HC Deb 27 June 1900 vol 84 cc1209-26


Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made:, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

*MR. H. S. FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)

I desire to make a few observations on the changes the Bill has undergone since it was first introduced to the House. The Bill was described last week by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire as one of the most important, if not the most important, Bill of the session. I do not know whether it quite deserves that description, but certainly the boon which this Bill will confer on the agricultural labourer will, I am sure, be largely appreciated throughout the country. I was not able to be in my place to move the Second Reading of the Bill, and my hon. friend behind me, who, ever since the introduction of the Workmen's Compensation Act, has shown a strong interest in this subject, was kind enough to undertake the motion on my behalf. I am sure it must be satisfactory to him, as it is to me, to find that the steps we took in 1897 in endeavouring to induce the Government to include the agricultural labourers within the scope of the Bill have borne fruit. In 1897 my hon. friend behind me and myself, at different stages of the Bill, moved amendments and divided the House for the purpose of introducing the agricultural labourers. At that time we were met by the Government with two or three classes of objections. One was that the Bill would impose a burden on the agricultural interest. Then it was stated that it had not been demanded by the agricultural labourers. I think the Secretary of State for the Colonies was responsible for that statement. Well, both of these statements have, I think, been disproved by what has subsequently taken place. With regard to the burden on agriculture some impressions are still felt that this Bill will impose a serious burden. I do not think it can be too widely known that there is no foundation whatever for that impression, because for a mere trifle—3s. or 3s. 6d. per £100 of wages per annum—employers of agricultural labourers will be able to get indemnity from responsible insurance offices for any liability which may be imposed on them under the Bill. No one will contend, in view of that fact, that this Bill will impose any serious burden on agriculture. With regard to the agricultural labourers not having demanded the Bill in 1897, I can certainly say, as representing a division of one of the eastern counties, that if they did not demand the Bill then they very much resented subsequently their exclusion from the Bill. I think that events in more than one Division of Norfolk amply prove that fact. I must consider myself fortunate in having got the assistance of the Government in support of this Bill, because without them it would have been impossible to carry the Bill through this session, and, more than that, I must express my indebtedness to the House, without whose assistance generally the Bill would not have occupied the place it does to-day. It was said on the Report stage by an hon. Member opposite that the Bill had been emasculated. I do not think anyone can fairly make that charge against the Bill as it stands to-day. The Bill has, I think, been greatly im- improved as compared with the necessarily skeleton form in which it was introduced and passed the Second Reading. It was necessary to impose some limitations, but no one has pointed out more clearly than the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean that these limitations were required if the Bill was to be really an effective working measure. The Government have lent their assistance in order that it should be a comprehensive measure, and to ensure that everyone who ought to be included in its scope is included. There was one suggestion made on the Report stage which was withdrawn, and which my hon. friend the Member for the Devizes Division tells me he does not intend to propose. I think he exercises a wise discretion in not proposing it. I mean the proposal to take this Bill out of the operation of a recent decision, in which it has been held that, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, unless a workman has been employed for at least two weeks, he is not within the provisions of the Bill. It is quite certain that it never was contemplated by the Government or the House he should be so excluded, ft is certain that the decision has come as a surprise to those responsible for the Bill, and when an amending measure is proposed, and not only amending, but extending the benefits of compensation to all classes—a measure which cannot be long delayed—that mistake will be remedied, but I think it would be open to grave objection that a measure dealing only with one class, the agricultural labourers, should have an amendment of that kind. I trust that when this Bill goes to another place Her Majesty's Government will take as great an interest in it there, and ensure as much protection for it as in this House, so that the measure may be in no sense emasculated through fear as to the nature of its provisions towards agricultural labourers. I am sure those who desire to see the benefits of compensation not only extended to agricultural labourers, but to other trades, will regard this measure as the necessary precursor of that extension at no distant date.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

