§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [24th March] proposed to Question [20th February], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no amendment of the Law relating to Employers' Liability will be final or satisfactory which does not provide compensation to workmen for all injuries sustained in the ordinary course of their employment, and not caused by their own act or default,"—(Mr. J. Chamberlain,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, he regretted that he could not approve of the manner in which the Bill was brought before the House, or of the hurried way in which the Government proposed it should be dealt with. It was a Bill that affected many thousands of working men, and it was necessary that the case of those men should be fully stated. When the late Government brought in a Bill on the subject, containing no novel provisions, but founded on the recommendations of the Select Committee appointed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, those now in power obstructed the measure, and prevented it becoming law. Up to the present time only eight hours had been devoted to the consideration of the Bill now before the House, and only nine Members had spoken. He was entirely in favour of the principle of the Bill, which abolished the doctrine of common employment and general contracting out of the Act, and which simplified the procedure; but he desired to support the Amendment, which seemed to him to improve the position of the workmen. The Home Secretary had said that he regarded this Amendment as a proposal to substitute for the law of employers' liability a law of industrial 1177 assurance, and that it ought to be rejected until someone had the ingenuity to provide a system of insurance in order to make it workable. But the process of insurance on the part of the employer; was going on now, and if the Bill should pass that process would be extended, and if the Amendment were carried the process would be still further extended. There was no difference in principle between the Bill and the Amendment; it was only a difference in degree. The abolition of the doctrine of common employment involved the principle of industrial insurance. Was the right hon. Gentleman aware that there were in the United Kingdom and in the City of London no less than 28 public companies carrying on the business of employers' liability insurance? These companies had a subscribed capital of £4,511,292, and an annual income of over £200,000 derived from premiums paid in respect of employers' liability. He had received a letter from the manager of one of these companies which was to the effect that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment would give much more satisfaction all round, for the employers would be liable for all accidents, and the companies would get at a premium to meet this quickly, as there would be no question of liability, and there would not be half the disputes which would arise under the Act as it stood. He submitted that he had shown that there was an existing Industrial Insurance Organisation ready to hand. He hoped the Government would see their way to introduce the Amendment into the Bill, because he believed it would largely benefit the workmen and enable them to obtain compensation in at least 25 per cent. more cases than under the Bill, and further because it would largely decrease the expenses of litigation and simplify the procedure. Clause 2 of the Bill, which gave a workman the choice either of taking compensation from the insurance fund or of bringing an action against the employer, would destroy all the existing Insurance Societies from which the men, without litigation, now received fair and free compensation for injuries, for employers, by reason of the uncertainty of the action of the workmen, would not continue their subscriptions to the funds which were paid expressly to avoid litigation arising on the question of risk 1178 as to the contracting out of the Act. Strong observations had been made about coercion and bogus deputations, and he did not propose to go further into the matter than to say that the hon. Member who made the charge might have given some evidence in support of his statement. There were many societies against which no such charge could be sustained for a moment, and there were many which both the employers and the men were anxious to see continued. he had received numerous unsolicited communications from his constituents declaring their anxiety to see these societies preserved. The Secretary to the London and North-Western Railway Mutual Insurance Society (Running Department) had written to him, though he was neither a director nor a shareholder of that company, urging him to do his best to get his company exempted from this clause of the Bill. This correspondent said—I beg in inclose you balance-sheet for 1891 as our balance-sheet for 1892 is not yet ready, and wish to inform you that the number of members in our Society at the end of the year 1892 was 10,453. The payments made by the company during the 12 years since the Employers' Liability Act of 1881 amount to £28,590, and those made by the Society from members' payments are £39,000. It is the unanimous will of all the members to remain as at present. There are about 37,000 members in the Traffic Department Insurance, and 8,000 members in the Crewe Works Insurance, and they have had meetings and are all desirous of remaining as at present.He had had a letter from the St. Helen's Junction Branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, in which it was said that the balances in hand to the end of 1892 amounted to £86,897, and that under the operation of this clause the Society would be absolutely destroyed. These Societies, generally, desired to sec a clause exempting them from the operation of the clause, and, as a matter of fact, he failed to see why the Government should attempt to thrust benevolent legislation down the throats of men; who did not desire it. The manager of the Oldbury Alkali Company, Limited, writing to the Home Secretary in regard to the Bill, spoke about the scheme which the employers had submitted to the men in 1880, and which had been in operation since January 1, i 1881. He says—During the 11 years, 1881–1891 inclusive, we had not one fatal accident at our works, in 1179 happy contrast to the nine preceding years, 1872 to 1880 inclusive, during which seven deaths occurred from accidents. This immunity from serious accidents i largely attribute to the greater tare and vigilance exercised by the men themselves, in consequence of the interest which our scheme throws upon them.He went on to say—Unhappily, in 1892 two fatal accidents occurred: one due to a scald from the escape from a steam boiler of steam, due to the man's own act; the second due to the workman in charge opening a tap by which the poor fellow was terribly scalded with a boiling solution of soda. Now, please mark what happened! No. I, on his dying bed, knowing that if he died £100 would be immediately paid to his heirs, said to his father, 'Tell Mr. Chance that no man was to blame but myself.' No. 2 told several of his family that it was 'purely an accident,' and the Coroner's jury returned a verdict of 'Accidental death.' His parents also received £100 from our fund. Had no such friendly fund existed what a distressing temptation would there have been for each sufferer to remain silent on his death-bed as to the true nature of the accident, so as to leave his friends free to try to obtain compensation in a Court of Law!This gentleman further wrote—We have, during these 12 years, contributed sums largely in excess of any amounts we would have been required to pay under the Act, and our men have in every case of accident, from whatever cause, received prompt and full payment as provided.The writer pointed out that the object of the liberality of the company was to avoid the possibility of litigation with all its disturbing effects on their business, and to strengthen the good feeling which existed between the company and their workpeople. The reply of the Home Office, which was dated so lately as March 4, was simply—I am directed by the Secretary of State; io thank you for your letter of the 22nd ultimo on the subject of the Employers' Liability Bill, and I am to say, in reply, that it is not the intention, nor in the opinion of the Secretary of State will it be the effect, of the Bill to discourage such mutually beneficial arrangements as have existed between myself and your workpeople.He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to be as good as his word, and to insert a clause in the Bill which would except from its operation these Insurance Societies. He had been much struck by a clause introduced into the Bill of 1888 to provide that Societies that desired it should, with the approval of the Board of Trade, be allowed to contract out. So injury would be done to anybody by such a 1180 clause as that, and he hoped it would be inserted in the Bill. The best part of the Bill was that which related to the simplification of procedure. He did hot think those hon. Members who thought that the Amendment would lead to litigation had proved their case. If the Bill wore passed without the Amendment the workman, to be qualified for compensation, must prove the positive proposition—namely, that the injury had resulted from the negligence of some one other than himself. If the Amendment were accepted, then the workman need only prove the negative proposition, that the injury did not proceed from his own negligence. Surely it would be much easier to prove the negative than the positive proposition. The manager of one of the Insurance Companies, to whose letter he had referred, made the remarkable statement—As regards claims generally, a greater part of the expenses incurred under this heading may be said to be expended in law, there being so many, what we may call 'call, cases,' got up by cheap lawyers on the principle of no cure no pay.'Well, it seemed to him that the effect of embodying the Amendment in the Bill would be to largely reduce litigation, and for that reason he proposed to support it. In conclusion, he would merely say that if they wanted to pass a good Bill which would put the law on a most satisfactory footing they should adopt the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain).
§ *MR. HARRY SMITH (Falkirk, &c.)
said, he did not intend to trouble the House with any general criticism, whether in approval or otherwise, of the greater part of the Bill. The Home Secretary stated the three great purposes he had in view in connection with this Bill were the abolition of the doctrine of common employment, the prohibition of contracting out of the Act, and the simplification of procedure. With regard to the first two, he was in entire agreement with the proposals in the Bill; but with regard to the simplification of procedure, he pressed upon the Home Secretary to make Clause 8, which applied the Bill to Scotland, very different from what it now was. Because instead of simplifying, it would stereotype procedure which had proved itself during many years very bad 1181 and costly. Although the matter was a little technical, as one who had had large experience in dealing with cases under the Act in Scotland, he might be permitted to state in a general way the nature of the procedure in Scotland. In Scotland a workman sued an employer in the Sheriff Court—which answered to the County Court in England—under the Act of 1880; but in the vast majority of cases he desired to have the amount of the damages that were to be awarded to him found by the verdict of a jury. That was not surprising, as, if the workman contented himself with the verdict of the Court without a jury, there was a costly series of appeals dealing not only with the sum awarded, but with the law of the case. The workman could also remove the case to the Court of Session to secure trial by jury. But there was one deterrent, and that was that it was in the power of the Court of Session to award the same amount of costs as if the case had proceeded in the local Court. He need not say that the costs in the two Courts differed very materially. But there was a means of getting behind the Act of 1877, and going to the Court of Session without running the risk of having the damages reduced to those which would be awarded in the Court below. By the Act of George IV. a litigant could carry a case from the local Court to the Supreme Court for trial by jury, provided that the sum claimed was not under £40. Obviously the proper remedy was for the Home Secretary to introduce a clause allowing actions of this kind to be tried in the Sheriff Court with the assistance of a jury. The machinery was there, and it would cost the public nothing. The present anomalous position of matters was this: that according to the Bill as it stood, while in England a workman could sue up to £100 without the more costly procedure, in Scotland, which was the poorer country, if he sued for more than £4C, he must sue in the more costly and tedious Court. He (Mr. Harry Smith) had received from a gentleman who had paid great attention to the matter some statistics as to the costs in Scotland. In the Court of Session, in one case where £100 was recovered, the judicial expenses amounted to £362 11s. 2d. In another case the verdict was £79 10s., 1182 and the judicial expenses £259 8s. 11d. After paying these enormous costs, the House would see that the balance to the injured workman would be of the scantiest description, as there were extra-judicial expenses to be added. The case was similar where an employer succeeded in his defence. A successful defence in Scotland was sometimes a luxury of a most expensive character. In one case a successful defender's taxed costs amounted to £315; in another to £165; in a third to £187; and in a fourth to £204. Those were samples of recent cases. So that it seemed the present system secured the smallest possible benefit to the workmen, at the largest possible cost to the employer. The Bill, he thought, would lose more than half its value to the workmen of Scotland if it remained in the state in which it now stood. It was absolutely necessary, in order to put them on the same level as their brethren in England, that the system of jury trial should be introduced in the local Courts as well as the Court of Session.
