the House to proceed with the Bill this Session, and if it is a Bill conceived in the same narrow, suspicious spirit as was the Bill of 1888, then the same tactics will be adopted by those opposed to it in 1892 as were pursued in 1888. But meantime the Government have learned from experience, if they have progressed in the path of Tory democratic policy on this as they have on other subjects that they propose dealing with this Session, and I should think the Home Secretary will have kept pace with his colleagues, and will be prepared, after four years' study, to introduce a Bill having for its main principles simplicity, straightforwardness, and ample justice to the working people, for whom this measure is chiefly needed. I make a very frank offer of assistance, and equally frank is the confession of a determination to oppose the measure, unless it be a reasonably good and fair one. I hope the Government will on their part be frank in any reply they may make to-day, and will tell us whether they really intend to make any attempt with the Bill or not. If they have no such intention, if the Bill is only mentioned in the Speech to extend the programme and make a demonstration at the commencement of the Session, then let us be told that at once, just as the Leader of the House told us in regard to the District Councils Bill, that there is no hope of passing it; that it is only put into the programme for filling up purposes; that they are not the least in earnest about this or any other of the Radical measures they profess their desire to pass into law. I am not going to dwell at greater length on the subject than to say that our demands with regard to employers' liability are simply based on common justice, having regard to the existing law. All we ask is this: that the workpeople of the country shall have the same law applied to 123 them as is applied to other subjects of Her Majesty; that we shall be under no disqualification arising out of legally spun theories of common employment, upon which the Home Secretary loves to dwell, but which most other legal authorities have long abandoned as untenable. If the right hon. Gentleman will abandon his old-fashioned notions and place himself in line with the march of the opinions of the day, then we say we will welcome him, we will help him to pass his Bill, and he may go back to his constituents and appeal to them for a renewal of their confidence with at least one measure of importance down to his credit, and having during long years of office made an effort to pass legislation in the interest of workmen, their wives and children. There is one other subject I must ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to before I sit down. Last Session he passed an Act amending the Factory and Workshops Consolidation Act of 1878, and by that Act, if I remember rightly, he abolished certifying surgeons—["No, no!"]—well they were not abolished, but the attempt was made to abolish certifying surgeons. At any rate, the effect of the Act of last Session, if it has been effective at all, if it will have any effect beyond that part of it which the Opposition secured, namely, the raising of the age of half-timers—and that, of course, will be effective—but if the other portions of the Act, which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for, have any effect, there will necessarily be a large increase in the duties of the Factory and Workshops Inspectors. Well but, previously to the passing of the Act causing these additional duties, everybody admitted that the staff of Inspectors was totally inadequate to cope with the work imposed upon them. The Home Secretary, either at the commencement of last Session or the previous Session, undertook in this House, in answer to questions, to consider the question of an increase of the staff, and on one occasion, if I remember rightly, he almost promised that there should be an increase in the number of Inspectors. If the Act of last Session is to be enforced, new duties will be added to the work of the 124 overburdened Inspectors. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman has done during the recess; but, at any rate, there has been no public intimation, so far as I have been able to gather from the ordinary channels of information, that the Government have made up their mind, or made any effort, to increase the staff of Inspectors. I know the right hon. Gentleman will get up and say, as he has said before, that he cannot fill the country with Inspectors, and that too many Inspectors will interfere with trade, and that people must assist the administration of the law themselves by making communications to the Inspectors when the law is evaded. All that we have heard before many, many times, and it has been replied to again and again, that it is the duty of the Government, if they declare these laws are necessary, to see that the laws are enforced. It is not the duty of workmen and work-women, whose bread might be taken from their mouths, and their children starved, and their prospects ruined, to become the unpaid and unau[...]ised Inspectors of the Home Office. [...] we want is a reasonable increase. We are not asking that the Government should double the number or flood the country with Government Inspectors. All we ask is a reasonable increase to such a number as will make it reasonably probable that the law declared by both Houses of Parliament to be necessary shall not become a dead letter. Is the right hon. Gentleman, and are his colleagues, prepared to meet the demands of the friends of the workpeople and all who are concerned in this matter, or not? Let us have an answer, "yes" or "no," once for all, and then we shall know how to act, and what proceedings to take to bring our views of the necessity of the case before the Government. I have no intention of occupying the time of the House on this subject; but there is one other matter to which I ask permission to refer while I am upon these labour subjects, but this does not relate to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but to the Board of Works. During last Session of Parliament a Resolution was agreed to in this House, at the request, I believe, of the First Commissioner of Works, that in future 125 fair wages should be paid to the men engaged upon Government contracts. While in some cases that pledge has been redeemed, in others it has not. I should have liked—but I only had a communication to day from a trade concerned, namely, the London painters and decorators—to have given the First Commissioner notice of my intention to mention this. I wish he were present to tell the House why it is that the Resolution we agreed to, a modified Resolution, a compromise made at his own suggestion and adopted by the House without opposition, why that Resolution has not been faithfully interpreted, not been put in practice with all the trades concerned in Government contracts? I understand the complaint arises chiefly from the London painters and decorators. According to a circular I have received, the painters in meeting assembled—I have not a copy of the circular with me—have passed a resolution requesting Members of this House to call the attention of the Government to this subject—that the Department still refuses to pay the same rate of wages as has been paid by Messrs. Holland and Hannen for years back to their painters and decorators. If I remember aright, the circular intimates that the Government pay a halfpenny an hour less than the recognised rate of wages in the trade as paid by the best reputed firms in the Metropolis. I have no doubt the First Commissioner will take an early opportunity of inquiring into this matter. I am glad to see he has just entered the House. I was complaining of the want of good faith, so far as information has reached me a few hours ago, on the part of the Government in not giving effect to the Resolution of last Session, that all trades employed in the Department of Public Works should be paid at the current rate of wages paid by firms in the trade. In one case, that of the painters, the Government still refuse to pay the wages as paid by Messrs. Holland and Hannen, one of the oldest and most respected firms in the country; the Government are still paying something like a halfpenny an hour less than the prevailing rate of wages. The trade concerned through its members in meeting have asked Members of 126 the House to inquire why the Government have not carried out in good faith the Resolution which was, if I remember rightly, heartily accepted by the First Commissioner, and, indeed, was a Resolution originally moved on this side of the House and amended by the right hon. Gentleman, he, as I understand, giving his word that the terms of the Resolution should be faithfully observed. We want to know if the statement I make on the authority of a printed circular is true, and why, if it is true, the Resolution has not been observed in the case of the painters, while it has been observed fairly, honourably, and straightforwardly by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to other trades? I am very pleased to see that the Leader of the House is now present, though I regret he was not present at the commencement of my remarks, for I should like to have from him some assurance on the subject as to which I complained. Will he tell us, in the most straightforward way he can, whether the Government intend to proceed with the Employers' Liability Bill? I do not wish in any way to complain that the Government have placed a scheme for Local Government for Ireland at the head of their programme; on the contrary I am glad they have done so; because, if the measure passes, it will be an initial stage to complete Home Rule established by the House of Commons, and it will save considerable labour to this side of the House in time to come when we are engaged upon a measure for completing the liberties of the Irish people. Neither do I complain of the measure in the charge of the Minister for Agriculture; but, on the contrary, I am pleased to see the progress made by a member of Her Majesty's Government on the subject to which, at no very distant date, he was bitterly opposed. It will be an additional interest to see this measure for the creation of small holdings passed through the House of Commons by the Minister for Agriculture, who used to be the champion in heaping ridicule and contempt upon those who suggested such legislation eight or ten years back. Of these two measures I make no complaint; but, at any rate, the question of employers' liability 127 should have been considered next in importance, if not of equal importance, with these two, if the Government really wish to do justice to the workpeople by doing their utmost to protect the lives and limbs of the heads of families among the labouring community. I thank the House for allowing me to make this appeal, and not only an appeal, for again I offer support and hearty co-operation. I will stay here as late and as long as any member of the Government is prepared to stay if the Home Secretary will only introduce such a Bill as commends itself to the reasonable judgment of my fellow-workmen through the United Kingdom.
