§ Order read, for Consideration of Lords Reasons and Lords Amendment to Commons Amendments to Lords Amendments to Commons Amendments to Lords Amendments.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Sir, the Order of the Day having been read from the Table, it is the desire and the duty of the Government to have upon this question a clear and simple issue, and I think that issue will be best obtained, I believe in perfect conformity with the Rules and usages of the House, if I move that the said Order be discharged. That, therefore, is the Motion which it is my purpose to make on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, of myself, and of the entire Government. I will, in passing, say that I deeply regret to have to make such a Motion, and that 852 we have been obliged to make so many Motions and to hear so much elsewhere indicating a lamentable degree of divergence between the views of the two branches of the Legislature. Nevertheless, such are the facts before us, and we cannot refuse to confront them or to act in conformity with what we think is required by our own dignity and by the dignity and position of this House, and the authority with which it is entitled to speak from the means of information which it possesses for forming a judgment upon the wishes and wants of the people. All the proceedings of the Lords will alike be embraced by the Motion which I make, because substantially there is only one question, and that is the question commonly known as contracting out of the Act. Well, Sir, there is a good maxim that half a loaf is better than no bread, and if we were dealing with a Rill the parts of which were completely separate one from another, and the question were whether we should accept a limited benefit and offer it to the country rather than see the whole of our labours for the time absolutely wrecked, that maxim might he urged. But this is not a case of that description from our point of view. In our view the Amendment adopted and proposed to us by the House of Lords cannot be considered apart from its general working upon the whole frame and substance of the measure. In our opinion, if I may use a strong phrase for the sake of making my meaning clear, it. will tend to poison the working of the Bill. I am afraid it will very seriously compromise the position of the working classes in the face of their employers. I cannot, therefore, but hope that it will be rejected, and rejected by a decisive majority, in this House. Well, now there are only two questions, I think, that it will he necessary for me to notice. It will be felt, considering the length of time spent on the discussion, that it would be quite unpardonable in me to occupy more than a few minutes of the time of the House. The first question is—working men being the persons directly, not exclusively but mainly, concerned in this Bill—what are their sentiments concerning the Amendment of the Lords? I am aware that it has been alleged by gentlemen of high position in this House, of whom my right 853 hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham is a typical example, that this is to be viewed as a subject on which the working classes are divided. In some sense or other it is probable they are divided upon every question. It is probable that they were divided even on the question of the Corn Laws, when they came very near indeed to unanimity. But are they divided in such a sense as to lender it doubtful what is the prevailing opinion of the working class? In our opinion, to say that the working class are divided on this subject is not to use a phrase that really tends to throw light on the question. I do not deny that in the peculiar position in which certain important bodies of workmen stand they have been led to view with favour the Lords Amendment, but those are cases of bodies in particular circumstances created for them by their employers, and I cannot wonder that they do not at once and in the mass depart from that position. But, on the other hand, with regard to the whole sentiment of the working class, I confess that in my opinion, and, what is much more, in the general opinion of the majority of this House, there is a most decided, nay, an extremely large—I might even say, perhaps, an enormous—preponderance of opinion adverse to the Amendment. If I look—and of course I naturally look—to those Members of this House who themselves, greatly to their honour, in many cases have belonged to the working class, and who speak for the working class in this House in a special sense, and are returned to this House for the special purpose and have special means of knowing their sentiments and are accustomed to give utterance to those sentiments with great weight and considerable authority, I find that there is not one of those Representatives who is not strongly and decidedly opposed to the adoption of the present Amendment. Although we have not absolutely authentic information regarding it, there is one great body whose judgment, even taken by itself, might almost be said to be decisive of the question—I refer, of course, to the Friendly Societies of this country. The Friendly Societies are said to number directly over 2,000,000 of the population, and indirectly they represent a much greater number. The assertion has been made —I think without contradiction—that 854 there is no doubt about the antagonism of the Friendly Societies as a body to the adoption of this Amendment. I will refer to one authority, that of a highly-respected clergyman named Wilkinson, who is himself the author of works on the subject of Friendly Societies and is entitled to speak with some authority on the subject. It will not be astonishing if I take his distinct and deliberate assertion made in a letter to me upon a matter of fact. I am assured by that gentleman that the Parliamentary Committee of the National Friendly Societies Conference has, by a formal act in its proceedings, declaredthat these Societies are strongly opposed to the insertion of such a clause as has been adopted by the House of Lords.Now, is there any counter evidence? No doubt it is easy to show that thousands and tens of thousands of men under peculiar circumstances are not unfriendly to this Amendment; and if it were a Resolution that we could adopt without in any way damaging the general operation of the Bill, of course we should wish to gratify the desires which they entertain. But what we have to look to is the general operation of this Amendment on the framework and working of the Bill. I think we are justified in saying that, according to all the evidence before us, there is a very large preponderance, more than a common preponderance, and probably even an enormous preponderance, of the working class who object to the adoption into our law of the provision proposed by the House of Lords If that be so, I must say that in a matter of this kind the working classes are extremely good—nay, I will go further, and say that they are the very best—judges of their own interests. And when it is alleged on the one side that the Amendment is highly beneficial to the working classes, and, on the other, that it directly and powerfully tends to impair the independence of their position in the face of their employers, I must say that in relation to those two points, the one the pecuniary advantage and benefit of the man who is dependent for himself and his family on his daily labour, and the other the independence of his position in relation to his employers, the working classes are, I think, the best judges of their own interests. We have no doubt whatever what that judgment is. Let it be under- 855 stood that in what I say and in what I am about to say I make no charge whatever. Do not let it be supposed I make any charge whatever against the leaders and Directors of the great company which has taken so leading a part in promoting this Amendment of the House of Lords. I neither intend to state, nor to imply, nor to insinuate anything that is in any degree inconsistent with their high position in the country and in the administration of the vast interests committed to them. I do not doubt they have gone as far as they can in the endeavour to secure that the judgment of the working classes on this question shall be an impartial judgment. I do not doubt at all that, in providing that this judgment should be given by ballot, they think that they have done all that is in their power to make an effectual provision, where we think it is an ineffectual provision. Let us look at this matter as it stands. It must be admitted, even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that, were all the companies in the country to solicit the persons whom they employ to enter into this principle of contracting out, there would be a very large amount of disinclination produced. The limited extent to which the contracting out principle has been adopted shows that employers in general do not feel the ground secure with reference to the adoption of such a scheme, and, for my part, I think that to put employers in a situation, by an enactment of this kind, in which they are, as it were, invited to invite their workmen to contract out of the Bill—to put them in a position in which they will have to make to their workmen a solicitation likely to be very largely viewed with aversion or actually refused—is not in itself a very wise measure in the interests of the employer. I am bound to say, as it appears to me, that it is impossible to regard the secrecy of the ballot in a case of this kind as containing anything like the security which I have no doubt the proposers of it desire it should provide. Let us consider what is the ballot under our Parliamentary system. I remember very well that when the ballot was the favourite idea, and no more than the idea, of a Party in this House—the Liberal Party or the Radical Party—and had not yet been considered in its details, the fashion was to present a Bill that all 856 Parliamentary elections should thenceforward be taken by way of ballot, and that was the Bill upon which the question was tested. But when the question came into the hands of a responsible Government and had to be treated with a view to practical legislation and to instrumental provision to secure the secrecy of the vote, what was found? It was found to be a most delicate matter, requiring developed and elaborate legislation. It occupied many weeks in this House, and the House of Lords found it so terrible a question that, although it reached that House in the mouth of July, it was totally impossible for them to grapple with it, and they spent six weeks upon it, and then put it aside for another year. I think I am bound to admit this: that although I believe that was an unfortunate and unnecessary proceeding, yet when it came again to this House it was found that the legislation, though substantially good, after all the time spent upon it, was not absolutely perfect, and the Government found that some amendment would still have to be made in the Bill to make it perfect. [Opposition cheers.] Therefore, you see, and by your cheers you assert, that it is a thing of enormous difficulty to secure a secret ballot, requiring the greatest care of Parliament and the application of weeks and months of its time, and all those careful and elaborate provisions which you cannot possibly have in the case of a ballot by which the will of the workman is to be declared in regard to the acceptance of these contracting-out arrangements. I will not discuss in this House the special causes in cases between employers and employed which render it very nearly impossible to secure the secrecy which it is the object of the ballot to confer. This must be borne in mind—I hope it will not be thought that I am saying anything offensive—that if the ballot be not absolutely secret, if it is known, or if it is open to surmise in what way the votes of the men are given, the employer has it in his power to award encouragement or discouragement to the men who support or oppose his view, without giving any reason for his course. He may transfer them from one place to another; he may change the character of their employment from one more agreeable to one 857 less agreeable; he may even find that he has no further occasion for their services; and, if he does, nobody is entitled, and nobody ought to be entitled, to call upon the employer to say why he has dismissed or parted with the men. I am not going to make any charge against employers, but against these things which may happen in particular cases it is our bounden duty to make the best provision in our power. We believe that the security of the ballot is imperfect; we believe that the working classes recognise that amongst other reasons for objecting to this particular provision; and these, in our opinion, are conclusive grounds for declining to incorporate it in the law. If we incorporate it in the law, it applies to the whole circuit of the subject and to the whole mass of the labouring population. Everywhere the employer may think that it is greatly for his interest, or greatly for the interest of his men, that this system should be adopted. It will be a system lying everywhere at the door of the men. Am I to be told that by so adopting it we are going to put an end to all voluntary arrangements which now subsist? No; on the contrary, I have hoard the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. D. Plunket) distinctly indicate to us—whether he gave a pledge or not I will not say— that the Loudon and North Western Railway Company would not continue its subscription if the policy of which he approved were not adopted. But I have been told that in another place another representative of the London and North Western Company, still more authoritative even than the right hon. Gentleman, gave no such pledge at all, and passed by the question. At any rate, we know this: that many other companies and many other personages —and we have had authoritative declarations even in the House of Lords itself—who contemplate the perseverance by the Government in the policy which they have adopted do not mean, and do not wish us to believe that they mean, to desist from these voluntary arrangements in consequence of our for bidding the contracting out of the Act by law. Therefore, for reasons to which I have sufficiently referred, and in which I think I should not be justified in dwelling at greater length, we strongly recommend the House to decline to receive, and therefore to decline to consider, 858 these Amendments of the Lords. We think there is no doubt as to the prevailing opinion—oven to put it very moderately, for it is, I think, putting it very moderately—of the working classes themselves. We have no doubt—I am sure very many of us have no doubt—that these are questions upon which the working classes themselves are eminently entitled and qualified to form a sound judgment. We not only doubt, but we even go so far as to deny, not the good intention, but the efficacy of the provision intended for their protection, and, finally, we ask that this provision be not incorporated in the Bill, because it will tend by a subtle, but a most extended, operation of causes too efficient in their nature to impair that position of independence and self-action on the part of the working man in the face of his employer which it is essential for the benefit of both that he should always be able to hold.