§ [FIRST NIGHT.]
§ Order for Consideration, as amended by the Standing Committee, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now considered."
§ *MR. TOMLINSON (Preston) moved, "That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House." He said, this Motion originally stood in the name of the right lion. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who was, however, unable to be present in his place that day; and the reason he gave for submitting it when the other was withdrawn was that he believed it to be the opinion of many Members that as a question of procedure it was desirable the Bill should be considered by the whole House. He had no connection with the light hon. Gentleman's Motion previously on the Paper. The importance of the Bill under consideration was his principal reason for moving the Resolution. He regarded the Bill as one of primary importance. It was a measure which would have wide-reaching effects both on the happiness of the workmen and upon the conditions under which they carried on their work. It might also have far-reaching consequences on the industries in which they were engaged, and upon the permanence and satisfactory conditions under which the enterprise of the country was carried on. A careful study of what had been said inside and outside the House, and of the various Amendments which had been placed on the Notice Paper, must lead any unbiased mind to 452 the conclusion that, if the Bill was passed in its present form, though it might be open, on some grounds, to considerable objection from the employers' point of view, it would, on the other hand, leave many questions open and undetermined which were of interest to the workmen themselves. He had put down his Motion in no unfriendly spirit to the Bill. The subject of employers' liability was not one of recent interest to him. Before he had the honour of a seat in that House the subject had been largely discussed in his constituency; and he had always held the opinion that, if the question had been treated in the manner in which it was discussed in Preston and in sympathy with the large-minded views propounded by his learned predecessor, the late Sir John Holker, possibly some of the difficulties which this Bill was intended to meet would never have arisen, and they would have seen their way more clearly as to the method by which those difficulties should be met. He was one of those who foresaw some of the difficulties that had arisen in the working of the present Act. He had the honour of sitting upon the Committee of 1886, and discussing this subject, and, without saying that, the Report of that Committee was exactly the kind of Report he would have presented on his own responsibility, he largely concurred in what it recommended. The object was at the time to present the Report to Parliament before the Dissolution, and with that object the discussions in the Committee were somewhat curtailed. He (Mr. Tomlinson) was very anxious to address a few remarks to Parliament on the Second Reading of this Bill. Some statements were made which he thought were based upon misapprehension, and he was anxious to place some facts before the House which might modify the views that had been expressed. It was not his intention to make his Motion a peg on which to hang a Second Beading Debate. The ground on which he principally urged the proposal was that the Bill was not one of secondary importance, but one of first-class importance—a Bill which, in his view, was not one of that class which it was ever intended to submit to a Grand Committee, and this was borne out by the character of the Amendments which had been placed on the Paper. When it was remembered that many different minds 453 would be applied to the consideration of all aspects of this subject, naturally leading to much diversity of opinion, it would readily be acknowledged that those diversities could only be properly sifted and adjusted in Committee of the whole House. He knew it would be said in reply that the procedure was the same as that adopted by the late Government in the case of the Bill which they laid before the House. But he contended that the result of referring that Bill to a Standing Committee hardly justified the view then taken as to the mode of dealing with the question. It was disappointing that, after all the labour bestowed upon the Bill by the Committee, it should have been thrown away, and that the subject should have been loft to be dealt with by the present Parliament. Moreover, the two Bills, he would venture to assert, wore not exactly on the same footing. The object of the Bill of the late Government was to carry out the Report of the Select Committee. The object of that Report was not to put the subject of employers' liability on a new foundation; it was not intended to bring about a state of finality. Its main object was to correct certain proved defects in the existing law, and to endeavour to apply a remedy. In the present Bill the object of the Home Secretary was to produce a measure which would have about it the elements of finality; and a Bill which was finally to settle the relations of employers and employed for all time was one of such importance that it was due to the House of Commons that it should be discussed in Committee of the whole House. Though Standing Committees were useful tribunals for the consideration of Bills which might be described as of second-class importance, and for dealing within certain limits with definite subjects, they had failed to deal altogether satisfactorily with subjects of far-reaching character as in a Hill of this kind. He thought it was probable that the Bill would have been referred to a Committee of the whole House if it had not been that the attention of the House at that time was fully and closely occupied by the Home Rule Bill. The course actually taken was an attempt to put upon a Standing Committee that which ought to have been done by a Committee of the whole House. The Amendments on the Paper led inevitably to the con- 454 clusion that the proper mode of dealing with the Bill was by its reference to a Committee of the whole House, for they emanated from different parts of the House, and some of them at least were based upon the conviction that if finality was to be secured it could only be done after a more extensive consideration of the provisions of the Bill than could be given to it upon the Report stage. It appeared to him that the circumstances under which the discussion took place in the Standing Committee were not such as to give that weight to its deliberations which could be desired. The Bill affected so many interests in so many widely-different directions that it must be very much of a chance whether those Members who were best qualified to put the case before the Committee got on the Standing Committee at all. Besides the objection which might be taken to the personnel of the Committee, there was also the drawback that at the time of the Bill's reference to the Standing Committee they were under the influence of a great incubus, and while the nightmare of Home; Rule was upon them they really felt that no other subject could receive the amount of attention which was due to it. As he had said, he presumed the object of the Home Secretary was to bring about something like finality in this matter by his Bill. One of the first conditions of finality was that the Bill should settle, as far as practicable, every possible condition under which it was right that liability should arise on the part of employers; but he took it that it should be equally the object, in the interests of the country as a whole, to take care that the liability should be so fixed as not unfairly or unduly to load British enterprise, or otherwise they might drive that enterprise and the capital involved into foreign countries. They would be doing an ill service to the workmen of this country if they provided them with boons of various kinds without reference to the question whether the conditions under which their industries were carried on were so adverse as to give au undue advantage to foreign employers and foreign capitalists. Were they in a position to say that the present Bill, as it stood, did satisfy the conditions he had laid down, or were they likely to arrive at as clear a decision on the subject as if the measure 455 had been submitted to the more free and unfettered discussion which was possible in Committee of the whole House? He thought there would be enormous advantages in dealing with the Bill in Committee of the whole House. In the interests of his constituents he desired to see adequate attention given to the details of the Bill, even at the risk of spending a little more time upon it; but this adequate consideration could only be obtained by having the discussion in Committee of the whole House. There was, he was sure, no disposition in any quarter of the House to discuss important Amendments twice over; he and his hon. Friends would be satisfied with one discussion, provided it was granted in the most favourable circumstances. He did not know what would be the fate of the Resolution. However, if the Bill should not be considered in Committee of the whole House, and if the expectations of its promoters should not be realised in consequence, at any rate the fault would not be his. The fact would be due to the imperfect deliberations of the House, and he could say liberavi animam meam. He begged to move that the Bill be referred to a Committee of the whole House.
§ SIR E. HILL (Bristol, S.)
said, that in rising to second the Motion, he entertained no unfriendly spirit towards the principle of fair conpensation to workmen for injuries sustained in their employment. When the proposition was made to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee, he joined in the protest made by the Leader of the Opposition and other Members against such a course being adopted, and why the Standing Committee on Law should have been selected for the consideration of a Bill eminently connected with the commercial interests of the country he failed to understand. The Bill as drafted would prove of great advantage to lawyers perhaps, but the benefit of that useful and deserving class of gentlemen was not the object the promoters of the Bill professed to have in view. Surely it was a subject that directly touched the interests of many millions, that more or less affected the whole of the manufacturing industries, and was, indeed, a matter of vast importance to the whole 456 community. To him the subject was one which eminently should receive consideration from the whole House. All Members who had a knowledge of the matter should have an opportunity of bringing their views before the Legislature, and so perfect the measure. The House, after all, could not do very much in the way of legislation for the benefit of the working classes. The laws of supply and demand could not be controlled, and the working man could not be ensured continuous labour at satisfactory wages to himself. However, the House had an opportunity of conferring upon the workers a benefit which would be of the utmost possible comfort to themselves and their families. Members had been specially added to the Standing Committee, but they had rightly thought that their views would be better expressed in the House, and certainly the Notices of Amendments indicated a strong desire for a discussion, which for technical reasons could not be satisfactorily conducted on the stage of Report. He and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had put an Amendment on the Paper, and that Amendment, if carried, would necessitate the modification of new clauses; but, according to the usual procedure on Report, new clauses would be taken first, and new clauses could not be profitably considered until the final form of other clauses was settled. If the Amendment wore, considered first it would result in much saving of time. There were also other Amendments which ought to be discussed before the new clauses were considered. As the measure stood, it might not inappropriately be described as a Bill of limited liability on proof of negligence. These Amendments proposed to extend its operation to all classes of employés. Domestic servants and employés in arsenals and Government Dockyards were now included, and he would, at the proper time, try to extend the scope of the measure. If it were fairly discussed in Committee, he believed the result would be to give the working men of this country a great boon, and not, as would be the case under the Bill as it now stood, to give a Bill which would prove a source of hostility and ill-feeling between employer and employed—a feeling which they would all deplore as adverse to the interests of the State.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now considered," in order to add the words "re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'now considered' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
I desire to join my hon. Friends in their earnest appeal to the Government to accede to this Motion. It is, I think, safe to say that there has been no adequate Committee discussion of the Bill. In the Grand Committee the discussion was conducted almost exclusively by Members of one Party. The bulk of the Members appointed to serve on the Committee from this side of the House abstained from attendance. The Leader of the Opposition had previously declared that he did not consider, in the circumstances, that the plan of referring the Bill to the Standing Committee on Law was likely to have useful results. This measure, it should be borne in mind, differs from the Employers' Liability Bill of the late Government, which was referred to a Grand Committee. That Bill was really suitable for discussion by the Legal Grand Committee, for what it proposed to do was to remedy the defects shown to exist in the Act of 1880 by various decisions of the Courts, and the only novel principle in the measure was based on the recommendation of the Select Committee that sat in 1886. The present measure, however, will effect trade very seriously, and establish several important novel principles. For example, it will abolish the doctrine of common employment and prevent "contracting out" in circumstances gravely affecting the welfare of working men. The Standing Committee on haw is not the proper tribunal to discuss principles of such widely extending effect. Another reason why Members of the Opposition protested against attendance on the Standing Committee charged with the consideration of the Bill was that at the time their attention was absorbed by the Home Rule Bill. Such were the grounds on which we abstained from taking part in the deliberations of the Standing Committee. Whether we were right or wrong in the course which we took, the result certainly has been that the Bill 458 has not been adequately discussed. The case I am supporting is strengthened by the Amendments to the Bill of which notice has been given. Both Amendments and new clauses are brought forward on which there has been no Second Reading discussion, but which require to be fully discussed in Committee. There is one, of which I have myself given notice, with regard to seamen, and that will need adequate discussion. As to the Amendments on the clauses, it is clear that they will be more efficiently debated in Committee of the whole House rather than on the Report stage with the Speaker in the Chair, and that time will be saved by that course. So far as I understand the feelings of hon. Members on this side, I may say frankly that if this Motion is accepted we shall treat the Report stage as a formal stage, and the discussions in Committee will not then be renewed. On these grounds I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Motion. This is a matter in which we are all desirous of serving the working classes according to our different lights, and of causing that system to prevail which will be most beneficial to them.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
Whatever may be the purpose with which the Motion has been made, there cannot be the slightest doubt as to what would be its effect if it were adopted—namely, that it would be absolutely fatal to all chance of passing the Bill this Session. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has enlarged upon the superior facilities given in Committee for the discussion of matters of this kind as compared with those given on the Report stage. So far as the experience of the House goes, I think hon. Members will agree with me that those facilities mainly consist in the liberty which hon. Gentlemen have to speak more than once on the same subject; and although I accept with gratitude the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that if the Bill is sent back to Committee he will do all he can to contract the Report stage, yet, regarding the experience of the early part of the Session, I cannot share his sanguine view that such a result would ensue. Therefore, as a practical man, without 459 making any imputation of motives, I cannot regard the Motion in any other light than as one absolutely fatal to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the Bill introduces a number of new principles into the law, but I myself should prefer to say that it strikes away exceptions that are engrafted on the Common Law. But whether or not that is the true view of the case, does the right hon. Gentleman forget that the Bill has been discussed on Second Reading for four days, or for a portion of four days? That is the proper stage for the discussion of any novel principles, if there are such introduced into the law by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman evidently feels the awkwardness of the precedent of the conduct of his own Government and himself in relation to the Bill of 1888. That was an Employers' Liability Bill, which was introduced as conferring a great boon on the working classes of the country. After it was discussed for two days on the Second Reading—[Mr. J. E. ELLIS: Five hours]—it was referred to the very same tribunal as that to which the present Bill was referred—the Grand Committee on Law. How does the right hon. Gentleman distinguish between the two cases? By a very extraordinary argument—on the ground that his was a small, imperfect, and tentative measure, and that the Bill before the House is a drastic' one. I now come to the argument of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion. It appears to be that if a Bill which is really important, and which attempts to be final, is before the House, it ought not to be sent to a Grand Committee at all. [Mr. TOMLINSON: Hear, hear!] I cannot at all accept that principle. The view which I take of the matter, and which has been taken by the authorities of the House ever since the institution of Grand Committees, is that when we have a measure with these two characteristics—first, that it is of a nonparty character, and, next, that it deals with technical subject-matter—it is one which ought to be referred to a Grand Committee, whether of law or of trade. Does the present Bill satisfy those tests? Well, we have been assured that it is a non-Party measure, and in the next two or three days we shall be able to judge how far those assurances may be taken. There was no Division on the Second 460 Reading, and everyone who rose in the course of the Debate declared that he had the most friendly feeling for the Bill, and was only desirous to enlarge rather than contract its operation. Therefore I say the Government are justified in treating the measure as a non-Party one to go to a Grand Committee. Moreover, it is certainly a measure which deals with very technical subject-matter. In selecting the Grand Committee on Law rather than that on Trade as the tribunal to deal with it the Government was only following the precedent of their predecessors; and when the House has regard to the extremely technical questions, both of law and procedure, which a Bill of this kind raises, I believe it will admit that it was sent to the proper tribunal. As to the working of the measure, it is quite true, as the right lion. Gentleman has told us, that unfortunately—and I much regret it—a considerable number of the Select Committee abstained from attending. Some hon. Members sitting on the same side of the House, however, were better advised, and from those the Committee received very valuable co-operation. I can only say for myself that I never sat on a Committee which approached the consideration of a grave and serious subject in a more practical spirit or with better results. The House, if it compares the form of the Bill now with its form when it went into Committee, will agree with me in admitting that an improvement has been made; and this shows how satisfactory were the results of the discussion at that stage. I will not go into the question whether hon. Members were justified in abstaining from attendance on the Committee. It may be, as the hon. Member for Preston has said, that the minds of some among them were so absorbed and their nerves so shattered by constant attendance on the Home Rule Bill that they were incapable of attending to any other Parliamentary Business. But there were some Members of the hon. Member's Party who were equal to the occasion, and who favoured the Committee with their assistance. The conclusion to which I have come is that the Government cannot assent to the Motion. The Bill has been through Grand Committee, and is now on the Report stage. Every question, or almost every question, which has been raised on the new clauses or 461 Amendments on the Paper was discussed when the Bill was before the Grand Committee, and I can only regard the carrying of this Motion as fatal to the further progress of the Bill, and as frustrating the labours which Parliament has hitherto devoted to it.
§ * MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down enjoys in all our Debates one commanding advantage. During the not very many years he has been in this House he has not been frequent witness of the inconsistencies of his friends. Had he been so he would have known that there is this peculiar distinction between the case of the present Bill and that of 1888—that all who were supposed to represent the interests of labour in the Debate on the Bill of 1888 frequently invited the Government of the day to send that Bill to the Standing Committee, whereas the present Bill has been dealt with by the Standing Committee contrary to the protests of those who desired to enter upon its discussion. There is a further inconsistency in the right hon. Gentleman's position. If he proposes to appeal to authorities, I can give him some very weighty precedents, of the existence of which he is probably totally unaware. In 1890 the late Government introduced a Bill for the superannuation of the police, and a Motion was made to refer it to a Standing Committee. That proposal was received by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer with the most serious and earnest warnings that a reference to a Standing Committee would result in nothing but an additional and dilatory stage. Everything, he said, that was to be discussed in the Standing Committee would have to be discussed over again. The right hon. Member for Denbighshire (Sir G. Osborne Morgan), as Chairman of the Standing Committee, was appealed to. He, of course, showed no unreasonable unreadiness to back up his political chief; but he went even further, because he cited the Employers' Liability Bill of 1888 as having been a peculiarly unfortunate example of a reference to a Standing Committee. That Bill, when it came down to the House from the Standing Committee, had so many Amendments put down against it that it was clear that every question which had been discussed would have to be debated 462 over again. Not only on the question of reference to Standing Committees are authority and precedent dead against the Home Secretary; but the absence of leading Members of the Opposition from the proceedings of the Standing Committee is equally justified by precedent. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the very occasion to which I have referred, said—My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and myself are extremely anxious to render any assistance to the House, but we will take no part in the discussion in the Standing Committee.And no part did they take. "The Government have," as the right hon. Gentleman then said, "to conduct the discussion there themselves, and to take the responsibility themselves." That is what the Government have had to do in this case. The Home Secretary has conducted the discussions himself, and having had things pretty much his own way, he admires the quality of those discussions and the form he has been able to give to the Bill. The unfriendly reception of the Motion before the House is just what I should have expected from the right hon. Gentleman. His steady and persistent assumption that those who wish to discuss the Bill wish to defeat it, and delay its progress, does credit neither to his Parliamentary experience nor to his judgment as a statesman. I trust that the House will put aside these unworthy insinuations, and will treat with greater respect the undertakings of those who have greater experience even than the right hon. Gentleman.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
felt bound to repudiate in the strongest manner the insinuations of the Home Secretary that the Motion was intended to be fatal to the Bill. He himself greatly desired that the Bill should pass during the present Session, and believed that the delay in passing a measure on the subject had been most mischievous and most dangerous. The Home Secretary had said the Debate on the Second Reading had occupied four days. It had occupied part of four days, but on each occasion the Debate was interrupted by some circumstance or other. The days were not only broken, but were widely separated from each other; and he never knew a Debate which was less satisfactory, more disjointed, and more imperfect. He did not 463 regard this as a Bill which ought to have been referred to a Standing Committee. There were no doubt many Bills containing technical details which might with advantage be so referred; such, for example, as the Public Health for London passed by the late Government. The present measure, however, was one which involved important principles, and he thought it quite necessary that it should be discussed in Committee of the whole House. It was felt as a great hardship by many Members of the House that, not being Members of the Standing Committee, they could not take part in the discussion of the clauses. He himself was not willing that the interests of his constituents should be dealt with by delegation in a matter of this kind. The Members of the Standing Committee numbered 83, including 15 added by the Committee of Selection, but the highest number of votes recorded in any Division was 36, whilst the difference between the minority and the majority never exceeded five. Not only the attendance but the majority, therefore, had been most meagre. He must again repudiate the imputation that there was any desire to destroy the Bill.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
wished to say a few words respecting the statement of the late Under Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart Wortley), that the present Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) was in a somewhat different position from that occupied by the late Government in reference to the Bill of 1888, inasmuch as those who were spoken of as the Labour Members appealed to the Government in 1888 to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee. The hon. Gentleman's memory had misled him, because the Labour Members made quite the opposite appeal, and the whole strength of the argument addressed to the House by Mr. Broadhurst was that he had urged the Government to consider the Bill in Committee of the whole House, and they had refused to do so. The present Government, therefore, had taken exactly the same course as the Government of 1888. As regarded the time devoted to the consideration of the Second Beading, he found that, whilst in 1888 only four and a-half hours were occupied on the Second Reading stage, as many as 12 hours' discussion had been allowed on the Second Reading of the present Bill, 464 although he admitted that the Debate had been somewhat intermittent. As to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Crowe (Mr. W. M'Laren), the late Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) had said that little attention was given to it in Committee. He (Mr. Fenwick) held in his hand a verbatim report of what took place in the Grand Committee, and he could inform the House that the Amendment in question occupied the attention of the Committee for the whole of one Sitting, and over 30 speeches were delivered for or against it. It was not, therefore, fair to say that no adequate consideration was given to it. He had been surprised that the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) had attacked the personnel of the Committee. Amongst its Members were the late Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke), the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Gorst), the late Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews)——
§ * MR. TOMLINSON
said, he had not at all intended to criticise the personnel of the Committee, but had said it was quite a chance whether the Members had given special attention to particular points or not. There were Members of the House who were most competent to speak on some of the subjects in hand, but who were not Members of the Committee.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, he would not pursue the point further except to say that the Members of the Committee included most eminent legal gentlemen, very able and experienced gentlemen, who had large interests as employers of labour, and others who were directly associated with labour movements in the country, and were thus qualified to speak from the workmen's point of view. Altogether the Committee was a most competent tribunal for dealing with the question submitted to it. His experience was, that it was possible to have a fuller and more satisfactory Debate on a measure of this kind in a Grand Committee than in Committee of the House of Commons. This arose very largely from the fact that there were no public reports of the Debates in Grand Committee preserved in the records of the House. He was sure the desire of hon. Members, 465 on whichever side of the House they sat, was not to seek to obtain political advantage out of the Debates, their sole object being to make the measure intrusted to their care as satisfactory as possible. He considered, therefore, that in referring the Bill to the Grand Committee the Government took the course which was most likely both to secure the passing of the Bill during the present year, and also to insure a fuller and more satisfactory Debate of the important issues involved in the Bill.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, he knew of no subject of greater interest in the constituencies than this one of employers' liability, and he was sure it was the experience of large numbers of hon. Members that other subjects interested public meetings comparatively little as contrasted with the one with which the Bill now before the House dealt. His hon. Friend I he Member for Preston might be overwhelmed with "Home Rule on the brain," but that was not the condition of many other hon. Members, nor was it the case in the country. On the contrary, those who attended public meetings seemed to be gratified when the topic was avoided, and when their Representative devoted his speech to questions intimately connected with the daily life of the people. Undoubtedly, there was grave reason existing for amendment of the law on this question. The requirements as to notice of injury and of action had both worked in many cases great injustice to those who were employed. And if there were no other reason for taking action in this matter than the necessity for substituting what he might call rights for benevolence—because his experience had often been that the benevolence expired at the end of six weeks, when the rights had also terminated—that in itself justified the interest which was taken in the subject. For that reason when the Bill of the late Home Secretary was before the House though he did not take an active part in the Debate he did feel it his duty to do all he could to support a proposal which while it was not so complete as the present one was so eminently desirable in many respects that hon. Members opposed to the Government voted for if. Equally when the present Bill was referred to the Grand Committee, while he respected the feelings which led some of his Colleagues to abstain from participating in 466 its proceedings, and while he certainly respected the advice tendered in that direction, he did not feel that he was wanting in his duty in taking his part—with some others on his own side of the House—in discussing in Committee that most important measure and its details. Certainly this was in no sense of the term a Party subject. It was not a Party subject in the constituencies; for men of all Parties were agreed, not only as to the necessity of action, but as to the lines of such action, with one or two exceptions. There was another principle in connection with Standing Committees which had always been recognised, and that was Public Bills of an important character should be referred to them, while Private Bills ought not to. He heartily agreed with the view that Grand Committees dealt much more effectually with details than Committees of the Whole House could, and on that ground he thought there was ample reason, in addition to the precedent of the late Government, for referring this Bill to the Grand Committee. He would like to see the practice and principle of reference to Grand Committees considerably extended, because he held that had devolutions in that direction been taken earlier, some of the pressing questions of the present day would never have arisen. They were now being asked to re-discuss this Bill on Committee lines. He could not help thinking that there was a little inconsistency in those who suggested that the only subjects to be discussed in the House were Home Rule and the two Bills now under the notice of the House, and that in relation to one of them those who had taken part in the discussions in Committee should have the double duty assigned to them of joining in the discussions in the House. He ventured to say that that was not a satisfactory way of dealing with the Bill, and that it would not economise their time. Criticisms had been pronounced on the number of Members who regularly attended the meetings of the Committee, and as one who did so he was bound to say he did not think that those criticisms were justified by the facts. Indeed, he did not find that there was a general abstention of Members on the Opposition side. Of 40 Members who attended the first meeting, 12 or 13 belonged to the Unionist Party, and that certainly was not a very large disparity 467 of proportion. The subject was very fully discussed in the Committee. On some occasions concessions were made to meet the views of those who differed from the Government. It might be said that the Committee on Law was not the best one to which to refer the Bill. He confessed that personally he thought it would have been better to refer it to the Committee on Trade, but he was bound to add that among those who took part in the work of their Committee were several hon. Members largely identified with commercial life—several large employers of labour, who were certainly high authorities on the subject. It had been argued that if the Bill were not fully discussed in Committee of the Whole House they would increase the difficulty and danger of foreign competition. But he believed one of the first things necessary to reduce that competition was to establish the conditions of labour on the most proper, true, and just basis. It was notorious for a long time past that not only large Societies but individual workmen had felt that they were suffering an injustice, and no doubt the absence of equity had produced in the minds of the working classes a feeling of alienation from employers. While perhaps that feeling could not be said to have brought about industrial disputes, it had increased the distrust and led to that want of co-operation and good feeling which was the first basis of industrial success. The first step was to make the law relating to employer and employed just; to make the law equity in the best sense of the term; and he did not think that could be better achieved than by passing the Bill quickly through the House.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
said, that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary he was afraid the issue of the present Debate was a foregone conclusion; nevertheless, he felt that Opposition Members should place on record their strong protest against the course which had been pursued. As to the question of precedent, it appeared to him that the hon. Member for the Hallamshire Division of Sheffield had effectually disposed of the contention of the Home Secretary, because he had shown that in objecting to the reference of a Bill of this character to a Standing Committee 468 the Opposition had simply followed the example of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that in emphasizing that objection by declining to attend the meetings of the Committee, they had an equally good example. The Home Secretary had observed that Grand Committees were instituted in order to deal with Bills of a technical and non-Party character. Had he used the term "non-contentious" it would have been more accurate. It was true that this Bill passed its Second Reading without a Division, but nobody would affirm that it did not contain important provisions of a highly contentious character. He was much amused with the argument of the hon. Member for Wansbeck, that this Bill was a proper subject for Grand Committee because there was no public record of its proceedings, and therefore Members did their best to make the Bill as good as possible; he should next expect the hon. Member for Wansbeck to introduce a Resolution to exclude reporters from the House, because then he presumed they should have what in the opinion of the hon. Member they did not have now—an attempt on all sides to make Bills as perfect as possible. He took it that that was not the view of those who instituted Grand Committees. The Home Secretary had suggested that this was not a Bill which was to be regarded as introducing new principles; but he thought the contention of the late Home Secretary, that it did introduce new principles, was the correct one. There was one most important distinction between the Bill of 1888 and the circumstances under which it was sent to the Grand Committee and the present Bill. When it was proposed to send this Bill to a Standing Committee, Members on the Opposition side made two suggestions—either that it should be reserved for consideration by Committee of the whole House, or that it should be sent to a Select Committee with power to take evidence. That constituted an essential distinction between the two eases, because the Bill of 1888 was the outcome of a Select Committee which had taken most elaborate evidence on the subject. That Bill simply embodied the suggestions of the Select Committee, and they should have been perfectly content if this Bill after passing Second Reading had been sent to a Select Committee in like manner.
§ SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
said, that after the observation just made by the hon. Member for Central Leeds, to the effect that they ought to register a protest against the course pursued by the Government, he felt bound, although he did not wish to prolong a Debate which could serve no useful purpose, to dissociate himself at once from the statement, as he was one of those who if the matter were pressed to a Division would vote with the Government. He thought it was unfortunate that in the face of the protest that was uttered the Bill was sent to the Grand Committee; but it had been so sent, and the practical question now was how the Bill could be most quickly and usefully passed. If he had to choose between voting for or against the Bill as it stood, be would have no hesitation in voting for the Bill as it stood, believing it to be a substantial improvement on the present law. But there was not that necessity, and he hoped that several Amendments would be introduced into the measure in the course of the discussion. In view of the statement of the Home Secretary, and as the prolongation of the Debate could only delay dealing with the details of the Bill, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Resolution to a Division.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he desired to join in the appeal of his hon. and learned Friend that considering the general current of feeling in the House it was unnecessary to test the proportion of that feeling in the Lobby. It was, however, most desirable it should be understood that those who criticised the procedure adopted by the Government in regard to the Bill were by no means to be supposed to rank among those who were opposed to the principle of the Bill. Personally, he was fully prepared to accord a thoroughly impartial consideration to every provision of the Bill. But he could not on that account be debarred from entering his humble protest against the course which had been pursued by the Government. The Home Secretary had given them an historical sketch of the mode in which the Grand Committee system came to be established, and had confirmed the principle laid down in 1882, that Bills of a technical or non-Party character were thus to be dealt with. He might also have added that Bills of a second, as distinguished from first, im- 470 portance were recommended for that machinery. Now he was not going again to thresh out the battle of 1882. His own views had been in no way modified since when he supported Lord Cross in opposing the withdrawal of measures in their Committee stage from the immediate cognisance of the House. He had always objected to any scheme for smuggling important provisions through a Committee, whose proceedings were practically held in camera, no record being kept of them by the House, and those proceedings, too, were wholly ignored by the Press. The hon. Member for Wansbeck apparently thought that a great desideratum, and on the same principle he would no doubt like to see an elimination of all publicity from their proceedings. But with such a, doctrine he (Mr. Lowtber) had no sympathy. Returning to the Bill itself, he felt that the Government came to a very unwise decision in insisting that it should go before a Grand Committee. Of course it was not a Party Bill in the ordinary acceptation of the word, but it did affect the question of free contracts, and it trenched upon dry interpretation of the laws, and it therefore appealed not only to lawyers and to capitalists, but also to every Member of the House, a section of whose constituents must necessarily be interested. Important questions were to be raised on Report, and they would probably be told when they reached them that they had been thoroughly threshed out in Committee. He, for one, would, however, decline to be bound by the hole-and-corner proceedings of every body of his fellow Members, however eminent he should discharge his duty as an independent Member of Parliament, and would not be deterred from doing so by any arguments of that kind. The hon. Member for Islington had quite properly exercised his right to take part in the deliberations of the Committee, but it was a noteworthy fact that on a very large number of questions, whether rightly or wrongly, be was often to be found in conflict with that, side of the House. Still, he had a perfect right to his own opinion. If, however, they analysed the Division Lists, they would find that the number of Members who attended as representing the Opposition was very small indeed, and the Bill now stood before the House for consideration on Report very 471 much as it would if it had been referred to a Committee of the National Liberal Club. The proceedings bad been conducted by practically one side, and he could only, in conclusion, remind the House that, at any rate in this instance, the object of referring a Bill to a Grand Committee had utterly failed, and they would have now to discuss the measure irrespective of what had occurred elsewhere.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I think that this Debate has been useful, but it may well now be brought to a close. I only rise to say that the responsibility for the decision on this question must rest with the Government, and I would not recommend my hon. Friend to put the House to the trouble of a Division. At the same time, I must express my own very distinct view that the course which the Government had taken from the beginning to the end in this matter had been most unfortunate. I do not mean to argue the question whether or not this was a proper Bill in the abstract to send to a Grand Committee. Unquestionably the result of the course the Government did take in sending it to a Committee under the particular circumstances of the Session was that the great bulk of the Members of the Committee sitting on this side of the House were unable to attend. My hon. Friend the Member for South Islington tells us that of 40 Members in attendance 12 belonged to this side of the House, but I venture to say that the Unionist Party is not fairly represented by the proportion of 12 to 28. I cannot, therefore, admit that the Committee was fairly representative of the two sides of the House. At any rate, the electors had thought otherwise by making the proportions in the House much closer, and it could not be asserted that the Grand Committee on the Bill did accurately reflect the strength of Parties of the House. I do not, however, wish to go over the whole ground again. I have no desire to go over the ground again, but as it seems to be the wish of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite I will do so. What happened was this:—After the House had been allowed a fragmental discussion, at odds and ends of time, on the Second Reading of the Bill, the proposal was made on the part of the Govern- 472 ment to send it to a Grand Committee. It was then pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, with great force, that of all the Bills introduced this Session this was the one which offered no fitting ground for being relegated to a Grand Committee. The right hon. Gentleman showed by quotations from the Prime Minister that Grand Committees were not appointed for considering measures of that kind, and agreeing apparently with Mr. Broadhurst he took precisely the same view of the case in 1888, for, speaking on behalf of the Labour Representatives, Mr. Broadhurst was of opinion that the Bill of 1888 ought not to be sent to a Grand Committee. If that be the case, then surely there are double reasons for not sending the present Bill to a Grand Committee, because the Bill of 1888 was simply the embodiment of a Report of a Select Committee who had taken evidence on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, followed by myself, objected to its being sent to a Grand Committee, and told the Government they must take the responsibility; that the result of the procedure in Grand Committee could not be such as to bind the House; and that, in fact, a Grand Committee could not be substituted for a Committee of the whole House. It is under these circumstances that the House has to consider what is the proper course to pursue. I wish here to put before the House one argument that has not yet been used. The Home Secretary said the Bill would be lost if the Motion were carried. Why? It is said that if we have a discussion in Committee of the House, and a discussion on the Report stage, we will be doing the work twice over, and thus take twice the time that would be occupied if we adopt the course proposed by the Government. I hold, however, that the Report stage was never intended to be a repetition of the Committee stage, and not only that it ought not to be so used, but I have always exerted such influence as I possess to prevent its being so used. I have always desired that on the Report stage we should not dwell at length on questions that have been threshed out in Committee, the Report stage in the main being intended to be used to pick up the loose threads of discussion and remedying 473 the omissions that had been left in the Committee stage, and to afford the opportunity of dealing with one or two of the great controversial matters on which the House might wish to alter the course taken by the Committee. By the course the Government are now taking, however, they will compel us to treat the Report stage as a Committee stage, and the details of the measure will have to be discussed perhaps with a fulness that might not have been necessary in a Committee stage, in which hon. Members knew they could make good any possible omissions in their arguments on the subsequent stage. The offer of the right hon. Gentleman near me, made on behalf of the whole Opposition, that in the event of the Government accepting the proposal to re-commit the Bill we would do our best to shorten discussion on the Report stage, has been rejected by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary with something like derision. I, however, fully recognise that the responsibility for this measure rests entirely upon the shoulders of the Government, and seeing that the Government have shown no sign of yielding upon the point, I think that it would be desirable that my hon. Friend should withdraw his Amendment, and that we should now endeavour to make what progress we can with the discussion of the Bill, subject to all the inconveniences of its being carried on on the Report stage.
§ * MR. TOMLINSON
said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman he did not desire to put the House to the trouble of going to a Division upon his Amendment, which he now asked leave to withdraw.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES moved the following new clause:—
§ "Where the employer of a workman is, as sub-contractor, under a contract with any other person, such last-named person shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be the employer of such workmen."