(12.53.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS) (Mr. D. R. PLUNKET, Dublin University
As the hon. Member has informed the House, he has given me no notice of his intention to raise the subject with which my Department is concerned.
§ MR. D. R. PLUNKET
I had no idea that the hon. Member intended to go into the subject to which he has referred, so far as it affects the Department over which I have the honour to preside, else, of course, I would have been in my place to listen more fully to his remarks than I have been able to do. However, he has been good enough to repeat his earlier observations, so that I assume I now know the whole of what he had to say touching my Office. I have not the papers with me, but I think that without reference to the papers I shall be able to give an answer which will be satisfactory to the House. In the first place, I am very glad that the hon. Member, speaking, as he is well entitled to speak, on behalf of the interests of the working men concerned in this question, has nothing to complain of as to the carrying out by the Government of the Resolution of the House of Commons passed last year, except on the special point to which he has referred. I have also to thank him for his kind acknowledgment of the endeavour, at all events, which has been made, so far as we could make it 128 to give general effect to that Resolution, and to carry it out in good faith. I am glad to have his assent so far. But what I must take objection to is this. He says that in the particular matter of the painters we employ under contracts which are given out by the Board of Works we have not given effect to that Resolution. I do not think he fully intended to make the accusation of bad faith; at all events, it is not likely that, having fully endeavoured to carry out in every other respect the Resolution of last year, we should deliberately have been guilty of bad faith, even if we had made a mistake in this matter of the painters. But I will explain how the case stands. In the original agreement entered into with Messrs. Holland and Hannen, a contract with which the House is well acquainted, for maintenance and repairs, there was at first, a slight mistake in the figures they gave us as regards painters, and subsequently there was some correspondence between the representatives of the painters, or some of them, in the Metropolis and my office. The demand of the painters was that they should be paid at the minimum rate of 8d. or 8½d. an hour, some giving the one figure some the other. The House will remember it was not proposed in the Resolution, and it certainly was disclaimed by those who supported it on behalf of the workmen last year, that the intention of the Resolution was to stereotype in every case as the rate of wages current in the market the rates which Trades Unions might desire. All we undertook to do was to ascertain what was actually agreed upon between the employers and the workmen in each trade, and, so far as we could, to see that that rate of payment was adopted. I am very glad to know that in all other trades, many of them much larger than the painters, with whom we have to deal, we have been able to give effect to the Resolution of the House of Commons by finding out and adopting these rates which are agreed upon in the trades. But as regards the painters, it was much more difficult to ascertain exactly what their rate of wages was. We at first were under the impression that it was a lower rate than was afterwards 129 adopted. After a very full and complete investigation, we came to the conclusion as to what was a fair estimate of what was generally paid. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in many instances much less is paid; but what may be taken as a fair estimate of the usual minimum rate is 8d., and that is the scale we have adopted. Now, I hope the House will agree that when the demand made by the men themselves varied as between 8d. and 8½d., and we gave 8d., we have not, at all events, failed in good faith, or in recognising the Resolution of the House of Commons, and will think that this complaint is not well founded.
§ (12.59.) MR. BUXTON) (Tower Hamlets, Poplar
I may be allowed a few words on this subject, as I had the honour of introducing the Resolution which has been referred to. I could wish there had been the opportunity for giving notice of the intention to mention this matter, for I have had some correspondence in regard to it, and it would be well if we were in a position to deal with documents as well as recollection. I feel sure that no one in the House, and certainly not my hon. Friend below me, would wish to bring an accusation of bad faith against the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner, or his Department, in reference to the question of Government contracts; but I am bound to say that, so far as I can judge, the Resolution, adopted by the House of Commons unanimously last Session in reference to Government contracts, has not been satisfactorily carried out, so far, by any of the Departments. I personally have had a great deal of correspondence on these matters, and I believe that a great deal of good has been done by those whom my hon. Friend calls unpaid Inspectors—members of Trades Unions, and others—in calling attention to matters which have been placed before the Departments. I may say that in every correspondence I have had with different Departments—the Admiralty, the War Office, the Board of Works—complaints have been received with the utmost consideration and courtesy. I do not propose to touch on any of the questions with which the Admiralty or War Office are concerned. I think, 130 probably on some future occasion, in Committee of Supply or otherwise, we may have to raise this question in connection with other trades and other Departments; but, meantime, I confine myself to a few words in reference to this particular case. As my hon. Friend has said, there is no ground of complaint against the Department so ably presided over by my right hon. Friend in the matter of carrying out the Resolution passed last year, except in regard to this matter of the painters. In regard to other trades in which my hon. Friend is interested, I believe the First Commissioner has fairly carried out the letter and spirit of the Resolution; but unquestionably there has been considerable complaint as to the rate the Board of Works are paying, and propose to pay, to painters engaged in work for the Department. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that when the contract was originally made Messrs. Holland and Hannen put down the rate of pay for painters at 8½d. Well, Messrs. Holland and Hannen having paid that without complaint for a limited time, then came to the Board of Works and stated, that they had made an error in regard to the figure, and desired to amend it, substituting 7½d. Upon that the Board of Works made the alteration to 7½d. an hour, and so the matter rested for a few weeks. The men, of course, very soon came to find out this reduction had been made, and made representations through myself and others to the right hon. Gentleman. Then after considerable correspondence and several personal interviews, and a good deal of time occupied, and trouble taken, the Board of Works agreed to raise the rate from 7—d. to 8d., but declined altogether to raise it to 8—d. Now I am bound to say, that in the consideration of this demand of the painters there was a great difficulty. In other building trades there have been agreements drawn up between representatives of the masters and of the men, by which certain specific wages have been stated to be those recognised in the trade; and I think it is because there has been this agreement between masters and men in other trades that the Department of the right hon. Gentleman has found no trouble in coming to a proper con- 131 clusion. But in regard to the painters, an agreement was made in 1873 to which Messrs. Holland and Hannen were parties and signatories, and under that it was arranged that the rate of wages should be raised ½d. an hour, which the next year was increased to 1d. But in that agreement it was not specifically stated that 8½d. was the minimum rate for wages, but it was generally understood in the trade. It was so, and on the part of the men it is contended that for private work, Messrs. Holland and Hannen, and other contractors, do pay at the rate of 8½d. It was only in regard to Government work that they reduced the rate from 8½d., and paid originally 7½d., and now pay 8d. I am not going to say what ought to be the real rate of painters' wages; but the accusation brought against the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this matter is this: that when the matter