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Order be discharged."—(Mr. IV. E. Gladstone.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
We have all listened to the right hon. Gentleman with pleasure, but I confess that, after listening to the address which he has just made, I am somewhat at a loss to understand for what purpose it was delivered. I came down to the House, hearing that the right hon. Gentleman had taken the charge of this Motion out of the hands of the Minister who has hitherto conducted the Bill, in the expectation that I was to hear from him something that we had not hoard before— something specially interesting: something, at all events, that might require special notice by this House. As a matter of fact, what have we heard? We have hoard a re-statement—not, if I may say so with all courtesy, a very powerful restatement—of the arguments with which we have been made familiar during the numerous—I will not say innumerable— Debates which we have had on this subject, and, finally, the right hon. Gentleman has announced his intention to do what I think the Government have a perfect right to do, and what I am far from seeking to prevent them from doing if they are so disposed—namely, to drop their own Bill and send it into the limbo of forgotten and abandoned measures, but it would not be courteous to so great 859 an authority in this House if I were to leave the arguments he has laid before us without some kind of reply. What are those arguments? The first was that the right hon. Gentleman has convinced himself by such means of obversation as are open to him that the working classes as a body are in favour of the course which he has adopted, and are against the Amendment, and not only against the Amendment of the Lords, but so much against it that they would rather lose all the privileges which the Bill gives than have these privileges associated with this terrible Amendment. What evidence is there to adduce, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by any other Member of the House, of this statement as regards the opinion of the working classes? Under our existing representative system every man in this House, on whatever side he sits, is dependent for his position in this House upon the votes of the working classes. We, not less than gentlemen opposite, are sent here by the working classes. You may think we represent them very badly; you do think so. But whatever your opinion may be as to the way in which we carry out our trust, that trust has been confided in us by the working classes of the country, and by the working classes the manner in which we carry out that trust will finally be judged, and we should not be found to rank ourselves in opposition to the proposals of the Government did we not find that we had behind us the opinion of members of our constituencies to whose favour we owe our position in this House. The right hon. Gentleman especially alluded to the opinions given by what are called the working class Representatives in this House—a body of gentlemen of great ability to whom I, at all events, think we owe a great debt of gratitude for the work which they do in this House and for the share which they take in our labours. I believe all these gentlemen have supported the Government, but I am not sure that if you knew their opinions you would find that in their hearts they took the view of the Government—["Oh, oh!"]—that, at all events, they regarded these various provisions of the Bill as having the proportionate importance given to them by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I believe the Member for the Ince 860 Division—one of the gentlemen to whom I alluded—stated in his speech delivered only the other day that this was a comparatively immaterial part of the Bill.
§ MR. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)
I am sorry to object to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman; but I never made such a statement. I think it is a vital part of the Bill, and always have thought so.
MR. A. J.BALFOUR
I quite accept the hon. Member's statement; I misunderstood him. There is another gentleman, the Member for Durham, one of the most distinguished of the working-class Representatives in the House, who has himself passed a great eulogy on the Societies whose existence is in question under the Amendment. He stated that these Societies had conferred great benefits on the working men and that it would be undesirable to do anything to injure them. That brings me to consider the next argument of the right hon. Gentleman, which was that we had conclusive proof that the working classes objected to the Amendments because, according to him, the great body of the Friendly Societies objected to them. If the Friendly Societies objected to them, evidently they object to those that are in existence as much as to those that might be created. Therefore, the Friendly Societies are in diametrical opposition both to the Government and to the Member to whom I have just referred, who desires, as apparently the Home Secretary desires, to see these Associations kept in existence, although, according to the Prime Minister himself, the Friendly Societies object to them. That is a most inconsistent position for the Government to take up; and if it were true that the Friendly Societies did really object to them, I should be amazed at the support which, by speech, if not by vote, has been afforded to the existing Societies by various Members who sit on the Benches opposite. But what is this argument about Friendly Societies which bulked so largely in the speech of the Prime Minister? You may look through our Debates on this Bill, beginning last April, going through last December, and resumed on the Lords Amendments only the other day, and I venture to say that, until the speech of the Member for Battersea, no allusion from one end of our discussion to the other was ever made 861 to the Friendly Societies. The right hon. Gentleman, who attaches so much value to this argument, might ask the Minister in charge of the Bill who sits next to him whether once in our long arguments that Minister has ever urged the opinion of the Friendly Societies upon the subject? Never once! It has never been touched upon; it has never boon mentioned. Why is that? I will tell the House. There is no foundation whatever for the view now put forward. There are many Members sitting near me on this side of the House who are members of Friendly Societies. I myself am naturally and necessarily daily receiving letters on subjects of public interest from persons who think it is my interest to know what they communicate; but neither my friends nor myself have received a single communication from any Friendly Society indicating that they have the rooted objection to this scheme which, now at the eleventh hour—the eleventh hour and fiftieth minute—has been suddenly discovered by the Government to be a conclusive argument for the rejection of the Bill. I began my speech by accusing the right hon. Gentleman of having somewhat unnecessarily repeated arguments with which we are already familiar; but that does not apply to this part of his speech. This is the most novel invention, the newest patent that has been brought out for quarrelling with the Lords. I am bound to say that an argument which appears, as far as we can judge, to have less foundation in fact was never urged even in the Deflates on this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that even employers appeared to have some objection to contracting out, or some doubt about it. [Mr. W. F. GLADSTONE: I did not say that.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman appeared to infer, from the fact that but a comparatively small number of these Societies existed, that the employers in these arrangements with their workmen were walking on uncertain ground. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE dissented.] I certainly understood that; but I shall only be too glad to be relieved of part of my task. I will, therefore, go on to deal with another part of the speech in which the right hon. Gentleman certainly referred to the employers. He appeared to think that if the Bill be 862 passed as amended by the Lords there will be in many cases a temptation held out to employers to abuse it for their own purposes. I am wholly unable to understand that argument. Recollect that under the Amendment as sent to us by the Lords it will be obligatory upon every employer who makes arrangements with his workmen under the contracting-out clause to spend about ten times as much of his own money in compensating his workmen as they would recover if they were left to their legal remedy, That, in the first place, shows why it is that comparatively few of these Societies exist, and why there is not the slightest chance or probability of employers being placed under undue temptation to use the contracting out machinery for the purpose of oppressing their men. The thing is absurd. This clause, if it is ever used at all, will be used, can only be used, by philanthropic employers anxious to make arrangements which will benefit their workmen, and which, although it will cost them money, will save all the difficulties, friction, and expense incident, and necessarily incident, to litigation. What chance is there of that class of employer abusing this privilege? The fears are illusory; they are empty fears, which have, so far as I can see, no shadow of foundation. But even if they were well founded, do you not think that in the clause as sent down from the Lords there are sufficient safeguards of another kind to prevent workmen being oppressed? Not at all, the right hon. Gentleman says; it is true the Peers have put in the ballot, but the ballot is a most uncertain method. It is not an instrument on which you can rely. It is not a means by which those who are not anxious to make their opinions known should give expression to them. This is the new discovery of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Party to which he belongs. I should like to ask him—Does he think that the ballot is a bad instrument for arriving at the truth when it is employed to discover whether workmen do or do not desire the kind of arrangement to be permitted by the Lords Amendment? The light hon. Gentleman quotes in support of his position the opinions of Trade Union leaders. How are they selected? How do they get at the opinion of their men? How: except 863 by the ballot? Why, Sir, the ballot is at this moment the most familiar instrument by which the opinion of workmen is obtained by workmen for workmen. Do you tell me that Trades Unions habitually employ without abuse a machinery which cannot be just as well employed for the purpose of giving the men freedom to make beneficial arrangements of this kind with their masters? The right hon. Gentleman told us there were cases in which it would be better to have half a loaf than no bread, but this was not one of them. If there be any sincerity in the praise showered upon the Bill by the Government, this is not a case of half a loaf being better than no bread, but it is a case of nine-tenths, or at least three-fourths, of a loaf being thrown away simply because you cannot get the whole loaf as you choose to have it. Let me recall attention to the merits of the measure as they were originally proclaimed to us by the Home Secretary. He told us this was a Bill for extending the benefits of the Employers' Liability Act to classes of our