§ He said, he had to express his regret that the Government had not found it within their power to frame a clause which should deal with what the Home Secre- 474 tary undoubtedly recognised as a matter which required legislative treatment. There was no Amendment, not even the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren), of more vital importance to the Bill, and he might add with it those standing in the names of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) and another hon. Member. The clause which he (Mr. Atherley-Jones) had on the Paper dealt with what was known as sub-contracting. The present state of the law induced great mischief which that clause sought to remedy. Dealing with the present law, he would point out, for the benefit of those who might not be familiar with its working, that if a person contracted with him to build a house, and that person entered into a contract with another person for doing certain specified work in connection with the house, such as providing scaffolding, and the person so contracting with the principal contractor employed workmen who were injured in the work they had to perform, the remedy for such injuries lay as against the sub-contractor, and not against the principal contractor, unless it could be shown that the principal contractor exorcised effective control over the work which the injured workmen had been set to perform. Anyone who took the trouble to read the evidence adduced before the Select Committee upon the subject of employers' liability, which was the precursor of the very admirable Bill introduced by his right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary, would find abundant proof of the great mischief which accrued through the system of sub-contracting, and that that mischief was to a very large extent predominant in the building trade. But the House would bear in mind that under the present law the doctrine of common employment applied, and, therefore, a workman who was injured could not recover compensation against his employer, unless the negligence which formed the basis of his action was negligence on the part of the employer or on the part of some one on whom he devolved superintendence. This Bill abolished the doctrine of common employment altogether, and the workman would under it be entitled to recover compensation for injuries which might have been caused without any personal negligence on the part of the 475 employer or superintendent, but which might have been caused by the negligence of a fellow workman. He would suggest that, although the cases in which a contractor entered into sub-contracts were at present comparatively few, and were not, in his judgment, entered into generally for the purpose of avoiding responsibility, this measure, inasmuch as it abolished the doctrine of common employment, was a direct incentive, he would not say invitation, to every employer of labour to relieve himself from liability by entering into sub-contracts. He would not say that high-principled employers of labour would do so, but undoubtedly there was the strongest possible inducement held out to employers of labour to enter into such sub-contracts. It was the bounden duty of the Government, having changed the whole of the law with regard to the doctrine of common employment, to have formulated some scheme by which the mischief he had indicated might be obviated. He had put the new clause upon the Paper, because he was sincerely convinced that it dealt with the matter in the only effective way in which it could be dealt with. He did not contend that the clause met all the difficulties of the situation, and he was perfectly conscious of the serious objection that might be taken to it. The remedy he would suggest was that the contractor, the substantial man who undertook the work and derived profit from it, should be responsible, and that he should not be permitted by law to interpose between himself and the workman who was injured a mere man of straw, a mere figment, by which the claim of the workman to compensation might be defeated. His clause simply meant that whenever a man entered into an arrangement or fundamental contract to carry out work he, and not any person whom he might employ as a sub-contracter, should be responsible to the workmen. The hon. and learned Member was proceeding to refer to subsequent Amendments on the Paper, standing in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), and the hon. and learned Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane), when—
§ MR. SPEAKER
ruled that the hon. and learned Member would be out of Order in referring to cognate Amendments standing on the Paper.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said that while he did not wish to evade the ruling of the Speaker in any way, he would like to point out hypothetically what would be the effect of certain limitations. Supposing, for instance, it was provided that the contractor should only be liable to the workman for injuries sustained if the injuries happened while the man was engaged upon work which was in accordance with the ordinary business——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
said, the particular limitation that the work should be in the ordinary relation of business was one of the specific points in both the other Amendments.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said, he must apologise for the transgression. He would now point out what he conceived to be an objection to his own Amendment, and a very formidable one. He did not think it would baffle the ingenuity of man to find some limitations which would meet the difficulty he had pointed out. To give a concrete illustration. Supposing he undertook, as a contractor, to build a house, and he gave the making of the doors of the house to some person living many miles distant. Under the proposed clause, as it at present stood, he might be made liable for injury incurred in the making of doors. Of course that would be monstrous and most unreasonable. He thought it would be possible for the Home Secretary to suggest some words of limitation. He would suggest some such words as these—Where such last-named person has, in the ordinary course of business, access to the place where the work is carried on.The contractor should only be liable where he had real or potential control over the work. This Bill would be worse than useless if it passed without some provision of this kind. He did not suggest that employers would enter into a conspiracy to evade the law, but small employers would to a larger extent than hitherto resort to the system of subcontracting. In fact, this Bill would be the strongest inducement to them so to do. He would rather see the Bill abandoned than a Bill passed which, in his judgment, would be absolutely inoperative in affording protection to the workmen at large. In conclusion, he must say that it was a matter of gratifi- 477 cation that this Bill was now being discussed by the House at large.
§ Clause (Sub-contracts,)—(Mr. Atherley-Jones,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ * THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir C. RUSSELL,) Hackney, S.
I think it would be convenient that I should at once state to the House the view that the Government take of the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken. I must at once say—and my hon. and learned Friend himself has given some reasons in that direction—that the Government cannot accept this Amendment. I would first remind the House what the object of the present Bill is. While admitting that the evils of subcontracting to which my hon. and learned Friend has referred are real evils, and ought to be met as far as it is possible to meet them, I hope to satisfy him that that would not be done by the present Amendment. Indeed, the Amendment is foreign to the object of the Bill, which is to give to workmen the same remedy for negligence that a third person would have, that he shall not be disentitled to his remedy by reason of the fact that he is a workman, and that the accident has arisen from the negligence of some person in common employment. But the effect of the proposed clause as it stands would be, in effect, to give to the workman a remedy, which would not exist in the case of a third person at all. For instance, let us suppose that a workman is injured by the fall of some scaffolding on which he is at work, and which has been erected by a sub-contractor, under an independent and real sub-contract. In such a case, under the existing law, or rather if this Bill should become law, the workman's remedy would only be against the immediate contractor—a real and not a sham sub-contractor—but if this clause were to pass he would have a remedy against the chief contractor, the original employer, although if the same accident happened from the same negligence to a third person from the scaffolding falling, he would have no remedy at all. I admit this is not a conclusive or wholly satisfactory objection. But there is a much more serious objec- 478 tion than that. It will be observed that the proposed clause applies to all subcontracts; it makes no discrimination as to the character of the contract, between contracts which relate to matters within the ordinary scope of the business of the original employer and those which do not; nor does it make any discrimination as to whether or not the original employer had any actual or potential control over the work. Let us take a concrete illustration of how this would work. Suppose a great firm of contractors undertook the whole of the work for a Canal Company, and then divided it into sections of one or five miles, which they let out to sub-contractors. I think it would be offensive to the sense of justice of the House (at least without a right of indemnity) to say that a man employed by a sub-contractor should have a remedy against the original contractor, although he had no control, actual or potential, over the work. But while that is an extreme case on the one side, I quite agree that there are cases of a very different kind which may be put on the other. Take the case of a builder who, having undertaken to build a house, lets out the brickwork to one, masonry to another, carpentry to another, the roofing to another—and I have been told that the work for particular rooms is often separately let—I think that that is a case in which justice requires that the contractor should not be allowed to interpose persons to do the work piece-meal, so as to avoid his responsibility. The question raised is one of considerable difficulty. My hon. and learned Friend will perhaps forgive me for saying that the later Amendments present a fairer ground for the determination of this question than the clause he has put before us. Not now for the first time, but for some time past, the Government have been endeavouring to devise a clause which should deal with such cases as I have given an illustration of, and yet should not interfere in an unjust way with large sub-contracts which are substantial works. These are the reasons why the Government cannot accept the clause of my hon. and learned Friend.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of stopping 479 the evasion of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, by sub-contracting. The stronger you make the law, the greater the risk of such evasion, but it is a difficult thing to do, and the only question we need discuss is how it is to be done. We are no nearer doing it than we were on the Standing Committee, where we discussed virtually the same Amendments which are now before us—those of the hon. Member, my own, and one that we shall come to, late in the new clauses, which resembles mine. There are three ways, it seems to me, of doing it. One general; and, of limited ones, one which shall bring in the words "done for profit," or the words "in the ordinary course of his business." There are great difficulties about all these. The general Amendments, such as this, and one which I moved on the Standing Committee, are too wide, though this one in a particular point is too narrow—as I shall show. The words "for profit" will cause lawsuits, because we cannot say whether an attorney who decorates his rooms aesthetically does it for profit, or for the entertainment of his own eye. Or whether a brougham in some cases is kept up for profit or not, and so forth. The difficulties about my Amendment we shall discuss when we come to them, but they seem to many of us to be less than those of the proposal which is before us. This proposal is, however, supported by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Congress. Therefore, whatever my individual objections to it, I shall support it at a Division, as showing that we insist on having some clause to deal with the subject. The particular difficulties of this Amendment partly arise out of the words "as sub-contractor," and the same difficulty arises on a new clause which follows mine. What is a "subcontractor"? Usage varies with regard to the meaning of the term. There is another difficulty about this Amendment, which is that where there is a series of sub-contracts the Amendment seems to me to provide for only one; and there is a third difficulty, that the "contract with any other person" may be one which has no relation to the matter in hand. Finally, the words "shall he deemed to be" may, in some cases, exclude from liability the real person against whom we ought to go. With regard to the first difficulty, 480 "What is a sub-contractor?" consider the case of A, a factory owner, and B, a foreman sub-contracting, as it is commonly called, with sweated workmen, as the phrase goes. B, strictly speaking, is not a sub-contractor. He is a contractor, and if we are told that he is a sub-contractor, then the words used would render liable a lady who employs a builder to build a house in Devonshire instead of making the Devonshire builder liable; and the third case, which was stated by the Mover of this Amendment against my new clause on the Standing Committee, though I gave what he did not give, and what the new clause which the Government somewhat favour gives—a choice. With regard to the difficulty which I put third, that "the contract with any other person" may have no relation to the matter in hand; take the case where A is a great Hotel Company, financial in its nature, say the Savoy Hotel, B its builder, and C that builder's electric light contractor. The General of Royal Engineers, who is the electric light contractor, has his gardener injured at his country place, and the gardener, instead of suing him, sues Trollopes, or some other builders. This is an absurd ease, but the words cover it, and they clearly ought not to do so. My conclusion is, that I still prefer my own general words, with a choice, as I moved them on the Standing Committee. But if we are not to have general words, then words as to the "ordinary course of business" are the easiest, as recommended in my own new clause, and in another new clause which it is probable I anticipate that the Government might favour.
§ MR. ASQUITH
Perhaps I may say one word about this, not in any sense in the way of hostile criticism, but rather with a view to facilitating a settlement of this question, which I am sure we all desire to see settled. What I would suggest to my hon. and learned Friend who has moved this clause is, that it would be more convenient that the discussion on the question should take place on one of the later clauses of the Bill, either the clause of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, or the clause of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Haddington. Where the words of limitation have been already introduced by the framers of the proposed clauses, it is very much more easy to take the 481 general feeling of the House upon them. With regard to the clause of my hon. and learned Friend, it is obviously impossible for the House to accept it as it stands. No one will contend to-day that if—to take a concrete instance—a large contractor undertakes such an operation as, we will say, the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal—a gigantic operation involving the expenditure of millions of money—and if, in the course of business, it is necessary to the contractor to sub-let different parts of his contract, such as excavations, dredging, and so forth, to independent contractors, that every one of the workmen of his independent sub-contractor, if he is injured in the course of the operations, is to have a remedy against the man who took the original contract, it would be imposing a liability so large that it would be impossible for anybody lo sanction it. I think the object aimed at can be provided for by a less ambitious and much less far-reaching and safer clause; and, while I agree that the case is one that ought to be provided for, and, at the same time, agree with the right hon. Baronet when he says it is exceedingly difficult to provide a clause that shall not be either too narrow or too wide to meet the requirements of the case, I would suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that he might reasonably withdraw his clause now, and I will undertake, on the part of the Government, when we come to discuss either the clause of the right hon. Baronet or that of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington, to propose such amendment in the wording of their clauses as appears to us to satisfy the justice of the case. The Government do not desire that the case should be left unprovided for, but, at the same time, they cannot assent to the unduly wide terms in the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said, if the difficulty could be met by the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, or the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington, be should be perfectly ready to adopt the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. But he believed the only way to secure adequate protection was by the clause which he had moved. If the Home 482 Secretary would indicate what the nature of his Amendments was, then, if he considered they would meet the case, he should be prepared to take the course the right hon. Gentleman had suggested.
§ SIR E. CLARKE (Plymouth)
thought the House was in some difficulty in regard to this matter. As a point of Order, he did not know, if this Amendment were negatived, whether it would be competent for the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean afterwards to propose the clause of which he had given notice, and which the Government, with some amendment, would be prepared to accept.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
On the point of Order may I say that, although the subject dealt with by these four clauses is undoubtedly the same, the mode of dealing with them is as different as it is possible to imagine?
§ MR. SPEAKER
To the hon. and learned Gentleman who has moved the clause I have already stated the difficulty I feel in respect to these throe clauses, and I have suggested—though I have no power to do more than make such suggestion—that the general issue had better be taken upon some wider clause than the one immediately before the House, saving altogether the rights of the hon. and learned Gentleman to move any Amendment. I am rather afraid, if this clause were negatived, that although it would not prevent discussion of the subsequent clauses, it would still very much hamper the discussion, inasmuch as it would have negatived the question of the liability of the sub-contractor. If the House thought there was no objection to that I would suggest, either on the clause of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean or of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington, the point should be discussed and an Amendment introduced, whereas if this clause was read a second time the amount of amendment which would be required to bring it into anything like a shape in which it would meet with the general concurrence of the House would be so very complicated that I am afraid the House would ultimately get into confusion. I only throw that out as my own view, if the House sees proper to adopt it, and escape from the present difficulty.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
May I ask you, Sir, whether it would be competent for me to move to the proposed clause of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean the omission of a portion of that clause as an Amendment?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Certainly; the hon. and learned Gentleman would be perfectly within his right on the understanding that the present clause was withdrawn.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
Under those circumstances I shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment upon those terms.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ * MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
rose to move, in page 1, after Clause 2, to insert the following clause:—
§ (Contracts in certain cases to be exempted from application of Section two.)
