§ Lords Reasons read, and Lords Amendments to the Commons Amendments to the Lords Amendments considered.
Lords Amendment in page 2, line 13, after "compensation," to insert—
(2.) The foregoing enactment shall not apply to any agreement for assurance against injury which has been made between workmen and their employer before the date of the passing of this Act, and which subsequently to the said date shall be approved by two-thirds of the said workmen voting in the prescribed manner, or to any future accession of workmen in the same service to such agreement. Provided that any workman shall be free to release himself therefrom by giving due notice.
(3.) Nor shall it apply to any such agreement made after the passing of this Act which shall
have been approved as aforesaid, and in respect to which the Board of Trade shall have certified—
Provided that the Board of Trade shall not certify as aforesaid in any ease where in their judgment the ordinary course of business or employment is such that by reason of frequent changes of workmen it is not possible to ascertain the free opinion of the workmen employed.
Provided also that in case the insurance fund is insufficient to provide the agreed compensation, and the employer is unwilling to make up the deficiency, the agreement shall be considered void, and the workman shall have the same remedy that he would have had if he had not entered into it.
Provided also that the employer shall not make it a condition of engagement with the workman that he shall enter into such agreement.
(4.) The Board of Trade may make rules for taking the votes of workmen by secret ballot in such a way as to ensure that they vote freely and without constraint; and it may from time to time, at its discretion, require such votes to be taken anew after the lapse of any period of not less than three years; but in the case of seamen and others employed afloat, the Board may make such provision for enabling them to give their votes freely and without constraint as shall in its judgment be suitable to the requirements of their employment,
road a second time.
§ *MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
said, he rose for the purpose of moving as an Amendment in line 1, after the word "not," to insert the words "until the expiration of three years after the passing of this Act." As all the points had been argued and re-argued over and over again in this and the Upper House, he would state, in a very few words only, his reasons for moving this Amendment. The object of the Amendment was to suspend the operation of the Bill for a period of three years, with regard to the insurance funds at present in existence, but not with regard to future funds. It had always been the wish of many Members of the House belonging to the Liberal Party, who had acted together on this Bill, of whom he was one, that nothing should be done to endanger the passing of the Bill, or the adoption of any of its leading principles. But, at the same time, they wished to reasonably protect 397 the interests of those working men whom they represented, and who desired to keep up the funds from which they thought, rightly or wrongly, they enjoyed greater benefits than they would be likely to get from this Bill alone. Looking at the present condition of the question, and the attitude which had been taken up in another place, he and his friends believed the only practical way of obtaining these objects was the adoption of this Amendment. On a previous stage of the Rill he seconded the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe. He had done so, as he stated at the time, because he felt, as he felt now, perfectly sure that if the Hill were to pass in the form in which it left this House in the first instance, the Loudon and North Western Railway Company, at all events—for he was not competent to speak of other companies and firms—would withdraw their subscriptions to the insurance fund which they had established, and the men would lose from £15,000 to £17,000 a year. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, which dealt only with existing funds, was rejected, and it then became a question for the consideration of him and his friends what course if was best for them to take with a view to preserve the insurance funds of the men they directly represented, and, at the same time, to give to the other workers of the country this most beneficial act of legislation. When that Amendment was defeated, a number of these Members of the House, including himself, felt it their duty to tell their constituents publicly and plainly that they felt it would be quite useless for them to attempt to get the House to reverse the decision it had deliberately arrived at on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, and equally that they could not support any Amendment which would extend beyond the existing funds, or which would endanger the passing of the Bill in any way. Charges of selfishness had been made against the members of these insurance funds, because, as it was said, they tried to protect their own funds at the expense of the great mass of workers of the country, who did not wish to have any such system at all. But he denied that altogether. It was a most unjust accusation. He had recently seen a great deal of the men of the London and North Western Railway on all parts of the line, 398 and the feeling he found unanimously animating them was that, however strongly they desired to keep up their existing funds, they wished in every possible way to facilitate the passing of the Bill, and that they did not desire to stand in the way of the general working classes of the country. As he had said, he and his friends could not ask the House to reverse the decision arrived at on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, and still less to reverse the decision on the Amendment moved in another place by-Lord Dudley, which Amendment had been rejected by the Commons by a very largo majority on the first occasion that the Bill came down from the Lords. On the other hand, looking at the attitude taken up by the Directors of the London and North Western Railway, it was perfectly clear that the men would lose £17,000 a year if the Bill were passed in its present form; and that if nothing were done to amend the Bill somewhat the Bill itself would be lost. His object was simply to secure to the men what they had now got, which they believed to be of great advantage. If the operation of the Act could be postponed for three years they believed that the Directors of some of the companies and the large employers would have time to turn round, and would experience what the working of the Act was. In his opinion, he believed they would find what they found with regard to the Act of 1880—namely, that its effect would be much more limited than they imagined. He thought the Directors of the London and North Western Company must feel, when they came to consider it in future, and within the period of three years, that probably there was no money which they spent more beneficially for the shareholders, for the Company, and for the men, than their subscriptions to these funds; further, he hoped and believed that they would follow certain examples before them. Lord Londonderry, on the Second Reading of the Hill in the House of Lords on November 30, said, before any Amendments had been made—He had heard it stated that if the Bill, as it existed at present, became law, the owners, in all probability, would withdraw their subscriptions to the insurance funds. Whether the Bill passed as it stood or not, unless some circumstances of an altogether unforeseen character arose, he would in no way depart in the future from the policy he had pursued in the past.399 That was Lord Londonderry's declaration; he being' at the head of a number of collieries, which, ho understood, had funds of this description for the insurance of their men. Then it was also stated in another place that at the meeting of the Loudon, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, Mr. Laing, the Chairman, while guarding himself by saying that it was only his individual opinion, and was not binding upon the Directors, expressed the hope that their funds would nor be interfered with. It seemed incredible, therefore, that the London and North Western Company and other employers would, with such examples before them, withdraw their present subscriptions. He believed the effect of this arrangement would be satisfactory to a large majority of the members of those Insurance Societies, and that, if carried, it would preserve to the employés of the London and North Western Railway, and others who had kindred Societies, the advantages which they now enjoyed; and it would at the same time give the working classes generally the full benefit of the Act. He hoped the Government would accept the Amendment; and if they should do so, and the Bill was not accepted in another place and was thrown out, they would know on whom the responsibility rested.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
said, he did not know whether it was necessary, as a matter of formality, that the Amendment should require to be seconded, but he would be very glad to do so in a very few sentences if the House would allow him. He appeared, however, in a very different position from that of his hon. and learned Friend who had moved the Amendment, for he (Mr. Lockwood) had opposed on a former occasion the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Crewe, and he then stated that he would very much rather the Bill passed as it was originally drawn by the Government. But it was now a question of accepting the Bill in this amended form or losing it altogether, so far as the present Session was concerned. He did not propose to refer to what had taken place in the other House. He did not think the observations made there, if repeated here, would tend to promote that feeling which must prevail if a compromise was to be brought about. The constituency he represented felt keenly 400 in respect of this matter of contracting out of the Act. When the Division took place upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, his hon. Friend and Colleague the senior Member for York, who sat on the other side of the House, voted as he had voted, and he now thought his hon. Friend felt as strongly as he did in favour of the Bill as originally drawn by the Government. But were they to lose this Bill? There might be some who thought it would be almost as good from a political point of view to have the passing of this Bill rendered impossible by what had taken place in the House of Lords as to pass the Bill. That was the politician's way of looking at the matter. The Amendment was temporary in its character, and involved no forfeiture of principle. It was a mere postponement. If the experience of the three years should show that this condition of things ought to be prolonged, then let it be prolonged; but if, on the other hand, the experiment should be found to be not a good one, every person interested in the question, he felt, looking at it from the point of view of the men affected by the legislation, would give their adhesion to the Bill as the Government wished to have it. He begged to second the Amendment.
In line 1. after the word "not," to insert the words "until the expiration of three years after the passing of this Act."—(Mr. Cobb,)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH, Fife, E.)