MR. FOROOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
I wish to approach this Bill from rather a different point of view from that in which it has yet been approached in the House. I want to deal, first, with its principles; and, secondly, with its provisions as they affect shipowners. Now, Sir, it appears to me that the Bill in its present shape is nothing more nor less than a Bill which must encourage perjury in the Courts, and lead to antagonism in the relation of employers and employed. I know that these are strong statements, which require reasons to support them. If the principle of compensation to workmen is to be extended, to which I have no objection, it ought to be on the lines of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), otherwise employers and workmen will be placed in improper relations to each other, and the family of the workman, in the event of accident, will derive little benefit under the Bill. What are the conditions under which workmen will obtain compensation? The Bill provides that where a workman proves that an accident is due to negligence of the employer, he is to receive adequate compensation; but if he fails to show negligence of the employer or fellow-workman, then he will receive 1183 no compensation whatever. Therefore, it comes to this: that for a workman to obtain any advantages under the Bill, his interests become directly opposed to those of his employer; in other words, you will put a temptation in the way of the working man to give false evidence in the Courts of Law.
§ MR. FORWOOD
The Home Secretary cheers that. Well, it is not, to my mind, fair to put the workman in that position. As a rule, the result of an accident destroys all evidence of its cause, and it becomes a matter of opinion whether the accident is due to negligence or pure accident. That is a very serious matter to all employers, but particularly to shipowners. I think the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is the only way of meeting all cases of accident which do not arise out of a man's own negligence. I have endeavoured to get some statistics bearing on this matter as to ships. I find that during the 12 months ending June, 1891, there were 1,550 vessels totally lost, or which met with serious accident involving more or less loss of life. Out of these only 45 were attributed to causes for which the owner was held responsible, and 230 were held to be due to bad seamanship, so that the Bill would only benefit the seamen of 275 out of the 1,550 vessels; in other words, it would only benefit one seaman in five. It seems to me, therefore, that this Bill, so far as the shipowner is concerned, would confer the minimum of advantage, whilst causing the maximum of evil. There is no analogy between accidents at sea and on shore. The relative position of the shipowner as regards liability, and the mine proprietor or shore employer are distinctly different. The loss or liability to a mineowner in the event of accidents in his colliery is limited to the damage done to his own workings and to the loss or injury sustained by his workpeople if it arises from the fault of those in charge. But, Sir, the shipowners' liability goes far beyond that. The shipowner in the case of a collision is liable, not only for the loss or damage done to his own ship, her cargo, and passengers, but also for the injury sustained to the vessel with which his ship has come into collision, if negligence on the part of his crow is proved. The 1184 owner of the cargo on board that vessel and the passengers travelling by her, as well as her crew, have claims upon him, and to this responsibility the Bill proposes to add the liability for injuries to his own crew! The owner of the ship causing the collision has a liability of £ 15 per ton according to the tonnage of the vessel, and £8 per ton in the case of damage to property on the same tonnage. I think the Home Secretary will admit—and anyone who has had any experience in our Admiralty Courts must know—the difficulty that now exists in ascertaining the truth in cases of collision and stranding; and, as I have already stated, I think the Bill will place a premium on false evidence. The officers and crew of each ship are generally most anxious to prove themselves in the right and the other ship in the wrong. Hence, as we all know, there is much hard swearing in opposite directions on both sides; but this contradictory testimony is not in all, or even in many, cases under existing circumstances wilful and corrupt perjury, because the seamen on board the vessel have no direct personal interest one way or the other in giving evidence to show which ship was in the wrong. But the state of things under this Bill will be altogether different. Under this Bill, if the Court holds that their own ship is in the right and the other in the wrong, they will be deprived of all compensation; whereas if they give such evidence as to lead the Court to believe their own ship was negligent, then, under the Bill, they will have a claim upon the owners. Now, this is a very large and serious question as regards the shipowner. It must not be forgotten that in his endeavours to make good his own claim on his owner, the seaman makes him responsible for the injury done to others even to the full value of the vessel—a liability which may amount to £100,000. But, apart from the shipowner's position, which I have endeavoured to explain, the future of the captains and officers in charge of the navigation has to be considered. If the members of a crew, by false swearing, can prove that those in command of their ship are negligent in their navigation, they may become the means of depriving such officers of their certificates for the rest of their lives, or at any rate for a considerable time, and cause them to lose their characters as good navigators. 1185 I think anything that places the crew of a vessel in a position to feel that the evidence they give may benefit themselves will make the position both of the captain and the officers most unsatisfactory. That is, however, the state of things which this Bill will create. I admit at once that in the case of a collision, if one vessel is found to be in fault and any men who were on the vessel not found to be in fault are drowned, the owners of the vessel in default will be liable to the payment of compensation. That compensation will be limited in amount and will be difficult to obtain, whereas the compensation that will be obtained from the owner of their own ship will be secured directly, and at a much earlier date than if it were necessary to sue the owner of the other ship. The Bill will increase the giving of improper evidence in these very difficult cases. In case a vessel is stranded and the crew can prove that the stranding is due to negligence those members of the crew who suffer injury and the representatives of those who are lost will have a claim against their owners; whereas if it can be proved that she has stranded by pure accident the claim will absolutely disappear. There is another point to which I must direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention. A very common practice has grown up in modern days of owning vessels under the limited liability principle, the whole amount of the shares being paid up. If such a vessel is lost or so seriously damaged as to be a constructive total loss the seamen on board will be unable to claim against anyone, as the Limited Liability Company will disappear. On the other hand, if an individual owner is proprietor of the ship and these claims arise, the seamen will be able to claim against him. If this Bill passes in its present shape, I feel sure it will encourage the further creation of these single-ship companies for the purpose of further restricting the liability and responsibility of individual owners. All the difficulties I have endeavoured to describe with regard to the position of the shipowner would be entirely obviated if the Amendment were adopted, as the whole of the seamen employed on British ships and suffering loss by accidents would be able to obtain compensation. At the same time, all the litigation which the present Bill will so effectually promote would be 1186 avoided, and no question of negligence would arise, the result being that good relations would be retained among officers, crow, and owners. I have an idea that if the Bill passes in its present shape owners will be more inclined to ship as seamen foreigners with fewer domestic claims than the British sailor generally has. The sole argument I have heard from the Home Secretary against the adoption of the Amendment is that it would mean the carrying into effect of a wholesale industrial insurance scheme. I think the right hon. Gentleman is quite unaware of the modern commercial practice. Shipowners already effect insurances either by ordinary policies or by mutual associations formed amongst themselves against every possible risk that can bring pecuniary loss to them. It is always understood that the ship-owner insures his vessel against marine risk; but it may surprise many to be told that they protect themselves by indemnity or insurance against their present liability for loss of life or personal injury at Common Law, as also against damage to their vessel, damage to cargo, harbour risks, tines imposed on their sailors for smuggling, and misconduct of the crew. They also insure against undue interference with the Board of Trade with respect to their liabilities as carriers, and further against any legal cost which may be placed upon them in respect of the defence of their interests against the Board of Trade. It would be impossible to imagine any case of loss which the shipowner to-day does not, as a rule, insure or protect himself against. Under these circumstances, the Home Secretary's bogey of wholesale industrial insurance is placed out of court at once. To give the right hon. Gentleman an idea of the extent to which the system of insurance is carried out by shipowners, I may say I have here a list of 15 Associations in this country for insuring British ships against the risks I have indicated. No fewer than 7,500 ships are insured in one or more of these Associations. The tonnage of these ships approaches 9,000,000, or practically 75 per cent. of the total employed tonnage of this country. It will be observed that I am not altogether advocating the views which have been put before the Home Secretary by the shipowners. They desire that seamen should be altogether 1187 excluded from the Bill. If the Home Secretary declines to accept the Amendment, I think that circumstances of shipowners are such that seamen ought to be excluded from the Bill. At the same time, I think my fellow-shipowners over-estimate altogether the pecuniary responsibility which the Bill or the Amendment of my right hon. Friend would cast upon them. I have rather closely gone into the figures on this matter, and I will give a few facts to show the probable amount of liability which the proposal of the Government would impose on the shipowners as compared with the liability which would be cast upon them by the Amendment. In 1891 there were rather under 300 deaths of seamen through shipwreck, and 228 deaths from accidents on board steamers, whilst there were 800 deaths from shipwreck and 228 deaths from accidents on board sailing ships. In the sailing ships in which these deaths took place there wore 62,000 men employed, the wages of these men amounting to £ 2,800,000 a year. On board steamers 122,000 seamen wore employed, their wages amounting to £ 6,750,000 per annum. Assuming that the loss of life by shipwreck arose from negligence in the proportion I have indicated, and that the juries who assessed the damages gave for every man lost compensation equal to three years' wages, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will say is a reasonable assumption, the cost to the sailing ship owners would amount to £ 22,000 a year, or £3 per ship employed. I have taken my figures out of the Board of Trade Returns for 1891.