§ "Subject to the following conditions, if an employer has heretofore made with his workmen, or any of them, a contract whereby the workmen have for valuable consideration deprived themselves of any rights under 'The Employers' Liability Act, 1880,' Section two of this Act shall not apply, and that employer, or his successors in business, may make contracts with the workmen at any time hereafter employed by or working for him or them, whereby such workmen may relinquish any right to compensation under this Act.
§ But such contract shall only be valid—
- (1) If it provide that the employer shall make, so long as the workman continues in his employment, contribution towards such an insurance fund, to which the workman may also contribute, as will provide compensation to such workman, or, in case of death, to his representatives, for every accident occurring in the course of his employment, and if such contribution is regularly paid;
- (2) If a vote by secret ballot of the workmen parties to such contract be taken, and two-thirds of those voting are in favour of such contract. Such vote by ballot shall be taken under the directions and supervision of an inspector to be appointed by the Board of Trade, who shall give their certificate as to the result of such ballot, which certificate shall be binding on all parties. At the request of any number of the workmen that may be deemed adequate, the Board of Trade may order a ballot to be taken at intervals of not less than three years."
It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the men, who are undoubtedly in a better position in 99 cases out of 100 when they rely on the insurance fund than they would be if they brought an action at law agree to the stipulation which the Railway Company insist upon.He has given us a very liberal estimate in that case. But I do not regard that as the unanimous opinion in this House. There was a correspondence in the columns of The Sun some time ago in which I took part, and I asked my opponents to say:—First, are the men, as a whole, better off under the Societies than under the Act; and, secondly, if contracting out is essential, did they wish to destroy the Societies? Mr. Harford, of the Amalgamated Railway Society, numbering 30,000 men—not a very large body—answered the first of these queries in the negative, and the second in the affirmative. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. J. Burns) was even plainer; he said— 489
MR. M'Laren asks us if we wish to destroy these Railway Mutual Societies. I personally say yes, and the sooner the better.
There is nothing like being straight-forward. The hon. Member strongly objected to the Societies, because he thinks they are antagonistic to Trade Unions, and are Union-smashing agencies. Therefore, there are two sets of opponents to this clause—those who wish to retain the Societies and those who wish to destroy them. Now, that, was the gist of the letter of the Member for Battersea. But, Sir, what is the opinion of the members of the Societies? A ballot has been taken in the three Societies connected with the London and North Western Railway Company. In the largest of these 87 per cent. of the men voted in favour of being allowed to remain as they are as against coming under the Bill, and in the two others 95 per cent. voted in favour of the existing conditions as against those of the Bill. Therefore, there is something like unanimity on this subject among the North Western men. And the men on the Brighton Railway have almost unanimously petitioned Parliament in favour of allowing them to remain as they are. And there is also the case of Sir W. Armstrong's men, who are equally anxious to retain their Society. On the other hand, the Midland Railway Company do not ask their men to contract out, but they have never paid more than £1,300 a year for compensation under the Act, while the contribution of the London and North Western Railway Company, with only a third more men, is £20,000. It is true that the Midland Railway Company has a Friendly Society, to which it contributes £9,000 or £10,000, but that is not essentially an Accident Society. If a man's first wife dies that Society helps him to bury her; but if he marries again, and his second wife dies, it gives him no help. It is a general Friendly Society. The object of my proposal is to give the men in the various Societies a choice. That is a most, reasonable and an essentially Liberal demand. It is limited to the case of Societies existing at the time of the passing of the Act. I do not wish it to apply to Societies that may be formed in future. The Home Secretary gave a number of very good reasons in Commit-
tee against extending it to Societies that might be formed in the future. One of those reasons was that the ballot suggested would not be suitable for numerous small employments. But in the cases to which I have referred the Societies have existed 12 years, and the men are well able to judge whether they are good or bad. It is true that the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants oppose the clause. Well, Sir, I have much sympathy with that body, and have repeatedly urged my constituents to join it. But, although it is a Society that has a great many branches up and down the country, they are mostly small, and it makes a greater show than its numbers justify in comparison with the body for whom I have the honour to speak. I am aware that the Home Secretary, relying on Clause 3, will urge that the Bill will not destroy the Societies. But Clause 3 is entirely illusory. It provides that if a workman chooses to sue instead of falling back on the Society the portion of the insurance fund which is equivalent to the employer's contribution should be treated as payment on account of any compensation the man may obtain. But how will that clause apply to the case of the Brighton Railway? The North Western makes a fixed contribution, but in this case the company does nothing of the kind, but simply guarantees to meet any deficiency in the fund that may arise. How are we to estimate the contribution of the company when its whole funds are pledged, in case of necessity, to support the Society? As a matter of fact, the contribution varies from year to year, and it is about 62 percent. at the present moment. There is another fact we must remember. I am sorry to say that the Directors of the London and North Western have come to the conclusion that, in the event of the Bill becoming law in its present form, they will stop their contributions to the Societies. But, that being the case, it, is idle to say that the Bill will not destroy the Societies. Yet it is said that Clause 3 will meet this difficulty. I invite those who say that this decision on the part of the companies is bluff, to talk privately with some of the Railway Directors in the House, and they will quickly learn that these gentlemen are in earnest in the matter; and I
can hardly blame them. If the Directors pay £22,000 a year in order to get rid of liability for actions for damages I do not think they can be expected to continue that contribution and yet to be shot at all round. And they will be shot at if the practice of contracting out be prohibited, especially in cases of death, for the representatives of the deceased will be pretty sure to get into the hands of the lawyers, who would persuade them that they would do very much better by bringing an action than by taking the grant from the fund. I think the companies would run the risk of having a very large number of cases brought against them. I certainly understood the Home Secretary on two occasions to pledge himself that if there was a danger of the Societies being injured be would be prepared to modify his Bill. I thought that was what he said upon this question in reply to the deputation of railway men which I had the honour of introducing to him. I have not his words on that occasion by me, but this is what he said on the Second Reading—
While we prohibit any contract whereby a a workman prospectively relinquishes his right under the Act, at the same time we are fully sensible of the importance of not doing anything to discourage the growth of those insurance funds to which I have referred as to remove the inducement to the employer to contribute to them.'
Well, the Bill is certainly removing that inducement. And again—
While, therefore, we forbid the workman from prospectively abandoning the statutory right once for all, we permit, in those cases where there is a fund to which the workman and the employer have contributed, the workman either to resort to the fund or to bring his action. We permit him to take his choice.
But you do not permit him to take his choice, because there would be no choice for him to take. It is merely playing with words to say that if the Bill passes as it stands it will be open to the workman to take his choice, because you cannot compel the company to continue its contribution, and, if it did not do so, there would be no choice for the workman. You do not give a man a choice when you effectively destroy one of the alternatives before him. I do not wish to force the men into these Societies. I would give them liberty to do as they liked. It is said that the men in the
employ of the London and North Western Railway are such craven hounds—subject to all sorts of intimidation, and that their balloting in favour of the Society was a sham. I can prove it is very different, and that nothing would induce the men to be a party to this Society if they disliked it. Up to 1889 there was a pension fund belonging to one section around Crewe—a pension fund to which they said they objected, but to which the employers insisted that the men were attached. When the time came round for the ballot on the question, whether they wished to continue it or not, 11,485 of the membership of 12,682 voted for its abolition—and this happened in the teeth of the known views of the Directors and officials. Therefore, it is apparent that when the men desired to abolish one of their funds they had not the least hesitation in doing so. I trust, therefore, that we shall not hear it said that the men have not the courage of their convictions. I do not wish to trespass on the time of the House, but there is another point on which I wish to say a few words. It is said that these Societies prevent men from joining Trades Unions. I do not believe that that is so. There is nothing to prevent them from joining Trades Unions, or striking if they think necessary. If the largest of their Societies were broken up tomorrow there would be only 6s.6d.a head for every man in it; and, therefore, there is nothing to prevent a man going out on strike. When the strike is over they would re-enter the Society, and matters would go on as before. As a matter of fact, many of the men are Trades Unionists. A very large number certainly are. A considerable number belong to the Amalgamated Engineers. If there were any force in this objection that the Societies would discourage Trade Unionism it would apply far more to a Society like that of the Midland Railway Company, for it is a Friendly and a Pension Society, and the man would lose much more by striking against the Midland than they would by striking against the London and North Western. Then, again, it is said that the continuance of these Societies would destroy the preventive character of the Act, and make employers careless; but I can say that experience does not justify this. Taking one
series of years with another, the deaths have fallen from 3.2 to 1.34 per 1,000 in one department and from 2.2 to 0.9 per 1,000 in another. So that it is clear that these Societies have not increased the death-rate. This is one special point—a point upon which I challenge reply. I want to know and have it shown that any man outside those Societies would be injured if these Societies are allowed to continue. This is the crux of the question. If it can be shown that the rest, of the workmen in the country would be injured by these specific Societies I will abandon my ease. I had the pleasure of meeting the Trades Council of Crewe, and they asked me to tell the House that they would not be so wolfish as to continue the Society if they thought it was going to injure their fellow-workmen elsewhere. I say it is impossible that a single working man or woman could be either benefited or injured or in any way affected by these Societies continuing. The members, therefore, are entitled to say, "We have something better than the Act will provide for us, and if it will not injure you why should you take it from us?" That is substantially the whole of my case. If it can be proved that others would be injured; that they would get less compensation in ease of injury, then I will admit that I have no case. I wish to leave the whole responsibility in the hands of the men themselves. I do not ask for any certificate from the Board of Trade or the Home Office as to the efficiency or sufficiency of this Society. If the men by a two-thirds majority vote in favour of these Societies they are the best judges of their own interests. Let a proper ballot be taken; let the whole responsibility be on the shoulders of the men; give them the choice either of the Bill or the Societies. That is fair; but I would provide for a ballot to be taken every three years after the passing of this Bill, so that if the men changed their minds, or thought they had made a, mistake on the first ballot, then they could correct it. Under this second ballot they could destroy the Societies if they were doing harm; if they wished they could continue them; but I would say that we should continue for the present, and should not have any alteration made for three
years. That is the case I wish to press upon the House. I also value these Societies, because they create good feeling between employers and workmen. I am strongly in favour of Trades Unions; but I say while these Societies do not prevent Trades Unions, they do create good feeling, and I hope the House will hesitate before adding to the troubles we have to face in the lock-out in the coal trade, and other industrial difficulties. I hope the House will hesitate before destroying a great system, which has been worked for many years by both parties, and created a friendly feeling between employer and employed. It should be the duty of the House to try and preserve that good feeling. Men work more happily when they know they are on good terms with their employers, and will be compensated in case of accident or death, and that their widows and children will be looked after. Therefore, in moving the Second Reading of this clause, in which I am willing to accept any small alterations, I am sure the House will pass it in order to preserve this great system in which so many men are interested.