population now excluded from them; he told us that the Bill gave immense benefit to the working classes by abolishing notice of injury as the condition precedent to an action; he told us that it abolished the time limit within which, under the Act of 1880, actions should be brought; he told us that it abolished the limitation of the amount of damages that could be claimed. To these original provisions several have been added, some by Members on this side of the House. There is a provision about dangerous employments, and there is one about sub-contractors added by an engineering friend of mine below the Gangway. Above all, the Bill abolishes the doctrine of common employment, which, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, was an untenable relic from an antiquated system of law, and under this provision the workman would no longer be deprived of that right which, in common with the rest of the public, was equitably his due. Well, Sir, every one of these provisions is independent of this question of contracting out. If you are sincere in wishing to confer all these benefits on the working class, how can yon possibly say that simply because you cannot get this, which you consider an additional advantage, all the other advantages are to be thrown into the sea? 864 I recognise that every Government is the judge, the best judge, of its own in-competency. I recognise, and I fully admit, that if the Government think that nine-tenths of their work is worthless, it is not for us on this side to contradict them. Legislative infanticide has always been recognised as the privilege of a Government; but I never knew any Government sot about the destruction of its own offspring with such evident gusto as has been put into that operation by many a right hon. Gentleman opposite. Only this I claim: that if they are going to commit this act of infanticide, which I do not mean in any way to resist, do not let them go afterwards to the country and say what a beautiful Bill it was and that we destroyed it. Do not let them praise the virtues of their offspring at the very moment that they are cutting its throat. The two positions are absolutely antagonistic and inconsistent. If you choose to think, as you are at liberty to think, that it is a worthless Bill, do not go about the country claiming credit for it. What was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman in anticipation of that line of attack? He said that poison had been introduced into the Bill by the Amendment of the Lords, which spread over the whole men sure and destroyed even those parts of the Bill which the Lords Amendment does not appear to touch. What is this poison? What is this taint? The taint is the taint of liberty. The poison is the poison of freedom. There was a time when hon. Gentlemen opposite, or rather when the Party of which they claim to be the successors, were not merely admirers, but almost fanatic admirers, of the doctrine of liberty carried into every relation of life. These days have apparently long gone by. Now you have only to introduce into a Hill, safeguarded by every species of protection, even the smallest drop of this poison of liberty, and the whole measure, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, becomes corrupt and affected with the poison, becomes food unfit for human consumption, something only fit to be tossed away by the most rapid procedure known to Parliament. These are now principles which, if accepted and acted upon, augur very ill, in my judgment, for the legislative efforts of this Assembly in the future. If I really believed hon. Gentlemen opposite were 865 animated by this disinterested detestation of freedom in their action in this matter, I should take a very dark view of the political future of this country. However, Sir, I think a different object may, perhaps, have had something to do with the action of the Government. It may be that they object—I hope it is not so— not to the Amendments of the Lords, but to the Lords having Amendments at all; not that they think their Bill is spoilt, but even at the risk or with the certainty of losing their Bill they think it better for the Liberal Party to have a bone of contention with the other House than that the workmen of this country should have their position ameliorated. That was the choice before them. They have chosen; and it, will rest, not with us now, but with the country to determine whether, even on their own ground and from their own point of view, they have chosen wisely.
§ *THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH, Fife, E.)
I confess that I have rarely listened in this House with more astonishment than I have to the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. What did he tell us? He said that we were entirely wrong in supposing this Amendment to be vital to the Bill, and that we either misunderstood our own measure or did not reflect the opinion of the working classes of the country on the question. He says that he himself and those who are associated with him, having been returned by working men, are equally entitled to speak with us upon the subject. It is remarkable, however, that neither he nor the Party which supports him will venture— if I understand his declaration aright— to go into the Lobby against this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the opinion of the country, and we shall be quite prepared in due time to take the opinion of the country upon the question; but, in the meantime, we cannot divest ourselves of our responsibility as a Legislative Assembly. The right hon. Gentleman, in a most instructive and useful speech, has now informed us that, after full deliberation, he, the Leader of the Unionist Party, is going to join with us in a unanimous vote in condemnation of the House of Lords. I confess that after a declaration such as that the further prolongation of this 866 Debate is a delusion and a farce. The right hon. Gentleman has enumerated at considerable length the many excellent and beneficial changes which this Bill makes in the law, and I never felt so proud of my own share in the authorship of this Bill as I did when I heard the right hon. Gentleman's declaration. From the beginning be, and those whom be represents, have described this as a very small and insignificant measure, and one making only slight changes in the law. Rut it is only when they see that the measure is likely to be abandoned that they for the first time have discovered its merits and its advantages.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman apparently did not quite catch my argument. I quoted from the right hon. Gentleman's own speech as indicating the views of the Government on the merits of their own Bill, and I pointed to the action which they proposed to take as a measure of the sincerity of their original declarations.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
I will deal with the position which the right hon. Gentleman now takes up. It is quite true that in my opinion the Bill, if passed into law, will confer all the advantages which we have now described, but if passed with this Amendment it would be in the power of any employer, or body of employers, to make a kind of Alsatia, and to exclude from the operation of the law the whole of the men in their employment. I say that neither I nor the Government will be a party to such sham legislation. We will not profess to confer upon the working classes great and solid advantages and at the same time put it in their power, put it in the power of their employers, by arrangements which the Prime Minister has shown this Amendment provides no safeguard against, to deprive them of those advantages. [Opposition cries of "Ballot !"] Some one says "The Ballot." What is the ballot when it is applied to a state of things such as these without any safeguards and securities? To talk of the ballot in this way is to elevate it into a superstition and a fetish. The ballot is nothing but machinery whereby a voter may give his vote in secrecy without being exposed to undue influence, and without the way ho votes being divulged to others. How do you maintain these 867 safeguards in the exercise of the Parliamentary and the municipal franchise? You maintain them by a stringent series of criminal and penal provisions under which whoever divulges the way in which a man votes is subject to the operation of the Criminal Law. If this Amendment, which is the result, as we are now told, of the mature and deliberate wisdom of the House of Lords, were passed into law, it would give the ballot it is true, but give it without one of the safeguards which make it effectual. I say, therefore, that the whole of this machinery of the ballot is nothing more than a fringe and an embroidery, and will have no practical or effectual result, and I am speaking my own deliberate conviction, which represents the view of the large majority of the working classes of the country, when I say that the clause in its present form would place the liberty and the independence of the working men at the mercy of the employers, and would therefore afford an irresistible temptation to the worst class of the employers, against whom this Bill is directed, to take away the very benefits which the right hon. Gentleman has enumerated, and which the Government would undoubtedly have conferred by the Bill if it had been passed in its original form. I will not go into the question, which is after all one of detail, as to the amount which the employer would contribute under this clause. The right hon. Gentleman has told us, using I think most extravagant calculations, that the employer would have had to contribute ten times as much under the clause as he would have had to do under the Bill as it originally stood. In the form in which it was originally proposed the employer could have got out of his liability if he contributed 6d. in every £100. I pointed out the objection to that, and the Lords raised the contribution to a quarter, and have now, in an excess of generosity, raised it to one-third. The right hon. Gentleman seriously contends that when out of £100 the workman contributes £66 and the employer only £33, the latter contributes ten times as much as he would had he been left to the operation of the Bill as it was originally drawn. That is a statement of the case which may, I think, be left to regulate itself. Only one word more. The right hon. Gentle- 868 man has spoken of this as a case of legislative infanticide, and the worst form of infanticide, as being practised by parents upon their own offspring. I demur altogether to that description. If this Bill is killed, it is killed not by us, but by those who have crippled and mutilated it. We decline to recognise in the Bill as amended by the Lords our own offspring or to acknowledge any responsibility of parentage with regard to it. For my part, and speaking, as I do, not for myself alone, but on behalf of the Government, I express our deliberate opinion when I say that the Bill, if passed with this Amendment in it, would not be worth the while of this House to offer or worth the while of the working classes of this country to accept. I am glad to know that in expressing that opinion I only anticipate what is about to be the unanimous judgment of the House, and I think that we may fairly leave it to the country, to which the right hon. Gentleman has appealed, to decide.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I really cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman feels very secure of his position, or he would not have condescended to the clap-trap in which he has indulged. He taunts us with not being prepared to take a Division upon the present occasion. What have we to divide upon? What is the point upon which my right hon. Friend is still in doubt as to the opinion of the House of Commons? We have divided upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, and by a majority of two we have decided that it was an Amendment which was worthy of consideration, and no doubt in favour of that Amendment my right hon. Friend will be prepared to quote the preponderance of the feeling of the working classes of the country as expressed by the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson and the Friendly Societies. Is it upon the Amendment from the House of Lords that my right hon. Friend wants the opinion of the House of Commons? We have divided upon that Amendment, and by a majority of 22 in a full House it has been decided that that Amendment was not worthy of the acceptance of the House. Why, having expressed our opinion, with results which I suppose are satisfactory to my right hon. Friend, and which are certainly satisfactory to us, 869 should he now ask us to repeat our opinions? Surely that would be a complete waste of time. But the question now before us is a different one; it is whether the Government should be allowed to withdraw their own Bill. Why, in Heaven's name, should we stay their avenging hand? If they wish to commit this kind of infanticide, what interest is it of ours to prevent them from doing so? I regret that they did not propose a similar Resolution with regard to some of their other Bills. They would have saved us a great deal of trouble if in the early part of the Session they had followed the same course with regard to a Bill of a different kind. I say that it is not our business to stand between them and the decision that they have arrived