HC Deb 08 July 1897 vol 50 cc1393-9

Where any employer becomes liable under this Act to pay compensation to any workman or his representatives in respect of any accident, and is entitled to any sum from insurers in respect of such liability, then in the event of the bankruptcy or liquidation (,f such employer such workman or representative shall have a charge upon the sum aforesaid for the payment of the money so due to him.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL moved to leave out the words, "to any workman or his representatives."

Amendment agreed to.

MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee) moved, after the words, "sum of," to insert the words,— Sum of money for or in respect of the work or employment in the course of which the accident took place. In other words, said the hon. Member, he desired to extend the scope of the clause by giving the workmen not only a charge upon money received and due to the employer from insurers, but a charge on any debt due to the employer in respect of the work in the course of which the accident happened. It was something like the labour lien which obtained in the United States.


said the Amendment would involve an inquiry which could not possibly be traced out and would lead to complications far beyond any advantage it would confer on the workman.


hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not press this to a Division. It was a wide extension of the proposition that had been accepted that there should be a lien on the insurance fund. Most of them wanted to get the Bill through to-night, and this Amendment would lead to wide discussion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: After the words "in respect of," to insert the words "the amount due to a workman under."

To leave out the words "in the event of the bankruptcy or liquidation of such employer," and to insert employer becoming bankrupt, or making a composition or arrangement with his creditors, or if the employer is a company, of the company having commenced to be wound up.

To leave out the words "or representative."

Before the word "charge," to insert tin word "first."

To leave out the words "money so due," and to insert the words "amount so due."—(Attorney General.)

MR. ASCROFT moved to leave out the words "to him," and to insert the words and the judge of the County Court of the district may direct the insurers to pay such sum into the Post Office Savings Bank in the same of the Registrar of such court.


said he thought the Amendment was a useful one, but it was suggested by the Post, Office authorities that an addition should be made which he would accordingly move when these words were agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL moved to add after the words last inserted the words and the provisions in the first schedule thereto, with reference to investment in the Post Office Savings Bank of any sum allotted as compensation, shall be applied to any sum so directed to be paid.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan and Kinross)

on behalf of Mr. URE (Linlithgow) moved after the words last inserted to add,— In the application of this Act to Scotland, the words 'have a first charge upon' shall mean 'be preferentially entitled to.'


said he understood his hon. and learned Friend desired to add these words simply to make the Bill in accordance with the law of Scotland, and he was quite satisfied therefore to accept them.

Amendment agreed to.

MR. ALFRED BILLSON (Halifax) moved after the words last inserted to add the words:— All compensation payable under this Act shall have the like priority in payment in case of bankruptcy or winding up as wages under the Preferential Payments in Bankruptcy Act 1888, or any other Act for the time being regulating the priority of wages in bankruptcy or winding up. They had heard on the introduction of the Bill that it was to provide for what the Colonial Secretary happily called the wounded soldiers of industry, and that that provision should come from the trade. Nobody supposed, however, that the provision was coining out of the profits of the employer, but out of new charges or new means of revenue, either by the reduction of wages or the increase of prices. The object which they had in moving this Amendment was to take care that the workman got the provision which was made. It was said that, this was not a question between an employer and the injured workman, but between the workman and his fellow sufferers the other creditors. But the other creditors came in voluntarily to do business with the firm because they chose to trust it. Moreover the injured workman was not to get his remedy all at once, but by means of payments week by week, and he could never press for a lump sum. They did not ask the House to require the employer to set aside a sum, but that this was to be a matter of preference between this particular creditor, the injured workman, and the other creditors. There was also the question of debenture holders. He pointed out that they did not allow the workman to commute his payment.


said he did not know whether the hon. Member for Halifax was to be considered a friend of the Bill.




accepted the hon. Member's declaration, but he must protest against the hon. Member's Amendment as being altogether unfriendly to the Bill. This was one of the Amendments moved in Committee and discussed in Committee. He did not know whether there was a Division upon it.


