HC Deb 20 December 1893 vol 20 cc2-63

Lords Amendment in page 2, line 13, after the word "compensation," to insert the words— (2.) The foregoing enactment shall not apply to any agreement for assurance against injury which has been made between workmen and their employer before the date of the passing of this Act, and which subsequently to the said date shall be approved by two-thirds of the said workmen voting in the prescribed manner, or to any future accession of workmen in the same service to such agreement. (3.) Nor shall it apply to any such agreement made after the passing of this Act which shall have been approved as aforesaid, and in respect to which the Board of Trade shall have certified—

  1. i. That it provides reasonable compensation in all cases of injury from whatever cause incurred in the course of employment;
  2. ii. That the compensation is paid from a fund to which the employer contributes not less than one-fourth;
  3. iii. That it shall have been certified by some actuary, approved by the Treasury, who has exercised the profession of actuary for at least five years, that such funds and the contributions thereto are, in his opinion, duly proportioned to the contingent liability.
(4.) The Board of Trade may make rules for taking the votes of workmen by secret ballot in such a way as to ensure that they vote freely and without constraint; and it may from time to time, at its discretion, require such votes to be taken anew after the lapse of any period of not less than three years; but, in the case of seamen and others employed afloat, the Board may make such provision for enabling them to give their votes freely and without constraint as shall in its judgment, be suitable to the requirements of their employment,

read a second time.


I rise to move that this House do disagree with the Amendment. I do not propose, in the few observations with which it will be my duty to trouble the House in support of the Motion, to go over again the ground which was very thoroughly travelled on the subject of the general question of contracting-out, both in the Debates on the Report stage and on the Third Reading of the Bill in this House. But, Sir, the Amendment which has been introduced in another place, and which is now under consideration, as is obvious to all who read it, goes far beyond the more limited proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe, which was rejected by this House on the Report stage, and if it is assented to it will not only permit, but I go further and I say it will challenge and invite employers wherever they can to resort to the machinery provided by this Amendment to obtain the assent of the prescribed proportion of workmen to place themselves outside the operation of the law which has been enacted by Parliament, not with a view to particular cases, but with a view to the general protection of life and health in the industrial operations of the country. In our judgment, this proposal, for reasons I shall state, is mischievous in substance and impracticable in form, and the Government would regard its adoption by this House as fatal to the Bill. I shall therefore ask the House to reject it as it stands. Before I criticise the details of this extraordinary proposal I must make one preliminary observation. The question raised by this and by similar Amendments is sometimes represented as if it were an issue between those who are in favour of and those who are opposed to freedom of contract. Sir, it is nothing of the kind. Those who are responsible for the framing of this Amendment, and those who in this House will advocate and support it, are as strongly opposed to freedom of contract as are the Government themselves. The very terms of the Amendment involve the admission that the individual workman in this matter cannot be left face to face with his employer to make a free bargain with him. Let the House look at the general scope of this proposal. In the first place, nobody is to be allowed to contract himself out of the law unless the scheme has been first submitted to the inspection and approval of a Government Department. Is that freedom of contract? In the next place, even after that approval is obtained, the men are not to be allowed to assent to the scheme unless it has been certified by an official appointed by another Government Department—namely, the Treasury—that is what I may call a reasonably solvent financial arrangement. In the third place, under this scheme it is to be in the power of two-thirds of the men in any employment to coerce the freedom of the remainder, to deprive them of the privilege Parliament intended they should have. This may or may not be a reasonable and practicable plan, but I wish at the outset to say in the strongest possible terms, whatever may be said for it or against it, it is not open to those who advocate it to array in their support the well-worn platitudes about freedom of contract. Let me proceed to examine the scheme itself. If this Amendment were incorporated in the Bill it is obvious it would be in the power, and it is intended to be, of each employer and each body of workmen in the country, by a private arrangement between themselves, entirely to exclude the operation of the general law. In approaching a proposal of that kind one has got to consider how far it is likely to be taken advantage of by persons who are anxious, if they can, to exempt themselves from the obligations of the law. Under the Employers' Liability Act of 1880 freedom of contract is allowed. That Act imposes a very small and, as we think, a very inadequate measure of responsibility upon the employer, but, nevertheless, in order to avoid and get rid of that comparatively light obligation a very considerable number of employers have taken advantage of the freedom the Act gives them to enter into arrangements with their workmen which prevent their relying upon the law. It is our case that the provisions of the Act of 1880 are inadequate. It is the object and intention of the framers of this Bill to impose upon the employers of the country, not, indeed, an excessive, not an unreasonable burden, but the measure of liability which public opinion recognises they ought to bear. Therefore, every inducement there was under the Act of 1880 for the employers, if they could, to get outside the operation of the law will be multiplied, I will not say by how many times, but intensely and enormously. And, further, these motives will operate, these inducements will stimulate with greater force and greater intensity just in operation as the employer belongs to the class of what I may call bad and unconscientious employers. You have not to consider, and I trust the House will not consider, this Amendment from the point of view of great Corporations like the London and North Western Railway. I have no doubt that they are excellent employers in their relation with their workmen, and they can afford to be so. Although they are nominally a private company, yet, as they employ 60,000 men and control the means of communication over a large part of the country, all that they do is more or less public and subject to the criticism, supervision, and action of public opinion. This Bill, however, is intended to protect, not merely the employés of great Corporations like that, but it is intended to protect men in small shops and factories, where the employers not infrequently are men of little or no capital, where they have to carry on business with starved and impoverished appliances for safety, and where the men may often be recruited from the lower strata of the industrial population, deficient in intelligence, self-control, and independent feeling, and therefore disposed to assent to conditions which, if they were more organised and acted under a stronger sense of corporate power, it would be impossible for a master to impose upon them. This is a state of things which exists in various parts of the country, and which this Bill is intended to meet, and the House cannot consider properly its practical operation unless it keeps in view the factories and workshops of that class as well as those of the great employers of labour. What does this clause propose to do? It proposes that in every instance, big or small, it shall be in the power of employer and workmen to enter into an arrangement, subject to the conditions laid down, which will, for three years at least, and may for an indefinite period, deprive those workmen of the protection the law intended to give them. Let me dispose of one fallacy which is current on this subject. It is said that an arrangement of this kind entered into willingly binds only the two-thirds who have assented to it, and that the remaining one-third will still be able to rely on the legal liability of their employers. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear,!] An hon. Member opposite assents to that. It really tasks one's credulity—I was going to say it was an insult to one's intelligence—to be asked to believe anything of the kind. When an employer has got the assent of two-thirds of his men and the approval of Government Departments, he will be entitled to say—"No man shall enter into my employment unless he is willing to do so on the same terms as others; it shall be a condition of service that a man shall contract himself out of the law, and shall take my scheme in substitution." I cannot imagine a more nugatory or un- intelligible proceeding than for an employer to go through this cumbrous and dilatory process, and only get as the practical result the exclusion of two-thirds of his men, who have actually voted for the proposal, from the general scheme of the law. No, Sir, depend upon it, wherever this condition is put in force, in that employment, certainly for three years, probably for all time to come, no man will be entitled to hold his master liable in respect of the provisions which are laid down in this Bill. I will take the matter in its first three stages. The first condition is that you shall have a certificate from the Board of Trade that the agreement or the scheme between the masters and the men provides reasonable compensation in all cases of injury from whatever cause incurred in the course of the employment. That is to say, the Board of Trade, by some machinery not defined in this clause, for which no provision is made and which does not at present exist, is to have cast on it the duty of investigating and giving the stamp of its approval and disapproval to every one of these schemes. That is a preliminary step to be taken before the men are to be consulted. Now, what is the meaning of it? I want the House to consider the task that is to be imposed upon the Board of Trade. What is the meaning of "reasonable compensation"? I will take an illustration. The London and North Western Railway Company, under their scheme of insurance, provide that in respect of the higher class of their employés, those receiving between £2 and £3 a week, in case of death or permanent disablement a sum of £100 shall be awarded. Is that reasonable compensation? I do not know; but this I know—it is not the compensation which a jury would give. I am quite sure if one of those men—if the relatives of these men killed by accident due to negligence—appealed to the Law Courts there is not a jury in the country who would not give two or three years' wages instead of that £100. More probably the amount would be £300 or £400. Of course, the question is whether the certainty of getting the £100, in all events—whether the accident was due to negligence or not—is sufficient to make it reasonable for a man to forego his chance of getting £300 or £400. That is a very difficult question, which has been solved in a different way by different companies, as, for instance, the Great Eastern, which gives £130. Which is reasonable? How can the Board of Trade decide? It is impossible to look at this matter as one in which you can lay down in a Schedule of an Act of Parliament or in a set of Rules of a Department a scale of compensation which shall be applicable to all cases of employment. You cannot do anything of the kind. Take the case of railways, take the case of mines, take the case of textile factories, and then take ordinary workshops. You cannot, even if you take the first class, ascertain what is reasonable compensation, unless you go into the different conditions of employment, and unless you take into account a multitude of special circumstances affecting different cases. Why, to do that you would tax the resources of a whole Government Department, even if it had nothing else to do. You are throwing on the shoulders of the Board of Trade at the very outside a task of enormous magnitude and complexity, for the discharge of which it does not possess the available resources, and for the due execution of which neither that nor any other Department is fit. To go further, I say it is a most intolerable thing that you should introduce a Government Department in this matter. Why, only the other day in another place, from which this Amendment proceeds, a scheme proposed by the London County Council for betterment was rejected largely on the ground that the arbitrator was to be appointed by one of the Government Departments. The noble' Lord said—"What could be more monstrous than to introduce the nominee of a Government Department to determine a difficult question like this? It would be sure to give rise to friction and political disagreements." Well, if that is applicable to a question like betterment, how infinitely stronger is the argument when we come to such a proposal as this—to introduce the nominees of a Government Department to supervise every scheme which may be proposed in any factory in the country. I say you are imposing a task which would be, if carried out, an impossible one in regard to its magnitude and complexity; but not only that, you would be bringing the Government into a sphere in which it has no right to meddle, in which it is an intruder, in which it would cause friction and dissatisfaction between employer and employés; and not only so, but dissatisfaction and disagreement between one body of employés and another body of employés. This would react unquestionably upon the general position of the Government itself. That is the first stage. I now come to the second. And here let it be observed another Government Department is introduced in the shape of the Treasury. When the Board of Trade certifies that the compensation is reasonable—as to which, I think, I have said sufficient—then the Treasury has to step in and send down an actuary, whose duty it will be to investigate the solvency of the firm. This is the serious proposal, which is sent down to this House with great pomp and circumstance, which we are assembled here, on a Wednesday afternoon at the end of the Session, to discuss. Was there ever such a proposal made before? The Treasury is to become responsible—for it will be made responsible in public opinion, at all events, as it is responsible for the certificate—for the solvency of these funds. Let me point out—and this is only one instance among many that I shall not cite—as an illustration of the extraordinarily crude and ill-considered character of this proposition, that, although this official of the Treasury is to go down in the first instance and certify, yet after he has once paid this visit he is apparently never to appear upon the scene again. The fund is to go on, having got its imprimatur from the Treasury, and it is to receive no further examination from the official. But the very next month the fund may become insolvent. When the fund receives approval it is all settled, but in six months' time its pecuniary position may be wholly different, and the workman living in this fool's paradise may find, like so many others who have invested their money in Building Societies, when the time comes that the concern is rotten and that there is not a penny in the locker to pay him. But that is not all. The next point is the employer's contribution. This is to be at the rate of not less than one-fourth. When this scheme first issued from the brains of its authors there was no provision whatever for the quota of the employer's contribution. As it was passed in Committee and the Report stage, the employer was not to contribute any fixed proportion. The workmen might contribute £99 19s. 6d. out of £100 and the employer 6d., and that would be sufficient. But that was too much even for the House of Lords. At the last moment, on the Third Reading I think, Lord Wemyss, who is not easily shocked by even the extremes of individualism, introduced the Amendment providing that the employer in future is to contribute not less than one-fourth. That was a modest compromise. If you will lay down in an Act of Parliament a minimum contribution which is to entitle the employer to exemption, you will soon find that that minimum would become the maximum, and for a very good reason. The employer would say—"Here is Parliament, which, no doubt, has thought out the facts of what is a reasonable amount for the employer to contribute. I am entitled to assume that Parliament had before it materials and evidence when it arrived at such a judgment, and if, therefore, Parliament thinks that when I have contributed one-fourth I ought to escape scot free, I accept the judgment of Parliament, and I will contribute one-fourth." Of course, there may be, and no doubt there will be, employers actuated by philanthropic motives. But that is not the kind of employer for whom this Bill is intended. The employer for whom it is intended would make a calculation. With his certificate and his contribution of one-fourth he would say he was safe for all time to come. It is difficult to calculate, out of 100 accidents in the future, how many will be accidents due to the negligence of the employer or some person in his employment, or to the omission of some precautions for protection; but I am perfectly satisfied that a very large number of cases—probably 25 per cent.—that is to say, a quarter of the accidents which will occur in the course of the year, will be of such a kind. What is the result? The employer is to get rid of his liability if he contributes one-fourth. He will therefore, in a large number of cases, contribute no more, and in some cases less than the amount for which he would be legally liable if there were no fund at all. Thus I do not hesitate to say, so far as one can forecast the future, he will be the gainer and not a loser by a fund of this character. Well, I now wish to pass to what is a still more important point. The scheme is to be put in operation if two-thirds of the workmen voting by secret ballot under the Rules prescribed by the Board of Trade approve. That, again, is an improvement—it is only fair to make the admission—in the form of the Amendment as first presented to the House of Lords. As this Amendment was originally framed a bare majority of the workmen would be able to carry a scheme of this kind into effect, but the House of Lords wisely substituted for a bare majority a majority of two-thirds. I ask the House to examine this point with some minuteness. It is said that when you get a vote of two-thirds by ballot you may be confident it represents the free unrestrained opinion of the men. Who is to vote? The persons apparently who are for the time being in the service of the employer. They may be persons who entered his service a week before; they may be persons who leave his service a week after; they may be persons—I am not using the expression in any offensive sense—selected, because the employers may confidently calculate upon their vote. We are told that it is a very inconsistent thing for us, who call ourselves democrats, to attempt to dispute the applicability of vote by ballot to a case of this kind. We are strong supporters of the ballot as applied to political and municipal affairs; it is an enormous protection to the voter; but our belief in the ballot is a reasonable conviction and not a superstitious worship. In the first place, persons entitled to vote must be qualified persons in some way or other. They must, either by residence or by some kind of continuous interest in the subject-matter, be persons qualified to express an opinion upon it. In the next place, in the carrying out of the ballot you must have something in the nature of a register, in order to determine whether or not A or B who claims is entitled to vote. Thirdly, it is essential to the secrecy of the ballot that the vote should be taken by a disinterested public authority; and, fourthly, it is still more essential that the voter who votes by ballot should be protected from undue pressure beforehand, and protected in the secrecy of his vote both at the time and afterwards by stringent provisions in the way of fine and imprisonment. Which of these conditions are satisfied here? As I have pointed out, the persons who vote are persons not only of a fluctuating class, but casually and for the time being in the service of the employer. In the next place, there is no authentic record to tell us who they are. Further, there is no provision as to the manner or authority by which the ballot is to be taken. There is also no provision as to who is to settle the issue which is to be determined. Reference has been made to a recent ballot taken on the London and North Western Railway, in which it was said that I had spoken of undue pressure or intimidation. I did not say that, but I did say that the form of the question put to the men—although I have not the least doubt it was put in good faith—was most misleading. If that was the case in a great undertaking like this railway, with the ballot conducted under the eye of public opinion, what security have we against the form in which the ballot may be taken in some hole-and-corner factory or workshop in some obscure part of the country? But, lastly—and this is important—you have no provision in the section, and you cannot introduce any, which would provide where the employer or any workmen seek to put pressure on an individual or body of men to induce them to vote in a particular way, or if after the ballot is taken the way in which people have voted is divulged, the offenders shall be punished. It is said that the Board of Trade may make Rules for the taking of votes; but the unfortunate Board of Trade, which has already got the duty of certifying the reasonableness of the scheme, has no compulsory power to give sanction to its Rules by the smallest pecuniary fine, and thus it is to lay down a nugatory Code which any one may violate at will! Yet you are told there is sufficient protection for the workmen, and that we who object to this sham, pinchbeck imitation of the ballot are guilty of some kind of treason to democratic principles. You cannot have a scheme which in all its features is more impracticable and more absurd. I hope I have now said enough to show that this is an Amendment which the Government cannot possibly accept. We have been told that the House of Lords has not for the first time, by putting this Amendment into our Bill, been performing a mission recently undertaken, of protecting the people against their own Representatives. The voice of the people, muffled and distorted in this representative Chamber, speaks with clear and authentic accents in another place. Somewhat opportunely, at the very time this question has to be decided, an occasion has arisen which enables us, at any rate in one particular instance, and in reference to this particular matter, to put that view to the test. I daresay the House may have heard of the Accrington election. A gentleman whom some of us know is standing as the Conservative candidate for that important industrial constituency. I understand that during the past week he has been perambulating the division expatiating on the advantages of mutual insurance, protesting his devotion to freedom of contract, and drawing, for the benefit of his provincial audience, a very stirring and pathetic picture of the House of Lords in its new character of emancipator of the working man. Somehow or other, it appears that even the Conservative working man does not want to be emancipated by the House of Lords. I daresay the House observed from the newspapers yesterday that this gentleman, having been brought to book by the working men of the constituency, has come to the conclusion that although it might be expedient to make some provision for an existing fund like that of the London and North Western Railway, so far as contracting out of the Bill for the future is concerned, he will have nothing whatever to do with it. If I am to ascertain the voice of the people—I confess it may be a prejudice—I would rather go and seek it and hear it in a popular constituency, such as I he Accrington Division of Lancashire, than in the House of Lords. Whatever may be the result of that election, it appears to be clear that, unless this gentleman recants his recantation, whichever of the two candidates is returned, he will come here pledged to vote against what the House of Lords has done in regard to this Bill. He will come pledged to do so with the mandate—ay, and at the express request—of one of the greatest industrial constituencies in the country. Are we in this House going to accept, at the dictation of another place, a proposal which even a Tory candidate, appealing to an industrial constituency in Lancashire, does not venture to support? We are not. We regard the acceptance of this Amendment as fatal to the Bill; and we ask the House to disagree with the Lords Amendment.