I join in support of the Third Reading of this Bill. I trust that the great hopes based upon it will be fully realised in its working. This is a measure which lie-longs to neither side of the House, nor to any party. Both sides of the House have been equal in their devotion and in the efforts they have made to secure the passing of this measure into law, just as many of us four years ago were interested in the passing of the Act of 1897. We then endeavoured to do for the agricultural labourer what we have now done, and we were only frustrated by influences which had great fear as to the disastrous consequences it might have on agriculture. As we are nearing the time when we shall have again to meet our supporters in the various constituencies, our fears have become considerably lessened, and our courage has risen to the occasion. I think we must all recognise the influence these events have had in ripening our judgment and our opinion on various subjects. One very important member of Her Majesty's Government has just arrived, and if I might, without presumption in one so feeble as myself, make a suggestion which would be of great value to the Government, it would be to occupy the early part of next session in an effort to secure the consolidation of the law relating to compensation for the labourer, and to make it inclusive and not exclusive. At the present moment we are engaged on a measure which, however good, it is no exaggeration to say is not inclusive, except of one industry, and. even there I fear in the working of it many will be excluded whom we intended, when passing this Bill, should be included. The hon. Member for North Suffolk is fully alive to the fact that there is an enormous industry, one of the most deserving of Parliamentary protection and assistance, namely, our sailors and our fishermen, still excluded from this beneficent legislation. There is the greater part, nine-tenths probably, of the building trades still excluded from the Act of 1897, and I should strongly advise Her Majesty's Government to thoroughly put their house in order with regard to the question of compensation, and to bring in a consolidating Bill, making it apply to all sections of the community who have to work for their living, and who are liable to accident in the course of their employment. If Her Majesty's-Government will undertake this work I am sure on this side of the House they will find an undivided desire to assist, them at every stage of the Bill. If such a measure were carefully drafted— drafted I mean by experts and not. amateurs, as some recent Acts are alleged to have been—there is no reason why the Bill should not be through the House in the course of ten days or a fortnight at the outside. I present this handsome-suggestion to the Government, and I hope they will accept it. With regard to the measure now before us, I think we may say of the labourers— We keep them at bay as long as we may, And then, when we must, we give them a crust. I hope we shall take larger views of our duty, and that we shall soon see a complete enfranchising measure that leaves, no meritorious case outside its scope, and, whoever may have the nominal honour of passing this Bill, we shall all rejoice in the accomplishment of the task, and all join hands most ardently in securing its. complete triumph as an inclusive scheme. I have only one word more to say; I have said it before, but I think it will bean repetition. Before there is any complete settlement of this great scheme of compensation to the labourers for injuries, we shall have to consider a plan for some kind of contribution of the State towards the funds for this purpose, and for this reason. In many cases, as we all know, if a small employer was left to meet the whole burden of compensation in certain emergencies, it might mean absolute ruin, and I do not think any employer is entitled to have the whole of that burden cast upon his shoulders. All labour is for the State as well as for the individual, and we should all take a share in bearing the burden of those undertakings which are necessary to the maintenance of the nation and the empire. I do not think it is a thing we should do in a hurry. It is easy to conceive of cases where it is the duty of the community to share to some extent in the great calamities that do occasionally overtake some branches of our industrial system. I join heartily in the congratulations on the Third Reading of the Bill, and I only regret that the Bill is not wider in its scope. I have done what little service I could. [Laughter.] I do not see why the hon. Member for Southwest Manchester should laugh. I have been engaged on this question thirty years, probably before the hon. Member for South-west Manchester ever heard of it. I have rendered whatever service I could to bring this Bill to its present stage by active co-operation, in order that it might become law this session.

