HC Deb 05 June 1905 vol 147 cc799-814


Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, reminded the House that the Act or 1897 gave, for the first time, the workman who was injured by an accident compensation, whether the accident was caused by the default of the employer or not, and was confined to those engaged in particular trades. That was an entirely new proposal, and the Act was, therefore, to a great extent experimental. That being so, he did not think that the framers of the Act need be disappointed that in so short a time it had been thought necessary to amend and extend it. The working of seven years had shown that considerable amendment was required, and that the Act could be safely extended to other trades. In November, 1903, he appointed a Committee to consider in what way the Act could best be amended. That Committee contained representatives of both employers and workmen. It was most ably presided over by Sir K. Digby, who was Under-Secretary at the Home Office during the first six years of the working of the Act, and had therefore had great experience in it. The able and influential representative of workmen was Mr. Barnes. The inquiry proved more difficult and more protracted than was anticipated, but though the Committee sat longer than he could have wished, because he had hoped to introduce this Bill last year, the result of their labours had been a most able and valuable Report, which was to a very large degree unanimous. On that Report the Bill was drafted. It did not change the main principle of the Act of 1897, which was that of the personal liability of the individual employer.

The main financial provisions of the Act of 1897 remained unaltered. These were as follows:—In the first place, in case of death leaving dependants the provision made was for three years wages or £150, subject to a limit of £300. Secondly, in case of death leaving persons partially dependent, a sum to be agreed upon within the same limits. Thirdly, for disablement, a weekly payment during incapacity of not more than half wages, subject to the limit of £1. The Committee drew his attention to the fact that the burden of cost to the employer resulting from the Act had steadily increased, and had not yet, in fact, reached its maximum, because it had not yet reached the point at which the number of persons in receipt of weekly payments became constant—being diminished by deaths as much as it was increased by fresh cases. The Committee, therefore, were strongly of opinion that the main financial provisions of the Act of 1897 ought not to be altered in favour of the workmen, and that the present distribution as between employers and workmen of the loss caused by industrial accident ought to be substantially maintained. The provision that during the first two weeks of incapacity compensation should not be paid had not been altered. The Committee considered that this provision must be maintained both to prevent malingering and to avoid an enormous increase of claims for trivial juries. He was further informed that if this alteration were made the insurance companies would greatly increase their rates. These companies and the mutual indemnity societies would increase the rates 25, 30, and even 40 per cent. if the 14 days limit were reduced, and 40, 50, or even 60 per cent. if it were altogether abolished.

The Committee also decided against the general extension of the Act to all employments, and the Government did not propose to extend it to all employments indiscriminately; but they did propose to extend it to a number of kindred trades—for instances, carriers not already included in the Act of 1897, workers in workshops where five persons or more were employed, persons employed in the care and management of horses and locomotives, including farriers, persons employed on buildings less than thirty feet in height, and on which no machinery or scaffolding was being used, persons employed on tramways, private railways, or private sidings-of railways; persons engaged in road-mending, well-sinking, or in quarries less than twenty feet deep; and workmen engaged on their employer's business elsewhere than in their employer's works. He thought some method should be adopted of extending compensation to seamen, but it ought not to come into a Bill of this character. The Committee, after carefully considering this question, recommended that it should be dealt with by an extension of the Merchant Shipping Act. With regard to fishermen, the Committee recommended special inquiry. He thought such inquiry should be held, probably by his own Department, in consultation perhaps with the Board of Trade. Some special method of treatment was, in the opinion of the Committee, desirable for dealing with this trade, which was certainly a dangerous trade. So much for the classes of employees to which they proposed in this Bill to extend the Act.

The Bill also contained a number of Amendments by which the procedure of the original Act would be simplified, and by which litigation would be diminished; and by some of the alterations which had been suggested in the Bill, both employers and workmen would be relieved of anomalies and hardships which they suffered from under the existing Act. It was intended to make much more use of medical referees, and it was hoped to diminish litigation by making it possible with the leave of the Registrar of the County Court to have recourse to the medical referee before any litigation took place. The Bill also intended to permit employers under certain conditions to make special terms with old, infirm, or disabled men for compensation at a reduced rate in case of accident. It was difficult at all times in certain trades for old men to find employment, and the evidence before the Committee showed that one result of the Compensation Act of 1897 had been to make that difficulty much greater. With the possibility of having to pay heavy compensation incase of an accident occurring, and considering that these men were more liable to accidents than younger men and that insurance companies would not take the risk, employers preferred to engage younger men. It was felt that this point ought to be met, and therefore the Bill proposed to allow old and partially incapable men to agree with employers as to maximum claims. In this way it was hoped all parties, including insurance companies, would agree in meeting a growing difficulty.