I do not propose to trouble the House with more than a few observations on the present occasion, because the only subject now before us, the question of contracting out, has been so repeatedly and so thoroughly discussed in all its aspects in previous Debates that it would be an unwarrantable waste of the time of the House and an encroachment on its patience if I were to attempt to restate even in outline the argument on one side or the other. The position which the Government have taken up from the first, and to which they adhere, is this: that there shall be no permanent exemption by private arrangement between master and man, 401 or between any body of employers and their employés, from the scope of genera] law which this House has sanctioned. J have stated again and again, until I am tired of stating them, the grounds upon which the Government have taken up this position. In our view, this is Bill not merely to give compensation for accidents, but to give protection to life and limb. We are told, I know, that a Bill making an employer liable, as this Bill does, for the negligent acts of any of his men will not substantially increase the incentives to the employer to exercise care. J confess I think that is a most preposterous argument. It is surely impossible in reason to contend that, when for the first time you impose this larger measure of liability on the employer—although I agree that in some cases he may be made, liable for negligent acts, which no amount of fore sight or care can prevent—it is a, most unreasonable proposition that, with this larger measure of liability for the first time imposed upon him, he will not have a hundredfold greater inducements than now to gee that his business is carried on with greater care and supervision in the interests of the safety and health of his men, and it is upon that ground that the Government have insisted throughout that there should be no contracting out of the Bill. I know it has been said — the argument was used in another place, and it has been used here—that the inducement of which I speak will not really be operative, because the employer can get rid of his pecuniary liability by insuring himself outside. That is an argument, in my opinion, which, although it is entitled to consideration, has, in reality, nothing like the weight which is attached to it. Now, in the first place, the employer will find, I am confident, that his best and cheapest, as well as the most effective, insurance against the increased liability imposed upon him by this Bill is to take steps that his industrial operations are carried on properly and with all reasonable care. In the next place, surely any one conversant with business must know that the negligent and careless employer will not be able to effect insurances at all, or will only be able to effect them upon such onerous and extravagant terms that it will not be worth his while to do so. A Life 402 Insurance Company before taking a risk upon a life takes the most accurate means for investigating what is the health and what are the habits and antecedents of the person proposing to be insured. In the same way, is it to be supposed that when these large liabilities are going to be undertaken by Insurance Companies they will not, take care, in the fist instance, by due inquiry and inspection, to ascertain and insist that reasonably safe and healthy conditions prevail in the works before they accept a risk? And lastly, Sir—I wish to dispose of this point at once—it is said that by the encouragement to insurance litigation will be increased. But any one conversant with litigation will be perfectly well aware that Insurance Companies, on grounds of policy, are, as a rule, the last persons to engage in litigation and to bring cases into Court unnecessarily. It must not be forgotten that the nominal defendant in these cases in which insurance has been effected will not be the Insurance Company, but will be the employer; whatever odium attaches to the exposure of an imperfect system of industrial supervision will fall upon his shoulders: and the sanction of public opinion will thus be added to the enforcement of the law. I think these considerations are sufficient to justify me in the opinion—without going over the whole ground again—that this Bill, in imposing upon employers a largely increased measure of responsibility, will supply them at the same time with substantial incentives to take care of the lives and health of those in their service. That being so, it follows that the Government cannot consent to accept, either in the larger form in which it was proposed by the Karl of Dudley, or in the more limited form in which it was proposed by the hon. Member for Crewe, any amendment of the Bill which will have the effect of putting permanently outside the scope of its provisions any body of workmen in this country. To do so would, in our judgment, be to render the Bill to that body of persons absolutely nugatory, and it would be offering to employers an inducement, as this Amendment of Lord Dudley's does, a, very large inducement to make arrangements with their men which would have the effect of every year enlarging the area of exemption from its 403 provisions. Now let me pass from that to say one word on the other aspect of the question specially brought before us by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby—I mean the relation of the Bill to existing mutual insurance arrangements. Here, again, the Government have maintained from the first a perfectly consistent position. We are represented, I know, as being the subservient tools of what it is the fashion to call a "cruel organisation"—a happy phrase which, I fancy, has sunk pretty deeply into the minds of the Trade Unionists throughout the country. In that capacity, in that supposed capacity, we have been represented as indirectly, but none the less effectively, aiming by this Bill a blow at the existence of mutual arrangements between employers and workmen, under which workmen receive compensation, not only when accidents are caused by negligence, but also for injuries from whatever source they may arise. The position of the Government from the first has been diametrically opposite to the view attributed to them. In the speech I had the honour of making when I introduced this Bill, now nearly a year ago, I stated distinctly, so far as I was concerned, that both J, personally, and the Government looked with the greatest friendship and favour upon these mutual arrangements, and that if we thought the introduction of this Bill would seriously affect existing funds, or would prevent the institution of similar funds under equally favourable conditions in the future, we should pause before recommending it to the consideration of the House. [Laughter.] That statement, I see, is received with laughter. Whether the laughter proceeds from the view that I was insincere in the profession of my opinion, or whether it proceeds from the view that the Government were so stupid that they did not understand the intention and effect of their own Bill, I am equally prepared to deal with it, and I am glad to have the opportunity of doing so. We have been told, I see, in another place — to which apparently freedom has fled and found her last refuge—that this is an issue raised between what is called freedom of contract upon the one side and legal coercion upon the other. The Government are represented, when they oppose these various proposed forms of contracting 404 out, as if they were striking a deadly blow at freedom of contract between masters and men. [Cheers.]Yes, Sir; but why have those who cheer that sentiment, and those who command surely a subservient majority enough in another place—why, if they think so, have they not the courage of their opinions? There is a simple way of raising the issue: Let them strike out of the Bill the clause which prohibits contracting out; then I agree you will have got freedom of contract. But what is the use of telling us you believe in freedom of contract between masters and men when you do not venture to take that which is the only logical step? Look at this Amendment of Lord Dudley's with what I can only describe as its grotesquely elaborated scaffolding of safeguards and limitations; why, it reeks with distrust of freedom of contract. It is a clause which in every line, and almost every word, embodies the confession on the part of those who framed it, and those who have sought to pass it, that they cannot, in a matter of this kind, trust masters and men to make their own bargain. Ex hypothesi, the employer and employed being perfectly agreed, you call in a Government Department to say whether their bargain is a just one, and then you say you are the advocates of freedom of contract. There is no such issue raised by the Bill, nor by the Amendment now before the House. The only question is, whether the Bill, if it passes as it stands, with these words added to it, will seriously impair either existing or future funds. Now we are told, and I confess I was really surprised at the statement made, with apparent deliberation, by distinguished persons of great authority, that this Bill prohibits the creation of such funds. ["Hear, hear !"] There is one hon. Member, at any rate, on the other side of the House who thinks that is the case. The Bill does nothing of the kind; the hon. Gentleman who cheers that statement cannot point to a single provision in the Bill which prohibits the creation of such funds. On the contrary, the Bill contains express provisions for the protection of the funds, by enacting that where an employer has contributed to a fund, and where, nevertheless, a workman takes advantage of his legal right, and has resort to legal proceedings, the employer shall have credit, by way of deduction or set- 405 off from the damages recovered, of the whole of his contribution to the sum received from the fund. How is it possible, then, to say that the Bill prohibits the creation of these funds? What it does is a different thing. It says it shall not be a condition of this or any other contract that a man shall deprive himself prospectively for all lime to come of his legal rights. It is a fair matter of argument whether a provision of that kind would have the effect of interfering with the funds; but, in my opinion, it would not; and I say it would not, because experience has shown that it would not. The London and North Western Railway has one of these funds —not by any means the best. I trust that if this Hill passes with the Amendment proposed the Directors and Managers of that railway will use the opportunity given to them to revise the conditions of that fund in many particulars. That company makes it a condition of membership that a man shall contract himself out of the law. Side by side you have got the Great Eastern Railway Company contributing with equal liberality to a fund from which the members derive greater advantages; and it does not make it a condition that the members shall contract themselves out of the law. Taking these two cases alone, who is to say, upon any principle of logic or common sense, that an Act of Parliament which prohibits contracting out in the future will strike at the root of the funds? I will take the case of the miners' funds. A few weeks ago I had a deputation of miners representing various parts of the country — South Wales, Monmouthshire, and Western Lancashire—who are connected with a miners' fund to which the contributions of the employers do not exceed 25 per cent., and it is a condition of membership that the men shall contract themselves out of the law; but in Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, and I think I am right in saying over the great part of the Midland coalfield, contracting out is entirely unknown, and in those counties the contributions of the masters are quite as liberal as they are when contracting out is enforced. ["No, no!"]Well, certainly it is so in a large number of cases; and I could easily multiply these illustrations. I say if you are to rest upon arguments derived from experience, it 406 shows that contracting out is not a condition of the foundation and effectual maintenance of these arrangements between employer and employed. Speaking on behalf of the Government, and being, as I say, friendly and well-disposed to these funds, because they have in many instances provided compensation which otherwise could not have been obtained, I deny that the intention of the Bill is, or that its effect will be, to discourage the formation of such funds or put an end to them. I have said enough to show why the Government cannot accept any Amendment which would permanently exclude from the operation of the Bill either the members of these Mutual Societies or any other bodies of workmen. And now before I sit down I will say a word with reference to the Amendment which the hon. Member has just moved. I do not disguise that I should have preferred the Bill—we should all have preferred the Bill—to pass entirely and exactly in the form in which it originally left this House. So far as we on this Bench are concerned, I can assure the House that we will not now, nor at any later stage—if there be a later stage— consent to any change whatsoever in the Bill which, in our opinion, will impair the vital principle which J have endeavoured to explain. At the same time, when this proposal to give a time limit to existing funds was first brought to my notice—I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, who is a very hearty supporter of the Bill, and a strong opponent of contracting out—I felt, and feel still, that it might afford a reasonable basis for arrangement upon this ground, and this ground alone: we find apprehensions are entertained widely among the members of these funds that the immediate effect of the passing of this Bill, which puts an end to their contracts, ipso facto would be to cause the employers to withdraw their contributions. I think the employers would be ill-advised in doing so. Their resolution to do so is founded upon an incorrect apprehension of the Bill, and upon a most imperfect forecast of its results; but we know that at least in one case,—? I do not know of more than one— employers have expressed their intention of taking this course. I speak with the most absolute conviction, as far as one can have conviction about something 407 relating to the future, when I say that I believe, if you allow a reasonable opportunity for employers and employed to realise their relations and their position to one another under the new law, the danger, which is undoubtedly a real danger at the present moment—that in precipitation and in haste subscriptions might be withdrawn and valuable arrangements be destroyed—will altogether disappear. It is upon that ground, and upon that ground alone, in order to give a reasonable time for those employers and employed who are at present parties to arrangements of this kind to adjust themselves to the new state of the law, and to realise its extent, and to see, as we hope and believe they will, that it is in no sense hostile or prejudicial to their existing relations, it is from that point of view alone that the Government are disposed to advise the House to accept the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby has proposed. I need not, say that if that Amendment be accepted it will then become our duty to move the omission from the proposed clause of the whole of the third sub-section. I forbear from making any comments upon that sub-section at the present moment, and I will only say that it contains a principle which, in any shape or form, the Government can never ask the House to assent to. The effect of the acceptance of the Amendment will be that during a period of three years from the passing of this Bill those existing arrangements, if validated by the votes of two-thirds of the men, will remain undisturbed, and at the end of that period these bodies of men, like all other workmen, will fall within the scope of the general law, and become entitled to what we conceive to be the substantial benefits of the Bill for which we are asking the support of the House of Commons. I hope I have made clear the position which the Government take in the matter, and I trust the House will see its way to accept the advice which we have given.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
