HC Deb 09 November 1893 vol 18 cc627-46

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th November], "That the Clause (Contracts in certain cases to be exempted from application of Section 2,)—(Mr. W. M'Laren,)—proposed on consideration, as amended, be read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

said, when the Bill was before the Grand Committee a difficulty arose with regard to the insurance fund of the London and North Western Railway Company, and some Members directed their efforts towards trying to adjust the Bill to the Rules of the London and North Western Railway Society. He was now satisfied that that was a mistaken policy, and that they ought to consider whether it was not possible to adjust the Rules of the Society to the law. It would be a great misfortune to introduce any exception to the first two clauses of the Bill, unless that exception was absolutely necessary, and the Amendment could not be justified unless it was proved that a workman would, by contracting out, improve his position. That consideration is not fulfilled even in the case of the London and North Western Railway. He had, on looking more closely at the question, found that all that was necessary in order to reconcile the Rules of the London and North Western Company's Society with the Bill as it stood was the alteration of a single word. The principle of the Rules was that a workman should elect whether he would claim against his employer under the law, or whether he would take compensation out of the insurance fund, and there were two scales, one for those who contracted out, and a lower one for those who did not. Under the Rules, that election must be made at the moment when the workman joined the service of the company, and to that extent the Rules were wholly incompatible with the provision of the Bill. They could only be brought into harmony by allowing the election of the workman to be made, not at the moment when he joined the service, but after the injury had occurred. So far as the vast majority of accidents were concerned, it must be wholly immaterial to the members whether the election was made before or after the injury was sustained. The amount paid from the fund for temporary disablement was so adequate and complete that it was absurd to suppose that in such a case a workman would elect to go to law. And such cases amounted to 98 per cent. of all the accidents that were compensated out of the fund. The remaining 2 per cent. represented in equal proportions the number of deaths and the number of cases of permanent disablement. The provision made by the London and North Western Company for such cases was so miserably—he was going to say so grotesquely—inadequate, that unquestionably, if workmen were allowed to contract out of the Act, he would certainly prefer the remedy of the law to the provisions of the insurance fund. Compensation made to the family of a man killed in the service of the London and North Western was £100, of which £62 had been contributed by the man himself and £38 by the company. The lowest was £40, of which £25 was contributed by the man and £15 by the company. The Brighton Company, on the other hand, allowed £200, £150, and £100. Again, though the North Western servants only got half the benefit given to the Brighton servants, the subscription from the men was 13s. against 6s. in the first class, and 8s. 6d. as against 4s. 6d. in the second.

An hon. MEMBER

Compare the sick allowance.