was decided he declined, in the exercise of his discretion, no doubt quite wisely, to meet the representatives of the men to discuss the matter, while he did so meet representatives of the employers interested, Messrs. Holland and Hannen; and it was after an interview with them, and I am not quite sure as to other employers, that the rate was fixed. What we ask in regard to the matter is, that before the rate is irrevocably fixed the right hon. Gentleman's Department should see representatives of the men, as well as representatives of the masters. I quite agree it is not the business of the Government to fix the particular rate of wages in a particular trade; but the form of the Resolution to which we unanimously agreed—and I am bound to say that I think the form of my original Resolution was better than that submitted by the right hon. Gentleman—but even the Resolution substituted by the right hon. Gentleman was, that after making provisions as to subletting, the Government should make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are generally accepted in the trade as the current rate paid to competent workmen. We ask that, in the endeavour to arrive at a conclusion, the Department shall not proceed upon information derived from only one side, but should take the representations of parties on both sides. Unfortunately the question of painters' 132 wages is very much more difficult to decide than the question of wages in other trades; but if it can be proved that Messrs. Holland and Hannen and others are paying to painters on private work 8½., will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to raise the minimum to 8½d. for Government work? That is the question we ask. The right hon. Gentleman has met us with the utmost fairness and courtesy, and we desire only that the contracts from his Department and from other Departments shall be properly carried out, as was intended by the Resolution. The essence of that Resolution is, that the Government shall not in the amount they pay tend to depress the average rate of wages in a trade, that while not paying more neither shall they pay less than the current market rate. What the painters are afraid of is, that if this contract is allowed to continue without protest, the firms now paying 8½d. for private work will contend that, inasmuch as 8d. is paid for Government work, the latter figure is established as a fair rate, and private work must be reduced to 8d. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say he is prepared to re-consider this point, and that, in order to arrive at a fair conclusion in accordance with the Resolution of last Session, he will agree to consider the views of the men as well as of the employers.
§ (1.10.) MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM () Lanark, N.W.
I think the question now before us is a very proper one to engage our attention in a debate upon the Address. I congratulate the House upon having, for the first time, a labour question introduced upon such an occasion. It is a new departure the House is taking in now discussing the subject of painters' wages. We generally, in these debates, deal with subjects of far less interest—matters of foreign policy, the balance of power, and such matters—which, of course, are of far less interest to the people we represent than the question of a halfpenny more or less in the rate of wages. The only remark I shall add to what the hon. Gentleman said, is merely also to urge upon the Home Secretary that he will see that this matter of wages is put right. It was not at all 133 with the object of speaking about the claims of wages, however interesting the subject is, that I rose this afternoon. I want to make a few criticisms upon certain phrases used in the speech of the Mover of the Address. The mere employment of the word "Unemployed," in a speech made in moving the Address, is one of the most remarkable things I have heard in this House during the five years I have sat in it. I think I have, in every debate on the Address, introduced this question of the unemployed; and as at last I have got some response from the Government on this question, I shall not despair some day of having something done. What I wish to say merely is to criticise the proposed remedy brought forward by the Mover of the Address. Speaking upon this question of the unemployed—those men by whom our commercial supremacy has been founded—it was proposed to help them by granting better facilities for agricultural labourers to acquire land in the country. That, I think, is the most inconclusive way of dealing with the unemployed that I have ever heard, even from a man who seems to speak in the name of the Government. I cannot see myself, how granting extra facilities to acquire land to agricultural labourers is going to touch the question of the unemployed in the very smallest degree. It always seemed to me to be one of the most quack remedies that could be advanced. I venture to say to any Government that is going to deal with the question that the question is not to be dealt with in that way. It would be a very easy thing indeed to deal with it, if it could be dealt with in that manner. But I maintain that it is not to be practically dealt with in that way at all. There is a tendency, I think, in this nineteenth century for people to congregate together in large towns. The superior inducements of town life, and the superior rate of wages, and the amusements held out to them tend, in the long run, to bring them together; and being there, it would be better for the Government to endeavour to deal with the unemployed in the towns themselves, rather than in the country in the very inconclusive way which was sketched out yesterday. I main- 134 tain that it would be far better for the Government to do something towards the limitation of the hours of labour than merely to refer to the question in this perfunctory manner, as was done yesterday. If you grant the land to the agricultural labourers it does not seem to me that anything that you could do at such a distance, to work upon a problem which is so very acute as this undoubtedly is, would be likely to have the least degree of success; and therefore, although I have heard with great pleasure this reference to the unemployed, I do not think that anything will practically come out of the means of dealing with the question proposed by the Government. If you really want to do anything in the country itself, in my opinion, it can only be done by the acquisition of the land by the State as a whole. The proposal to deal with the question, by giving further facilities for raising up a peasant proprietary, is, in my opinion, the very greatest system of quackery that was ever heard of. We have seen a peasant proprietary established in almost every part of the world—in Germany, in Flanders, in France—and wherever they have been raised they have fallen into the hands of the moneylenders and the gombeen men, and they have a much harder lot than our agricultural labourers. Passing from this subject, of course it is almost a duty for me, holding the opinions I do, to perform the task to which I now address myself. I have listened with every attention and great sympathy to the very eloquent speeches which have been delivered in this House with reference to the unfortunate death of the late Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and the death of Mr. Smith, the late leader of this House. In reference to the late Duke of Clarence, I deplore to see any young man so very suddenly snatched away in the prime of life, and with such prospects as that unfortunate young man had before him. I also deplore that such a tried statesman as Mr. Smith, who gave satisfaction to both sides of the House, and also enjoyed the unbounded respect of all of us, should be taken from us. But there was one man who used to sit upon these benches, whose death I personally deplore more than that of 135 either of the men I have mentioned—I refer to the late Mr. Charles Stewart Parnell. He was human, like the rest of us. He had his faults, as we all have; but when time has blotted out his faults, and when his qualities, which I consider great undoubtedly, have been more clearly discerned, when the present unhappy dissensions among the Irish Party have been removed, as they will be removed some day, the present generation will undoubtedly say that a most remarkable man, whom those in this House, if they did not all respect, very largely feared, has been taken from us; a man with whom I myself was acquainted on terms of friendship, and whose death, under the unfortunate circumstances which occurred, I shall always deplore, as having deprived this House of the most remarkable man who sat in it in this century.