The course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken in making a speech in no sense confined to the Amendment actually before us—although it is not one of which I shall make any complaint —will oblige me to make my observations on this Amendment rather more 408 extended in character than I had contemplated; for, after all, it was only when the right hon. Gentleman reached the very close of his speech that he dealt at large with the general principles that, he tells us, underlie the policy of the Government in dealing with this measure. It was only at that period of his argument that he touched, even in the smallest degree, upon the Amendment which is actually before us. It will be convenient, however, that I should reverse the order adopted, by the right hon. Gentleman, and should deal first with the Amendment we are nominally discussing, and then should say what appears to be necessary with regard to the broader aspects of the case as now presented on behalf of the Government. With regard to the Amendment itself, three gentlemen have spoken upon it. Three gentlemen have announced their intention of supporting it, and of these three two have told us that they disapprove of it. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he prefers the Bill without the Amendment. The learned Gentleman who preceded the right hon. Gentleman told us that he prefers the Bill without the Amendment; and it is left to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to say what is, I suppose, all that can be said in its favour. To what does that amount? Even he, the author and father of the Amendment, had hardly anything to say, except that he had no hope of persuading the majority of the House to rescind the decision to which they came on the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crewe, and that the only chance of saving any portion of the system which his constituents so highly valued was to suggest the ludicrously inadequate proposal which is now before us. It is perfectly well known that if this House could vote by ballot upon this question there would be no—[Cries of "Oh, oh !"]—let me put it this way, then, as I observe that way hurts the susceptibilities of hon. Gentlemen opposite—if this House had to decide the question by the predilection of hon. Members and of the House, strictly considering the Bill, and not considering what Party capital can be made out of a quarrel with the Lords— if that were the only question, there is no doubt that the House would reverse the decision to which it came, and 409 we should be found not less ready than our predecessors to maintain the traditions of freedom of contract. If the hon. Member for Rugby could persuade the Home Secretary that he is ill-advised in the policy he has pursued, the Amendment which the Lords have sent down would he accepted by the whole House. Whether I am right or wrong in my estimate of the position, it will, at all events, be allowed that if there be any value whatever, as we think there is, in the liberty to contract out of the Act under the conditions proposed in Lord Dudley's Amendment, the objects which we seek to attain are in no sense attained by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby. It is said by those who support the Amendment that, after all, you must give the employers time to turn round, and that if three years were given for considering the situation, the result would he that some new device would he contrived which would be as beneficial to the workmen on the London and North Western and the London and Brighton lines as that which they now enjoy. But what new fact can come to either men or employers on this question? Both have tried the arrangement: both say they like it; and the masters say they mean to give it up. I can quite understand the necessity for delay if there were an opening for new arrangements, but there is no such opening in the Bill. Under this Bill you have taken away every inducement to the masters to come to an arrangement with their men, and no meditation for three years, for six years, or for 12 years, is likely to alter the opinions which common sense and regard for their own interests are calculated to dictate. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby has said that, much as he is in love with the system on the London and North Western, he has always been opposed to the creation of a similar system in other cases. Whoever heard of such an announcement as that ! The hon. Member says that the system in operation among his constituents is an excellent system, a beneficial and valuable system, which should in any ease be preserved; but to extend it, to give a single other workman in the country the benefit of that system, would he monstrous, inequitable, and contrary to the tradition of the Party to which ho belongs. We all feel for the position of the hon. Gen- 410 tleman between the Government Whips on tin; one side, and his own constituents on the other; but I should have thought that any course was preferable to the one of coming down to this House and making a proposal like this, supported by arguments like that I have endeavoured, not incorrectly, to repeat to the House. I have answered, such as they are, all the arguments advanced in favour of the Amendment, and it is only necessary for mo on that branch of the topic to say that I, for my part, should regard any such plan as no compromise at all, as giving nothing to the workmen of this country that they have a right to demand, and as hardly giving anything even to the employés of these works where these great systems of insurance are already in existence. That being my view about the Amendment, I should have preferred to have deferred any more general remarks upon this subject until a later stage of our discussion: hut as the right hon. Gentleman has given us his general views, it will he more respectful to him were I at once, even very briefly, to reply to them. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the Government are maintaining the altitude which upon this subject they have held from the beginning—that their great object is to protect the lives and limbs of the workmen, and that they have not had in view primarily the giving of compensation for injuries—which is a very proper object for any Government to have in view— but to increase the care which employers use towards their workmen. But for the Governmental this stage of the discussion to tell us they have thought of nothing but the care exercised by employers, and not had primarily in view the extension of the system of compensation for injuries, surely implies, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, an astonishing forgetfulness of his own previous speeches on the subject. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer back to his speech on the introduction of the Bill, he will see that his main contention on behalf of the Government from the beginning was that the workmen of this country were at a great disadvantage its regarded the doctrine of common employment, and that, it was only fair and just that they should be put on the same footing as the general public with reference to compensation for injuries. That 411 is quite a different argument to that which the Government now use. The reason employers have to give compensation to the public for injuries is not primarily because that makes employers careful; but because certain individuals suffer injury for which they should be compensated, and when the right hon. Gentleman sought to extend the principles of the existing law, under which we are now acting, to the general law as to workmen, of course it was in the original view of the Government for the same purpose— namely, to compensate those unfortunate persons who are deprived by some unfortunate accident of the capacity of earning their own living. Well, Sir, if that was the view of the Government, why is it they have changed? They have changed their opinion for this reason, and for this reason alone: that if they were to argue this question upon the ground that the main purpose of this Bill is 1o compensate for injuries, it is impossible to resist the Amendment of the House of Lords, because that Amendment greatly extends the capacity of the Bill to give compensation in cases of death or accident. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to answer the arguments of those who say that if this be the main purpose of the Government they ought to forbid insurance by the employer, as undoubtedly they ought to be consistent. The right hon. Gentleman was very severe on those who do not logically carry out to the bitter end the principles of freedom of contract which they profess. Let him carry out to the bitter end the principles he had expressed in regard to the carelessness of employers. If your real object is to penalise to the utmost limit of your power any employer who is responsible in the smallest degree for any accident, you must forbid him to insure. It is your only course; but you dare not take it. If you do not, what becomes of those arguments with regard to the effect on the employer of forbidding contracting out? They vanish altogether, for the responsibility falls on the Insurance Company, and the employer is relieved. It is said that the employer would not be able to insure unless he is a good employer—that if he is known to be a bad employer no Insurance Company will have any dealing with him. How is an Insurance Company to know whether an employer is taking the proper 412 precautions required in his trade? I think they can ascertain. If they can, so can Government Inspectors, and if Government Inspectors can see that all the proper precautions are being taken under the existing law, then I want to know what is the use of this additional precaution which you seem to think this Bill will provide against injury to workmen? If it is in the power of the Insurance Company to discover that a master is not using all proper precautions, it must be in the power of the Government to do the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman says:— "It is all very well to say that this Bill, if carried without Lord Dudley's Amendment, will destroy these Mutual Insurance Companies, but there is very good evidence that it will not." What does the right hon. Gentleman's evidence consist of? It consists of two cases. He noted the case of the Great Eastern Railway, and the case of the great Mining Associations in the North of England. With regard to the Great Eastern Railway, I believe the right hon. Gentleman would be perfectly justified in relying upon that as an argument for showing that if the old law was amended so as to prevent contracting out the Great Eastern Railway Company would, no doubt, continue its subscriptions; but when he talks of the Great Northern Insurance Association, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at this moment that Association is insolvent, largely because the employers have withdrawn their subscriptions in view of the policy of the Government? A more extraordinary instance to bring forward in proof of the view that this Bill will not destroy contracting out I never heard. The right hon. Gentleman's whole argument is vitiated by the fact that by this Bill you are calling into existence new conditions which will make the employers review their position. If this Bill gives the working man all you think it will give in the way of compensation, it must involve considerably greater sacrifices on the part of the masters, and if it does that, of course the masters will have a motive for reconsidering the privileges they have hitherto given to their men. It will, I am afraid, induce them to carry out and pursue the course which the London and North Western Company have distinctly asserted they mean to pursue. There is 413 one other argument which the right hon. Gentleman used. He said, "What an iniquitous thing it is, what an abuse of Governmental functions it is, to bring in a Government inspection in cases of this kind!"' This Government surely, of all others, ought not to bring forward that argument. They love Departmental Committees; and if I am told that the Board of Trade have not at their command a sufficient staff to carry out their duty, then I say, What becomes of all the great reforms which the right hon. Gentleman the President of that Board has told us he has lately carried out? What becomes of those labour bureaus, and all the great machinery he has been framing, if that Board is incapable of carrying out the simple, functions which under Lord Dudley's Amendment are intrusted to it? But, Sir, I want to make an appeal, not to the right hon. Gentleman, not to his colleagues, but to one or two gentlemen, or, at any rate, to one of them, whom I see sitting on the other side of the House, and who represents a great mining constituency in Northumberland. I recollect a very impressive speech which was delivered by the hon. Member for Northumberland, and another, not less impressive, delivered by one of his colleagues who is now a Member of the Government, upon the subject of the Eight Hours Mining Bill. On what grounds was that Bill objected to by the two Representatives of the great mining industry of Northumberland? They said, in effect, "Why deprive us of what we value? We, the miners of Northumberland, do not deny that the Eight Hours Bill might do some good for you, but it is a very bad thing for us. Let us keep the privilege to which we attach so great a value."' Well, Sir, that argument impressed me, who have never been an advocate of the subject then under discussion, and I believe it impressed many of those who voted in favour of a general eight hours miners' day: but, if that argument be of value with regard to miners of Northumberland, why is it not to be of any value in the case of that great body of workmen who enjoy the privileges of these Insurance Associations in great railways and elsewhere. I know I may appeal not merely to the generosity, but to the sense of justice of the hon. Member for Northumberland, and J would ask 414 him, if he is going to support the Government to-night, whether he has reflected that by doing so—whatever be the collateral advantages of a quarrel with the House of Lords—lie will have aimed a blow at the interests of his brother workmen, which they will feel keenly and bitterly, and which they will not easily forget. Justice and generosity are on one side in this conflict, and it would be sheer insanity in this House, while professing outwardly with the lips to have a, regard for these Associations, deliberately to take a, course which even its strongest advocates can find no adequate reason for supporting, and which every dictate of common sense must induce us to believe will work with fatal effect to the Associations which exist, already, and will prevent for all time the reconstruction and embodiment of Associations of a similar nature in other parts of the country. Sir, I have travelled beyond the Amendment, following the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is only necessary for mo to say in conclusion that I think that the Government in their general resistance to the attitude taken up by the House of Lords are taking a course which they will not find it so easy as they suppose to defend before the constituencies of the country. I, at all events, Mr. Speaker, may speak openly upon this point, for I represent a, purely working man's constituency in Lancashire. I have within the last few days made a, speech to them entirely confined to this subject. I gave them my views with the same candour with which I have expressed them tonight, and I have no reason to believe that any considerable body of them dissent from the wisdom and justice of the course which I then said I should pursue. In these circumstances, I shall resist to the best of my power this illusory pretence of a compromise, and will do what I can to persuade the Government and the House from adopting a proposal which, I think, must have a, fatal effect on the future interests of the working classes of this country.