said, he would do so. Those in the first class in the North Western Company received 21s. a week, against 20s. received from the London and Brighton Company; and in the second class the North Western Company men received 14s. as against the London and Brighton 15s.; and in the third class the sums were 7s. and 10s. respectively. He asked a simple question—why should not the North Western Company be levelled up to the standard of the London and Brighton Company? The argument he had applied as to disablement applied with similar force in the case of death; and this showed how the North Western Company could accommodate itself to law. He thought he could demonstrate to the House where the shoe pinched with the London and North Western Railway Company Directors. Although the numbers of those who died or were permanently disabled were only 2 per cent. of the whole of thy accidents on the same line, the cost was 43 per cent. of the whole expenditure. Even on the low scale at the present time paid by the London and North Western Company, out of a total of £385,000, no less than £164,000 was for cases of death and permanent disablement, and only £221,000 for all the 98 per cent. cases. Therefore the substitution of the Brighton Company scale for the London and North Western scale would add to the charges of the latter company something like £13,000 a year. At present they were paying between £16,000 and £17,000 a year, so that by the addition of this sum their total expenditure on this matter would be raised to £30,000 a year. The House could hardly have failed to notice that this scheme of the London and North Western was a very good scheme for the 98 per cent. and a very bad one for the 2 per cent. This Bill was first published on February 7 last, and a Report was on February 24 presented to the annual general meeting of the delegates of the London and North Western Society, in which the subscribers were informed that the Home Secretary had, on behalf of the Government, introduced the Bill, the provisions of which were described, and which, it was said— Would of course put an end to the contribution by the employers to the Insurance Society for the purpose of relieving themselves from liability. Why "of course"? He should like to know whether that statement was a mere idle conjecture or whether it was made in consequence of any communication with the Directors of the company? The Report proceeded to say— Members of the Insurance Society desirous of securing its continuance should therefore use every effort, through such Members of Parliament as they could communicate with, to secure freedom of contract. To secure what? "Freedom of contract." That was a phrase to which he should have thought servants of the London and North Western Company would give a very wide berth. What was the position of a man who applied to that company for employment? Suppose a man who had arrived at the age of 35 and had shown himself to be a skilful and experienced railway servant applied to the company for an appointment and his testimonials being excellent was accepted. He would be asked to sign a document pledging himself to subscribe to certain funds which the company supported and contracting himself out of the Employers' Liability Act. He might say, "I do not wish to subscribe to the funds; I have been for many years a member of a Friendly Society. I joined it young upon a low scale of payment. I have kept it up, and when I am old and the days of sickness become more frequent I shall have this Society to fall back upon, and when I get very old I know that, under the name of medical relief they will give me what is in substance an old age pension." He would say, "I don't want to sacrifice my position in connection with my Friendly Society." The answer the company would make would be to politely show him the door. The London and North Western Company, perceiving that the effect of this Bill, if passed in its present form, would be that their scheme would cost an additional £13,000 or £14,000 a year, and knowing that it would not do for the Directors to state that fact and to appeal to Parliament for consideration, had adopted the ingenious and simple device of threatening the men with the withdrawal of their subscriptions. ["Oh!"] Well, that statement was made by the men themselves. What had happened was this: The Directors, or some persons acting in their name, frightened the members of the Society who, at their instigation, frightened Members of Parliament, and the Members of Parliament were trying to frighten the House of Commons. This was a purely bogus agitation—["No!"]—in which the workmen were made tools to their own injury at the dictation of persons in the company. One or two hon. Members had referred to the hon. Member for Battersea as having been guilty of some awful crime when he had suggested that this Insurance Society of the London and North Western was not really an advantage to the men. He was not perfectly sure that the hon. Member was wrong in that view, because these Societies gave undoubted advantages so long as a man remained in the employment of the company. But if a man who subscribed to the insurance fund left the Society after the age of 40, he was too old to be admitted to any ordinary Friendly Society, and the result was that he lost all the advantages of his sick subscriptions. The Home Secretary said with great truth, and without at all attempting to disparage the efforts which had been made by the London and North Western Company, that it was possible to exaggerate the liberality of that company. Take the most favourable case of temporary disablement. The contribution of the company did not probably on the average exceed one-third of the wages of the workman. He admitted that if they compared the conduct of the company with the present legal obligation, that contribution was by no means illiberal; on the contrary, it was very liberal. But supposing the London and North Western Company were a company in Germany, they would have to pay two-thirds of the wages, and all out of their pockets; so that it depended entirely on the standard with which they compared the liberality of the London and North Western Company whether the