§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I hope that the Government do not consider that the discussion on the preceding stages of this great Bill has been at all unduly prolonged. It is a very important measure. It deals with many ramifications both of domestic and commercial life; it has been greatly altered in the course of its progress through the preceding stages; and I hope the House will bear with me if I endeavour now to estimate the general results of the measure in its present form and take stock of the position at which we have arrived. I feel sure that the Government will admit that, hitherto, these discussions have not been carried on in any very Party feeling. I believe that no single Division which has been taken on the Bill has proceeded entirely on Party lines. The reason is clear. It is because all sides of the House, and every Member in the House, sincerely agrees with the Government in the objects which they have set before themselves. There might, perhaps, be another reason, which is, that, in our opinion, this measure as it stands is not one which will bring any Party advantage to its authors. We think that those who are strongly in favour of it are already loyal supporters of the Government, while, on the other hand, many of their supporters are bitter opponents of some points, at all events, in the measure. I shall not, however, treat the question at all from a Party point of view, but I will deal with it, as far as I am able, in reference to its general and public policy, and, above all, 1561 the influence it is likely to have on the interests of the working class population. I say deliberately that, in my opinion, it is a most mischievous Bill. I may be allowed, I hope, to hold that opinion, and, as far as I can, to justify it. I think it is a mischievous Bill both in those things it does, which it had better have left undone, and in leaving undone many things which it would have been much better if it had done. Now, Sir, I should say that I have not put down any notice of opposition to the Third Beading of the Bill. I did not want the ironical cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite to assure me that in the opinion I have just expressed I am in a minority in the House of Commons, and I did not want, by putting down a notice of opposition to the Third Heading of the Bill, to give hon. Members opposite any unnecessary labour in having to cross the stormy seas in times like the present, or to put the House to the trouble of a Division. But I do ask leave to make my final protest against what I believe to be undoubtedly unwise legislation. Now, Sir, I ask the House what are the great objects which anyone must have in view in undertaking legislation of this kind? I do not allude to those objects which have been alluded to in the course of the Debate — objects not publicly avowed, and which would not be very worthy objects if they existed. It has been alleged, for instance, that a, certain part of the community are desirous of promoting ill-feeling, or at all events of maintaining causes of dispute between employers and employed in the interest of the Trades Unions. It has been alleged, on the other hand, that employers are opposed to this legislation because they believe it will strengthen the Trade Unions. I do not believe these feelings are largely entertained on either side. I am perfectly certain that Trade Unionism may very well stand on its own foundations, for there is sufficient reason for the combination of workmen to maintain the rate of wages quite independently of any consideration affecting workmen's insurance. I do not believe that this or any other legislation will have any considerable effect either in weakening or strengthening the Trade Unions as such. But the two main avowable objects with which legislation of this kind will always be pursued are 1562 —first, to induce such precautions on the part of the employers as may lead to a reduction in the number of accidents; and, secondly, to secure to those who suffer from accidents fair compensation in as many cases as possible. The first of these considerations was put in the forefront by the Home Secretary, who said that the main object which the Government had in view was to safeguard the health and the lives of workpeople by imposing on the employer liability for the safe conduct of his industrial operations. That, then, is the principle by which we have to test the success of the Government. That is their own main object, and it is according to the way they have secured that object that they can be held to be successful in fulfilling their own intentions. If you are to safeguard the operations of industry by means of pressure put upon employers, it must be in regard to those matters over which the employer has full control. That is the principle of the present Employers' Liability Act. Wherever, in the opinion of the trainers of that Act, of whom I have the honour to be one, you could suppose the negligence of an employer might have led to an accident, there you punished him by fine in the shape of compensation for the result of his negligence. Does this Bill carry that principle any further ': Does it impose fresh liability upon the employer in regard to those matters over which he has control? Not a bit of it. It imposes it upon him in regard to those matters over which he has no control. That may be right or wrong. I shall have to refer to it again. But, I say, at all events it can have no effect upon the number or the character of the accidents. It is of no use penalising the employer unless you penalise him in regard to matters in which he can alter his conduct. If he cannot alter his conduct, you may be justified in penalising him, but at least it can have no resuit upon the conduct of the industry. I am, and always have been, strongly in favour of putting the utmost pressure upon employers to do what is held to be right, or can be shown to be right, for safeguarding the health and safety of their employés. If the present law is insufficient, which may be an arguable matter, by all means bring forward a Bill to increase the penalties. If the prudential 1563 motive which at the present time leads an employer to take all necessary precautions is not sufficient, by all means double the fine you put upon him. If doubling the fine is not sufficient, by all means proceed by way of criminal prosecution and imprisonment. I am not opposed to any stringency of the law, which is only intended to make the employer do what, by common consent, he ought to do. But the scheme of the Bill is to extend this principle of penalising to cases where the employer has absolutely no discretion or control or influence whatsoever. It makes him liable for the negligence of the ordinary workman Now, Sir, is there any man in this House who knows anything about manufacturing industry who will say that the employer in a great firm can have the slightest influence upon the negligence of the ordinary workman? I am supposing, of course, that he has taken all the necessary precautions within his own control, that he has provided the best machinery with proper fencing, that he has made regulations and given instructions to his workpeople the fulfilment of which will do all that he can do to prevent accidents. But having done that, does anyone go further and say he can prevent a drunken workman from at some time doing a careless or a wrong thing which shall cause injury to a fellow-workman? How can he prevent it? and if he cannot, bow are Ave going by this Bill, which may be good for other reasons, to reduce the number of accidents? Let us take a case or two. Take the case of Armstrong & Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who employ 8,000 men and boys who have to do with fire, molten metal, and sharp tools. Of course, there must inevitably be a certain proportion of accidents and loss of life in connection with the work. Does anybody pretend that that firm, after this Bill is passed, can do, or will do in consequence of this Bill, anything more than they do at, present? Can they enter upon a personal examination of the qualifications of every one of those 8,000 men and boys, and, if, they did so, can prevent one of them from some day being negligent and so causing injury to some other workman? The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that a seaman in the Arctic seas might by negligence or carelessness let a block fall on the head of another seaman and kill him, and that 1564 under this Bill the representatives of the unfortunate seaman would be entitled to compensation. Yes, Sir; so far, so good; but in my present argument I am not dealing with the question of compensation; I am dealing with the prevention of accidents. Would the fact that the man would be entitled to compensation have saved the man's life? Would it have enabled the owners of the ship to have done anything before it started on its voyage, six months before, which would have prevented that careless sailor from letting the block fall on the head of the unfortunate person? It is certain, so far as the 1st clause of the Bill is concerned—the main clause, which gets rid of the doctrine of common employment—whatever other advantage it may bring, it will not bring the advantage which by the confession of the Home Secretary was the chief motive for this Bill—namely, the safeguarding of the lives and the health of working people. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea gave the House a good many statistics. I need not caution my hon. Friend against the too loose use of statistics. He will himself admit that statistics might be made to prove anything. I will only say that many of the figures which he adduced would not, I think, bear close examination by a competent tribunal; but, taking them as they stand, what do they amount to? To what he himself called the terrible death-roll of labour. Thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, suffer death or accident in the course of their employment; how many does not matter to the argument; if any, we all deplore it, and we would all gladly see the number reduced. But I want to point out that all this is beside the question. What he has to show is that this Bill is going to reduce the number. My hon. Friend went on to say that in the London Hospital every year there were 36,000 accident cases, and that 60 per cent, of these accidents could be prevented if this Bill were properly enforced, be must excuse me for saying that this is a monstrous and absurd exaggeration. It is absolutely impossible. Sixty per cent.! Why, Sir, the Bill does not pretend to deal with more than 50 per cent, of the accidents that occur. I do not think it will deal with anything like that proportion; and if it will not affect 1565 50 per cent., directly or indirectly, how are you going to save 60 per cent, under these circumstances. My hon. Friend has really misapprehended the purpose of the Government. Let, me first give credit where credit is due, and say to what extent the Bill may be expected to affect the number of accidents. The Bill for the first time extends the liability of employers to three classes of Her Majesty's subjects—namely, persons in the employment of the Government, seamen on board ship, and domestic servants. So far as these 36,000 accidents are accidents to those three classes of persons, and so far as they are duo to the negligence of employers, to that extent this Bill may have a preventive effect. It may make employers of seamen and domestic servants more careful, and so reduce the number of accidents. Whether it will have the effect of making the Government more careful I do not know; that, I suppose, depends a, good deal upon the Government. But do 5 per cent., or even 1 per cent., of the cases at the London Hospital come under these three categories of persons so employed and injured through the negligence of their employers? You must take 50 per cent, off this 36,000 people from persons suffering from what is called the "act of God," and not from the negligence of themselves or of anybody else. Then you must take off all whose accidents are due to contributory negligence, because this Bill affords them no protection or assistance. Then you must strike off all whose injury is due to the negligence of the employer, because they are provided for by the previous Act and not by this Bill. Wherever you can prove negligence you have recourse to the law already. Thus you come down to the last class of people—namely, those who, without contributory negligence, are injured by the negligence of their fellow-workmen. As I have already pointed out, as to them nothing you can do in the way of penalising the employer is at all likely to affect their negligence. I say, under these circumstances, so far from its being true that 60 per cent, of these accidents will be prevented by the Bill, the effect of the Bill will be infinitesimal. Let me take another case which has been referred to by my hon. Friend. He spoke of shunters, and he said that out 1566 of 14,000 shunters 1,220 were killed and 11,690 injured in the course of seven years. Again, I neither dispute, nor have I attempted to verify, his figures. It is a most terrible account to give of any employment, and assuming it to be accurate, I am sure that nothing could give greater satisfaction to the House than the assurance that by this Bill or any Bill that immense loss of life could be materially reduced. These accidents may have been attributed to three causes, and in my opinion I do not think you can easily find a fourth. The first of these causes would be bad regulations made by the Railway Companies. Well, that will not be affected by this Bill. That, is affected by the Bill of 1880, which gives a remedy, by way of compensation, for injuries under such circumstances, and in these I include regulations or orders given by persons in the position of superintendents. Then the second cause of these accidents is the carelessness and negligence of the men themselves. I am afraid that is answerable for a large proportion of the accidents. I do not mean to blame the unfortunate men. It is in human nature that when you are constantly engaged in a dangerous employment, you gradually become hardened to it, and cease to take the necessary care. I am afraid that accounts for the great majority of these accidents; but with regard to them this Hill does nothing. This Bill gives no remedy to these men for their own carelessness or negligence in case of an accident. The third case is where a man is killed by the negligence of an engine-driver or the person in charge of a train. I really cannot conceive any other class of cases. Taking the third case, what do we find? That that was also provided for by the Act, of 1880. Can the hon. Member supply the House with a concrete case which does not come within one or other of these three classes? I do not want to labour this, but I do want to impress upon the House that by this Bill, whatever else the country is going to get, from it, you are not going to get any improvement in the death-rate or a reduction of accidents. We are not foolish enough to think that we are going to produce any effect by penalising employers for the neglect of their employés. It cannot be pretended that in anything like a large manufacturing 1567 establishment an employer can have the slightest influence upon individual acts or individual conduct of the whole of the persons whom he employs. But that is not the worst of it. It is not merely that this Bill will give no new incentive to carefulness; I think it is going to take away one great incentive that there is at present. I think it will be found that the effect will be to discourage to some extent carefulness, and that it will do away with the prudential motive upon which you are counting. What is the state of the case now with the ordinary employer? He knows that he is liable for injuries to which his negligence contributes, and therefore he has a direct interest in spending money to prevent injury and accidents. Every penny that he spends he knows is an investment which will come back to him in a lessened liability, but under this Bill that would be no longer the case. He may say—"I may spend as much money as I please, and I cannot alter by one iota my liability. In regard to the larger class of cases, no care on my part will make the slightest difference." What would be the result of that? I am confident that the result will be that every thinking and prudent man will insure. Up to the present that is not the case. There are employers who said—"We have so few accidents we will take the risk," but that will not be so any longer. It seems to me that that is a curious result of the agitation of Trade Unions and the action of the present Government. I go on to speak of the second great consideration to which we are referred in connection with this legislation. I take rather a different view from the Home Secretary, because, having regard to all the circumstances, I am inclined to put this consideration first rather than second. It is, how to secure to the victim of an accident the only compensation that it is in our power to give him. You cannot prevent inevitable loss of life, the inevitable suffering through what is called the "act of God." Here the Bill, I admit, does do something. It does give compensation to a larger number of cases than would be the case under the old law. So far as it docs that I entirely approve of its operation, but it still leaves an enormous number of cases unprovided for. For how many does this Bill provide? I observe that it has been calculated that this Bill 1568 only deals with 20 per cent, of the total number of accidents. Well, the German statistics would put it higher than that; the percentage would be 33. Whether one-third or one-fifth, you still leave by this Bill, confessedly, four-fifths or two-thirds unprovided for. I say that that is leaving undone what you should have done. I asked the right hon. Gentleman before, "Why do you not take this opportunity—this great opportunity—of completing your work?" Why should, you not go further and provide for the remaining fraction now unprovided for, placing them on an equality with those to whom you are going to give compensation? What is the answer of the right hon. Gentleman? He gave me two answers; one was, that if he were to undertake in Committee to reconsider this subject it would involve a total change of his plans, and that I should claim credit for it. I do not think a Minister of the Crown is justified in saying that, in putting that forward in answer to a friendly suggestion. [Ironical laughter.] It was a friendly suggestion—even though it was made by one who ordinarily is a strenuous opponent—but I put that aside. I do not think that can be seriously intended; but what he laid stress upon is this, that public opinion is not prepared for so great a change. In his last reference to this matter the right hon. Gentleman seemed to show a certain inclination, and I am very glad to see it, towards this suggestion, but he held that public opinion was not prepared for it. How does he know that? I would say that it is the duty of a Government to-lead and instruct public opinion, and not merely to follow the orders which it receives. But how does he know that public opinion is not prepared for this? I think in this House we have had some-suggestive evidence shown that public opinion is making rapid strides in this direction. Many Members of this House have expressed approval of the principle which I have endeavoured to get accepted by the Government—men who having opposed it have now come to the conclusion that it may be fairly adopted. Still better evidence is to be found in the almost uniform success and popularity of every voluntary scheme-which has been made. The right hon. Gentleman referred vaguely to schemes which were not satisfactory and 1569 not popular, but lie did not quote one. Of all the schemes of this kind of which I am aware there is not one which has not grown in popularity with every year of its existence. It does seem to me that under the circumstances it is a very strong order not merely not to follow an example so satisfactory, but absolutely to discourage them in the future and destroy those that are at present in existence. I am not going to repeat in detail to the discussion which has taken place upon what is called "the contracting-out clause," but I think there can be no doubt that these schemes are popular with the men. The men believe, whether they are right or wrong, that they get much better terms out of these funds than they would get under the Bill, but they do not wish to control those who think otherwise. What is the answer to the modest claim of these men, who are counted in much larger numbers than has appeared hitherto during the Debate? They are counted by hundreds of thousands, and there are many more of such schemes than those which have been mentioned, many of them in connection with very small works. We are told by the bon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Burns) and by my hon. Friend the Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwiek) that these men have been coerced into an expression of opinion in favour of contracting-out. ["Hear, hear!"] "Hear, hear," says the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Charming). I venture to tell him that that statement is a libel and an aspersion upon these men, who are the very flower of the working classes. These men are skilled artisans, intelligent, independent men, and it is perfectly ridiculous for anyone who knows anything whatever about them to say that men like the workpeople in the great firm of Messrs. Armstrong and Co., who return Members opposed to the polities of the head of the firm, like the men in the employment of the London and North Western Railway Company, and others, have been coerced, and coerced to such an extent that even under the secrecy of the ballot they cannot be trusted to say what they think. Where is the proof that these men have been coerced? I venture to say that there is much more pressure exercised against these agreements than has been exercised in favour of them. It is very 1570 remarkable that while the ballot has been invoked again and again by those who are anxious to know whether the workpeople were in favour of these agreements or not, and has always resulted in a favourable vote, the unfavourable vote, which has been appealed to by the hon. Member for Battersea and others, has always been an open vote, and never a vote taken under the protection of the ballot. I do not accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea of exercising any undue pressure, but the case is much stronger in favour of a genuine expression of opinion where it is obtained through the ballot than when it is obtained at an open meeting or at a committee meeting of a Trade Union. Why should pressure be exerted in favour of these agreements? Will any hon. Member point out where is the pecuniary interest of the employers in these cases which should induce them to enforce these agreements upon their men? There is not one of these agreements which does not cost the employer five or ten times as much as he would have to pay under the Bill. He has no pecuniary interest. What, then, is the interest which should induce the employer to exercise a malign and tyrannical pressure upon his workpeople in order to get them to say under the ballot that they believe those agreements are good for them? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary suggested a reason, because he said he took it that their object was to make an industrial ring fence, and to secure a hold over their workpeople which would make them 10th to leave their employment. That statement shows a most curious misappreciation on the part of my right hon. Friend of the whole effect of these funds. I do not think he has really understood of what these funds consist, or the nature of these agreements. If that is so, it is entirely his own fault, because he has refused again and again to receive deputations which sought to inform him and to place their views before him; but I think I can make it perfectly clear in what the mistake of the right hon. Gentleman consists. Let me call the attention of the House to two classes of insurance. Take the case of life insurance. A man pays so much a year in order to gain a distant benefit. If he leaves the Life Office before the benefit accrues, he is a 1571 loser. The Life Office, therefore, has a hold over him. If he enters a new office, he would have to pay a much higher rate. That is the case of insurance where there is a hold over the person insured. Now take the case of fire insurance. The Fire Office has no hold at all over the fire insurance. The premium is paid for the insurance of the year, and when the year comes to an end the premium is exhausted, and the holder of the premium has no claim upon the funds of the Fire Office. In the case of the funds of a Trade Union a man has contributed for many purposes, and, therefore, wherever a Trade Union has benefit or superannuation funds, it has a hold over its members, who distinctly lose pecuniarily if they leave the Society. But in the case of an accident insurance fund there is no such hold. My right hon. Friend is, therefore, entirely mistaken in supposing that where they exist these funds give the employer any pecuniary hold over his workmen, or that the workman loses anything which is his right in connection with the funds by leaving the service of his employer. Why are these funds established? Why will the right hon. Gentleman not take the statement of the people who establish them? I do not know why honourable men are not to be believed when they say they make great pecuniary sacrifice in order, in the first place, to avoid strife and litigation, and, in the second place, to promote and create a friendly feeling between themselves and their workpeople. I think this question of contracting out has been argued a great deal too much from the example of the London and North Western Railway Company. That does not stand alone. It is a very fair type, but I know many cases which are much better than that, where the employers contribute even a large proportion of the funds, and I know some cases in which employers contribute less. I would much rather take the experience of others of which I have personal knowledge. I will take some of the funds established in my own neighbourhood. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea referred the other day rather slightingly to the fund established at the Earl of Dudley's works at Dudley. This is, in my opinion, a most admirable fund. It is a fund which could only have been created by the act of a generous employer, 1572 and I believe that the hon. Member will find if he will go down to Dudley that it has succeeded in creating a good feeling between employer and employed. The Earl of Dudley determined to find out whether the fund was popular, and he instituted a secret ballot, which showed that 90 per cent, of the men were in favour of the fund. We must really come to some understanding about the value of the ballot. What is the value of the ballot in the new Radical programme? In my old Radical days [Ironical laughter and cheers]—I admit I was a Radical once, and it is not so long ago—only a few years ago it was the belief of all Radicals that the ballot was a protection. There are sonic old Radicals who still entertain that belief. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) eloquently declared yesterday that the ballot would be a protection to 20 or 30 agricultural labourers meeting in a Vestry or parish meeting, where it, was very difficult for them to keep even their inmost thoughts secret. For these 20 or 30 agricultural labourers in a parish meeting the ballot is to be a protection, but for workmen of the highest skill and intelligence the ballot is no protection at all. When the ballot gives a result which is favourable to the views of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen themselves, it is the "voice of the people;" but when it expresses an opinion with which they disagree, it is "only the craven expression of the victims of an unendurable tyranny." I want to know why it is that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea disbelieves in the ballot? The other day he told us something of a letter, the writer of which would not allow his name to be published. I do not know whether that is the only ground of the hon. Gentleman's criticism, but I do not think he would expect the House to attach much weight to one or two letters, however sincere their authors might be. I imagine the hon. Member relies upon the fact that he represents, under the ballot, a constituency in which, as he says, there are thousands of railway men, and yet he says he has never had a representation from any of them in favour of the "contracting out clause." I do not think that is conclusive. The hon. Member told us there were 3,000 London and North Western Railway men 1573 and 2,000 London and Brighton Railway men in his constituency.
§ Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I will read from Hansard—For himself he claimed to represent over 3,000 railway workmen, some of them on the London and South Western, others on the London and Brighton and two or three more Railway Companies.While one may suppose that the numbers of railway men in Battersea are very considerable indeed, I do not suppose the hon. Member would not claim that they all voted with him.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
He could not know under the ballot: and it may be that even in his own constituency a very considerable proportion of those men do not agree with his views upon this particular subject. But I would much rather prefer to take it that the hon. Member is a man of such a great attraction that many men, railway and others, would vote for hint even though they differed from him on one particular point; and, therefore, it is not at all conclusive to tell the House of Commons that because the hon. Member sits for Battersea the railway men must necessarily be against these voluntary agreements. With reference to his statement about having received no representations, I think his memory must have deceived him. I have a letter here which has been put into my hands and which is from a railway servant who says he is a constituent of the hon. Member in Battersea, and that lie wrote asking him to receive a deputation of railway men, and that he received no reply.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The gentleman does not ask that his name should not be stated, so I shall give it. It is "Joseph Mansell, Addison Road."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Well, I suppose the lives of Inspectors are just as dear to them as the lives of other railway servants. Rut, at tiny rate, it comes to this—that the hon. Member did not say correctly that he had no representations made to him about this clause. It appears that he himself refused to take the natural steps to acquaint himself with the opinions of, at till events, it minority of his constituents
§ MR. J. BURNS
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely at fault. Mr. Mansell, the Inspector at Addison Road, who claims to live in my constituency, says he wrote a letter asking me to receive a deputation. I received no letter. Had I received such a letter, and had the writer lived in my constituency, although working outside of it, I would have received the deputation, but I should have suspected it, particularly as the letter in The Times purporting to come from Mr. Mansell was written from the office of the superintendent at Addison Road, and he himself is an Inspector who has played a prominent part in coercing the men.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That, of course, is a point which my hon. Friend must settle with Mr. Mansell; but the point is that there probably are in his constituency, as elsewhere, a minority of railway men who do not agree with his views, and the fact that the majority may be supposed to agree with his views is no proof that when 90 per cent, of the employés of the London and North Western Railway declare themselves in favour of those agreements they do so under coercion. I pass on to other cases besides that of the Dudley Collieries. The name of Messrs. Chance is well-known to everyone who resides anywhere within 100 miles of Birmingham. It has been known for generations as that of most generous, liberal, and philanthropic employers. They have established a fund of this kind, to which they contribute one-half the amount. Mr. Chance, in a letter which he wrote to the Home Secretary, said that in the last 12 years they had had some hundreds of slight accidents, and that not 2 per cent, of them could by any possibility have been held to be due to employers' negligence, but that they had thought it right to make this large contribution to avoid litigation and to strengthen the good feeling between themselves and their workmen, lie went on to say that no employer would contribute large sums towards such schemes if the workmen, in addition to those advantages, had also the option of litigation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary replied to that letter, to the effect that he sympathised with Messrs. Chance in the very beneficial arrangements which they were milking, and that it was not the intention 1575 or the desire of the Government to do anything which could by any possibility bring them to an end. Now, was not that rather an extraordinary statement for the Home Secretary to make? There are three points in it. First of all, he says they are beneficial arrangements—there is no question about that; secondly, that he has no desire or intention to injure them; and, thirdly, that he knows, on the authority of the people who have created these arrangements, that his action will destroy them. And still he persists in that action. [Mr. ASQUITH signified dissent.] My right hon. Friend shakes his head; but that incredulity will not pass. What right has lie to disbelieve an honourable man like Mr. Chance? I beg that when he comes to reply he will tell us what ground he has for disbelieving the statements of those who have established those accident funds, in which they have told him that they will be obliged under the circumstances to cease contributing to them. There is one other case I would like to quote, because it is a very striking one, and that is the ease of Messrs. Taugye, of Birmingham. Now, some hon. Members know Mr. Tangye personally. They know that he is, in Birmingham, probably the strongest and most liberal supporter of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. They know also—I very much regret it; I do not quite know the reason of it—that in Birmingham politics he is a very strenuous personal opponent of my own. At the same time, I should be doing an absolute injustice if I did not in this matter pay my tribute to his personal character, to his generosity and liberality in all his dealings with his employés. He employs 2,000 people, and he has created a fund which is so far better than any I have hitherto mentioned that the firm pays every penny of the insurance and does not call on the workmen to provide one single farthing. I am not certain that he has thought it necessary to hold a ballot of his employés, but I may mention that they have presented, I believe, a unanimous Petition to this House praying that the contracting out, clause may lie allowed. What does Mr. Tangye say upon this subject—and he is a witness whom everyone will acknowledge to be impartial when he criticises the work of the Government? He says— 1576Take our case, for instance. Ten years ago we adopted the scheme of insurance which your correspondent has described. We were induced to do so purely out of sympathy with our men, because we found that the lack of provision against accident was the cause of much distress and suffering. We always kept a careful register of accidents of every sort which happened at the Cornwall Works, and we found that quite nine-tenths of them were the result of carelessness on the part of the injured men, or even of their doing that which they were forbidden to do. That means that in nine out of every ten cases there is no liability whatever on the employer. To this very day we keep that register, and we find the percentage of non-liability cases much the same—nine in ten. Now, I don't think our 2,000 workmen are more regardless of their own safety than the workmen in any other place where there is heavy machinery. What, then, would be the effect of this second clause? By withdrawing the liberty of mutual agreement between masters and men for the provision of compensation in all cases of 'accident, it, would drive the injured men into the Law Courts. And yet only one in ten would get compensation. Where is the advantage in that to the working man. I cannot see it, but I can see very grave disadvantages. I can see the straining of amicable relationship between employer and employed. I can seethe suffering and distress of the injured men aggravated by lack of provision for themselves and their families, and I can see the probability, in the great majority of cases, of that suffering and distress being rendered still more grievous through the burden of costly and unsuccessful litigation. Every man injured would want compensation, and only one in ten would get it if the only resort were the Law Courts, and even then he would find himself saddled with a heavy bill by his lawyer. That is why I say the Amendment Bill, with this second clause, would he a grievous misfortunate for the working man.I should have thought, that when, as the right hon. Gentleman says himself, these agreements are beneficial—granting that, as experience shows, they have been in every case satisfactory to the persons employed—it would have been much better to stimulate and encourage them. On the contrary, the Government have taken a course which, according to the persons who have created those funds and who must be considered as truthful men, will lead to their immediate discontinuance. If the Government, were not bold enough, as I wish they had been, to face this whole question and to settle once for all the matter of compensation for all classes of accidents, at least they might have left the free force of voluntary agreements fair play—they might have allowed them to develop, as they were very rapidly developing; and, at all events, they would have reduced 1577 future legislation to a minimum. Why has not that been done? Only one argument has been given, in the whole course of this Debate which will hold water, and even that is so strange—to me, at least, appears to be so fine drawn—that I should not have treated it seriously but that it was adopted, to a certain extent, by the Home Secretary himself. That argument is this—that if you allow these insurance schemes to go on you create a sense of security, you make the men more careless, and that this would lead to more accidents. Now, is there any truth in that? I say it is against human nature to pretend that because you insure to a man £50 in case his arm or leg is cut off, or £100 to his family in case of death, therefore you induce that man to be careless and to run the risk of death—and a painful death—and of the suffering that accompanies serious accident. It is too absurd. As I have said before, I know that in the course of employment—I have seen proof of it—a man becomes hardened to risk; it ceases to become constantly present to him. But you will not make him more careless by giving him this trifling compensation which, in the best of circumstances, is all that we can hope to secure. In the considerations affecting personal safety, you have the strongest human motive to which you can possibly appeal. You will not weaken it in the slightest degree by insuring such compensation. I would say more. I do not think this statement is justified by the facts, as far as our experience enables us to judge. The hon. Member for Battersea referred to an opinion prevailing among writers in Germany and France, to the effect that insurance schemes there have produced an increase in the number of accidents. But there is another reason for that, altogether independent of the effect of the schemes on the workpeople themselves. The moment you establish an insurance scheme every accident is brought forward and is known. In the factory, where there is no provision for compensation, there are hundreds of petty accidents—cuts, and so on—which never become public at all. People who incur them do not think it worth while to mention them. But the moment you give to these men a fixed compensation, however small, for all these accidents, every one, of course, will be registered. 1578 But in the cases of which we have practical experience ourselves the reverse has been found to be the fact. Mr. Tangye tells us that the proportion of accidents due to the carelessness of the workpeople is practically the same now as it was before the insurance fund was started. Messrs. Chance state that in the nine years previous to the institution, of the insurance fund they had seven deaths by accident, while in a similar period after the institution of the fund there were none, and they cannot trace, in regard to slighter injuries, that there has been any difference in the percentage. In the case of Armstrong's firm—and there, remember, there is a curious arrangement, which is very interesting and very liberal, whereby two-thirds of the management are in the hands of the workmen themselves, and only one-third of the contribution is taken from them—the management report that, owing to the establishment of the fund and owing to the interest which has been created among the workpeople themselves, they are taking more care, and the number of accidents has been considerably reduced. You have the great Permanent Miners' Fund, which deals with 120,000 subscribers, stating in their annual Report that there has been a great diminution in the loss of life, and that the number of accidents which have taken place in connection with coal mining since 1882 has been just as great where funds have never been established as in the cases where funds exist. Under these circumstances, I do not believe that you have any facts to go upon which would justify this extreme assumption—that a contribution of the kind tends to make the workpeople careless. I do not know whether I have converted my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, but, at any rate, I am going to do it now. I am afraid that the facts and figures which I have laid before him may not influence him. But I am sure that what I am now going to say will have considerable influence with him. Grant his case! Grant that this compensation, as given by these voluntary insurance funds, makes the workpeople careless. Then, if compensation makes them careless, why give them compensation? What is the meaning of this Bill? It is all wiling. The Bill, which the hon. Member For Battersea, stated was to be the charter of labour, is going to increase 1579 the number of accidents and make the workpeople more careless. I do not see how he is going to got out of that. It is perfectly clear that if he is right, if compensation is going to make the workpeople more careless, the compensation given by this Bill ought not to be given to the workmen, but ought to go in fines to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is very much in need of the money. I really think that if that is the best argument—and, to my mind, it is the only serious argument—which can be brought against these funds, it is an argument which ought not to have weight with the majority of this House. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as far as this—that I hold that these Societies are beneficial. But I disagree with him altogether when I find that he is discouraging them, and I regret that his own better judgment has been overruled by the pressure brought to bear on him by his supporters. There is only one other matter to which I will refer. I think—and I do not believe that even the Home Secretary will deny it—that this Bill will very largely increase the facilities for litigation. My right hon. Friend said that one of the things which he sought to guard against was the pernicious activity of the speculative attorney. Well, the speculative attorney under this Bill will have scope and verge enough. Just think of the changes which have been made in the law—of their effect on the speculative attorney! You have withdrawn altogether any limit to the compensation which may be given. It may well be argued that the limit set by the Bill of 1880 was too small, but I have always held that in the interest of the workmen themselves it would be desirable to fix some limit: let it be liberal by all moans, but fix some maximum to the compensation. And why? Because, as long as there is no limit fixed, it will be in the power of the speculative attorney to be always tempting the workman to litigation on the chance of his getting something more than is offered by the employer. However good the compensation offered may be, you can never say now that the workman is getting the maximum. There may be cases, and there probably will be, in which the jury will give excessive damages. That will be the bait that will be offered to every man to go into the 1580 Courts. No matter how generous is the offer which is made, the workman will always be under temptation to try his luck in the County Court. I believe that he will be the loser by it. There may be exceptional cases where he will not; but they will not be the rule. Under the jurisdiction of the Court, the average sums which he will obtain will be very much less than he would obtain by reasonable arrangement, and certainly less than he would obtain by means of a reasonable insurance fund. Another change which will have the same effect is bringing in the negligence of the workmen. It is not a very difficult thing to settle the question of the negligence of the employer, because the negligence of the employer is separate and well defined. It is not vague, and in the majority of cases, at any rate, the workman and the employer know very well whether the employer has directly or indirectly contributed to the injury. But when you enlarge the scope, as you do here, and say that the injured workman has only to prove that any ordinary workman has in any way contributed, by his negligence, to the accident, the number of possibilities is so great and the liability is so ill-defined that, I say again, the speculative attorney will have a very easy business indeed in persuading the workman that he has a case which may be fairly presented to the Court. There is also the point as to the necessity for notice being given within a certain time of the accident having happened. As I understand it, if a man has been injured to-day, he may bring an action six years hence. I do not comment strongly on that; but it will lead to a great multiplication of cases. If you give all this time for reflection, and for considering the offers of the speculative attorney made at periodic intervals and under varying circumstances, at some time within the six years the man will probably yield to the temptation. The total result of this will be that every employer who has any capital to lose will undoubtedly insure in a company. And what will be the action of the Insurance Companies? An Insurance Company is not animated by philanthropic motives. It is a purely business concern. What would any hon. Member do if he wore acting for himself on purely business principles? He would offer in every case a moderate compensation, and 1581 he would let it be understood that there was no turn of the law which he would not employ against the man who refused that offer. He would fight to the death in every case where his offer was refused. How that result, which transfers the liability practically from the employer, on whom it rests at present, and who has some interest in promoting good feeling, to an Insurance Company which has nothing but business interests concerned—how that is going to benefit the workmen I am totally unable to see. I will summarise the heads of my objections. I object to this Bill because, in my opinion, it does not tend to the prevention of accidents, since the liability imposed under it arises where the person liable has no control whatever over the circumstances; secondly, I object because the Bill leaves absolutely unprovided for the large proportion of accidents which occur in industrial employment; thirdly, I object because the Bill will lead to uncertainty and litigation. In addition to this, I object because it. is in itself, by confession, an imperfect and an incomplete solution of the question, and it will now stand in the way of, and discourage, a more perfect system which, under voluntary arrangement, has been gradually growing up. I say nothing about the bearing of the question on the employers, although it is a question of some gravity how it will influence general trade and industry. The conditions of some trades will be materially changed. Mining and shipbuilding, for instance, in which the risk is larger and more distant than it is in ordinary businesses, will become more speculative than ever. Generally speaking, the larger employers, who have very large capital, will contrive in some way or other, either by company insurance or by self-insurance, to average their risks, and sooner or later they will obtain compensation from the public. But as regards the smaller employers, this Bill adds a new risk which in many cases will be great, and which will increase the tendency to the destruction and weeding out of the small employer. Thus there will be left no graduated scale between the working classes and the capitalists. Thai is a thing to he regretted. I regret also that in these days, when the minds of all of us are turning towards the efforts which are being made to promote Boards of 1582 Arbitration and Conciliation for settling questions even as near to the workpeople as the wages which they shall receive, the Government by their proceeding should take a course which will infallibly lead to strife and litigation.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
I do not think I shall be detracting from the ability or the interest of the speech of my right hon. Friend if I say, what is undoubtedly the fact, that there is not a topic he has handled or an argument he has used in the course of his speech which is not familiar to all those who have taken part in the Debate. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend has been absent from our proceedings. We have missed him greatly. On the protracted and interesting discussion upon the Report stage of this Bill we have been deprived of his valuable co-operation: but I am bound to say that no sooner had my right hon. Friend, to use his own words, "recrossed the stormy sea" and set his foot upon dry land, than he at once gave us warning of what he thought about what we had been doing while he was away. Through the medium—I have no doubt, the faithful medium—of a Birmingham reporter, he fulminated—a little hastily, I think——
§ MR. ASQUITH
He fulminated an allocution, urbi et orbi. I have got the statement of my right hon. Friend before me, and I think that, before I deal with one or two observations he has made in his speech, I shall not be wasting time if I refer to it, because I observe a very startling contrast in the tone of my right hon. Friend's speech to-night and the statement he has put forth in the country. In the first place, my right hon. Friend did not hesitate to give his opinion that the Bill as it stands is a, thoroughly had Bill. That opinion he has repeated to-night. But to his friendly interviewer he added—I think with a good deal more practical logic than he has shown in his speech to-night—that in these circumstances it was his intention to vote against the Third Reading. I cannot conceive why, with regard to this "mischievous" and reactionary measure, my right hon. Friend has not taken the only simple and logical course of pushing his opposition to the extreme point of voting against 1583 the Third Beading. The reason given by my right hon. Friend for not doing so—that he would probably find himself in a minority—is the most curious defence I have ever heard advanced by a responsible Leader for not taking the opinion of this House upon a matter of urgent importance. So far, I find my right hon. Friend consistent with himself; but I must go on, as I am personally implicated, to refer to one or two other expressions in this remarkable statement. After stating, what is undoubtedly and unfortunately true, that I am a person of no commercial experience, my right hon. Friend proceeded to say that I accepted this measure just as it stood from the Trade Unions, without revision, criticism, and amendment, and that I had used the Irish vote to force it through the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend proceeds—Every Amendment, even when proposed from his own side of the House, from men well qualified to advise him, has been strenuously and almost offensively resisted.And he continues—In this case, as in the case of the Home Rule Bill, it is entirely a majority composed of Irishmen, having no interest but a hostile one in English affairs, who have decided upon English legislation.[Cheers.] I am rather surprised that my right hon. Friend has not seen fit to repeat these charges on the floor of the House, where indeed they appear to receive a certain amount of support, judging from the cheers of hon. Members opposite. At any rate, I must say something with regard to the historical accuracy of this extraordinary statement. One of my right hon. Friend's allegations was that I had taken this Bill from the Trade Unions and had thrust it through the House without accepting a revision or amendment from any quarter whatever. Another is, that the Government had done so within what my right hon. Friend is pleased to call this matter of English legislation, with the aid and through the force of the Irish vote. I propose to examine each of these allegations. In the first place, there is no Bill which has been presented to the House in recent years in which the Government has accepted a larger number of Amendments from every quarter. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has admitted that the Bill had been 1584 largely transformed in the course of its passage through the House. How has it been transformed? By Amendments accepted not only from this side of the House, but from the other. With the exception of the formal clauses at, the end and two clauses in the middle of the Bill, it is literally true that there is not a single clause that has not been amended. The next statement of my right hon. Friend, that this Bill has been pushed through the House in its present-form by the aid of the Irish vote, is of a still more imaginative character. The truth is, that my right hon. Friend and his political associates have got so much into the habit of analysing the composition, and trying to explain away the moral weight, of the majority of the Government that, as we have repeatedly warned them, they are gradually embracing doctrines of disintegration which are absolutely fatal—I say this as a Unionist in the only true sense of the word—to the unity of the Kingdom and the authority of the Imperial Parliament. We could not have a more remarkable instance of the fantastic developments of this morbid separatism than the arguments which my right hon. Friend has used. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Bill applies not merely to England and Scotland, but also to Ireland? Does he know that there is not in Ireland a single railway servant, docker, factory worker, or agricultural labourer whose economic and social position towards his employer is not vitally affected by this measure? My right hon. Friend denies to the Irish Members a Parliament of their own. He will not allow them to legislate on employers' liability in Ireland according to the views of the Irish people, and in an Irish Legislative Body. Is he going—while he insists on retaining them in this House—is he going to deny to them the title to be heard here in this House upon a matter of such vital importance? But this does not by any means complete the statement of the case. What is the evidence on which my right hon. Friend bases this extraordinary allegation? It is true of one Amendment, and one Amendment only—the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren), which was rejected by a majority of 18. On that Amendment only, if the Irish Members had not voted as they did, would the result have been 1585 different. We had, in the course of the Report stage, no less than six other Divisions. The Government majority in those Divisions ranged from 72 to 130, the average majority being 103. It may be said of those Divisions—except that on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe—that if we had subtracted from the supporters of the Government the whole of the Irish Members who voted, we should still have had our normal majority. I pass now to the remarks of my right hon. Friend. It is quite true that the primary object of this Bill is to reduce the number of accidents, the loss of life, and the injury to health, incident at present to our industrial operations. I have never pretended, and no supporter of the Bill has ever pretended, that the Bill alone would have the effect of completely getting rid of the risks of industrial life. I look upon the Bill as only part and parcel of our industrial legislation, and of the system of inspection and sanitary reform which I hope to see largely developed in the course of the next few years. What I claim is that, so far as it goes, the Bill must have the effect of adding to the incentives to care, and of diminishing the area of accidents. My right hon. Friend declares these are matters over which the employer has absolutely no control. That argument would hold also in regard to the Bill of 1880, to which he was himself a party. The Bill of 1880 made the employer liable for acts of negligence which could he traced to persons like foremen in a position of superintendence. Beyond appointing the foreman, and beyond exercising a. general supervision, the employer has no more personal responsibility for the negligence of his foreman than he has for that of any of the workmen in his employment. The principle on which this Hill is founded is exactly the same principle as that of the Bill of 1880. That principle is that if a man, for his own profit, sets on foot industrial operations, he ought to be made responsible for the selection of his servants and for the supervision of his business, so as to reduce the risks to the smallest possible number. The argument used by my light hon. Friend is quite as good an argument to use against making an employer liable for accidents to third persons. Take the case of a Railway Company which carries in its 1586 trains a very large number of persons. A single act of negligence on the part of any one of the 60,000 employés of the Loudon and North Western Railway may expose, and has often exposed, the company at the suit of third persons to damages to the extent of thousands of pounds. My right hon. Friend admits that that is a just and politic state of the law. Neither he nor anybody else proposes to change it. If, then, it is fair and politic that a Railway Company or any other employer of labour should be responsible for the result of an accident to a stranger, due to the smallest act of negligence on the part of a workman whom the employer selects, pays, and controls, how are we to differentiate the case of workmen who are subjected to similar consequences? The simple principle upon which the Government have proceeded is that the exception which has taken the workmen out of the general protection given by the law to everybody else is an exception that rests neither on grounds of justice nor policy. By assimilating the position of the workman to that of the stranger, we simply carry out to its logical conclusion a long-settled and well-recognised principle of English Common Law. My right hon. Friend says that it would not lead to increased care, because the employers of labour would have stronger inducements than before to insure themselves in outside companies against accidents. What the effect of the Bill may be upon the progress of insurance I do not know; but I am certain that, if you make a forecast of the future by the experience of the past, the fact that you have written down here in the Statute as a principle of law this obligation on the part of the employer to he responsible in the last resort for negligence caused to others will induce care, and will tend to set up in the minds of the employers a standard of conduct which the best and most humane among them already observe. But there always must he in any country a certain class of employers not sufficiently susceptible to their moral obligations and to a sense of social duty, who only recognise those obligations and duty when the law prescribes them and is prepared to enforce them. My right hon. Friend's argument that employers will now insure themselves has been answered by a speech delivered in the 1587 course of the Debate by one of the largest employers of labour in this House—I mean the hon. Member for West Perthshire (Sir D. Currie)—who is, perhaps, more largely concerned in the ownership and management of ships than any other man in Great Britain. He declared that this Bill would not make any difference to him, because he would go on in the future, as in the past, to lay aside a sufficient sum for compensation to all persons to whom the firm was under any liability. My right hon. Friend complains of this Bill because he says it is a half-hearted measure, and that it only makes provision for a certain comparatively small percentage of the number of accidents which occur in industrial life. My right hon. Friend makes very merry over my plea that, so far as my means of information go, there is no public demand on the part of either employers or workmen for such a general scheme of compensation for all accidents, however caused, as he has to-night, and in his speech on the Second Reading, advocated in this House. I see no evidence of it. I have never myself in any speech sought to preclude the question. On the contrary, I think the tendency of industrial legislation in this country and throughout Europe is in the direction stated by my right hon. Friend. But we have not before us the materials on which any satisfactory scheme can be framed, and I say further it is perfectly idle to attempt to force upon an unwilling or even upon a lethargic public opinion vast, far-reaching, experimental plans of this kind, which no one asks for, which are entirely foreign to the well-settled principles of our law, and which would be, in the strongest sense of the word, a leap in the dark. I do not think it is so long ago since my right hon. Friend entertained a similar opinion, for in looking back, while considering this measure, to the Debates which took place on the Employers' Liability Bill of 1880, I find that similar proposals to those which now receive the high sanction of my right hon. Friend were put forward from the other side of the House—I think by the hon. Member for Salford. I find that my right hon. Friend in his speech expressed himself in very clear and unmistakable terms upon it. Speaking on July 1, 1880, my right hon. Friend said he 1588Could not but look on the suggestion of insurance as a dilatory plea which would have the effect of stifling the Bill.A few days later, referring to the late Mr. Knowles, the right hon. Gentleman said—The hon. Member was willing to pay not for accidents occasioned by negligence, but for all accidents. Could these arguments be serious I Were they really presented with a view to acceptance by the House, or were they only put forward to delay the progress of the Bill?Without doing any very great injustice to my right hon. Friend, I might retort upon him now the language which lie used in 1880. Then my hon. Friend slid off by an easy transition from the general question of compensation for all accidents to the voluntary agreements which at present prevail in certain industries between employers and men. But I would point out to my right hon. Friend that there is the broadest possible distinction between a legal obligation which would impose on the employer the liability of making good out of his own pocket and at his own expense the damage caused by an accident, however occasioned, and those voluntary arrangements under which, as a rule—certainly in nine cases out of ten—employers and men combine to contribute together to the fund of which compensation is made for accidents that may have occurred. The voluntary agreement may be an excellent thing; I myself think it is, provided its terms are sufficiently generous and fair, provided the men enter into it with open eyes, and with perfect freedom of will, and provided it is not taken advantage of—I do not believe it often is—by the employers to relax those precautions which otherwise they would be bound to take. Subject to those conditions, I think voluntary arrangements are excellent. But what I want to point out to my right hon. Friend is that, although I go with him entirely as to those voluntary arrangements serving a useful purpose, they do not afford the faintest foundation or colour for the argument that the time has arrived when we ought to go into a larger scheme, and throw on the employer the whole liability. Now, I want to say a word on the subject of these voluntary arrangements. I do not object to any of the expressions used as to the admirable effect which those voluntary arrangements generally 1589 have, and I repeat what I have said before—that if I thought the effect of this Bill would be, or ought to be, to substantially diminish the motives which lead persons to enter into arrangements of this kind, I should pause before asking the House to accept this Bill. My right hon. Friend asks me in a challenging vein whether I dispute the veracity of the various employers who have said that if this Bill passes they will stop their contributions to existing funds. It is not a question of veracity at all. It is a question upon which, surely, one is entitled to the expression of an opinion as to what reasonable men, acting on business motives, in the altered circumstances of the case, would be likely to do. I cannot take upon myself to predict what caprice—I should, perhaps, say caprice or pique—or what imperfect calculation somewhat precipitately formed, on perhaps insufficient materials, and under the influence of motives of apprehension, may lead people to do; but I say we are entitled to deal with the question on the footing that the employers of labour in this country will act as reasonable men, having regard to their own interests and to the interests of workmen; and it is on that footing only I base my argument that this Bill will not put, and ought not to put, an end to those arrangements. My right hon. Friend provided the strongest possible material to support that view. He said that under these schemes the employer pays live or ten times as much as any legal liability would compel him to pay. Why does he do this? According to my right hon. Friend's argument he pays it in order to escape that legal liability.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not give my own opinion. I gave the exact words of the gentlemen who established those funds. They say that their object is to avoid litigation, strife, and ill-feeling.
§ * MR. ASQUITH
I do not for a moment deny the desire to avoid litigation is one of the motives in some cases which has been a very powerful and operative one in leading to the original 1590 establishment of those funds. But I say the employers' contributions actually made, exceeding by five or ten times the amount of any legal liability, including costs—the excess contribution actually made over the most generous estimate of the largest measure of legal liability, including damages and costs, is itself proof that there are other motives at work besides the fear of litigation. Those motives I have described to the House, and, compendiously stated, it may be said that they consist in the interest which the employer has in maintaining a good state of relations between himself and his workmen, and in making it the interest of the workmen as well as his own that they should continue to remain in his employment. The strength of the argument is not affected by the considerations which my right hon. Friend dwelt upon as to the difference between life and accident funds. I may have been wrong as to the construction of the Rules of the London and North Western accident fund, but what I say is that the men under the London and North Western or any similar arrangement, so long as they continue in the service of their employers, have paid for them by those employers every year or half-year, or every week, if you like, at least a half, and in some cases more than a half, of the premium which is necessary to secure them against accidents for the period over which that premium extends. Will anyone say that that does not give the master a strong hold—I do not use the word in any invidious sense—over the men, and does it not offer to the men a strong inducement to remain in the service of the master when a large and liberal contribution is entirely paid out of his own pocket? There is ample ground for believing that the motives for the continued existence of those funds will remain to a very large and operative extent after the passing of the Bill. I do not wish to deal again with the only other point which occupied the attention of the right hon. Gentleman—that of increased litigation. That question has been discussed repeatedly, and I have pointed out, and no answer has been made to me, that if you give a right by Act of Parliament, that right is nugatory unless you give some remedy. You can no more judge of the beneficial 1591 effects of a Bill of this kind, in compensating workmen, by the amount of litigation it creates or the amount of damages recovered, than you can judge of the preventive effect of an Act of Parliament directed against crime by the number of convictions in the criminal Courts. It is laying down in an Act of Parliament a principle, safeguarded by an effective legal remedy, which in a vast majority of cases brings about the desired result without any necessity for recourse to litigation at all. I say that this Bill, though I do not represent it as a complete or final measure, makes a large and most substantial improvement in the position of the working men of this country. What does it do? It abolishes the doctrine of common employment, and places the workman on the same footing as a stranger in regard to all risks arising from negligence in the service of the employer. It declares on the face of an Act of Parliament that which has hitherto been, at the outside, a mere matter of doubtful legal decision—namely, that a workman by entering into and continuing in an employment involving a risk is not by that fact alone held to have voluntarily acquiesced in the risks incident to that employment. It provides—I still cling to the opinion that in so doing it defines and declares what is the Common Law—that wherever employments are carried on under conditions which involve risk of injury to health, it shall be the duty of the master to take reasonable precautions to obviate or mitigate those risks, or if he does not do so, and fails to take those precautions, he shall be liable. It gives to the workman, in reference to sub-contracting, a protection which he has hitherto greatly needed, in making it impossible for an employer to delegate to a man of straw the liability which the law intends to cast upon him and which he ought to bear. It prohibits all contracts, not those voluntary arrangements which my right hon. Friend seems to imagine it does—it does not prohibit them in any way—but all contracts whereby a workman prospectively relinquishes for all time to come the legal rights secured to him by Act of Parliament. It enormously simplifies procedure by abolishing the notice of action, and getting ride of the maximum amount of damages which the workman can recover. And finally, as my right hon. 1592 Friend has generously admitted, it widely extends the scope of the existing law by, for the first time, providing a satisfactory definition of a workman, which will bring under the protection of the law, not only the servants of the Crown and seamen, but every class of men throughout Great Britain and Ireland who work under contract of service and are paid wages by an employer. I say these are large and liberal changes in the law. They are changes which we believe will not impose on the employer any unreasonable or excessive burden, because they only recognise f and give effect to obligations which humane and enlightened employers already themselves observe. We do believe that if this Bill is carried into law, as we trust it will be, the time spent on it by the House during this protracted Session will not have been wasted, because we shall have added to the Statute Book a measure which, by providing safeguards for the increased security of the rank and file of the great army of industry, will have enriched and strengthened the resources of the community as a whole.
§ * MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has formed, I think, rather a lower estimate of the value of this Bill than that which we were accustomed to hear from him in the earlier stages of our discussions. I do not think it is contended in any quarter now that the Bill does much more than put the working man in the same position as a stranger. I do not believe the working man will be satisfied with that position, or that he ought to be satisfied. So far as his desire and his claim to indemnity against accident are concerned, that position is very much less than most of us would wish to see him occupy. It is true that the Bill in some respects puts the workman in a better position than the stranger, because it gives him a remedy against the contractee or superior contractor which the stranger does not possess, but it is true also that the workman, as with the stranger, has not a remedy in those cases where there has been a non-taking of reasonable precautions which may not amount to actual negligence in law. But it is right to remember that as regards the sub-contracting clause, although the Bill of the 1593 late Home Secretary proposed to deal with that subject; the present Home Secretary did not propose to deal with it, and it was only in accordance with outside suggestion that the Government were induced, largely by way of afterthought, to deal with that part of the ease. It stands confessed now that the Bill is what is called a part and parcel of our industrial legislation. I think that the real benefits that it purports to confer are certainly a most imponderable part, a most impalpable parcel, of the system, which is, and for many years has been, large and generous in the liberality with which it takes care of the safety of our workpeople. This is an opportunity of reviewing not merely the effects of the Bill—Members have a right to discuss its genesis—the origin which gave birth to it, the way in which it has passed through this House, and the effect which it is likely to have if it passes in its present state. Sir, I think the faults of the Bill are largely due to the nature of its origin. Employers' Liability Bills have gone by stages of successfully attractive promises, and this, the latest, is perhaps the most unfortunate instance of that most unfortunate way of progression. In our politics there are what I may call a kind of vicious action and reaction of opinion. An energetic gentleman—perhaps a learned gentleman—goes down and tells a lot of Trade Unionists that it would be a fine thing for the workman to be put in the same position as the stranger; thereupon the Trade Unionists make that the be all and end all of their political or economical and industrial aspirations. Pressure is put upon other learned gentlemen who make these aspirations the exact maximum as well as the exact minimum of the demands made to Parliament. But Parliament cannot shuffle off its responsibility in the matter, and we have carefully to consider the merits of the measure by which it is clear the existence of the working classes must be profoundly affected. I am referring to the progressive stages by which we have arrived at the actual shape and form of the present proposal. This Bill consists mainly of two things—namely, the abolition of the doctrine of common employment and the prohibition of contracting out. If they have always been the irreducible minima of the demands of the working 1594 classes, it is interesting to look back upon the history of the production of those demands. Nothing of the kind was contained in the Act of 1880, and nothing of the kind was contained in the Report of the Select Committee of 1886—a Report, let it be remembered, which had its origin in the appointment by a Liberal Government of a Select Committee upon which Liberal Members, followers of the present Prime Minister, had a large majority. That Select Committee made no such suggestion, and it was not until a year after the presentation of the Report of that Select Committee that a late Member of the House, Mr. Broadhurst, in conjunction with the hon. Gentleman who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, as spokesman of the Trade Unions of the country, made it clear to the world, to use a colloquial expression, that they found it necessary to "go one better" than the Report of that Select Committee. It is owing to processes of that kind that we have found ourselves in the position of approving or disapproving of the present Bill, and I venture to say that that is a most unsatisfactory way of the Government having to arrive at the solution of one of the greatest national and political questions that can be raised. This is the Bill of the Trades Union Congress, and it, is mainly because it is their Bill that it has been stamped with that which is its most peculiar characteristic. I have great respect for Trades Unions, but their opinion is not the last, word to be said upon such a subject as this. Even if they wore the only persons entitled to be consulted, hon. Members would still be bound to see that the opinions the Trade Pinions have formed are formed upon a true representation of the facts as their actually exist. Are those opinions so formed? Take, for instance, the question of contracting out in particular relation to the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Crewe. It is said that many Trades Unions of railway servants are against the proposed clause. I venture to doubt it. The only resolution I received from any Trades Union of railway men contained expressions which I do not say made it certain, but made it more than probable that they had expressed their disapproval of the clause, under the belief that it was a clause aimed at the general exemption 1595 of all railway men from all the benefits of this Bill. I should like to know if you were to go to the Trades Unions or to any large body of working men, and you were to make it perfectly clear to them that the benefits of the Bill stop, and stop rudely, short at the point where negligence existed—negligence which could be proved affirmatively in the face of adverse presumption at great expense by skilled witnesses—I must say I do not believe they would be satisfied with the Bill, or say that this is the Bill, and the only Bill, they wish to have passed. We are entitled to complain that Amendments were refused of that kind which would have tended to promote the objects of those who really have the interest and welfare of the working classes of the country at heart. You cannot up and down the whole length of the Bill point to a single provision which really tends to make the working man more careful in the future than he is to-day. It is difficult to find anything that would make the employer more careful; but it is absolutely impossible to point to any provision which tends to make the working man, upon whose proved negligence any action taken under this Bill would be founded, more careful. But whenever Amendments with this object have been proposed on the Report stage of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure has taken the most unfortunate course of strongly resisting them, though they have been in harmony with the fundamental policy of the Bill. It is also, I believe, part of the right hon. Gentleman's policy, though perhaps not an essential part of the policy expressed in the Bill, that there should be of necessity subsisting good relations between employer and workmen. All kinds of Amendments that tended to promote those good relations, or to maintain them in existence where they already exist, were stoutly resisted by the right hon. Gentleman. As a result, we have a Bill which makes it absolutely certain that future relations between masters and men will be less, and not more friendly and harmonious than they have been. The relations will be litigious, and probably nothing else. The communication between the two classes, so far as we can foresee, will be confined to plaints, demurrers, and bills 1596 of costs. I prefer myself that worthier forms of communication should pass between classes whose interests, after all, are so much in common. When we come to think of the effects of the Bill, we have had a very valuable admission from the Home Secretary to-day. The working classes have asked—I will not say for bread and got a stone—but for protection against accidents, and the right hon. Gentleman has given them a principle in a statute. He admitted that mutual arrangements were good things, and the only argument he had for not allowing them as a substitute for his precious doctrine that the working classes should be in the same position as the stranger, is that he does not believe the Bill will cause them to come to an end. It is possible that caprice, or pique, or imperfect calculation—the only three methods which the right hon. Gentleman appears to think will be operative—will make the great employers withdraw their contributions to insurance funds. The right hon. Gentleman made the great mistake of ignoring the increased liability which the measure may throw upon the employer, and which he will have no means of estimating. This difficulty of estimating his liability the employer will be bound to take into consideration before deciding to continue to contribute to an insurance fund. He will also probably be influenced by the thought of the anxiety and loss of time which he may suffer and the uncertainty and worry involved in litigation. These are the reasons which make me think that it is improbable that the employer's contribution will be continued. This Bill creates a profound change in the relations between employer and employed. It creates a new and unestimated charge upon industry, and it imposes a large and unestimated liability upon the employer. That may be a right thing to do, but those who do it are bound to show some corresponding benefit to make up for the change. Where is the corresponding benefit for the enormous increase to the employers' risks, and where is the corresponding improvement in the working man's condition? The working man's gain, I venture to say, is absolutely insignificant. It is confined to a very few thiugs—to those few cases in which negligence exists and which he is capable of proving—and it probably 1597 deprives him of the benefit of any mutual or joint insurance by which he at present benefits. It makes it absolutely certain that the employer will cover his new risks by insurance, so that he will sit secure, and it makes it highly probable that the employer will be more indifferent in the future than he has been in the past as to the selection of a competent and trustworthy workman. Here let me pause to notice a peculiar fallacy which pervades the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He says that in the Bill of 1880 the employer was made liable for persons over whose action he had no control. That is a statement in excess of the facts. In the cases of a foreman or superintendent, he must select a man who bears a character for carefulness and trustworthiness. That must be the guiding-motive in selecting him and raising him, if that man was previously in his own service, and if he is taken from the service of somebody else he must have a character of fitness. But is the same thing possible in the case of an ordinary working man? If anything of the kind had been suggested or adopted in this Bill it would have received the most strenuous opposition from those very Trades Unions by whose force this Bill has been supported, and by which it is being carried. The insurance of the employer would be one which covered his risks alone. It would be one in which the employé would not participate at all, and it would be an insurance of which very likely the workmen would have to bear the burden in the shape of a reduction of his own wages, and which would not in the least tend to make the employer more careful. The Home Secretary has a right, no doubt, to make merry over any differences that may appear between the reported utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham on his arrival in this country, and what he has said to-day; but it seems to me that when he came to answer what the right hon. Gentleman did say to-day he offered nothing like an effective answer. The right hon. Gentleman asked why we who are making all these criticisms do not vote against the Third Reading of this Bill. The answer is plain. The Bill does not give much, and perhaps the best thing that can be said of 1598 it is that it is a very little better than nothing.
