HC Deb 30 July 1896 vol 43 cc1078-84

(1.) An employer shall not make any contract with any workman for any deduction from the gross sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman for, or in respect of, the use or supply of materials, tools or machines, standing room, light, heat, or any other thing to he done or provided by the employer in relation to the work or labour of the workman unless—

  1. (a) the contract is embodied in a printed noice affixed at the pit head or at the entrance of a factory or workshop, and in such parts of a mine, factory, or workshop as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines or Factories may direct or approve, and constantly kept so affixed in such a position that it can he easily read by the persons employed in the mine, factory, or workshop; or the contract is in writing, signed by the workman; and
  2. (b) the sum to be paid or deducted under the contract in respect of materials, tools or machines, standing room, light, heat, or any other thing, does not exceed, in the case of materials or tools supplied to the workman, the actual or estimated cost thereof to the employer, or in the case of the use of machinery, light, heat, or any other thing in this section mentioned a fair and reasonable rent or allowance, having regard to the all circumstances of the case.

(2.) An employer shall not make any such deduction or receive any such payment unless—

  1. (a) the deduction or payment is made in pursuance of, and in accordance with, such a contract as aforesaid; and
  2. (b) particulars in writing showing the things in respect of which the deduction or payment is made and the amount thereof are supplied to the workman on each occasion when a deduction or payment is made.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "gross."

Amendment agreed to.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved, in Sub-section (1), before the words "any other tiling to be done," to insert the words "for and in respect of."

Amendment agreed to.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved, in Paragraph (a), Sub-section (1), to leave out the words— contract is embodied in a printed notice affixed at the pit head, or at the entrance of a factory or workshop, and to insert instead thereof the words— terms of the contract are contained in a printed notice kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to workmen, and in such a position that it may be easily seen, read, and copied by any person whom it affects.

* MR. LIONEL HOLLAND (Tower Hamlets, Bow and Bromley)

said that the question of the sufficiency to constitute a contract of a mere publication by affixing a notice was a matter of such material importance that he thought it right it should be raised again. The principle of the Bill of 1831 and of this Bill as originally introduced was that an employer, if he wished to go outside the provisions of the Act, should only be able to do so by a written agreement with his men. That was a safeguard which the Bill of 1831 established, and hon. Members who objected to its continuance ought at least to produce some specific instances of inconvenience or of injury to trade resulting from its existence. But if the interests of workmen could be safeguarded by any other really adequate method, he should not lay any great stress on the importance of the mere fact that an agreement was in writing. If the employers objected to signed agreements, and another system could be devised which would give adequate security to the position of the workmen, there was no reason why the system of written agreements should not be discarded for a newer method. There was, besides, ample proof in the evidence given before the Labour Commission that the mere requiring of a signed agreement was utterly inoperative and a mere farce. But if the House were not going to insist on a signed agreement, if they were going to alter the traditions of Truck legislation which had existed for 65 years, surely they were not going to make the contract a loss effective one, or give the workmen less effective security than under the existing law. Yet that would be the result of the proposal which the Home Secretary had, he thought somewhat too readily, accepted. It introduced a new principle which had never been incorporated in labour legislation. The only parallel he knew of was in the Common Carriers Act, which allowed a notice to have the force of a contract in the case of certain special articles of special value. Such a proposal was wholly inappropriate to a contract entered into between employer and workman, and to his mind the clause would set a most injurious precedent. It might deprive the workman of the safeguards given him under the Employers' Liability Act. It was intended that the mere fixing of a notice should bind the workman to all the provisions contained in it, even though they had never come to his knowledge. In other words he was to be bound by a contract which was not a contract, but a mere fiction of Parliament. Under the present law, when employers wished to escape the provisions of the Employers' Liability Act by fixing up a notice, they had to prove that that notice had come to the knowledge of the workman. The fact that the workman continued in his employment after the notice had been fixed made it a presumption that he acquiesced; but it was only a presumption, and whether or not there was a binding contract was a matter for legal proof, and for the jury to decide. But by this clause the workman was to be bound by a contract which really only existed in the imagination of Parliament, because there could be no contract unless there were consenting parties, and a man could not consent to a notice he had never seen. He had no wish to harass employers by asking the House to insist on a written agreement if the employers were averse to it; but he did maintain that it was only fair and just and essential to the working of the Act that the workman should be seized of the terms of the agreement he has to enter into, and he thought this sub-section failed to secure that result. He would suggest that this matter might be met by the addition of some words he had on the Paper—namely, after the word "act," to insert— and a printed or written copy of this notice is also delivered by the employer to the workman at the time the contract of employment is made. Of course the Home Secretary had not the slightest wish that the position of the workman should be less effectively guarded under this Bill than under the Act of 1831. Of course the objection might be raised that the words he had suggested would make the clause out of line with former clauses, but he imagined that could be got over in another place. He noticed that the hon. Member for North Monmouthshire proposed to meet this point by an Amendment he had down to Clause 6. If the Home Secretary would favourably consider that Amendment he would withdraw his, but he thought the proper place for these words was where he had suggested. The delivery of a copy of the notice ought to be an integral condition of the contract of employment. He hoped the Home Secretary would now or later on consider this matter.