§ MR. FORWOOD
Yes. I will come to injuries presently. These shipowners, on the same basis, would have to pay something like £13,000 a year, or £2 10s. per vessel. I can find no record anywhere that will enable me to form any approximate estimate of what the compensation arising from injuries would be. I do not think, however, that the amount would at all approach that which would fall upon employers on shore. Under the Shipping Law the shipowner is already liable to provide medical attendance, hospital care, and so on, and to pay the wages of any man who receives injury on board his ship. Therefore, I 1188 think it may probably be a fair estimate to place the amount for injuries at 25 or even 50 per cent. in excess of that for deaths. Taking the same basis, I will endeavour to show what the charge on shipowners would be if the Amendment became law. I must take the whole of the deaths that occur by shipwreck, and I must add 400 deaths that occur from accidents on board the vessels apart from shipwreck. I think the Bill is faulty in having no limit of liability; and that, if it is to apply to shipowners, it is but reasonable and fair that a limit should be fixed. If the shipowner assumes all the responsibility involved in the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, I submit that a maximum of two years' pay would be reasonable and fair for him to undertake. On that basis, the extra cost to the sailing shipowner, taking the whole of the responsibility, would amount to a little more than £ 10 a ship per annum.
§ MR. FORWOOD
Yes; and on steamers the additional charge would be exactly £10 per ship per annum. But these estimates are made irrespective of the consideration of what might be the compensation payable for injuries.
§ MR. FORWOOD
It would be £13 on sailing ships and £12 10s. on steamers. As far as shipowners are concerned, I think they will see it is far better for them to incur this direct extra charge than be liable to be mulcted in damages on the evidence of men whose testimony might be affected by their own interests. From the philanthropic point of view, there can be no question that if provision is made for all loss arising to seamen from accidents in the pursuit of their calling, the misery we see in our seaport towns through the distressing circumstances of orphans and widows of seamen lost at sea will be largely removed. Insurances against employers' liability are to-day of the commonest occurrence. I have taken some trouble to ascertain, from a very trustworthy and experienced source, what the probable charge on the land employers of the country will be for protecting themselves against the liabilities that will be cast upon them under this Bill. I am told that the value of the insurable risk under the Bill is 1189 estimated at 10s. per £100 of wages paid per annum, as against the 2s. 6d. per £100 which is found to represent the insurable value of the risks under the present Act. There is no doubt that the risks created by the Bill are very uncertain, and of a very varying character, and they depend largely upon the idiosyncracies of juries. In one part of the country a jury may give compensation equalling two years' wages, and in another a jury may go as far as four or five years. The Insurance Companies, of course, have to protect themselves against the extreme point to which their liability may be forced. If the right hon. Gentleman will insert in his Bill a liberal maximum by which people can calculate what their liability is going to be, he can adopt the Amendment, under which every man who meets with an accident may receive compensation without imposing any greater cost on the employer than he will have to pay for the uncertain liability imposed by the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman will fix the limit in case of death at £150, and in ease of total disablement at £400, with compensation for partial disablement providing that the workman is incapacitated for four weeks, the employer will, I am informed, be able to protect himself by insurance at no greater cost than 10s. per cent., which would be the cost of insuring under the Bill as it stands. I know there are many who object to any such scheme. I know that the representatives of Trades Unions do not favour the broad extension of the Bill proposed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain). I am not surprised at that objection, because if you impose upon the employer all this responsibility you will largely diminish the necessity for the benefit funds which keep those gentlemen to the front in the agitations of this country.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to name any of the gentlemen who he says are kept by these funds? He might mention one or two.
§ MR. FORWOOD
Well, Mr. Speaker, I do not respond to the hon. Member's challenge. I do not think that, for the purpose I have mentioned, it would strengthen my argument. My argument is that, if the Bill is extended in the direction of the Amendment, the neces- 1190 sity for many of these benefit funds would disappear, as the men would get full compensation for every accident, although the extra cost to the employer would not be greater than under the Bill. We must not forget that all legislation of this class means an increase in the cost of production, and someone must pay it. At the same time, of all the forms of protection that are suggested, the Amendment is the best and the least onerous, whilst its benefits are the most far-reaching, as it makes provision for the widow and the orphan, and keeps people of a future generation from the contaminating influence of the workhouse.
§ *MR. WALTER M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
said, the unfortunate circumstance which had deprived hon. Members who wished to speak on this Bill of several hours which had been expected to be devoted to the discussion of the Bill would, he hoped, induce hon. Members to compress their speeches into the shortest possible time, so that the House might dispose of the Bill, so far as the Second Reading was concerned, that night. Therefore, though there were many points of the Bill which he would like to discuss, he intended to deal mainly with one section of great importance. He wished, first, to say a word about Sub-section 2 of Clause 1, which provided that no compensation should be given to a workman who, knowing of some defect likely to cause injury, failed without reasonable excuse to give information of that defect to the employer, or to someone acting on his behalf. It had been strongly represented to him by workmen who were well able to judge of this particular matter that such a clause, if allowed to stand, would have the effect of depriving workmen of compensation for injuries. If a workman noticed a defect in machinery likely to cause injury, and gave notice of that defect to his employer or the foreman, and no remedy was provided, and the defect was allowed to continue, it was doubtful whether that workman, in the event of an accident, would not be held to have condoned the defect, and therefore to have deprived himself of the right to compensation. That was a matter which he trusted the Home Secretary would make clear when the Committee stage of the Bill was reached. But the main question on which he wished to 1191 address the House was the question of contracting out of the Act, and the effect which the Bill would have in that respect on a large number of workmen if it passed in its present shape. There were many Insurance Societies in various parts of the country, but the ones which he would take as an illustration, as they were by far the largest and the best in the country, were the three Insurance Societies organised by the London and North-Western Railway Company. Representing, as he did, 8,000 or 9,000 of the workmen of that company, every one of whom had contracted himself out of the Act, the House would, he was sure, pardon him if he dwelt particularly on that point. There were 60,000 workmen employed by that Railway Company, and, speaking with a full knowledge of the subject, he ventured to say that the vast majority, or 90 per cent. of the men, were willing to contract themselves out of the Act, and would much regret if the Bill passed into law in its present shape. The men agreed to contract themselves out of the Act because it was very much to their advantage to do so, as they got much better terms under the Insurance Societies than otherwise. There were three Insurance Societies connected with the London and North-Western Railway—namely, the Mutual Insurance Society, the Running Department Mutual Insurance Society, and the Works Mutual Insurance Society. Out of every 11d. contributed to the funds of these Societies the company paid 5d.—that was to say, the men paid 6d. and the company 5d., the total contribution of the company to the Insurance Societies every year being £22,000. The men knew that they could not get £ 22,000 in compensation every year if they were left to the tender mercies of an Act of Parliament. Those Societies gave compensation to the workmen for all accidents. If a man in using a hammer smashed his thumb he would get compensation. There was no delay; no hesitation; no litigation; the money was paid at once. There was also an unwritten rule that if a man were seriously and permanently injured, some light occupation was found for him; and if a man were killed his widow or children had a prior claim on the company for such employment as could be found for them. There was, 1192 therefore, an indirect advantage from these Insurance Societies that good feeling was promoted between the employer and the employed. Those Societies could not exist unless the men were permitted to contract themselves out of the Act; and he believed that if there were no such Societies, and if the men were left to the mercies of the law in its present form, not 10 per cent. of the men injured would get compensation. No one would, therefore, deny that the men of the London and North-Western Railway Company were far better off with their Societies than they would be under the Bill if it became law in its present form. Those men desired to be lot alone, for they were perfectly satisfied with their Societies. A large deputation of the men waited on the Home Secretary to urge these views, and were introduced to the right hon. Gentleman by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb) and himself. The hon. Member for the Ince Division of Lancashire (Mr. Wood) told the House that—It was a bogus deputation, and did not, in the slightest degree, represent the railway servants of this country; that he had addressed hundreds of meetings of railway servants, and had never met a single workman who was in favour of contracting himself out of the Act.The hon. Gentleman must have never been in Crowe, and his experience of the workmen of the London and North-Western Railway Company must be singularly limited. The deputation did not profess to represent the railway servants of the country; it represented the men of the London and North-Western Railway Company, and he was perfectly satisfied that a more genuine deputation had never waited on the Home Office. No one who knew him would suspect that in this matter he in any way represented the Directors or the officials of the company. His connection with Crewe would be terminated at a moment's notice if the Directors or the officials had anything to do with him. He represented the men simply and solely, and he could assure the House that the deputation had been spontaneous, and fully represented the vast majority of the 60,000 men employed by the company. He therefore said to the Government on behalf of these men—"Let them alone." It might be said that these Insurance Societies could go on under the Bill as they were going on at 1193 present, and that under Clause 3 it was open to an injured workman to go to law under the Act, or to go to the Societies for compensation. That was quite true on paper. The Bill, no doubt, gave the men that option; but the weak point about the Bill was that it could not compel the company to continue its contribution of £22,000 a year to the Societies. If the accident were a clear case under the Act, the man would go to law; if not, he would go to the Society, so from the men's point of view it would be a case of "Heads I win, tails you lose." That would be first-rate for the men, provided the company could be compelled to continue to pay £ 22,000 a year to the Insurance Societies in addition to the costs of lawsuits. But would it do so? The Midland Railway Company, which employed one-third less men than the London and North-Western Company, did not ask its men to contract themselves out of the Act, and the highest sum it had ever paid in anyone year in compensation for injuries was £1,300. The London and North-Western Company, which employed one-third more men, would, if they did not ask the men to contract out of the Act, probably pay £2,000 a year in compensation. But that company did ask the men to contract out of the Act, and it paid to the Insurance Societies £ 22,000 a year in consideration of the contract. The chances were that if the Bill, as it stood, were passed, the company would drop the £ 22,000 a year voluntary contribution, and content itself with paying the £2,000 a year in compensation. The result of such a step would be that 90 per cent. of