§ * MR. MATHER (Lancashire, S.E., Gorton)
said, that as an employer of labour, when challenged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to declare in the House whether under the operations of this Bill it would be possible to safeguard the interests of labour more than they had been safeguarded in the past, he desired to state his belief that the Bill would be of immense assistance to him in safeguarding the interests of his workmen in the future. He happened to belong to a body of employers who wore not likely to have to compensate their workmen more largely for injuries in the future than they had done in the past. It had been his custom for many years not to contract out of the old Act, but to have an understanding that all injuries should be compensated for by the firm after the resources of the Benefit Societies to which the men belonged were exhausted. In regard to the present Bill, he felt that his own position was very much strengthened, as it were, against his own negligence or forgetfulness or that of his foremen or manager. Only recently in going carefully over his works and discussing the provisions of the Bill with his manager and foremen, he found that many provisions which might have been made for protection of the men against minor accidents had not been made, not from want of will, but from want of that external vigilance which was the only possible safeguard. He entirely traversed the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that under the Bill employers would not be able to make amicable arrangements with their men, such as that existing in connection with the London and North Western Railway. In his opinion, the voluntary arrangements which had been so beneficial in the past under the policy of contracting out would be strengthened and would become more general under this Bill. The very clause which prevented contracting out would enable a spirit of harmony and unity to exist between masters and men generally which had not-existed before. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen smiled at that which seemed a paradox. Well, it was not a paradox in his experience. The workmen could no 1599 longer be charged by their Trade Unions with abandoning their legal rights. They could always have a last resort to the Law Courts, and they would, therefore, be able to deal with their employers on an equal footing in arranging mutual insurance. He did not think that even in the case of the London and North Western Railway, of Messrs. Chance Brothers, or of Messrs. Tangye, it would be found that the overtures for working the mutual insurance arrangement came from the men. In large firms it was well known that the proposal generally came from the masters, and no doubt the men willingly accepted the tempting offers made to them.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Willingly?
§ * MR. MATHER
said, yes, willingly; for he did not agree that there had been much coercion in the cases mentioned. But the action of the Trade Unions had been to discourage workmen from contracting out and entering into those arrangements, and those who did so were placed by the Unions under a sort of stigma. If that stigma was removed, workmen would be able to go to their employers and voluntarily propose an insurance arrangement, not by contracting out but by mutual agreement, which would leave them the ultimate appeal to the Court of Law in case of any breach of the arrangement come to. They would in that way be able to arrive at a satisfactory mode of mutual assurance for all kinds of accidents. The insurance arrangements which had been spoken of existed between masters and men, because there was oh both sides an inclination to place themselves altogether above Acts of Parliament as to benefits conferred in regard to matters of that kind, and that desire, in his opinion, would be immensely facilitated by the passing of the Bill. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham seemed to think that it was not possible for employers to do more than they did at present to safeguard the interests of their workmen. Well, he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was now an employer of labour, active or passive, but if he had been an active partner in a large manufacturing business of any kind, no doubt he would agree with him (Mr. Mather). He did not think there ever would be a 1600 time when an employer would not be able to find increased means of protection from risk or danger in unhealthy occupations. In order to give the House his interpretation of what he considered his obligations would be under the new law, he might say that only last week a man in his employment was told to make au excavation in order that the foundations; might be put in for a new piece of machinery. The man used a pickaxe, and in the course of his operations the axe fell with great force upon a buried iron plate, glanced off, and went through his foot, inflicting a very serious injury upod him. In his opinion, this case wouls have come under the new Bill, assuming that at his works there was no provision for at once compensating all who were injured. [Cries of "No!"] He certainly thought it would have done so, as the injury was incident to the pursuit of the industry. This was, at all events, the spirit of the new Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain} said there were no additional influences brought to bear on employers under the Bill his reply was, that in all directions the obligations and responsibilities of employers were increased, and the amount of money that might have to be paid in compensation was certainly immensely larger. The consequence would probably be a large amount of insurance by means of companies, but not Insurance Company would relieve the employer of the responsibility of looking after his own works and providing proper safeguards and protection for his workpeople. He gave a very wide interpretation to the word "negligence." Negligence might arise from want of scientific knowledge, from want of forethought, and from want of care. He took it that employers were bound to provide by every possible means—by science, by forethought, by extra care—that no workman was injured in carrying on a pursuit over which the employer had complete control. He regarded the Bill not as a narrow but as a very wide measure of compensation for injuries, and also as one giving working people a greater opportunity than they ever before possessed of entering into amicable arrangements with their employers, without opposition from Trade Unions^ Possibly it might have to be slightly 1601 modified, not in principle but in points of detail, in the House of Lords, but he believed that if it went to the country in its present shape, as far as principles were concerned, the whole of the working classes would hail it with satisfaction and gratitude.
§ * MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
said, he believed that the spirit of the Bill was great and generous, and that it would be welcomed by the great mass of the working classes with cordiality and pleasure. It was certainly his desire that it should pass at the earliest possible moment, but, at the same time, he could not conceal from his mind the fact that, great as was the boon which the measure would confer on vast masses of workmen, it would result in serious injustice to a large section of the community, lie had hoped that the Bill would have been made as elastic as possible. He could see no reason for the absolute uniformity that had been adopted, and he deprecated it in view of the fact that the workman at the present time was, in some cases, better off even than the Bill could make him. He had no desire to rediscuss the merits of a, general provision for contracting out under Insurance Societies. He wished only to point out that on the consideration of his proposed clause in relation to contracting out no single Member, from the Home Secretary downwards, attempted in the smallest degree to meet his contention that that clause could have been adopted without doing the slightest injury to a single workman outside its scope, and that if those Mutual Insurance Societies, of which contracting out was an essential feature, were allowed to continue in existence not one workman outside them would have been affected for better or worse. He thought, therefore, it, was greatly to be regretted that the Bill would, in his opinion, destroy these Societies, and would reduce all working men to one uniform level. He believed that from their point of view the Bill would tend to increase the care exercised by employers in carrying on their business. He differed entirely from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who had said the measure would not tend to make employers more careful. There was all the difference in the world between an employer who was constantly 1602 being down on his foreman for negligence and an employer who did not give much personal attention to the wav his business was conducted. An employer who was constantly urging that care should be taken could create a spirit of care. The great merit of Mutual Insurance Societies was that they did not tend to make employers careless, because just in proportion as accidents increased the payments of the employer increased. When, on the other hand, an employer insured in an outside Company, he knew that when once he had paid a lump sum down he had got rid of his risks for the year. He admitted that the Home Secretary had done justice to the merits of Insurance Societies, but other Members, notably the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fen wick), had done their best to belittle such Societies. The hon. Member for Wansbeck had brought before the House such a glaring fallacy that he should like to dispose of it. The hon. Member said that the £22,000 paid by the London and North Western Company to its Insurance Society came to 6s. 8d. per man per annum, or 1½d. per man per week. If that argument were a good one it could be applied equally to the Rill itself. The Home Secretary admitted that under the existing law the London and North Western Company would not have to pay more than £3,000 compensation. This would amount to only ¼d. a week for each of the 60,000 men, and if the risks were doubled by the new Act it would only amount to ½d. a week. If, therefore, the Society was only worth 1½d. a week to each man, the Bill was only worth ¼d. or ½d. a week. Of course, both the Society and the Bill were worth very much more, taking them as a whole. While he hoped the Bill would pass, he said frankly lie hoped it would not pass in its present form. He did not feel it his duty to make suggestions as to what should be done in another place. He appealed, however, to the Government to endeavour, when the measure was discussed in Committee in the other House, to effect some reasonable settlement of this difficulty. It was, in his opinion, impossible, and it was certainly most undesirable, that the Bill should pass exactly in its present form. He did not desire to see hostile Amendments moved in another 1603 place, but he did desire the Government to endeavour to find some reasonable settlement by which Mutual Insurance Societies would be preserved, even if they involved contracting out of the Act. The Home Secretary had said it was a fallacy to suppose that the Bill would abolish those Societies. From a legal point of view, however, it would terminate them, and when the Home Secretary said the measure would not bring them to an end he was not stating the ease fairly and accurately 1o the House. He did not think the Division which took place on the question on the Report stage truly and accurately represented the opinion of the House. The Government obtained their victory not so much by the arguments of the Home Secretary as by the action of the whips outside. Although the Government obtained a majority, there were far more Members among the majority than were sufficient to turn the scale whose private opinions were that it would have been desirable to accept the clause lie (Mr. M'Laren) moved. He contended that it was not good policy to pass an Act which would, perhaps, only receive the Royal Assent on Christmas Eve, and come into operation on the 1st of January, with the result of terminating every one of these contracts within a week or a fortnight of that date. He trusted, therefore, that there would be some compromise upon the point. It was said that the Act would be the Charter of the working men of this country. He accepted that statement, and rejoiced that the measure should pass. But he urged the Government not to lot the Charter of the working men produce a sense of injustice to several hundreds of thousands of them. Lot it be put. into such a form that it would be received with a sense of pleasure by all working men, and it would then cause rejoicing on every side.
§ * SIR A. HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.)
said, he desired to enter an earnest protest against the mischievous provision of the Bill which would prevent men of full age and capacity enjoying the birthright of Englishmen, and making bargains which they believed to be good for themselves, and which an independent authority certified to be good for them. He would remind the House that the Select Committee which sat in 1886 made 1604 a most exhaustive inquiry into the subject. That Committee included amongst its Members such men as the late Charles Bradlaugh, the present Lord Brassey, the present Member for East Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor), and Mr. Crawford, Secretary to the Durham Miners' Association. These were unanimous in recommending that contracting out of the Act should be permitted under certain circumstances. All employers who were worth considering were willing to make provision for their men against all accidents, however they might arise; but what he objected to was the provision in the Bill which would force upon them and their men a great amount of litigation, or would oblige them, by insuring against their risks, to pay twice as much as their men would receive. The Select Committee of which he had spoken made a most exhaustive inquiry into the question. The Government, in the present case, had made no inquiry at all. The Home Secretary had even refused to receive deputations from workmen who wished to urge their views upon him, and had complained, in his speech on the proposal made by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren), that he had only heard the question from the London and North Western point of view. The reason was that the right hon. Gentleman had not waited until he heard what the other point of view was. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill the Home Secretary said—An individual has no right to destroy safeguards provided mot in his interest alone but in the interest of the community.The right hon. Gentleman did not explain how the interest of the community was affected, but, in his speech in reply to the hon. Member for Crewe, he said—We bring forward this measure as one protecting not merely a class but the community at large. He thought that the men employed on the railways should not be allowed to contract themselves out of the scope of the law. The danger is a very serious one.Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to suggest that the Directors of a Railway Company would be less careful of the lives of passengers in a train because, forsooth, the engineer and the guard might have contracted themselves out of the Act? The suggestion was too absurd to attribute to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman knew how to express himself with the greatest 1605 lucidity, and as his language was in this case so hazy and so difficult to understand, the only conclusion was that he had shrunk from the position and hidden himself behind a cloud of words because he had really no substantial argument to offer. There was one suggestion which had been made by others than the right hon. Gentleman, and that was, that the community might be interested in preventing a man who had been injured from coming upon the rates. That argument, however, failed altogether, because the Hill applied only to 30 or 40 per cent, of the accidents, whereas the Mutual Insurance Societies applied to all accidents. The Societies also made permanent provision for sufferers, whilst the best that could happen under this Bill was the payment of a lump sum, which might be dissipated in a few months. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Woods), who was a representative of the miners, had said the working classes did not want the employer's money, but wanted the exercise of greater care for the safety of life and limb. It had unhappily happened in the past that accidents had occurred in pits where the employer had taken every possible precaution, and 100 or 200 men had been swept at once into eternity. Under this Bill the employers might be held liable for the loss of every one of those lives in an unlimited amount. It might be said that the employers might insure against their risks. If so, what became of the inducement for extra, care? What prudent employer would undertake such a risk as the Bill would impose upon him? A man might be very rich indeed, and yet not be able to pay £50,000 or £100,000 down on the nail. The Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) had said that the Bill would tend to prevent contracts being handed over to men of straw. The effect of the Bill would, in his (Sir A. Hickman's) opinion, be to compel contracts to be handed over to men of straw. The tendency, at any rate, would be in the direction of putting industrial contracts into the hands either of persons who had nothing to lose or into the hands of Limited Liability Companies, who had neither souls to be saved nor unlimited funds to recover from he had no complaint to make about the amount of the liability being unlimited except in con- 1606 nection with the prohibition against contracting out. It was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) very fairly that nothing he could give would be as good as that which at present existed. The Mutual Insurance Societies for the most part made a fixed weekly payment, and the employer being responsible for the safety and solvency of the fund had every possible inducement to take the greatest care. Every argument in favour of the prohibition against contracting out failed entirely. The Home Secretary had said he would pause if he thought that the present arrangements would be interfered with by the Bill, but that he did not believe they would be because there were other inducements to maintain them—namely, the preservation of good feeling and the prevention of strikes. Surely in the interests of the public the prevention of strikes ought to be quite as great an inducement for legislation as anything in the world, especially in face of the awful calamity which the country, by the beneficent interference of the Prime Minister, had only just escaped from. To treat such a question as the prevention of strikes lightly was very extraordinary on the part of the Home Secretary. How would the right hon. Gentleman like to face a 16 weeks' strike on the London and North Western Railway? Surely anything that was likely to prevent such a calamity was worth consideration. The proposal of the Bill meant unlimited and possibly ruinous liability, and a liability which it would be impossible to insure against. An employer would not stand to be shot at both ways; and, therefore, if he were a prudent man, he would make an insurance fund of his own, and devote to that fund the amount he had been in the habit of contributing to the mutual insurance fund. The Home Secretary said on the Second Reading that contracting out ought to be the exception. He (Sir A. Hickman) most distinctly joined issue with the right hon. Gentleman on that point. In his opinion, contracting out ought to be the rule. If all accidents ought to be provided for, contracting out ought certainly to be the rule. The great virtue of this Bill ought to be, and would be if this mischievous clause were eliminated, to force employers to give better terms than the Bill itself 1607 gave. The Home Secretary had a great opportunity of benefitting the manufacturing community; but if, against his own better judgment, he insisted on the clause against contracting out being carried through, he would have done more mischief than he could ever hope in the whole course of his career, however long and distinguised it might be, to undo.
§ MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said, the hon. Member for the Gorton Division seemed to be absolutely convinced that this Bill made him liable for certain accidents which had taken place in his works recently, although other hon. Gentlemen were certainly not of that opinion. But the very fact that he had come to a conclusion so utterly erroneous made it clear that litigation would arise upon almost every case of accident as to whether there was a liability under the Bill. He held that it was impossible for the Home Secretary to have delivered a more disappointing speech than that they had heard from him that night. It consisted merely of dogmatic assertions—assertions of the strongest and most dogmatic character—and he never once condescended to adduce a single atom of proof with regard to those strong statements. The Home Secretary asserted that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had simply travelled over old grounds which had been gone over again and again during the Debate on the Bill, but it was a noteworthy fact that the speech carried great weight with it in the House, as was shown by the manner in which the propositions made and arguments advanced were received. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would have done better if he had attempted to answer the speech instead of relying upon dogmatic assertions. One of those assertions was that the Bill would have the effect of adding to the incentives to care. That assertion was surely sufficiently dogmatic. Hon. Members had continually asked how the Bill could possibly have such an effect; how it would lead to greater care on the part of those who were hit by it? It would not make masters more careful, because they were already liable, not only for personal negligence, but for the negligence also of their superintendents and foremen and other persons in authority. The Bill of 1880 not only made them re- 1608 sponsible in these cases, but it also made them liable for defects in the machinery and plant used by their men. Therefore, the probability was that this measure would make them hopeless and impel them to give up the whole matter as a bad job and simply go in for a universal scheme of insurance. Again, it was not likely that the Bill would make the workmen more careful. They were not to be punished by it, and was it probable that the fact of that heavy punishment falling on the employer would induce his men to take greater care? What the Bill did was to give damages to A B out of the pockets of C D because E F had been negligent. It might be that E F did not entertain particularly friendly feelings towards his employer: was be, therefore, likely to be particularly careful? Next, the Home Secretary told them that the Bill would diminish the area of risk. He did not know what meaning attached to the words "area of risk"; but it seemed to him that the risk to the employer was being very considerably extended, for he was to be punished for the actions of those over whom he had no direct control. Suppose there were two fellow-workmen, one of whom knew that there was a provision for his family if he were killed, and the other knew there was none; the latter, if he had any love for his family, would be the more careful of the two. That was a fair indication of what would be the influence of this Bill on the habits of workmen, and, therefore, he ventured to assert that the measure in that respect would absolutely fail in its object. The Home Secretary had made the startling assertion that by this Bill the House was only giving effect to long-settled principles of law. He dissented from that statement, and he held that it created a fresh principle of law in putting liability on a person who had done no wrong. The Bill also got rid to a largo extent of the principle of law that a man who voluntarily undertook a risk must bear the consequences. It thus created new principles hitherto entirely unknown to English law. The Home Secretary had declined to answer the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and he had indicated by a hint that he thought them too frivolous; but he might have taken a 1609 little trouble to enlighten his opponents on the subject. He certainly had told them in regard to the insurance funds, such as those which existed in connection with the London and North Western Railway that they would not suffer, but it was admitted that the Bill was a leap in the dark with regard to its effect on the number of accidents, and on the continuance of the existing voluntary Insurance Associations. Those concerned in the Associations deliberately declared that the Bill would kill them. Time alone could prove whether the Home Secretary's view or that of the members of the Association was the more accurate. The right hon. Gentleman based his belief in the view that the Associations would not be killed on the fact that the Directors of the London and North Western Company were reasonable men, and as such would not put an end to their Society. But what was reasonableness? One would assume that the opinion of the Directors deliberately expressed with regard to their own interests was more likely to be reasonable than that of the Home Secretary, who was an outsider in matters of that sort. he had promised them he would pause if he thought the scheme would put an end to these valuable voluntary Associations, and they now begged him to pause to give due weight to the deliberately-expressed opinions of the men who were most concerned. The Home Secretary clearly realised the value of the funds, and the good that had been done by them, and the membership fulfilled the ideal conditions of the Home Secretary—namely, that the men should have entered them with their eyes open and perfectly aware of what they were doing; that they should have done so of their own free will, and that the schemes did not tend to encourage carelessness. It had been asserted—and he believed there had been no contradiction of the statement—that all these conditions obtained in the existing Societies, and the right hon. Gentleman ought, therefore, to pause before he put an end to them. Then there was the question of the speculative attorney, he could quite imagine the terror which affected larger employers of labour at the present time with regard to the possible effects of the Bill, but in addition to them the employers of domestic servants were beginning to 1610 talk of the danger in which they would be placed. The Bill, in fact, gave to the speculative attorney such opportunities as he had never before had in regard to any litigation. Already actions affecting employers' liability were conducted to a large extent by speculative solicitors, and only recently a case came under his notice which showed the evils of the system. A man who had suffered an injury, from which he recovered in two or three months, claimed £300 from his employer—a sum equal to three years' wages. The employer would willingly have given him £60 or 70; but the man having heard the sum of £300 mentioned would not listen to any offer. He took the case into Court, and in the end only recovered £52 10s. This was au indication of the way in which litigation would be encouraged by the Bill. The fact was, the causes of action were to be enormously increased, and the amount of litigation would be so immense that those pecuniarily interested were looking forward to it with great dissatisfaction. If they wished to diminish those opportunities, it would be necessary to severely limit the amount to be recovered by plaintiffs on some scale which would be fair to all parties. Otherwise, friendly and reasonable settlements would be entirely out of the question. The employer was also placed in an extremely unfair position under the Bill in this way—that he would not, probably, take care to keep his evidence as to the accident, while the workman, prompted by the speculative attorney, would pile up his evidence and then proceed against the employer. One of the objects aimed at by the Bill was to introduce reasonable precautions that would prevent accidents, but in his opinion there was nothing in the Bill to secure that object. He had not heard in the course of the Debate one single serious argument, or one single statistic, showing how the Bill would decrease the number of accidents. They had been told by the hon. Member for Battersea that the 36,000 accidents yearly in the London hospitals would be decreased 60 per cent, if the Bill were passed. He believed that 60 or 70 per cent, of those accidents would not be employers' liability accidents at all, but would be general accidents entirely outside the scope of the Bill. Then, if they were to weed out the cases of contri- 1611 butory negligence under which a man could not recover at all, and the cases in which there was no negligence, but which were due to what was called the act of God, they would find that probably only 5 or 10 per cent, of the accidents in any of the London hospitals at the present time would come under the Bill. The second argument in favour of the Bill was that it would secure to those who suffered the largest possible amount of compensation. Everyone who had the slightest knowledge of cases in the Law Courts knew that plaintiffs, especially if they were uneducated men, went for mentioning a large amount of damages in the statement of claim, and when they got it there they looked upon it as half due. Then the bigger the sum claimed the less possibility there was for making a settlement. Therefore, the absence of any limit of claim, and the absence of any limit of time, except the six years in which an action could be brought, were two great dangers both to the employers and the workmen, but certainly they were an advantage to those who practised in the Courts.
§ * MR. CHARLESWORTH (Wakefield)
said, that he cordially agreed with most of the provisions of the Bill; but there was one part of it to which he had a very strong objection, and that was the clause prohibiting contracting-out. He was in a peculiar position with regard to the Bill, because he was a partner in a firm of colliery owners in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a large majority of whose workmen had contracted out of the Act. He could not say whether the initiative in the matter came from the firm or from the workmen, but it was a mutual agreement. The workmen and the firm met together to consider the question of contracting out, and it was decided to take a ballot on the subject. The ballot was taken in a perfectly fair manner in the ordinary way, and the result was that, with the exception of one colliery, in all the other collieries there was a considerable majority for contracting out of the Act. Societies were formed which were subscribed to by the men, and the firm contributed 25 per cent, of the subscriptions. The Societies had continued since 1882, and during that time no less than £10,075 had been paid to the men in compensation for accidents, whereas the 1612 1,200 in the one colliery which decided against contracting out had not got one penny of compensation. He also claimed that, instead of inducing carelessness on the part of the men and the employer, contracting out had the opposite effect. His firm employed 4,500 colliers. Of these, 3,300 were contracted out of the Act, and amongst the latter during the 10 years from 1882 to 1892 the number of fatal accidents was 18, or one accident to every 183 men. Amongst the 1,200 men not contracted out of the Act there had been during the same period eight fatal accidents, or one for every 150 men, which showed a considerable percentage in favour of those who had contracted out. The amount subscribed by the men to their Society was 2d. a week. But every year the accounts were properly audited, and if there was a surplus at the end of the year it was distributed to the men in the shape of bonuses. The hon. Member for Battersea had talked about the large amount of subscriptions paid by the workmen to these Societies, and he mentioned a Friendly Society with which he himself was connected, the subscription to which came to only 10d. a year. He had found that during the last four years the amount returned to the men employed by his firm in bonuses was about 8s.—last year 8s. 2d.—making the annual subscription paid by the men only 6d., for which they received compensation for every accident no matter how or by whom caused. He thought, therefore, it would be, to say the least, most unfair if the workmen should be deprived of these Societies. He had quite recently been able to ascertain the feeling of his workmen as to the Societies, and it was unanimously in favour of its retention. It was only a few weeks ago that the men of one of the collieries, about 1,000 in number, met together to see if they could not contribute something in aid of the wives and children of the men out on strike. They agreed to pay a considerable sum to the relief fund, and, in addition to that, when the Bill was brought under their notice, they unanimously decided against it, and so far from allowing their Societies to be broken up by the Bill, they decided that they would rather double their subscriptions in order to place it on the soundest possible financial basis, and to increase their reserve fund to £5,000. He did not 1613 think the Bill would break up the Societies, for the men were strongly in favour of continuing them; but no one could tell what would happen. It was hardly fair that compensation should be paid through these Societies, and the owners be called upon to pay compensation through the law also. He believed the workmen of Yorkshire were thoroughly good and honest men, but there were black sheep amongst them who would be persuaded by the speculative attorney. With regard to the question of litigation, he found that between 1882 and 1886 his firm had paid £1,200 in compensation, without any litigation; while during the same period the Miners' Union had claimed compensation in eight cases, receiving £470, which cost them about £900 in legal expenses. Therefore, those who had contracted out of the Act were in a, much better position than those who had not contracted out. He hoped that the Home Secretary would yet see his way to introduce some such clause as that which had been moved by the hon. Member for Crewe; and if the right hon. Gentlemen did so, he would undoubtedly receive the thanks of the workmen throughout the country.
MR. MAC INNES (Northumberland, Hexham)
said, the deserted condition of the House was an obvious indication that Members were anxious to pass from the Bill to other subjects. But, before they arrived at that stage, he desired to call attention to one point, and one point only. Attacks had been made outside the House, in the Press, and on public platforms, directed against hon. Members who had supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe in favour of contracting out, and especially against those who were employers of labour, and Railway Directors. The statement had been repeated over and over again, that these hon. Members were influenced by a desire to maintain their incomes and their dividends, and that they were entirely disregardless of the safety of their workmen. That was a serious charge, and it was a very old charge. It had been made again and again during the long series of Debates on employers' liability which had taken place in the House. It was, however, well that it should go to the country that it was not a question of money and dividends with the employers. It had been proved that 1614 every one of the private firms or public companies mentioned in the course of the Debate had, in cases of accident, paid much larger compensation voluntarily than they could have been obliged to pay under legal obligations, and in no single instance had an allegation been made that there had been an attempt on the part of any of those private firms or public companies to "insure themselves out," as it was called. The more serious charge that those employers of labour and large Corporations were heedless of the safety of their workmen had also been absolutely unsupported. The fact of the way the money was usually contributed was sufficient inducement to the employers, if inducement were needed, to pay special care to the safety of the men. It had been proved that in some cases payment quickly followed the accident; that there was no fixed contribution on the part of the employers; that there was a fixed contribution on the part of the men; that the employers made up the deficiency whatever it might be; that in some instances the whole contribution was made by the employers, and he ventured to say that not a single instance had been adduced to prove the statement that the safety of the men was in any way jeopardised. The hon. Member for Battersea had brought forward many figures as to accidents, lint they were mainly taken from foreign countries. The hon. Member had produced no figures about this country; and he was well-advised in so doing, for there were really no reliable statistics in the matter. It had been stated in a former Parliament that in the case of railways which had contracted out, accidents were more numerous than they were on railways that did not adopt that principle; but those who had really examined the Returns as given in the Blue Books were aware that the statistics were entirely misleading. The fact was—as had been pointed out by the late Sir George Findlay, in a letter to the Board of Trade—the statistics were made out on different principles by different railways. There could be no matter of doubt with regard to fatal accidents, but there was considerable doubt as to the accuracy of the Returns of non-fatal accidents. Where the Mutual Insurance Societies existed the number of accidents returned was necessarily larger than the number re- 1615 turned where that arrangement did not exist. For instance, if a man by his own negligence fell over a box on the platform, he would get compensation where the Mutual Insurance Societies existed, though the accident arose from his own negligence, and consequently it would be returned as a railway accident; but where no Mutual Insurance Society existed, no such accident would be returned. However, those who were in favour of contracting out did not confine themselves to statistics which might be twisted in various directions. Their argument had always been—"What say the men themselves?" They were perfectly content to let the men decide the matter. He had to thank the Home Secretary for the difference he had set up between the Insurance Societies and the Pension Societies. There was no doubt that the impression was abroad that a man leaving the service of the London and North Western Railway Company would lose the benefit of all the payments he had made to the Insurance Society. But it was worth remembering that two ballots had been taken in that company with regard to the two District Societies—the Pension Society and the Insurance Society; but while a large majority of the men expressed their desire that the Pension Society should be abolished, and it was accordingly abolished, they gave their assent to the Insurance Society. Therefore, when they acknowledged, as they had to, the independence of the men in the first case, they could not deny it in the second.
§ * SIR E. HILL (Bristol, S.)