§ Clause (Contracts in certain cases to be exempted from application of section two,)—(Mr. W. M'Laren,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
Sir, I rise for the purpose of seconding the Second Reading of the clause which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe. This is not a new subject with me, Mr. Speaker. Five years ago I spoke in this House in exactly the same sense as I am going to speak now. This is a matter of great interest and importance, and one to which I have devoted a great deal of time. I think, therefore, I may claim to make a few observations. The common object of the Government and of all of ns in this legislation is to give workmen reasonable protection in the best way against Directors and capitalists; but I sincerely believe that the Bill in its present form will have an opposite effect in the case of 60,000 men in the employ of the London and North Western Railway. I speak for the great majority of these men, and I do not propose to speak for anyone else. I believe that the Amendment 495 now proposed will not in any way impair or injure the general operation of the Bill. The object of the Amendment is to exempt existing insurance funds; and it does not apply to future funds. I am not saying whether that is a consistent course or not. I am not saying whether future Societies are not fairly entitled; but I say that my object is to secure to the men of the London and North Western Railway what they have already got, and what they wish to retain. That is all I want. We have a great advantage in knowing, to a large extent, the points that will be made against us in consequence of the discussions that have gone on in newspapers and magazines. I wish to point out a few facts that I think have a distinct bearing on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe alluded to my other hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Burns), who says, plainly enough—"I would destroy every one of your funds, and every one of your Friendly and Insurance Societies, in any way connected with a great Railway Company." One of his reasons for wishing to destroy them, amongst others, is this—because all the Railway Unions are against them. I dare say I am as much in favour of Trades Unions as anyone in the House, and I remember advocating them at a time when it was not popular to do so; but surely it cannot be said that a Trades Union which numbers only one-fourteenth or one-fifteenth of a whole particular trade is to control or to claim to represent the whole body. The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (which is, I believe, an excellent Society) has, according to its Secretary, 30,611 members. Well, there are—and I take it from the Chairman of the Midland Railway Company at a recent meeting held to deal with some other subject—for the Midland is not concerned in this question—there are 500,000 railway employés in the country, and I ask is it fair that these 30,000 men, with 5,000 or 6,000 belonging to another Union of railway workers, should claim to speak for the whole 500,000, and to dictate to the 70,000 men on the London and North Western and the Brighton Railways, when the enormous majority of those 70,000 496 undoubtedly wish the present arrangements to continue? But the Member for Battersea says that the North Western men are not in favour of contracting out of the Act. Well, I really do not know how he is to be convinced. The hon. Member for Crewe alluded to the ballot taken in the Traffic Department, and I will not deal with that again; but I would allude to the ballots in the Running Department and the Works Department of the London and North Western Railway. It happened one day that the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) asked mo why we did not take a ballot of the Running Department. I said we did not because I was told that the Running Department men were unanimously in favour of the present arrangement. The hon. Member said—"That shows what different things we are told, for I was informed that they are unanimously against it." I said—"Then, we will take a ballot at once." I did not like the ballot paper which had been used in the Traffic Department, as I thought it contained information that a document of that kind should not contain. I therefore drew up a ballot paper which, at the request of the hon. Member for Wansbeck, I submitted to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt).
§ MR. FENWICK
I did not make such a request. The hon. Member proposed to draw up a ballot paper and submit it to the hon. Member for Morpeth and myself. I was not in town, and I gave no instruction to anyone to act on my behalf.
§ MR. COBB
I am not trying to bind the hon. Member to the terms of the ballot paper. My point is that the ballot paper was shown to the hon. Member for Morpeth, and I shall not be contradicted when I say that that hon. Member said it seemed to put the question fairly. A ballot was taken in the Running Department on that paper, and the result showed that there were 9,556 men in the Department, of whom 93 per cent. were in favour of the present arrangement being continued, 4 per cent. were against it, while 3 per cent. did not vote at all. In the Works Department the ballot showed that there were 7,443 men concorned, that 89 per cent. were in favour of the existing arrangement, and 4½ per 497 cent. were against it, while 6½ per cent. did not vote. The Secretary of the Amalgamated Society, Mr. Harford, says in the same correspondence that the men are incapable of expressing a, free opinion by ballot, and he says that this is the result of the overshadowing influence of officialism. I say that is a libel both on the ballot and on the London and North Western men. I dare say I know these men quite as well as Mr. Harford. I happen to have had a great deal to do with that railway for a good many years, not as a Director, not even as a shareholder, but simply through living on the line and travelling a great deal on it long before I was in Parliament, and I venture to assert that there is no more independent class of men in this country than those employed on the North Western Railway, and they are not such fools as not to know how to vote for their own interests by ballot. But, assuming that the ballot which has been taken is delusive—and I do not believe it is—the operation of the clause moved by my hon. Friend is conditional on a ballot being taken under the direction of the Board of Trade, and if one-third of the men employed by the company and voting show by that ballot that they do not wish to have the present arrangement it will cease. It will then be their own affair, and they will not have the system. It is also said that the men were forced to join the Society, and contract themselves out of the Act of 1880. Now, that is not the case. When the Employers' Liability Act was passed in 1880 there were 32,400 members in the Traffic Society, and the North Western Company contributed to its funds a fixed amount of £1,500 a year, and the men obtained certain advantages as to insurance under what is called Schedule B. On the Act being passed an alteration was made, and far greater advantages were given under what is called Schedule A, but every man was allowed the option of remaining under the old arrangement. Only 114 men remained under the old arrangement, and to this day 19 men are under it. Therefore, it is not true to say that the men, whether they liked it or not, were contracted out of the Act. It is said, and said truly, that the main object in 498 view ought to be to prevent accidents rather than to pay money in respect of them after they have occurred. We shall all agree with that, I am sure. The hon. Member for Battersea spoke of the existing arrangement enabling the Directors to make a profit out of preventible accidents, and he went on and said that the continuance of the existing system gave the Directors the power of continuing for profit the present slaughter of their men and injury of their passengers. The argument, therefore, is that the London and North Western Railway Company gain money by having more accidents. But, of course, the fact is just the opposite, because the more accidents there are the more the London and North Western Railway Company has to pay to these funds. The hon. Member for Crewe gave certain figures as to deaths, showing how they had decreased since 1880, and, therefore, I will not go into them. And now I come to an important argument—and, if it were true, almost a convincing argument—against the existing arrangement. It has been said, in letters from men of undoubted integrity, that the present arrangement, in conjunction with the Amendment of my hon. Friend, compels all future employés to sign away their liberty, and forfeits all contributions made by men leaving or discharged, and that, therefore, the men are obliged to remain in the service of the company. I will show that both these propositions are fallacious. As to future men, the clause which I am now seconding distinctly provides that at the end of every three years a small number of men may demand another ballot if they do not like the position, and then, if they have the support of one-third of the number of those voting, they can put an end to the arrangement. But the other point is more important—namely, that if a man is discharged or leaves the company's service, he forfeits what he has paid to the insurance fund. Now, that is not the case at all. It is assumed that he has some interest in an existing fund that remains. But there is no fund remaining. These Mutual Insurance Companies must be regarded in the same light as Fire Insurance Companies. They are not sick or benefit funds—they have nothing to do with sickness. A man 499 pays to insure himself against accident. They pay their way as they go along. The funds are exhausted, and there is nothing left, and the year's payments often exceed the year's receipts. If a man is fortunate enough not to have had an accident he has got the full benefit of his contribution, for he has been insured against accident, and his contribution has helped his less fortunate fellow-workers. The man who insures against fire does not necessarily want his house burnt down. There is nothing in the fund that anyone could take away, save a comparatively small balance, amounting to about half a year's income, which is kept to provide for contingencies. If that were divided up, and the men were to each take a share—as they would if the company were to be wound up—that share would be 6s. 6d. each. The system of the men taking out part of the premiums has already been tried, and has failed. Up to the end of 1876—that was before the Act of 1880 was passed—the Rules of the Society provided that anyone leaving the company's service should take with him half the premiums he had paid, but it was found that this crippled the efficiency of the fund. It was found that it was better to pay the money away in insurance claims. The system was, therefore, altered with the absolute consent of the men, all the 60 delegates representing the men voting for the change. Therefore, they have abstained by their own act from doing that which it is said they are going to be prevented from doing by the Amendment of my hon. Friend. This fund that the hon. Member for Battersea wishes to do away with is totally different to a pension, sick, or superannuation fund, for it has no invested fund (except the small current balance) of which every member, if he lives, is entitled to a share. And this leads me to the case of the other companies. I have been told over and over again that the benefits which the North Western Company give to their men in this Society are enjoyed by the men in other employment who are not compelled to contract themselves out of the Act, but I have not been able to find one instance of the kind, and I shall be glad if any Member of the House can mention one.
§ MR. COBB
I do not know anything about that. The Great Northern, the Great Western, and the Midland have funds which are distinctly sick and benefit funds. In the case of the Midland, it is true, there is also an element of insurance against accident in connection with the provident fund, but it is quite subsidiary and does not stand in the same category as the London and North Western case. The London and North Western have provident, pension, and superannuation funds, apart and distinct from the mutual insurance fund. To these different funds the company contribute, over and above the £20,000 a year they contribute to the insurance fund, £24,000 a year, and at the present moment £891,000 is invested in the funds. The hon. Member for Crewe alluded to Clause 3 as the Home Secretary's answer to the whole case as I understand it; but I observe, reading the proceedings of the Committee, that the clause, which is the support of the Home Secretary's case, was opposed in Committee by the hon. Member for Battersea and all the Labour Members. Then there is another argument which I admit, of course, has great weight. The hon. Member for Crewe said that only 10 per cent. of the accidents provided for by the present arrangements would be recoverable under the Act. That is an argument which, to a large extent, can be used by the Home Secretary, because he will naturally say to the Directors—"Well, if it is such a flea-bite—if it is only one-tenth of the amount you now contribute, that you will have to pay when the Bill passes—why make all this trouble about it? Why not pay the £2,000 or £3,000 a year under the Act, and give 90 per cent, to the Society?" That is a matter for the Directors to decide. I have nothing to do with them. I sympathise only with the men, and I leave the Directors to their own devices. I do not say I agree with what they have done, or with what they are going to do. Whether their principle as to the Bill is right or wrong, I will point out what I consider to be their position. Before the Act of 1880 was passed, the Directors, as I have said, contributed a fixed payment of £1,500 a 501 year. Very well, when the Act of 1880 was passed—I do not know whether the Directors were more frightened of the Act than it has since turned out they need have been—the Directors gave exceedingly liberal terms, much better terms than they need have given. These terms produced last year to the men £22,000 instead of the £1,500 they received before. The consideration was that the men who accepted these new terms should contract themselves out of the Act. The Directors say that the consideration for that £22,000 was not merely the money they saved—it is not by any means entirely a question of money—but they think, rightly or wrongly, that it is an advantage to the company, an advantage to the shareholders, and, still more, as I understand it, an advantage to the men, that there should be no possibility whatever of any litigation arising between the company and any of its employés. They may be right or they may be wrong in making that bargain, but, surely, if they think it good and wise to do that they have a right to do it. It is obvious that if the Bill passes in its present form the whole consideration is gone, because there may be litigation. There will be no contracting out of the Act, and I think the hon. Member for Battersea promises plenty of litigation in the very letter to which I have referred, for he says that, instead of having to pay £20,000, the company will have to pay £60,000 a year. The Directors say they are willing to remain as they are now. Having made their bargain—good or bad—they are willing to abide by it; but if the situation is altered, they say they will cease the existing arrangement, and return to the payment of the £1,500 fixed amount they paid before, and the men must make it up or not as they like. Hon. Members say that is all bluff, and I can only state to the House the result of my endeavours to ascertain the exact position in that matter. The Directors, having carefully considered the subject, passed a formal resolution to discontinue their payment, and I have done my best to find out whether they mean it or not—because if the men are to have the same advantages that they have now, I do not care twopence for the position of the 502 Directors. I have to do with the men, and not the Directors. I have been, assured by many of the Directors and officials of the company, and officially by the Secretary, whom I called on for the express purpose of making the inquiry, that if the Bill passes in its present shape they do mean to go back to the old and less liberal arrangement. I may be innocent; it may be that I am imposed upon; but there are Directors of the company in the House, and I daresay one of these will get up in the House and say what they do mean to do, and the House will of course take what he says as true. Whatever line the Directors take, it is of no use the House abusing them and telling them what they ought to do in the matter. I may not agree with the course which they take; I may not agree with them in reverting to the old arrangement, but, after all, they can do what they think best. I have to look solely to the effect upon the men. That effect will be that they will lose from their insurance fund £15,000 a year, which they wish without hurting others to keep. I know that that would be most injurious to them, and I therefore support the new clause.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