at. We shall not take any responsibility. Yon have introduced the Bill and have determined to throw it over on your own responsibility, and you will not be successful in attempting to cast your responsibility upon us. Let us see the position that my right hon. Friend proposes to take in the country, as he has taken it in this House. He says, "We have a great Bill; we are prouder of it now than ever." Perhaps there is some reason for that, inasmuch as it has been materially improved, the improvements having been largely suggested to the Government by their opponents. As the Bill came in it did not include domestic servant, or seamen, or persons in clerical positions, or managers or foremen; and all of these have been given the advantages of the Bill by the Government, it is true, but at the suggestion of their opponents. There is also the clause with regard to dangerous employments, which was suggested not by me, but by another opponent. Therefore, whatever the Bill was when it, was introduced, it must be admitted that now it is very much more valuable. Now just consider what it does. It does abolish the doctrine of common employment; it does deal with dangerous trades; it does give compensation in regard to every accident which is caused by negligence in every employment. And this is the Bill which the Government are now going to throw over, and which, they declare, has been so poisoned that it is not worth while pursuing it any longer. I want to impress the House with the 870 vigour of the language of my right hon. Friend. This Amendment, ho says, would give to every employer the power to exempt and to make an Alsatia of his particular employment. To exempt— Yes. But to make an Alsatia of it! It is something so terrible which can happen under this Amendment that the whole of these other great advantages are not worth taking if they must be accompanied by this Amendment. My right hon. Friend says, further, that this Amendment is likely to place the liberty and independence of the workman at the mercy of his employer. Will the House consider for a moment practically what is going to happen if the Government accept the Amendment of the Lords, and if the Bill is accordingly passed into law this week? In the first place, as regards 99 per cent. of the working men of the country, the Amendment of the Lords does not touch them. Ninety-nine per cent. of the working men of the country —domestic servants, sailors, artisans, and labourers included—will immediately enter into the full enjoyment of all the advantages given by the Bill. The Amendment affects only 1 per cent. of the working classes; and what does it do with regard to them? Does it injure them? If it were injuring even a small minority that might be a reason why, in their magnanimity, the 99 per cent. should give up the advantages offered in order not to wrong the I per cent. But it does not injure that 1 percent. It only enables them to retain advantages which in their own view are superior to the advantages offered by the Bill. I appeal to the Prime Minister. Are not the working classes the best judges of what is in their own interests? Remember, what the right hon. Gentleman is claiming is that the working classes are not only the best judges of what is in their own interests, but are also the best judges of what is good for other people. The 99 per cent. are not merely to have full power and authority of taking the advantages of the Bill for themselves, but they are to have full power and authority to deprive other people of greater advantages which, by their experience and knowledge as working men, they are fully able to estimate at their proper value. I ask the House, is it not an exaggeration of language to say that an 871 Amendment only reserving to 1 per cent. of the working classes of the country at the present time the right to retain an arrangement which they prefer is an Amendment which would deprive the working classes generally of their liberty and independence? Of course, I know what my right hon. Friend means. He means that, not satisfied with the 1 per cent. who at present have the advantages of these arrangements, no sooner will the Bill he passed than every employer in the country will begin to coerce his workpeople to contract out of this valuable Act, and will adopt an arrangement under Lord Dudley's Amendment. Does my right hon. Friend give any credit whatever for common sense to the employers and manufacturers of the country? Why do not they do that now—why have they not done it hitherto? Hitherto there has been absolutely nothing to prevent it. Hitherto every employer in the country might, if he pleased, have "made an Alsatia" of his employment, and placed "the independence and liberty of his workpeople" at his mercy. Why have they not done it? There was no law to prevent them. They have not done it, in the first place, because they have not the slightest desire to do it; and, in the second place, because it would not be to their pecuniary interest to do it. The fact is, there are now, and there always will be, only a small proportion of the employers who will be generous and liberal enough to contribute the large sums which are required to enable them to contract out of the Act. It has been proved again and again that every one of the firms who have made an arrangement of this kind has lost money by it. My right hon. Friend quibbled with, or rather disputed, the language of the Leader of the Opposition, who said that the employers who made these arrangements paid ten times as much as they need. The Leader of the Opposition was, I think, quoting the statement of Mr. Tangye, who said that, as far as his firm was concerned, they had paid ten times as much as any claim which could have been made against them under the existing Bill. But I will admit that the difference would not, on the average, be as great as that. But I do not doubt for a moment—indeed, I am absolutely certain—that the contribution under the Amendment will be on the 872 average more than twice as much as any conceivable liability under the Bill, and it may be a great deal more. Let the House take it for granted that there will not be anything like that universal decision on the part of the employers of this country to spend twice as much as they need in order to benefit their workmen. It will only be in cases where the employers really have the interests of the workpeople at heart; and desire to establish a personal good feeling between themselves and those who work for them that these agreements are likely to be established. Therefore, it is only for a very small minority of the total cases with which we have to deal that the Government are deliberately and with their eyes open going to sacrifice what I am ready to admit is a very useful Hill. Of course, I do not believe that the people of common sense or ordinary impartiality will admit that the Government have given a sufficient reason. There is another reason, and it is the true reason, for the action of the Government. We know what has happened to the Employers' Liability Bill. I wonder whether the same thing is going to happen with the Parish Councils Bill. Here is the position. When a Bill goes from one House to another it is perfectly certain that, as long as we have a second Chamber, however it may be composed, some Amendments will be made. If this House is to say that it will not receive any Amendment at all, there must be always a collision, and at all events there will be an opportunity for a collision if a Government desires to make it. As far as this Bill is concerned, I do not think that the calculation of the Government is a wise one or in accordance with sound policy. I am perfectly convinced that, in spite of the opinion of the Friendly Societies—and I venture to say that that opinion has not been accurately stated for our information this evening—but in spite of all the alleged opinions of the Friendly Societies, and in spite of the Trades Union leaders, I am perfectly certain that the people of this country are not going to rise in their wrath against the House of Lords because they have consented to reserve liberty of action to 1 per cent. of the working classes of the country.
§ MR. C. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had told them that 99 per cent. of the working classes of the country would not be affected by this Amendment, and would receive the benefit of the Bill if the Amendment were adopted. He understood that statement on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to mean that 99 per cent. of the working classes of the country were opposed to contracting out, and would therefore get all the benefits of the Bill, even if the Amendment were accepted.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
My hon. Friend, I am sure, does not wish to misrepresent me. Ninety-nine per cent. will not have the opportunity. I do not say they would not contract out if they could get out, because whenever an offer of this kind is made it is invariably accepted.
§ MR. C. FENWICK
said, he must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but he certainly understood his argument in a different sense. Personally, he was very glad that the Government had taken up the position they had done in relation to this question. It could not have been acceptable to the great majority of the working people outside the House if they had accepted the Bill as amended in another place. The Leader of the Opposition, referring to the argument of the Prime Minister with regard to Friendly Societies, had said that it was not until the eleventh hour that anything had been heard of the attitude of the Friendly Societies in relation to this question. Was the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the 22nd of December last a large deputation waited upon Lord Salisbury; that that deputation was accompanied by representatives of the Foresters' Society, of the Oddfellows' Society, and of the Hearts of Oak Society —three of the largest Friendly Societies in the United Kingdom—who were unanimous in urging on Lord Salisbury the necessity of preventing contracting out of the Act? The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the large amount of correspondence which had come to him on this question. He (Mr. Fenwick) was a much loss important individual than the right hon. Gentleman; hut within the last fortnight he had received scores and scores of resolutions, and only that day 874 he had had to reply to a dozen resolutions which had reached him from various parts of the Kingdom, all protesting strongly against the action of the House of Lords on the Bill, and declaring that they would rather not have the Bill at all than accept it as amended in another place. Ho was often charged by some of his hon. Friends with being rather too slow in moving on this question. Well, he did not wish to offer any threat whatever to the House, but he was as conscious of this as he was of the fact that he was standing in the House: that Parliament had heard the minimum of the workmen's demand in the Bill which was about to be rejected. The next time Parliament got the opportunity of voting upon an Employers' Liability Bill it would be by no means such a mild measure as that now before them. The next Bill would not be a Bill throwing the responsibility of proof for negligence on the injured workman or his representatives: it would be a Bill embodying the Swiss principle and custom of this country, so far as railways were concerned, and throwing the onus of proof on the employer instead of on the workman or his representative. He did not say it threateningly, but, in his humble judgment, the House of Lords had been responsible for encouraging the demand which labour would make when the next Employers' Liability Bill came before the House. The Leader of the House had said that, in the opinion of the Government, the taint of this Bill was the taint of liberty. What liberty would he given to workmen if there was handed to two-thirds of the men employed in any industry the power of compelling one-third to enter a Society against their will? This was what was proposed by the Amendment. It was quite true that the workmen who objected might give notice to their employer, and thereby get free. Since the last Debate, however, he had had the opportunity of conversing with several employers—some of them Members of Parliament—and they had been frank enough to tell him that if two-thirds of their workmen were in favour of contracting out of the Bill, they would not be so stupid as to retain the services of the third who were opposed to such an arrangement. He was certain that the great majority of the workmen outside the House would approve of the action 875 taken by the Prime Minister in moving the rejection of the Bill. The Trades Congress had often been referred to, and he frankly admitted that the Trades Congress did not represent the whole of the working classes of the Kingdom; but he defied any Member to point to a body of opinion among the working classes equal, or at all approaching, to a body of opinion represented by that Congress. Many of the leaders of the Trades Unions which took part in that Congress were staunch supporters of that Conservative Party, and yet, without a dissentient, for 13 years the Congress had declared against the principle of contracting out. The Government would earn the gratitude of thousands of workmen outside the House by the course they had taken.