§ (1.20.) SIR ALBERT KAYE ROLLIT) (Islington, South
I agree with the hon. Member for Lanark that the present condition of the working classes is one of the most important questions that could be discussed in this House, and I regard it as a good augury that such matters should have been raised and discussed at this early period of the Session. These labour questions will demand consideration and solution, and, if the House is not familiarised with them, it may be called upon to legislate upon them in haste and without mature reflection, which would be a source of great injury, perhaps, to the country and to all classes. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham spoke of his proposal as a Radical measure; but I think it should not be forgotten, when dealing with this question, that the foundation of the discussion is the reference to it in the Speech from the Throne; and, secondly, that the minor grievances brought before the House, in regard to the painters, is based upon a Resolution which was passed by Her Majesty's Government last Session, in which very proper consideration is given to the rate of wages in all trades, and to the rate that ought to exist in relation to the Government contracts. But before I come to this point, I should like to say a word or two upon the Employers' Liability Act, a subject which 136 raises a good deal of debateable matter. A great deal has been said in favour of the retention of the Judge-made law as to the doctrine of Common Employment. It was first applied in the early part of this century, and I think it is now somewhat out of harmony with the general ideas which prevail at this time. And I venture, with some familiarity with the law, to say that it undoubtedly, in many instances, works considerable injustice. I do not suppose that, on a debate upon the Address, we are likely to come to any common conclusion on that subject. But what I venture to suggest to the Home Secretary is that, when he is preparing his measure on this question, and when he submits it to the House, he shall, at any rate take care, whatever he may do with reference to the abstract question of common employment, to deal with some of the real and practical grievances which at present affect the working classes in relation to their employment. Take first the question of notice required under the Employers' Liability Act. The Act requires that in order to sustain a claim there must have been served previous notice in writing, of six weeks, which must give certain particulars. After considerable experience in dealing with this question I am satisfied that this matter of notice urgently requires amendment. I do not speak generally of employers—far otherwise—but I do know employers who are eminently charitable during the six weeks after an accident, and when the six weeks have expired the charity disappears. The result is that a man finding himself being kindly dealt with allows the six weeks to expire, and the six weeks having expired he is without remedy at law, and benevolence is put an end to. Under the section, if the Judge is of opinion that no injustice would be worked by an amendment as regards the notice, then an amendment may be allowed to be made; but if the notice is not given, or if it is faulty in complying with certain requirements of the Act, then, no matter whether it be unjust or not, the notice is bad, or the want of it fatal, and the Court is not empowered to make an amendment. Now, I take one instance with which I have some personal acquaintance. Here an acci- 137 dent happened. The person injured gave full particulars of it to the Inspector. The Inspector reported it to the superintendent of the works, and it ultimately came to the knowledge of the employer. And afterwards, and within the six weeks, a letter was written by the workman to the employer again stating that the accident had occurred, and referring him to the full particulars which had so been previously given. It is held in that case that there had been no adequate notice, and no amendment was allowed to be made; and notwithstanding the knowledge which the employer possessed, that man, in my opinion, was denied justice. It has been said that law and equity are two things which God has joined together, and which man has put asunder; and I think this is a notable instance of that description. If an amendment can be allowed to be made in point of form, and if the Court is satisfied, though no notice was technically given, yet that all the facts came under the notice of the employer, and that no injustice would be worked by it, I think that the principle applies, and that an amendment ought to be made. Speaking from memory, I believe that in case of the death, of a person no notice need be given, even by his relatives or personal representatives. In other words, an action can be sustained without any notice. Well, if in the case of death, which prevents notice being given by an individual himself, notice can be dispensed with, and no injustice is likely to be done, it can equally be dispensed with in the case of mere omission through want of memory, or the exercise of charity under such circumstances as I have stated, if, again, the Judge finds it will not cause injustice or surprise or fraud. That is a practical point on which some reform is necessary, and I hope that the Home Secretary will bear it in mind. There is another point which I think equally capable of amendment. The Act limits compensation to the recovery of not exceeding three years' wages. Well, I hardly know why that limitation should have been made. It is quite true that the action has to be commenced in a County Court, the 138 jurisdiction of which is, generally, of limited extent. But there is a right of removal of such action to a superior Court, and of course the question of the amount involved might properly be taken into account by the Judge, though, as a rule, such removal is most undesirable on the ground of the greater expense. There are, however, some instances in which the compensation which has been awarded is notably inadequate; and in order to secure a full and equitable compensation I do not see why such a limitation should not be removed, subject to the check of the trial being had in exceptional cases, but in those only, in a superior Court to which I have referred. I have only a word to add, and that is with regard to the question raised about the painters. It seems, from all I have heard, that this is a matter of fact which can readily and easily be cleared up; but that matter of fact cannot be cleared up by hearing only one side. As a member of the London Conciliation Board, which has been fairly successful, I can state that the very foundation of success is that the working classes should be fairly convinced that both sides shall equally gain a hearing; and there can be no conciliation unless that principle be rigorously carried out. I am glad to know that it has evidently been carried out as a general practice, though apparently not in this instance, by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench (Right Hon. D. R. Plunket). There is no one who is not aware of the difficulties he must have in dealing with these questions of wages. I am glad to see that even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham fully recognises the great care and discrimination exercised by the right hon. Gentleman generally. May I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman will at any rate—even if it be superfluous it will give satisfaction—reinvestigate the matter, and afford an opportunity to all interested to be heard, a practice which is not only requisite for full knowledge and justice, but which is the very basis of all conciliation, and so of the resulting benefit of good relations between employers and employed.