MR. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)

I entirely agree with those who say that this is by far the most important Bill of this session, and that it is no party question. I somewhat regret that the hon. Member who has just sat down has endeavoured to make it a matter of party recrimination that the Bill was not passed earlier. I quite agree that the hon. Member has given us great assistance with the Bill. In the Grand Committee he took a keen interest in it, and I am glad to say that he and I were always on the same side. He suggests that all industries should contribute to a common fund to provide for all accidents. On the part of the agricultural interest I most entirely protest against that. Ours is a safe undertaking, and we can insure for a comparatively small sum, and I do not think we ought to provide insurance funds for accidents which occur in industries which are of a very dangerous character. They draw large profits from the work of the men, and they ought to provide for the risks incidental to that work. I rose for the purpose of dispel- ling, if possible, a misunderstanding which has been widely circulated in the country. Anyone who reads the comments which have appeared in the press on the discussion which took place on the Bill last Wednesday will see that the usually enlightened writers who follow our debates so diligently are entirely mistaken in one particular, and when there is a mistake in the press it is of the utmost importance that it should be corrected, because people do not read Acts of Parliament for themselves. The presumption of the law that everybody knows the law is a vainglorious presumption, and is not founded on fact. If people read the Act, the misunderstanding to which I am going to allude would not arise, but if they take their opinions from the press they will be under a misapprehension. Nearly everybody takes his opinions from the press, or from speakers who take their opinions from the press. The misunderstanding to which I refer is this. It has been widely circulated that there are words in this Bill which exclude from the advantage of it all agricultural labourers who are not habitually employed in agriculture. It has been said in many papers that we have excluded all those who are only casually employed in agriculture. That of course is not the case. The limitation is not one to keep out workmen, but to protect certain very poor employers. I think the Bill might have been more simply expressed if it had said in the first clause that it is to apply to every agricultural labourer, and then in the second clause that that should not be the case if an accident happened when working for an employer who does not habitually employ one or more workmen. If that had been so, no such misunderstanding could have arisen. My hon. friend has said that there must be some limitation, and I entirely agree with him, for this reason. The new liability which we are pitting on farmers is for accidents for which they are not themselves responsible. If they are responsible for the accident, they are now called on to pay compensation under the law as it stands, but we are putting on them responsibility for accidents for which neither they nor the workmen are responsible, and which could not have been prevented by either of them. The only logical justification for that is one of two presumptions—either that the employer is better off than the workman, or chat he is a man of business, and having an interest in the lives of his workmen, can insure them wholesale better than could be done retail. In the case of the very small men who do not habitually employ one or more employees, they are not men of business, and they have no great wages bill—a regular wages bill which reminds an employer of his duty of insuring himself against accidents —so that in the case of the small men both of these presumptions are entirely unfounded. The hon. Member spoke of forming a trust. We must be very careful how we deal out other people's bread. In the case of the small man it would be ridiculous to take away his bread and give it to others. One of these employers might, while working with his labourer, be injured as well as the workman. They might be both thrown out of a cart and seriously injured, and would it be right to add to the sufferings of the employer by taking away all that belongs to him and giving it to the workman? I am, certainly, not very well satisfied with the limitation as it stands, but fortunately there is another opportunity for reconsidering this Bill in a place where those present thoroughly understand the question of agriculture, and I rather gathered from the President of the Board of Agriculture that the words of limitation will be still further considered in that place.

*MR. JAMES LOWTHEK (Kent, Thanet)