House was to admire them very much after all. Take the case of a young man 18 or 19 years of age, who met with an accident in the service of the London and North Western Company, which totally disabled him and deprived him of the power of earning his living for the remainder of his days. If that accident took place in the service of a German Railway Company, and the wages of the young man were 12s. a week, he would be provided with a pension of 8s. per week for the rest of his life. How much would he get under the insurance scheme of the London and North Western Company? He would receive £15 from the Company—not enough to pay one year's annuity on the German system. Take, again, the case of a man, with a wife and family, earning 20s. a week. If the man was killed the family would receive under the German system 12s. a week until the youngest child reached the age of 15, and the widow would receive 4s. a week for the rest of her life, or until she married again. All that the family of such a man would receive from the London and North Western Company would be £30, which was not enough to pay one year's subscription on the German scale. Now, they were told that the London and North Western Company would withdraw their subscription if this Bill became law in its present shape. He would not meet prophesy with prophesy, nor would he meet threats with threats. But perhaps he might be permitted to point out to the company what would be the probable, natural, and, indeed, inevitable result of such action. Assuming that the company withdrew their subscription and the men were deprived of this provision, would not the men begin to ask themselves—"Why should not the railway servants in England have as good treatment as the railway servants in Germany?" Their Representatives would ask that question in Parliament; and what answer would be given, say, by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, or by the hon. Members who had Amendments on the Paper? If the company were to be so ill-advised, so fatuous as to challenge the opinion of their men by withdrawing these subscriptions, in a very short time they would be face to face with a proposition to treat them on the German method, which would cost the company not £13,000 a year, but something like £60,000 or £70,000 a year. He had great confidence that the Directors of the company would not create a question of that kind. The best test which the House could take to prove the baldness of the clause of his hon. Friend was this very case of the Loudon and North Western Company. What was the provision made for those cases that most required provision? The cases in which the law was most unnecessary were death or total and permanent disablement. So far as temporary disablement was concerned, the ordinary Friendly Societies were suffi- cient to cope with the difficulties, but they could not cope with the case of death or permanent disablement because of the enormous cost and increase in the premiums. Was it not a remarkable fact that when they examined the Tables of the London and North Western Company in dealing with temporary disablement they found that the company was most liberal, but that in real cases of death and total and permanent disablement it was niggardly to an extent which was absolutely grotesque viewed as compensation for loss which the workman sustained. It would, therefore, be the grossest injustice if the House was to allow these men to contract out of the Act, because the families of those who wore killed would be robbed of a right which the law gave them. How much, it was asked, would the law give them? That depended on a variety of circumstances, and upon the opinion of juries; lint he had known a case whore the sum of £900 was awarded to a washerwoman run over by a cart, and who was not killed. The amount given would be in excess of the figure allowed by the Loudon and North Western Company; and, therefore, here was a case in which they were allowing the majority, 98 per cent., to rob the 2 per cent of rights which the law gave them. Ho might be told that the company gave this paltry sum of £15 in every case, whereas the law only gave compensation in the case where the injury had resulted from the negligence of the fellow-servant or the employer. That was true. He did not pretend that this Bill covered every case. It was within the narrow compass of the Common Law, and probably it would not give relief to 20 per cent. of the cases—one case out of five. But it was no consolation to the man who would get £700 or £800 from a jury to be told—"Oh, you don't get what you deserve; but then we give £15, or £20, or £40 to men who have no legal claim to it." Let him give one instance from the South Metropolitan Gas Company. If this Amendment were adopted it would be in the power of the company to compel men to contract out of the Act, and in certain cases a man would get no more than 6s. a week—that was about the sum required in London to pay the rent. Therefore, his objection came to two points. The only object which the London and North Western Company had in view, and could have in view in asking Parliament to enable them to force workmen to make a contract at the time they entered employment was to keep down to this ridiculously low scale compensation in serious cases. If that was not their object they could have no objection to allowing the clause to stand, and the men to remain under the Act. But that was not the worst of it. Under the shelter of this Amendment workmen might be forced—the Societies being legalised—to accept payments from these Societies when they did not amount to so much as even 6s. a week. He trusted that the House of Commons would pause before they gave their sanction to the very dangerous principle that was sought to be established, of creating an exception to the Bill. It was not a harmless exception; it was an exception fraught with ruin to the interests of the working men. He appealed to the Members of the House of Commons not to give by their vote, as they were asked to do, their sanction to perpetuate a feature of the London and North Western system so bad in itself and so unworthy and inferior in comparison with other Railway Companies.

* MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)

I have listened to the very able speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen University, but I notice that in the Committee the hon. Member voted in favour of this very clause. His denunciation of the London and North Western Railway, therefore, is the fruit of some rather rapid and recent reflection. I was not present in the Committee, but I presume that the hon. Member did not in the Committee give a silent vote; that he not only voted, but argued in favour of the clause; and now he comes to the House with a denunciation of the Directors of the North Western Company, who, it seems, are guilty of grotesque maltreatment of their servants. Why? Because they do not give as much as employers are compelled to give in Germany. That is the argument of the hon. Gentleman. It would be more pertinent if he had informed the House that in many cases English juries have not given the maximum now allowed by the Act. I invite the attention of the hon. Member to the figures on this subject, and I think he will find that the cases in which juries have gone up to the maximum of the present law are extremely few. The loss, then, is not that to which the hon. Member referred when he spoke of the German law, but the railway servant loses only his chance of what an English jury would give, and juries have not estimated the damages upon such a scale as that arranged by the German Legislature. The first point in this discussion is to satisfy ourselves whether or not these contracts, which the hon. Member for the Crewe Division seeks to preserve by his clause, are or are not beneficial to the workmen. If not, I should vote for the Amendment. Unlike the hon. Member for Aberdeen University, the Home Secretary frankly admits that they are beneficial; that, if we take the cases all round, the enormous convenience of having no litigation, no costs of lawyers, no protracted delay during which the heart grows sick with deferred hope, is far beyond anything that any Employers' Liability Act will give. Those are considerations which have satisfied the Home Secretary, and which have satisfied him that this is a beneficial arrangement. Observe, the hon. Gentleman comes here with comparisons drawn from Germany and with comparisons drawn from the London and Brighton Railway Company. Let me call attention to the fact that the London and Brighton agreement is one that will be destroyed by this Bill. On the Committee that sat in 1886 we took the evidence of both friends and foes of this system of "contracting out." We have a Labour Commission that is still sitting, and has devoted a great part of its attention to this subject. I believe that not before either of those bodies has one instance been produced of an agreement that is other than beneficial to the workmen. One witness had given evidence to the effect that a Northumberland and Durham Miners' Relief Society was insolvent by the sum of £90,000. In 1881 the owners offered to contribute 25 per cent. of the amount contributed by the men, and if the men had consented to receive that and had contracted out of the Act, instead of being insolvent their Society would have had a surplus of £78,000, which, with the subscriptions of the men, would have amounted to £168,000. It is true that the contributions of the employers are not alike in all the Societies, and I do not say that all the Societies which will be saved by the clause of the hon. Gentleman are equally deserving; but the contributions made by the employers in all the Societies I know are amply liberal, and they certainly exceed any liability which would fall upon the employers under the Act. Those contributions secure to the workmen who join the Societies benefits far greater than they can get by the Employers' Liability Act, quite independently of all the advantages which they obtain by peace and goodwill. The next important point is whether these contracts are voluntary contracts, and not contracts imposed upon the workmen? The hon. Member for Crewe proposes to secure that condition by means of a ballot taken under the supervision of a servant of the Board of Trade. I listened with some amusement and a great deal of surprise to what fell from the Home Secretary on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman did not venture to say directly that the ballot which had been taken by the London and North Western men entirely by themselves, without any interference from anybody, was not a fair ballot. He criticised and carped, as so subtle a lawyer is well able to do, at the terms of the question on the ballot paper; but if he wants any assurance that the North Western Company's men with all their hearts preferred to contract themselves out of the Employers' Liability Act let him ask those Members who have any North Western men among their constituents. If the right hon. Gentleman will not trust the ballot, will he trust the assurance of the Representatives of the men in Parliament? I have in my own constituency London and North Western men; I have been in constant communication with them, and, knowing their feelings, I say that their preference for their present contracts over the Act is as absolute and as spontaneous as any preference with which I have over met. The Home Secretary said that the clause would apply to smaller Societies, and that when we come to a Society like that in au ordinary factory, with 100 or 200 hands, no ballot can be secret. That is au observation which we will bear in mind when we come to discuss the Parish Councils Bill. Take the Petition of the Coal Miners' Permanent Relief Society, to whom, in accordance with the practice which seems to be growing up, the Homo Secretary refused an interview. Can it be doubted that the members of that Society are deliberately in favour of the contracts which they have made, although the contribution of their employers is only 25 per cent.