§ *MR. W. S. B. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
said, he regretted he could not agree with his two hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rugby and York, in the Amendment they had moved and seconded, to allow existing Mutual Insurance Societies, of which contracting 415 out was the basis, to continue only for; three years. He regretted they had taken this course. They had given them no reason to suppose that in three years the views of the employers would have altered. The theory upon which the Amendment was based was, of course, that after three years' experience of the operation of the Act, after watching how other employers were affected by the new Act, and how other Societies, such as that of the Great Eastern Railway—which did not involve contracting out—prospered, the employers in the cases now under consideration would modify their views, and would waive the condition of contracting out. He admitted that if this should prove to be the case, the Amendment would have been justified. But no evidence had been given to lead them to suppose that this would happen. Ho fully granted that where one of those Societies existed without the condition of contracting out, it was much better for the men. He wished this could be the case with them all, but his hon. Friends had not given them any reason to suppose that what they desired would happen. They were prepared to take the risk. He was not. That was the difference between them. They might find in throe years they had been mistaken, and then these Societies would come to an end as abrupt as that which would befall them if the Bill passed in its old form. The risk was too great. He attached too great importance to these Societies not to desire that they should be enabled to continue permanently if the men so desired, and he wished to leave the whole responsibility on the men themselves. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had said that he would not consent to any words which would permanently exclude men from the Act. But no one proposed such words, for his (Mr. M'Laren's) clause, and also Lord Dudley's, gave the men the light every three years to bring the question again to the vote. What they desired was to leave the responsibility to the men themselves, and if they desired to continue' these Societies for successive periods of three years, he could not consent to compulsorily ending them at the close of the first three years. It had been said that the House could not go back upon its decision, but he did not see any reason why it should not. No 416 decision come to in that House was irrevocable, and when they remembered that the House decided to prohibit contracting out under existing conditions by the narrow majority of 18—and that that majority was gained, not by argument in the House, but in the Lobby by the influence of the Whips—surely they might well be asked to reconsider their position. It would be said that three years' time was better than nothing at all, and that the House of Commons might have changed its mind by that time. He only hoped that would be so. When they came to a Division, however, he would vote against his hon. Friend's Amendment, in the hope that the House would decide that existing Societies should be allowed to continue in their present form where the men might so desire.
§ MR. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)
said, he deeply regretted the position he found himself in with regard to this Amendment. He would much rather that the Government had seen their way to have gone the whole way in opposition to the Lords. Their going half-way was not in harmony with their past procedure on this important measure. The conduct of the Home Secretary had met with the fullest approval of the working classes up to this stage; and he (Mr. Woods) very much regretted that a proposition should be made in this House to shelve the whole thing for three years. As a Representative of 50,000 or 60,000 miners in this House, he knew that they felt most strongly upon this important question; and if it became a question of losing this Bill altogether, to accepting the terms of the Lords, he believed they would prefer to lose the Bill, because they did not think it would be lost for long, since the action of public opinion would soon force its passage into law. He rose to say this on behalf of the Lancashire miners, and he thought in speaking he represented 300,000 of the National Federation— [Cries of "Question!"]—he believed this Amendment would not be approved by those men. It was all very well to say that those who were engaged in nine-tenths of the industry of the country would have the benefit of the Act; but let them contrast with other industries the case of the miners who, owing to this condition of employment, were not to have the benefit of the Act. By them the Act in this shape could not be re- 417 ceived with approval. He thought the Government would have done better to have kept on in their original way. They had no guarantee that, even if this Amendment were passed, the passing of the Hill would be facilitated in the Lords, and they would then be in the position that, while the Government had surrendered, the measure would not have progressed. Of course, he could not vote in the Division on this occasion. He had been paired since the termination of the coal trade look-out last year; bill if he bad the right to vote, ho should certainly have voted against the Amendment of his hon. Friend, and be would have done that with the approval of his constituents and of the working classes of the country. This was not a protection Bill for employers. It was a Bill intended to protect the rights of the working men of England; and were they to go back and tell those men that under this law they were to remain under the conditions that at present prevailed? It was not contracting out that was so objectionable. There was the greater question of the abolition of the doctrine of common employment. It was for that reason he would like to see the Government fight in this matter; if they did so, they would have the support of the working men of this country. He rose for the purpose of making clear his views on the question. If he were in a position enabling him to vote, it would be with great reluctance he would find himself in the opposite Lobby to that of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as be believed by giving such a vote he would give a stronger support to the whole Bill than he otherwise could do, and render it, certain that it would be accomplished and inscribed on the Statute Book of the country.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down claimed to represent the mines of Lancashire. He also represented a constituency in that part of the country, and, as he had recently- bad interviews with some of the miners who were among his supporters, be would like to inform the hon. Member and the House that a good many of those minors were not in favour of the Amendment. When the Member for the Ince Division came down and said that these men were in favour of destroying the Mutual Insurance Socie- 418 ties he was very much mistaken. The hon. Member was wrong in thinking that it was sought to deprive them of any privileges. The Home Secretary had said the Bill was going to increase the incentive on the part of employers to protect their workmen. They could not make anything larger than it. was; and the incentive at present was so great that to say this Bill would increase it was political cant of the purest water. He did not rise for the purpose of giving an elaborate answer to the right hon. Gentleman. He rose chiefly to answer the arguments of the hon. Member who came from the same part of Lancashire as himself. He was anxious to know, however, how the three years' limit was going to do any good whatever to the men who wanted to contract out of this Act? He did not see how the Amendment would in any way benefit the men who enjoyed the advantages of mutual insurance, and desired to continue enjoying them. Instead of withdrawing the right now, the hon. Member would withdraw it three years hence. It seemed to him that the present Amendment formed a kind of excuse on the part of the hon. Member who proposed it for running away from the position taken up by the hon. Member for Crewe. He could say, from the expressions of opinion which be had heard from the men themselves, that they wore not in agreement with the views of the hon. Member for the Ince Division. For that hon. Member to say that they were was to say what was untrue and unfounded —though, of course, he did not accuse the hon. Member of any want of sincerity. Ho wished the men to have the right they now enjoyed; and, for that reason, he was in favour of the hon. Member for Crewe's proposal. All the facts, he could assure the House, were appreciated by the workmen. If the Government wore treating this matter from a purely Party point of view, in the hope of catching the votes of the workmen at the General Election, they would find at the polls that they had been misled by some of their followers; and that they would lose rather than gain, because they had greatly mistaken the views entertained by the working classes on this question.
§ *MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down told them that this 419 Bill had the approval of the working men, who understood it.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, he inferred from that that those who did not appreciate the Member for Crewe's Amendment did not understand the issue raised by the Amendment. He left that matter to be settled between the hon. Member and those of his constituents for whom he spoke with such ability in this House. He (Mr. Fenwick) never cared to speak in this House simply for speaking sake, and if it had not been that he had been challenged by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) he should have been content to give a silent vote on this question. The Leader of the Opposition twitted the Members for Rugby and York with supporting an Amendment of which they disapproved. Well, he (Mr. Fenwick) had known the Leader of the Opposition himself to be compelled to take a course which amounted to choosing the lesser of two evils. That was their position in this matter. They would have preferred the Bill in the form in which it loft this House; but, as the friends of the Leader of the Opposition in another place had altered it, they wore driven to choose the lesser of two evils— whether they would wreck the Bill entirely, or accept it with a time limit. In these circumstances, he was prepared to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, in the hope that wiser counsels would prevail when the Bill returned to the other House, and that the Lords would then allow it to pass without amendment. Before referring to the matter upon which the Leader of the Opposition directly appealed to him, he would like to say a word on another question. Referring to the arrangement which existed among the miners in Northumberland and Durham, the Leader of the Opposition interrogating the Home Secretary asked him whether he was aware that the Miners' Permanent Relief Fund in those counties was insolvent, and whether he was aware that that insolvency was due to the withdrawal of the employers' contribution in face of the present proposal of the Government.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he was in error. The failure of the contribu- 420 tion of the employers dated, he believed, as far back as the refusal of the workmen to contract themselves out of the Act.
§ *MR. FENWICK
said, he was very glad to have that correction. It materially altered the situation. Of course, it was more than 13 years since the employers, many of them, withdrew their contributions from that fund, and the fund existed without any sacrifice of right on the part of the workmen. Many of the employers who withdrew their contributions in 1880, after the fears which had been created by the passing of that Act had subsided and it was found by experience that the measure was not such an evil as had been expected, came back again and gave over their contributions —many of them, not the whole of them, he admitted. It was scarcely fair to say that the fund was insolvent. It was not insolvent in the sense that the fund or the management were unable to meet any claims that occurred from day to day or from month to month. Actuarially, no doubt—having regard to contingencies arising from explosions and so forth—it might be called insolvent, but the right hon. Gentleman himself could not point to a single Mutual Insurance Fund that was not in a similar position. Even the London and North Western Association, which had been championed so much in these Debates, was in no better position than the Miners' Permanent Relief Fund in the North of England. One of the right hon. Gentleman's own colleagues—a gentleman representing a division of Cumberland—in addressing a meeting of miners in the North of England, was reputed to have said that the effect of the Bill as it had left the House of Commons would have been to destroy such Associations as the Miners' Permanent Relief Fund. It was pretty evident that that hon. Member did not know what he was talking about —if he was correctly reported—for that fund existed for the protection of the workmen who had, in addition, every advantage which the law afforded. The Leader of the Opposition had referred to the report of a speech he (Mr. Fenwick) delivered in the House on a previous occasion on a totally different subject from that they were now considering. Without going into that speech, or the reasons which prompted it, he (Mr. Fenwick) would only say that he was of the same opinion to-day on this matter as 421 he was on the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman saw some close connection between the question that was then under consideration and the matter they were now debating. There was not the slightest connection, not the slightest similarity, between the two cases. Of what would they deprive any member of the working class community by the passing of this Hill? The Leader of the Opposition was careful enough not to reply to a part of the arguments of the Home Secretary. He had passed over without notice the crux of the very able argument of the Home Secretary. The friends of the Leader of the Opposition out of the House never wearied of telling them that the Bill would put an end once and for all to Mutual Insurance Societies if it passed in the form in which it left the House. Nothing of the kind. He (Mr. Fenwick) had not heard in all the arguments that had been addressed to the House or in the country by gentlemen in opposition, a word which went to show how, in any sense, the passing of the Bill would prohibit the formation of Mutual Insurance Societies. The hon. Member who last addressed the House appeared to attach considerable importance to the two thirds majority in the Lords Amendment. He (Mr. Fenwick) was at a loss to understand how the hon. Member, or any of his friends who supported that principle, could describe themselves as the advocates of individual freedom, or of freedom of contract. He (Mr. Fenwick) had no hesitation in frankly stating to the House that he was a Trades Unionist. He believed thoroughly in the principle of Trades Unionism, and in the good effects which Labour Organisations had produced in the interests of the workmen; but what would be the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite if he and his friends said that the Trades Unionists in the country, believing thoroughly in the principle of Trades Unionism, demanded the passing of a law which would enable two-thirds of the workmen in any industry to compel the remaining one-third to join a Union?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, there was no such parallel between that ease and the proposal under Lord Dudley's Amendment.