said, he could not help expressing his regret that the Government did not feel able to accept the Amendment which he had the honour of proposing on the Report stage, the object of which was to substitute a limited amount of compensation for any accident, however it might occur, for the Government scheme of unlimited compensation only to be given on the proof of negligence. He thought they must all feel that it would be most desirable for the workman to be provided against all accidents that might happen to him. The Home Secretary had said no one asked for, and no one wanted, that scheme. Well, since he had moved the Amendment he had received communications not only from workmen, but from employers, who had come to the con- 1616 clusion that the time had arrived when such a complete scheme ought to be carried out. At one time he himself had seen some difficulty about the scheme; but having given the matter the fullest consideration, he had come to the conclusion that it was the only way out of the difficulty, and the only really final settlement of the question. If it was adopted the workman would go forth to his occupation with the feeling that if it pleased Providence to lead him into an accident in the case of his death provision would be made for his family, and in the case of disablement he would receive a certain amount of compensation. He also ventured to think that the adoption of his Amendment would have tended to the greater security of the workmen, and for this reason: that the employer who was liable to pay for all accidents was much more likely to see that every possible precaution in his power was taken to prevent accidents happening at all. In his opinion, the tendency was in an opposite direction, because the employer might say to himself that the difficulty of proving negligence was so great that it would pay him better to run the risk of getting out of any claims made rather than make compensation. But the Government had rejected every suggestion outside their own idea—the negligence of the employer. Were there no negligent workmen? was there any class that could be wholly said to be free from the vices of carelessness and negligence? Yet the Government had steadily refused to put any pressure upon the workman to make him take more care. The hon. Member for West Ham said that if the employer took care to employ competent workmen there would be no danger of accidents; but how, in common sense, could an employer make sure that every man he employed was competent? Competency and negligence went together, yet the Government declined to receive the clause of the hon. Member for Preston, the effect of which would have been to have caused a negligent workman to feel he was liable to punishment—if not by fine, at any rate by the exposure of his negligence—in cases of carelessness and negligence which might load to disaster. The proposition of the hon. Member might very well have induced care which would probably prevent accident, but how it was supposed that 1617 the fact of an employer's liability to pay for the negligence of a workman was to cause the workman to be more careful was entirely outside his comprehension. Again, the Government refused to throw on the workman any obligation to give notice or warning of any carelesness which he knew might lead and tend to disaster and injury. Did that tend to the prevention of accident? He ventured to think it did not. He felt surprise that the Labour Representatives supported Her Majesty's Government, although they had always loudly asserted that safety was their primary object rather than that of compensation. That was a feeling with which he had entire sympathy. What amount of money could compensate a man for an injury, or his family for the loss of their breadwinner? He did not hesitate to condemn this Bill as totally inadequate to cause a diminution in the accidents which they all deplored. Then he could not too deeply regret that the Government refused to make any concessions in regard to the contracting out. He was not going into the subject which had been already so ably dealt with, but surely it was somewhat paternal, if he might not even call it grandmotherly, to refuse to grant to an adult the option of contracting out of a Statute when he saw it was to his own benefit to do so. The argument that the employer might take advantage of that to defraud his workman was hardly tenable, because the proposition was that the power should be granted only in favour of some scheme, approved by the Board of Trade, to which the employer contributed. He believed that in regard to this Bill the workman would not consider it was the great boon that was contended for it, as it would deprive workmen of some of the great advantages they now enjoyed. He desired to say a few words on the position of the shipowners, and inasmuch as under his Amendment the sailors would receive compensation for all accidents, he could scarcely be accused of want of sympathy with the sailors or crows of vessels, or being actuated by any desire to shield shipowners from the payment of what might be right and proper for them to pay in the way of compensation. Hard things had been said against shipowners by prominent speakers outside this House, and some 1618 hard things had been said about them inside this House. He noticed the other day that one prominent individual had made this accusation—Shipowners tolerated in their ranks blackguards who caused hundreds of lives to be lost every year.He did not intend to say much on that. One, of course, regretted the use of such language, which tended to raise bad feeling between employer and employed and deprived the gallant leaders of the sailor of all influence or power for good. In this particular instance the speaker refuted his own wild and wicked statement, in another portion of his speech by asserting that the only case he knew of where a shipowner was convicted of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea was one that occurred in Glasgow. That was the only case he knew of that had occurred since the passing of the Act in 1863, and he thought the House would agree with him that that was not a bad record, and exonerated the shipowners from the wild suggestion of this person, and more especially when it was known that every injury to a vessel or any of the men formed, at the instance of the Board of Trade, the subject of an inquiry before a Stipendiary Magistrate, and that a barrister or solicitor was always briefed to prosecute the shipowner or the captain of a vessel. He had no intention of wasting the time of the House in defence of shipowners, but he ventured to say the position of the Mercantile Marine was a position that both builders, owners, and sailors might be proud of. He also rejoiced to think that sailors had been largely benefited as regards their safety and accommodation and food. The shipowners had been abused for objecting to be included in the Bill after their ships had left port, and that in spite of the recommendation of the Select Committee which, in 1886, after inquiry, decided it was not desirable they should be so included. He had the honour of presenting to this House a Petition signed by shipowners, practically all the principal shipowners of the country, representing something like 9,000,000 tons of foreign-going vessels, and in that Petition they strongly protested against being included. Their only justification for seeking special exemption from a general law was the 1619 existence of special and important differences in their particular case. The Bill made employers liable for accidents accruing from the negligence of employers, their agents or their workpeople, and he presumed that was on the assumption that the employer possessed the power of control or supervision. Shipowners objected to be included, because as soon as their vessel left the port they had no further possible power to exercise either control or supervision. An employer on shore, say a colliery owner, appointed a certificated agent to look after his mines, and the shipowner employed a certificated agent, but the difference lay here. The colliery owner, upon his agent showing incapacity, or taking to drinking habits or going off his head, or showing other bad signs by which he forfeited his right to the confidence of the owner, had the power of replacing him, which was the proper thing to do; but the shipowner was in an entirely different position. The vessel might be thousands of miles away, and the shipowner had no power of changing the captain, and what was more, if he went on board the vessel himself for the purpose of seeing that the captain did what was right and proper, and saw that the captain was adopting a course that must inevitably lead to disaster, and were to attempt to interfere, the law said that no one should interfere with the captain, and gave power—he did not say improperly—into the hands of the captain to put anyone so interfering in irons. He thought it was hard to make the owner liable under such peculiar conditions. Then the captain, whom the owner trusted, might die, and another might be appointed by Her Majesty's Consul abroad, whom the owner had never seen or heard of; therefore, he thought that for shipowners to be included in this Bill without further inquiry being made or evidence taken to bear out the decision of the Committee of 1886, was rather a strong measure, and that the shipowners might well consider themselves to be hardly treated as compared with their fellow-employers on shore. If they were to place private employers under this liability, why should not the men employed by the State share the same advantage? Take, for instance, two ships sailing from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, one a man-of-war and the other 1620 a merchant vessel. Both start at the same time, encounter the same weather, exhibit the same neglect, neither use the lead, both go ashore, and disaster happens to the crew. What would be their position under this Bill? The crew of the merchant vessel would have the right of compensation to an unlimited amount from the owner, but the crew of Her Majesty's vessel were relegated to the tender mercies of the Lords of the Admiralty or private charity. State workmen in the Royal Arsenals and Dockyards were originally left out, but he was glad to see they were now included; still, he did not see why the soldiers in the Army and the sailors in the Navy should be left out in the cold. He was aware that in the Army there were certain pensions, but in case of death they were of a very insufficient character, and in regard to the Navy it entirely depended on the goodwill of the Lords of the Admiralty. His last, criticism to the Bill was that the liability was unlimited as well as the time within which the notice of claim must be given, and that rendered any insurance of the risk difficult. Some said that the employer should not be permitted to ensure at all, but he said it was for the advantage of the workman that the employer should not only be allowed, but should be encouraged and compelled to insure, for the workman could not afford to run the risk of an insolvent employer. The Bill appeared to him to open the door to unfounded claims and to encourage that individual, the speculative solicitor. There could be no difficulty in providing for the giving of notice of intention to claim within a fair and reasonable time. For these reasons, and because he believed the Bill would not tend to decrease accidents, because he believed it must tend to litigation and ill-feeling between employers and employed, because he objected to the curtailment of the liberty of the subject by refusing to allow a workman to do what he considered best for his own interest, and because the Bill utterly failed to afford a workman that permanent and certain compensation for all accidents which he wished them to have, he could not give the Bill, in its present form, his approval.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, he rose at this stage to take part in the discussion in order that he might embrace the only oppor- 1621 tunity that presented itself to him to make a protest on behalf of probably 1,000 men in the employ of the London and North-Western Railway Company who resided in his Division, against the passing of the Bill in its present shape. It was impossible to exaggerate the earnestness with which the men protested against the loss to them which would accrue from the inevitable breaking up, if the Bill passed in its present form, of a, valuable institution which they had greatly cherished, from which they and their families had derived, in times past, the greatest possible advantage. He knew that the Home Secretary was of opinion that if the Bill passed in its present shape the Railway Companies and other bodies who had maintained benefit funds would still go on contributing to those funds, and that things would remain very much as they were, and there would be no danger that the funds would be broken up. He (Mr. Powell Williams) thought, if he might be allowed to say so, that the right hon. Gentleman had rather lost sight of a fact which was brought out in a letter to the Press a few days ago, written by a gentleman who had previously been referred to in the Debate, Mr. Tangye. That gentleman had taken counsel's opinion in relation to the position in regard to his own fund if the Bill became law. He believed that Mr. Tangye had been advised that any offer of any compensation out of such a fund as he had hitherto maintained would be an admission of liability on his part, and practically place him out of Court if he sought to defend any action brought against him by one of his workmen who sustained injury. If nothing else were wanting—if it were not in the nature of the case that if people were driven back on their legal liability it was not likely that any benefit would be given by them of a kind which the law did not require—the legal point thus raised in the letter of Mr. Tangye would effectually dispose of the view of the Home Secretary that this assistance would still he maintained. There were two points in connection with this Bill which he had watched with considerable interest during the long discussions which had taken place, and which he thought were not even yet clear to the public 1622 understanding. The first point was that it had not been made out that it would follow from the Bill that employers would be likely to exercise more care than they had hitherto done for the safety and well-being of the persons they employed. The second point related to the position which the subcontractor—especially the small subcontractor—was likely to find himself placed in. He was aware that those who were interested in the mining industry maintained that there had been considerable negligence due to owners in the selection of the operatives to carry on the work, and that if they were made more responsible than they were now for accidents caused by the negligence of persons in their employment they would be more careful than they were now to select competent workmen. It seemed to him that there were two answers to that. The first was that it was a notorious fact that the more skilled miners were more reckless than the unskilled miners. He believed that that was a statement which would not be contradicted by anyone who had had anything like ample experience of the mining industry. The second answer was that experience showed that it was impossible for the employer to make any such selection as was referred to. In cases of this kind one concrete example was worth a good deal of argument, and he could tell the House of a case which came under his own notice, and which would he thought conclusively show that the responsibility which was sought to be put on employers under the Bill for the acts of their workmen could not possibly make employers more careful in selecting those workmen. The case happened in a colliery of which he was one of the owners and Directors. Four men, experienced and capable and sober men, who were employed as store-men on one occasion, there being a dispute in the pit, went into a remote part of the pit to discuss the matter. One of them, while they were in conversation together, lighted his pipe. There happened to be what was unusual in that pit, a small accumulation of gas. The gas exploded, causing slight burns to one of the men, and rather severe burns to the other three. Now, if the Directors of that pit had been asked to select men 1623 for the pit who were competent and trustworthy, these men would have been named. Yet this thing happened. What would have been the position of the employers in that case if this Bill had been law? The man who lighted his pipe would have been out of Court because of contributory negligence; but with regard to the other three, the Directors would have been liable to be required to compensate them for the negligence of their fellow-worker. To make the employer responsible under such circumstances would be neither good policy nor sound morality. The other point to which he wished to refer was the position of the sub-contractor. What would be the position of the small sub-contractor if this Bill passed into law? He thought he must, of necessity, cease to exist. And who was the small sub-contractor? In nine cases out of ten he was a workman who had accumulated a little capital, and by that means been able to take contracts for himself, and to employ labour in the execution of those contracts. Suppose people were to be made liable for the negligent act of any servant of any sub-contractor whom they brought into their houses or factory to execute any repairs, were they ever likely to employ a man unless he made it perfectly clear to them that he could give them a substantial indemnity in case anything happened in consequence of the negligence of one of his men. Suppose that something went wrong with a water pipe, that they sent round the corner for the nearest man, and he brought two men into their house, of which they gave him possession for the purpose of executing the contract; that a scaffolding was put up from which one of the men negligently withdrew some important support, in consequence of which the other workman was injured. It seemed to him that under this Bill, though there was not the smallest negligence on the part of the person who required the work to be done, he would yet be liable for the injury happening to the workmen performing that task. Thus they might employ a workman to execute a small repair of 10s., and find themselves liable to an action at law, and compensation to the extent of £200 or £300 for something which happened during the progress of the work. It was perfectly clear under 1624 such circumstances that before they could take anyone into their house or factory to do any kind of work, they would have previously to take from him a formal indemnity in case anything happened through the negligence of any person he brought in. Under these circumstances the small contractor must necessarily go out of existence, and the hope that many workmen now entertained, that by-and-bye, by skill, and thrift, and care, they would get into a different position in life, would to a very large extent be destroyed, and he failed to see in that respect, at any rate, that this was a Bill for the benefit of the workmen. This Bill, if it was for the benefit of anybody, was for the benefit of solicitors. It was, in his opinion, the solicitors' sanctuary, and they were, he was informed, relying to a very large extent on what might come to pass under the Bill to make their profession a great deal better worth carrying on than it had been of late. The Bill substituted a fighting for a friendly arrangement; it substituted war for peace. What, after all, did it amount to? Contracting out or not contracting out was nothing in itself. Per se it did not make any difference; there was no virtue in contracting out or in not contracting out; but all the difference came, of course, when they examined and found out what the result of contracting out was. He thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen was perfectly right when he addressed himself to the point of showing that the result of contracting out was insufficient and unsatisfactory. The hon. Member admitted, in the course of the able argument delivered at an earlier stage of the Bill, that in 95 per cent, of the London and North Western Railway cases the contracting out arrangements had operated satisfactorily and fairly; but he addressed himself to the small residuum of cases in which he said that the persons who were compensated did not get anything like a fair allowance, and he contrasted the allowance for death and disablement which was given by the Loudon and North Western with the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railways to their men. As he gathered from the hon. Member's observations, if it could have been shown that the London and 1625 North Western arrangement was as good for the men who had a legal claim as was the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company's arrangement, he would have been—as he was in the Grand Committee—in favour of still contracting out under the Bill. It was said in respect of these cases that there was something wanting. What was wanting, and what did it really amount to? The Home Secretary gave himself away on this very point, because in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill he showed that in one year the Midland men had received by litigation the sum of £660. That was not the net sum they received; but the sum, as he understood, in which the Midland Railway Company on litigated cases had been east in damages. But the right hon. Gentleman did not tell them by how much that sum would be reduced on account of what the lawyers knew very well were extra charges; and when they came to look at a great Friendly Society like the London and North Western, which paid away something like £23,000 a year in damages without inquiry as to whether there was legal liability or not, he thought they might very well afford to leave out of account this £660. If the men were put back on to their legal remedy, no doubt in certain cases they might receive more than the Friendly Society would give them; but it would only be after the anxiety and expense of legal proceedings, and he, therefore, said that an arrangement under which the whole of, say, five men would receive compensation to a fair amount was a preferable arrangement to one under which one man might receive more than he would get under his legal right, whilst the others would receive nothing whatever. After all, what did it matter to the widow of a man who was killed whether there was negligence or not? What she wanted was some compensation for the loss and affliction which she sustained, something to enable her to make a start in life, and she did not receive that after prolonged litigation and the additional anxiety which that kind of thing brought upon her had had to be endured. He said, therefore, that unless it could be clearly and conclusively shown that under non-contracting out they were going to get a state of things, not for one particular 1626 individual but for the men as a whole, which was better than they could obtain if they; permitted contracting out, this Bill was not a Bill which was really in the workman's interest. Who knew better than the Home Secretary how extremely difficult it was for a man to obtain his legal remedy in cases of this kind. Look at the regulations of the Railway Companies; about a guard being prohibited from entering a train whilst it was in motion, or to cross the line, and dozens of things which he did habitually in the course of his day's occupation, but any one of which, if proved against him, would convict him of contributory negligence, and put him onside the legal remedy. But in the case of the Friendly Societies, notwithstanding the fact that a man had broken these regulations, and the Company were not, therefore, liable in case of injury, he received a substantial sum out of these funds, to which the Companies contributed very generously. He had known a case in which a widow pursued a Company in relation to the death of her husband and got substantial damages, but the Company went into liquidation, and she never got a penny in respect of her verdict, whilst she incurred heavy costs. If she had elected to take the compensation out of the fund—to which the Company had contributed for many years—she would have got substantial compensation. Cases of that kind would occur under this Bill, where solicitors would invite and provoke persons, who were supposed to have claims against employers, to proceed with the legal remedy, only to find when they got that legal remedy there was no substance to pay it, whilst they would probably land themselves in heavy costs. On the part of many of his constituents he protested against the passing of this Bill, which would deprive them of a state of things with which they were thoroughly contented, and under which they received substantial benefits, and would put them into a most equivocal position.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, as they were about to part with this Bill and send it to another place, he thought it was the duty of independent Members, and who were not necessarily large employers of labour, 1627 but who might speak impartially as non-interested parties, and who might not be altogether ignorant of the various interests affected by this Bill, to state their views. He had received large and very influential representations from the employés of the London and Brighton and South Coast Railway in his constituency, who were most anxious that the insurance funds and Benefit Societies which the workmen in various parts of the country had started, in concert with their employers, for the benefit of the workmen, should not be interfered with. He viewed the clause in the Bill which prevented the men from contracting with their employers out of the four corners of the Act with intense annoyance, not to say indignation. They had had various interesting speeches, but there was one speech he had listened to, in support of the Bill, which simply astonished him, because of its inconsequential nature and illogical character. He alluded to the speech of the hon. Member for the Gorton Division, who seemed to approve of the Bill because it delivered him from temptation, who seemed not to have had his morning and evening prayers answered, and therefore wanted this compulsory Act of Parliament to stimulate him into the path of duty in which he desired to walk. He would remind the hon. Member that the law was made for evil-doers, and if he was anxious for that description he was welcome to it. The hon. Member said, because there was no power of contracting out of the Bill it would compel employers to do their duty and start these insurance funds, but he (Admiral Field) contended it would have the contrary effect. If employers were left free to do certain duties—which the Act stated should be done—it would be much more likely to bring about action on the part of independent men in that direction. There were many points, no doubt, in the Bill deserving of warm commendation, and on that account it would probably be passed without a Division. A great writer and thinker, Herbert Spencer, had stated in regard to the legislation of this 1628 House that politicians were too apt to disregard the far-reaching consequences of the legislation they forced through Parliament. He thought there was no truer statement than that. The Home Secretary had told them he approved of these voluntary Associations. Then why did he kill them by this Bill? It seemed to him that the new Radicalism, in opposition to ancient Radicalism, was the echo of the opinion of the new Unionists. They did not act in the real spirit of the old Trades Unionists. He remembered the late Mr. Bradlaugh—a great supporter of individual freedom for working-men and a strong supporter of the principle of contracting out in the Bill of 1888—giving a definition of the principle of the old Trades Unions and the new. The principle of the old Trades Unions, said Mr. Bradlaugh, was "we will;" the principle of the new Trades Unions was "you shall." That was a very correct description, and it seemed to him that the Home Secretary and those who supported him were permeated with the views of the new Unionists rather than with the views of the older bodies. It had been said by a great man—the Prime Minister—that this House was the temple of freedom. They liked that sentiment, and believed it was more or less true, but it was somewhat remarkable that if the apostles of freedom sat on the Treasury Bench their followers should have been converted to these extraordinary views. He always understood it was part of the Radical creed that they stood up for individual liberty and self-help, but now they found them acting as a body in support of this tyrannical measure. They were always inconsistent. He did not believe this legislation would pass in its present form, but if it did, he ventured to predict that it would discourage all philanthropic effort on the part of employers which ought to be encouraged, and which he believed the Home Secretary and others would encourage if they were free to act according to their real mind. The Bill in its present form would damp and crush out all philanthropic effort. They had various voluntary Associations which they all admired, and which they desired to see extended. The hon. Member for Crewe, who brought forward the Amendment in support of 1629 contracting out on behalf of the London and North Western Railway employés, equally represented the London and Brighton Railway employés, and the hon. Gentleman's argument appeared to him to be quite unanswerable, because he showed that, the men under the present system of Insurance Societies would get vastly more in case of injury, or in case of their death, would be paid to their representatives, than they could hope to get under this miserable Bill. No man could have urged more powerfully than did Mr. Bradlaugh in May and December, 1888, the arguments which had been used by the hon. Member for Crewe. He would quote a few sentences—Mr. Bradlaugh said he would ask I he House not to ruin the arrangements which employers and workmen