—namely, exactly that proportion which in 1886 witnesses of experience and skill testified was probably the contribution representing the number and character of the accidents for which the owners are liable under the Employers' Liability Act. Anybody who will take the trouble to look at the evidence taken in 1886 will see that one-fourth of the compensation was the estimated proportion that would fall legally on the owners under the Act. Has that been freely accepted? In 1882 there were only 47,000 men belonging to the various Coal Miners' Permanent Societies: in 1893 there were 120,000. These men have come in through having witnessed the benefits to their fellow-workmen, contracting out of the Act not being made a condition of employment. No case is so strong as that of South Wales. There men who have contracted out of the Act are working side by side with men who are still under the Act. There is no advantage gained by one set of men over the other. In 1881 there were 5,665 men who had contracted out; in 1890 there were 52,000. Facts like these are more powerful than the sneers of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) about freedom of contract. When we see a system of contracting out gaining ground, and, as in the case of South Wales, 48,000 men won over in nine years owing to the benefits it bestows, that is pretty strong evidence, to my mind, that the men are agreed as to what is best for their interests. The case of Mill-wall Hocks is an example of men refusing to contract out, but I know of no instance in which anything like coercion was applied to the men. I say, therefore, that my second proposition is made out—namely, that these contracts are voluntary on the part of the men. My third proposition is that these contracts of insurance do not in- crease the risks of the industrial undertakings in which they are adopted, and they do not diminish care. I am bound to say that most of the arguments I have heard on this subject seem to be tainted with such essential absurdity that I can hardlyeven follow them. The liability of an employer for his own negligence does not result from the Employers' Liability Act, but from the Common Law. All that the present Bill proposes is to make the employer liable for the negligence of any one of his workmen. The old Act made him liable only for the negligence of a workman in authority or superintendence. How can any rational human being contend under such circumstances that the present Bill, if passed, will make the workmen more careful by making the employer pay? The Dauphins of France, and I believe some of our own Princes, used to have a "whipping boy," who received castigations for the Dauphin's acts or defaults; but who ever said that this increased the care with which the Dauphin learned his lessons? How can it be argued that you will make the servant more careful by making the master pay for his servant's acts? If there were any seriousness in the contention of hon. Members, and if they really wanted to increase care, they would impose a criminal penalty on the workman whose negligence caused an accident. But I have not heard such a thing suggested. A workman is not in a position to be made civilly liable, and the only remedy would be to make negligence criminal. The facts disprove the contention that these contracts, putting aside the Employers' Liability Act, increase accidents. I am not going to repeat the figures of deaths which have been already given, but I should like to quote some figures respecting disablement, because they are still more instructive. The total number of disablements in the 12 years prior to the passing of the Act of 1881 on the London and North Western Railway amounted to .18 per cent. of the number of workmen. In the 12 years following the Act, 1881–1892 both inclusive, the percentage of disablement cases was only .06, thus having diminished by two-thirds. In other words, these cases are now one-third of what they were. Putting the figures in a more intelligible form there used to be 18 disablement cases out of every 10,000 workmen, whereas they are now only six. Taking the deaths and disablements together for the same two periods of 12 years, I find that the percentage before the Act of 1881 was .40, or four for each 1,000 men, whereas for the 12 years following the Act it was only .15, or 1½ per 1,000. This shows that, as far as the London and North Western Railway Company are concerned, the passing of the Act has not led to an increase in the number of accidents. We have other evidence. Mr. Campbell gave some interesting evidence before the Committee of 1886 relating to the Coal Miners' Permanent Society. He contrasted a district where the coal miners contract out—North Wales—with the district of the West Riding, where all the men are within the Act. He pointed out that in the district where the men contracted out of the Act, and where, therefore, according to the theorists, there would be less