HC Deb 01 June 1897 vol 50 cc58-66

(1.) This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight.

(2.) This Act may he cited as the Workmen's Compensation Act 1897.

MR. H SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)

proposed to leave out the words "one thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight," and to insert "one thousand eight hundred, and ninety-nine," so as to postpone the operation of the Bill for a year. He ventured to think the Amendment involved considerations of great importance. He had had some conferences with the right hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill, and the impression conveyed to his mind was that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to listen favourably to him. He had also had some conversation with the Attorney General, and, considering the importance of the subject, he hoped the Committee would pardon him if he occupied a little time in stating, his case. The practical effect of the Bill was to put a tax upon certain classes for the benefit of the whole community. This Bill has been introduced without notice to the constituencies and without the parties interested having had time to realise the effect it would have upon their industry. He therefore contended that plenty of time should be given before the Bill came into operation. All the small employers would be compelled to federate. The figures that had been given as to the effect in the coal-mining industry differed very materially. The Government had been appealed to to give the figures, and they had not done so. At any rate, different authorities differed very widely. The rate of insurance against employers' liability was at the present moment very low, about 3s. 6d. to 5s. per cent., but it was likely to rise to 40s. or 50s. per cent. if the whole liability under this Bill had to be insured against. The Debate the previous evening on the inclusion of agriculture in the Bill was really one of the best arguments he could use, for in that instance the uncertain effect of the Bill was pleaded as a reason why agriculture should not be introduced. Everything that had been said with regard to the small farmer in connection with this Bill applied in an equal or even a greater degree to small colliery owners; but all he was asking for now was that the small colliery owners should have an opportunity of federating amongst themselves and that time should be given to them to prepare for the liability that would be imposed upon them. He had been told by an hon. Member of the House that he had private information that if the Bill passed bankers would not extend the same credit to collieries which they were giving at present. That was a practical effect of the Bill. That was a thing the owners must provide against. He would like to give a few figures with reference to a great industry in the constituency which he represented. The borough of St. Helen's was the seat of the glass trade. Something like one-third of the inhabitants were dependent for their daily bread on the glass trade. That trade consumed no less than 10,000 tons of coal a week throughout the year. That meant, at 2d. a ton, an impost of £4,300 a year, which with the 1 per cent. to meet the glass trade employers' own liability to their 25,000 employés, would impose a burden of £8,300 on that trade. Somebody would have to pay that. They were told that the consumer could be made to pay, but, so far as the coal industry was concerned, it was not possible, in his opinion, to make the consumer pay. For the last seven years the trade unions had been endeavouring to put up the price of coal and wages, and they had absolutely and entirely failed.


said he thought the hon. Member was now dealing with matters from a Second Reading point of view. The hon. Member was entitled to use arguments why the Bill should be delayed coming into operation, but he was now travelling rather beyond that.


thought that these arguments directly affected the postponement of the operation of the Bill, and showed that time should be allowed to the men who were affected by it. He was only using these arguments for the purpose of showing that. In considering on whose shoulders the burden would fall, they had to remember the increasing competition with foreign coal fields and glass industries. Let him tell the House the position of the glass trade. [Cries of "Oh !"] Half the glass works in the country had been shut up during the past 30 years, and the importation of plate and sheet glass had enormously increased; yet upon this struggling British industry they proposed to throw a new heavy burden. Surely, in such circumstances, time ought to be given to insure against the new conditions, either by federation or by insuring in the ordinary commercial companies. The economic law of supply and demand prevented the burden of their compensation being put on the shoulders of the consumer. Foreign coalfields had been discovered. The price could not be raised on the foreign consumer, and, if it was raised on the home consumer it would inflict a fresh burden on an industry which was already struggling with very serious difficulties. There was one other reason why he submitted that the operation of the Bill should be postponed, and that was that there were many existing contracts for the sale of coal extending over long periods. Those contracts had been made on the faith of the existing law, and no one had any knowledge a month ago, that the law was going to be altered so largely. A solvent contractor might become an insolvent one owing to the operation of this Bill. That would be a serious hardship. From the point of view of workmen and employers alike it was important that this relief should be equitably adjusted, and that an unfair and unjust burden should not be placed on the industry in which they were mutually interested. Small collieries were often worked by half a dozen men who had been practical miners. When they found themselves face to face with a new state of things they would federate with other small employers or settle the rate of insurance they could afford to pay. Before this Bill came into operation they should have time to make satisfactory arrangements. He had suggested that the operation of the Bill should be postponed for 12 months, but he would not object to a longer period. He had received a petition from the glass industry at St. Helen's stating that if the Bill passed in its present shape it would inflict serious injury on that trade, and possibly lead to the closing of more glassworks.

MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

said there could be no doubt that if the Bill came into operation too soon it would cause great difficulty, loss, and, perhaps, in some cases ruin. The opinion was widely held that some system of insurance was absolutely necessary for the safe and proper working of the Bill. If the insurance companies saw a difficulty in ascertaining what their actual risk would be they would put their premiums at such a rate as to satisfy what they thought the maximum would be. It was desirable in the interests of all engaged in this important industry that the changes involved in the Bill should be brought about without friction and the mischiefs that must necessarily arise if it came into operation too soon.

*MR. EMERSON BAINBRIDGE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)

hoped the Government would not consider it unreasonable to concede the 12 months suggested. The Bill would impose a serious burden on the coal trade, and the margin of profit was already very small to work upon. He was able to say with authority that the majority of the coal mines of this country were at present owing money to their bankers, and if these bankers imposed restrictions, that alone would have an important prejudicial effect on the finances of the collieries. There was no crying need for the Bill.

The Government had made a present of the Bill, and the working classes would be glad to accept it. In six months he believed most of the insurances could be arranged. But when it came to making contracts for millions of tons of coal which ran to June and December next year, the burden imposed by the Bill would work a great injustice. Employer, workman, or consumer would have ultimately to bear the burden. But there was no need to impose it hurriedly, and he trusted the 12 months asked for would be conceded as a fair and reasonable demand.


said that if the Government desired to encourage a friendly arrangement between workmen and employers, it was clear that it would be impossible in the short period prescribed for the Registrar of Friendly Societies to examine the great number of schemes laid before him. He therefore hoped the Government would consent to a reasonable and moderate extension of time


said that naturally the Government were desirous of considering how the Bill might be brought into operation with the least possible friction, and with reference to the duration of contracts, and arrangements which might have to be made as to insurance, and arrangements which might be necessary on the part of friendly societies, some longer time might be necessary. His hon. Friend the Member for St. Helons would not expect the Government to go so far as to postpone the operation of the Act for 12 months. The Government had looked at all sides of the question, and they thought they might fairly consider the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire to bring the Bill into operation on March 31, 1898, which would be giving another three months. This should go some way towards meeting the objections urged against bringing the Bill into immediate operation. If the Committee were agreeable the Government would consent to the date he had mentioned.


thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the concession which he had made. At the same time he could not help thinking that a delay of only three months would not be enough, and that the minimum extension ought to be six months.

SIR ROBERT REID (Inverness Burghs)

hoped that the Home Secretary would remember that a good many Members on the Opposition side of the House and probably on the other side also did not take part in these discussions, because they. did not want to hinder the progress of the Bill. Many of those Members regretted, he was sure, the concession which the right hon. Member had made.


thought the concession made by the Government was unprecedented. He did not remember any occasion when the operation of a Bill had been postponed for so long a period as was proposed. The Government had made a very considerable concession to the other side, but they had not accepted, as far as he could remember, any equivalent Amendment on the side of the men. He trusted that the Government would not prove amenable to any further pressure exercised by the opponents of the Bill. When, in his innocence, he ventured to suggest, a short time ago, that with a view to making the Bill absolutely perfect, they might well devote a little more time to its consideration, he was charged, most unfairly, with wishing to delay the Measure. But now the Government themselves accepted an Amendment which would cause considerable delay. He trusted that they would have no more concessions of this kind. If the Government acted in this way, the Opposition might have to reconsider their attitude towards the Measure.