§ MR. FENWICK
Not under the revised edition, but the present form of the Amendment was equally bad in that 422 respect. The right hon. Gentleman had supported Lord Dudley's Amendment in the first instance without the proviso that, a man could free himself by giving notice. But what was the meaning of Lord Dudley's Amendment—what would be the effect of it in its amended form? It would be, that any member of the minority who gave notice of his intention to remain outside the arrangement would give that which was tantamount to a notice to leave his employment.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Why?
§ MR. FENWICK
For the reason that no employer would undertake to maintain two such arrangements. The practical effect, therefore, would be to compel every man where two-thirds were in favour of the principle to become a member of such an Organisation. Gentlemen who asked "Why?" had not had, he feared, the close connection with workmen and employers which some of them unfortunately had had. It was because, in his own judgment and that of those with whom ho was accustomed to act, this would be the result that they were most decidedly opposed to the Lords Amendment. To get rid of the deadlock, much as they disliked the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Rugby, strongly as they were opposed to contracting out in any shape or form— and in this respect they but echoed the expression of opinion which had been given by the organised workers in various parts of the country, almost without a dissentient voice— in order that time might be given to employers and workmen connected with these Associations to discover what was likely from experience to be the effect of the operation of the Act, they would make the concession of inserting the time limit in the Bill. He was satisfied of this: that instead of the Act operating against the development of mutual insurance, it would have very decidedly an opposite effect, because, as soon as the Bill was passed, workmen and employers alike would be influenced, as they were in Northumberland and in Durham, to establish a, Mutual Association whereby workmen were not compelled to give up any protection which the law afforded them, and were also compensated for any accident that occurred, whether due to the negligence of employers or fellow-work-men, or of the workman himself. That 423 was a condition of things which operated to-day in the North of England, and that, he believed, would he the condition of things which would operate in other parts of the country. But they were told that this measure would give rise to considerable litigation. Well, it was a curious fact that in the North of England in the largest collieries, such as Lord Londonderry's and the collieries owned by the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnard Castle, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Chester-le-Street, where the employers contributed generously to the fund as compared with other employers, there had scarcely, in the working of the whole 13 years, been a case of litigation, clearly proving that where the employers treated their workmen in a spirit of generosity there was the least disposition on the part of the workmen to take advantage of such employer; and his own opinion was that if a Bill were to pass prohibiting contracting out, it would load to a greater development of such organisations, and tend greatly to smooth over many labour difficulties, and to foster good relations between employers and employed. And this was not the least of the influences which operated in his mind, leading him to decide to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby.
§ MR. D. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
I will not detain the House at any great length, but I desire to make a few observations in part for the purpose of removing some misapprehension which, I think, may have been produced by the speech of the hon. Member for Rugby, who proposed this Amendment; and in part also to join in the appeal that has been made by the hon. Member for Crowe to the Member for Rugby and the Government that they will not go any further in support of this Amendment. I suppose it has scarcely ever happened in the House before that on an important occasion, with reference to an important Bill, at an important crisis of politics, an Amendment should have been proposed by a private Member and adopted by the Representatives of the Government which has not during the Debate taking place upon it received the hearty or willing support of any Member who has spoken. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition called attention to the fact that that was the case when he spoke. Then, by his own speech, he demon- 424 strates that the Opposition, represented by himself, do not desire that the Amendment shall be pressed. The hon. Member for the Ince Division, who claims to speak for a large number of working men, said that if he were able to vote on this occasion he should vote against the Amendment, for the reason that the working men do not desire to have it at all. Ho not only chides the Government for their inconsistency in the course they are taking, but declares that his friends would rather that the whole Bill should be lost than that such an Amendment as this should be introduced into it. The hon. Member who has just sat down gives an unwilling assent to the Amendment, but at the same time declares that the Bill would be much better without it, and ho does not desire that it should be inserted. Then, let me ask, why is this Amendment to be proceeded with? I say it is not the right way to deal with a measure of importance to the working community of this country, that with regard to what is to be put into the Bill you should not act in accordance with the desires of the Representatives of these people as expressed in the House, but simply, as I aver, for the purpose of meeting the exigencies of Party interests of the moment for the purpose of making it easier for some of the supporters of the Government to extricate themselves from a difficulty, and at the same time making a little more decent and tolerable the action to be founded on the conduct of the House of Lords. Just consider the absurd position in which the Government and their supporters would find themselves if they had no Amendment to stand between them and the other House, and if the issue were put, as the hon. Member for Crewe said, fairly and squarely before this House ! The Amendment is practically the same as that adopted in November on the Motion of the hon. Member for Crewe. The result of the Debate and of the pressure put upon the Government by their supporters on that occasion, as described by the hon. Member for Crewe just now—and that hon. Member, certainly, is a reliable witness on that subject—was that the Amendment was carried by only 19 votes, the majority including 57 Members from Ireland, which country, according to the hon. Member for Battersea (Hansard, 10th November, 1893, page 425 693), has no appreciable interest in the subject, because 7o per cent. of its population are engaged in agriculture. If 75 per cent. of the 57 Irish Members had abstained from voting, the Government would have been in a minority of 29. That would have been a great misfortune for the agitation launched with so much bombast and rodomontade against the House of Lords. The first plank in the platform of this great attack on the House of Lords is an Amendment carried by a majority of 19 in this House against the protests of all the working men who are most interested, and carried by the votes of those whom their own supporters tell them have comparatively little interest in the matter. Sir, the thing is perfectly ridiculous; and the agitation will die upon the instant, if it has not fallen stillborn. But what I want to submit is that the hon. Member for Rugby has entirely misrepresented the attitude taken towards the Amendment of the Directors of the London and North Western Railway and the views of the men themselves. The hon. Member said he was anxious—and I think some of the other speakers have repeated the remark—to give the Directors of the London and North Western Railway Company, and other companies who may be similarly situated, an opportunity of "turning round," and also of seeing how harmlessly this Act will work, and how unnecessary it will be to make any alteration in the present insurance system. But we do not want time to "turn round." We have had experience of this Society for 13 years. We know all about it; and as to any information we might receive by the working of this Bill, of this we are certain: that no such addition would be made to the liability of the company under any possible number of actions that could be brought under this Bill as would approach the sum of £22,000, which we now pay in support of the Society. That is not the ground upon which we take the caveat. We know that our £22,000 is not at all commensurate with any damages we should have to suffer. As I explained before, we made our bargain with our men at that time, and are willing to adhere to it if the conditions of the matter remain as they were then; but it is absurd to suppose that if the conditions are changed, and if the Directors are to be subject to actions, to 426 threats of actions, and to friction and discontent resulting from such actions and threats, that we shall adhere to our bargain and go on contributing the largo sum we now give to the fund. But I rose not so so much to re-state the view which on a former occasion I had the opportunity of expressing as of stating the view of the men themselves. On hearing that the hon. Member for Rugby intended to move this Amendment I wrote to the Secretary of our Mutual Insurance Society asking him what would be the views of those ho represented on this subject, and I have received this reply—From the men's point of view I think the idea of a time limit to the existing arrangements would he altogether unsatisfactory, as it would simply mean the certain loss of the advantages for which they are fighting at the end of three years, or whatever other period might be fixed upon.In principle such a course appears to be altogether inconsistent.If the arrangement is a good and beneficial one and desired by the men. why limit it to three years: but, on the other hand, if it is not of such a benefit to the men as claimed for it, why allow it to remain in operation for the time named?I would venture to accentuate that argument. The Home Secretary says it is not a matter of compensation at all, but to prevent injury to life and limb. If so, he has no right to accept an Amendment which allows this danger to exist for three years. The writer goes on to say—It might be a temporary advantage to the men to continue the arrangement as long as possible; but when they know the system has to go within a limited time, I do not think they would be at all anxious to defer the change, as the future would be one of doubt and uncertainty to them, and, of course, in the meantime they could hardly be expected to take much interest in a system that had been doomed, or in funds from which they are unlikely to derive any benefit in the future.It cannot be asserted that such a period is needed for experimental purposes, as the Society can point to an experience of upwards of 12 years, and a time allowance for winding up the affairs of the Society is equally unnecessary, inasmuch as this could be done at the present time as well as at the end of a period of three years.I thank the House for having allowed me to read that letter, for it states in a nutshell the practical bearings of this question. I challenge anyone to dispute the common-sense arguments put forward in that letter, written on behalf of the working men themselves. But this Amendment is put forward, or supported, without any view to such practical con- 427 siderations. It is a mere Party move designed to afford a means of escape to hon. Gentlemen who formerly supported the Member for Crewe and who would not refuse to vote for him again if this issue were put fairly and squarely as ho desires to put it. I dare say it is for another reason too. What is the meaning of this period of three years? What justice, or reason, or logic is there in fixing a period of three years? I do not know whether it has entered into the astute calculations of the gentleman who first suggested this Amendment, but a period of three years is just the period which will safely carry any representative of voters who would be injured by the passing of the Bill over the probable chances of the next General Election. One year might be enough, but then it might not. Two years would probably do the trick, but they might not; but three years will surely carry hon. Gentlemen over that unpleasant period. But I do not believe the Amendment will serve this purpose. I do not believe it will deceive working men. Working men are not to be dealt with as if they were children. The workmen of the London and North Western Railway are as intelligent, as brave, as independent, and as honest a set of men as can be found in the United Kingdom, and they will not be humbugged by such a device. Every hon. Gentleman who votes for the Amendment in order to extricate himself as he hopes from an electioneering difficulty will practically sign the death warrant of a Society as far as he can do so the preservation of which is earnestly desired, I believe, by every one of its members.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I shall occupy the attention of the House for a very short time on this occasion, having had an opportunity previously of saying at considerable length what I feel in regard to the matter. Although I would not say anything in deprecation of the discussion, I feel that the Amendment itself has a very unreal character. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Plunket) has spoken with some severity of the conduct of the hon. Member for Rugby, who very characteristically, after running away from the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe, has now run away from his own. My right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin suggests that 428 an Amendment which has not a single supporter in the House upon its merits must be a wire-puller's Amendment to tide over the personal difficulties of the hon. Member for Rugby. I confess I am disposed to take a more favourable view of the situation. The hon. Member is very successful when ho approaches the Government with an Amendment, and on a previous occasion he very nearly involved the two Houses in a conflict by an injudicious Amendment which he proposed. He has now come down as a peacemaker, and he wishes to propitiate the House, which he fears he has offended, by a previous Amendment. If the hon. Member had been present I should have appealed to him, in view of the fact that his Amendment satisfies no one—that we of the Opposition are going to vote against it, and that those whom it is intended to conciliate do not like it at all —to withdraw it in order that we might fight out a broad and important issue in a way which everyone can understand, and without any connection with those electoral devices which after all, I think, are not very creditable. I say that the Government do not like the Amendment, though they accept it in deference to the influence of the hon. Member for Rugby. I wish I knew exactly what the view of the Government was in regard to this Bill. Do they really attach importance to it? Is it really, as sometimes we have been told, a new charter for the working classes, or is it, on the contrary, a mere counter in the political game? Is it merely a bono of contention which they have unearthed with regard to ulterior purposes, in order to promote that quarrel of which we hear so much in some of the Gladstone organs? If it be not the latter, if it be that it is bonâ fide their sense of the importance of this Bill, I venture to urge upon them that whatever happens to these Amendments, that even if the strongest of all of them were accepted, there would still remain for the benefit of the working classes of this country 99–100ths of the Bill. If I say that the effect of the first of these Amendments, from the point of view of the Government, would only be to diminish by 1 per cent. the value of the Bill, I am not sure I have not put it too high. What is the state of the case? None of these Amendments affect men who desire to have the Bill and do not want anything 429 else. None of these Amendments would prevent any such person having the full enjoyment of the Bill. That is absolutely certain. All the pretence which was raised in the earlier discussion as to the possibility of companies like the London and North Western, Messrs. Armstrong's at Newcastle, or manufacturers like Messrs. Chance at Birmingham, coercing their workpeople into accepting these agreements has been entirely surrendered. It is ludicrous in view of the facts to put forward any contention of that kind. In every way by which opinion can be tested, the opinion of the men has been tested. It has been taken by ballot, by public meeting, and by their own Representatives in this House. If really these men are being coerced, what are we to think of the wisdom of the hon. Member for Crewe and of the hon. Member for Rugby, who actually are going to vote against their Party in order to ensure that their constituents shall be coerced against their will? That argument falls to the ground, and we are face to face with the fact that the only men who would lose the advantages of the Bill are men who would surrender them of their own absolute free will, knowing exactly what they do, and, rightly or wrongly, preferring something else. If the Government and the House seriously believe that it is of great importance to the working classes of this country that common employment should be abolished; that provisions about unhealthy trades should be inserted; that seamen should be brought under the operation of the Employers' Liability Bill, why do they refuse to give this power to 99 out of every 100 working men because there is one in 100 who prefers to have something else? It is a most monstrous supposition that the Government can really be in earnest in telling us that they value this Bill, when they are willing to throw over 99 per cent. of the working classes in so slight a cause as that. Why did the Government object to Lord Dudley's old Amendment? We know now, not from the reasons given us to-night, but for the reasons given to the Lords. The reason for disagreement was formally communicated to the Lords, and those Amendments were drawn up by a Committee, of which the Home Secretary was the most important Member. The reason was that it was undesirable to allow employers to contract themselves 430 out of the obligations of the Bill without finding an adequate substitute. The principle is gone. All this fine talk about the lives and limbs of 300,000 miners, which the hon. Gentleman below me professes to represent, goes to the wall if all you have to consider is whether an adequate substitute can be found for the compensation provided by the Bill. It has nothing to do with this question of negligence. That has been altogether dropped. All we have to consider is an adequate substitute as a necessary condition to any contracting out of the Bill. I will not ask the House to consider directly whether there is an adequate substitute. Let me return for a moment to the argument of the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. Woods). What is the argument with which he and his friends go to the country, where, unfortunately, there is no one to meet them face to face? You can well imagine that if a meeting of working men, who have not had time carefully to consider the details of this Bill, were told it was a measure which was going to protect their lives, and that a proposal had been made by the Lords which would destroy that protection, they would naturally be very indignant with the Lords and very anxious to see the success of the measure. I have proved again and again in this House that this Bill does nothing for the security of the workman. I defy the hon. Member for Ince to point to one single case of an accident in any colliery which care on the part of the employer could have prevented, and for which the employer would not under the present law be liable. All this Bill does is to make the employer answerable for the negligence of his workmen, over whom he has no control. It would be perfectly absurd to say that a mine-owner could have any control over 300 men, or it may be 3,000 men, employed many of them miles away from him underground, the carelessness of one of whom may bring about an accident for which this Bill makes the employer liable. I do not complain of that, because I am anxious that the man injured should have compensation; but I assert that the fact of our using the employer as the channel through which compensation shall come does not make him more careful in cases in which no care on his part can possibly prevent accident. It is not honest or fair to go 431 to working men and tell them that this is a question of life and limb; it is not a question of life and limb; it is a question of pecuniary compensation. The question in all these matters is whether they will take the compensation which the Bill undoubtedly proposes to give them for cases of accident caused by the negligence of the employer or his servants, or whether they will prefer to throw up the Bill and take compensation such as is offered them under some of these voluntary arrangements for every accident, whether caused by negligence or not. I have been addressing public meetings. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) assumed just now to speak for the working classes of the country. I protest against any one man having the presumption to say that he speaks for the working classes.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, if the hon. Member had said that he spoke for the Trades Union Congress, I should have admitted his right to speak for them; but I beg to inform him, as ho appears not to know it, that there is a great difference between the Trades Union Congress and the whole of the working classes of this country. In the first place, the Trades Union Congress does not profess to speak for more than a fraction of the working classes of this country, and no more than a fraction of the working classes of this country are at the present time connected, through their Trades Union, with the Trades Union Congress. I say that the working classes of this country are divided upon this question as upon many others. At all events, we and the Opposition who lake an interest in the matter have not failed to go before them and fully to explain and fairly to defend our views. I am bound to say that from my own experience I believe that the working classes are on our side. When addressing large meetings almost exclusively of working men I have never found more than one or two dissentient voices to the principles to which I have endeavoured to obtain assent, although I have been addressing audiences composed in a large proportion of members of the political 432 Party to which I am opposed. I will not enterupon the question in what proportions the working classes are divided. Assuming that only 1 per cent. of them want to make these arrangements, why forbid them from making them? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that he does not forbid them. He has told us again to-night that he is in favour of these arrangements, that he is most friendly to them. He must mean these arrangements which we are discussing—for otherwise his argument would be irrelevant—namely, arrangements by which, in return for contracting out of the Act by the workman, he obtains certain advantages from the insurance fund to which his employer contributes.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
The right hon. Gentleman must forgive me, but I meant nothing of the kind, and I said nothing of the kind. What I said was that I was in favour of mutual arrangements whereby both the employer and the workman contributed to a fund from which the workman might get compensation for all injuries. I did not say I approved of arrangements of which contracting out was a term. On the contrary, my argument was that contracting out had been shown by experience not to be of the essence of such arrangements.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Then I can only say that my right hon. Friend's statement that he was friendly to these arrangements was not in the slightest degree relevant to his argument. His argument was that these arrangements would not be destroyed by the Bill; and that if they thought they would be destroyed, the Government would not be inclined to press the Bill. But all these arrangements which we have been discussing all this time will be destroyed by the Bill. The Bill will make illegal any such arrangement as that which now exists between the London and North Western Railway Company and its workmen. When my right hon. Friend says he believes these arrangements will not be destroyed, perhaps he means that he believes some other arrangements will be substituted for them. But that is a totally different thing, and I do not think that is quite a frank way of meeting the argument which is addressed to him. I say that he told the House that he was friendly to these arrangements. Now it appears that he is not, and that he 433 intends to destroy them; but he thinks that when he has destroyed them, the parties to these arrangements will make some other and equally good arrangements. I say that he is again going hack upon the statement he has made on every occasion on which he has addressed the House, in which he puts his opinion as to what these people will do against their own solemn statement of what they will do. In spite of what the Directors of the London and North Western Rail-way have said, the Home Secretary persists in believing that they will not do what they say they will do. Of course, he is entitled to hold that opinion if he likes, but, that will not satisfy the men who have entered into these arrangements. They do not believe that the company will consent to pay these largo sums after they have lost the one great advantage for which they have hitherto expended them. That one great advantage has been the prevention of litigation with their workpeople and the maintenance of friendly terms between them. According to the Home Secretary, they are to lose that and at the same time keep up their contributions to the fund. It is clear that the Home Secretary does not credit the employers of this country with common sense if he supposes that they are going to carry on business on such a system as that. If they are not likely to continue the present arrangements, what ground has the right hon. Gentleman for supposing that other agreements will be made of the kind he suggests? It has been pointed out that where these agreements exist at present they affect only the liability of the employer for his own negligence; but it is well-known that the accidents arising from the negligence of the employer do not amount to a mere fractional percentage of the whole accidents that occur. Of course, where the employer, by taking some particular precaution, can save life, he would be an absolute scoundrel if he did not take that precaution; consequently, the accidents which now occur, and which are due to the negligence of the employer, are very few indeed, so few that it may well be that a company like the Great Eastern Railway Company have not thought it necessary to take them into account. Take the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. J. Burns)—the case of the shunters. Accidents to shunters have, I believe, hardly ever been of such 434 a character as to form a ground for damages where an action has been brought, because in almost every case it has been shown that the accident was due either to the negligence of another workman or to the contributory negligence of the poor man who was injured. The Bill of the Government, undoubtedly, in all cases in which the accident is due to the negligence of a fellow-workman, would give a right of action. The number of cases would, therefore, be very much larger, and the company would be no longer able to treat the matter as of no importance. My own conviction is, that if this Bill passes its present shape you will not only destroy the existing arrangements, but you will prevent the possibility of future arrangements. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick) admits that he does not want these arrangements, whereby without the aid of the law provision is made for all accidents.
§ Mr. FENWICK
I am not sure, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman is provided with evidence on that point, because, to the best of my knowledge, I never said so.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think my hon. Friend said so this evening. What I say is, that my hon. Friend does not desire that these arrangements should be continued whereby without legislation these advantages are secured to working men. That was undoubtedly the whole of his argument. At all events, those who believe, as I do, that it is of infinitely greater importance to the working classes that they should get universal compensation than that any further responsibility than already lies upon the employer should be attempted to be placed on his shoulders will not accept that argument. They will feel that a policy such as that would be fatal to the real interests of the workmen. While I would not give anything for such an Amendment as that of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), which would only leave the matter hung up for three years unsettled, and would certainly not permit, of any future arrangements being made, on the other hand, I do hope that even now, at the last moment, the House of Commons may see fit to agree in principle with the Amendment which has come down from the House of Lords, and in which it cannot be denied there is an adequate substitute for the compensation 435 provided under the Bill. I admit that there was something in the argument of the Home Secretary when the Amendment of Lord Dudley was first before the House. It was said that the contribution of the employer was too small. The House of Lords have now met that objection, and have raised the amount of the employer's contribution from one-quarter to one-third. My right hon. Friend also complained that under the Amendment the establishment of bogus funds might be possible. That is provided for in the amended Amendment, because in that he will find that wherever the fund is insufficient for the purpose, and the employer is unwilling to make up the deficiency, the workman shall, necessarily ipso facto, fall back on all the rights which are conferred upon him by the Bill, so that in no circumstances can he be worse off, while he may be much better off than under the Bill. I think the issue under these circumstances is a very broad one. It is whether those who are going to have all the advantages of this Bill will not be satisfied to take them, unless they can prevent a certain number of their fellows from getting advantages outside it? Nobody will he deprived of any of the advantages of this Bill by Lord Dudley's Amendment. On the other hand, if that Amendment is not passed there are many workmen in this country who will find themselves deprived of advantages which they know perfectly well how to appreciate.