I think the thanks of the House are due to my hon. friend for his perseverance in this matter, for I believe the Bill is one which the House and the country will generally approve, and I feel a doubt as to whether I ought not to refer in the plural, rather than in the singular, to the authorship of this measure, as some friendly controversy appears to have arisen thereupon. If, however, my hon. friends near me are entitled to share the credit, I am bound to say that from the energetic manner in which the Member for Lowestoft came to the rescue when the Member for Cricklade threatened its existence by overloading upon the Report stage, it scarcely needed a Solomon to discover the true parent of the Bill. There is one thing I should like to take this opportunity of pointing out, and that is that a vast deal of misconception and strong public feeling in respect to a similar measure, of which this is more or less the outcome, was due to the fact that when that measure was presented to Parliament and the country there was no. scheme of insurance submitted in connection with it, and no precautions taken to afford essential information under that important heading. The hon. Member for Leicester, and others, spoke of insurance in. connection with this matter. The Workmen's Compensation Act of a previous session was hurried through Parliament without any proper scheme being prepared, and I trust the experience gained with regard to the dangers which arose from that course will be borne in mind. I hope that experience will lead the Government seriously to consider the question of insurance. I think that those employers who are affected by this Bill, are deserving of some guidance if there is not actual participation on the part of the State. I could suggest a source whence the necessary funds might be derived, which I daresay in this connection would not be altogether unwelcome to the agricultural interest, for I say that any State assistance given to objects of this kind, in which I include old. age pensions as well as funds for meeting cases of accidents, which fails to reach all classes of the community must necessarily partake of the perilous character of socialism. Therefore the fiscal provision which I have myself indicated is one under which every human being would be in the position of contributing towards the compensation. I trust my right hon. friend, the Home Secretary, will realise that some facilities should be afforded agriculturists—who are not, as a rule, very well up in commercial transactions—in getting information as to the direction in which they should look for assistance and. co-operation. I do not wish my right hon. friend to give his imprimatur to any second edition of the Liberator Society, and to become the manager or director in his own person of any organisation for a purpose of this kind; but I think some assistance ought to be afforded to agriculturists in the remote districts to enable prudent persons to know how they can guard themselves from undue liability in connection with what is now becoming part of the law. Insurance has been denounced. We have been told that insurance lends itself to the encouragement of carelessness on the part of the employers, and that is an argument which was frequently used in connection with the Work- men's Compensation Act. The House and the country will not be disposed to lend countenance to that doctrine. I think it is universally recognised that prudent persons, especially those who from want of capital are not able to act as their own insurers, should be insurers in order to guard themselves. I hope that my right hon. friend will, at any rate before this Bill becomes law, see his way to afford some reliable information for guidance in the quarters to which I have referred. The question of exclusion of many occupations from the operation of this Bill has been spoken of. I own that I object to piecemeal legislation. I think to bring in a Bill dealing with one class of employment one session, and then to hurry through a Bill dealing with another class in another session, leaving out a large number of occupations, is scarcely a businesslike way of treating so important a subject, though I do not go the length of saying that all callings could be effectually included.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

The hon. Member for Leicester said he did not know why I should laugh while he was speaking. I was amused when he was importing, or endeavouring to import, into the debate a portion of the credit for this measure to his own party. I know the interest the hon. Gentleman took in the passing of this measure. I notice that the late leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, absolutely came down here on a Wednesday afternoon— a most unusual proceeding on his part—and asked us not to discuss this Bill at all. In fact I think I am right in saying that he asked my hon. friend in charge of the Bill to withdraw it altogether in order that some other Bill in which he was interested should be discussed. I also noticed that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle wrote a letter to The Times in which he complained that a discussion had taken place on this Bill. It was a somewhat extraordinary proceeding on the part of the hon. Baronet, for he is well aware that we usually discuss Bills in the House. In fact I believe that is what the House is for. Seeing that it is wholly due to the efforts of my hon. friends around me and to the action of the Government that the Bill is likely to become law, the claim of the hon. Mem- ber for Leicester to an equal share of credit for his party cannot be allowed. As to the means of effecting insurance, the companies may be trusted to bring before employers their responsibilities; and as competition is very great, if one company does not offer satisfactory terms the employer can go elsewhere for his insurance. While I agree that consolidation is ultimately desirable, I think the time has not come for it. There are many points which have arisen under the 1897 Act of very great difficulty. I think it is generally admitted that it never was intended by Parliament that a man injured in an employment which he had only been in a day or a week should be put on a different footing to the man who had been in employment more than a week. I regret that that condition should still remain, and if an alteration of the law is made it should be done by an amending Act. It will be better to wait until the Bill has been extended to all trades, or as far as it is intended to go, before an amendment is made on the original Act. The hon. Member for Thirsk referred to the word "habitual," which has already given rise to some misconstruction. I think the word will lead to much legal difficulty in the construction. It is bound to give rise to a large amount of litigation, until at all events it has been decided by the Courts exactly what the word does mean.

*MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

As Member for a large industrial town not directly affected by this Bill, I have not thought it necessary to take any active part in the framing of the measure. I merely rise now to congratulate the hon. Members who have been instrumental in passing the Bill, and I am very glad indeed that it is likely to go through this House without any further opposition. At the same time it seems to me that it was perfectly right not to have included agricultural labourers in the Act of 1897. We were then for the first time introducing into the law of this country the new principle that a man should be compensated for any injury he sustained, by his employer who had no part in failing to prevent or in bringing about the accident, which accident also was incidental to the employment in which he was engaged, and which might be supposed to be taken into consideration in fixing the remuneration for that employment. When we introduced that new principle it seems to me that it was perfectly right to limit it to trades and employments in which there was special danger, and then, after two or three years experience had shown that the Act was really beneficial to the employee and that the adoption of a system of insurance had prevented the terrible danger to employers which was anticipated, to extend it by degrees to other employments. I am very glad that the agricultural labourer is now to be brought within the scope of the Act; but when it is stated by my hon. friend the Member for Thirsk that the Bill is based on two principles, that the employer is to be made liable for injury to his workmen, first, because he is better off than they are; and secondly, because he is a better business man; I cannot realty assent to any propositions of that kind. I should like to test them by putting them in a negative way. Suppose the Bill said that every employer should be liable for compensation for an injury sustained by any of his workmen while in his employment, provided only that the employer should be better off than the employee, or was a better man of business; just conceive any Judge attempting to decide questions of that kind. It is altogether a wrong principle that the private circumstances of a plaintiff or defendant should be taken into account, because they can have nothing to do with the merits of the case. It seems to me an absolutely absurd principle, and it would be impossible to determine liability by any such rule. There is a principle at the bottom of this Bill much better than these unsound propositions. It is that when there is injury from an, accident in any manufacture the cost of compensation in such cases shall be considered as part of the cost of making the goods, and, therefore, though the compensation is paid in the first instance by the employer, it is ultimately paid by the purchaser of the goods. That was the only principle upon which I was able to support the Act of 1897, and it seems to me to be the only sound principle in legislation of this kind. In the first instance, of course, the employer must pay the compensation, and then he adds that expense to his rent, rates, and other expenses, and fixes the price of his goods accordingly. That is also the principle on which the Act must be extended to other trades. The system of insurance has now become universal, and the risks are found to be much less than were expected. Even in factories where dangerous machinery is employed the insurance rate, which was 30s. per £100 of wages, is now reduced to 6s., which shows that the fears which were entertained that the employers would be ruined have not in practice been justified. Then, with reference to consolidation, I hope we may not proceed with it for some little time. We have to see further how the Act of 1897 works, and also how this Bill will work, and we have to look with great care on all the decisions which have been given by the Law Courts. Workmen, I am sure, had occasion to say once again this morning when we opened our newspapers, "Thank God we have a House of Lords," which, not for the first time, yesterday performed a most important function with reference to the Act of 1897 by wiping away the cobwebs which had been placed on that enactment by the Court of Appeal. A County Court Judge had decided that when fair notice had been given within six months of an injury it was sufficient. The Court of Appeal by two to one, Lord Justice Romer dissenting, overruled that decision on a technical point that the notice ought to have been a formal notice, but the House of Lords yesterday swept that decision away and upheld the decision of the County Court Judge. There are several cases in which the parties have not gone to the House of Lords, and in which the Court of Appeal has inflicted on claimants some of these legal cobwebs. I hope, when the time for consolidation comes, all these decisions will be carefully studied, and I hope where defects have been shown in the Act they will all be swept away. I only wish to add, as a Member for an industrial town, I did not think it necessary to take part in the discussions on this Bill; at the same time I do not know any persons who are more anxious that this Bill should pass than artisans in industrial towns. That is certainly the case in Walsall, which I have the honour to represent. I heartily support the Third Reading of the Bill.

*CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

I have a very great interest in this Bill, and there are one or two matters I should like to refer to before it is read a third time. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite who said that this is not a party question, and I agree also that in a desire to pass this Bill into law, there has been nothing to choose between the two sides of the House, so far as my observation went. Nothing has been said or done on either side of the House to obstruct this measure in any way. Still, I notice that the Bill has been used for political purposes and a certain amount of political capital has been made out of it. We on this side of the House have been told that we opposed this measure in 1897, and are in favour of it now, because the General Election is nearer now than it was then. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth in so many words made the same observation on the Second Beading of the Bill. Many hon. Members, like myself, voted against the agricultural labourers being included in the Bill of 1897, and now we not only vote for that inclusion, but have worked for it in every way we could. I maintain that these two attitudes are absolutely consistent. What we said in 1897 was exactly what we say now. We have not varied our position in any single degree. What we said in 1897 was that we were introducing a very novel principle which might inflict considerable hardship on employers; that we did not know what the liability would be, or what the rate of insurance would be; and that, although the large employer did not much matter, it might inflict great hardship on the small employer who was no better off than the labourer. I made inquiries in 1897, and was told that the premium for insurance was £1, then it came down to 10s., then to 5s., next to 3s. 6d., and now it is 3s. Is not that worth waiting for? We have protected the small employer, and our interest is not only for the agricultural labourer, but also for the small employer who will come under this Act if it passes. We have the interests of both classes to consider. The very best class of labourer is the man who succeeds in saving money and getting a little holding for himself. Many farmers in the east of England trace themselves back two generations to agricultural labourers, and these are the men to be encouraged and protected. If a man like that who has one labourer in his employment has to pay £1 or;5s. as insurance is it not a matter of great importance to him? When the Bill of 1897 was under dis- cussion we said that it was impossible to apply it to all employers, and that we should wait for two or three years and then extend it. That is exactly what happened, and there has been no inconsistency whatever in our attitude. There is one matter in regard to the small employer which has not been sufficiently considered, that is with reference to the insurance rates. The minimum insurance rate quoted under this Act now is 5s. That means that a large employer who has a wages bill of over £150 will be able to insure at 3s. per cent., whereas the small employer whose wages bill is only £40 or £50 will have to pay 5s., i.e., at the rate of l5s. per cent. It is therefore very important that some means should be devised to enable small employers to insure themselves by some method of combination or through their landlord. I think it would be an excellent plan if it were possible that the insurance should in the first instance be paid by the landlord. It is not the case that the landlord in, many instances can, as has been stated bear the burden of insurance himself, but what he can do to the great advantage of all concerned is to take out a policy for his estate and be repaid by the farmers when they pay their rents. In that way the small tenants will be able to insure at a smaller cost. If not through the landlord, he may be able to secure the same advantage through some agricultural association. I do not think it yet appears to be thoroughly understood what was stated so clearly by my hon. friend the Member for Thirsk with reference to the limitation in the measure. An hon. Gentleman just now seemed to repeat the error into which many hon. Members have fallen. He appeared to think that in a case of accident, compensation could not be paid to the injured man unless he had been habitually employed by his employer. That is not the proposal, and it cannot be made too clear what the Bill states. It is not a question as to whether the injured man was or was not an habitual employee, but whether the particular employer who is to be rendered liable had or had not in habitual employment at least one man. The injured man may have been working only for two or three weeks, but whether he had been working for a week or a month does not affect the question if he had been working for an employer who habitually employed at least one labourer, otherwise no liability would attach. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet said that he objected to this legislation because it was piecemeal. I can only say that I believe that the great merit of our legislation in this country is that it is piecemeal. I constantly hear the argument used that some measure is objectionable because it does not deal with the whole subject; but is there any hon. Member in this House who would be able to deal comprehensively and completely with the whole subject of workmen's compensation? We all know that is impossible. We know it is only by putting one small measure on another that we can proceed. In this matter we have not only to see that the agricultural labourer is benefited, but also that the small employer does not suffer; and I believe that we have, as far as possible, safeguarded the interests of both classes, and that the Bill will result in great advantage to the agricultural labourers. I know from personal experience that this measure is welcomed by the farmers themselves quite as much as by the agricultural labourers. The farmers not only do not oppose it, but a large number of them have actually insured their men beforehand. A case came within my personal notice where a man was killed by being run over by a wagon, and when I made inquiries I found that the farmer had insured the man under the terms of the Act, and that the widow received £75 compensation. The farmers are ready to give the Act a good reception, and I hope it will prove of benefit to the labourers, and be an additional bond of union between the two classes.