the men injured would get nothing at all, and what the remaining 10 per cent. would chiefly get would be a lawsuit, because there was no doubt that such a powerful company would fight most claims for compensation made under the Act. Of the 10 per cent. of the injured men who would go to law probably half of them would be defeated and would be ruined by lawyers' costs, and the other half who would win would find, after paying the lawyers, that they had very little left of the compensation awarded them. Meantime, the Insurance Societies would probably have ceased to exist, and the men would be in a very much worse position than they were at 1194 present. He, therefore, wished again to urge the strong desire of the men to be let alone, and he hoped the Home Secretary would give way to it. The hon. Member for St. Helen's had quoted the Home Secretary as having said that the Bill would not interfere with good Insurance Societies. But about a fortnight ago, at the annual meeting of the Mutual Insurance Society, Mr. Webb, the chief locomotive superintendent of the London and North-Western Company, said—If the Employers' Liability (Amendment) Bill was passed in its present form it would be almost impossible for the Insurance Society to continue.There was a forecast of the danger which the Home Secretary said he desired to obviate. He did not object to a clause forbidding contracting out as a general rule, provided some safeguard was inserted in the Bill for the protection of Insurance Societies of this kind. He was entirely opposed to the employers compelling the men to contract out, but he was willing to agree to any arrangement by which the feeling of the men, of any company or employer, as to whether or not they desired to contract themselves out of the Act should be ascertained by ballot; but if the Bill passed in its present shape it would deprive the 60,000 men of the London and North-Western Railway Company of the benefits of their Insurance Societies, and run great risk of doing serious injury to the finest body of working men in the country.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, he desired to say some things in support of the Bill. His experience told him that there was no question in which the working classes had taken a greater interest than in the question of employers' liability. That was so because the question came close to their daily lives, and dealt with the risks they were constantly incurring, and because at times the justice or otherwise of the law placed them and their families either in a position of want, or in that of obtaining relief for injuries caused by negligence. He regarded it as equally good for employers that this branch of the law should be placed on a just and wise foundation. If the law were just and wise it meant industrial peace, whereas if the law were inequitable it had the tendency to increase that friction 1195 which should not exist between employers and the employed, and did a serious injury to the industry of the country. For those reasons he thought the Bill dealt with a matter of the greatest importance to the commerce of the country. The leading principle of the Bill seemed to him to be that it completely removed those qualifications of the doctrine of common employment which were allowed to exist after the passing of the Act of 1880. That Act greatly limited the doctrine of common employment. But the Act of 1880 had considerable demerits, and one of the demerits was, so far as his experience extended, that it tended to produce a much greater quantity of litigation than had been estimated during the course of this Debate; he knew scarcely any branch of the law that was more studded with cases than that relating to the Employers' Liability Act. But there was this observation to be made: that the bulk of that litigation had been occasioned by the reservations made in the Act of 1880; not arising out of the provisions of the Act itself, but arising from the exceptions and qualifications retained, instead of dealing with the law on a broader, and, as he thought, a better footing. For this reason he concurred in the expression of an opinion of a statesman on this question—a statesman who had admittedly done much for labour legislation. As long ago as 1875, when Lord Cross introduced great improvements into the law affecting the working classes, he (Lord Cross) said—The only practicable plan to remove injustice was to deal boldly with the doctrine of common employment, and practically to abolish it altogether.The doctrine of common employment was an anachronism, and obsolete in its application to the administration of justice in this country; it was a relic of the last century, a creation of what he would call Judge-made law, and it was essentially based on what was a legal fiction. What was the basis of the doctrine of common employment? It was that a workman, entering into a contract of service contemplated and took into account the risk that might accrue to him from the acts or negligence of his fellow-servants. To say that he knew and appreciated that risk was to say what was practically impossible. How 1196 could it he said, with truth, that between an employer receiving £3,000 a year and the employé receiving, perhaps, 30s. a week, there could be that community of interest or knowledge which should make them responsible for each other's acts? If it were contended that the doctrine of common employment had better foundation when it was originated he should still hold that, owing to the advance of industrial development, it had become completely obsolete. He, of course, alluded to what he called the pre-factory age of industry in this country. When this doctrine of common employment was first established, industries were more of a domestic character, and when men worked in the same house they could, perhaps, be said to have some knowledge of each other, and could estimate the risks they ran in dealing with those with whom they were cast; but since the introduction of the factory system that had become absolutely impossible; therefore, if the common employment doctrine had some foundation in the last century, it had none now, and was absolutely out of place in dealing with the developed and extended industries of the country. If there was one branch of the law more than another on which the remark could be made that law and equity were two things God had joined together and man had put asunder, it was the doctrine of common employment. Not only was the abolition of the doctrine of common employment desirable in itself, but there was no ground for retaining those exceptions and qualifications that were a characteristic feature of the Act of 1880. He was glad, therefore, that the Bill abandoned the exceptional requirement as to notice. Surely the fact that the absence of notice would be a great disadvantage to the plaintiff was an assurance that it would be given in some form or other, and, moreover, that it would be given rapidly after the injury. He would also point out that under the Act of 1880 the one case in which the most damages could be given, the case of death, was the very case in which the obligation of notice could be absolved if the Court considered there was excuse for this. Therefore, they had this anomaly: if the accident was trifling, notice must be given; but if the accident was serious and occasioned 1197 death, then an application could be made to the Court and the obligation of notice excused. But he opposed notice on the broader ground that his experience had led him to conclude that in some, but by no means all, or most, or even many, of the cases, benevolence had been very transitory in dealing with them. Notice must be given within six weeks, charity had lasted six weeks, and after that charity and consideration had both ended, and the result had been, with little power of amendment at the trial, grave injustice had been inflicted upon those who had been seriously maimed, and they had been deprived, owing to a technicality, of that measure of relief to which they were justly entitled. That could not conduce to good relations between employer and employed; and after all, whatever might be the state of the law, what was so important as the existence of good feeling between tham? He, therefore, said the Bill that abandoned the exceptional requirement of notice was a Bill that was based upon equity and mutual interest as between employer and employed. He took next another qualification, which was retained in the Act of 1880, but to which the go-by was given by this Bill—he meant the limitation of damages. If a serious injury had happened to an employé, between whom and his employer, or rather between whom and a colleague, the application of the doctrine of common employment being excluded, on what principle then was there to be a limitation of damages? The measure of damage was the injury, and there could be no ground, so far as he could judge, for making this an exceptional case. If it were said the reason of the limitation was the restriction of the remedy to the County Court, he answered that if there were a difficult question of law or fact the case might be removed to the Superior Court, and on that ground there was no necessity for restricting the damage. Here, too, was what he ventured to think was a defect, though a minor one in the present Bill, and it was that the right of removal was only given to the defendant. In the existing Act it was given to both plaintiff and defendant, and he could quite understand a case might arise in which the plaintiff had entered his case in the County Court in the 1198 belief that the circumstances were perfectly simple, but in the development of them might find himself face to face with grave questions of fact or law on which the decision of a superior tribunal was desirable; and, therefore, he thought if a workman had entered his case in the County Court, and afterwards discovered serious questions required to be decided, he should have the right of removal given him upon good cause shown. But he thought the restriction to the County Court was no ground for limiting the claim for damages, and he was very glad that law and equity were again reconciled by the absence of any limitation in the present Bill, so that the damages might be apportioned in accordance with the injury sustained. Another exception which existed in the Act of 1880, and which he was sorry to find was retained in the present Bill, was that these actions were not to be open to domestic or menial servants. The exclusion would inflict a grave injury upon a large class of the community. But he based the inclusion of domestic and menial servants on broader grounds. He thought if this Bill was to be passed, and it carried with it a benefit to the employé and a burden upon the employer, the whole community should share in the benefits and the burdens. If the provision were a good one, it should apply to all, and if a bad one, then there would be greater means of obtaining an improvement, if the whole community was interested in the justice or injustice of the matter, and for these reasons he thought that both domestic and menial servants should be included in the Bill. He now came to what he granted was a much more difficult point, and that was the provision which dealt with contracting out. On previous occasions they had heard that it was a mischievous thing; but no one, of whatever view, could have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren)—representing a large industrial centre—without feeling that he expressed the opinions of a large portion of the working classes. He was not going to disguise from himself or the House that there were grave objections to contracting out. He appreciated to the full the danger of placing pecuniary considerations over and above considerations of humanity, and the saving of life 1199 and limb; and no one could have mixed, as he had, with the working classes without feeling they were deeply sensible of the duty to their class of putting humane considerations first, whether in relation to the doctrine of common employment, working overtime, or the smaller questions that must constantly arise in our complex industrial system. But he would ask the House to consider whether, recognising the great benefits that might ensue from a system of contracting out, followed by more substantial benefit to the employé, whether it was not possible to reconcile both with the interest of the employé, and without running any grave or real danger of that disregard for the safety of life and limb which he know was so strong a feeling on the part of numbers of the working classes? The benefit to be provided by any insurance fund could be taken into account in dealing with such cases, and allowed to that amount; and that might be the means of retaining the benefit of such insurances, and not running any grave risk of undue disregard for the safety of the employés. If that were done, another advantage would be to further limit those speculative actions which were brought against employers at the present time by professional adventurers. Another question was the objection which had been raised to the employer insuring. On that, point, he said at once that, in his opinion, the employé ought not to be his own insurer; he had limited means, and if he underwrote his own safety, he did it with the utmost limitation as to