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

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I regret very much the decision which the Government has arrived at; but I confess that I have no reason to be surprised at it. The other day the Home Secretary, addressing a meeting of the Eighty Club, referred to this matter, and he then stated very clearly that, in the opinion of the Government, such an Amendment as that now before the House would he absolutely fatal to the Bill, and would make it a piece of waste paper. He, at that, time, did not appear to be aware what the Amendment was. He entirely misdescribed it. He stated that in any case where an employer obtained the assent of 51 percent, of his workmen, he would be able to coerce the whole 100 per cent, to contract themselves out of the Bill. Since then the right, hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of studying the Amendment more closely, and to-day, no doubt, he has given to the House a substantially accurate account of it. The right hon. Gentleman has entered very largely into a detailed criticism of this Amendment. He has dealt, with it paragraph by paragraph, and he has taken exception to its provisions, and has brought several practical criticisms to bear upon it. It would be much more interesting to follow my right hon. Friend with reference to those criticisms if we could agree as to the principle of the Amendment. No one is here to say that, the wording of the Amendment is necessarily perfect. Even the Bill is not absolutely perfect. It might be capable of some amendment or alteration. But if the Government is right in saying that the effect of the Amendment is to make the Bill waste-paper, then, of course, it is unnecessary for us to meet the detailed criticism upon the Amendment, The objection is not to the details of the Amendment, which might be altered, but to the principle of the Amendment. What is the view of the Government and of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to this question? He gave us an indication in his speech just now. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman who, as I have had occasion to say before—I hope not in any offensive sense—has not had a very large practical experience of manufacturing industries—it appears that he is of opinion that there exist in this country great numbers of unconscientious employers who are so anxious to escape from the obligations of common sense and common humanity that they will absolutely shrink from no step to avoid them. My right hon. Friend suggests that these unconscientious employers will coerce their workpeople, and he even went so far as to indicate the opinion that if a ballot of the workpeople were taken they would introduce bogus workmen in order to give them a majority. That is a most unsatisfactory foundation for legislation between employers and employed. To take so unfair or injurious a view of any large number of employers in this country is certainly not the way to promote good feeling between classes. I do not say that there are not among employers, as among workmen, individuals who might justly be subjected to such criticism, but I say that is not the general character of the industrial employers of this country, and it is not fair to suggest the existence of any such large class as that as a reason for this legislation. But there is another point. Granting he is right in the unfavourable view he takes of a large number of his fellow-countrymen who happen to be engaged in manufacture, and granting that there are a large number of these unconscientious employers. [Interruption] I did not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not know why the Irish Members should interrupt me. I think that, at all events, they might observe the usual courtesies of Debate. But if my right hon. Friend is right, and assuming that there does exist a large number of these employers, my right hon. Friend is absolutely inconsistent, and his Bill will not successfully deal with them, for what will his Bill do? It will force everyone of them to insure; and unless he goes a great deal further, and prohibits insurance as well as contracting out, I tell him the result of the Bill will be undoubtedly to remove the pressure which now exists upon employers to take every reasonable precaution, because it will induce every employer who fears the consequences of his negligence to protect himself by insurance. Therefore, I say the whole argument of the Home Secretary is based on a wrong principle, unless it be carried in application a great deal further than I think my right hon. Friend has any intention of carrying it. The Home Secretary commenced his speech by what, I think, might be described as killing the slain, by protesting against the excessive application of the doctrine of freedom of contract. I am not likely to set forth any extreme doctrine of the view of freedom of contract. Freedom of contract is very well where people are absolutely free, but where they are not free you have a right to interfere. In fact, the interferences of the Legislature with freedom of contract have been so numerous of late years that I do not think we have to consider anything more than the question whether a particular interference is or is not for the benefit of the persons concerned. If it be, then I, for one, am not going to set up any abstract, doctrine of freedom of contract. But, Sir, the Home Secretary went on to describe the Amendment in what I think is incorrect language. He said that it would enable, and stimulate, and induce the majority of employers in this country to place themselves outside the law which is intended to impose upon them a liability for negligence. No, Sir; that is really not the practical effect of this Amendment. Even if it had the wide operation which my right hon. Friend supposes it will have, the effect of it is not to place employers outside the law, but to place them under an alternative which is contemplated by the law, and it will only place them under this alternative when this alternative is, in the opinion of persons principally concerned, better than the law. The object of my right hon. Friend is to say to the working classes of this country—"Here is a law which we have provided for your benefit. Although you may be able to show us that you are offered something much better you shall not have it. You shall have our law, and you shall have nothing else." That is the case. I will give an illustration. It may be said, what would be thought if at the time of the passing of a Ten Hours' Bill employers were allowed to contract out of it? I will answer that by putting another question—namely, what would bethought of a Ten Hours' Bill if 10 hours were made compulsory, not only the maximum but the minimum numbers of hours of employment, and that an employer who was in advance of his time and ready to adopt an eight hours' system would not be allowed to do it? Our contention is that whilst providing as a minimum the law you ask us to assent to, you should not shut out the possibility of going beyond and in advance of it. The right hon. Gentleman stated the other day the principle of his Bill. He said that the Government wished to make it an inflexible and invariable rule that employers should be liable for neglect of precautions which humanity prescribed. It has been stated again and again by my right hon. Friend, and again and again it has been refuted, and I assert—and it cannot be controverted—that this Bill, in regard to its principal clauses—I am not speaking of such a clause as a subcontractor's clause, and the injurious employment clause, but of its principal clause—does nothing to increase the liability of the employers in cases in which their own negligence is concerned. That point was dealt with before—not by my right hon. Friend—no thanks to him—but by the previous Government. All that is being done is to put on the employer liability for accidents of which he can have by no possibility any control whatsoever. You cannot induce the employer to take greater precautions by punishing him for accidents over which any precautions he may take will have absolutely no influence whatsoever. And that is all that the Bill does. I do not say on that account that the Bill is a bad or a wrong one, or not very advantageous to the working men. The advantage of the Bill is that it does supply to the working men compensation in a number of cases in which they otherwise would not get it. But it is a mistake and a misapprehension of the Bill to say that in giving to the working man this compensation it gives him at the same time greater security against accidents. The cases in which it gives him compensation are cases in which the accident is due to the carelessness of a fellow-workman, over whom the employer cannot by any possibility have any control. It is absurd to put forward this idea of vicarious responsibility. You cannot make a workman more careful by imposing extra liability on the employer. If you want to make a workman more careful you must put extra liability on him, and not upon some other person. We all know the old story of the Irish landlord who said that if people thought to bring pressure upon him by shooting his agent they were very much mistaken. I would apply the same argument to the question now before us. If you think that you are going to make the workman more careful by punishing his employer you are very much mistaken. And that is what the Bill proposes to do. The novelty of the Bill is that whereas, before, the liability of the employer was confined strictly to cases in which it might be supposed that he had been able to exercise some control over the accident, now it is extended to cases over which, more or less, the employer has no control whatever. I say that, under those circumstances, the argument which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary gave for repudiating this Amendment falls to the ground. It is not true that the principle of this Bill is that additional inducements will be given to employers to take all possible precautions. It is not true that employers under this Amendment will be able to contract themselves out of the law altogether. They will only be able to contract themselves out of this law by undertaking liabilities and responsibilities which are greater than the law imposes upon them. Therefore, under the circumstances, I am not at all surprised to find that at the conclusion of his speech my right hon. Friend indicated the real object of the Government stratagem. We know what it is, and the country knows what it is. The Government want a cry against the House of Lords. The attack upon the House of Lords, which was made by my right hon. Friend, is no doubt, in his opinion, a good electioneering stratagem. Well, Sir, we shall see. We look forward hopefully to that Election to which he has referred. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to make fun of the declaration of Mr. Hodge, who, it appears, does not go further in regard to this matter than some score or more of the supporters of the Government went on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe. But the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that Mr. Hermon Hodge has recanted his opinions. He has said from the first the same thing. He thinks it is a monstrous proposal of the Government to interfere with these existing agreements between employers and employed, and to that extent, at all events, he entirely approves of the Amendment. The Government have not said so much as that. They might have placed themselves right, at all events, with some of their own supporters, if they had said that they were now prepared to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Crewe; but they rejected the Amendment of the hon. Member. They opposed it on precisely the same argument as that on which they now oppose this Amendment of the House of Lords. In my opinion, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe is absolutely illogical. You have no right whatever to make any exceptions at all unless you are convinced that they are for the advantage of the people concerned. If they are for the advantage of the people concerned, if an agreement of this kind is to the advantage of the London and North Western Railway Company, or of Messrs. Tangyes, or of Messrs. Watson and Todd, whose Petition I presented today, then it would be equally to the advantage of any other workpeople who hereafter might be able to obtain an exactly similar agreement. You cannot logically shut out those future agreements, provided they are equally as good as the agreements of to-day. No, Sir, the decision is to be come to on the principle. Is this agreement a good agreement? If it is a good agreement in the case of the London and North Western men, it is good for everyone else. If it is not good for the London and North Western Railway, then I entirely concur with the right hon. Gentleman, and I think the Government would be right in rejecting the Amendment. Now, Sir, let it be understood what the Government is doing in order, as I say, to establish a ground of quarrel with the House of Lords. They are going deliberately to throw up the whole of this Bill because they cannot get their way on the question of contracting out. The right hon. Gentleman says that they do that because with that provision in it the Bill would be so much waste paper. But setting aside that provision for a moment, what does the Bill do? It will include every workman in the Government service, and all seamen and domestic servants and those other classes of persons who are under contract of labour, and who, are not included in the present law. It will abolish the doctrine of common employment; it will establish special liability in the case of dangerous employments; and it introduces the liability of the first or principal contractor in the case of work being undertaken by sub-contractors. And these advantages are secured to everybody, even if this Amendment were carried. Even if it were accepted by the Government, the Bill which the Government say would be then waste paper would give the advantages to which I have referred—would give the opportunity and chance of compensation to every workman in the country except to those who would contract out under its provisions. Now, is it the opinion of my right hon. Friend, does he pretend that, even if this Amendment were carried, the vast majority of British workmen would contract out? It would be an extraordinary thing to say if he say so. It would mean that for some reason or another, because the whole of the workpeople of Great Britain are under coercion, for instance, or because they believe in the advantages of these funds, they are going to contract out of this masterpiece of legislation which my right hon. Friend has brought in. He will not say that. I do not suppose he thinks that as many people will contract out as I believe will do so. I admit that I am of opinion that as these agreements become better known and are advertised they will be more popular, for wherever they have been established they have widely spread. My right hon. I Friend is so satisfied that his Bill is better than any alternative which can be presented, that it is impossible that he should not think that the people who will contract out must be a small minority. Yet, in order to prevent this small minority from taking advantage of these agreements, my right hon. Friend is going to sacrifice the whole of the J advantages which the Bill gives to every workman in the