together were ready to make and had made. He said if the clause was allowed to stand prohibiting employers contracting out the result would be that the workmen's Insurance Associations would be destroyed.MR. Bradlaugh also showed that Mr. Broadhurst himself proposed actually to legalise the existing Societies in the Bill of 1886. Then why this change of front on the part of the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Burt), who had taken the place of Mr. Broadhurst? The late Mr. Bradlaugh had a much better right to speak on behalf of the working-men than had the Member for Battersea, and what further did Mr. Bradlaugh say? He said that—Only 2 per cent, of the injuries came to the legal remedy. What became of the 98 per cent.? He believed the general feeling on the part of a large majority of the men was to have some system of insurance and not to run the risk of a law-suit, in which the damages would be largely swallowed up by the lawyers whenever any accident occurred. They found out very large bodies of men were contented with these Insurance Societies or provident funds now existing, and wanted them to continue.He believed no man was more competent to speak on behalf of the working classes employed in industrial occupations than Mr. Bradlaugh, and his views were entitled to very great respect. He (Admiral Field) would like to say a word or two about the clause as it affected seamen, who were brought into this Bill. He was well aware that shipowners had not taken a strong line in opposition to in- 1630 cluding seamen in the Bill. He was rather surprised that they had not, but his hon. Friend behind him had shown why, and he thoroughly agreed with that hon. Member, that the shipowners would be better off with a law to compel them to provide compensation in all accidents rather than to be under this Bill as it stood. But he wished to speak, not in the interests of the shipowners, but on behalf of the men. He said, with all respect, that there were a great many Pharisees in the House, though they did not know it. Many of them had for years been straining at gnats and swallowing the hugest camels. The seamen did not ask to be spared the ordinary risks of their employment. The dangers which had sent hundreds of brave men to the bottom of the sea were not the dangers of their calling in the ordinary sense, but the dangers which Mr. Plimsoll used to speak against in Parliament, and which Parliament had persistently and constantly ignored, and declined to put forth a hand to remedy. He said, therefore, that there was a Pharisaical spirit abroad—although he did not apply the phrase to individuals. While they permitted such terrible evils as over insurance and undermanning to exist, it was almost, beneath contempt to try and bring the men within the benefit of this Bill, which could do them very little good. He could see no reason why the shipowners should not be brought under the Bill when the ships were in port loading or unloading cargo. But when the vessels were at sea, and the men were brought face to face with the forces of nature and the great dangers they had to deal with, which landsmen know nothing about, and which would turn landsmen's hair white in a night, then he did not believe any brave seaman worthy of the name desired to be spared the ordinary risks of his calling, or to be protected in the way this Bill proposed to protect him. They had far better have a compulsory law to grant compensation to seamen in till accidents, than to tinker with the question in the way in which this Bill proposed to tinker with it. If this Bill became law in its present shape the captain of a merchant vessel might hesitate in rough weather to send a man aloft to brace in a yard in order to give additional security, lest that man might 1631 meet with an accident for which the owner of the ship would be held responsible. The result of that hesitation might be that much greater injury would be done. The mast might go, and many lives might be endangered. Again, a man might fall overboard and the captain might hesitate to send a boat to his assistance, lest other lives might be placed in jeopardy. Under these circumstances, looking at the ordinary risks of a seaman's calling, he thought the Bill was calculated to do more harm than good. The true remedy in the case of the seaman was, he believed, to encourage the formation of Insurance Societies, such as had been formed by the Shipping Federation, and thus to improve the relations between the shipowners and their men. The Federation Insurance, be understood, offered to officers and men remuneration according to a certain scale, though those insured were not asked to subscribe a farthing. This was the way to tie seamen to their ships, instead of letting them drift about like nobody's children without friends. In the case of men lost at sea the representatives would receive sums ranging from £100 in the case of a captain to £25 in the case of sailors and firemen and £12 10s. in the case of an Asiatic. Proportionate amounts were given in the case of disablement. Speaking of Asiatics, as a naval man, one of the consequences of this Bill which filled him with apprehension was that shipowners, in order to relieve themselves from liabilities, would be driven to employ more foreign seamen than ever. He should deprecate this, for he feared that in the event of war it would be fraught with great danger to the country. There were 20,000 fewer British seamen in the Merchant Service now than there were 15 years ago, a fact for which he held the Legislature responsible. He maintained that if there was one class of men more than another that it was the interest of the country to look after it, was our merchant seamen, for in the event of a naval war they it would be who would have to fight our battles. He trusted that in another place they would make short work of the clause in the Bill to which he took exception, and which he abominated. He believed that the Bill in its present shape would induce 1632 Shipping Companies and Railway Companies to withdraw their subscriptions to insurance funds, and that it would drive many private shipowners to turning their businesses into Limited Liability Companies; and Limited Liability Companies had neither souls or consciences, and would be likely to fight every claim made against them. If the clause to which he objected were struck out in the House of Lords he hoped the remainder of the Bill would tend to educate the mercantile community in favour of Voluntary Associations.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
said, the Home Secretary had said. He should regret it if the Bill injuriously affected any of the Insurance Societies, but that regret would not be shared by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. J. Burns), who had avowed that his object was to destroy those Societies. The right hon. Gentleman had said that in this the employers would act like men of business. So they would, and it was for that very reason that he (Mr. Banbury) believed that they would withhold their subscriptions from the Voluntary Societies. At present the employer who subscribed to one of these funds knew that by so doing he was avoiding all chance of litigation and of ill-feeling between himself and his men, but in the future, if there was a chance of the workman saying, "I will not accept what is due to me out of this fund, but will go to law," the employer would see that there would be two shots at him, and he was not likely to be a consenting party to such an arrangement. Even if the Voluntary Societies were not destroyed they would be very grievously injured. The House had heard a great deal about the railway men, but there were other bodies, comprising some of the most able and intelligent working men in the country, who were strongly against the prohibition of contracting out. In his constituency there was a large company—the South Metropolitan Gas Company—which employed 3,000 men. A ballot had been taken amongst them, and the result showed that 95 per cent, were in 1633 favour of contracting out. Even if the railway men had been coerced nobody could say that these servants of the Gas Company had been. This Hill struck a great blow at freedom of contract. He always thought that the Liberals were great maintainers of freedom of contract; but now the Liberal doctrine was not to let working men follow their own choice in the matter. They did not want the working men to exercise that judgment which any ordinary Englishman 21 years of age ought to be able to exercise with regard to his own affairs. On the contrary, he was to be bound by an obligatory clause. The only reason which he could see for that extraordinary manœuvre was, that if such Bills were left to the judgment of the working men they would have little to do with them. He only desired to say that the working men of his constituency thought that the Bill would be most disastrous to them.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he did not desire to enter at large upon the subject of the Bill, or to make what might be described as a Second Reading speech, but he represented a constituency the great majority of whom were employed in mining operations in the immediate neighbourhood of Wigan, and he did not think he should he doing his duty if he did not take the opportunity of saying a few words on their behalf. There were in the neighbourhood of Wigan no less than 30,794 colliers who were, in common parlance, contracted out of this Bill. Some remarks had been made in the course of this Debate as to coercing the working men. He ventured to say that during the unhappy strike which had occurred in the coal districts no class of men had shown more firmness and resolution than the miners of Wigan, and he did not believe anyone who understood the men would say that 30,000 colliers could be coerced, in the course of the Debate the other night a Welsh Member had made some reference to the condition of affairs in the Principality. He had said that in South Wales there was terrible coercion. In Monmouthshire and South Wales no 1634 fewer that 57,000 men had made contracts independent of this measure. Well, it was a poor compliment to "gallant little Wales" to say that these 57,000 men were victims of coercion. They had to consider the motive which had induced 57,000 men to contract out of the existing Act. In 1891 the working minors contributed £40,000 to the central fund, and the employers £10,000. By not contracting out of the Act the men would lose £10,000, and as compensation for injuries would receive a small sum after long delays and many anxieties of litigation. But his main reason for rising was, a statement was made on the Second Reading of the Bill by the hon. Member for Ince that there was coercion in the Wigan district, and at the last stage of the Report a similar statement had been repeated. Now, he thought that with a, knowledge of the facts fresh in his mind that a simple denial of that statement might be sufficient, but it so happened that there was evidence stronger than any words which might fall from him. The facts of the case were simply these; that in 1881, when a strike arose in the Wigan district, the suggestion to contract out of the Act, to use a common phrase, was made, not by the employers, but by the delegates of the employés. The evidence tendered in 1886 before the Select Committee by Mr. Hewlett, manager of one of the largest collieries, was as follows:—A suggestion was made by one of the representatives of the colliers, Mr. Pickard, that it was a pity that litigation and difficulties should arise under the Act, and that it would be much better to see whether a mutual understanding could not be come to whereby the Relief Society might be made the basis for working out the Act, and ultimately the arrangement was made that the employers should pay in the whole 25 per cent., and that there should be no action taken under the Employers' Liability Act; in other words, that arrangement was made in view of the Act, and the increased payments to the men were their satisfaction in respect of the Employers' Liability Act.He thought the evidence of this gentleman, representing as he did one of the largest collieries, employing between 10,000 and 12,000 people, was worthy of some regard. But what said Mr. Pickard—not the gentleman who was a Member of the House—but the gentleman who was at that time the delegate of the 1635 Wigan miners? Before a Committee on the 21st May, 1886, this gentleman was asked—Was it the desire of the workmen or the employers at that colliery to contract themselves out?And the answer was—It was the desire of the workmen.That, he thought, was clear and manifest proof that the statement made by the two hon. Members to whom he had referred, though no doubt made in good faith, was entirely contrary to the facts. Mr. Hewlett proceeded to say in his evidence—We passed a resolution at a prior meeting of the coalowners expressive of our sorrow that it should be said that the proprietors had coerced their men into an arrangement under the Employers' Liability Act, and that we withdrew the whole. Then it fell back on the whole question of wages. The strike went on upon the question of wages, and it was terminated on the question of wages.He was grateful to the Committee for having given him this opportunity of denying that the employers in the neighbourhood of Wigan had in any way coerced their men. The fact was that the proposal to contract out of the Act came from the men themselves, and it was very much from the action of the delegates of the Wigan miners at that time that the whole system of contracting out was inaugurated. He was speaking to-day, not on behalf of the owners, because be found they were indifferent in a commercial sense in this matter, but for the men who wore working miners in the neighbourhood of Wigan. He had also had communication with employers and employés of the London and North Western Railway Company. They had told him that when the ballot was taken 95.88 per cent, were in favour of contracting out, and only 4.12 against it. The number of men who had voted was 9,556; and when he had asked if the ballot was fair and honest the men themselves had told him that the ballot was the fairest that could be taken. Surely such a case as that was worthy of some consideration. In the period of 1881–92 the masters had paid into the funds of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Fund no less a sum than £99,000. Was that a sum to be treated with contempt? No 1636 fewer than 522 widows had received weekly allowances of 8s. a week during the time of trouble; 759 children had received 2s. 6d. a week, and 444 men had received 10s. per week. Then there was the Central Fund. In 1879 there were 96,848 members, which number had increased in 1891 to 287,690, while the revenue had grown in those periods from £68,198 to £256,306. The accumulated funds had also increased from £87,635 in 1879 to£423,611 in 1891. Surely this also was worthy of consideration. There was another point which had been largely touched on in the Debate in connection with contacting out—namely, the point of disablement. He was informed that in 1879 the number of disablements was 18 per cent., and in 1891 15 per cent.; in other words, whereas there were six cases of disablement in the former year, there were only five in the latter. Personally, he had no feeling in this matter; but the statistics which he had submitted to the House had been brought to his notice, and had produced considerable effect upon his mind. All, however, that he desired to do was to serve the working men of the country. He believed that the action of the Government in rendering contracting out almost impossible was an injury to the working class. When a large majority, or a considerable minority, of that class were in favour of freedom in this matter the House of Commons, which was the representative of freedom, not only in this country but all over the world, was bound to give a decision in favour of liberty and against drastic legislation. At the same time, he thought that the fears of employers were some-what exaggerated. He did not share the fears as to excessive damages being given by juries, nor as to the number of claims likely to arise from the period of notice being abolished.
§ MR. COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
said that, on behalf of the workmen he represented, he desired to thank the Home Secretary for the steady way in which he had adhered to his original proposition. He trusted that neither here nor in any other place would he permit contracting out to be included in the Bill.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, he was not an employer of skilled labour, and, though an agricultural Member, there were thousands of skilled artizans in his constituency to whose wishes he was obliged to give consideration. He was bound to say that these artizans did not object to the Bill. There were some Amendments that they would have liked to see inserted which would not have been viewed with satisfaction by hon. Members amongst whom he sat. The men he represented at the Docks and at Grays, on the river, thought that the penalties for negligent employers were not sufficiently marked in this Bill. They also considered that men who suffered from accidents occurring by the act of God ought to be compensated by the State. It was a matter of indifference to a man who lost an arm or a leg whether the accident occurred through the act of God or through the culpability of an employer. The men he represented were hard-headed, clever men, and they did not like litigation any more than hon. Members did themselves. They all knew what happened when litigation began between a master and a man. If a man won a case, the damages and costs he received too often went to the attorney.A shell to thee, and a shell to thee,But the oyster is the lawyer's fee.Even if there was a Division, he should not record his vote against the Government on this Bill.
§ MR. J. A. BRIGHT (Birmingham, Central)
said, he understood there was to be no Division on the Third Reading of the Bill. If there were, however, he should be very much tempted to vote against the measure, believing that there were many serious defects in it. The first was connected with that much-debated question of the power of contracting out. He represented a constituency which had a great many railway men in it. He had received many communications from them. The letters appeared to him to contain internal evidence that the writers were quite unaware that he was connected with the London and North Western Railway Company. They had all pressed him very strongly to oppose in every way he could the action 1638 of the Government in interfering with the Benefit Societies. It had been very amusing to see how the Home Secretary and others had tried to persuade the House, either that the men did not quite understand the question on which they had voted, or else that they were not really in favour of the continuation of the present system. Those hon. Members who had supported the continuation of the present system against very strong inducements held out to them by the heads of their Party to vote for the Government were, generally speaking, the most uncompromising supporters of the present Government. There could be no doubt that the workmen of the London and North Western Railway Company were strongly in favour of the continuation of the present system, as were the men employed by the London and Brighton Company. The Home Secretary had said something that seemed to imply that there was a certain hold obtained over the men employed by the London and North Western Railway Company through the system of insurance. The right hon. Gentleman had said the men would sacrifice their share in the funds if they left the company's service. As a matter of fact, there was no fund for them to sacrifice their share in. They paid their subscriptions from week to week or month to month, and when the period for which they were insured had passed without an accident the money had gone and they had lost all interest in it. On leaving the service of the company a man sacrificed nothing but a good employment, the Benefit Society being only one of the items of the advantageous position in which he was placed. If hon. Gentlemen who had spoken slightingly of the way in which the London and North Western Company treated their men knew how every Director was assailed day after day by applications from men who wished to get employment under the company they would be astonished. The applications were so numerous as to be a, positive nuisance to all those who were connected with the company. It had been stated that the £100 compensation which a man's family would receive in case of his death was not sufficient, and that he would probably obtain a much larger sum if he brought an action under the present Bill. Well, if 10 men were killed, under 1639 the insurance system every one of their families would receive £100. A total of £1,000 would thus be given. If the Bill passed, however, not more than one man out of ten would got any compensation at all, and he might obtain perhaps £200 or £300. He had been surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) making a contemptuous and sarcastic attack on the London and North Western Railway Company and all its works. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think that the company was not at all generous, but, at the same time, that it was desirable to retain all the advantages which the men possessed. He (Mr. Bright) thought the Bill would have been a good Bill, as far as it went, had it not been for the prohibition against contracting out. It seemed to him that that prohibition was a totally unnecessary interference with institutions which were working well and giving great satisfaction. He proposed in the Grand Committee that these arrangements should be allowed in future, if they were carried by a large majority of the men concerned, and had previously been subjected to the criticism, either of the Board of Trade or the Home Office. The Home Secretary objected to that proposal, and said the Home Office would not undertake the duty proposed to be cast upon them. He (Mr. Bright) thought the Home Office would be obliged if the House insisted upon it. The Board of Trade, however, would probably not have any objection to it. He was told the other day that that Department was only too glad to get anything into its hands, and he was sure the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) would be very pleased to deal with such a matter. Arrangements of the kind would only be made by large firms, and if it were conclusively proved to the satisfaction of a Government Department that the men approved of them, he could not see what objection there could be to their adoption. It was said that, in spite of all their declarations, the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company would continue to give the present benefits after the Bill bad passed, and that the reason why they were given now was that they might have the men more in hand than 1640 would otherwise be possible. Well, when these funds were originated in 1880, it was expected by the Directors that a great deal more expense would be thrown upon them than had proved to be the case. It was not only the expense, but the trouble of litigation that people wished to avoid in those matters. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Havelock Wilson) had complained that under the London and North Western system a man who was by an accident incapacitated for work received only 10s. a week. The hon. Member was, however, supporting a Bill which would deprive 9 out of 10 men of even the 10s. a week. It would be very poor consolation to the widow of a man who was killed to know that the reason why no compensation was given was that it was his own fault entirely. Under the present system no inquiries were made as to whose fault it was, and the money was given immediately. He had put down Amendments with a view to amending the Bill on several points, but through a misunderstanding with his hon. Friend the Member for Preston they were not moved. One of these points was that there was in the Bill no limit of time within which a workman must mention the accident from which he had suffered or commence an action for damages. He believed the object of the Government was to place workmen in exactly the same position as outsiders. He would, however, draw the attention of the House to the fact that length of time was very often required by an outsider because he very likely did not know who was the person through whose default he was injured. A workman was in quite a different position, and would probably have no difficulty in obtaining the evidence be needed. Under the Bill, however, he would be able to wait until he was quite sure that all the evidence his master might be able to obtain on the other side had gone out of reach. Then there was the question of the limitation of the amount of compensation to be obtained. Take the case of a small builder, plasterer, or painter with a capital of £200 or £300. Under this Bill such a man was to be made answerable for the negligence of a workman whom he could not prevent committing the act of negligence. It was not at all impossible that a single accident might 1641 ruin a small man of this kind at a blow. These small employers were the cream of the working classes. They were as a rule men who, through their industry, sobriety, and self-denial had, step by step, raised themselves from humble positions until they had crossed the line which divided the working classes from a class a little above them. One effect of this Bill would be to discourage men of small capital from going into business at all, because all their capital might be swept away by a single accident. One would have thought that the Government would have tried to enable small employers to secure their men against the results of accidents. Instead of doing so, the Government removed the only basis on which an Insurance Company could reckon what it had to charge. If an Insurance Company knew what was the maximum that could be paid, it could calculate what premium should be charged. He was told by gentlemen who were connected with Accident Insurance Companies that the public and the House had no conception of what the result of this Bill would be upon premiums for accident insurance. They told him that the premiums that would have to be charged alter the Bill passed would be four or five-fold those which were now charged. Let hon. Members imagine what this would mean in the case of trades of a dangerous character. He need hardly tell the House that in many cases the large sum that would have to be paid for insurance would eventually come out of the wages of the men, whether the masters wished it or not. The result of these charges to a particular industry would be in the long run to reduce the wages of the men. Now he was, of course, in favour of treating working men justly and generously. In the business with which he and his family were connected they had had in 80 years only one case of disagreement with their workmen, and he believed business generally could be conducted without these disagreements. He regretted that in the discussion on the Bill there had been an attempt to put employers and employed in opposite camps. There was already too much inclination that way. During the last few weeks they had seen the results of such a conflict, and he was satisfied that if these 1642 industrial insurance arrangements were extended throughout the country they would be of great benefit to working men. He, therefore, hoped that even at the last moment the Government would be induced to accept some compromise which would prevent the breakdown of a system which had worked so well.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. GROVE (West Ham, N.)
said, he would not have intervened in this Debate that night—because he knew that every moment wantonly wasted meant the curtailment of their Christmas holidays—had he not felt it his duty to say a few words upon this subject. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had been present in the House during the discussions on the Report stage instead of outside in the act of crossing the Atlantic, his criticisms would possibly have been very different. The right hon. Gentleman with that, subtle over-elaboration by which he sought to obscure any point, drew a distinction between fire insurances and life assurances. Now, he ventured to think that that elaborate distinction had nothing whatever to do with the case. It seemed to him that the only point at issue was this—did these insurance finals injure in any way or prevent the formation of Trades Unions? That was the point which his constituents insisted upon. A general meeting was held in his constituency the other night, at which some 900 men were present, and out of that total some 870 assorted in effect that these insurance funds did destroy the spirit of Trades Unions. On that ground he ventured to think that 999 working men out of 1,000 were opposed to this system of contracting out. They would not, in a word, allow their birthright to be sold for a mess of pottage. Then, there was the personal argument. On one side they had in favour of not contracting out such men as the 1643 Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Battersea, and the majority of the leaders of the Trades Unions. On the other hand, they knew that the House of Lords were prepared to throw out this Bill solely because the "contracting-out clause" had been inserted in it. They had assurances of all sorts from the party of the property owners on that point. Then they had, again, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who confessed himself to be a fine old Radical, in alliance with the House of Lords. Now, who did they think was more likely to have the interests of the working classes at heart—the majority of the Trades Union leaders or those who formed, if he might so call it, the "unholy alliance"? It was on that ground, and because the majority of his constituents—the Great Eastern Railway employés—were in favour of not allowing the "contracting-out clause" to be passed, that he supported the Government.
§ * MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, that although he could not claim that intimate knowledge of the intentions of the Upper House which the hon. Member who last spoke professed to possess, he could claim the privilege of representing a constituency containing in its midst a large number of railway men, although so far as he knew none of them were in the employ of the London and North Western Railway. While he regretted that the Home Secretary refused to receive a deputation of railway men on this subject, he was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman had, since the discussions on the Report stage, disabused his mind of the delusion that the case in support of contracting out was entirely a railway case. That was a most astounding fallacy. The right hon. Gentleman also seemed to argue as if contracting out was to be compulsory under the Act. But nobody had asked for such a provision to be introduced. When that transparent truth was borne in mind what became of the arguments of the Home Secretary? The right hon. Gentleman had told them his belief as to what would be the effect upon existing Societies if this Bill passed 1644 into law. That belief he based on what might be called "the reasonable men" hypothesis. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he ventured to say that if a reasonable man wished to know the effect of an Act upon a contract existing between two parties he would apply to the two parties interested and not to a third person, be he even so eminent as the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman had deprived his opinion of much of the authority that naturally attached to it because he would not believe one of the contracting parties and would not hear the other. The right hon. Gentleman was aware that the miners and workmen themselves believed that the clause as now drawn would be fatal to the very interests which he, no doubt, sincerely desired to protect. They had also had the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University that he could give no assurance that the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company would continue their contribution to their workmen's fund if the Bill passed without the "contracting out clause." Therefore, the view of reasonable men would be that the Bill would put an end to these voluntary organisations. The Home Secretary professed disbelief that the relations between the employers and the employed would be interrupted by his Bill. Could he have forgotten his own experience in the Courts of Justice, of which he was for so many years so distinguished an ornament? Was he not by this Bill going to make the relations those of defendant and plaintiff? And were the relations that usually existed between plaintiff and defendant of that friendly and pleasant character which he would like to see prevailing between employer and employed? Was this the moment, when relations between employers and employed had been somewhat strained in certain quarters, to disturb them in those cases where they were exceedingly friendly and mutually advantageous? While recognising the advantages of the Trade Unions to the working classes, he deprecated the intimidation and tyranny and almost despotism which prevented the men from following their own intentions in a free and uncontrolled and unfettered manner. The Home Secretary's clause against 1645 contracting out had undoubtedly been promoted by the Trade Union leaders, who, he believed, by their action had tarnished the escutcheon of their organisation. He regretted that this measure, which otherwise was most desirable, should have been perhaps jeopardised by the gratuitous importation of controversy where unanimity might have prevailed through the insertion of a clause which undoubtedly rendered it unacceptable to hundreds and thousands of the working men throughout the country.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)
said, that although he did not represent a large manufacturing centre he could not disguise from himself the fact that the Bill, if passed, would affect domestic servants as well as artisans, and he was glad to think it did so. Undoubtedly great misapprehensions prevailed out of doors as to what the Bill was really going to do. It was evident that some of the supporters of the measure in that House did not clearly understand its purport, and therefore he was not surprised that outside Parliament false impressions equally prevailed. The prevalent misapprehension was due to the absurdly exaggerated language in which the benefits to be conferred on the working classes by the Bill had been described. They had heard the measure spoken of as the Magna Charta of working men, and the only excuse he could find for such language was in the paucity of the Government performances up to this moment. They wore anxious to have something to show for their year's work—something to point to as the result of being in power. What did the Bill really do? They had that night had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham a speech which would clear away a great deal of the misrepresentation. In the first place, the Bill abolished what the lawyers called the doctrine of common employment. An employer in the future was to be liable for the negligence of one workman which resulted in injury to a fellow-workman, and contracting out of the provisions of the Bill was to be strictly prohibited. Until this Bill was 1646 introduced the great shibboleth of the Gladstonian Party was local option in everything. But in this measure that principle was discarded, and no contracting out was to be permitted. How could the Government reconcile the two things? Fortunately, the Bill would have to go to another place. He was not concerned with what the Government would do with the measure in the House of Lords, but earnest appeals had been made to them that night to make some arrangement there. He interpreted that to mean that if the Government did not surrender the House of Lords was likely to get a great deal of credit for altering the Bill in the way it had been proposed to amend it in the House of Commons, and if they did that the Government would have to give way. Another very unfair provision of the Bill was that under which the workman employed by a subcontractor was to sue for compensation for injury not his own immediate employer, but the head contractor, with whom he had never been brought into contract. Again, it was very unfair that the naval and military servants of the Crown were not to enjoy the benefits of the Bill; if our soldiers or sailors suffered injury through the neglect of their employers they wore to have no claim to compensation. Further than that, the Bill exempted fishermen who were engaged in joint adventures, although they were neither owners nor co-partners. What were the reasons given for these exemptions? The Home Secretary had told them that, so far as the Army and Navy were concerned, the application of the provisions of the Bill to those Services would be subversive of discipline, and that in lieu of such provisions the soldiers and sailors had a system of gratuities and pensions. But did not the same argument apply in the case of employer and employed? Would not this Bill disturb the good understanding that now subsisted, and which it ought to be the desire of everyone to encourage? It was an understanding which created mutual respect, and the absence of which produced, not manly independence, but a spirit which in many cases almost bordered upon insolence. It had been said that where men were really engaged in a joint venture, it was fair that the risks of the venture should 1647 be thrown on no one party. He asked the House to consider that were not all our manufactures and our great industries conducted practically upon the principle of joint adventure? Labour disputes were not questions as between the employer and the men employed, but whether the men did or did not get a fair share of the fruits of industry. What was the meaning of the lamentable coal strike which the country had just experienced? That the men were claiming a larger share of the profits of the joint industry and the joint undertaking in which they and the colliery owners were engaged. The Bill exempted fishermen who wore engaged in joint adventures, because as "the men got a fixed share of the take," the Government admitted that it was not a case in which the employer should be liable; and yet in the case of other industries which were conducted on the same principle the employer was to be liable for the negligence of the employed. He believed that principle to be unfair and wrong, and if there was a Division on the Third Reading he should certainly vote against it, notwithstanding that there were some advantages in it, on the ground that the tendency of the Bill was injurious to both workmen and employers alike. The interests of employer and employed were really identical. An Act of Parliament that was injurious to one must be injurious to the other. But, unfortunately, there were a class of men in the country who thrived upon the differences which arose or which they incited between employer and employed. He believed that the Bill was not needed. He did not want any better evidence of that than the statement of the Home Secretary when he said that this Bill was not going to hit the employer to any great extent, because in the great majority of cases the good employers already recognised the moral and social obligations which they were under; but that, in some few cases there were black sheep—employers who did not recognise their obligations—against whom the Act would be personally enforced. That meant that the Bill was unnecessary, because in the vast majority of cases at the present time the employers recognised not merely their legal, but also their moral obligations in regard to their servants. 1648 It could not be denied that the Bill would not lead to any diminution of accidents, fatal or serious. It could not be denied that there was no amount of pressure which they could bring to bear on the employer under the Bill that would make him more desirous than he was at present to secure able and efficient hands. Accidents must occasionally arise through, perhaps, the temporary alienation of a good and faithful and able workman, and he submitted confidently to the House that in such cases there was no more blame attached, or ought to be attached, to the employer for such negligence. On the whole, therefore, it could not be denied that the Act would not make an employer take any greater measure of precaution for the safety and health of the employed than he did at the present moment. There was one necessary provision in the Bill, and that was that where an employer had men engaged in an employment that was acknowledged to be dangerous, he should take proper and effective measures for the purpose of minimising the danger, and that where he did not do it he should be held liable. That was about the only real, wise, and useful provision in the Bill. As for the Bill as a whole, the general effect of it would not be to benefit the workman, but, to produce unrest, and sow further dissension between employer and employed. He hoped the Bill would be amended in another place, but in any case he should not regret if it never found its way into the Statute Book.
§ * MR. THORNTON (Clapham)
said, I that as the Representative of a large railway constituency, he thought it his duty to impress on the House the strong feeling which existed in his constituency in favour of the contracting out clause of the hon. Member for Crewe. Notwithstanding what had been said by the hon. Member for Battersea—whose abilities he recognised, and the weight of whose opposition could not be denied—he was persuaded that there existed a very great difference of opinion in the district which they severally represented on the question of contracting out. Moreover, the hon. Member could not claim to represent 3,000 railway men who wore on the 1649 Register without taking those in the sister constituency of Clapham, a constituency represented by himself. He assured the House that he had been in conversation with men who were not coerced, men who were members of the Brighton and South Coast Railway; the Loudon, Chatham, and Dover; and the London and North Western Companies, who were desirous of seeing the Brighton Company's fund rendered safe. A shunter of the Loudon and Brighton Company had told him that morning that by paying 1½d. a week he would, in the event of injury, he entitled to receive support for 52 weeks, and then the doctor would be called in to say whether the injury was likely to be a permanent one, in which case the relief would be extended to £200. More than that, if the man was killed his widow would receive £200. But what was the alternative proposed by the Bill?—uncertain litigation by the friends of the widow, or, if she had no friends, by some watchful attorney. He had heard it said again and again that this Bill would not destroy the insurance funds of the London and North Western Railway and the London and Brighton Company, and that the Directors would continue to pay their contributions. He saw by the balance-sheet that the London and Brighton Railway had paid £43,000 during the last 11 years on behalf of injured persons, for which the company had got no return, and even if the Directors of Railway Companies wished to continue their insurance funds the shareholders might probably object. He believed that if the funds were destroyed, as in the opinion of experts they were likely to be destroyed by the Bill, such injury would be done the workmen as the Home Secretary, in truth, had never dreamed of.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, he wished in the first place to draw the attention of the House and the country to the very important and significant speech delivered by the hon. Member for North-West Ham. The hon. Gentleman had argued that the Trade Unions opposed the contracting out clause, because they felt that if those Insurance Societies were allowed to continue and spread they would greatly supplant the Trade Unions themselves; and if the 1650 Bill were passed without that clause the private Associations would themselves be destroyed. Here the cat had been let out of the bag. This, then, was a Trade Union Bill promoted by the Trade Unions for their own purposes, and designed to promote the vitality of their institutions. Notwithstanding the statement of the Home Secretary and other hon. Members, there was a belief among railway men who maintained private Insurance Societies, and among men who knew the nature and character of those Societies, that the passing of the Bill would destroy the private Insurance Societies. He thought that opinion, coming from these two quarters, outweighed that of the Home Secretary himself, who, indeed, had admitted that he had no knowledge of commercial or industrial life. Many defects had been pointed out in the Bill; but he hoped that in another—and he was almost saying a better—place those defects would be remedied. But there was an expectation, almost amounting to a confident hope, that the clause of the hon. Member for Crewe, or some similar clause, would be found in the Bill when it came back to that House for consideration. There was an impression that some hon. Members who had intended to vote for that clause, who had publicly expressed their intention of voting for the clause, had been got at and did not carry out that intention. Therefore, there was a confident belief on his side of the House that when that clause was inserted in the Bill in another place it would remain there for ever. The case of the Loudon and North Western men had been largely dwelt on, because it was a clear and complete case. It was stated with earnestness and vigour by 70,000 picked men, whom they all knew—an honest, independent, straightforward, and intelligent body of men. It had been estimated that the number of workmen who were affected by contracting out was 200,000, and that with their families they numbered 1,000,000. As he had said, they all knew the railway men, travelling as they were over the country from day to day, and they must all acknowledge that when such a splendid body of men wanted anything 1651 done Parliament was bound to regard it. Just before the late election at Hereford he had an interview with some delegates of the railway men, who came all the way from Crewe. [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] He understood that cheer. But if it were the case that the votes of the London and North Western Railway men had carried the election, that certainly was a matter for reflection for politicians on the opposite side of the House. The fact that the leading railway men were sent from Crewe to Hereford to interview the candidates showed there was a great anxiety on their part as to the action of the House of Commons. These men, in their interview with him, laid some stress, it was true, on the possible withdrawal of the great contribution of the company towards the funds of the Insurance Society; but their main point was that they were in favour of a system of compensation under which every accident, from whatever cause, was immediately dealt with without inquiry. They admitted that possibly under an Act of Parliament, if they went before a jury, they might get considerably larger sums than would be given them under the mutual insurance scheme. But they held to the maxim Bis dat qui cito dat, and that when compensation was given without delay it was better than to wait on the uncertainties of the law. The men admitted that the result of those Societies was to establish friendly relations between masters and men, and that they considered an important point in their favour. They also admitted that their result was to prevent strikes, but he did not gather from their observations that they considered that a drawback. Nor did he wonder that the men were of that opinion. The hon. Member for Battersea had said that, notwithstanding the existence of what the hon. Member had termed these premiums against Trades Unionism—those Insurance Societies, the London and North Western Company had been compelled to raise the wages and reduce the hours of the men, and employ three men where they formerly only employed two. It was no wonder, therefore, that the men preferred a system which enabled them to obtain equal concessions from their employers without resort being had to strikes and 1652 agitation. It might be said that those delegates did not rightly represent the feeling among the men. But the fact that the representatives of constituencies in which railway men lived had voted for the "contracting-out clause" showed clearly the feeling of the men. These hon. Members were, at least, alive to their own political interests, and it was to be supposed that they voted as they had done because of the wishes of their constituencies. The hon. Member for Battersea had said that the ballot of the London and North Western Railway men had not been fairly and equally taken. If he thought that was so, the hon. Member might have given them his grounds of belief. The ballot of the London and North Western Railway men held good. Were the 70,000 men to be listened to or not, when they declared that they wished to retain the present system under which they worked, which they believed, under the existing state of things, to be the best for them? This Bill was intended to do harm, and the Trades Union said it would do harm, and if this House declined to listen to the men, there was another House that would not do so.
§ * CAPTAIN NAYLOR - LEYLAND (Colchester)
said, that had he known on the Second Reading of the Bill that he would have had no opportunity of addressing the House before, had he known it was going to be relegated to a Standing Committee, and that no Member on his side of the House was going to take any part at all, and had he known the shifty tactics that were going to be taken on the Report stage, he could safely say that the Second Reading would not have been such an easy matter. He would say at once that he was cordially in favour of the principle that the Bill embodied—the principle of the extension of employers' liability. His first objection to this Bill was that it was not carried far enough so as to include every class of accident that might occur, and he could not for the life of him see why, if it could be demonstrated that a working man was in a better position than he would be under the Act of Parlia- 1653 ment, they should not allow, under those circumstances, a contingent contracting-out. There was only one objection that he knew of to that course. If they allowed it, it would necessitate the appointment of a tribunal or a Government official whose duty it would be to certify whether there was a proper substitute, and certificates of exemption might be given in some cases where in reality they would not be entitled to them. He considered that the effect of the Bill would be not only to kill the insurance funds to which the condition of "contracting - out" was attached, but also those in connection with which no such condition was imposed. As an instance of this kind, there was the Compensation Fund in the Elswick Works, and the Accident Allowance Fund of the Great Eastern Railway, neither of which exacted contracting out, and both of which would be destroyed were the Bill to pass as it stood. The Bill did not go far enough, inasmuch as it omitted to include every kind of accident; and it would destroy those provident funds existing at present. As against the proposal of contingent contracting out there were but three objections—specious objections—here. It was urged that were it allowed an employé would not be able to obtain damages as against a bankrupt employer. Neither would he under this Bill; there was no clause in it to make an insolvent employer solvent. It was urged, in the second place, that the appointment of a Government official or tribunal to grant certificates of exemption would necessitate an increase in the Estimates—an augmentation in the staff of some of our Public Departments. No doubt they were now voting millions a year in the form of eleemosynary grants to that opulent and taciturn race in Ireland. He had yet to learn that a few paltry thousands were going to hinder the progress of the working classes. Finally, the argument used by the Labour Leaders in this House was perhaps the most extravagant of all. Those gentlemen said, on behalf of Trade Unions, that they objected to all the private funds, although they admitted that they were extremely good for the working 1654 classes, their reason being that they wished to destroy them in order to drive into the Trade Unions the workmen who did not already belong to them. As the proportion of Unionists to non-Unionists among the workpeople of this country was only one to 20, the argument of the Labour Leaders could not be advanced in the interest of the working; classes, although there was no doubt whatever that it could be advanced in the interest of the Trades Unions. There appeared to be a sentiment growing—and he very much regretted to see it—among hon. Gentlemen opposite that the working classes in this country were an ignorant and an incapable lot, utterly unable to manage their own affairs, and that it was necessary, therefore, to provide them with grandmotherly legislation as we went along. With this sentiment he could not subscribe. He believed that among all the nations the one that was the best able to settle their own affairs were the English. Therefore if one body of men said they wanted legislation, he would give them the legislation that they asked for; if another did not want it, he would deny to them what they did not require. He could not see why they could not proceed upon the principle of local option in these matters. He took this final opportunity of protesting against the meagre extension of employer's liability this Bill embodied against the annihilation under it of all private accident funds, and he did so because he possessed unbounded confidence in the railway men in this country, that they were well able to safeguard interests which were particularly and peculiarly their own.
§ MR. Asquith rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, as he thought the House would soon be willing to come to a decision.
§ Debate resumed.
§ * MR. TOMLINSON
said, he desired to say a very few words on a point which be thought had not been quite fully dealt with in the discussion this evening. He alluded to the reasons which rendered 1655 it almost inevitable, as the consequence of the passing of the present Bill, that the Societies formed for the purpose of mutual insurance between employers and workmen would break down. He would limit his remarks to those Societies with which he was personally acquainted—the Miners' Permanent Relief Societies. With reference to the remark of the hon. Member for the Gorton Division of Lancashire, that all these Mutual Insurance Societies were formed at the instance of the employers, he wished to say that in the cases which had come under his notice the moving party had invariably been the workmen. There was no reason why the employers should for their own sake be so eager to promote the system of mutual arrangement. Their pecuniary interests were the other way. Some figures had been worked out at his instance from which it appeared that comparing two collieries, one of which was in the permanent fund and the other not, the cost per 100 men of the employer's contributions to the permanent fund was, in the former case, nearly £24 per annum, whilst the cost of insuring against the Act was only £13 per 100 men per annum in the latter case. Now, in the case he was considering, the insurance funds were not formed by individual concerns, but by a combination of the collieries spread over a district of considerable extent. After the passing of this Bill the employers would be confronted with the obligation of meeting in some way or other a largely increased liability. And it was most likely that a large number of those now in the Society would say that until they had ascertained what was the amount of Increase of the liability, and how it was to be mot, they must give up any attempt to deal with accidents not within the Bill. A large number of the employers would consequently withdraw from the fund, and it would inevitably break down. Moreover, the fund, without the employers' contribution, would not have the same attractions for the workman. At present it provided an adequate provision for all accidents, but if the proportion of the fund provided by the employers were taken away the residue would be inadequate for its purpose. It was probable, therefore, that both on the side of the workmen and of the employers 1656 there would be a disinclination to continue the joint funds.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
I am not going to keep the House from coming to a decision on this Bill, but I wish to say a word of comment upon the proceeding of the Home Secretary just now. The right hon. Gentleman at 10 minutes to 12 o'clock, when no useful purpose could be gained, rose to move the Closure, apparently thinking that there was some desire on the part of Members on this side of the House to prevent the House coming to a decision this evening. So far from that, my right hon. Friend sitting near me (Mr. Jackson) and myself both abstained from taking part in this Debate, in order that it might not be carried over to another evening. There was certainly no desire to obstruct or delay the Bill, and therefore I think we are bound to enter a protest against the action of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.