risk, and for that reason he (Sir A. Rollit) thought nothing in the shape of a pittance, of additional wages, bore anything in proportion to the risks he ran. On the other hand, he equally thought it was to the ultimate interest of the employé that the employer should have the right to insure, a right in regard to which many writers and many hon. Members in this House had referred with expressions of doubt. But the ground on which he based his opinion was this: He did not believe—though there might be an occasional employer who was disregardful of the safety of his men, although there might be an occasional shipowner who was indifferent if his shipWent down into the sea,When Heaven is all serenity—''1200 this feeling was applicable to the great class of this country who were employers. He was satisfied, both from that consideration and from the statistics cited by the late Mr. Bradlaugh on this question, that the right to insure did not carry with it indifference to the life and safety of the employé. There were other considerations and securities, such as the cost and inconvenience; but they were lower motives, and he based his consideration on the higher principle that he did not believe so ill for the general body of employers in this country as to accuse them of any indifference upon a question like this. In the absence of insurance, a casualty in a mine might be a catastrophe for the community, for a whole country, for large bodies of employés, as well as the employer himself, and might carry ruin and disaster throughout a whole district; it might annihilate capital, and render the carrying on of such industries practically impossible. If, owing to an error of judgment, a shipowner lost a vessel, and not being able to insure, not only brought terrible consequences upon the men, but ruin upon himself, he thought in the combined interest of capital and labour no one would deny the right of the employer to be sufficiently prudent to protect himself and his employés by taking precautions, if only for the purpose of preventing his own bankruptcy, and so his inability to pay any compensation at all. He therefore felt strongly that the right to insure was one that ought to exist, and one which he was glad was not touched by the present Bill. It was not touched adversely by the hon. Member opposite, the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Burt), it was one that was not touched by the Trades Unions' Bill of 1876, nor by the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Aberdeen. He would conclude in a word or two by a very brief reference to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). He honoured the lead which the right hon. Gentleman had taken in the movement for a general industrial insurance, and he hoped the time would come when they would place themselves on the side of some other nations in taking a wide and practical view of this subject; but at the present moment he thought it would be an undue extension; it would 1201 be travelling beyond the purview of the law of the liability of the employers, by introducing a provision for industrial compensation. Feeling as be did in favour of this Bill, a view which was also taken by his constituents, and having been asked by them to speak, not for the sake of obstruction but, on the contrary, to help, by some expressions of his own, to further the progress of the Bill, he felt that to introduce a subject of this vast width and magnitude, containing so much controversial matter, would be to imperil the passage of the Bill. Therefore he thought that this provision was not one—though he hoped it might ultimately become law in some form—that he could support in dealing with this measure. But he had another reason for not doing so. What was the chief ground for the Amendment? It was that the consequences of injuries, such as those to which they were referring, should be regarded as part of the cost of production as a charge upon business. That was the principle on which the Amendment was based. He did not think in these competitive days they could afford to add to the cost of production; that they could handicap themselves in trading competition in the products of the world. He was told that the cost would ultimately fall upon the consumer. His answer to that was that in some cases, no doubt, where there was a monopoly, the consumer would bear probably the whole, certainly a part, of the increased cost of production, but in many other cases the consumer would never bear any portion of it at all. In some cases the consumer might bear part or even the whole; but owing to what was termed economic friction, it would be a very slow process. But what would happen in the meantime? That this increased cost of production would fall first on profits and secondly on wages. He would venture to say to the Representatives of the working classes that if they were wise they would not increase the cost of production in that way, and so cause the employer to try to recoup himself from the reduced wages of the workpeople, wages which were too often only sufficient for subsistence. That was not a proposal that would commend itself to him, and had not commended itself to 1202 others, and its unnaturality was shown by the several Amendments placed on the Paper, Amendments to the Amendment itself. They had the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), which provided that workmen should be compensated for all injuries not caused by their own act or default. Then followed the Amendment of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), who proposed that all workmen should be compensated for all injuries sustained in the ordinary course of their employment; and the last of all was a reductio ad absurdum of the two preceding ones. These various sets of Amendments seemed to him to point to the fact that this was a very great subject, a national subject which had been thought of a great deal, and would have to be thought of a great deal more, as it had not yet been thought out, though it ought to be so. He trusted he had not trespassed unduly upon the attention of the House, but this was a subject in which he took great interest; and he had spoken, first, in redemption of a promise he gave specifically upon his last election; and, secondly, because he believed this Bill, if carried, would conduce, first, to justice to the workmen, and, secondly, to the improvement of those industrial relations which were absolutely essential to the commercial welfare of our common country.
§ MR. RANDELL (Glamorgan, Gower)
said, that from many points of view, undoubtedly this Bill was an improvement upon similar proposals of the late Government. The Government might be congratulated upon taking up and dealing with the controversial part surrounding the question of the employers' liability—namely, the abolition of the doctrine of common employment. And that was met in preserving the Common Law right of action side by side with action under this Bill. He was glad that, the Bill proposed to abolish the time limit within which an action might be brought, and also to do away with what had been undoubtedly a mischievous condition, operating against the interests of the working people—namely, the notice preliminary to an action. This preliminary notice of claim, highly technical and embarrassing as it was, had been more destructive of the interests of the work- 1203 ing classes than the doctrine of common employment. There were Petitions from colliery proprietors and others asking the Government to reinstate this notice, hut he trusted that the Government would sternly resist any such proposal. The Bill fulfilled popular expectation, and the Government were giving effect in it to the resolutions of the Trades Union Congress. But while deserving support in many particulars, the Bill was capable of vast improvement, and he hoped that the Home Secretary was not so wedded to the scheme as to refuse in Committee Amendments which would improve what was already a good Bill into a very excellent measure. He wished to draw the attention of the House, and particularly the attention of the Labour Representatives, to Sub-section 2 of Clause 1. If the Bill was to be of real value to the working classes, the sooner that subsection disappeared the better. In theory, and to the uninitiated, it might appear reasonable to expect a workman to give an employer notice of any defects in machinery; but it was impracticable, because a workman would not expose himself to the risk which might attend his reminding the employer of defect or negligence. The principle of contributory negligence was wide enough already, and they should not seek to enlarge it by fixing on the workman the undesirable responsibility of reminding his employer of his own negligence. The finding out of negligence and defects should be left to the masters, or to the overseers of works whose duty it was to find out defects. The Home Secretary expressed the hope that the Bill would prevent litigation; but he thought the retention of this provision would increase litigation, because the real defendants in any action would be an Insurance Company by whom the employer was insured against liability, and the companies would chortle with delight at the possibility of defence which this provision would offer them. Clause 2 appeared to sanction existing insurance contracts, and enabled an employer to deduct out of moneys recovered what was payable out of the insurance fund. But it was important to consider how far the question of insurance should be mixed up with that of employers' liability. The Act of 1880 had the effect of bringing about favourable compromises and settle- 1204 ments, but he did not share the faith of the Home Secretary on mutual insurance schemes. He would extend liability to employers in all eases, and considered that the policy of the hon. Member for Aberdeen and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was the most logical and thoroughgoing, if they had to deal with the question from a mutual insurance point of view. He thought mutual insurance was an extremely doubtful advantage. In the seven years in which it had been in operation in Germany the percentage of accidents had steadily risen. The accidents per 1,000 men insured were—in 1886, 2.87; in 1887, 4.14; in 1888, 4.35; in 1889, 4.71; in 1890, 5.36. It was matter for reflection how far compulsory insurance was, after all, in the interests of working people. They ought to consider the means of preventing accidents as well as the compensation of sufferers by damages. He could quite understand that the men on the London and North-Western Railway desired to maintain a system of insurance which had existed so long; but in South Wales, notwithstanding the large percentage of workmen insured, the feeling was absolutely opposed to voluntary insurance. The workman was concerned in being able to pursue his daily work with the minimum of risk and danger, and mutual insurance would not secure that benefit for him. Clause 4 proposed that there should be deducted from the compensation any fines paid in pursuance of any Act of Parliament to working men. He supposed that referred to the Factories and Workshops Act of 1888. He thought that where a fine had been imposed under the Act 1888 it was unreasonable to allow the employer to deduct the amount of it from the sum awarded as compensation to the injured workmen. He objected to Clause 5, which enabled an action brought under it in the County Court for damages over £ 100 to be removed to the High Court of Justice. That provision would be most detrimental to the interests of the working people. The powers of removal from the County Courts to the higher Courts were sufficiently large already. The intention of the House in providing the jurisdiction of the County Courts for cases of employers' liability was to bring the means of invoking the administration 1205 of the law to the very doors of the working classes. He noticed that the Miners' Federation had suggested that the limit should be raised to £500 damages, but he trusted the House would not agree to anything of the kind, and the suggestion he would make was that the High Court should be deprived of its power of removal from the County Court except with the written consent of both parties. He knew that in a great number of these action the defendants were not the employers, but Insurance Companies, who had registered offices in London, who would invariably defend, as a matter of course, and would on every possible occasion seek to remove the actions from the County Courts. He therefore trusted that the Government would not do anything in the way of increasing the present power of removal. He should wish to see the provisions of the measure extended so as to include clerks, domestic and menial servants. A provision should also be inserted in the Bill to render an employer liable for accidents in the case of sub-contracts. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would insert a provision in the Bill to reduce the fees now payable by plaintiffs in actions of this character. At present before a man was able to go on with his action he had to spend £9 or £10, and there was no reason why he should pay such high fees. Reserving to himself the right of proposing Amendments in the measure when it got into Committee, he should give his support to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