country. Well, Sir, that surely is not treating the Bill in the best interests of the working classes. Even accepting the view of my right hon. Friend, surely it would be better that nine-tenths, or three-fourths, or even one-half of the workpeople of the country should have these great advantages; and later on the matter of the exceptions or of those contracted out might be further considered. But I go a step further. I am bound to consider, after all, is the condition of these people who contract out quite as miserable as my right hon. Friend represents? Just consider what advantages those who accept these agreements have over those who are outside. In the first place, they will obtain compensation—and this is a condition in the Amendment—for every accident. Surely, the importance of that must be seen by the House. I do not want to repeat figures, but it was recognised in the course of the previous Debate that the number of persons who will be dealt with by this Bill, whose accidents are due in any measure to any kind of negligence contemplated by the Bill, will not be more than one-third of the total number of the people injured. Two-thirds of the total injured, people who ought to be just as much the objects of consideration and sympathy as those for whom we are now legislating, will be shut out from any compensation whatever. Under an agreement of this kind, every one of those will obtain reasonable compensation. I believe that this is the fact which has induced the framing of these agreements in a vast majority of cases. This is the temptation which has been found irresistible by the workpeople to whom such agreements have been offered. But there is another point. They will obtain this compensation in every case promptly and without litigation. I read in The Times this morning an interesting letter from Mr. Falkiner, the Recorder of Dublin, before whom a great number of these cases have been tried, and he points out that the Bill increases the probability of litigation, because this question of negligence, especially with respect to the negligence of a fellow-workman, is an issue of great fineness and difficulty of determination. There is difficulty as to the facts, and there is difficulty as to the principle involved: and Mr. Falkiner gives an illustration which I will venture to give to the House. It is a case that came before him of a man who was crushed between a movable engine and a pillar of a hopper. That case was tried in three Courts, and only after three trials was the decision given; and then it was decided that the man had contributed to the accident that led to his death, and the widow and children obtained no compensation at all. That decision may be right or wrong; but, as Mr. Falkiner points out in the letter, there are a great many cases in which there is legal contributory negligence, but in which, notwithstanding, the workman can hardly be charged with moral negligence. Especially is this the case with railway servants, where the train of service is so great that a time comes when the man becomes careless, and breaks down under the stress, and when by legal negligence, but not by moral negligence, he suffers an accident whereby he is maimed or killed. These cases ought to be provided for. In some way or other they ought to be compensated; and they are compensated by these voluntary agreements, but not under the Bill. Then, lastly, by these arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to destroy—[Cries of "No!"]—well, I will say, so ready to destroy—the employer makes a large contribution towards the funds; and, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said just now, and to which I will refer again, I believe that in every case the contribution of the employer is very much larger than any liability which he can incur under this Bill. There is another illustration of that in The Times this morning. In a letter from the Secretary of the Shipowners' Federation it is pointed out that within the last few weeks over £700 has been paid promptly in compensation for the loss of life which took place on our coasts in the recent gale, and that not in one single case could the compensation have been claimed under the Bill. That must be the case in a vast number of instances; and it docs appear to me, under those circumstances, that the people who consent to these agreements do not need any coercion at all. The temptation is itself quite sufficient without supposing those very iniquitous proceedings which are suggested on the part of the unconscientious employer. The right hon. Gentleman has criticised in detail the Amendment which is before the House. He complains that the Amendment provides for interference by a Government Department; but surely it is too late in the day to complain of the work of interference through a Government Department. There are plenty of cases where the interference is quite as great as anything contemplated by this Amendment. Look, for instance, at the duties which are thrown upon the right hon. Gentleman's own Department in regard to the regulation of mines. There are numbers of cases in which Inspectors are called upon to exercise discretion and to say what is reasonable. The right hon. Gentleman makes fun of the wording of the Amendment, and asks how the Board of Trade, or any Government Department, can say what is reasonable. An Inspector of the Home Office has to say it every day of his life, and, as a rule, he does not find any difficulty in deciding, and his decisions are accepted by all parties concerned. Then the right hon. Gentleman says that the Amendment would make the Treasury responsible for the solvency of the funds. It does nothing of the kind. It makes the actuary appointed by the Treasury responsible for a Report as to the sufficiency of the contributions. That is not a question of reason or hypothesis. That is a question of actuarial computation of the contribution. The liability is perfectly well known, and any actuary would be perfectly well competent to say tomorrow whether the contributions are or are not sufficient. It is what is done every day in connection with another Government Department in reference to the Friendly Societies, whoso quinquennial valuations are submitted for criticism and approval. And let me ask the right hon. Gentleman another thing. He is anxious for the solvency of the funds; and he represents that a workman, after having made an agreement of this kind, will probably find himself, when he has been maimed or injured, with a fund insufficient to provide compensation. I believe that that is absolutely impossible under the Amendment. The contributions being sufficient, the fund must be solvent. But what provision does the right hon. Gentleman make for the solvency of firms? In the case of a fund the money will be there; the money will be made and paid out of the pockets of the em- ployers and the workpeople; and the fund will be there to meet any demands upon it. But in the case of some of those unconscientious employers to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred—or I would rather say in the case of the impecunious employers, which is a much more frequent case nowadays—what security has the workman for his compensation? I was told the other day of cases in the North of Scotland, where quarrying is a large and important industry. There are little masters, who employ two or three people in the work of quarrying, and these masters are themselves little more than workmen. They have no capital to speak of, or none at all. Now, if in such a quarry there is a fall of rock, and if there is a case of negligence such as is contemplated by the Bill—where this fall takes place in consequence of the action of a fellow-workman—it is almost impossible, unless the employer should be insured, or unless he has previously established such a fund as this Amendment provides for, that the employer can pay, and then the workman will go without compensation altogether. Then my right hon. Friend stated that the contribution of the employer fixed in the Amendment was one-fourth, and he said that, in the first place, one-fourth of the contribution would be less than the actual present liability under the Bill. I do not think that that is the case. I entirely dispute the accuracy of the estimate which my right hon. Friend has made of the number of accidents which would come under the Bill. I believe it is much more likely to be 10 per cent, than 25 per cent., as he states. But if he be right, what reason is there to suppose, when it is perfectly evident that the liability of the employer under the Bill is greater than the contribution, that the workmen of that employer will accept any agreement of the kind? Why should they? The employer can only tempt two-thirds of his workpeople under the Bill to accept such an agreement by offering a beneficial arrangement or one which they think to be eminently in their favour. I confess I should be glad if this were the only detail on which the objection of the Government is founded. If it were, I should advise the House to meet the objection by raising the minimum of the employer's contribution. But, even taking the figure as it is, if it should turn out, as my right hon. Friend anticipates, that the proportion of one-quarter is less than the real liability of the employer, then no agreement will be accepted by the workpeople. My right hon. Friend went on to say that the provision for taking the ballot was unsatisfactory. I do not believe that the ballot is necessary at all in the matter. I have had a very considerable experience of the views of working people upon this question. I sit for a constituency which is almost entirely composed of working men; I continually meet with them and talk with them, and I am convinced that they have sufficient independence not to enter into agreements of this kind unless they distinctly believe that such agreements are in their interests. But does my right hon. Friend believe in the truth of the extraordinary supposition that, under the provisions of this Amendment, an employer is going to engage a number of bogus workpeople for the purpose of their outvoting the men in his employment on the question of contracting out of the Bill? It is absurd for any body who knows anything at all about the condition of the manufacturers of the country to suppose that any employer in his senses would attempt to do anything of the kind. And is it not certain that if such an attempt were made the bonâ fide workman would go before the Board of Trade and say that the ballot had been taken under conditions not calculated to preserve the freedom of choice of the workmen? I think my right hon. Friend must have been driven very hard before he resorted to such an argument. Then my right hon. Friend says that this question has not been put fairly before those workmen who have expressed themselves in favour of the Amendment. But does my right hon. Friend believe in his heart that the question has not been put fairly to the North Western men, and that in whatever manner the question has been laid before them their answer to it would not have been just the same? Does he suppose that the issue is not understood by every workman employed by the Railway Company? I do not know whether my right hon. Friend travels much on the London and North-Western line. I do, and I know what the workmen say to me, and I am perfectly certain as to the current opinion of all ranks of the service in reference to this subject. I may say that I do not regret from a Party point of view the decision of the Government in relation to this question, because I am perfectly certain that it will undoubtedly tell in favour of ourselves. Of course, we cannot speak with confidence until you give us the opportunity of testing the opinion of the country upon the point, but we, for our part, are perfectly ready to test that opinion, because we confidently believe that the result will be in our favour. I do not desire to do an injustice to the intelligence of my right hon. Friend the Homo Secretary, by suggesting that he believes that in whatever manner the decision of the North Western men had been taken the result would be different as far as regards the great majority of them. I say that the bjeoctions of my right hon. Friend to the form of the Amendment are objections to detail, to be easily met if they constitute the head and front of this offending, as long as my right hon. Friend opposes no absolute negative to the principle of the Amendment. There is one other argument which has been put forward by my right hon. Friend to which I must advert, and that is if these agreements are entered into they will deprive the workmen of the advantage given to them by this Bill, through the pressure it will put upon the employers to take all necessary precautions against accidents. Now, I have pointed out upon a previous occasion that that is not the result—that the inevitable result of destroying these agreements will be that the employers will enter into arrangements with Insurance Companies which will relieve them from all liability under this Bill. In that case you will get rid of all stimulus to the employers to take all necessary precautions. I do not say that that will be the result in the case of humane employers, or that the putting an end to these agreements will in their case prevent them from taking the necessary precautious for the security of their workmen, but in the case of exceptional employers the effect of destroying these agreements will be to relieve them from the very pressure which my right hon. Friend wishes to put upon them. But do the agreements relieve them from pressure? Not a bit of it. As long as you have these mutual insurance funds, which are contributed to by the workmen and employers alike, both workmen and employers have an equal interest in lessening as much as possible the charges upon those funds. I am entirely with my right hon. Friend in desiring that this additional stimulus to prevent accidents should be applied, but I want it to be applied to the workmen as well as to the employers. I want it to be done. You cannot apply that stimulus so effectually in any other way as by means of these voluntary agreements, under which the funds contributed by both the workmen and the employers will be drawn upon to meet charges arising from accidents, and under which, therefore, both parties will have a direct pecuniary interest in lessening the number of those accidents. I concede that my right hon. Friend is right when he says that if this Amendment were to be allowed to remain in the Bill it would lead to a great development of the system of these mutual insurance funds; but I admit frankly that that is exactly what I should earnestly desire to see brought about. Even now I should be glad to see some general and universal system carried out, extending to every workman. But the House is not prepared for that, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was right in thinking that the country is not prepared for it. Then the next best thing that can be done is to give every facility for the making of mutual arrangements, and if they prove to be so popular as to be widely adopted, what remains to be provided for by legislation will be very small indeed; the general result being that by voluntary agreement, if not by legislation, we shall obtain what ought to be the object of all who wish well to the working classes—namely, a surety that every sufferer from every accident incurred during employment shall receive such compensation as it is in our power to give.

SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said, everybody admitted that if an insurance scheme of a large, sweeping, and comprehensive character, such as had been advocated by the right hon. Gentleman, could be carried out, it would effect a great amount of good. But it would be a most difficult thing to carry it out, in view of the variety of interests that were involved, the differences in the conditions of labour, and the differences also in the conditions under which people lived. Under the circumstauces, he thought it was too much to hope that in the lifetime of even the youngest man present such a scheme would be brought into existence. His right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had laid down very clearly in his speech that the House was discussing a matter of principle—namely, whether there was or was not to be contracting out of the Act. He quite agreed that, if the principle of contracting out were once admitted, a way might be found by which the principle could be carried out. His right hon. Friend was not very much in love with the Lords Amendment, and anyone who had heard the criticisms of his right hon. Friend and also of the Home Secretary would feel that the Amendment was not one that the House could accept. He sympathised very much with the view his right hon. Friend entertained, and he was very sorry to do anything by legislation which would at all interfere with Friendly Societies, or with the excellent feeling which might be created by them between employers and employed. Those hon. Members who had some experience of the railway world knew what a great deal of trouble and exertion had to be undergone before such insurance funds could be established. He wished, however, to point out that there was nothing in the Bill which entirely did away with the benefits that such funds conferred on the workmen. Having a great sympathy with these funds, when the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Fenwick) brought in a Bill a few years ago providing the contracting-out of the Employers Liability Act should be entirely forbidden, he placed on the Notice Paper of the House a notice of opposition to the Bill, his view being that by opposing the Bill he should protect the interests of a Society in which all the Northern Members take a considerable interest—the Northumberland and Durham Miners' Provident Society. When he had had his notice for two years on the Paper he was waited upon by a deputation of his own employés, who said to him, "We want to call your attention to our position in this matter. We object to contracting out of the Employers' Liability Act, because it is a question of lives and limbs with us and not one of compensation, and we believe our lives will be safer if we remain under the power of the law and are able to bring before the Law Courts all those employers who by dereliction of duty put their men in jeopardy than if contracting out is allowed." They added—"Look at the question yourself. Do you think you would be safer under a contracting-out system than if you were liable to be brought into the Law Courts as one of those employers who had not done what was right in providing for the safety of life and limb?" They asked, what would compensation be to them if they lost a right hand, or a leg, or their life? He believed that the argument which was thus put before him had not been used in this Debate to the full extent to which the miners in his district felt it ought to have been used; and so on their behalf he asked the House not to allow contracting-out of the Act. In the Northumberland and Durham Miners' Society there was no provision for contracting but, but there was an understanding that the men would not take the employers into Court. The Society had been a success. It was true that it had never got from all the employers the 20 per cent, asked for, but a very large number of the employers had always contributed 20 per cent, of the men's contributions to the fund. Hon. Members might have noticed that in the Debate in the House of Lords Lord Londonderry, who was one of the largest coalowners, said that, whatever was done with the present Bill, his contribution would continue to be the same as at present. The Society came into existence in 1862, and in 1880, when the present Act was passed, there were 70,633 Members. In 1892 the Members numbered 114,000, and although 1892 was a year in which there was a three mouths' strike in Northumberland and Durham, the number of the men who contributed to the fund increased by 1,200, although the miners were even short of the necessaries of life. The revenue had risen from £45,000 in 1880 to £100,000 in 1891, and even in 1892, in spite of the strike, it amounted to £75,000. He was one of the trustees of the fund, and he was glad to say that hardly a week passed but he was consulted as to the investments. He believed that above £170,000 were invested at the present time. It was clear, therefore, that this fund had not gone back, although there was no provision for contracting out of the Act. In 1882 nearly 14 per cent, of the revenue came from the mine owners. In 1885 the owners' contributions dropped to 5.7 per cent., and it had since continued at that figure. Since the Employers' Liability Act came into operation the amount of the owners' contributions which had been lost to the fund had come to 1s. per man per annum. He asked the House whether it was not worth the while of the miners to pay this extra 1s. and to have their lives better safeguarded by their being able to go into a Court of Law and ask for compensation? He agreed with his right hon. Friend that it would be quite impossible to make an exception from the general provisions of the Bill in the case of the London and North Western employés only. If any exception were made it must be for all sorts and conditions of men. It would be impossible for the Board of Trade to attempt to lay down the line of just compensation. The North Western Fund did not give more than £100, while he know some other funds where the friends of apprentices who were killed only received £25. The standard of compensation must alter according to the wages and the conditions of life of the men. The North Western Fund was a favourite with the men, but there was nothing in this Bill which would make it necessary for the friends of a North Western man who was killed or injured to go into Court. If they liked the fund better they could stick to the fund. Of course, the North Western Directors asked whether they were to be liable both for their contribution to the fund and for a judgment in a Court of Law. They could, however, easily deduct from their contribution to the fund a certain percentage to meet their liability under the Act, and that percentage need not be a very large one. The effect of Acts of this character was very much exaggerated. He himself happened to be at the head of one or two firms who employed a large number of men, and his experience extended to the constant employment of from 7,000 to 9,000 men, without counting his railway experience. How many actions had he had to defend under the Employers' Liability Act? He thought he might say that he had never once had to go into Court, although in two cases he had paid small sums where men had had bones broken. If this was his experience surely it must be the experience of others. Since 1880 he did not recollect more than four or five cases of actions under the Employers' Liability Act against the North Eastern Railway Company. A great deal had been said about the low class of attorney. He did not recollect ever having known any of these cases to be put into the hands of what he might call a low class of attorney. Most of them came before the Unions, and it was not to the interest of the Union to take the advice of a low class of attorney. He had every sympathy with those who desired to maintain existing funds, and in his humble way he would help them, but he could only say that that which they all desired—the prevention of danger to life and limb in the case of all workmen, and especially of those who were engaged in dangerous employments—was best assured by not allowing contracting-out.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

said, the speech of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down was a refreshing contrast to the speech in which the Debate was opened. Those who looked at, the question from the point of view of the interest of the working classes had reason to deprecate the manner in which the Debate was opened by the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have two objects before him—one to set employers against employed, and the other to set one House of Parliament against the other. Probably his immediate purpose was to affect in some way the contest in the Accrington Division. He (Mr. Tomlinson) had had to look at this question from the point of view of the employers, and he could find no reason of a pecuniary character why they should desire to enter into mutual arrangements with their workmen. He made calculations as to the relative cost to employers of dealing with accidents under the existing Act and under the insurance fund, and he found that the cost of insuring under the present Act was less than one-half the amount of the employers' contribution to the mutual insurance fund. In the one case it amounted to £13 or £14 per 100 men per annum, and in the other it reached £25 per 100 men per annum. At the same time, he thought it was worth an employer's while, even if he had to pay something additional for it, to enter into mutual arrangements with his workmen, because there was no doubt that such arrangements tended to bring about a feeling of community of interests between emyloyer and employed. He would not support the Amendment if he thought the Bill could be treated as a guarantee of safety, but that was not the view he held, with regard to some occupations considered dangerous at least. There was no doubt that the penalties attached by existing Acts relating to the conduct of dangerous employments were far more serious than any liability either under the existing Act or the present Bill. He supported the Lords Amendment, because there was abundant evidence that the existing arrangements were desired by large bodies of workmen, and because the effect of the Bill without that Amendment would be to break up the present Societies. He was aware that the Home Secretary was not in a position to gauge the strength of the feeling of the workmen belonging to these Societies, because he had declined to receive their representatives when they desired to approach him on the subject. But they had been received by other leading Members of both Houses, and he had no doubt that hundreds of thousands of workmen wanted some such provision as the Lords had inserted in the Bill. He must ask the House to take it from him that he had the means of knowing what was the view taken of the liabilities that would come upon a large employer of labour if this Bill should pass. He knew that many employers of labour who were now parties to mutual arrangements would, if the Bill passed without the Amendment, say that an additional liability, the extent of which was unknown, had been thrown upon them, and that, in times when the margin of profit, where there was any, was very small, it would be necessary for them to provide some means of meeting that extra liability. They would, therefore, say that until they had the means of knowing what that additional charge would be they could not take part in any Mutual Insurance Society, and that would be a great disappointment to these large bodies of workmen. The Home Secretary seemed to think that if the clause passed in its present form there would be a conspiracy on the part of small employers to avail themselves of the privilege given. He did not think that any clause that could be framed would be available for small employers. On the face of it, that idea was absurd. The small employer, however, would often be placed in a very hard position under the Bill, for an action brought against him by one man because of the negligence of another must necessarily result in his going into the Bankruptcy Court, and the injured man would got nothing. The right hon. Gentleman had devoted a great part of his speech to criticising the terms of the Amendment. Those who sat on the Committee of 1886 would feel great sympathy with gentlemen who applied their minds in framing a clause to meet this ease, because in dealing with the question of contracting out it was extremely difficult to find a, provision which would be satisfactory all round. He did not know that it would be possible to frame laws which would be satisfactory in all respects. If the clause was imperfect, that was a reason for trying to come to some arrangement. One reason why the workmen were so much attached to the joint Insurance Societies was because they fulfilled the condition of solvency to which the right hon. Gentleman had devoted so much of his speech. He hoped they would not abandon entirely the expectation of being able to frame something which should preserve these neutral funds, and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that sooner or later they would have to come to a system of compensation for accidents of all kinds.

MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

said, the hon. Member who had just sat down occupied a peculiar position in this House. During the last 10 years he had taken a prominent part in the discussion of every Bill which had been brought forward for the amendment of the relations of labour and capital. On each occasion his tone bad been one of lamentation, and his lamentations bad invariably boon on the side of the threatened and injured capital. [Mr. TOMLINSON: No!] He had wept over the grave of each successive abuse, and to-day his tone had been more than usually lugubrious as to what the consequences of this Bill would be. The Member for West Birmingham had also spoken, and the House knew when they had listened to him that they had heard all that could be said for the side he advocated; but although his right hon. Friend spoke at length, he did not offer any defence of the Amendment before the House. There had been plenty of attack upon the Bill as a whole, but about the Amendment very little bad been said. Yet what they were there to-day to discuss was not the Employers' Liability Bill, but one specific proposition which had been sent down from the other House for consideration. This was not, however, the first occasion on which his right hon. Friend had been a little shy of his own artillery. On the Second Heading of this Bill, he moved an Amendment the substance of which was that no Bill would be satisfactory that did not provide compensation for all accidents that were not caused by the negligence of the workman; in other words, he moved an Amendment in favour of the principle of insurance which underlay the Amendment they were now discussing; but after Debate, the right hon. Gentleman said he was willing to go with them to penalise the employer who was found guilty of negligence, and he ran away from his Amendment, and abstained from afterwards bringing it forward. They were, therefore, left with the principle of insurance condemned from the right hon. Gentleman's own lips. The words of his right hon. Friend on that occasion were words which applied to the Amendment they were now discussing just as much as they applied to the Amendment then under consideration. This Amendment proposed to enable the workman to contract himself not merely out of one clause of the Bill, but out of the Common Law. It proposed to enable him to enter into contracts some of which would have been illegal, apart from the provisions of the clause. Then, as to the arguments urged on the other side, was it not a fact that the terms offered by the Mutual Insurance Societies were better than any remedy proposed to be given to the men by law? Larger amounts were, he contended, awarded by juries than were given to the representatives of deceased servants under the London and North Western and other schemes. If it was desired to get rid of litigation altogether, that might be done by employers making such contributions to the mutual insurance funds as would make it clear that the workman could not by going to law recover more than he would get under the fund. Under the Bill the Court was to take into account the amount contributable. Then there was another thing which was of great importance. Under Clause 7 it would no longer be competent for the speculative agent to take up the workman's case, and it was provided that the agent was only to have a lien for party and party costs. This would put a stop, in his opinion, to two-thirds of the speculative litigation with which employers had been harassed up to the present time. Freedom of contract had also been put forward in support of this Amendment. But the Amendment itself interfered with freedom of contract just as much as the original proposition in the Bill. It was a proposition to make one-third of the workmen subject, to the other two-thirds. Lastly, it was said that by rejecting the Amendment they would destroy the good feeling existing between employers and employed; but would they insure good feeling by passing the Amendment? There would be a minority of workmen, who had no option to come in under this arrangement, who would find that they would lose their employment unless they accepted the decision of a two-thirds majority. There would be a rankling feeling in the bosoms of those men against a system which prevented them getting their rights. Then, again, they would have another cause of friction with the Trade Unions, the employers who contracted themselves out coming into sharp conflict with them. His right hon. Friend had complained of the tone of the new unionism, and had said it did not represent the workmen. But let them take the decision of the Congresses at Glasgow and Belfast. Did they or did they not represent the decision of the workmen? He believed if those Trades Union Congresses did not represent the whole of the workmen, at any rate they represented a great many more than the majority of Members in this House did. He believed that Parliament of labour, although not a perfect Parliament, was one which expressed far more clearly than the House of Commons did the best elements of the workmen of this country, and it was a Body to which they would look more readily for the purpose of getting their opinions. He thought the Government, in declaring that this principle was a vital part of their Bill, were acting in accordance with the great majority of the people whom the Bill most nearly concerned, and he, for one, was glad to know that they were determined to nail their colours to the mast and to make no surrender.

MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)

said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had endeavoured to prove that the conditions provided by the Amendment would not be satisfactory to the people whom they most concerned—the workmen themselves. He thought, however, that most of those present would be content to leave it to the workman himself to say what was best in his own interest. He made no apology for saying a few words, for while he could not speak from personal experience as a large employer of labour, he represented many who were affected by this Bill. The West Derby Division was essentially a working-class constituency, and included a large number of working men employed by the London and North Western Company. He claimed to be in the position of an impartial observer. When he became a candidate for I he division he now represented, he considered very carefully this question, and found there was an overwhelming necessity for enabling the men he represented to remain under the conditions which they regarded as satisfactory. The Home Secretary founded a large part of his brilliant peroration upon the Accrington election proceedings, and referred to the fact that the Conservative candidate there was opposed to a contracting-out clause. He (Mr. Long) had had no communication with his friend Mr. Hermon-Hodge, but a telegram had just been put into his hands which would show that the right hon. Gentleman had been deceived by the newspaper reports. The telegram was sent off at 1.17, very soon after the close of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and was as follows:— If any reference is made in the Debate to my change of opinion on the contracting-out clause, Employers' Liability, contradict it. [Laughter.,] Hon. Gentlemen who laughed were a little too previous, for the telegram continued:— I stand by M 'Laren's Amendment as moved in the House of Commons. That was not the statement of the Homo Secretary.


I beg pardon. What I said was that Mr. Hermon-Hodge, the Conservative candidate for Accrington, had declared that ho would not support the Amendment introduced into the Bill by the House of Lords, and I will now give the authority for that statement, as the hon. Gentleman challenges it, although the telegram does not in the least impugn it. The words of Mr. Hermon-Hodge, as reported in all the newspapers, were— While he was of opinion that an existing arrangement, such as that which had been entered into by the men of the London and North Western Railway Company, which was properly safeguarded, and which they could get out of whenever they chose by ballot, might very fairly he considered, it was a very limited proposal by comparison with Lancashire or England, and might be allowed to continue. He was quite, prepared to accept and endorse the view of the Trade Unions of the country represented in that deputation, that further contracting out should not be permitted. Those expressions have not in the least been contradicted by the telegram which has been read by the hon. Member.


said, he accepted the right hon. Gentleman's statement, although from his speech he certainly gathered that he said that a Conservative candidate standing for a great industrial community was not prepared to vote for a contracting-out clause.


Not prepared to vote for the Amendment inserted by the House of Lords, which the House is now considering.


said, ho accepted the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. He himself had thought that Mr. Hermon-Hodge had said he was altogether opposed to a contracting-out clause, and that had possibly misled him as to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Most, of the objections urged by the Homo Secretary to the present Amendment were points of detail which could be altered, but the Government action was based not on objections to details, but on objections to anything like contracting-out. It was perfectly true that the present Amendment went further than that proposed by the hon. Member for Crewe, but he must say that he, representing another industrial community in Lancashire, preferred the Amendment in its extended form. The great industrial community of Liverpool was represented by nine Members, and, out of these, eight, including a supporter of the Government, voted for the hon. Member for Crewe's Amendment. To the majority of the Representatives of that city the present Amendment was even more acceptable. The right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with the ballot, had desired to have men with a continuous responsibility or interest to vote on this matter, and he was very glad to hear that statement. As to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the question was not properly put when the ballot was taken, he could say that the vast majority of the men in his constituency employed by the London and North Western Railway had, irrespective of their political opinions, but one opinion, and it was that whatever may have been the language on the ballot paper, they absolutely and completely understood the issue, and voted accordingly. He had presented Petition after Petition from these men, and had received Memorial after Memorial. He had had interviews with the men in London and in Liverpool, and had discussed the matter carefully and exhaustively with them. After a public meeting held recently in his constituency, he was waited upon by men with whom he had had no previous communication, and they expressed to him their gratitude for the determination he had expressed to support the hon. Member for Crowe's clause. In face of such evidence, were they to be told now that the men did not thoroughly understand what they were voting about? He believed that these intelligent men were not only determined, but were feverishly anxious, that the House should not by legislation put them in a position which they thought would be highly injurious to them and to their most important interests; and had he been in the slightest doubt as to the course he should take, he would have felt himself compelled, after the evidence he had received on the feelings of the men, to support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Crewe. The question now was whether they were to support an Amendment which went even further. If the argument in support of existing arrangements was sound, then it applied equally to similar arrangements that might be made in the future. He went further, and said it would be wrong for the House to guard existing arrangements and to exclude others that might hereafter be brought into existence. They wanted to do more than merely sanction existing systems. They wanted to encourage similar systems, and thus improve the relations between masters and men. If it was good for the London and North Western system to exist, the House ought to pause before it did anything which would put an end to such a system, and prevent the institution of similar schemes in the future. He had thought it his duty to intervene in the Debate on behalf of those whom he represented.

* MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

said, that while he adhered to every argument which he laid before the House when the Amendment he proposed to the Bill was under discussion, he had now to consider the clause put in by the House of Lords in its entirety; and when he came to consider whether it was the duty of the House of Commons to allow contracting out for future Societies as well as for existing Societies, he had arrived at the conclusion that it was to the best interests of those he represented and of the working classes generally that they should vote against the Lords Amendments. He was not going to discuss the details of the Amendment. He took it as a solid whole, as an Amendment to allow contracting out under conditions similar possibly to those in the Society in which he was more specially interested. While he recognised that contracting out was made an essential feature of Societies such as the London and North Western and others, with which the House was now very familiar, it did not seem to him to follow necessarily that it need be an essential condition even of those Societies or similar Socie- ties that might be created in the future. It was perfectly true that the employers who had formed these Societies, comprising, he supposed, some 300,000 or 400,000 workmen, had laid down as a matter of fact contracting out as a condition of their Societies, and, therefore, having been formed upon the basis of contracting out, he feared greatly that if the Bill passed in its original form these Societies would be ruined by the fact that the foundation would be taken away from them. He could only hope that they had not seen the last of the Bill, and he trusted that before it passed into law it would be put into a shape which would enable these existing Societies to continue. He, however, held it was a fallacy to try and fasten down to the logical argument, and to say that whatever was good for existing Societies must be good for future ones. If they prohibited, as the Bill would do, all contracting out in future Societies, he believed employers would, before many years were over, find it to their interests to form Societies, such as the numerous examples that existed at the present moment, where there was no contracting out. But it did not necessarily follow that these contracting-out Societies would abandon their contracting-out clauses at once. In course of time they would come to see that contracting out need not be essential. He drew a great distinction between employers saying at this moment that contracting out was an essential condition and the necessity for contracting out for the future. The best illustration he could give to the House of that well-founded belief was, to a large extent, to be found in the Great Eastern Railway Company's Society, which Society gave compensation just as good—and in some respects slightly better—as the London and North Western Society. This Society in connection with the Great Eastern Railway had existed for 11 years, or ever since the Employers' Liability Act was passed. Contracting out was not a feature of it in any way whatever; men were not even asked to contract out, and during the whole of the 11 years the Employers' Liability Act had been law only nine actions for damages had been brought by railway servants, so well content had the men been with the Society minus contracting out There had been an honourable understanding, and he was perfectly convinced, and always had been, that men would so rely upon the advantages of these Mutual Insurance Societies that they would never desire to go to law, and, therefore, contracting out was really somewhat immaterial from one point of view or the other. But where employers insisted on contracting out, as they did at the present time, then he was exceedingly anxious that existing Societies should be preserved, and if the House of Lords had put in an Amendment limited to existing Societies he should have given it his strongest support just as when it was before the House on an earlier occasion. If that belief was well-founded he would urge this further consideration to support his view: that there was nothing in the Bill in its original form, and as it left that House a month ago, to prevent a man contracting himself out after his injury had occurred, and it might well be a condition of these Societies that, if tm injured workman took the compensation of the Mutual Society after the accident happened, he waived his right to bring an action under the Act. He was afraid that if they were to have contracting out allowed for future Societies, in the sort of panic which would probably seize the minds of many employers immediately after the passing of the Act, and before they had had time to see its working, there would be a general endeavour made to induce workmen to contract out. That was really the history of the Act of 1880. If the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company, or of the London and Brighton Railway Company, or local colliery owners, had waited a year or two to see the operations of the Act, they would have found there was no need to ask the men to contract out of it. If they were now to allow employers in a sort of panic, not knowing how the Act would work, to go to their men and urge them to contract our, and put that mild or severe form, as the case might be, of moral pressure upon them, thou they would find that the men, from a desire to please their employers, would, in very large numbers, vote in favour of contracting out. Reference had been made by the last Member to the question of the ballot of the London and North Western Railway. That ballot was as fairly conducted as if was possible for any ballot to be. He had not the slightest sympathy with, and did not believe for a moment in, the allegations made from time to time as to the unfair way in which that ballot was taken. But that did not affect his argument, that if employers were extremely anxious to escape from their liability under this Bill they could put pressure on in a very uncomfortable way indeed. He was going to trouble the House with an instance not of oppression or intimidation before the ballot, but what be much regretted to say was in his view an act of oppression after the ballot. It was very largely owing to the facts that had come before him in connection with a case that happened at Crewe that he bad finally made up his mind to give the vote he intended to give to-day, and he had distinctly to charge some of the officials of the London and North Western Railway in Crewe with a deliberate and calculated attempt to contrive punishment for, with a view to getting rid of, one of their best workmen, who had served them faithfully for 21 years, and whose sole crime, in addition to being a very ardent Liberal and Trades Unionist, was that he had taken an active part in not merely himself voting against the Insurance Society at this recent ballot, but also in urging other men to vote against it. While he repeated that that ballot was fairly taken, still ho said that this man had been picked out for punishment mainly because of the action he took upon that occasion, and also because of the general objection which the officials in the Crewe works had to Trades Unionism and to prominent Liberals. And further, if a man could be made to suffer in that way, he should show the House it would afford the House good reason for rejecting the Lords Amendment. This man would not merely be made to suffer by losing his old employment, but he would be liable to be expelled from the Trade Society of which he was it member for 21 years, and from which he was now entitled to a pension or allowance of 5s. a week. That was a serious charge to make, and he made it on his full responsibility, and with the greatest amount of knowledge which he had been able to obtain. The man whose case he referred to was a middle-aged man named Braid, who had been 21 years in the service of the company as a brass finisher, had not lost a day a year, and had never had any fault found with him. He would undertake to say he was one of the best workmen in the whole of the company's works. He had been well-known as a prominent and ardent Liberal and a Trades Unionist, and as he had said, in an evil moment for him, he took an active part in exercising his private judgment in regard to the ballot. The ballot took place in October, and on December 1 Braid was sent for to the manager's office, and was peremptorily told that he must leave Crewe and go to Warrington in order to work in the steam shed as a fitter, and this, not with standing his repeated assertions that he was not and never had been a fitter and could not work as a fitter—belonging to a different trade altogether—namely, that of a brass finisher. He was requested peremptorily by the deputy manager to say whether he would go to Warrington or not. This was on the Friday, and ho was told he would have to break up his home and start on the following Monday. He was a bachelor, so that this was not so great a hardship as it would otherwise have been. He stated that he was not a fitter, but a brass finisher, but it was pointed out to him that he was entered on the books as a fitter. This was a curious circumstance, seeing that for 20 years Braid had been working as, and had been known to be, a brass finisher. The man regarded his acceptance of the situation at Warrington as the only alternative to his dismissal from the service of the company, and proceeded to Warrington. On his arrival there he informed the manager that he had been sent from Crewe as a fitter, but confessed that he could not do the work of a fitter, as he was by trade a brass finisher. He was there upon sent back again to Crewe, and when ho applied for reinstatement in his old position he was told that he could not have it, as another man was filling it, and that he had been paid off. The wages he would have got at Warrington were at the same rate, but at Crewe he was on short time. For three days ho tried to get back his work, but was again told by both the deputy manager and the manager that they had done with him, and he was paid off. At length, however, he received message that he could start as a fitter, and being anxious not to lose his work or fall into what he believed to be the trap of refusing to work, he agreed to continue as a fitter for the time; but if he remained a fitter he would be expelled from his Trade Union, would lose the accumulated savings resulting from 21 years' membership of that Union, and he would, therefore, either have to leave Crewe altogether or have to remain as a fitter. The man had protested against this treatment, and he (Mr. M'Laren) had done everything he could to obtain a friendly settlement of this question. Ho had appealed to Lord Stalbridge, the Chairman of the company, the Deputy Chairman, and the Directors. There was not a single man in Crewe who did not believe that Braid was attempted to be got rid of in this way because he was a prominent Liberal and because of the action he took in regard to the Employers' Liability Bill. The object had been to get him away from Crewe, or to give him such work that he could not remain in that town. But in any case it was no satisfaction to a man suddenly to be taken away from the work he was doing and put to another class of work of which he knew nothing; and it was not the sort of treatment that 21 years' faithful service entitled a man to expect. Although the whole of the evidence upon which this charge was based was circumstantial, it was cumulative evidence, and he thought the case was only too well grounded. He thought the man had been made the victim of his independence. He was quite aware some of the leading officials had denied they knew anything whatever about Braid's opinions. He had been quite candid with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, he believed, intended to follow him. He had told him he intended to bring this matter before the House, and he was perfectly prepared to bow to the judgment of the House. He (Mr. M'Laren) had written to Lord Stalbridge, the Chairman of the company, upon the subject, and his reply was that he had discovered a mare's nest. That was not the way to approach such a subject, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman, even if he repudiated his interpretation of the facts connected with this statement, to declare and to give an assurance that no workman in the employ of the London and North Western should be in any way ever prejudiced for any action politically or in connection with the Trade Societies which he might take outside the works and outside his working hours. It was the right of an Englishman to exercise a free and independent judgment so long as it did not interfere with his daily occupation. He confessed that the treatment of this man had largely influenced him in the matter of the discussion. He did not retract what ho had stated about the value of these Societies, nor what he had stated about the desire of the London and North Western men to maintain these Societies, and he should consider it a. great misfortune if that Society was in any way damaged or broken up; but, having regard to the scope of the Amendment of the House of Lords, he felt he could not vote in its favour.

MR. PLUNKET (Dublin, University)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had no idea of taking part in this Debate had it not been for the speech we have just listened to, because, although I am myself prepared most cordially to support the Amendment which has been made in this Bill in another place, I had an opportunity, by the indulgence of the House, of stating my views on the subject on a previous occasion, and I should not have troubled the House again now. I am sure, however, that the House, having given its hearing to the attack which has just been made upon certain officials of a company which has been very much under the consideration of the House during all these Debates, will allow me for a very few minutes to state some facts in answer to what has been said. I will undertake to show to the House that this is the thinnest case that has ever been brought before it of an alleged grievance, and if the Chairman of the London and North Western Railway Company did describe it as a mare's nest it really was a description which, I think, every Member of this House will be prepared to give to it when he has heard the few words I have to say respecting it. I do not enter into other topics here, because I know there are other Members of the House who are well entitled to give their views on the subject, and I desire simply to apply myself to the matter of fact which the House has just now listened to. Of course, I am very sorry the hon. Member for Crewe does not intend to vote with us upon this occasion. I remember his able advocacy upon the last Debate upon this subject, and I deeply regret that he should not see his way now to support this Amendment. But, Sir, I cannot agree with him that by not supporting the Amendment on this occasion he can relieve himself from responsibility by any hope that any change may be made at a later stage. Sir, the Government have held out no hope whatever. When this matter was before the House on a previous occasion they resisted it in the most uncompromising fashion; and while that may be very good reason for drawing cheers from some of their supporters, the fact remains that it does not give a shadow of hope to the hon. Member for Crewe or anybody else interested in the support of these voluntary Societies that when this Bill passes into law their doom will be even for a moment postponed. Therefore the fact remains that the vote of the Member for Crewe—who was such a zealous advocate of the exemption of these Societies on a former occasion, and who has to-day reiterated every argument that he put forward on that occasion in their support—will be added, I am afraid, to the votes of others in the Division, which will, in all probability, have the effect of destroying these Societies which the Bill proposes to protect. What are the facts of this case, which the hon. Member has very frankly said—and it was an amazing statement—is the reason why he should give his vote on this occasion against this Amendment? Was there ever heard such a reason adduced in the House of Commons? Listen now to the great tale of grievance. I can only say that, so far as Braid has actually suffered or been put in a worse position by his transference from one part of the works at Crewe to another—for that is what it comes to—I sincerely regret it; but as I will show the House in a few minutes, it is simply a misfortune, which he shares with numbers of other men not only at the Crewe works and other parts of the London and North Western Railway system, but throughout all parts of the country. Owing to the unfortunate state of trade at the present time, a circumstance which has peculiarly affected the particular business in which this man was engaged, it had been necessary to transfer him from a particular shop at Crewe where he was not wanted to another shop where he could do good work, where be has ever since been doing good work, and where he is receiving exactly the same wages as he was receiving before. The first that was heard of this serious grievance by the authorities of the London and North Western Railway Company was on the 9th of December, when a letter was received by the Chairman of the company from the hon. Member for Crewe, in which the statement was contained that the officials at Crewe had, inconsequence of this man's vote and the action he took with reference to this contracting out clause, dismissed him from his employment; that it was a piece of deliberate persecution on their part; that it could not be said this was done on account of slackness of work—no ground had ever been given for that argument—and that the man had only been put in another place at Crowe in consequence of the dread of some great disclosure taking place. That charge, to a certain extent, has been repeated this evening. What is the answer? This man was not dismissed or discharged at all. He was simply ordered to proceed from a workshop at Crewe, where there was no longer sufficient work to give him employment unless some other men were dismissed, and to go to a place where there was work. Some man had to leave, and Braid was taken not in the least degree on the grounds which the hon. Member has slated, but because he was the man in that shop who, according to the general condition of service, it was the most convenient to transfer. Amongst other reasons was the fact that he happened to be a bachelor, a misfortune bad enough in itself, but which brought further misfortune upon him. He was selected for this terrible exile and penal servitude. What does this exile and penal servitude come to? He was sent away from a shop where there was little work to do, and where the men had to be put on short time to a shop at Warrington, he being on the company's books as a fitter, being always believed by the company to be able to do fitter's work, and actually doing fitter's work now to the entire satisfaction of his employers. He was sent away to work at Warrington at a considerable increase of pay on the instant. I am sorry to have to waste the time of the House on such absurd charges as these. These officials whom the hon. Member charges are as honourable as anyone in this House, as honourable as the hon. Member himself, and I say he has no right to make these charges. What really happened? If the House will allow me I will give the explanation in the words of Mr. Earle, who is next in command to Mr. Webb, at the Crowe works, and who made the changes and is responsible for what is done. Mr. Earle in his letter says— In the first place he was not discharged, but transferred to the running shed at, Warrington; and when he told the foreman of the shed that he could not do the work, as he was not a fitter, the foreman of the shed sent him hack to Crewe. I then gave instructions for him to be put into No. 2 erecting-shop, where he is now working as a fitter. So far as I myself am concerned, I can absolutely declare that I had not the faintest notion, nor could I have had, of the part taken by Braid in the contracting-out clause—


May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for one instant? The right hon. Gentleman says Mr. Earle states— I then gave instructions for him to he sent to the Crewe works. It was not until after repeated applications had been made to Mr. Earle and protests made by this man against his treatment that he was taken back at Crowe. Mr. Earle had for three days refused to give him work, and had said he was paid. off.