(1.30.) SIRJOSEPH W.PEASE() Durham
I do not propose to follow 139 the arguments on the Employers' Liability Act. I think that this debate ought to have taken place in Committee of the House on the Bill itself. I had the honour of sitting on the Committee on that Bill, and these points, which my hon. Friend opposite has made, were discussed from time to time in their proper place on that Committee. All I shall do is to ask Her Majesty's Government, as speedily as possible, to deal with that Act, many portions of which are capable of being modified and amended. I wish to say a few words on a subject which I had intended to bring before the House last evening, but unfortunately I was not in my place when it came on. Many friends of mine in the country who have taken a large interest in the question of the Indian opium trade were disappointed on finding that there was nothing in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech with regard to the question which came before the House, and which was decided by the House in terms which were quite unmistakeable. And these terms were to urge upon the Indian Government to cease to grant licences for the cultivation of the poppy, as the revenue raised by them was immoral and indefensible. Some of us are anxious to know whether Her Majesty's Government have had any communication with the Indian Government on the subject. The question I introduced to the House on the 10th of April last was the cultivation of the poppy and the trade generally in opium. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, whose loss all of us very sincerely deplore, took credit for Her Majesty's Government that they had during the last five years decreased the area which was under the cultivation of the poppy. So far that was very satisfactory to those of us who are warring against the cultivation of the poppy in India. But what we want to know from Her Majesty's Government, though this perhaps is not a very suitable occasion to ask for the information, is whether this Resolution has been communicated to the Government in India, and what steps they propose to take with regard to the question? The right hon. Gentleman the late leader of the House admitted practically that the cultivation of the 140 poppy was immoral in its action on the whole population of India and China, to which the trade more particularly applied. I am anxious to know what the Indian Government have to say to the question. I have in my pocket a Bill in which the Government of Victoria in Australia propose absolutely to put an end by very heavy penalties to the opium consumption in that colony. It was brought forward by two responsible members of that Government, and I have been told by a late member of that Government that, in all human probability, this Bill will be passed by a very large majority in the colony of Victoria. Now, Sir, this shows practically what is the view of these men, who are acting upon their own judgment and own responsibility in the Government of that country. They emphatically endorse these allegations which we have made, that the trade in opium carried on by the Government of India is immoral and indefensible.
§ (1.37.) MR. ROBERT GRANT WEBSTER () St. Pancras
One might naturally feel surprised that there has been no reference made by any Member of the Opposition with regard to the fact stated in the Speech from the Throne that Her Majesty has lost in the Viceroy of Egypt a loyal ally, whose wise government had, in the space of a few years, largely contributed to restore prosperity and peace to that country. The fact of our remaining in Egypt at the present time has not been referred to, although that fact was made by Members of the Opposition a matter of considerable animadversion. Why is it? I believe it is because it has come to the mind of the Opposition that our remaining in Egypt at the present time is not only essential to the prosperity of Egypt, but essential to our commercial prosperity. We have since our arrival in Egypt carried out a number of reliable remedies, but not without very great difficulty. The courbash has been abolished; sanitation and education have been improved; and also slavery, to a very great extent, has been suppressed. I think that is a very good record for this Government, when we recollect that when this Government came into office the state of Egypt was in an eminently un- 141 satisfactory condition. This being the state of things, it is no wonder that gentlemen on the Opposition Benches have very little to say in this House regarding the question of Egypt. Turning to the reference in regard to Zanzibar, the Government have been able to make satisfactory statements that a treaty has been made with His Highness the Sultan, and that in consequence there would be opened out to British trade and commerce a very large portion of the EastAfrican Coast. Owing to the hostile tariffs with which many foreign countries have recently hedged round their countries, an export trade to many has been gradually diminishing, therefore the extension of our markets to new, if at present only partially developed, countries is a matter for congratulation. The hon. Member for North West Lanarkshire (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) complained of the Bill to provide allotments in the country. The hon. Gentleman has always advocated the system of State Socialism, but when we remember that we are a very highly civilised community, and have been so for centuries, it appears to me that any attempt to hand over the whole of the land of the country to Councils, to be parcelled out by them to the agricultural labourer, would be absolutely and completely unworkable. In looking over the Queen's Speech I find there are two very important measures to be brought in with regard to Ireland. A large number of the Unionist Members at the last general election, in their election addresses, stated that they would be willing to vote for a further extension of local self government in England and in Scotland, and to do the same with regard to Ireland when the time was ripe for such a change. Sir, that time has arrived, the conditions of affairs in Ireland have improved, five or six thousand people who had to go about their business day by day guarded by policemen, and were subject to the cruel tyranny of the boycotting system, are now as free as any of my constituents in St. Pancras. The catalogue of serious crime has greatly diminished, and that being so, and having regard to the comparative quietude that prevails, I think the time 142 has arrived to pass a measure of local government for Ireland. There is another clause in the gracious Speech from the Throne we are considering; a scheme to extend the advantages of assisted education to Ireland. A great deal of objection was made yesterday as to a statement of the Prime Minister that some of the people of Ireland were backward. I think we are enabled, by statistics, to show that in some Irish constituencies one-half of the people who go to the poll claim to vote as illiterates, and we must acknowledge that if they have not the education necessary to enable them to put their names to a voting paper, the state of education in Ireland cannot be altogether satisfactory. I have reason to believe that in many instances other reasons besides want of education may induce them to claim as illiterates, which I hope to have an opportunity of referring to later this Session. There was also an attack made on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby on a statement of the Prime Minister that County Councils have not, up to the present time, conduced to economy. I do not believe that when these Councils have got into thorough good working order there will be any permanent increase on the rates; but as far as London is concerned, the County Council system has up to now proved a most expensive and a not altogether satisfactory experiment. We shall all welcome the introduction into London of the District Councils Bill. London is at the present time under a variety of bodies, and it would be desirable to have District Councils. The Vestries have, in some instances, done remarkably good work, in others they have not done so, and though we generally do not desire to do away with the old divisions we should in London welcome District Councils as a valuable link in the chain of good local self-government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby also attacked the Prime Minister for certain statements he had made in regard to the people of Ireland. It was difficult exactly to follow of what he complained. He further said such statements would offend the people of America, though 143 why the statement that a few of the inhabitants of these Isles were backward should cause offence in America, or anywhere else, it is difficult to comprehend. The last speaker complained that the Government did not propose to do away with the opium traffic. I know something of this subject, and I know that a very great deal of the opium used in China does not come from India at all, but from China itself. The use of the drug at all is, of course, to be deplored; but whether it come from India or not, the people of China would unfortunately continue to use that drug. In considering this matter the House must remember that if we do away with that traffic we shall have to consider the question of the revenues of India. At present silver is decreasing considerably in value, and that will materially affect the finances of India; therefore, if this alteration is to take place, it ought to be made gradually, and not at one fell swoop.
§ (1.45.) MR. T. H. BOLTON () St. Pancras, N.