§ MR. J. BURNS (Battersea)
said, he supposed the Amendment had been put forward in the interests of Party exigencies. Personally, he should have preferred no such arrangement, and he assured the House that the bulk of workmen, whether belonging to Trades Unions or to Friendly Societies, were united in opposition to the principle of contracting out, and did not desire that it should be recognised for three years, or even for three months. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had told them no man had a right to assume that he was the Representative of the working class opinion in that House. Possibly, he was correct in saying so, but he might add that if he wanted to know the political opinions of Birmingham he would have said that the right hon. Gentleman, by virtue of his majority at the last Election, represented those opinions with fair accuracy. But at the 436 same time, if he wanted to know the opinions of the working classes of Birmingham, irrespective of politics, he would go to the Trades Council, to which, on industrial questions, he would defer, just as much as he would defer on the political opinions of Birmingham to the right hon. Gentleman. Now, it seemed to him that the balance of Party advantage rested in rejecting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, and he regretted that the Government had accepted this proposal to compromise with the other place, for he believed that if the Bill were dropped in consequence of its mutilation by the House of Lords they would be able to pass an even stronger Bill after the next General Election. Representing, as he claimed to do, some, at any rate, of the working classes, he ventured to tell the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that the workmen contended that mutual insurance fostered neglect and inefficient inspection of machinery; and they objected to the co-operation of masters in the establishment and maintenance of insurance schemes. It surely would not be suggested that the House of Lords had a greater right to speak with authority on these questions than the Trades Union Congress. There was no comparison on that point between the two bodies. As to the masters, their chief object in co-operating in these schemes was to chloroform their workmen by the agency of these Societies against those "cruel organisations"—Trades Unions. It was to him a matter of extreme regret that the right hon. Member for Birmingham no longer took the same view as he expressed in 1884. He must apologise for referring to the right hon. Gentleman's utterances in that year, for he did not believe in statesmanship by Press-cutting agency. Still, at times, it was convenient to refer to past speeches, and he wished to say that when the right hon. Gentleman made his brilliant speech in that year on the Merchant Shipping Bill every workman who spoke the English tongue cordially agreed with the sentiments to which he gave such forcible expression. The Duke of Argyll, as quoted by the right hon. Member in 1884, in connection with the Merchant Shipping Bill, had stated that care for life was less eager and wakeful than care for property, and that insurance relaxed the motives of self-interest, which were the strongest 437 incitements to precaution. The right hon. Gentleman went one better than that, and declared that legislators were beginning to realise that to promote security it was necessary to give to all persons concerned a direct personal and direct pecuniary interest in its maintenance. Well, if they established Mutual Insurance Societies into which workmen would be forced against their will they destroyed that direct personal and pecuniary interest. It was all very well to talk about a two-thirds majority being required before contracting out was possible, but there were plenty of ways of securing that majority. They had, for instance, only to call a meeting of railway employés, to place a Director in the chair, to pack the gathering with station masters, inspectors, foremen, and gangers, and, worst of all, with men whose one idea was to got promotion; they wanted only a polite speech from the chairman pointing out that it would be to the interest of the men to contract out, and their end was attained. They might have a secret ballot, but it would prove a farce. In these days the men were brought into daily contact with Directors, managers, and foremen; and secrecy on these questions was practically impossible, even if it could be ensured on other social and political questions. What was the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches in 1884? Although, unfortunately, his Bill did not pass, it had the same effect as would ensue from the passing of this Employers' Liability Bill; and to the right hon. Gentleman more than to any other man was credit due for having reduced the deaths and casualties which he then attributed to the over-insurance and under-manning of ships.
§ MR. J. BURNS
said, that interruption only strengthened his point. The right hon. Gentleman attributed these deaths to over-insurance, but he also, in a later part of his speech, referred to the subject of under-manning. The fact remained, that in 1884 the number of deaths from wrecks and of casualties was three and a half times as many as at the present time; and he ventured to assert that if this Bill were passed without the Lords Amendment it would make masters put their ships and machinery in order, and lead to salutary results, just as the speeches of the right 438 hon. Gentleman effected good in 1884. It had been said that this Bill would not reduce the; number of shunters' accidents; but he was convinced that if the London and North Western Company were to employ more shunters, paying their wages with the £22,000 which they now contributed to their mutual insurance fund, the number of accidents would soon be reduced by 50 per cent. How could the right, hon. Gentleman reconcile his reactionary attitude of to-day with his declarations of 1884? How could he reconcile his present disparaging statements as to Trades Unionism with the eloquent words he used to Mr. Harford's deputation of railway servants, who asked for an Employers' Liability Bill plus non-contracting out? The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion agreed with the deputation; why had he since altered his views? Now he came to another speech. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University seemed to think that the Irish Members had no right to vote upon this question, on the ground that the Bill did not apply to Ireland to the same extent as to England; but if it was wrong for them to vote, it must be equally wrong fort he Conservative Members for agricultural constituencies, and they would, he hoped, abstain. What were the reasons advanced by the right hon. Member for Dublin University for the vote he was about to give? He did not represent docker or engineer; but he happened to be one of the Directors of the London and North Western. Would he vote in his capacity as Member for Dublin University? Not at all. The right hon. Gentleman and himself were in precisely the same position—one was as much an agitator on this question as the other—and, therefore, the sooner they both left off talking about disinterestedness the better. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his temperate speech, which offered a marked contrast to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in another place, had referred to himself as the Representative of a great Lancashire industrial constituency. Undoubtedly, the operatives of Lancashire supported Conservative views to a greater extent than those in other parts of Great Britain; but he doubted greatly whether the right hon. Gentleman represented the views of the textile operatives of Lancashire when he supported the principle of contracting out, and surely it 439 would not be said that on this point the Leader of the Opposition was more representative of the textile operatives' mind than Mr. Mawdesley, and the whole of the Lancashire textile Trades Union. No workmen in the Trade Union movement had been more persistent opponents of that principle than the very operatives whom the right hon. Gentleman represented politically. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the three years' time limit of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby as a proposal that would do no good; that it was but a mere pretence at compromise. The fact was, that three years was too long a period of grace to give the men of the London and North Western Railway. It was far more generous treatment than they deserved, because, to speak frankly and strongly, these men had been the industrial Judas Iscariots to the rest of the working classes and to the working-class movement. It was said that when certain people fell out honest men would get their rights. It was evident that long before the three years had expired they would see those railway men coming forward to ask for the abolition of contracting out, for at a meeting of many of the men on the previous evening at Camden Town a resolution was carried, by two to one, against the continuance of the present system, and in favour of the Government measure. With regard to the Amendment of Lord Dudley in another place, if that were carried, contracting out would be universally extended, and many of the Unions and Friendly Societies connected with the Organisations of unskilled labourers would no longer be able to exist. He hoped, therefore, that this standing incentive to universal contracting out would be resisted by the Government, and that the Government, if they could see their way to do so, would reduce the three years' limit to two years, or even to one year. He was perfectly convinced that if the other House rejected the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby—which did not at all vitiate the principle of the Bill—if the Lords insisted by such a course of action in causing the Bill to be dropped, he could assure the Leader of the Opposition that the Trade Unionists, who numbered 1,500,000, would be joined by a combination more serious both in numbers and influence—by the Friendly Societies, 440 which numbered more than 4,000,000 members. For these men believed that the real object of the masters in promoting the mutual insurance schemes was to prejudice the workmen, to damage the Friendly Societies, and to injure the cause of Trade Unionism, which had for its object the raising of wages and the reduction of the hours of labour. Though he did not pretend to be a prophet, he would make one prediction. If the Opposition should succeed in throwing out the Bill in another place, and the Government resolved, as he hoped they would do, to stick to the measure, and to fight the House of Lords and the Opposition on the question, they would increase their present prospective majority of 20 or 30 at the next Election to 100 or 150. A sure way of achieving that result was to get "that cruel combination" of the House of Lords on the one side, and the industrial Judas Iscariots on the other, to throw out the Bill, which was a distinct advantage to the working classes.
§ MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said, that he did not intend to detain the House by any lengthened observations; but he wished to say at once that he was decidedly in favour of the Amendment. A great deal had been said by hon. Gentlemen opposed to the Employers' Liability Bill to the effect that he and others were keeping the men from their insurance funds, and by doing so were imposing an injustice on a section of the working men. He did not believe that there was any section of the working men of this country opposed to the Bill. He had watched many of the movements got up for the purpose of getting resolutions against the Bill, and he had found, in almost every case, that the movers in these movements were men in the pay of the Railway Companies, and not in the pay of the workmen at all. They were men who received their wages direct from the Railway Companies to go round the country advising the working men that it would be more beneficial to them to contract out of the Act. The reason he supported the Amendment was, that he knew that a large number of workers were members of Insurance Clubs, and that if they ceased to be members to-morrow, they would be left with out that protection from accidents which the Employers' Liability Bill would give. These men were in 441 a different position from the men who were members of Friendly Societies. He was prepared to say that the bulk of the men of the London and North Western Railway were not members of any Friendly Society. They had to depend entirely on their insurance fund; and it was for that reason that he supported the Amendment which allowed three years to enable these men, if their employers desired to withdraw their contributions, to establish their Friendly Societies, and get the protection for them which other workmen enjoyed. A great deal had been said about meetings held in various parts of the country for and against the Bill. He had addressed more meetings during the past five weeks than any other Member of the House—meetings in Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport, and in various towns in the North of England and Scotland—meetings which were entirely composed of working men, and at every one of which the working men were unanimously in their opinion against contracting out. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham and the Leader of the Opposition had told the House that they had addressed large meetings at which they expressed their views on the Employers' Liability Bill, and at which they were favourably received by the working men. He had read with considerable interest the speeches of those gentlemen; and he noticed that every time they spoke on this subject they said that what they were in favour of was not the Employers' Liability Bill, but a, measure which would cover all cases of accident. That was, no doubt, a very tempting bait to hold out to meetings of working men. They said, "We are not in favour of the Government Bill, but we are in favour of covering all accidents, so that you may get compensation for all accidents without having to call in the lawyer." He was certain that if the Leader of the Opposition had declared in plain language to the working men who attended his meetings that ho meant an insurance fund for which the working man who had been injured would receive a small weekly sum, the working men would have opposed any such scheme. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Battersea dealing with the right, hon. Gentleman for West Birmingham. Ho remembered, in 188 4, when the right hon. Gentleman created such a sensation in the country on this 442 question of insurance, that he attended some of the right hon. Gentleman's meetings. He had heard him declare that, the only way to prevent loss of life at sea was to do away with the insurance placed upon ships, and it, was in consequence of that attitude of the right hon. Gentleman that, the shipowners stirred up an agitation against the Bill which he introduced, and which was shelved in favour of a Royal Commission. The right hon. Gentleman was now all for insurance. That seemed inconsistent on his part. He wished to tell the Government that they had nothing to fear upon this question. The Members of the Opposition would find, to their sorrow, that the working men on whom they were depending to uphold the system of contracting out were rotten reeds. They would find that their attitude towards this Bill would not help them in the estimation of the working classes, because he was confident that, every man in this country who was a Trades Unionist was opposed to the principle of contracting out. It had been said that the Trades Unions did not represent the bulk of the working men of the country. He was prepared to say that the Trades Unions by a large majority represented the working class feeling of this country. The question must not be judged from the number of men represented at the Trades Congress in any year. It had been said that 1,500,000 men were represented at the Congress, but there were hundreds and thousands of working men besides who were not represented at the Congress, because their Societies were not sufficiently large to send delegates to represent them. He believed that he should be safe in saying that there were no less than 250,000 working men, besides the 1,500,000, who were indirectly represented at, the Congress. Thou there were also thousands of working men who were guided by the opinions of the Trades Unions; while there were only 100,000 or 150,000 men altogether who were in favour of contracting out. For these reasons he had great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ MR. HULSE (Salisbury)
said, he rose to support the Amendments which had been inserted in this measure in the Upper House, and he wished to explain his position, and to give any reasons why he cordially supported the great principle 443 which was apparently at issue between the two Houses. He had the honour to represent a city which, though somewhat small in point of numbers, contained a large number proportionately of railway men and employés, and it had been his pleasure and his duty to meet the majority of them recently at social gatherings, when this question of paramount importance naturally came under discussion. So far he had not received a single request, either verbal or otherwise, to oppose the principle of "contracting out," which appeared to him to be in thorough accord with the wishes of the more intelligent of the working classes. To the best of his belief the London and South Western had no mutual insurance fund such as the Loudon and North Western had, consequently the desire, so far as the men were concerned, was to uphold the freedom of contract, and to make similar provision for themselves, such as their more fortunate confreres on the London and North Western system had been able to develop and to maintain with such successful results. He deplored the attempt to make political capital out of trade disputes, and it did seem extraordinary that this particular question should be made a Party one, and an attempt introduced to deprecate the action of the other branch of the Legislature when they were merely contending for the right of freedom of contracts, the discouragement of unnecessary litigation, and the provision for all kinds of accidents, without the consideration of legal responsibility, and the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under this Bill, as amended in another place, every working man in the United Kingdom had the absolute right to every advantage it offered, and had the option of relinquishing that right only when he could make a better bargain for himself by means of a mutual or domestic insurance scheme. He fully believed that it was to the interests of the working man generally to have the option of contracting out, for he was confident it was more desirable to obtain compensation by voluntary effort, and by a system of mutual insurance, rather than by going to law and enriching the lawyers, for any system of insurance was preferable to litigation. His point was this—that by an Act of Parliament there would always be a legal defence of some kind set up in the cases 444 of accidents which had occurred without definite or actual carelessness, whereas by a system of insurance every victim at once received his quota, and in the unfortunate event of his death his relations got- compensation. He was well aware that the Trades Unions were opposed to the Amendment inserted by Lord Dudley, and the only reason that could be suggested why they, or rather their official bodies, should oppose the principle is either that they, the officials, had formed a political alliance with Her Majesty's Government or that they desired to force a larger number of men into their Unions to give them additional strength and funds to act as a prosecuting Society against the various Insurance Companies in which the employers would perforce be compelled to protect themselves. Under the present system it appeared to him—and he would venture respectfully to draw the attention of the House to it— the provision of a common insurance fund, complying with the requirements of the Board of Trade, worked by a Joint Board of masters and men, and giving relief to all kinds of injuries and providing for the widow and orphans, was a better policy in the interests of labour than the absolute necessity of being forced into costly litigation before any sum could be recovered. Lord Farrer, speaking in another place, with the experience of a lifetime devoted to the interests of his Party and of the working classes, had shown in the Upper House, and in the London County Council, that he did not permit common sense and experience to be blinded by Party prejudice or to controvert the facts of every-day life at the behests of the Trades Union leaders. In his able speech in another place, in setting out the folly of passing this measure as insisted upon by the Government, his Lordship pointed out what would be the result of their policy upon the employers and the position forced by the Government upon the employé. Not being a lawyer, he had no right to suggest to the House what the defences to the new provisions would bel; but he had seen and read sufficient of the proceedings, as recorded in the Press, to know how often verdicts under the old Act had been set aside, on the ground of some legal quibble or technicality. He could quote a case of a working man, who had obtained a verdict for £50, who was brought before the Divisional Court; that Court con- 445 firmed the previous judgment, and only allowed an appeal on condition that the man was allowed £1 a week till the appeal was heard. The company in question carried the appeal to the House of Lords, with the result that the verdict of the County Court and of the Divisional Court was reversed. The£50 originally awarded to the plaintiff had long since been exhausted in the passage of the Bill from Court to Court, and the defendant's solicitors naturally had a heavy hill of costs to pay, whilst the plaintiff had to appear before the House of Lords in formâ pauperis. That was only one illustration of the folly of forcing men into the Law Courts when they might obtain compensation by a policy of mutual or domestic insurance. Lord Farrer made it clear that this measure would force every employer to vote outside Insurance Companies, with the usual result. As his Lordship pointed out, the conduct of defence in an action for damages would not rest with the employer, who might conceivably have a heart, but with the Insurance Companies. Hon. Members did not need to he reminded that companies and Corporations did not. possess a, heart or a soul—they had only their duty to their shareholders to consider. In nine cases out of ten the cases would be fought, and the working man would, even when he gained a verdict, be considerably out of pocket in lighting a wealthy company, whose very existence and profits depended upon the number of actions they were able successfully to resist, whereas the clause which had been again inserted in another place, and was likely to be adhered to, might well be termed a policy of domestic insurance: which had no office expenses to defray, no Directors' salaries to provide, no dividends for those who found the money, as the provision made by masters and men would in itself increase for their own benefit; and no better illustration could be shown of their wisdom than by the large amount of nearly £350,000 which stood to the credit of one branch of the Welsh Miners' Provident Society, whilst the Durham miners, who preferred to take their chance under the Act and not to join in a, common fund, found themselves very much out of pocket, and had been successful in but few cases which they had brought against the masters who employed them. 446 If ever there was a case where Party prejudice had been brought to bear against that common sense and practical experience it has now: and he earnestly appealed to the light hon. Gentleman in charge of this measure to assume a more conciliatory attitude, to dissociate himself from those who were endeavouring to bind him a slave to their chariot wheels, and who were seeking to raise a Party cry against the other branch of the Legislature, and he would thereby foster and encourage that mutual policy of self-help and domestic insurance which had received the sanction and the support of so large a- number of the leading Members of this House.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
said, ho was glad to hear the hon. Member for Battersea repeat, though in a somewhat more flowery way, the reason which he had given during the Committee stage of the Bill for the attitude taken up by the Trades Unions in regard to this clause. The hon. Member said that the masters wanted to chloroform the workmen against the Trades Unions. In the Committee stage the hon. Member had said more bluntly that where those mutual arrangements between master and workmen existed the Trades Unions did not flourish. Many reasons had been advanced against contracting out, but they might all be reduced to this one and sole reason—that these mutual insurance schemes brought such goodwill between masters and men that the Trades Unions found it difficult to prosper. He had always been a friend to Trades Unions. He had recognised for many years the very important work they had accomplished in raising the condition of the industrial classes, and he was not at all sure that if the Mutual Insurance Societies were going to destroy the Trades Unions, he would not rather have the Trades Unions than the Insurance Societies. But he had some opportunities of asserting the feelings of the working classes, and he believed that in this matter the Trades Unions had made a mistake: that they were stretching almost to breaking point the allegiance of their supporters; that they had in a number of ways recently been exercising an authority which had been felt hardly by their members: and that, they were now making the biggest mistake of all in bringing pressure to bear 447 successfully on the Government to prevent the spread of this mutual assurance system simply and solely because that system tended to weaken their ranks. He believed that this action of the Trades Unions would tend still further to make their influence felt, for the Unionist Party, in upholding the right to contract out, were supported by two-thirds or three-fourths of the working classes of the country. But the words "contracting out" were really a misnomer as a description of what the Unionist Party were contending for. They were not contending for contracting out in the ordinary sense of the words. No one desired to leave a single working man free to rid himself of the benefits of the Act. What they desired was, that the working men should be allowed in the future, as in the past, to make the best terms they could, and to obtain by mutual arrangements greater benefits than this Bill proposed to confer on them. That was what the Unionist Party contended for, and, that being so, they were opposed to the Amendment before the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 215; Noes 213.—(Division List, No. 435.)
§ *MR. ASQUITH
I beg, Sir, to move the omission from the clause of the whole of Sub-section (3), and I trust, as the question in all its aspects has been so fully debated already in the course of the evening, there may be a disposition to take a Division at once.
§ Amendment proposed to the Lords Amendment, to leave out Sub-section (3). —(Mr. Asquith.)
§ Question put, "That Sub-section (3) stand part of the Lords Amendment."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 197; Noes 219.—(Division List, No. 436.)
§ MR. ASQUITH
On Sub-section (4) I move to omit, in the third line, all the words from the word "and" to the end of the sub-section. This is consequential upon what the House has already done.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
This is a consequential Amendment; and perhaps I may express the opinion that we should 448 take the Divisions that have been taken as representing the views of the House, and not take any other Division.
To leave out the words from the word "constraint," in line 3 of Sub-section (4), to the end of the Lords Amendment.—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Sub-section."
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. W. B. MCLAREN
May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do with Clause 13? That is inconsistent with what has been done.
§ Lords Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.