I daresay it might have been inconvenient for him to take him back at the time. But the question is not whether he was given a place at once or was given a place or not, but the question is—is it persecution or is it not? The letter goes on— So far as I myself am concerned, I can absolutely declare that I had not the faintest notion, nor could I have had, of the part taken by Braid in the contracting out clause; neither have I or any other man in the works. The matter has been left entirely to the men, and I have taken good care to have nothing to do with it. At the time Braid was sent to Warrington he was working only four days per week, and his wages would amount to about £1 3s. 1d. At the shed he would have been on full time, and from the average wages received by the fitters stationed there it would have been an advantage to him of about 10s. to 12s. per week. So that we have the absolute declaration that he was not dismissed, and that this gentleman took no part in any transactions relating to contracting out. I ask the House to attend to this: The letter proceeds— Several other men from the same shop, owing to slackness, have been transferred to running sheds to avoid discharging or picking up outsiders, and since May last 180 men from various parts of the works have been discharged for various reasons, as it was necessary to reduce the staff through general slackness. Slackness is peculiar to those sheds among the branch of workmen who are fitters or brass finishers. There is a distinction, I believe, though the work is practically the same, and Braid has been generally employed upon brass finishing; he has been, however, employed as a fitter, and is now employed in that way. A sentence or two more from Mr. Earle: In a subsequent letter he says— With regard to the allegation you say has been made that another man has been put in place of fitter Braid, it is totally untrue. Formerly six men were engaged on this work in the shop to which Braid was attached, slackness came on, arid one man died. He was not replaced. Lately the work further fell off, and fitter Braid was transferred, and now, as it is reduced still more, it will be necessary after the holidays to either discharge or find other employment for another man doing similar work to Braid. These men are graded on our books as fitters, and the only difference between their work and that of ordinary fitters is that they work on brass generally, while the latter work on iron and brass indifferently. We did the best we could for Braid and others under the circumstances, and by transferring them to other shops and running sheds avoided discharging during the winter months. We thought him in every way a suitable man for shed work, where his knowledge of the repairing of brass fittings, &c, would be useful. The House will see that the charge is totally unfounded. I asked Mr. Webb whether there was no possibility of sending this man back to the shop where be was formerly employed. The answer I have received is that Braid has always been a very good workman, but if there was an opportunity of replacing him, consistent with justice to other people, and if times improve, and they are able to fill the sheds, there is no reason why fitter Braid should not be put back there as well as anyone else. As to the question of the money he may lose in this Society I cannot imagine that the Rules of the Society are so stringent and cruel as to withhold any money due, and if a place can be found for him within a reasonable time I, for one, shall be glad to hear of his reinstatement. But I cannot hold out any hope that this man will be treated different from anybody else among the workmen. He will receive as much justice and no more favour than anyone else in the works. It is absurd to think that at a time when feeling is so high regarding this Amendment—it is absurd to say that at such a time an attempt would be made to punish this man. As a proof that he was treated quite independently of outside agitation, I may mention that he was sent to Warrington on the 4th and reinstated at Crewe on the 7th, and no one had the slightest idea that any such charge as this was to be brought forward. I say it has been the practice of this company—and I defy anyone to prove the contrary—to deal fairly with their men, wholly apart and independent from what their politics or their views upon this or any other legislation may be. In that course they would continue. I thank the House extremely for the attention it has given me.

MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)

I have great difficulty, Sir, in understanding the position of the hon. Member for Crewe. I am not going to deal with the facts of the case which has just been disposed of by my right hon. Friend; I want to confine my attention to the position which the hon. Member for Crewe has taken up in this House. The hon. Gentleman proposed, not long ago, an Amendment to except contracts made by the London and North Western Railway and other companies from the operation of this Bill. He asked us to adopt that Amendment on the ground that it would be beneficial to the men present and future. That we freely and fully consented to do. He convinced us by his argument—even Members of the host of Heaven on the opposite (the Liberal) Benches were drawn away from their allegiance. On what ground does he now turn round and ask the House to reject the Amendment which the House of Lords has proposed? It carries out everything that the Amendment of the hon. Member proposed, and something more. It enables the servants of other employers to secure to themselves those great benefits which the London and North Western Railway Company, in the estimation of the hon. Member for Crewe, have already secured for themselves. Does the hon. Member think that he is entitled to vote against this Amendment because, instead of being confined to narrow limits, it gives what he deems a benefit and advantage to the servants of other employers? No reasonable man would address such an argument to the House. The tale of the hon. Member about the brass-finisher has been demolished. The hon. Member does not pretend that the majority of the London and North Western men are persecuted into voting for the scheme; and, therefore, what is the relevancy of the tale of woe that he has presented to the House? I fear the spirit of Party has come over the hon. Member's mind, and he has snatched at this pretended grievance to justify himself in voting against his previous declaration.


said, that, on the contrary, he expressly stated that if the House of Lords had put in an Amendment limiting it to existing Societies he would have supported it as strongly as he had supported it before.


What ground has the hon. Member to justify him in that view? Why should not future Societies which may spring into existence be as beneficial as that of the Loudon and North Western? The hon. Member has given no reason except the case of the brass finisher. I shall watch with interest the votes of those supporters of the Government who voted for the Amendment the other day, and I hope that their constituents will take notice of their change of front, and the reasons they assign for it, and I hope the reasons which they give to justify their action will be as satisfactory to them as they are unsatisfactory to me. Turning to the substance of the Debate, it seems to me that there was a fallacy running through even the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Amendment—the fallacy of misrepresenting and exaggerating the effect of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, and others who have followed him, spoke as if the Bill increased or improved the remedies against the employer for his own negligence. It does nothing of the sort. The Bill adds no tittle to the securities provided centuries since by the Common Law to make the employer responsible for his own negligence. The only thing the Bill does is to make the employer liable for the negligence of all his servants, and not merely of the foreman or his direct representative. It is a deceptive platitude to tell the working men of this country that this extension of vicarious responsibility is any contribution to the security of their lives and limbs. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham has entirely disposed of that argument. The servant is not made more careful by additional liability being imposed on his employer—liability for accidents beyond his control. That is the sole effect of the Bill. What measure of benefit will it confer upon the workmen? What number of cases will it affect? The Home Secretary, without giving the grounds for his conclusion, said that 25 per cent, of the accidents that occurred would come under this Bill. I have done my best to get an estimate, but there are no satisfactory materials for arriving at a safe conclusion on this matter. But with the exception of cases at sea, I think from 6 to 10 per cent., rather than 25 per cent., as suggested by the Home Secretary, of the accidents that occur would receive a remedy under this Bill. But taking the Home Secretary's figure, we are only going to affect 25 per cent.; and you reject an Amendment that would give the workman a remedy in the other 75 per cent. Such action requires strong arguments to defend it at all. I myself belong to the old-fashioned robust school who would leave the matter of contracting out absolutely free; and I cannot disguise my aversion to the theory which represents the workman as a person to be wrapped in cotton wool and surrounded with precautions. I know the Home Secretary has no respect for authorities preceding himself; but has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten the Report of the Committee of 1886? That Committee suggested clauses of which the Lords Amendment is an embodiment. They suggested that contracting out of the Act should only be admitted as a defence to the claim when it appeared that the contract gave the workman something equal to the advantages given under the law. In dealing with the matter in 1886 I found that provision very difficult to embody in an Act of Parliament, because the advantages given under the law are an uncertain quantity. But the Amendment substitutes for any other definite test the approval of the workmen. The ballot which this Amendment proposes is not a ballot to ascertain whether the workmen agree to contract out or not. It is a ballot to obtain the judgment of those best qualified to judge on the adequacy of the consideration given by the employer for contracting out of the Act—to ascertain whether there is a preponderance of opinion in favour of the adequacy of the consideration offered by the agreement, and whether it can be regarded as better than what is offered by the Act. The Homo Secretary has spoken of the unfairness of two-thirds of the workmen compelling the one-third to give up the benefits of the Act. But the ballot only follows upon an agreement already entered into. There is no coercion over anyone. The men must have already consented to contract out before they can vote. The Home Secretary points out how difficult it, would be for any outside authority like the Board of Trade to gauge the adequacy of the consideration given to the workmen. No doubt many considerations must be weighed in determining that point. But the men themselves, who know the risks and the chances of danger, are the best judges of the adequacy of the consideration and the fairness of the contract, and that is why the ballot is required. The Home Secretary further urges that a ballot is never desirable unless those who vote are in some way qualified and have some sort of registration. The men who take part in the ballot are both qualified and registered; for they best know the conditions of their employment, and they must be already signatories to the agreement. The Board of Trade might at least be trusted to enable the ballot to be taken with perfect safety. Surely the Board could ascertain whether two-thirds of the men approves the agreement into which they have entered. The Home Secretary is very angry because the Lords have added the precaution that the Board of Trade should certify that the compensation is reasonable. If the Government would consider the Amendment in a less hostile spirit, I should be quite ready to strike out the reference to the Board of Trade, because I do not think it adds security to the clause. What I rely upon is the approval of the men themselves. The right hon. Gentleman has been eloquent on the monstrosity of asking the Board of Trade to determine "reasonableness." But in an Act passed only a few weeks ago, dealing with the hours of labour of railway servants, it is provided that the Board of Trade is to satisfy itself as to whether there is "reasonable ground of complaint" against the Railway Company for not giving sufficient rest to its servants. And I find that, by that Act, the Railway and Canal Commission are to bring the actual hours of work within "reasonable limits." This is, indeed, a difficult task. And upon whose proposition is the duty imposed? I find on the back of the Bill the names of the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) and of the Home Secretary himself. That is what he is asked to do here. The right hon. Gentleman also protests that the suggestion which the House of Lords made, that the solvency of these Societies should be ascertained by a Public Department, is unreasonable. Let him move to strike that out. When he says it is ridiculous to suppose that a Public Department can investigate the solvency of Societies such as these, I think the right hon. Gentleman is forgetful of the legislation of the Friendly Societies Act, under which the Registrar of Friendly Societies performs exactly the same task that, according to this Amendment, is to be done by the Board of Trade. I cannot see that frequent tests of solvency would be necessary. When once you know the average number of workmen in a particular employment and the amount of contributions, the actuary would be in a position to give a certificate. These are not remote liabilities that will not be exhausted for years. These are funds to meet liabilities accruing from year to year. Moreover, the insolvency of the fund would be made apparent in time to enable workmen and masters to withdraw from the Agreement. I think, therefore, that the arguments adduced against this Amendment do not carry sufficient weight to induce the House to reject the proposal. Weight has not been added to the argument by the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the election at Accrington or to what a particular candidate may have found it expedient to say during a contested election. We all of us know that the influence of the Trade Unions is hostile to this Amendment, and that in Lancashire the Trade Unions are especially powerful. I think it is very likely that in Accrington the views of the Trade Union are predominant. But, on the other hand, we are also aware that among the supporters of the Government who are not under the influence of the Trade Unions there are those who have admitted that where the men are allowed to have their way they take an opposite view to that of the Unions. The hon. Baronet the Member for Durham (Sir J. Pease) made a speech announcing his intention to support the Government, but every argument ho used was in favour of the Amendment. The hon. Baronet referred to a Friendly Society in his constituency to which owners and miners contribute, and pointed out that there has been a gradual increase in its numbers.