regretted that the hon. Member should have thought it right to speak in a minatory tone. The hon. Member declared that no concessions had been made by the Government in favour of the workmen. [Mr. BROADHURST: "I said equivalent concession !"] That did not alter the case. As a matter of fact, many considerable alterations had been made to meet the views of hon. Members opposite. In fact, a day or two ago the Government were very sharply criticised for having given way so much to the Opposition. He deprecated such criticisms, however, either from the one side or the other. The Government regarded all Amendments according to their merits, and did not consider that they were dealing with opposed interests. They hoped that the interests of workmen and of employers were identical.

Nothing would induce them to agree to any great delay before the Bill should come into operation, but they were of opinion that a fair case had been made out for a short delay so that employers might have a better opportunity of making their arrangements. The Bill certainly did involve great change, and he attached high importance to the arrangements which he hoped would be made between employers and employed. He meant amicable arrangements within the Bill, and he thought it was reasonable that time should be given to those concerned to make their plans.


thought the Members on his side of the House would be prepared to support the Government after the speech of the right hon. Member. [Some cries of "No !"] A short delay was expedient in order that arrangements might be perfected in regard to insurance, contracts, and substituted schemes.

MR. J. WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)

did not think that a delay of three months would be long enough. He would have preferred the period mentioned in the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Helens. He had gone into the Lobby against the Government on more than one division since this Bill had been in Committee, but on the present occasion he should support them.

*MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid.)

, viewing the matter impartially, approved the proposed extension of time, because he believed that the peaceful operation of the Measure would be thereby facilitated. In the proposed interval Committees could be formed and friendly arrangements made between employers and workmen.

MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said he did not believe that the colliery owners would be ruined. There appeared to be very much consideration for the employers of labour in that House, but what about the workmen? These contracts were among the ordinary risks of trade, and colliery owners must take their chance with other employers. He understood that colliery owners looked for very handsome profits. [Cries of "Oh !"] He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not go back on the concession which he had offered.


pointed out that the coal contracts for the City of London and all the railway contracts were made from June to June, and had already been made up to June 1898. He thought it was a very small concession to ask the Government, instead of fixing March 31, to fix a time which corresponded with the time for which the contracts were made. He did not agree with the hon. Member for the Falkirk Division. He thought they were justified in pressing the Government for this further extension. He wished to say that he was not now an opponent of the Bill; he had been, but now that the Bill had passed the Second Reading he and his Friends wanted to remove some of its evils, and to defer the incidence of such evils.


said in order to make his position clear he wished to say that he had been opposed all along to the incidence of the compensation, but he had always been in favour of the principle of universal compensation. To some extent, he thought, they had managed to make the Bill a better Measure.


was understood to say that he had only quoted the Home Secretary.


Does the hon. Member press his Amendment?


said he understood the Government would give them an extension of three months. On that understanding he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.


said that if the Committee allowed the Amendment to be withdrawn the Government would be prepared to support an Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire for the extension of the time to the 31st of March.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. J. McKILLOP (Stirlingshire) moved to omit the words "first day of January," and to insert the words "thirty-first day of March."

Amendment agreed to.


On behalf of his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs (Colonel DENNY), moved to insert at the end of the clause, the words and shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, one thousand nine hundred. and two, provided that any cases remaining unsettled at that date shall continue as if this Act had not expired. He did so on the ground that the Bill was admittedly an experimental Measure. At the end of five years they would have ascertained the faults of the Act, and would be able to bring in an amended Act.


said the Government could not accept the Amendment, as they did not think it was desirable that the Bill should be of a temporary nature. ["Hear, hear !"] It was quite obvious from the discussions which had taken place that in all probability amending Acts, and possibly extending Acts, would be brougt in, and there would then be ample opportunity for discussing the working of the Measure.

Amendment negatived.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

On the return of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS, after the usual interval,

MR. HALDANE (Haddington) moved, at the end of Clause 2, to insert the following new clause:—