I wish, in the first place, to recall the attention of the House to the real issue before it, which was raised some two months ago by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. We have had that issue discussed in a very desultory fashion upon portions of evenings and afternoons set apart for the Debate during the last two months; and it is a little difficult for those who, like myself, have sat through the whole Debate and listened to every speech made to recollect the precise position in which the question now stands. The only issue really before the House at the present moment is whether we should adopt the scheme of the Government which restricts the liability of the employer to cases in which 1206 he or his servant has been guilty of negligence; or the more extended scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, which brings within the liability of the employer every case of accident which occurs in the course of employment, except it is caused by the fault or the wrong-doing of the injured person himself. In my opinion, the wider scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is the wiser of the two, and would operate more beneficially towards the workman. The great objection to the scheme of the Government is that it covers a very small proportion of the accidents that occur to workmen. We have no information in this country which would enable us to estimate the number of accidents caused by the negligence of employers or servants; but in Germany, ever since the Insurance Laws came into operation there, the most careful statistics have been collected from which we may gather the proportion of accidents which would fall under this Bill of the Government. I obtain my information from an extremely interesting little pamphlet on the Insurance Laws of Germany, which has been prepared by an official of the Insurance Department of Germany for the Chicago Exhibition. It appears that of every 100 injuries to workmen which occurred in 1892, no fewer than 44 were caused by inevitable accidents which was not the fault of either the employer or the employed; there were 7 per cent. caused by the fault of the injured; 19 by the carelessness of the injured; and 3 per cent. of the causes were not ascertained, making a total of no less than 73 per cent. of all the accidents that occurred which would not be covered by the terms of this Bill. Only 27 per cent. of the accidents which occur to workmen in the course of employment come, therefore, under the provision of this Bill. But that does not mean that in 27 per cent. of the accidents compensation can be recovered; for before a workman can recover compensation, he has to furnish legal proof that the accident was caused either by the negligence of his employer or of his fellow-workman, and most lawyers will agree that it if taking a favourable estimate to say that the proof would be successful in half the cases. It therefore comes to this: that the Bill will only compensate the workman in about one- 1207 eighth of the accidents that take place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said the Bill would meet one-fourth of the accidents. But the right hon. Gentleman took too sanguine a view of the case, for only in one-eighth of the eases of accident which occur in this country will the Bill of the Government give indemnity to the workmen. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham has suggested a counter proposal, to the effect that the employer shall be made liable for all the accidents which fall on the workman in the course of his employment. The hon. Member for West Islington seems entirely to misunderstand the proposal made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. There is not a word about insurance in the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. The question of insurance is an entirely separate question. It is one which the House may take up on some future day; but the question before the House at present is not a question of insurance, but a question of liability. It is simply a question whether the employer is to be liable in the restricted sense laid down by the Government Bill or the wider sense proposed by the right. hon. Member for West Birmingham. The proposal which the Government are making is really in the nature of an experiment which was tried in Germany 22 years ago, and which was abandoned because it did not work satisfactorily. It was exchanged for that comprehensive liability which afterwards gave rise to the Insurance Laws which now prevail in the German Empire. I will not delay the House in attempting to explain the principle upon which the proposal of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham is based. I am content to rest the case upon the admirable and exhaustive speech made by the hon. and learned Member for North Hackney, who seconded the Amendment. It may be shortly stated in words of a German authority to the effect that casualties which are necessarily incident to undertakings and compensation for injuries must be reckoned as part of the cost of production. The principle advocated is that any person who carries on a dangerous trade or industry for the purpose of production of any article must, in the first instance, regard the cost of life and labour necessarily sacrificed in the course of the employment as part of the 1208 cost of production. What is the enormous burden which we were going to put upon the employers of this country? When the Employers' Liability Act was under discussion in 1880 some employers talked as if that little measure was going to ruin the great industries of the country, and in the List few weeks there have been meetings of shipowners, who talked as if their trade were going to be ruined by the proposed burden. But, as to the burden that would be imposed upon the employers, German statistics are instructive, and from these it appears that there were 18,000,000 persons insured in Germany in the year 1892. I am not advocating an insurance scheme; I am merely referring to those statistics to show the amount of liability which would be placed upon the employers. The whole cost of compensation in respect of these persons for deaths, funeral and sick expenses, and annuities for widows amounted in that year to 3s. per head for each man employed. I admit that the cost would not remain at 3s., but would possibly, after a certain number of years, increase to 4s. 6d. or 5s., and that payment the Amendment of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would throw upon the employers. The Government Bill throws upon the employers a sum from 4d. to 6d. per head. I was anxious to find out the separate cost of seamen, and, through the kindness of Mr. Drage, the Secretary of the Labour Commission, I obtained exact results. In 1892 there were 43,300 seamen insured, and the actual cost of providing for all accidents and deaths amounted to £7,527, which worked out at rather less than 3s. 6d. per head; and, therefore, the shipowners, who had ruin staring him in the face in case this liability should be thrust upon him, may reckon that even if the wide recommendations of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were carried into effect, his liability would only amount to 3s. 6d. per head per annum, which might ultimately rise to 5s. or 6s. I would mention that by German law the employers are liable for every accident upon a scale very similar to that in the Schedule to the Employers' Liability Bill, No. 2, and this German scale gives a very handsome compensation based upon the amount of wages. The House will see that it is very fair. The hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. 1209 Woods) and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. J. H. Wilson), who claim to represent the working classes, have utterly misunderstood the drift of the Amendment. One of them said the Amendment would strangle the Bill.
§ MR. S. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)
I was present when it was said the Amendment would defeat the Bill.
§ SIR J. GORST
It has been stated that there is no intention of pressing the Amendment to a Division; but the statement has also been made that the Amendment would strangle the Bill by giving rise to greater law expenses. Nothing can be more absurd than that; the only expense the workman will have to bear will be that connected with proof of the injury. I am amazed to hear that the Government is going to exempt itself from the operation of the Bill. Here is a Government which has taken upon itself the task of becoming a model employer of labour, and the first thing it is going to do is to exempt itself from the legal obligation imposed by law upon other employers. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will persist in that determination. I am sure it is not his own free will, but rather the action of the chiefs of Departments; and I hope the House will make the Government submit themselves to the same laws as are imposed upon other employers of labour. The Government is not over-generous in relieving those in its employment who suffer from unavoidable accident; and if I were to trouble the House with details, I could tell some sad cases of miserable destitution in men who, after serving their country well, have been stricken down by some accident in the extremely dangerous employment of our dockyards and arsenals. I hope the sense of the House will be taken on the Amendment at a later stage, when the Bill will not be delayed. On Report I will propose an Amendment raising the principle advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in which I thoroughly concur. I hope the Home Secretary will make the Bill a large, comprehensive and complete measure. He has said that he is anxious to settle this question. The Bill as it stands will not settle it, and the result will be that it will give rise to more agitation and alarm. If he gives a complete and comprehensive measure that 1210 will be more satisfactory to the employer of labour, and I am sure it will have the support of both sides of the House.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
My right hon. Friend (Sir J. Gorst) is perfectly right in saying that my Amendment was not intended to be hostile to the Bill. I merely put it down in order to raise a, discussion on an alternative method of securing the object which the Government have in view. The Amendment has served its purpose. I have no hostility to the principle of the Bill, and I should be sorry to endanger it in any way. It will be perfectly possible to raise the issue in Committee, and if the House will permit me I will now withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. BURT,) Morpeth
I have to thank the, right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Gorst) for having done something to allay the fears of employers of labour, and for having given an effective answer to the speech of the right hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division (Mr. Forwood.) I think the Government have reason to be satisfied with the spirit in which the Bill has been received. It has been complained that this is nothing like a complete measure; but I think it will be admitted that the Bill proposes to go a great deal further than previous legislation. The question is one which has always excited the greatest interest among workmen and their Representatives. In 1880 we had what was recognised as a very valuable measure. Almost as soon as the Act was passed employers who had previously refused to fence dangerous machinery did so, and statistics as to mines and other dangerous employments show how largely that Act has contributed to the safeguarding of workers in mines, railways, and workshops. Some of these statistics are very interesting: but I do not wish to trouble the House with many figures. During the first year of the Act, the loss of life in mines fell considerably. I do not attribute that entirely to the Act; but it is a fact that the loss of life was lower in that year than it had ever been in any previous year, except one, from 1851. It is quite true that the Act was very 1211 imperfect; and immediately after its enactment an agitation commenced for amending it. The agitation was directed mainly to the prohibition of contracting out of the Act. I, for one, deprecated the re-opening of the question immediately after the Act had been passed, and I confess I was one of those who hesitated to go the full length of abolishing the doctrine of common employment. I have always admitted that there might be cases of great hardship to the employer. The more, however, the question has been dicsussed the more manifest it has become that there is no middle course between altering the general law and abolishing the doctrine of common employment. We admit that the criticisms of Sub-section 2 of Clause 1 of the Bill, which would prevent a workman from obtaining compensation if he knew of defects and failed to inform his employer, are valid criticisms. We are not enamoured of the provision, and are quite prepared to omit it from the Bill. A great deal has been said about contracting out of the Act. As we all know, the agitation which has resulted in this Bill sprang from the wholesale contracting out of the Act, and one hon. Member spoke of a case where 50,000 miners in Lancashire were coerced into doing this.