There was.


said the Committee had decided by a large majority against the proposal, and it was hardly fair, and certainly it was contrary to precedent, to bring up on Report a matter that had been decided in Committee—[cries of "No, no!"]—and make over again exactly the same speeches in support of it. The Bill provided that the workman should have the first charge on the insurance, but to give him further a preferential claim on the estate as against creditors who might be in no better position than the workman would not be an unfair arrangement.


said the object of the Report stage was to give an opportunity for considering important matters, and his view was that the Amendment raised an important question. Unless the Amendment were adopted an injured workman in receipt of 10s. a week from an employer as compensation for an accident would, in the event of the bankruptcy of that employer, have his weekly allowance stopped, and have to wait perhaps for years before he got a, dividend from the estate.


said that if the compensation were to take precedence over all other claims in the case of bankruptcy it would ruin the credit of the employer—it would prevent him from getting raw material on credit, or the temporary loan necessary to tide him over a time of difficulty, and it would also render impossible the rapid winding-up of bankruptcy estates.


said he could not understand the position taken tip by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dumfries. [Ministerial laughter.] In Committee he had moved an Amendment which was but a mere fragment of the Amendment now before the House. He proposed to make the compensation a preferential charge on a portion of the assets of the employer—that portion winch he had earned with the help of the labour of the workman. His hon. and learned Friend advised him to withdraw the Amendment, and, in deference 16 his hon. and learned Friend, he did withdraw it—[laughter]—and now his hon. and learned Friend supported a much larger extension of that Amendment. [Laughter.]

MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)

said that if the Government desired to be consistent, they should, according to the doctrine of the Colonial Secretary, have refused to accept on Report any Amendment to any principle inserted in the Bill by vote or by compromise in Committee. He said the Bill sprang from the principle that when a work man was injured in the course of his employment he had a claim on the industry in which he was engaged before anyone else. Why then should an injured workman stand in the same category with ordinary creditor? The ordinary creditor traded with his eyes open; he knew the risks; but it was different with the workman, he had no means of knowing the financial condition of his employer. Again, the wages of a workman in full health had a. preferential claim on an estate in bankruptcy, and it that were right and just—and who would dispute it?—surely it was right and just, surely there was a greater reason, that the compensation of a disabled workman should be placed above the claim of any other creditor? Pressure had been brought to bear on the Government to induce them to change their position in regard to certain points. But the workmen had sent no deputations to terrorise the Government, and he asked the Government to consider, not so much whether it was consistent with their action on the Committee stage, but whether it was right and just that compensation for accident should have the same preferential treatment as wages?

Question put, "That those words be I there inserted." The House divided:—Ayes, 134; Noes, 212.—(Division List, No. 282.)

MR. ASCROFT moved to add after the words last inserted the following words: Every employer who insures against liability under this Act or the Employers' Liability Act 1880 in respect of injuries sustained by the workmen in his employment shall cause a notice containing the name and address of the insurance office with which lie insures to be kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to the workmen, and in such a position that it may be easily seen, read, and copied by such workmen. If the name of the insurance office were posted at the works, said the hon. Member, an opportunity would be given to the workpeople, in case they could not get defective machinery made right by the employer, to communicate with the insurance office, who would call the attention of the employer to it and have the matter remedied. Such a provision as this would in all probability prevent a great number of accidents. In his own constituency within the last few days an accident had occurred, through dangerous machinery not being fenced, by which a workman had lost his life. At the coroner's inquest the factory inspector stated that he had never known of a worse case of negligence, and the coroner told the jury that they ought to bring in a verdict of manslaughter against the employer. These cases, he admitted, were few and far between, but, at the same time, if anything could be done by which the workmen's safety could be assured it ought to be done, and he therefore proposed the adoption of this Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]


could not agree to the insertion of these words. He quite understood and sympathised with the object of his hon. Friend, but he failed to see how the position of the workman would be materially improved by this Amendment, whilst it would certainly impose a troublesome and onerous condition upon the employer. If any practical object could be served by the Amendment he should not resist it, but he was of opinion that no substantial end would be gained by it. ["Hear, hear!"]

Question put, "That those words be there inserted." The House divided:—Ayes, 89; Noes, 213.—(Division List, No. 283.)

Clause 5,—