I think that everyone who has listened to the two speeches which have, been delivered by my hon. Friends must agree that they presented the case of their districts—the men of the North Western Railway—with singular ability and moderation, and I do not desire to import anything in the nature of heat into the discussion. I have said from the first that I regard this as a very difficult and important question, and I wish to state to the House as frankly and as candidly as I can the considerations which, after the fullest possible deliberation, conducted with every desire to be impartial—and to meet, if J can the wishes of my hon. Friends—have led us to the conclusion that we must adhere to the clause as it at present stands, and ask the House to reject the proposal now brought forward. 503 My hon. Friends have spoken almost exclusively of this matter as it affects the fortunes of the employés of the Loudon and North Western Railway, but the House must look at the matter from a wider and more general point of view. After all, we are not legislating by way of privilegio in the interests of a particular industrial undertaking: and even if it could be shown that in this form there was a serious danger of the Bill's prejudicially affecting the interests of so large a body of men as the 60,000 servants of the North Western Company—though I do not for a moment acknowledge that, it could—I do not admit that that would be decisive in the issue which the House has to determine. In the opinion of the Government, this is not a measure brought forward in the pecuniary interests of workmen or employers, but a measure advocated because we believe that unless you make this change in the law you will neither secure adequate compensation in the event of injury to persons engaged in industrial employment, nor, what is still more important, the incentive to employers to take due precautions for the safe conduct of their industrial employment. It is on these grounds that we bring forward this measure as one not protecting merely a class, but the community at large. We propose that the men employed on the railways shall not be allowed to contract themselves out of the scope of the law. The danger is a very serious one. The Act of 1880 was an Act considerably in advance of the then existing law. It imposed on the employers a greater burden of responsibility, and a very large proportion of the great employers of labour in the country immediately proceeded to enter into an arrangement with their workmen by which the latter relinquished all the rights which Parliament had conferred upon them. That state of things existed to a very large extent under the comparatively mild provisions of the Act of 1880; but how much greater will be the incentive to the employers to do this—unless Parliament steps in to protect the men—in view of the larger obligations which we are now seeking to impose! Indeed, no one proposes that the workman shall have perfect freedom of contract in this matter. Even the hon. Member for Rugby does not 504 propose that the individual workman shall be left to make his own bargain face to face with his employer. What the hon. Member proposes is that if in a particular undertaking he can get as many as two-thirds of the men to agree to relinquish their rights, then the other third should be bound by their determination. So that even my hon. Friend recognises that this is a matter which is not safe to leave to the individual workman. Both those who propose and those who oppose the Bill start from this general principle. I wish now to say a few words with reference to the question of insurance. I am not hostile, nor are the Government hostile, to these funds, provided that the employers' liability is made good and that they recognise the responsibility the law casts upon them. It has been said of this Bill, as was said of the Act of 1880, that it only operates for the protection of the workman by the instrument of litigation. I was rather surprised to hear an hon. Member who supports this clause say that it is a Bill the main effect of which will be to put fees into the pockets of the lawyers. [Cheers.] Have hon. Gentlemen who cheer that sentiment studied the history of the Act of 1880? Do they suppose that the benefits which that Act has conferred upon the working classes are to be measured by the number of actions that have been brought into the Courts of Law? The truth is exactly the reverse. The moment you lay down a principle of law, such as was laid down in that Act, and will be laid down with much greater clearness in the Bill before the House, then, when a particular state of facts arises which calls for the application of that principle, the parties concerned do not go to their lawyers or rush into the Courts of Law, unless there should be some doubt as to the truth, or unreasonableness or obstinacy on one side or the other. In such cases they may make a reasonable arrangement among themselves. The value of Acts of this kind is not to be judged, I think, by the comparatively small number of cases in which, owing to the doubtfulness of the facts or the unreasonableness of one or other of the parties, litigation is resorted to, but rather by the number of arrangements voluntarily made out of doors. There- 505 fore, I do not at all admit that this Bill, any more than the Act which it is intended to supersede, is one to be worked by means of litigation. I have been quoted as saying that these insurance funds do provide for a larger measure of benefit to the men than the legal liability imposed on the employers by the Bill. That is perfectly true, but it is subject to this qualification—that, so far as I am aware, there is not one of these funds to which reference has been made which, after all, in the event of death, gives to the workmen as much, or nearly as much, as he is likely to secure under the present Bill. Dealing with the case of the London and North Western Railway Company, which is deliberately put forward as a typical instance of the benefits conferred upon the men, what does the House suppose is the maximum payment? Under Scale A it is £100, and in the second class £80, in the event of death. The lower scale is £40. I say that this maximum of £100 in the first class and £80 in the second is, as every one will be ready to admit, a much less sum than would be awarded by any jury in such circumstances. Though I am ready to admit the advantages derived by the men from these funds, I deprecate any exaggeration. There are very serious events which might happen in the industrial life of the workmen by which he would be very much better off if he were allowed to proceed to law under this Bill than if he were left to an insurance fund. At the same time, I admit fully that it is an immense advantage to have an arrangement under which, when an accident resulting in disablement, partial disablement, or death occurs, without an inquiry into the cause of the accident, a large sum is promptly paid to the family of the workman. I repeat what I said on the Second Heading of the Bill, and what I said when the matter was being discussed by the Standing Committee—namely, that if I thought the effect of the Bill would be necessarily or probably to destroy arrangements of this kind, I should pause a long time before I urged the House to accept it in its present form. But the effect of the Bill on these funds has, in my judgment—I do not say wilfully, but from misconception and exaggeration—been wholly misrepresented. We have been told that the Bill will destroy these 506 funds. I ask the hon. Gentleman who maintains that proposition to point to any provision in the Bill which will, directly or indirectly, have that effect. [Mr. W. M'LAREN: Clause 10.] Clause 10 puts an end in future to any contract whereby a workman contracts himself out of his legal rights under the Act. But my hon. Friend is begging the question altogether when he says that because the workman is to be prohibited from contracting himself out of the Act therefore funds of this kind are to be put an end to.
§ * MR. W. M'LAREN
Clause 10 does terminate the contract under which every one of these Societies exists. It cancels the essential feature of the contract, which is the contracting out of the Act of 1880. By abolishing that part of the contract it abolishes the contract altogether.
§ MR. ASQUITH
With great deference to my hon. Friend, I must say that there is a fallacy in his argument. He assumes that because of this particular stipulation, whereby a man renounces for all time his rights under the Employers' Liability Act, if this Bill passes the Hallway Company will cease their contributions to the fund, and that the fund will come to an end. Assuming that the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company regulate their conduct in this matter, not upon principles of generosity or even humanity, but on sound business principles, such a thing will not happen. I must here call attention to the ballot paper which has been circulated among Members of this House, and which I am bound to say, without making any imputations on those who framed the document, contains the most misleading mode of stating the question involved in this Bill that human ingenuity could have devised. What are the questions that are put to the men by the London and North Western Railway Company in this paper. They are—If you are in favour of the present system of insurance, make a cross opposite this space;andIf, instead of the present system, you are in favour of any one being allowed to contract himself out of the Act, make a cross in this space.507 In other words, the men were led to believe that the alternative before them was either to abandon for all time this system of insurance or to contract themselves out of the Act. I contend that the question, and the only question, that ought to have been put to the men was whether or not they were in favour of a Bill in substitution of the present system, or whether they were in favour of a Bill to be prepared in the future enabling them to contract themselves out of the law. I do not profess to know what answer would have been given to that question; but, I say, until the question has been put in a direct and straightforward form, you are not entitled to assume that the opinion of the servants of the London and North Western Railway Company is what is represented—that they are in favour of contracting themselves out of the Act. All that the Bill prohibits in terms is a contract whereby a workman renounces his rights under the Act. Under Clause 3 we have provided that where a fund of this kind exists, and the workman seeks to resort to his legal remedy and sue for damages, the employer shall be entitled to set off the value of the amount he has contributed to the insurance fund. That is perfectly reasonable and equitable, because it insures the employer who continues to contribute to the insurance fund against paying the man both in the form of damages and of contribution. But I carry the matter further. Not only do I say does the Bill not directly do anything to put an end to these contracts, but I say that that ought not to be its indirect effect. Having no intimate knowledge of the working of the minds of the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company, I do not predict what they will do as a matter of fact. All I can predict and argue about is what they might be expected to do as reasonable men, having regard to their own interests and to those of the great undertaking with whose affairs they are charged. That brings me to this question—Is the real motive and incentive to the employer to contribute to these insurance funds the agreement on the part of the workman that he will not resort to his legal remedy under the Employers' Liability Act? I say it is not. I take, first, the case of the Loudon and North 508 Western Railway. They contribute something like £22,000 a year to this fund, being nearly half as much as the men themselves contribute. The fund insures the men against every form of accident or disability from whatever cause arising. My hon. Friends have told us today—and I accept their statement—that the percentage of accidents which could be brought under the existing Employers' Liability Act is not more than 10 per cent. Very well. Are we, therefore, to be asked to believe that, whereas the legal liability of the Company—the only thing from which they are absolved by the contract—is only 10 per cent. of the total number of accidents, they contribute this largo sum of £22,000 a year simply in view of that liability? The proposition only needs to be staled to refute itself. Judging from the circumstances, when the company altered the scale of their contribution in 1880 I should say that they could not foresee what the measure of their liability would be; but I should think that the £1,500 which the company were in the habit of contributing to the fund would probably have covered the whole expenses of litigation in any one year since the fund has been in existence. If they contribute £22,000 instead of £3,000 now it is because they have some good reason for it. We have been referred to the cases of the other companies which contribute to the workmen's funds without insisting upon them contracting out of the Act. I will take the case of the Great Eastern Railway Company. The company pay half and the men pay half of the premium.
§ MR. ASQUITH
No; the scale of payment in the case of death or partial disablement is not as liberal as that of the London and North Western Railway. I understand that it is £30 as against £80 or £100. The contribution both of master and men is on a similar scale on the Great Eastern; but the contributions bear the same proportion to one another. Then there is the case of the Midland Railway. This is a very significant case. They contribute £9,000 a year to a Society which, I agree, is not only an Accident Society, but also gives sick pay and superannuation. The company do 509 not insist that the men shall contract out of the Act as a condition of sharing the benefits of the fund. And what is the result? The result to the company in respect of litigation is this—that, having 39,000 men in their employment, the total amount recovered from the company or paid by the company for the whole of the year of which I have Returns was £660. In other words, that is the legal liability of the company as actually enforced by the men. That was the amount in the year 1885. I say, therefore, that the experience of these companies shows two things. In the first place, it shows that it may well be worth the while of the employer to contribute to the insurance fund without demanding that the men shall contract out of the Act; and that, in the second place, when he does this, the legal claims to which he exposes himself are comparatively trifling. What is the real motive which leads the employers to contribute so largely to these funds? It is not to escape the comparatively small liability which is cast upon the employer under these Acts. It is, as my hon. Friends have frankly said, to establish a good state of relations between the employers and the men. It is to gather all the persons in their employ within an industrial ring-fence; to exclude the operation of outside influences which might show dissension between the masters and the men; to secure for the companies—and I do not say that it is an improper motive at all, for it is one which might well weigh with prudent men of business—to secure for them a hold over the men in their employ which will make the men think once and twice, and even thrice, before they resort to strikes or other labour disputes. It may be described quite as fairly as an insurance against strikes as an insurance against employers' liability. In this connection I may say I cannot help thinking it a significant fact—though both my hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of the Loudon and North Western Railway seek to minimise it—that any servant who leaves the company's service from any cause whatever, except injury or death, forfeits all share in the fund. I should have thought that if a man had paid his premium year after year for the purpose of receiving a contingent advantage, and then left the 510 service of the company, that fact ought not to disentitle him to some benefit from his contributions. If he remained he would be entitled to something.