care, the number of cases of disablement, which wore 15.5 per cent., had fallen to 11.8 per cent. Mr. Blackley gave an account of a Society numbering 2,000 men, and representing a manufacture of 2,000 tons of iron a week. He stated on this question of negligence that the men who were on the Committee of the Society were a kind of sentinels distributed throughout the works; that their attention was drawn to the fact of their having to provide compensation for accidents out of the fund to which they partly contributed themselves, and that they had, therefore, a direct pecuniary interest in reducing the number of accidents. It is a feature in the rules of all these Societies that if the fund proved insufficient, the Committee had power to double the contribution, both of the men and of the employers, thereby rendering it to the direct interest of everybody that accidents should not take place. I think now I have given some reasons for the acceptance of my three propositions—namely, that in the first place these are beneficial agreements; that in the next place they are voluntary agreements, and, thirdly, that they do not increase the chances of accidents or increase the carelessness of the men. That being so, why are you to prohibit men from making these agreements? Really, I do not like to expatiate on freedom of contract, for that is a phrase which comes so much more gracefully from the mouths of gentlemen below the Gangway, but I would ask what is the good of talking about freedom of contract at the same time that you prevent these men making contracts of that sort with their eyes open—contracts which give them benefits that you cannot secure by your legislation, and which do not cause any additional risk either to their neighbours or to the public? The Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) hardly challenged directly any of the propositions I have laid down. What he said was that the Bill was not going to destroy these contracts. He professed for them almost an affection, and said he was convinced they were not going to be interfered with. He said the accidents for which an employer would be liable under this or any other Act wore only 10 per cent. of the total number of accidents; that the contribution made by the London and North Western Railway Company was extravagantly in excess of anything they would have to pay under the Employers' Liability Act, and that it was clear, therefore, that their motive was not to save liability under the Act, but to place themselves on good terms with their men, and to prevent their men going on strike. The answer to that is, I think, a pretty obvious one. In the first place, I cannot help looking at the history of these Societies. In 1880 the employers called their men together and said—"We now subscribe, £1,500 to your fund, but if you will contract yourselves out of the Act we will give you £23,000." Is that a fact to be entirely overlooked by the theories of the Homo Secretary? There is no doubt whatever, I think, that the employers in 1880 were frightened by the new Act, and over-estimated the chances of liability that would accrue under it. They thought, probably, that claims would be very excessive, and that the sums recovered would be very large. They, therefore, made a liberal offer to the men, and, having once made that offer, they have—I will not say as men of business, but as humane and fair men—continued to act upon it without demur, no doubt largely induced by the good feeling which their liberal contribution has produced, and by the absence of anything like litigation and quarrels between themselves and their men. The Home Secretary is now making them liable for the negligence of any servants, and has taken away all limit of liability, so that no Insurance Company will be able to insure against the risks employers will run under the Bill. Employers may find themselves liable at any moment to pay compensation for the deaths of some hundreds of men to an unlimited amount. The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) says that £900 is the price for a washerwoman, so what it will be for a collier no one can tell. The Home Secretary asks us to believe that the large payments which are made solely for the purpose of securing a certainty as to the employers' liability will be continued when the employers are rendered subject to this large and uncertain liability, which is to be totally unlimited in amount. I very much doubt if business-men will take any such line of action. I should like to know how the peace is to be preserved between masters and men if litigation is to take place between them. The Home Secretary states that it would not take place in 99 cases out of 100. But does experience confirm that view? Just contrast the amount claimed in the cases brought before the Courts under the present Act with the sum actually recovered. The difference is enormous, and it shows that the demands made have been unreasonable. I do not say that the men have made the demands; no doubt they have been made by the lawyers; but the fact remains, they have been so extravagant that no businessman, no humane man, could submit to them without requiring them to be investigated in a Court of Law and before a jury. If there has been such a disproportion in cases under an Act in which the amount recoverable is limited, will the disproportion not be more marked when the limit has disappeared? There is another fact which I