MR. STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

The hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division appeared to imply that I said that the landlords were well able to bear the insurance under this Bill. I said nothing of the kind, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not wish to misrepresent me.


I assumed, as the hon. Gentleman wished to put the burden on the landlords, that he considered that they were able to bear it.


The hon. Member implied that the landlords are badly off, and that therefore it would be unfair to put the burden on them; but it would be still more unfair to put it on the unfortunate farmers, who are still worse off, because if the landlord is badly off his tenants must be worse off. Then, again, the hon. Gentleman rather gave the case away when he said that the small farmers could combine among themselves voluntarily; but, if voluntarily, why not compulsorily, and then the labourer would be be certain to get compensation. If the word "habitually" had been struck out of this Bill, as we attempted to strike it out in the interest of a very large class of agricultural labourers, then the small farmers would combine as a matter of course. I think the hon. Gentleman did not make his case at all strong. He admits that every farmer should insure his men, and yet he seems to object that that insurance should be compulsory, except in the case of large farmers. I think the hon. Gentleman gave the whole case away.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

This is not the time for opening old controversies. On all sides of the House it is honestly and really believed that considerable benefit will accrue to the class concerned by the passage of this Bill. At the same time I think there is no reason why we should not acknowledge that there are elements of danger connected with it in certain cases, and it is because I realise that danger strongly that I rise to make a suggestion in the direction of mitigating it. Where I see the possibility of danger is in connection with the class of smaller employers of labour who live in out-of-the-way districts, and are not brought into contact with town life and who do not know what is going on. They may neglect altogether to take the precautions necessary under this Bill, and they may find themselves as the result of an unfortunate accident liable for heavy compensation. That is a danger which is not only possible, but probable. We know very well how reluctant certain classes of farmers are to take any new steps, and they will be apt to let the thing slide and not make any move in the direction of insurance until the necessity of doing so is brought home to them by experience. I think something should be done to give a warning to these classes in time, and to put before them the danger they run in neglecting to take precautions under the Bill.


The President of the Board of Agriculture has already stated that in the event of this Bill becoming law the Board will not only issue circulars, but also circulate information throughout the country calling attention to the provisions of the new Act.


I was not aware that that undertaking had been given; but that was the suggestion I intended to make to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture. we all desire to see that promise fulfilled, but I am perfectly certain that it will be necessary not only that the information should be disseminated as widely as possible, but that some suggestion should be given to farmers as to where they may get the assistance they require. I suggest information should be distributed through the local chamber of agriculture in each district. It is certainly very desirable that whatever information they get should be correct and genuine, and not spurious and haphazard, and I hope this information which the Board of Agriculture have undertaken to spread will be disseminated in every direction, and that it will reach all those out-of-the-way places which are particularly affected. If this is done we shall be relieved of some sad and distressing cases where this measure is intended to do good. I shall be quite satisfied if this extra expression of opinion from the House insures the dissemination of this knowledge among the class to whom I have alluded.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)

said this Act applied to a very poorly paid class of persons. Agriculture was much subject to foreign competition, but at the same time it must be remembered that accidents were very few amongst those employed in agriculture, and consequently the rate of insurance would be only a trifle. As one who three years ago voted not only for the inclusion of those employed in agriculture, but also for the inclusion of all trades whatever, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, he rejoiced to know that this step had been taken and he regretted that the Government had not seen fit to bring in a measure which would have done a vast amount of good in the country to remedy the law in other respects so as to prevent a vast amount of the litigation which still went on under the Act. He hoped that the Government would, at the first opportunity, bring in a compensation measure which would include all the-trades in the country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.