§ *MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
said, it was quite plain, both from the action of the Government and from the declarations made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), that Members had come down simply to kill the Bill on that occasion. He thought, however, that the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for West Birmingham of hostility to the course proposed by the Government would sound very shallow in the ears of the country when it was discovered that they were not prepared to make the slightest effort to save the Bill. The Member for West Birmingham had indulged in a glowing eulogy of the Bill, and had shown what benefits it would confer upon 99 per cent. of the working classes, and then he had asked: "What interest is it to us whether we pass it or not?" There could not have been a more flagrant declaration of Party feeling than that. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Leader of the Opposition would take the slightest step to make one more fight for a Bill which they considered so valuable and for the principle of Insurance Funds. If he (Mr. M'Laren) could find a Teller to tell with him he should divide the House against the action of the Government. It seemed to him a very serious thing, when they had spent the labour which had been bestowed upon this Bill, and when most of its provisions had passed with almost the unanimous consent of 876 the House, that in the end they should make no effort to pass it into law. He did not cast the whole blame of wrecking the Bill on the Government, but he should certainly be very sorry to throw the whole blame on the House of Lords. Ho thought a very small amount of conciliation on the part of the Government would have enabled the Bill to pass. It had been very evident since the first rejection of Lord Dudley's Amendment that the House of Commons would not agree to the proposals of that Amendment. It first came down in such a crude and imperfect form that it would not have provided any adequate safeguard for the working man. He himself voted against it in its original form, but he hoped it would be possible to come to a compromise on an Amendment of a more limited character. When the Amendment as amended was carried the other night it was his belief that the House of Lords would have accepted it with the omission of the words put in by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), and he should have supported the adoption of such a course. When, however, he considered the alterations that had been made in the Amendment, and especially the alteration moved by Lord Monk Bretton on the previous evening, and when ho remembered that the question was whether the Bill should be abandoned entirely, and the working classes should lose the benefit of it not only at the present moment, but possibly for some years, or whether the House of Commons should accept the Amendment in the very modified form in which it was now presented, he came distinctly to the conclusion that it was the duty of the House to accept it in that modified form. The question really was whether, if a man could obtain something better than the Act by giving up the Act, he was to be allowed to do so or not? The Government said ho might obtain something better than the Act if he could keep the Act as well. That would be very good if it were attainable, which it did not seem to be where Societies now existed. He (Mr. M'Laren), however, was not prepared to vote for an abstract declaration in favour of a measure which within a fortnight of its coming into law would terminate the Mutual Insurance Societies in one of which his constituents were interested. The fact 877 that the Government had accepted the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby giving these Societies three years' lease of life was the clearest possible proof that without the Amendment such Societies would be terminated within a fortnight in cases where the workmen were engaged at a fortnight's notice. He thought that in the form in which it first came down to the Commons Lord Dudley's Amendment might be regarded as a certificate of the incompetence of the Lords for industrial legislation. The present form of the Amendment, however, was entirely due to the criticism of the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith). Lord Camperdown and Lord Dudley went home and carefully studied the speech of the Home Secretary. They then drew up Amendments to meet every point of criticism which the Home Secretary had made, barring, of course, the main criticism that ho did not want the Amendment at all, and then they remodelled the clause on the lines of the Home Secretary's objection. The Home Secretary said the Ballot provided no safeguard at all, but the light hon. Gentleman had overlooked the provision of the Amendment that the Board of Trade might make Rules for taking a secret ballot in such a way as to ensure that the workmen might vote freely and without restraint. To say that it was impossible to take a ballot, in such a way as to prevent absolute secrecy was to ask the House to believe that which was scarcely credible. The greatest of the alterations in the Amendment was that which was made on the proposition of Lord Monk Bretton on the previous day. Lord Monk Bretton's Amendment, which provided that the Board of Trade should not allow contracting out in reference to any Society where the number of men was small, struck out from the operation of the Amendment about three-fourths of the working classes, and greatly altered the position. It would prevent contracting out in the case of all the domestic servants in the country. As the Amendment first came down it would have been possible for the mistress of any household if she employed a cook, a parlourmaid, and a housemaid to form a Mutual Insurance Society and arrange for contracting out of the Act, by getting two out of the three to vote in favour of it. 878 There was no provision with regard to numbers. But Lord Monk Bretton's Amendment struck out all the domestic servants of the country from the possibility of joining these Societies, all the agricultural labourers, all the clerks, the operatives employed at most of the factories, the men employed in small workshops, and most of the sailors, because most of the industries of the country were carried on on a small scale, and there were not sufficient persons in the employment of the great majority of employers to form Societies. Therefore, except in large employments, the Amendment would not come into operation at all. The Board of Trade, having unlimited discretion, would probably fix the minimum number of workmen sufficient, to form one of these Societies, and to secure the secrecy of the ballot, at 500. If they took the number of employments where there wore less than 500 hands, and the number where there were more than 500, be had no hesitation in saying that three-fourths of the men of the country were excluded from the Amendment. They were face to face with the alternative of the absolute destruction of the Societies, and, on the other hand, the restricted condition imposed by the clause. He admitted that the clause went further than he should desire to see it go, but the evil suggested by the Government was the greater of the two. The Government had power to carry out their desires, and could withdraw the Bill that day: but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary whether he was nearer to the passing of an Employers' Liability Bill now than he was on the 10th of November when he rejected his (Mr. M' Laren's) moderate proposal, and whether he expected ever to pass a Bill without some such clause? Doubtless many of the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues, as well as many Unionist Members, would look back upon the opportunity lost upon that occasion with regret. The Home Secretary, it was true, had gained a victory in the House by his powers of debate and by maintaining the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords; but at what a cost! The Bill was dead, and the victory had been gained at the cost of thousands of injured men and women who would suffer between that day and the date when any Employers' Liability 879 Bill was passed, which abolished the doctrine of common employment. In these circumstances, he did not think that any injured workmen would care much for the victory of the House of Commons over the House of Lords. He did not think, therefore, that when the working men came to consider this question at the ballot-box they would be particularly anxious to support the action of the Government. He did not think that the widow of the workman who was killed through the negligence of someone else would thank the Government; but women, unfortunately, had no vote, and might be disregarded in the matter. No adequate reason had been given by the Government for killing the measure; it had been done for the sake of a Party fight. There might have been a compromise which would have saved the Bill; indeed, according to all Parliamentary traditions, when a difference of opinion existed between the two Houses, there should be a conference between them. The only compromise that could at any time have saved the measure was the one he had originally suggested, and if the House of Lords had accepted it, the Government would have been obliged to do so, too. He regretted the abandonment of the measure, and he believed that the action of the Opposition in refusing any longer to attempt to carry the Bill, coupled with the cynical declaration of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham that it was nothing to him what became of it, would lead the country to blame both Parties alike. He appealed to the Government to think of the injured workmen who would suffer before Party differences in Parliament were settled. He would ask them to pass the Bill even yet.