§ *MR. BURT
My hon. Friend quoted from the contract that the men have to sign as part of their agreement before they can obtain employment; and if over a wide area you have thousands of men who are compelled to sign a contract to forego the claims to which they are entitled by Act of Parliament, though the term may be a rather strong one, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that that is coercion. Sir, the Government intend to adhere to the principle of prohibiting workmen from contracting themselves out of the Act. It may be possible, and I hope it will, to make some arrangements whereby the valuable Societies that already exist may not be injured. I, for one, fully recognise the advantages that have been conferred on the workmen by these societies. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe spoke of the London and North-Western Railway Society. No doubt it is one of the best, 1212 though, perhaps, not, as he said, the largest. The Miners' Permanent Relief Societies number altogether nearly 300,000 members, and many employers have liberally contributed to the Societies. These Societies have conferred immense benefits on the working man, and it would be undesirable to do anything to injure them. I do not, however, believe that contracting out of the Act is of the very essence of these Societies. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham says that under the existing law the moral and legal liabilities are equivalent. I do not myself accept that; I do not believe it for a moment. In my opinion, employers of labour have never, or in very exceptional cases, fully recognised their moral liabilities, and from the statistics which have been quoted I contend that the inherent danger of the occupation is responsible for the majority of the accidents. Therefore it is not just to say that the workman is wholly responsible. I think the employer ought fairly to take his share of the pecuniary responsibility of providing for accidents. My right hon. Friend who has just spoken has brought us back to the direct issue raised by the Amendment; but he omitted to notice that even this Amendment does not provide for all the cases of accidents. My right hon. Friend would except all those caused by the act or default of the workman. Well, if the German statistics be fairly representative of the condition of things in this country it is apparent that there would be more than 25 per cent., nearly 26 per cent. unprovided for by the Amendment of my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. The workman's own default only affects the workman himself. The German statistics—the 95 per cent.—show the number killed through the default of any workman, not only a man himself. If we are to take the case of a colliery accident in which 200 workmen are killed through the fault of one workman, the only person who will be excluded under my Amendment will be the one and will allow the others to be compensated.
§ *MR. BURT
I am glad of that explanation. But I was very much struck with the reason my right hon. Friend gave for this exception—that it would 1213 encourage recklessness on the part of the workmen. Yet in another part of his speech he said, and said justly, that every accident involved the employer in great pecuniary responsibility, and, he contended, that this risk was in itself quite sufficient to induce care on the part of the employer. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the workman cares much loss for his life and limbs than the employer cares for his money. That is a conclusion I cannot accept. But I know there are other hon. Members who desire to speak, therefore I will say no more. I hope we shall pass the Second Reading of the Bill to-night. I think there is no doubt about that; and all I will say is that the main principles of the Bill have not as yet been directly attacked. Nearly all the criticisms which have been passed and all the objections which have been made might be urged with equal effect and with more propriety in Committee. The Government mean to adhere to the main principles of the Bill, and we hope that the House will give the measure a Second Reading and let it go to a Grand Committee, where its details will be thoroughly discussed.
§ *MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has good reason to be satisfied with the Debate, for it has practically been a Debate on the principle that he himself and Mr. Broadhurst, who is no longer a, Member of this House, have presented to us more than once. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has bodily swallowed the two nostrums of the Trades Unions—namely, the abolition of the doctrine of common employment and the prohibition of "contracting out." I I think that the right hon. Gentleman this time must have begun to feel that, painful as is the task and nauseous as is the dose, he has not yet got to the last of it. The employer, according to the demand of the hon. Member for the Ince Division, is to be prohibited from securing himself against liability under this Bill. No insurance against liability is to be permitted. The employer is to be liable for the servant of his sub-contractor whom he has not hired, whom he does not pay, and whom he cannot dismiss. The 1214 employer is to be liable for these servants as though they were his own. All persons, whatever their position—domestic servants as well as people engaged in manual labour—are to be included in the benefits of the Bill. No removal is to be made to the County Court. [Mr. WOODS dissented.] I was careful to take the hon. Member's words down as he spoke, and I know I am not misquoting him. I thought at the time that he was a little carried away by the enthusiasm of his own eloquence. But every point I have mentioned he insisted upon being added to the Bill. I am bound to say it appears to me that the Bill embodies no final principle. The right hon. Gentleman opposite might have taken first the broad principle that a man is to be liable for negligence. I should not object to that principle being pushed to its furthest limits. I should not offer any objection to the employer of labour being required to equip his premises in the fullest and safest way, and to exercise the greatest care in the selection of every agent who is to assist him in carrying on his business. If any agent is not properly skilled or trained for carrying on the business that is to be carried on, that fact should be treated as negligence on the part of the employer. That would be quite fair. If the employer were made liable for the neglect of any of these precautions the right hon. Gentleman would have got at the moral principle underlying this liability and fixing it if it is to be permanent and final and treated as satisfactory. But he has discarded that—he has not taken negligence as a ground of liability. On the contrary, he says that, although the employer may have exercised the greatest caution and the greatest possible prudence, though he may not have neglected anything which an honest and careful man ought to have regard to, though he may have chosen his agents with the greatest possible care, and has laid down rules for their guidance which are unimpeachable, yet if any one of his servants deliberately breaks the rules, and is guilty of neglect, the employer, who is certainly not morally responsible or morally to blame, will be subject, to penalties which, in many cases, may be simply ruinous to him. ["No, no! "] Can that be denied? Can it be denied that by the abolition of 1215 the doctrine of common employment, and by making the employer liable for the negligence of every one of his servants in the conduct of his business, although he may have taken the utmost pains to provide against accidents, consequences may ensue that may ruin that employer? The common answer, I know, is that as the employer is liable to the stranger, why should he not be liable to his servant? Permit me to say that the liability of the employer to the stranger is also contrary to common justice—and I do not hesitate to say that, as we are now discussing general principles. The Home Secretary, with that lofty wisdom which distinguishes him, has dismissed a whole generation of Judges who have established the doctrine of common employment, and who have pointed out again and again that there is a broad distinction between the case of a fellow-servant and a stranger. In the first place, it is the case that the fellow-servant knows, generally speaking, the danger the employment exposes him to; secondly, he has means of avoiding that danger by the vigilance he can exercise over his fellow-servants; and, lastly, he has made his own bargain as to the conditions of the employment out of which the danger arises, and has not stipulated that the negligence of fellow-servants shall involve any liability in the employer. These are the three broad and clear distinctions between the cases of fellow-servants and strangers which have been established by the consensus of opinion of a generation of Judges, and they cannot be waived aside by a gesture of the Home Secretary. Then the Home Secretary has fallen into many inconsistencies in regard to the Bill which I should like to hear him defend. He has stated that the manual labourer shall have the benefit of recovering against the employer for the negligence of somebody else—not of himself—but he has excluded other classes—the clerk, the domestic servant, and others—from the same benefit and remedy. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has shown, the Bill, illogical as it is, and resting as it does on an unsound principle, excludes many classes of servants from its benefits. Seventy-five per cent. of the accidents which occur in the manual labour of this country will 1216 not be met by this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to include a very large class of men in the Bill without distinction or qualification—namely, seamen. I know that we live in days in which authorities are disregarded, and in which there is rather a prejudice against any proposition that is supported by authority. In 1886 a Committee sat and inquired fully into the subject of the employment of seamen, and heard the representatives of the seamen as well as of the shipowners, and they unanimously reported against extending the Bill to seamen generally on the same principles and conditions that it is extended to other classes of workmen. Now, what has happened since to alter that conclusion? The Home Secretary has given no reason for departing from it further than to say, in the speech in which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, that telegraphic communication has improved. But surely that cannot be seriously alleged as a reason why the House should act directly contrary to the judgment of the Committee—why the shipowner is to be made liable to the same extent as the owner of an establishment on land, so that he shall have to pay for accidents when his ship is at sea, and not in any port with which there is telegraphic communication, and negligence on the part of any one of his servants is a thing that does not come to his knowledge, and is a thing which he cannot correct or control, either by remonstrance or dismissal, when he cannot replace the servant he has on board his ship in the middle of the seas, and who probably for weeks to come has to be on the seas. There is surely a broad distinction to be drawn between the master of a ship and the master of works on shore. The owner of a ship does not know what is going on on board the ship when it is at sea; moreover, he has not a free choice of agents, for the Merchant Shipping Act imposes on him all sorts of conditions. His servants must be certificated, and he is not left to his own judgment in their selection. A variety of conditions of the utmost stringency bind him, for instance, as to the help he is to give his men if they are disabled or sick. In these and other respects the case of the shipowner seems to me such 1217 an exceptional one, that I think there ought to be further inquiry before the Report of the Committee of 1886 is set aside. The right hon. Gentleman put forward as the principle underlying the Bill that an employer shall be liable for the consequences of the employment of any dangerous agency which he sets in motion for his own profit. I have no quarrel with that principle, save that it is totally inapplicable to the case in hand. The employer does not set in motion the machinery that causes a