I am sorry, Sir, I cannot agree with the sanguine expectation, expressed by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, as to the intentions of the Government respecting the District Councils Bill. The paragraph in the most gracious Speech from the Throne is certainly very vague, and is not very encouraging; but the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House last night was very discouraging. He gave a long list of measures of great importance, and he led us to think that there was no hope for the District Councils Bill unless all those measures were satisfactorily disposed of. If that is the way the Government approach this subject we can only draw one conclusion, and that is that they do not seriously intend to deal with the question of District Councils, either in London or throughout the country, this year.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
We do seriously intend to deal with the question; but whether we have the power or not depends upon the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
If the power depends upon me, the Government will have ample opportunity of dealing with 144 the question, because of all the measures mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, I believe this is one of the most practical and most necessary. The want of a District Councils Bill paralyses the action of County Councils, and paralyses the action of the municipal authorities in this city. I heard yesterday the expression of a hope that the Government would embody in a Small Holdings Bill provisions not only for the purchase of small holdings, but for the leasing of land, and for the subletting of such leased land to persons desirous of occupying holdings. How is it possible to carry out any idea of that kind without District Councils? To suggest that County Councils with their wide areas and wide jurisdiction should lease and let land would be absurd. To hand over to Boards of Guardians the control of such business would be unsatisfactory, and to suggest that the present unsatisfactory parish vestries should deal with such matters would be worse still. How it is possible to give effect to the very valuable and practical suggestion that land should be leased and sub-let, as well as sold, to persons desiring to use it, without District Councils, I cannot for the life of me understand. I can quite understand that there may be a disinclination on the part of the Government to establish Elective Councils for parishes, and it may be preferable that there should be a reformed vestry, or reformed assembly of the parish generally, rather than the creation of a Parochial Board; but there should be no hesitation in carrying out what the Government is committed to in principle, namely, the establishment of District Councils to assist County Councils to deal with those matters, local in their character, which the County Councils cannot so well attend to. If this matter is to be a pious opinion, without a serious intention on the part of the Government, it will go far to destroy the prospect or hope of anything being done this Session in connection with land reform in the country districts of England. I cannot too strongly press upon the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House the importance of this portion of the Government programme. I feel that in 145 London, especially, there is a strong desire to have a reformed vestry system, so that the London County Council may be improved and able to deal satisfactorily with purely local questions. The London County Council is over-loaded with parochial work. At present there is a disinclination to hand over that work to the vestries. Although the larger and more important vestries do their work very well, some do not do it so well. The absence of District Councils, having the confidence of the people, prevents the County Council from confining its attention to those larger matters to which its attention ought to be confined, leaving the smaller but very important work to the districts. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a more earnest assurance as to the desire of the Government to deal with this question of District Councils this Session. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby spoke last night of the programme of the Government consisting only of remanets. I do not object to have remanets disposed of. I do not know that it is unsatisfactory for the Government, towards the close of a Parliament, to try to pass those measures that have been repeatedly before the House. If the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House presses forward a good District Councils Bill there are many on this side of the House who will help him; but to suggest that this measure may be brought forward only after a long list of difficult measures are carried, is to show us that there is no intention of dealing with the matter this Session. I feel justified in making this appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us a stronger and more definite assurance that the Government will put forward this measure soon, not only in the interests of London but of the country at large.
§ (2.15.) MR. AINSLIE (Lancashire, N. Lonsdale)
I should not have risen on this occasion at all, had it not been for the remarks which have been made by the hon. Member for Nottingham with regard to the Employers' Liability Bill, in which I took some part two years ago. He has made an omission in reference thereto which I venture 146 to supplement. He alluded to the fact that the Government did not press forward the Bill on the last occasion with the energy which they might have displayed. In my own opinion the Government did what was in their power. They had, for reasons of their own, delegated the work of dealing with the Bill to one of the Grand Committees—the Committee on Law—and, if I may venture to say so, I think their action in that respect rather failed in effecting the object which they had in view. It brought too many persons, who were not specially concerned in the matter, into the Committee room, and the ultimate effect was the failure of the Bill to be passed. The hon. Member for Nottingham's action on that occasion is very well known. He has always taken a very strong leading part in objecting to certain clauses in that Bill, or rather in the two Bills which have been before us, and I cannot blame him for the action which he takes as representing a large body of Trades Unionists. But he has omitted to refer to the action taken by another leading representative of a large body of men in this country in his time, though, unfortunately, his well-known face is missed from those benches. I refer to the late Mr. Bradlaugh, whom I regarded as quite as much an exponent of the opinions of the working classes as the Member for Nottingham. His support on the last occasion was given unstintingly to the Government measure, even though he held an opinion that, on some one or two points, amendments might still be made with advantage. Now, I have to say, representing as I do a very large working-class community, that it would not do for the Government to neglect to pass this Bill this Session, if by any possibility it can be carried. I want to support the suggestion that the Government should place this measure in a somewhat forward position. It will redound to their credit if they can do so; but it will do very much more, for it will show to the public, and the great body of the working classes, that Governments can do something, and are ready to do something, when they are asked. But it will not do, no mat- 147 ter what Government may be in power, for a measure of this sort to be brought in year after year, and then laid aside, as alleged, for want of time. The obstacles which the Government have met with have not been from this side of the House. The hon. Member opposite seemed to be under two impressions: one was that the Government could not possibly last more than one Session; and the other, evidently, that the Government must last longer, or else it would not have urged them to pass this measure. Because, if a Government is to be formed by right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches, naturally it would have their support to pass the Bill, and he would not have to ask us on these Benches to carry it. The reference of the Bill to a Grand Committee was, as I have said, a technical mistake. I hope the Government will not repeat it, but will offer a Special Committee, and that it will go before a Committee of the whole House, and not such a Committee as that on Law or on Trade. This is one of those occasions when something may be done by a conference of those who have the subject at heart, for the points of difference between us are not so great but that they may be settled, and I hope the hon. Member will show a disposition to assist the Government in passing this measure. If he does so, he shall receive every assistance at my hands in forwarding the Bill.