§ *SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, it was with real regret that he contemplated what was apparently to be the inevitable result of their long discussions on this question under successive Ministries and in the House and in Committee. The abandonment of the measure would inflict grave injury, in his opinion, on the just and proper interests of the working classes. He had supported this Bill in the House on more than one occasion, and he had supported it consistently, as the Home Secretary would admit, in the Standing Committee. He did so in the case of the 880 Bill of the late Home Secretary, though that was not quite so complete as the present measure, because he believed that the foundation of the prosperity of the industries of the country consisted in the establishment on just and equitable foundations of good relations between employers and employed. He was satisfied that in the present state of the law, and this was admitted on all sides, that those relations were at present neither just nor equitable. They included, for instance, the doctrine of common employment, which if it were suited to our domestic industries in the last century was unsuited to the existing system in our factories and workshops. The present state of the law was not such as could be considered satisfactory. But now this Bill was to be lost, for which there was no adequate justification on either side. He thought that the feeling of the working classes, when they came to consider the whole situation, would be the feeling of old—Quidquid delirant reges,plectuntur Achivi —they would lose everything, whatever the Front Ministerial Bench or the Opposition might gain or lose by the controversy. The course of this Bill had been unfortunate from the first. It was, he thought, unfortunate that Members on his own side of the House abstained from taking part in the discussion in Grand Committee. If the Leaders of the Opposition had been present in Grand Committee, instead of this question being passed over almost in silence, instead of a general and unreserved acceptance of the assurances of the Home Secretary that the voluntary Associations would not be affected—and he was bound to say that, though he and his hon. Friends were in a great minority, the right hon. Gentleman made many concessions—there would have been a Debate at once which would have cleared the air, and which would have rendered unnecessary a large amount of the controversy in the House itself. It was then stated—almost assumed—that what was being done would be of little consequence and that these voluntary Societies would not be interfered with. After all he had heard, he was still in doubt as to the effect this clause would have on contracting out as it affected the Societies. He was of opinion as a lawyer that its effect had been greatly exaggerated, and that with some slight 881 alteration in the constitution of those Societies, or by a change in the form of the agreement itself, as by making it void if a legal remedy were sought aliunde, the grave difficulty which was feared might he avoided. Even while the Kill provided that where a legal remedy was sought the contributions under the agreement should be credited, surely an arrangement which promised so much and which had been claimed as so full of philanthropy and benevolence, and which the Lords themselves said, in their Reasons, had proved to be more than an adequate substitute for workmen, surely the employers would not dream of dropping it in view of the establishment of what was declared to be an inadequate legal remedy. Of this he was sure—and he spoke with full knowledge of the interests of employers, and as one of them —that the policy of the companies which had been philanthropical would be very unwise and uneconomical as well as wrong if in pique at the passing of this Bill such a good work, as from many points of view it admittedly was, were destroyed instead of continuing, as he believed, for the benefit of both employer and employed, and as Mr. Laing, Lord Londonderry, and other employers thought would be the case, just its on the Great Eastern Railway there was an Association without any contracting out. Good relations between employers and employed were the foundation of commercial prosperity; and if these Societies conduced to those good relations, the destruction of the Societies would almost be as great a public wrong as he conceived to be the destruction of the Bill to-day. Now, under these circumstances, it could not be expected that he could approve the policy of abandonment which had marked so much of the action of the Ministerial Bench during the past few days. The Sea Fisheries (Scotland) Bill had been abandoned. It was a Bill which he knew to be essential to the maintenance of the fishing industry of the country. The harvest of the sea was diminishing in consequence of the absence of wise restraints which this Bill would have conferred. It had been abandoned with hut little reason. Then there was the abandonment of the present measure, which he would venture to speak of in connection with other measures, and to say of the Ministry— 882Their's is the policy of standing still,And doing nothing with a deal of skill.That would be the verdict of the country when it saw such a Session as this consumed to so little purpose and the abandonment of measures which promised so much for the benefit of the people of the country, and which he and many of his hon. Friends had energetically supported. Such a policy of abandonment, for objects avowed against the Lords, was tactics not statesmanship. On the other band, he thought that there had been a great deal of exaggeration as to the advantages which were said to be conferred by the opposition policy. They were not considering what would have been a great question— namely, the general principle of contracting out. If that had been presented to them it would have been worthy of all the discussion that had taken place to so little purpose. But that principle had not been presented. The Amendment inserted by the Lords really raised a very small question—that of a very conditional and limited exception to the general prohibition of contracting out, the principle of which the Lords had silently conceded. It affected a very limited portion of the population, probably not 1 per cent. of the whole population, as stated by the Member for West Birmingham. The question of not contracting out had not been challenged generally, for another reason: that it had been already conceded by precedent. They had in the Agricultural Holdings Act, in the Land Laws (Ireland) Act, in the Compensation for Allotments, and other Acts, conceded this principle, and admitted that in the case of the farmer and the farm labourer they were at times entitled to the protection of the State, and why, therefore, should not the working classes have the same protection for their civil rights? But, at any rate, that genera] principle of liberty and freedom to contract out had not been raised in the course of the discussion on this Bill. What was now said to involve freedom and liberty? Why, the small question of whether, if a man joined an Association—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham called it the liberty of 1 per cent. of the population to join or to refuse to join an Association—he should have liberty to contract out. He (Sir A. Rollit) 883 agreed with the arguments of the hon. Member opposite that under the proposed safeguards a man would have liberty not to join, but after he had taken work where there was such an Association his liberty was greatly circumscribed by the power of 66 per cent. to say that contracting out should or should not take place. That was not individual freedom, but tyranny of the majority, and he (Sir A. Rollit) thought that people sometimes forgot that the real difference between the tyranny of an individual and that of the multitude was that the tyranny of the multitude was the greater danger, as it was a multiplied tyranny. The option, and the only option, after the vote had taken place— and he would assume that it would be a secret vote, by ballot—would be for the man to leave his employment or accept the will of the majority. That was not liberty really and practically, and that was recognised by the form of the Lords Amendment, for there was in it a proviso that it should not be a condition of employment that a man should or should not join such an Association. But that only partly removed the difficulty. That Amendment was put on the Paper by himself, but he had not moved it, because he had come to the conclusion that, it would be futile. What was the value of that proviso solong as there was liberty on the part of the employer to say, "I will not employ"? There was the safeguard —and safeguards in these matters indicated danger—that the man could dissociate himself from the majority of his fellow-workmen by leaving, but if he did so he forfeited the advantage of the fund to which he had subscribed, as well as the employer, in past years. His interests were affected by his being thrown on the world without the benefit of the fund on which he had relied. The Lords "Reasons" said that it had been proved that membership of the Associations had given the working classes more than adequate substituted benefits, and he had to ask himself whether that was so or not; and here, again, he should like to have some more experience. He would draw attention to the statement of the Committee of 1886, when it said thatthe compensation in the case of these Associations should be fully adequate, having regard to the amount recoverable as compensation.884 He had heard many references to the compensation in the past, and he would venture to say that, they were no guide as to the present and as to the future. In the past compensation had been limited to three years' earnings, but in the future it would be unlimited. The compensation would be the amount of damage the injured person had sustained, and the working man would very properly be no exception to the general rule. Lot him ask whether, after all, this compensation was adequate. He would take what was admittedly, or had been treated as a loading instance, that of the London and North Western Railway—£100 for death or permanent disablement. Was that adequate compensation? Take it at 3 per cent.; it, gave a disabled man very little more than 1s. per week. That was a small pittance on which to rely as an insurance. It was inadequate for sustentation. In past times three years' wages would probably be £100 or £150, and when they found that low awards had been given by juries it was owing to this limitation as to three years' wages. If this Bill had passed that limitation would have been done away with, and the compensation to the workman would have been much more than it had been in the past. All the abstract arguments as to what would or would not, ensue were, therefore, beside the case. He was going to put before the House a concrete case which had had great influence on his mind in throwing doubt on his conclusions in regard to this question and in deterring him hitherto from expressing his opinion or recording his vote. It was a case which would enable the House to compare the provisions of the Bill with the existing system of insurance. An occurrence took place which cost the life of a workman. The accident was owing to admitted negligence. The Superintendent in charge was negligent; the tackle was defective. An action was brought, and £150, he thought, was claimed as compensation, no doubt, limited by the three years' rule. The circumstances or damages were admitted, and the only plea in bar was this Association arrangement, which was a condition of employment. The plaintiff was nonsuited on that point, and the defendant was the Earl of Dudley. He (Sir A. Rollit) 885 made a comparison. He did not hesitate to say that under the new state of the law the plaintiff' would have been entitled to obtain at least £30'.). For the sacrifice of such a life the Association would give £100. That, in his opinion, was not an adequate substitute for the compensation of the Bill; and it could not be so advantageous to a man to con-tract out as to elect after the fact whether he preferred the compensation of the Bill or of the contract. The answer which would be given to him embodied a great fallacy. It would be, "Yes, but this is insurance. It is certain compensation. It may be admitted to be less, but it is certain." That was the answer of a Trades Union—equality. It was a Socialistic answer. He did not say there was nothing in it, but he said that it was essentially Socialistic. That, therefore, was not a reply which could be urged from those the Opposition) Benches in support of individual liberty and freedom. It was really a Communistic argument, and abandoned the ground of individualism which concerned the particular person who claimed compensation, and who was to have as an individual, in each individual ease (for that was the true test), and not as part of a community, an adequate substitute for the compensation given him by the law. That was the contrast of two principles. Much had been said against the Trades Union view. He was not one of those who always feared the action of Trades Unions. Experience at the London Conciliation Board, and elsewhere, and consideration had taught him to believe that often organised and represented and led labour was more easy to deal with than disorganised and unled labour which could make no binding arrangement, and if they were to contrast opinions he was there to say that there was no class in this country whose opinions on this or any other subject was entitled to more weight than the opinions of the Friendly Societies. They were voluntary Organisations. They had groped from darkness into light. They had the highest qualities possessed by the working classes, and had done much to improve working men socially and morally, and in the teaching of providence. One of the Grand Masters of the greatest of these Societies had expressed to him the strong opinion that the interest of the Friendly Societies, especially in some of the locali- 886 ties which had been so much referred to, such as Crewe, was not in accord with the proposal which had come down from the House of Lords. He had to ask himself whether, under these circumstances, they should restrict the value of the Bill? His own opinion was that the measure dealt wisely and conservatively by keeping to the old principle of the Common Law—the principle that accidents arising from negligence direct or indirect should be followed by compensation. If he was asked whether he thought insurance was wise in connection with businesses he was inclined to doubt the wisdom of that which was marked by so much novelty, and which might lead to contested elections between employers and employed parties, to suspicion, to favouritism, and all sorts of turmoil, points on which he doubted whether the Dudley clause was workable. Ho thought that as the times were not so good, and that competition was so keen, it was not possible or wise to take insurance in this narrow form; that it would be a charge upon the business, and it would fall first on the profits and afterwards on, the wages, though he might be told that matters would adjust themselves, and that employer and employed would ultimately recoup themselves. But there would be much economic friction first to overcome. He thought that instead of creating a, charge on particular classes they should look to a time when insurance would be national against accident, and he ventured to think that small and possibly not very successful Associations would be a, distinct barrier to that wiser and proper development that suggested itself in favour of the large class that were now excepted from the operation of the Employers' Liability Bill. He had only to add that he thought that compromise was possible; he thought that compromise might, by a little ingenuity and forbearance, be possible still: and though it might not commend itself to Parties or politicians in the narrow sense of the term, he hoped there were some who had such a broad and clear view of the value of co-operation between employer and employed that they might see it was possible still to pass this Bill without its 4th clause as to contracting out, so giving the working Classes almost all for which they had been rightly clamouring. As to the contract- 887 ing-out clause, let it be no question of amour propre, but let them give notice that it should form the subject of a separate measure for the first day of next Session, which was already within a few days of accomplishment. That would terminate all present controversy between the two Houses, would give many advantages, and would not cause a conflict which every one deeply regretted, and, on the other hand, would leave open for discussion at the earliest period a one-clause Bill that would narrow the issue and which might be passed in the early days of the Session. That was a course that would be taken with a Bill of a third- or fourth-rate order, because it would open possibilities of settling this question. He felt that might not be possible in the present state of Party feeling; but, nevertheless, he made an appeal for its consideration, and he felt that though in the arguments he had ventured to address to the House he had tried to forget Party, he might console himself with the hope that he had not been forgetful of the true and best interests of the injured, the fatherless, and the widow.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal) Green,N.E.