great accident—that causes a great disaster. The shipowner does not set the winds blowing, or the currents twisting, or the waves rolling, and least of all does the employer set in motion the negligence of his servants for which ultimately he is to be held liable. If a man sets in motion dangerous agencies he may fairly be held liable for the consequences; but in this case the owner is the last person to set in motion the negligence of his seamen. There is a much truer and more just proposition on which the principle of liability in the Bill should rest—namely, that the risks of any employment, dangerous or not dangerous, should be borne in proportion by all for whose benefit the employment is carried on. That is a very different proposition in its results and effects. In such cases all should be made to contribute to the cost which the risks may involve, not as a question of moral right or wrong, but as a question of expediency and prudence. At the same time, any man clearly guilty of negligence should be made entirely liable for the consequences. The amount of compensation, too, that would be justified by such a principle as that would be very different from the amount of compensation due from a person who had been guilty of negligence. The compensation that should be paid for risks under this principle ought to be estimated on a different scale, more moderate and reasonable in amount, and it seems to me that this is a principle which hitherto we have in our legislation entirely ignored. It is a principle of great value, and is embodied in the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. That is a principle entirely independent of negligence, though perfectly consistent with keeping alive the remedy for negligence. Owners guilty of personal negligence of any 1218 kind whatever ought, I admit, to be made liable for damages. My opinion is that you should make a man liable for his own negligence, and superadd to it a fund contributed to by employer and employed; and adopt a system of compensation whereby all who receive benefit from an industry shall assist in relieving the misfortunes and sufferings of those who in that industry meet with disaster. I believe that that is the proper way to settle this controversy. I believe that it has been done, and is being done, voluntarily by the masters and men in a most beneficial manner. The hon. Member for Morpeth said what I should have expected from a man of his fairness of mind. He said he should be extremely sorry to destroy agreements already made between masters and men, greatly to the advantage of the men, in order to relieve them from sufferings resulting from accidents in the course of dangerous employments. It would be positively cruel and disastrous to put an end to the system of mutual insurance which now exists. The extent of it is very considerable. Not only have some of the great Railway Companies adopted the system, but it has been adopted in connection with great mining industries. I find that in 1890 there were 110,000 men who had contracted out of the Act as against 158,000 who had not. Those figures, which are supplied by the Central Mining Association, show a minority which is deserving of consideration and respect. It is a remarkable fact that in South Wales and Monmouthshire this system of, I do not like to say "mutual insurance," for it is not that, but that system under which compensation is paid to men whatever the cause of the accident, whether caused by negligence or by what is commonly called "the act of God"—I do say it is remarkable that in South Wales and Monmouthshire this system has been growing largely. In 1881 there were 5,000 and odd persons who had contracted out of the Act as against 67,000 who had not; but in 1890 the proportion was reversed, and there were 52,000 who had contracted out of the Act as against 47,000 who had not; showing, therefore, that the men themselves feel the advantage of a system by which, without litigation and in the most friendly and peaceable and 1219 rapid way, compensation can be given to them, whatever the cause of the accident may have been which disabled them. I had, perhaps, better not mention the names of the industries in which this system has been adopted. I may just refer to the miners under Lord Dudley, who also have entered into a contract of this sort, for they are so large a body. They have entered into contracts which have withdrawn them from the Act. I am receiving daily accounts of similar organisations and associations. From my own constituency I have received almost a plaintive letter from persons in the employment of the London and North-Western Railway imploring me to press upon the Government their firm conviction that they are better provided for under their contract with that company than they could ever hope to be by the provisions of this Bill. I cannot help saying that the Home Secretary is incurring tremendous responsibility when he destroys all these arrangements. I am quite aware that he has said that he does not destroy them, and that the persons who enjoy the benefit of them have the option of continuing them; but it is ridiculous to expect employers to go on making large contributions to funds of this sort, and at the same time be exposed to the chance of the ill-feeling produced between masters and men by litigation under the Act—to a prospect of having to pay heavy, and in some cases ruinous, damages for some act over which they had no control, and for which they were not morally responsible. The right hon. Gentleman will kill all these Associations at once. The masters will withdraw their contributions, the whole thing will come to an end; and, unless he is prepared to adopt the extreme proposal of the hon. Member for the Ince Division, masters will simply insure against the increased liability, and whenever an accident occurs the unhappy injured workman will be handed over to the resolute, determined opposition of an Insurance Company, which will draghim through all the stages of litigation before he is enabled to recover a farthing. What argument is there in favour of this? I have heard it suggested that the workman is not free. ["Hear, hear! "] I am 1220 sorry to hear that cheer. I do not know any assertion that can be regarded as more degrading to the workman than that these contracts are involuntary contracts on their part and that they do not cheerfully embrace them. I say the whole experience of the facts connected with this matter are the other way. I do not know whether the hon. Member who cheered has referred to the contract of the London and Brighton Company, but if he will do so he will see that the men are absolutely free to join or not as they like. The men have come in by degrees, and up to this time the total was somewhere between 29,000 and 30,000. They come in gradually, because the benefits of the arrangement impress themselves on the minds of men. In the same way in the coal-mining industry there has never come to me any fact to show that the slightest compulsion is used.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman had quoted figures to show that some 47,000 men in Lancashire and Cheshire had contracted out of the Acts. As a matter of fact, the men were compelled to sign an agreement as a condition of being reengaged after a strike of seven weeks. [The hon. Member read the terms of the agreement to which he referred.]
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I am always glad to give way to the hon. Member, because I know he represents, in a special sense, the interests of the working classes, but he will allow me to observe that his interruption was totally irrelevant. I did not say a word about Lancashire. The passage he has just read had already been read by the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. Woods). I know that my hon. Friends connected with Lancashire have a full and complete answer" on the point, but they have not yet had the opportunity of giving it. I repudiate the idea that, under normal circumstances, men in this country are in such an abject condition that they are not to be regarded as free agents when they enter into contracts which I say, in the judgment of any sensible man, benefit them enormously. Another argument that 1221 would be entitled to the greatest weight if well founded has been presented in various shapes more or less dramatic. The hon. and learned Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane), in one of the remote days on which part of this scrappy Debate was taken, said that what the men wanted was not money, but safety. I entirely agree, and if I thought that these contracts diminished the chances of the safety of the men, I should be as determined an opponent of them as is the hon. Member who has just favoured me with an interruption. But take the London and North Western Railway Company, practically the whole of whose employés contract out of the Act. Does anyone say that there is less care taken on the London and North Western line than on the Great Western, where nobody contracts out? Then take the cases of those miners who contract out of the Act. There are more miners who are under the Act than there are who contract out of it. The proportion of the latter is growing daily, but at present they are in the ratio of something like 110,000 to 158,000. Can the slightest evidence be produced to show that among the 110,000 who have contracted out of the Act accidents are more numerous than among the 158,000 who have not? The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) has more than once given figures which, if he will allow me to say so, will not bear the test of examination, as they are based on a narrow average. I believe that if you take figures extending over a large area and over a number of years, you will find that in the districts contracting out the cases of disablement have been fewer than in other districts.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
What does the right hon. Gentleman regard as a period of fair comparison? Are not seven years before and seven years after fair periods?
§ *MR. MATTHEWS
The hon. Member has given figures which were in part inaccurate, and which did not lead to any fair result. [An hon. MEMBER: Divide!] I do not know who is the hon. Member who cries "Divide!" but, whoever he is, he seems to attach very little importance to the gravity of this ques- 1222 tion. The evidence of the facts does not show that, either on the ground of increased liability to accidents, or on the ground of any interference with freedom, have these contracts, which have been of enormous advantage to the men, been shown to be objectionable. The folly of putting an end to agreements in which thousands of men find satisfaction, and under which the employers certainly give for the benefit of the men far larger sums than they would have to pay under the present Bill, or under any possible Bill, does seem to me so great that I would earnestly entreat the Home Secretary to consider whether he cannot leave some door open for the continuance of those arrangements. I am myself one of those old-fashioned persons who think that people are the best judges of their own interests, and who believe that when masters and men agree to a particular course of conduct which has been developed and improved during a long series of years, it is better for both parties than anything Ministers can devise or public men invent. I do deprecate most sincerely the arbitrary way in which men say: "We will not allow this course to be followed; we will set the agreements aside." I apologise for having detained the House so long, but I can assure the House that if I had said all that I had in my mind I should have spoken much longer. I do not, however, wish to prevent the Bill reaching its Committee stage, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has not yet said his last word to the House.
§ Mr. Asquith rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c."—(Mr. Secretary Asquith.)
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, he hoped the Motion would not be pressed to a Division. The Bill was a very important one, and probably some 1223 hon. Members would desire to move Instructions to the Committee. Time should therefore be allowed them to do so. They all desired to make the Bill more capable of doing good than it would prove in its present form. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Debate be adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.