§ (2.25.) MR. BRYCE
I see the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his place, and I desire to have this opportunity of asking one or two questions with regard to foreign affairs, to which I hope he will find it possible to give me an answer, though, if not, I shall be glad if he can do so on the next occasion. I am glad to take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to a post in the Government, and to express the confident hope that the same qualities that distinguished him when he represented the Charity Commission will not fail him in the more responsible office he now fills. I should like, in asking a question with regard to the Consulship at Erzeroum, which has been vacant for some time, and which, I hope, he will be able to tell 148 us will be filled up, to pay, in passing, a tribute to the distinguished qualities and services of our late Ambassador at Constantinople. I think Her Majesty had not, in the Diplomatic Service, a man of greater powers of mind than the late Sir William White; a man of extensive knowledge of all foreign affairs and great technical skill in handling diplomatic business, which entitled him to the confidence of Her Majesty and this country. His loss has been very great to British interests in the East, and it is one which it will be very hard for anyone else to supply. I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman who has been appointed to succeed Mr. Clifford Lloyd at Erzeroum, and whether it is intended that Erzeroum shall be still the principal Consulship in that part of Asiatic Turkey, which has practically been the centre of the district in which most of the disturbances occurred? It is a matter, therefore, of considerable importance that a man of judgment, and tact, and knowledge, should fill the post. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps tell us when it is intended to present any further Papers relating to the state of affairs in Armenia and Asiatic Turkey generally? There is reference made in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech to the progress of negotiations with regard to the settlement of the Sealing question in the Behring Sea. That reference, however, is rather indefinite, and I hope the Under Secretary can tell us in what precise position the negotiations now stand? I see the American papers state that the delays which have occurred have been owing to Her Majesty's Government. I should think that statement is probably incorrect, but we shall be glad to know that everything has been done on the part of Her Majesty's Government to accelerate the arbitration; and in particular we should like to know whether it has yet been settled how the other arbitrators, in addition to those to be named by the United States, are to be selected: whether the Government have agreed upon them; or whether they have agreed upon the Governments who are to be asked to name the arbitrators? The hon. Gentleman will perhaps also tell us when further Papers with regard to these 149 matters will be presented? As regards the Newfoundland Fisheries, I think the House will be glad to learn what is the position of affairs in the Colony at present, and whether arrangements have been made for the passing of the Act which the Colonial Government undertook to have passed in the Newfoundland Legislature? It is a good many months since the preliminary agreement with the French Government was arrived at, and we have not heard since then whether the French Government has presented that agreement to the Legislature for its acceptance, nor when it is likely that the agreement can be presented. The matter is one which in times past has caused much friction, and is at all times apt to involve fresh friction, and we shall be glad, therefore, to know if there is a reasonable prospect of this matter being settled? The questions pending between the United States and this country and Canada are remaining in abeyance, and if the hon. Gentleman has any information to give us with regard to them we shall be glad to have it. There is one more subject on which I shall be glad to have information. It is the Convention for the regulation of the liquor traffic in the North Sea. Six years ago an agreement was entered into between the representatives of the different Powers, whose territories adjoined the North Sea, for a scheme by which the liquor traffic carried on by the vessels going to the fisheries there should be put under some restriction. At present very great harm follows from the sale of liquor on the liquor boats or floating taverns; and it has been felt by those interested in the condition of the fishermen, not only of our own country, but by those interested in the Danish, Dutch, and German fishermen, that an international regulation of the matter would be of great advantage. In 1886 a Convention was made for that purpose, and it has been ratified by every Power except France, and I hope we shall be told now that the French Government will bring the matter before their Legislature again, and that there is a prospect that it will be accepted. This matter involves no political considerations, and yet the necessary arrangement can only be carried out by the combined action of 150 the different Powers concerned. The point, therefore, is one of considerable importance, and it is one in which the enlightened public opinion of France, as well as of this country, would act upon the Legislature if the facts were known. I hope the hon. Member will be able to give us further assurances on this subject.
§ *(2.25.) MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
There is one subject which has not been alluded to by my hon. Friend below me, and that is, as to the state of the negotiations with regard to the Brussels Conference on the Repression of the Slave Trade. When the subject was last heard of the bulk of the Powers concerned had given their assent to the suggestions of the Conference, but France and Portugal were still outstanding; and we shall be glad to know whether pressure can be exercised by the Government of this country, which took the initiative in having that Conference summoned, so that its labours should not be abortive.
*(2.27.) THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. J. W. LOWTHER, Cumberland, Penrith)
Allow me, in the first place, to thank my hon. Friend opposite for the very kind expressions which he has used personally to myself. I hope that, whether the time be short or long which I have to serve in the office I now fill, I shall deserve the kind expressions which the hon. Gentleman opposite has used. With regard to the first question which the hon. Gentleman has put to me, I am able to inform him that the Consulship at Erzeroum has been filled up by the appointment of Mr. R. W. Graves. This gentleman was originally a student interpreter; he subsequently served as Vice Consul at Sophia, and he for a considerable time occupied the same post at Philippopolis. I believe that it is intended that Erzeroum shall still occupy the prominent position which it is in at present in regard to Armenian affairs. As to laying Papers upon the Armenian question upon the Table of the House, I will make inquiries in the Office as to whether it is possible to do so. I do not conceive that any objection can be made to laying such Papers; but the affairs of Armenia have been very quiet during the last few 151 months, and I do not anticipate that the Papers will be either full or lengthy. I will, however, endeavour to see whether there are materials existing for a Blue Book which can be laid before the House. I may, perhaps, add that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to lay upon the table of the House Papers relating to the riots in China, which have excited a considerable amount of attention, and also Papers with regard to the Behring Sea negotiations, and also Papers in regard to the revolution in Chili. In regard to commercial matters, it is also intended to lay Papers dealing with the commercial matters of Europe in two volumes; the first volume of which will not include any reference to the recent Commercial Treaties which have been arranged by the Central Powers of Europe, nor with regard to the recent tariff arrangements made in France; but the second volume will include those Papers. With regard to the Behring Sea dispute, I am happy to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that a complete agreement has been arrived at between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States. The points of arbitration have been decided upon, and the Powers who are to be asked to appoint the arbitrators have also been agreed upon. Those Powers are Italy, France and Sweden; but I ought to add that the Governments of those Powers have not yet been asked whether they will agree to appoint arbitrators as proposed; but so far as Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States are concerned, they have come to an agreement to ask these Powers to appoint arbitrators. In addition to that, it is also agreed between our Government and the Government of the United States that we shall be represented by two arbitrators upon the Board of Arbitration, and that the United States shall be equally represented. Then as to the Commission which was appointed for investigating on the spot into the character of the necessary precautions which may be required for the maintenance of seal life in the Behring Sea, that Commission has completed its labours, so far as their individual investigations are concerned. The British 152 and American Commissioners have now met at Washington, and they are just on the point of entering upon the consideration of their joint Report. In regard to Newfoundland, I am afraid that matters have not advanced very rapidly; but the draft Bill which the Newfoundland Government have undertaken to pass into an Act has been seen by Her Majesty's Government, and it now only awaits introduction to the Newfoundland Legislature. I believe some slight delay has arisen through the temporary absence from Newfoundland of one or two gentlemen who came over here as delegates, and are, therefore, seized with special knowledge of the subject, but on their return to Newfoundland the matter will be proceeded with. As to the negotiations with France, upon that matter the French Government have not yet, I believe, presented for ratification to their Chamber the agreement for arbitration. I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman very definite information on this matter, and if he requires anything further, I will ask him to put a question on the Paper. As to the North Sea Fisheries Convention, I understand that in that case also, the French Government have not, up to the present, taken any measures for ratifying the Convention of 1886. Only quite recently we were approached by the German Government, and asked what steps were being taken in the matter; and we informed the German Government that, as Holland was the convoking Power, it rested with the Dutch Government to get ratification of the Convention that was made. The hon. Member opposite asked with regard to the Brussels Convention. I am happy to be able to say that the Brussels Act has been practically ratified; the French Government have ratified it with certain modifications, though the ratification by the Portuguese Government still remains in abeyance. The Portuguese Legislature is occupied at the present time with domestic matters of great interest, and it is possible some time may yet elapse before that Government is in a position to bring before the Legislature proposals for the ratification of the Brussels Act. But Her Majesty's Government do not anticipate that any difficulty will 153 be created beyond the lapse of time which unfortunately must occur.