MR. FLUNKET (Dublin University)
I will explain. The fund merely provides compensation for accidents which occur while in the service of the company.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am quite aware of that, but the man loses all the sums he has contributed the moment he leaves the service of the company. I am not saying that it is a wrong or an inequitable arrangement, but I say it does have, and is intended to have, the effect of making the men remain in the service of the company. The contribution of the company may, therefore, very well be justified, I do not mean in point of morals—it needs no justification of that sort—but as a matter of business, by the hold which it gives the company over its men, and by the harmonious state of the relations between them which it produces. Will that motive have lost any of its force when this Bill passes into law? Do hon. Members say that it will be any less to the interest of the Directors of the North Western Railway if this Bill passes that they should still have this hold over the men, and still have harmonious relations with them? Unless they are prepared to maintain in opposition to the argument which I have been advancing that the real consideration for the contribution of the company to the fund is not that upon which I have been dwelling, but is the desire of the company to be exempt from their comparatively insignificant liability under the Act, then they must agree that the motives which ought to operate will not be substantially affected if the Bill passes. I started by saying, with I think general assent, that contracting out of the Act is regarded by both sides as a thing which ought to be the exception and not the rule. I have also shown that it is not necessary in order to protect these insurance funds to make an exception in their ease, because the motives which protect them are in themselves sufficiently strong. Now I come to the actual proposal embodied in the clause. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend repudiates two suggestions, both of which have been made on previous 511 occasions, and one of which is embodied in some of the Amendments of which notice has been given to this Bill. The first was that the adequacy of any equivalent to the rights which the law may give should be determined by the Courts of Law. In other words, if there is any existing arrangement between master and man, and if the man seeks to enforce his legal right, the master may plead that arrangement, and the Court will have to determine whether or not it is reasonable. There are many objections to that suggestion; and it has this obvious objection—that it would force you into litigation in every case to determine whether the contract was one which the law should allow. The second suggestion was that it should be left to some Government Department to determine whether a particular arrangement between the master and his men was a fair equivalent for the rights of the men as given by the Act. In my view, however, no Government Department is fit to be entrusted with the duty which it would involve—namely, the task practically of revising, with imperfect means of knowledge and a most insufficient staff, the industrial arrangements made between masters and men in, perhaps, a hundred or a thousand different trades throughout the country. If contracting out is to be allowed at all, masters and men are themselves far better judges of what is fair than any Government Department would be. Then we come to the proposal before the House. What is it? It is to permit the men to contract out of the Act, provided that the employer contributes to the fund which insures against every form of accident, and provided that two-thirds of the men, upon a vote to be taken by ballot, are in favour of the arrangement. I must submit two observations on the form of the proposal. In the first place, it is confined to existing funds. Why? If it is reasonable that arrangements of this kind should be entered into between master and men; if it be the fact that the eulogies my hon. Friend pronounced on the London and North Western Railway Company are justified; if there exists on the part of the working classes throughout the country a widespread desire to take advantage of this scheme in preference to 512 the rights which the law gives them, then it surely would be an unjust thing to confine to working men who have already entered into the arrangement the power of doing so. My hon. Friend indicates he will make a concession on this point. I do not want my hon. Friend's concession. I must test his position really by the facts and by the logical consequences which follow from his argument. If that argument is good for anything, it is good not only to protect existing, but all future arrangements. If I were in my hon. Friend's position I would not in the least degree assent to the limitation which he has suggested. The second criticism which I have to make is that my hon. Friend does not provide any scale or minimum of contribution on the part of the employer.
§ MR. ASQUITH
So that however small the proportion of that contribution may be, provided that two-thirds of the men could be got to agree to say that this was a reasonable arrangement, my hon. Friend would compel the Courts of Law to allow it as an exemption from the operation of the Act. That, I think, is a very strong proposal. Apart from those two matters of form, let me come to the question of industrial ballots. I have a considerable suspicion of ballots in such cases. The very form used in the case of the London and North Western Railway Company shows that even with the best intentions in the world it is very difficult to frame a paper that will satisfactorily bring out the genuine opinions of the men. It is proposed, I know, to throw the duty on some Government official, and again I say that neither the Board of Trade nor any other Government Department possesses the requisite machinery or necessary staff to deal with problems of this kind. But I must ask the House to look a little further into this question. Where you have a large body of 50,000 or 60,000 men, as in the case of the London and North Western Railway Company, the difficulties of the ballot are not so great as in the case of smaller undertakings; but, even there, I am by no means sure that the result of the ballot would be found to accord with the result of a Parliamentary Ballot. Certainly information which reaches me 513 —necessarily from private sources—from various points on the London and North Western Railway Company's system leads me to say not that the ballot was unfairly taken, but that as a result of the form of the paper which I have already criticised, the proportions of the men in favour of and against contracting out of the Act are very different from what would appear to be the ascertained results. That, however, is a thing which only time can prove. But, apart from the large railways, how are you going to apply the proposal to typical undertakings in the country? Take the ordinary manufacturer, employing 200 or 300 men. Could a secret ballot be taken under these conditions so as to bring out, even approximately, the real opinions of the men? The ballot in such cases would not in reality be secret. The way in which each man had voted would certainly become known, not only to his fellow-workmen, but also to the foremen and managers; and the fact that it would be so would influence the men in giving their votes, and would render wholly untrustworthy any ballot taken under those cases. We must deal with the facts that we find. Given the industrial conditions under which the great majority of businesses in this country are carried on, I assert that such a ballot would be hardly worth the paper used for it. There is one other point. Who is to guarantee the solvency of the fund? Again, I say it is all very well to take the case of the Loudon and North Western and Brighton Railway Companies, whose solvency no one doubts; but if a scheme of this kind is good for one it must be good for another, and you would have no guarantee whatsoever that any given fund in which the working men and employer were jointly interested was in a condition of solvency to meet all claims that might be made upon it; and you would not, therefore, he certain the men were not getting something far less valuable than the right to sue their employers for damages. I am, therefore, of opinion that the clause is illogical, in that it proposes only to deal with existing institutions and arrangements, and would be impracticable if applied to any but the very largest industrial undertakings. There can be no doubt what the opinion of the work- 514 ing classes is, without distinction of Party—for this is not a Party question. The working classes have, by every means in their power, indicated their opinion that a Bill which, while safeguarding against negligence in the conduct of employers' work, does not at the same time give them protection from improvident contracts whereby they got rid of their legal rights, would not satisfy their needs. I do not believe that any case of real hardship or grievance in the terms of the Bill can be made out in the ease of the body of men whose interests have been so ably championed by my hon. Friend to-day, and I must ask the House to adhere to the principle contained in the Bill, and to prohibit, under all circumstances and for all purposes, these contracting-out arrangements, which, safeguard them as you may, will, you may depend upon it, in the long run, be used to take away from the men the protection which this Bill intends to lay upon them, and so to frustrate the intentions of the Legislature.
MR. NEWDIGATE (Warwick, Nuneaton)
said that, like all hon. Members who addressed the House for the first time, he rose with some diffidence, but he felt he would not be doing his duty if he did not speak upon this subject, in which many of his constituents were deeply interested. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had spoken as if he did not believe in the reality of the ballot lately taken by the London and North Western Railway Company, and he stated that he had private information to guide him as to the real feeling of railway men in this country. He, however, would ask the right hon. Gentleman, and any other hon. Members who were of the same opinion with the right hon. Gentleman, to come any day to Nuneaton Station and speak with the men, from the humblest platelayer to the highest official, and he undertook to say there would be no difficulty in ascertaining the opinions of the men. He had talked with great numbers of them himself; and knowing what he did, he begged any hon. Members whose minds were still open on the subject, and who were not bound by 515 political exigencies to vote either one way or the other, to pause before they supported legislation which by its action would smash up some of the most useful institutions which existed for the workmen of this country. He must protest against some of the observations which had fallen from the opponents of the clause. The hon. Member for Rugby had referred to the assertion of Mr. Harford, the Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, as to the character of the ballot among the North Western men, and he had also dealt with the attitude of the hon. Member for Battersea towards these institutions. He endorsed the strictures of the hon. Member for Rugby, and he would challenge any hon. Member who doubted the justice of their statements to speak with the railway men themselves. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said he was legislating from a wider and more general point of view than that of the London and North Western Railway Company, or any other company which might have mutual insurance arrangements; but he would venture to say that there were many hon. Members in the House in whose constituencies, as in his own case, Mutual Insurance Societies existed, and who would vote for the proposal of the hon. Member for Crewe. He failed to see what ground the opponents of the hon. Member for Crewe had to stand upon. It was left entirely in the hands of the men themselves to say what they would do, and if they did not like the arrangement it would be open to them to do away with it. All through his speech the Home Secretary laid more stress on the fact that the amount of compensation obtainable through the mutual insurance arrangement would not be so great as would be recoverable at law. He would like to refer the House to a case which was reported in The Birmingham Mail of the 22nd of June last. According to this, one of the railway servants at Crewe, a man 60 years of age, while crossing the line got his foot in the points, and before he could extract it he was knocked down by an engine, a portion of the foot was torn off, and later on a further portion had to be amputated. It was manifest that the company were not to blame for that unfortunate acci- 516 dent. It was a case of pure misadventure, and if the man had brought an action in a Court of Law he would not have been awarded a penny of compensation; yet, under the mutual insurance scheme, he was entitled to his guinea a week for 12 months, and then to £100 in the event of his being unable to resume work. Was it, then, fair to pass a Rill putting men who were so injured out of their present right to compensation under these schemes? He would ask the Home Secretary one further question: What would happen to those men who had for, perhaps, 10 years been paying into these Mutual Insurance Societies? It had been openly declared that if this Bill became law that the employers would not give more than they were obliged to, and that they would not support Mutual Insurance Societies. Then take the case of a man who had subscribed to such a Society for 10 years, and who, through good fortune, had not suffered any injury, and had to come upon its funds. Suppose that a week after the Society had ceased to exist—in consequence of the passing of this Bill—he sustained some terrible injury by no defect in the machinery and through no default on the part of his employers? He would, of course, under such circumstances, be unable to sue for damages. Would the Government give such a man compensation. He would not detain the House any longer. The case for the men had been well put by the hon. Members for Crewe and for the Rugby Division, and he would only add that from his own local knowledge he was in a position to assert that the feeling of the men was very strongly in favour of the clause, and he asked the House to pause before they dealt a fatal blow at the Mutual Insurance Societies by refusing to pass it. He thanked the House for the kind way in which it had listened to him.
§ * MR. HUNTER
assented, and said he hoped not to trespass upon the attention 517 of the House for much more than the 10 minutes remaining of that day's Sitting. The question raised by the Amendment was one of a very peculiar character. When the subject was before the Grand Committee he voted in support of the hon. Member for Crewe, because he thought that would be the safer course to adopt at that stage; as if stronger arguments against it were forthcoming on the Report stage it would be open for him to cast his vote in accordance with such information. The point in this case involved a choice of two evils. On the one hand, it was an evil to introduce an exception to the contracting-out clause. He believed it would be possible to frame an Amendment which would, under certain contingencies, allow workmen to contract out of the Act only in those cases in which better provision was made for them than they got under the Act. He did not think it was beyond the powers of Parliamentary draftsmanship to frame an exception which would have that effect. But, at the same time, while such a provision would not affect the security of other workmen, there was one thing it would necessarily do, and that was it would impair their sense of security. Workmen did not read, and were not familiar with, the language of Acts of Parliament; and if they knew there was an exception, they would never feel confident in their own minds that they were safe against contracting out. Therefore, whatever they might do, however sate the exception might be, although it might not impair the men's veal security, it must impair their sense of security. On the other hand, he did not sympathise in the least, with those who looked with indifference or hostility upon such schemes as that of the London tied North Western Railway Company, and he would go a long way to secure their continuance, and, more than that, to encourage the growth of similar schemes. What was the foremost advantages of such schemes? It was that they offered an absolute and certain provision, and, what was even more important, an immediate provision; and, in the case of the London and North Western Railway Company, it was to a certain extent an adequate provision. Therefore, his vote would not be given in any spirit of hostility to the object aimed at by the 518 Mover of the Amendment. Indeed, he would go into the Lobby with the Mover of the clause if it were shown that the only way in which the continuance of these funds could be secured was by passing the clause, or if it were shown that the provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Rules of the Society. When the matter was before the Grand Committee he thought that the Bill as it stood would destroy the fundamental principle of the London and North Western Railway Company; but having recently examined a copy of the Rules, he had come to the conclusion that, by substituting the word "after" for the word "before" in the 23rd clause of their scheme, a way might be found out of the difficulty. This was, no doubt, a matter of law on which many hon. Members in the House would be able to set him right if his opinion were wrong. The Rule read at present—For members who, before sustaining the personal question in question, agree to accept the contribution of the company …. provision is made under the highest head.The suggestion was that the first line of the rule should read "For members who after sustaining," &c. He thought that a contract by a member after sustaining injury to accept, the compensation provided by the funds of the Society would not only be not illegal, but perfectly consistent, with the terms of the Act. To put the matter in a sentence, while the present Bill forbade contracting out of the Act, it did not forbid contracting out of the insurance fund. No doubt he might be told that under such a change of the Rules it would still be possible for a workman to give up his lights in the fund to sue the company. Theoretically, that was so; but, practically, would any workman take that alternative? In the case of temporary disablement a workman hoped to return to his work, and would not bring an action against those from whom he hoped for further employment. Moreover, he would get 21s. a week during his illness, from the date of his injury; whereas, if he went to law, he would have to wait, a long time before recovering anything, and in a few weeks his slender resources would be exhausted. It was obvious that the immediate character of the payment would constitute an enormous inducement 519 to the men to accept a condition under which, at all events in the case of the London and North Western, they would receive at least as much as they would obtain by going to law. There was, in fact, not the slightest probability that any man would choose to go to law rather than accept the contribution from the insurance fund.
§ It being half-past Five of the clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.