said, he did not intend to occupy the House for more than a moment or two upon this Bill, but he thought ho had had a larger connection with the subject than any other hon. Member. The real object of this clause and of the Bill from the first had been not so much compensation—though this was discussed as a compensation Bill—as it was to ensure greater safety amongst their workers, and the very inadequate Bill they had passed in 1880 had effected that to a very considerable extent. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M' Laren) expressed his sorrow that this Bill had been killed. Well, so far as he (Mr. Howell) was concerned, he thought at any rate the hon. Member and some of his friends organised the baud that shot down the Bill. If the hon. Member who had just spoken was so very desirous of testing the feeling of the House on this Bill, let him be the Teller with his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe. The Prime Minister alluded to one fact that was not sufficiently emphasised, even by his hon. Friend sitting near him — namely, the attitude of the Friendly Societies of the United Kingdom. The 888 Friendly Societies of the United Kingdom must be understood to mean not the men who organised the Trades Unions of the country, for they had been in favour of the principles of this Bill, at any rate, for the last 30 years, and it was some 34 years since he first put his hand to the plough in this connection, and they had always been in favour of the principles as embodied in the Bill of the Government. The Friendly Societies, on the contrary, had never taken part in public politics; they were non-political and non-Party, and it was not until the eleventh hour, as was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition—it was not until it was embodied in this Bill, and mainly with regard to contracting out, that these Friendly Societies met in solemn conclave, and came to the conclusion to oppose the Amendment, so called, of the Lords, and formed part of the deputation his hon. Friend referred to that waited on Lord Salisbury. Certainly the Leader of the Opposition should have known the facts in connection with that point. Let him correct another notion that would seem to be held by the Leader of the Opposition, that the question of common employment was as old as the hills. On the contrary, that doctrine was embodied in the law by the decision of the House of Lords in 1847, and the decision was come to with regard to a colliery case that was taken up to the House of Lords, and from that date onwards it had been more or less acted upon in law. While they valued that part of the Bill with regard to common employment, some of them were afraid it would not be so effective for good as some hon. Members seemed to imagine; they believed there were certain difficulties with regard to it, but as a matter of principle they supported it, But all of them went together on the point directly connected with the working men's Associations of the country. He was one of the first to be in connection with the Trades Congress; he was Secretary for many years, and from the first until now there had been no sign of dissent with regard to the principle of contracting out. In all the towns in the United Kingdom where these Congresses had been held there had been one universal demand against contracting out of the law. He had not taken part in many of these Debates, but he desired to 889 support his hon. Friend who had spoken on this question, and he could assure hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House if they had any doubt of it at all— that those of them who had been identified with the labour movement, whose position in this House was not a position won by wealth in the ordinary sense of official positions were won, but because of their labour in connection with the working men of the country—ho could assure hon. Members they were prepared to face the country on this issue. He did not know, but he thought that if there was one man more than another who would be likely to fall in the fray it would be his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M' Laren), who had taken so active a part with regard to this Bill.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, he was very much surprised at the Prime Minister informing him this evening that voting by ballot was not a reliable way of testing the opinion of the working men. He thought anyone who listened to the straightforward speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren) would only come to one conclusion—namely, that the hon. Member truly represented the feeling of his constituents, and that he sat in this House as the Representative of the employés of the London and North Western Railway Company, who were largely affected by this Amendment and by the Bill. He confessed he found it very difficult to follow the position the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) had taken up. They were told by their Leaders on the Front Opposition Bench that there was not going to be a Division; but the hon. Member for Crewe had stated if he could only find a co-Teller be was prepared to go into the Lobby against the proposal of the Government to drop the Bill, and he (Mr. Seton-Karr) could only say if the hon. Member wanted a co-Teller he would tell with him as a protest against the Government throwing over this Bill in the manner they had done. He represented a constituency to which this measure was of very great importance, far greater than any other Bill which had been introduced in the course of the Session, and he, for one, desired to disclaim all responsibility in its rejection by the Government and their action at the present time. They were in no sense respon- 890 sible for this Bill having been dropped; it had been dropped not as a question of principle, but on a question of detail. The Amendment of the Lords did not provide for absolute contracting out; it was permissive, under special circumstances; it allowed men to make a better bargain for themselves, and it did net affect the rights of those men who desired to come under the Bill. Luring the Debates on this measure no fair opportunity of compromise had been offered; ho believed the only compromise suggested was the three years to be given to the Insurance Societies. They stated clearly the other night that either the Insurance Societies were worthy of being perpetuated or they were not. If they were worthy of being perpetuated, it was adding insult to injury to give them three years extension of life, and if they were not worthy it was much better to put an end to them at once. One of the Members for one of the divisions of Northumberland (Mr. Fen-wick) and the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) talked about the working men in this matter. The working men that he represented were most solicitous that this permissive clause should be inserted in the measure. The miners in his constituency informed him that in their Society they could get not only two-thirds, but four-fifths majority in favour of their Society being able to contract out. This came from the miners, and not railway men, and the information was offered to him unsolicited. Besides that, he had had numerous unsolicited letters from railway men and others whom he represented, asking that the Amendment should be passed, as they looked upon it its safeguarding the existence of these Societies. Under those circumstances, he failed entirely to understand how hon. Members opposite could state with confidence that the working men were unanimous against any clause of this kind. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. J. Burns) had also taken the same line; but he had gone a bit further, and had informed the House that the employés of the Loudon and North Western Railway were the Judas Iscariots of their party. He thought that the hon. Member and the Government he supported might yet live to regret such a statement as that; but, at all events, those who knew them best—the hon. Member 891 for Crewe, who represented them—were convinced the opinion expressed by these men was an absolutely reliable opinion, and his own experience of the feeling of the men bore out that conviction: that there were large numbers of men who were only too anxious to have this permissive clause inserted in the Bill. He noticed that while the right hon. Gentleman said that he was quite willing to test the feeling of the country on this question that he did not get a very ardent cheer from his followers behind him. He was not surprised at that, for he ventured to think the right hon. Gentleman would find the opinion of the working men in favour of liberty, of freedom, and this permissive clause was far greater than the right hon. Gentleman supposed. He repeated again that he, for one, declined to be responsible for the funeral of this Bill. Ho looked upon it in principle as a Bill that would have conferred very great advantages on the industrial population of the country. Speaking for the men, he repeated he should only have been too delighted to have seen this Bill, with the permissive clause inserted, come into law as soon as possible, and he proposed going into the Lobby against the Government as a protest against their action in throwing this Bill overboard without sufficient pretext, without any reasonable attempt to compromise this question as to the permissive clause. When they did go to the country to test the opinion of the act of the Government he thought the result would considerably astonish right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, he regretted that his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was not in the House during the speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren). The hon. Member for Crewe accused his right hon. Friend of having spoken on this subject with a cynical indifference. He (Sir J. Lubbock) sat by the side of his right hon. Friend during the whole of his speech, and he did not understand him to speak in that sense, but to say that the responsibility of what they did to-day did not rest with him or gentlemen opposite, but entirely with Her Majesty's Government. He was surprised that the Member for Crewe had not felt that he must have misunderstood the right hon. 892 Member for WestBirmingham, for certainly by his able speeches in the House, and what he had done for the subject outside the House, the right hon. Gentleman had shown that no man in the country took a deeper or warmer interest in solving this question than he had done, and he felt that the remarks levelled against the right hon. Gentleman by the Member for Crewe were remarks that he (Mr. M'Laren) would come to see were hardly justified by the circumstances. He did not rise for the purpose of carrying on the discussion as to the merits of this measure and the Amendments that came down from another place, but to say a word as to the course he proposed to pursue with reference to the vote. He understood the hon. Member for Crewe intended to go to a Division, and he asked himself what course he ought to take. Certainly he could not support the Government, as he deprecated the line they took in this matter in throwing over the Bill in this way. But, on the other hand, it was a most unusual course to refuse to Members the right to move the withdrawal of a Bill of which they had charge; he did not remember that such a course had ever been taken, and they would therefore be departing from the almost universal practice, if not the unwritten law, of Parliament to refuse to the Government the right to withdraw a Bill in their control. If he thought that by departing from that usage they could achieve any good object, then, indeed, he should think a good case had been made out for departing from precedent and establishing a new one; but it was obvious the only effect of taking a Division would simply be to make a protest that would have no usefulness, and under those circumstances he did not see his way to follow the hon. Member for Crewe into the Lobby. He had listened with great interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) and others; he knew how able they were to speak for great bodies of working men, but while he did not dispute their right, he must confess he was not convinced by the argument they adduced; he still thought that the great bulk of the working men of this country, when they came to consider what they were losing, would feel that the Government had taken a course they could not defend, 893 and that, for what the Government considered the exigencies of Party politics, they were throwing away a Bill that was of great advantage to them.
MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
said, he had no desire to intervene at any length in this Debate; the subject had been discussed sufficiently, but as no Irish Member had spoken on the question, he considered it his duty, as one connected with the labour interests in Ireland, to say that, so far as the communications he had received from Trade Councils, from Labour Societies, and those connected with labour questions were concerned, they were in favour of this Bill being passed by the Government, though they unanimously declared against the contracting-out clause. The working men with whom he had come into contact were entirely in favour of this Bill, and so far as he was concerned, as representing them, he felt it his duty to say he thought the Government ought not to withdraw this Bill. For his part, as a young Member of the House of Commons, he could not see what was the use of having a majority if the majority could not carry its way right through, or of their sitting there all through the Session if their decisions were to come to a nullity, He would not detain the House further than to say that they in Ireland connected with labour wanted this Bill passed, and they wanted the Home Secretary to pass it to spite the House of Lords. As he seldom got an opportunity of speaking in this sense, it might be useful to say that it seemed an extra-' ordinary state of things that a number of elected Members should be called from various parts of the Three Countries to discuss various questions which were sent up to the Upper House, and then that all their time should be wasted, that they who wore elected Members should be wholly blocked out by a number of gentlemen who exercised authority without responsibility. He represented a labour constituency in Ireland; his constituents and others with whom he had been brought into contract desired the measure to be passed, and he therefore hoped the Government would have the 894 courage of their convictions, and would fight the House of Lords on this question.
§ MR. M. AUSTIN) (Limerick, W.
said, the observations of the hon. Member for St. Helen's (Mr. Seton-Karr) showed him the troubled state of mind the hon. Member was in as to the course he would pursue. While anxious to follow the advice of his Leader, and the natural bent of his declarations, they found the hon. Member was ready to cast his vote against the Government. Well, he (Mr. Austin) represented a constituency from which, as well as from the South of Ireland, Dublin, and Belfast, resolutions came that had been passed in support of the action of the Government. He further found that the Representatives of Belfast had been severely criticised for their action over this Bill, and that resolutions have been passed reminding them that when they again sought the suffrages of the workmen of Belfast a different tale might be told. But if there was anything to be argued in favour of the Government Bill it was this: that they had to look to those who had no great Organisations to protect them, and to say that if the contracting-out clause were agreed to by the Government it would simply destroy the vital principle of the Bill. It was for that reason that he cordially agreed with the action of the Government, and when they went to the country they would find a wave of opinion all over it which would show that the assertions made by the Labour Representatives in this House wore fully in accordance with the views of the workmen of the country. As an Irish Representative, he acted in this matter entirely in accord with the views of the people who sent him to the House of Commons, and those views were in entire sympathy with the action of the British working-men Representatives.
§ *MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, that an hon. Member who had recently spoken was inclined to blame the Government for abandoning the Bill, and had declared that he intended to record 895 his vote against them. He thought that if that hon. Gentleman were to reflect for a moment, he would see that he was somewhat mistaken as to the position of affairs. They had before them an Amendment which came down from the House of Lords. They had no choice, as he understood it, except either to agree or disagree with the Amendment of the Lords. There was no one in the House to offer them any sort of compromise on behalf of the Lords. On one occasion, during the progress of the Local Government Bill, some arrangement was made, but that did not prove satisfactory when the matter went to the Upper House. With regard to the present Amendment, there was no one who suggested, there was no one authorised on behalf of the Peers to suggest, any mode of reconciliation or agreement. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House invited them to say that the legislation of the country must be done as the Upper House thought right, and that this Amendment must be swallowed whole, or not at all. The House of Commons was the Governing Body of the country, and to secure the continuance of that position they must reject the Amendment, and as the Bill would be wrecked in consequence, the blame must rest with the House of Lords for its destruction.
§ MR. BODKIN) (Roscommon, N.
said, he only interposed for the purpose of contributing two or three sentences to the controversy. In the first place, he might say he rejoiced at the fact that Her Majesty's Government had not allowed the Lords to take away by Amendment the benefits conferred on the working classes by the Bill and the will of the House of Commons. There was one question which he thought had not in the Debate received the attention it deserved. The Bill as it stood, without the Amendments proposed by the Lords, did not deprive the working man of the liberty of contract, it did not deprive the working man of the power of arranging with his employer, and it did not deprive him of the power of contracting out. It merely deferred the period in which the 896 contract was to be made until all the circumstances were within the knowledge of the parties. There was no compulsory legislation under the Bill. At any time after an accident had occurred, when all the circumstances were within the knowledge of both parties, the working man or his representatives could, if they choose, accept the compensation offered by the employer. If there was an Insurance Society concerned they could accept the compensation offered by such Society. Therefore, he asserted this Bill gave real and full power to the working man when all the circumstances were within his knowledge, and it merely deferred the period of making the contract until the working man was in a position to estimate the nature of the contract he was called upon to make. There was yet another matter which struck him as of some importance, having regard to the action which the Government, in his judgment, had most wisely taken in reference to this measure. They had heard a great deal of praise that day from certain quarters of the House of the beauty and perfection of the ballot. But these gentlemen were not always of the same opinion—and neither was the House of Lords—in regard to the ballot, and it was a remarkable fact that when the ballot came before the House of Lords originally the Members of that Assembly adopted the same tactics in regard to it as they had now adopted in regard to the Employers' Liability Bill. They sought to defeat the object of the ballot by a contracting-out clause. For the sake of the liberty of the voter, as it were, they determined that he should have a contracting-out clause to enable him to decide whether or not he would avail himself of the protection of the ballot. The same arguments were used, and with the same effect. They did not succeed then. The attempt of the Tory to restrict the freedom and liberty of the subject did not succeed then, and neither would it succeed on the present occasion. And the result would be the same now as then, that eventually the Bill would be passed into law. He, for one, hoped that the result of that controversy would be, that the labourer and the Liberals and Radicals of Great Britain would get a far better 897 measure than the one which the Lords had destroyed.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said, he desired to enter his protest against the manner in which the Bill had been wrecked by the other Chamber. His reason for entering that protest was that over since the Bill had been introduced the late Home Secretary and the late Junior Lord of the Admiralty had shown their hostility to it because the Government had had the courage to extend the benefits of the Bill to seamen. Seamen suffered more from accidents than any other class of workmen, and yet the secret of the hostility to the Bill on the part of the Conservative Party and the House of Lords was because the Government had decided to do justice to that large body of men. He could tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, and also the gentlemen in the Upper Chamber, that the seamen would look upon them as responsible for the rejection of this Bill, and, more than that, they would be held responsible for most of the accidents that would occur at sea during the ensuing 12 months. He would like to remind those gentlemen of the fact that every month over 300 men were drowned at sea—300 men out of a total of 200,000 employed in the Mercantile Marine of this country. In the mines 600,000 men were employed, and the death-rate by accident was 47 per month, while on the railways there were 400,000 employed, and the death-rate was 36 per month. The Government had endeavoured to prevent this enormous loss of life at sea by making the employers responsible for the accidents; but the Bill was destroyed by the Conservative Party and by the Members of the Upper Chamber, who proclaimed that they had no interest in this matter, and were only acting for the good of the working men. It was time that something should be done to prevent this scandalous and shameful loss of life at sea. It was foolish on the part of the shipowners to tell him that the loss of life at sea was the act of God. It was blasphemy on their part to accuse the 898 Almighty God with being responsible for the large loss of life which occurred at sea from time to time. He was convinced, as a practical seaman, that for more than half the loss of life at sea the shipowners wore directly or indirectly responsible, and it was only by making the shipowners responsible for the accidents that occurred on board ship that they could ever expect to reduce the loss of life at sea to reasonable proportions. The figures were most startling. No less than 550 seamen were drowned during the mouth of December. These accidents occurred because ships were sent to sea water-logged and with only half sufficient men on board to work them. The Conservative Party charged the Government with wrecking the Bill because they would not accept the contracting-out clause. The Bill was worthless with such a clause. There was no body of workmen on whom this screw would be more in operation than on seamen and firemen; for whenever a seaman or fireman desired to re-engage he would be offered the alternative of contracting out or no employment. It was said that this contracting-out clause was hedged round with safeguards. But it was not possible to get the large body of seamen and firemen together like other workmen in order to get their unanimous opinion on a question of this kind. The Government had done the only thing they could do, and that was, to resist the contracting-out clause. They might have been prepared to wait for three years in order to allow the contractors-out the opportunity of putting themselves in Friendly Societies if they desired to do so; though in that he thought they were accepting more than they ought to have accepted. He told the gentlemen opposite, and also the gentlemen in the other House, that they were responsible for the wrecking of the Bill, and that they would be directly responsible for half the loss of life at sea in the ensuing year, because he believed that if the Bill had been passed in the proper form many of the Jives that would be lost at sea during the next 12 mouths would have been saved.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
said, he could not allow that opportunity to pass without protesting 899 in the name of the working men of the Principality of Wales against the action of the Upper House in causing the Bill to be withdrawn. That had been done in the name of freedom of contract; but, in his opinion, freedom of contract had never been more wilfully prostituted than in the use which had been made of it in the Upper House. When the working man wanted real freedom of contract the facts as to the cause of an accident were fully before him. This contracting-out arrangement was not freedom at all, for it tied up the men and lost them their freedom at the time they really required it. He offered the strongest protest against the action of the Upper Chamber, on whom rested the responsibility for wrecking the Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 225; Noes 6.—(Division List, No. 446.)