Then County Court Judges would be permitted to award higher compensation for permanent injuries suffered by persons under twenty-one years of age, and to fix a maximum limit to the lump sum obtainable by a permanently disabled workman in cases where the employer exercised his right to obtain compulsory commutation of the weekly payments. Upon compensation in a lump sum the Court would be permitted to impose certain restrictions. It might well be that payment of a sum of money did more harm than good to the recipient. A Question was put to him in the earlier part of the day, and he was able to refer the hon. Member who asked it to the clause in the Bill which exactly met the point raised. When payment was made as compensation to a relative in case of accident causing The death of a workman the Court would have power to invest the money or deal with it in such a way as it thought best for the benefit of the persons entitled thereto. There had been instances in which a widow, receiving what for her was a large sum, had lost all the benefit of it in a few weeks. It was surely better that the County Court or other authority should have the right to usefully apply or invest the money.

He had promised to make his opening remarks as brief as possible, for he knew that several hon. Members specially interested in the subject desired to speak, and, therefore, he would not dwell further on details. On the face of it the Bill was difficult to follow, but he had done his best, by the issue of a White Paper, to make the matters intelligible to those who had not been, engaged in the drafting of the Bill. The object had been to make the working of the Act of 1897 simpler, less expensive, and more certain to do away with litigation as far as possible, and to secure fair compensation to those engaged in dangerous trades without putting an undue burden on the great industries of the country. He begged to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. TENNANT (Berwicksshire),

in moving "That, in the opinion of this House, no Bill to amend the Compensation for Accident (Workmen) Act, 1897, can be considered satisfactory which does not contain provision for compensation for injury to health", welcomed the Bill and congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on having introduced a measure of this character. The right hon. Great was well advised in saying that the two weeks was a point on which considerable attention would be concentrated during the debate on the measure. Labour Members, too, would probably have something to say with regard to the proposal to alter the period within which a workman had to bring his action against his employer from six to three months. These, however, were really Committee points. The most interesting portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that relating to the proposed extensions of the Act. He was glad that the Act was to be extended to the whole of the building trade and that the ridiculous anomaly of the thirty feet was to be done away with. He also welcomed the extension of the Act to the loading and unloading of ships, to the carrying trade, and to workshop-laundries. But he could not understand why workshops in which, less than five people were employed and laundries in which only two people were employed should be exempt. The dangers in these cases were not less than in others, and he failed to see on what grounds a man who worked with four colleagues should be compensated in case of accident, while the man who worked with only three should be entitled to no compensation. The proposal would introduce most confusing elements, and there was really no principle in limiting the application of the Act to workshops which employed a certain number of people. Nor was there any just principle in excluding those great institutions which carried on laundry work for gain.

As the Government were now of opinion that the Act might safely be extended to other trades, he hoped they would accept his proposal to extend it to cases of injury to health. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had recently stated that he was always in favour of extending the Act, but was prevented from so doing only by the action of the Opposition, and that he would not be content until it was extended to every trade in the country. That, apparently, was not the view of the Government. But if the right hon. Gentleman was really so keen about the extension of the Act why did he vote against Amendments moved in Committee in 1897, which would have had the effect of including shipping, workshops, agriculture, and health? But inasmuch as the Government now proposed certain extensions, he hoped he could claim the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary as a convert to his view. In any case, however, he had the support of a not less influential member of the Government, for the Lord Chancellor, in delivering judgment recently in the House of Lords in the case of "Brintons (Ltd.) v. Turvey" said— It does not appear to me that by calling the consequences of an accidental injury a disease, one alters the nature or the consequential results of the injury that has been inflicted. That was certainly true; the consequential result was not altered simply because it happened to be a disease. Wherein lay the difference between the suffering of a woman whose eye was knocked out by a flying shuttle and the suffering of a woman working in the pottery trade whose eyesight had been taken away by lead poisoning? Or again, why should compensation be paid to the dependents of a man who was killed by molten metal, and not to the dependents of a man who, driven mad by carbon disulphide, jumped out of a window and was killed? Or where was the difference between a man killed by an electric shock and a woman in a brush factory who pricked her face with a piece of deadly horse-hair, was stricken by anthrax, and died in a few hours? The industrial disease was just as surely caused by the employment in the one case as was the accident in the other. The question really resolved itself into: When is an accident not an accident? Compensation was payable for accidents. In the case of "Brintons v. Turvey" a man was killed by anthrax, and the employers took the matter to the House of Lords, where-judgment was given in April of this year. The Lord Chancellor then said— I so far agree with my noble friend that I think, in popular phraseology from which we are to seek our guidance, it excludes, and was intended to exclude, idiopathic disease, but when some affection of our physical frame is in any way injured by an accident, we must be on our guard that we are not misled by medical phrases to alter the proper application of the phrase 'accident causing injury,' because the injury inflicted by accident sets up a condition of things which medical men describe as disease. … A workman in the course of his employment spills some corrosive acid on his hands; the injury caused thereby sets up erysipelas—a definite disease; some trifling injury by a needle sets up tetanus. Are these not within the Act, because the immediate injury is not perceptible until it shows itself in some morbid change in the structure of the human body, and which when shown we call a disease? I cannot think so. I am, therefore, of opinion that the County Court Judge was quite right. Lead poisoning was a disease, but it could not be said exactly when the poisoning entered the system, and in the eases of "Marshall v. East Holywell Coal Co." and "Steel v. Cammell, Laird &Co." the Master of the Rolls had laid it down that an accident must be something of which the date could be fixed. But in some of these cases, such, for instance, as when a woman pricked her face with horse-hair and was stricken with anthrax, the date could be fixed, but compensation could not always be obtained. Thus very subtle distinctions were set up. He asked the House to clear those distinctions away, and say that, where a person, was injured by disease definitely arising out of and in course of employment, that person should receive compensation. Where was the difference between a man whose hand was crushed by a lathe and the man who was equally incapacitated by wrist-drop in the potteries, or between a man paralysed by a fall and a man paralysed by lend poisoning? To read some of the dicta of learned Judges one would imagine that no further legislation was required to bring crises of industrial disease within the law, but the truth was as stated by Lord Lindley— I hope that the decision in this case will not be regarded as involving the doctrine that all diseases caught, by a workman in the course of his employment are to be regarded as accidents within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act. That is very far from being my view of the Act, and it was no doubt very far from being the view of many others. In ninety-nine cases out of 100 injuries by disease were not taken into Court at all, and consequently no decisions were given upon them.