thought it was very inconvenient that the House should be discussing a second time what was practically the Amendment disposed of the other night. It was arranged in Grand Committee that, as an alternative, this public notice should be put up for the information of all concerned. He then stated that he would loyally adhere to the decision of the Committee, and he must continue to adhere to it. These clauses must be identical in their form, otherwise the House would be stultifying itself. He saw an enormous advantage in this notice, and that was that the inspectors who went about the works would see at once whether there were any rules and regulations as to fines and so forth which in their opinion were unreasonable. The object of his Amendment was that every workman should be possessed of the fullest information as to the conditions under which he was to work. He hoped that the House would accept his Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. H. H. ASQUTTH (Fife, E.)

said that the question was whether the clause sufficiently safeguarded the workmen by bringing their attention to the conditions by a general notice rather than by serving each man with a separate printed notice of the conditions under which he was to work. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to make it compulsory upon every employer to serve each of his workmen individually with a copy of the notice containing the conditions under which he would have to work. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. JAMES KENYON (Bury, Lancashire)

thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Home Secretary attached far too much importance to the serving of a notice upon each individual workman. The fines to which workmen were subject were very small in amount, and they were put into a box and distributed among the local charities. The proposal of the right hon. and learned Gentleman would put the employer to a large and unnecessary expense. ["Hear, hear!"]

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said that he had to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for his promise to favourably consider this proposal when they came to consider Clause 6. ["Hear."]

MR. G. WHITELEY (Stockport)

also considered that the fines inflicted upon the workmen were very small, and were distributed among the sick or disposed of in other charitable ways.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. McKENNA moved, in paragraph (b) Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "actual or estimated." He said it was a general practice in bookkeeping for an employer to add to the net cost of an article a certain amount for office expenditure and for capital expenditure—perhaps 10 per cent. on each. Consequently the estimated cost was not the real cost, and the ambiguity of these words "actual or estimated" led one to the conclusion that neither the real cost nor the estimated cost was the one intended.


in supporting the Amendment, expressed a hope that the Home Secretary would not go back on the intimation he gave that he was willing to omit these words. If they adopted the Amendment, it was quite easy to make Clause 2 agree with it in another place. These words appeared to him to be perfectly needless, and to go a good deal further than the right hon. Gentleman intended they should go.


said this was really rather a different matter from Clause 2. It did not stand on the same footing as the words in Subsection (d) Clause 2. He ventured to point out the necessity of these words when the matter was under discussion in Grand Committee. The House would observe that it was the case of materials or tools supplied to a workman. It might very likely be that the actual or estimated cost could not be ascertained absolutely. It might be that the materials or tools had been bought long before, and it would be unfair to the workman that they should put upon him the actual cost in cases in which the actual amount which was going to be charged could not be found. He thought it rather better to have the words left in,


said that he thought there was a clear distinction between this clause and the preceding one. It would be impossible in many cases to say the actual damage, and he would recommend his hon. Friend not to persist in his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY moved, in paragraph (b) Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "allowance," and to insert instead thereof the word "charge."

Amendment agreed to; clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5,—