There is no contracting out.


I think the hon. Baronet stated that there was a sort of honourable feeling between master and men that no action should be brought. Under the small liability of the present Act masters are willing to rely upon that kind of honourable feeling on the part of their men, and I should, myself, be content to see that system prevailing; but under the largely increased liability which this Bill will create, masters will hardly be content to be shot at from both sides—that is to say, to pay large contributions and be open to actions at law. All the evidence that is before the House tends to show that the proposal in the Bill has alarmed employers. I own that I do not share the alarm of the employers to any extent, but that alarm exists very largely, and the considerable extension of liability under this Bill will be what employers without any reproach to themselves will be anxious to safeguard against. I agree that the tendency of the Bill is to increase the desire for contracting out, but I differ from the opinion of the Home Secretary that that is an undesirable thing. I have more respect for the Committees of this House than the right hon. Gentleman has, and I find that the Committee of 1888 said that the Act of 1880 was useful in many ways, and that among other things it had given a stimulus to the establishment of provident funds and associations. I believe that if contracting out is allowed in thi-Bill a much more useful stimulus will bl given to employers to make liberal pros vision for their workmen, and I shale therefore support the Amendment.



MR. Secretary Asquith rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 151.—(Division List, No. 389.)

Question put accordingly.

The House divided:—Ayes 213; Noes 157.—(Division List, No. 390.)

Line 22, after Clause 5, to insert Clause (a)—

(Notice to be given by seamen.)

"(a) A seaman intending to claim compensation for personal injury shall give notice in writing, stating, in ordinary language, the nature of the injury, to the master of the vessel on which he is employed, who shall forthwith enter a copy of the notice received into the official log of the vessel, or to the owner of the vessel, within three months from the date of his sustaining such injury, and the action shall be commenced within three months of the seaman's arrival at any port of the United Kingdom. Provided always, that if on the hearing of the case the plaintiff can show to the satisfaction of the Court that, by reason of the nature of his injury, or otherwise, it was impossible for him to give such notice as aforesaid, the Court shall dispense with such notice, and shall hear and decide the case as though such notice had been duly given,"


I am going to ask the House also to disagree with this Amendment. The Amendment proposes that, in the case of a seaman who has been injured, before he can bring an action under the Act he must give notice, and the action itself must commence within three months of his arrival in the United Kingdom. The Court has power to dispense with the notice under certain conditions. I understand that the object of this Amendment is to guard shipowners against what is supposed to be the difficulty of procuring evidence to rebut claims for accidents of this kind when the accident has occurred on the high seas. I myself was disposed at one time to attach some weight to that consideration; but, on further consideration, I came to the conclusion that the case of the shipowner really does not differ substantially to his disadvantage from that of other employers. As a matter of fact, the seaman will, as a rule, be at a much greater disadvantage if he does not bring his action promptly than any other class of workmen, because a seaman, as a rule, is a member of a crew which disperses at the close of a voyage, and unless he brings his action promptly he runs the risk of not being able to procure the witnesses necessary to prove his case. I think, therefore, that the shipowner who employs a master and officers for a number of voyages is really in a better position than any seaman is likely to be who makes a claim against him. Then I may point out that, the object of this Bill being to place the workman on the same footing as a third person, there is no provision of the law which requires a passenger on board ship either to give notice of his intention to bring an action or to bring the action within a limited period of time, and I do not see why the seaman should be placed in a worse position than the passenger in this respect. Further, I do not think it is desirable that we should put seamen in a. separate category from all other workmen. Great hardship might easily be said to arise if, when every other class of workman had the ordinary statutory period within which to bring his action the seaman had to bring his action within three months of his landing in this country. As to the provision allowing the Court to dispense with notice, I may point out that our experience under the Act of 1880 of such a dispensing power is a very unfavourable one, for this reason: that it is not until you come into Court, having gone to the whole expense of preparing for the trial, having got your witnesses there, prepared your case and instructed your solicitor and counsel, that you know whether or not the notice which has been given is regarded by the Court as sufficient. That is a matter of great hardship and injustice, and while I agree that the object of the Amendment is a good one, I fear that the practical effect would be to make litigation hazardous and uncertain. I trust, therefore, that the House will agree to the Motion I now make, that we disagree with the Lords Amendment.

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

MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said that, as a representative of a seafaring constituency, he very much regretted to hear the decision of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the fact that at the termination of a voyage a crew dispersed must tell heavily against the sailor, but not against his employer. On what ground did the right hon. Gentleman arrive at that conclusion? Undoubtedly crews did disperse as a general rule at the termination of a voyage, but he (Mr. Lowther) had yet to learn why this fact should tell so decidedly, in the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, in favour of the one side rather than of the other. The right hon. Gentleman said that the owner at any rate retained the services of the master and the mate. The right hon. Gentleman Forgot that very likely the master and mate would go on another voyage and would not be available when the time came to give evidence. Whilst the Lords Amendment afforded all reasonable opportunity in bonâ fide actions, its object was to put a stop to attempts to levy blackmail and to vamp up fictitious proceedings with the view of obtaining costs under conditions which were obviously unfair to one of the litigants. If a man had a bonâ fide claim against the owner of a vessel, why should he not make it at the earliest opportunity? Of course it was only right that provision should be made for cases in which the person injured might be precluded by circumstances over which he had no control from initiating legal proceedings, and the Court was therefore empowered to dispense with notice. He was of opinion that the effect of the scattering of a crew would more unfavourably affect the owner than the sailor. The object of the Amendment was simply to prevent actions being tried under circumstances which would be highly disadvantageous to one of the litigants, and he hoped, therefore, the House would concur in the Lords Amendment.

MR. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)

I do not think that this question should be disposed of in the way proposed without a word from someone who can speak as a practical shipowner. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) has placed this matter before the House as if the shipowner and the seaman were equally at a disadvantage in regard to obtaining evidence in the event of an accident occurring and the crew being dispersed. It appears to me that that is not the case at all. Surely it is for the seaman who is seeking compensation for an injury to give at the earliest possible date after the occurrence of the accident an intimation to the shipowner or the master of the ship that he has been injured. It cannot be regarded as being any hardship whatever to a seaman seeking compensation that he should be under compulsion to give notice within a reasonable time after the accident. The crow of most vessels—I should think of 95 per cent, of the whole—are employed simply for oik1 voyage, and at the termination of that voyage they disperse and seek engagements in other vessels. The shipowner knows nothing about the men who are employed in his vessel. As far as he is concerned, there are only a certain number of names appearing on the ship's articles, and he does not know whore they live or where they can, after the voyage, be found. If he is not to be informed within a reasonable time that an accident has occurred all chance of his obtaining evidence on the subject will be destroyed by the disappearance of the crew. A seaman on a voyage lives in close connection with his mates on board. He knows where they live and can find them at any time. Therefore, as regards the question of the relative positions of the two parties, the seaman is much more favourably situated than the shipowner. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the objection to placing seamen in a separate category from other workmen. If, however, a mine-owner or a manufacturer employs a large number of men the bulk of them remain in his employment from year's end to year's end, and if one of them meets with an accident and delays bringing an action to recover compensation until six months afterwards the employer will still be able to go to the other men and obtain from them particulars as to the cause and the consequence of the accident. It is not so with the shipowner, who, after any such period has elapsed, will have no means of finding evidence. It is suggested that the master or other officer of the ship would be able to give evidence; but the accident may have happened without the knowledge or information of the master or officer. The only witnesses whose evidence would be of value would be the men serving in the forecastle with the seaman who says he has been injured. I do hope that the House will agree to the Lords Amendment, as otherwise a great injustice will be done to a large and important industry. It must be borne in mind that a very large number of British vessels are employed abroad, trading from one foreign port to another, the crow being shipped before the British Consul at one port and discharged before the British Consul at the other. The owner lives in this country, and will have even greater difficulty than the owner whose vessels trade to and from British ports in tracing the men who have been in his employment. It is, in my opinion, very desirable to limit the time for the commencement of the action to three months from the date of the seaman's arrival in this country, so that some opportunity may be given to the shipowner to obtain evidence.

* MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)

wished, as one who represented both shipowners and sailors, to say a few words on the Amendment. He felt that the Home Secretary did not intend to do the least injustice to the shipowner, but thought that the very fact that the right hon. Gentleman had had some scruple as to how he should treat the Amendment was an encouragement to its supporters to think that he might give it a more favourable consideration than he had done. He (Mr. Lawrence) should not advocate the acceptance of an Amendment which would in his opinion unduly favour the shipowner to the disadvantage of the sailor. He supported the Amendment because he thought it safeguarded the sailor from any hardship that might otherwise come upon him in the matter of notice. Clearly the position of the seafaring class was different from that of men who were employed on land. The House had up to a few months ago by its Select Committee and by Division after Division affirmed that there was a real distinction between employment on sea and employment on land. It would be obviously most prejudicial to a shipowner if, long after his ship's company had dispersed, he had an action brought against him for an injury of which he never had an account. The sailor's interests were, as he had said, fully safeguarded by the terms of the Amendment, and if the House passed it they would simply remove a feeling of injustice and a sense of uncertainty as to the risk which was now prevalent in many minds with reference to the position of the shipowner under the Bill.

* MR. BUCKNILL (Surrey, Epsom)

said, there seemed to be some forgetful-ness as to what took place in the House of Lords when the Amendment was introduced. Viscount Cross, who proposed the Amendment, said that the signatories of Petitions—


I must point out to the hon. and learned Member that it is out of Order to refer to the Debate in the House of Lords.


said, he, of course, bowed to the Deputy Speaker's ruling, and would merely say that it was a matter of common knowledge that nine-tenths of the Mercantile Marine of this country were anxious that some such Amendment should be inserted in the Bill and asked that it should be inserted in "another place." It was stated in effect in the House of Lords that there was at all events an excellent principle in one part of the Amendment—namely, the principle of a limitation of the time in which actions could be brought. He had not heard a word said against that principle during the present discussion and he submitted that the principle was a good one. He had had many years' experience in the Admiralty Court, and had experienced the difficulty that this or that fact could not be proved because the only man who could prove it had been discharged on arrival at an out-port and had not been seen since. If such a state of things was in existence as would make it difficult for justice to be done between man and man, surely both sides of the House ought to agree to an Amendment which would tend to decrease the difficulty.

MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)

I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has, as he told us, changed his mind on this subject. Only this morning I was reading an account of the deputation of shipowners which lately waited upon him and laid before him the grievances felt by t hem—namely, that under the Bill as it stands the witnesses would disappear before the action came on for hearing and even before they knew that any action was going to be brought. The right hon. Gentleman admitted to the deputation that the shipowners had made out a real and substantial grievance in that respect and, as I understood his words, he promised to give his best consideration to the objection they had brought forward. He has given us to-day the result of his reflections upon the difficulty, and what he says in substance is this: that the seaman will be at as great a disadvantage as the shipowner himself. Now, I beg to traverse that statement, because the main argument of the right hon. Gentleman is that the seaman by his own evidence can make out a primâ facie case. He will always be able to say how the injury sustained by him was caused, and to whose negligence it was due, however long may be the time that has elapsed since the accident occurred. On the other hand, ought we to shut our eyes to the fact? [Cries of "Divide!"] I really do not know who the gentlemen are who think that 10 minutes are too much to devote to the discussion of an Amendment the rejection of which may vitally affect one of the greatest industries in the country. Are we, I ask, to shut our eyes to the universal custom under which the shipping industry is carried on—namely, that the crew do not remain in the employment of the same shipowner, but are discharged when the voyage comes to a termination?

It being half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.