*(2.50.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
The hon. Member asked whether there was any hope of the Employers' Liability Bill being presented and prosecuted this Session. That is a subject on which I have every hope of seeing effective legislation this Session, and I should be extremely disappointed if this Parliament came to an end without my having an opportunity of asking the judgment of the House upon it. It is a measure on which I have spent much time and trouble, and which has caused me much anxiety. Nothing has disappointed me more, in the course of my short official career, than the failure of the attempts I have made, on two occasions, to improve the law on this most important subject. The opening remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham filled me with the liveliest hopes; he began by promising his co-operation, but from the later portion of his speech it turned out that that co-operation was only to be given on the absolute surrender of the Government; and that if a complete surrender is not made, the Bill will be met with the same dogged opposition as was displayed before. It is the fault of the hon. Member for Nottingham that the question has not been dealt with before now. The Bill I introduced in 1888 was based on the Report of a Committee of this House, appointed by a Government of which the hon. Member was himself a member, and was composed of a majority of his own political friends. The Inquiry by that Committee was full and exhaustive. I believe that every one of the views which the hon. Member has put before the House were discussed before that Committee. The Committee made a Report to this House, and upon that Report was based the Bill which I presented to the House; and I believe I did not disregard one of the recommendations of that Report, some of which were extremely obscure, one in particular, Clause 3, caused me certainly hours of labour in endeavouring to put it into practical shape. I honestly endeavoured to give effect to every recom- 154 mendation of that Committee in my Bill; and what is more, I went beyond the recommendations of the Committee, and met many of the blots which legal decisions had searched out in the language of the former Bill, to the prejudice of the working man seeking compensation under its provisions. Many decisions had been given which were looked upon, and deservedly so, as detracting from the merits of the Act, and these were meant to be counteracted by my Bill of 1888. What was the course of the hon. Member for Nottingham? A great deal of the time of the House was consumed in the discussion of that Bill; it then went before a Grand Committee upstairs, and its provisions were subjected to a minute and searching examination by Members of all Parties in the House, and it then came back to this House late in the year, when the Session was drawing to a close, and the course of the hon. Member was, instead of showing any anxiety to forward enactments which were improvements, even if they did not go so far as he desired, which were alterations in the interests of working men and for the benefit of those classes whom he claimed in a special manner to represent—instead of co-operating in the passing of that Bill, he, at the last moment, chose to raise a question which of itself must require much discussion and consideration to give effect to it—the question of what was known as the doctrine of Common Employment. That is a legal doctrine of far-reaching character, requiring to be considered from every conceivable point of view. The legal ground upon which that doctrine rests is that a man who has virtually agreed to undertake to expose himself to certain risks ought not when mischief follows to turn round and claim compensation. That is the reasonable ground of the doctrine of common employment. I quite agree that there is great difficulty in applying the doctrine to certain cases, in finding out where there was a real undertaking of the risk, so that no claim for damages arises. I think there is some need for amendment of the law in the definition of common employment, but the difficulties involved in that subject are most difficult to resolve. 155 To a man desiring to do justice to both employers and employed it is a question requiring careful and deliberate consideration, and to foist that principle into a Bill at the last moment was to deliberately wreck the Bill. The hon. Member thought it right to take a course which ended in the loss of the Bill of 1888, which, I believe, embodied the last and best recommendations of a Committee of this House on the subject, and it was a decided advance on the existing law. Not only that, but it was an advance on the hon. Member's own Bill. In 1886 the hon. Member put his name on the back of a Bill, on which was also the honoured name of the hon. Member for Morpeth. The Bill I presented in 1888, which the hon. Member wrecked by his action, was a great advance on that. But in that year these new lights had not dawned on the hon. Member's mind, and he had not introduced in his Bill any words destroying the doctrine of common employment. In that Bill the hon. Member embodied his last and best theories, and then he was not prepared to make those startling changes in the law which he suggested to the House, at the eleventh hour, in my Bill, after careful consideration by a Grand Committee. The stimulating effect of being two years in opposition to a Conservative Government was yet to come. All I can say is that the hon. Member did cause the rejection of a Bill which was a great advance on his own Bill of 1886, by introducing at the last moment an Amendment which would require some months of discussion. Let, therefore, the responsibility be thrown on the shoulders which ought to bear it. The hon. Member for Nottingham is responsible for the fact that this question has not advanced very much. For instance, there is the practical suggestion which the hon. Member for South Islington made to-day, with reference to the injustice worked by the rule as to six weeks' notice, the want of which destroyed the workman's right to compensation on a technical point, and the question of the amount of compensation. Both these matters were dealt with in my Bill of 1888—I will not say in a manner completely satisfactory, but in a manner not completely 156 unsatisfactory, and were capable of being improved by any rational and practical mind dealing with it in the House, without going into the doctrine of common employment. If the hon. Member had applied his mind to the Notice Clause of my Bill, and the increased compensation it gave, he would have rendered more practical service to those whom he claims to represent than by pursuing the course he did. I assure the hon. Member I desire to act justly to all classes in this question, and I shall endeavour to do so. Important inquiries are going on at this moment in relation to cognate subjects to this, before the Royal Commission on Labour, and I hope a great deal has already been learned from the evidence given. I trust also that long before the Session has closed some assistance may be got from the evidence with regard to the clauses of the Act. There is no Bill about which I shall feel more anxiety, and there is no Bill upon which I shall be more glad of the assistance of all those who are entitled to speak on the question. At the same time, my hope is strong, and has not been destroyed by the speech of the hon. Member to-night; but he must remember that this Bill does not take the first place in the programme of the Government, and there are other measures which must have precedence, and I can only hope that the hon. Member and his friends will allow these measures to pass with sufficient rapidity to enable me to bring forward this Bill, which would confer as great benefit on the country as any other proposed in the Queen's Speech. The hon. Member has not condescended to study that part of the Factory Act of last year which deals with the question of certifying surgeons, and a little time spent in such study would not have been wasted. He supposes also that it will increase the labours of the Factory Inspectors. It diminishes in an enormous degree what they have to do. It takes away the whole sanitary inspection of workshops and gives it to the officials of the Local Authority; therefore, when the hon. Member clamours for the increase of Factory Inspectors, he shows that he has not been at the trouble of considering the provisions of the Bill to which he refers. I have already made an addition to the staff 157 of Inspectors in the direction in which it was wanted—in the due administration of the Cotton Cloth Factories Act of 1889. Under that Act an amount of inspection was required by law, which the existing staff of Inspectors could not carry out. It was by no means easy to select men competent to administer that Act, which involves a wide knowledge of instruments and various technicalities; but after careful consideration I have selected gentlemen who have either undergone, or are now undergoing, examination by the Civil Service Commissioners, and they will then be appointed Factory Inspectors in Lancashire, and I hope the proposed additional expenditure will receive the sanction of the Treasury.
§ (3.0.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
We have now arrived at the time when it was understood the Debate should be adjourned and I move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ Debate further adjourned till tomorrow.