should have thought the Home Secretary would have taken into account. He says that these Insurance Societies will continue; but the Directors of the London and North Western Railway have said as plainly as possible that they are not going to continue their contribution if this Bill becomes law. Oh, but the Home Secretary knows better! He says it is going to be continued in spite of what probability indicates and the Directors assert. The hon. Member for Battersea, I think, is much more of a business-man in this matter than the Home Secretary. The hon. Member has said, with the straightforwardness and manliness which always characterise his utterances, that he supports the Bill because he knows that it will kill these agreements. When the Home Secretary tells us that Clause 3 provides an equitable arrangement with which both employers and employed would be so content that the former will continue their contribution of something more than 90 per cent. of the sum the law would exact from them, I have an extremely simple answer for him. Clause 3 entitles the company to the return of a sum equal to that which it has contributed to the fund in respect of the particular accident for which it is sued. But is that all that the company has done for the workman? It has for years helped him, possibly in time of serious illness or partial disablement kept him going; and yet when that man goes to law it is only to receive out of the fund a certain amount in respect of the particular accident for which it is sued. Surely that is treating equity in a rather narrow spirit. So much for the general principle that is involved in this clause. The right hon. Gentleman makes specific objections to it. He says it applies only to existing contracts, and that it is, therefore, illogical. I entirely agree with him, and if this clause is read a second time I will support an Amendment extending it to future contracts equally beneficial and equally stamped with the certain approval of the men. And I am happy to think that when that time comes, if it ever does, we shall have the support of the Home Secretary for an Amendment of this sort. Again, he says that no scale of contribution by the employer is fixed. That is perfectly true; but, on the other hand, the contribution must be one which the men will be called upon to approve in the secret ballot. That is much better, in my judgment, than any contribution fixed by Act of Parliament even if decided upon by so high an authority as the right hon. Gentleman himself. I will say nothing as to his assertion that ballots are a suspicious mode of ascertaining the true opinions of the men, but I will pass to a more important point. The right hon. Gentleman said,—"You do not by your clause guarantee the solvency of this fund." I may retort upon the right hon. Gentleman—Where is the guarantee of the solvency of the employer? If an employer has an accident in his colliery and 100 deaths occur in consequence, are you going to guarantee that the employer will be able to pay damages on a scale which the hon. Member for Aberdeen thinks will be the proper scale? Do you not rather think that many of those employers will be landed in the Bankrupcty Court? In such a case the remedy under your Bill will not be of much practical value. In the case of a Society the funds do not disappear all at once; they go by degrees; and the members, seeing the accounts from year to year, are able to acquaint themselves with their position. Should they become unequal to the liabilities of the Society they will then be able to fall back on the clause providing for double contributions which exists in nearly all these schemes; and if that is not sufficient the Society can be wound up, and they will be able to fall back on the Employers' Liability Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. And, lastly, the right hon. Gentleman says the clause is against the opinion of the working classes. But it is not against the opinion of the workmen who are engaged in the industries in which these insurance contracts exist. The large majority of men employed in those industries approve of them, and, indeed, it is necessary for two-thirds to do so if the fund is to go on. Who, thou, are the people whose opinion is against those Insurance Clauses? I am afraid it is true that those who direct the Trade Unions are against it. In my opinion, it is a most deplorable fact that those who lead labour—and in many cases lead it wisely and usefully—should desire to get a better hold upon the men who are engaged in such employments as the London and North Western or the collieries, to which reference has been made, that they may be able, so to speak, to compel their joining in strikes or in other movements against employers by depriving them of contracts which I have shown reasons for believing are beneficial to the men themselves. Indeed, if the contracts were not beneficial the men would never sanction them. It seems an unfortunate policy on the part of those who profess to lead the Trade Unions of this country that they should seek to restrict the freedom of their fellow-countrymen in making arrangements beneficial to themselves, in order that the men may be easier and more ready tools in the event of a conflict with employers. That appears to me to be a policy which public opinion will not approve of or endorse. For these reasons I shall feel myself fully justified in giving my vote for the Amendment.

MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

said, that when his attention was first called to the clause he was prejudiced against it because of his experience of the results of a similar clause in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, which was rendered inoperative and useless to the agricultural community by reason of the contracting out clause. But when he came in contact with the men employed on the London and North Western he found that the objections which attached to the contracting out clause of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875 did not apply in the present case, and for this reason: that in the former case the action of the landlords in contracting out was entirely at variance with the wishes of the farmers, while in this instance the clause was entirely in consonance with the wishes of the railway men. That surely constituted a radical and complete difference between the two cases, for under no circumstances was there in this case a possibility of the clause being enforced by intimidation on the part of the employer. Both parties were in an equal position, and the very first principles of liberty required that a workman should be able to contract, out if he pleased. It was practically admitted that the vast majority of the men of the London and North Western Railway Company did prefer the right to contract out and maintain their Insurance Societies, and, that being so, he could not give a vote in opposition to the wishes of at least 90 per cent. of them. The Bill, he knew, did not contain any clause declaring that those Societies should exist no longer, but it would destroy the motive for the Insurance Society, so far as it was supported by the employer, and they had the distinct testimony of those I who knew best whether the Societies were likely to be destroyed—that the Bill would be fatal to them. It was useless to listen to the opinions of hon. Members from Scotland or elsewhere as to the probable effect of the Bill on the Societies; it was the men themselves who would have to suffer whose opinions were most to be relied upon. It had been stated that these Societies were promoted by the employers as an insurance against strikes—as a preventative, in fact, of strikes—and surely if any system could be devised which constituted a sufficient inducement to workmen to avoid strikes, it ought to be supported in every possible way. It was well-known that the Employers' Liability Act did not give to the employés any greater right than the ordinary public had against Railway Companies. Any person who was the victim of an accident to which he himself had contributed by even the slightest amount of negligence was not entitled to recover under the Bill.


That is not so.


said, he thought the law was that any person suffering from an accident contributed to by his own negligence could not recover, and the Homo Secretary had told them that such cases numbered 90 per cent. of the total. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that only 10 per cent. of the accidents that occurred to railway servants would be such as to enable damages to be recovered.


I said nothing of the kind. I said that was the case under the existing law which this Bill is intended to amend.


continuing, said, the hon. Member for Aberdeen stated that only 20 per cent. would recover under this Bill, because any person who in the slightest degree was guilty of contributory negligence in cases of accident could not recover. Therefore, under the Bill 80 per cent. would not recover any damages at all, but they would recover damages or compensation from the Insurance Societies. It was no consolation to the 80 per cent. who were deprived of compensation through their own contributory neglect to be able to say that the 20 per cent. would get larger damages in consequence under this Bill. In his view, there was no body of men in the country more intelligent and more capable of judging of their own interests, and it would be cruel to deny them the power to maintain their Insurance Societies and to force them to accept the Bill against their wishes. Only the previous week a meeting of railway men was held at Holyhead, and one of the speakers used this argument—If I am killed in a railway accident, which of you will come and give evidence on behalf of my widow against the Railway Company; which of you would not be afraid to do it?" That question was such a poser that the meeting unanimously resolved it would be far better to remain under the Society than to go under the Act. The hon. Member for Aberdeen had asked what the Bill would give the men. He omitted to enumerate one thing it would give them, and that was in every case a lawsuit. But under the clause of his hon. Friend they would get every farthing of compensation without any lawsuit whatever. The late Homo Secretary pointed out that the average amount recovered under the existing Act was not so large as the minimum granted by the Society; but he might have gone further, for it was a well-known fact that the damages awarded wore very considerably reduced by legal costs. The right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary used one other argument which was fallacious, and that was that the company was niggardly in its treatment of serious cases, because the compensation was limited to £100; but he forgot that these Societies could do what Friendly Societies were unable to do—i.e., cope with all cases, however serious. He was convinced that if he voted against the clause of the hon. Member for Crewe he would be acting not only against the wishes of his constituents, but also against every principle of justice and expediency.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Fenwick.)

Motion agreed to.

Debate further adjourned till Tomorrow.