What were the objections to the proposals he was submitting to the House? It would probably be said that this was a small Bill, that is would be dangerous to over load it, and that there was no machinery by which the proposals could he incorporated in the measure. But why was it a small Bill? There had been eight years in which to test the working of the original Act—


I have not said it is a small Bill.


hoped he might gather from the remark of the right hon. Gentleman that he would not be told that his proposals would overload the Bill, and that some of them would be welcomed and adopted. Would it be said that there was no machinery for carrying them out? Such an objection was always poor, but it was poorer than usual in this case. Machinery could easily be found—for instance by insurance. Before the Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded, Mr. Lane, the manager of the Accident Department of the Commercial Union Assurance Company, when asked whether in employments of this kind it would, from the point of view of insurance, be a difficult matter or a matter involving any very great expense to bring them within the scope of the Act, said— No, I do not think it would. No doubt there were difficulties in the way. It was not a very simple thing to do. But it was the business of people interested in constructive legislation to try to surmount difficulties, and it was the duty of statesmen and Parliament to overcome obstacles. Witnesses who were not in favour of these proposals and who saw the difficulties involved agreed that in the event of such an extension, there must be medical examination of the persons employed. That would be the first thing employers would insist upon. The medical inspection of young persons in many industries had been most effective. Dr. Legge, who was really a witness against the bringing of injury to health within the scope of the Compensation Act, stated that the reduction of necrosis in lucifer-match factories was undoubtedly the result of more rigid inspection and of the dental examination. The incorporation of these proposals within the scope of the Bill would tend to prevent many of the industrial diseases which at present existed. On that point Dr. Legge, the Home Office Medical Inspector, said— If a case like that got compensation it would induce the occupier to alter his method of manufacture and give up the sand-papering of this while lead, which is the cause of so much lead-poisoning. He would do it in another way—he would probably do it wet. Q. "Would he, if insured? A. I think that the insurance companies would make him. On the question of mercurial poisoning Dr. Lcgge stated— It is very difficult to see how the exposure to the fames can be lessened in the small workshops in which it is carried on. But was human life to be sacrificed simply for the convenience of manufacturers, that they might go on making thermometers in small workshops? On the question of anthrax Dr. Legge said— The effect of bringing this under the Workmen's Compensation Act would probably be to diminish the number of cases (about 215 within the last, five year, with fifty-five deaths) more than any other measure, but it opens up very wide questions. Yes, it did, but it was the duty of Parliament to deal with very wide questions. Dr. Legge further stated— Most of the anthrax cases come from Persian wool, and I think that the inclusion of anthrax under the Workmen's Compensation Act will lead manufacturers to give up using those dangerous kinds. He (the hon. Member) submitted that he had proved that the terrors of industrial disease were as great as the terrors of industrial accident, and that the difficulties in the way of machinery could be overcome fairly easily. There was a precedent in the medical examination of young persons at the present moment. The effect of this industrial disease on the State could not be otherwise than bad. In regard to lead poisoning Dr. Legge stated before the Committee that— Such cases as occurred in printing works are usually bad cases … it is generally paralysis, and general break-up of the System. With regard to mercurial poisoning, he stated that hardly any of the workers in thermometer-making e caped its injurious effect, while a particular worker to whom he referred appeared— To be attacked regularly twice a year, and alternates his time between the Holborn Infirmary and his little workshop. Could it be said that that was a right and proper condition of thing? Then in the case of Canister miners, post mortem examinations invariably revealed large quantities of fine dust in the Junes, which had caused phthisis, the rate of death from which among the working population in those mines was ten times greater than among the general population at corresponding ages. Another industrial disease arose from arseniureted hydrogen, in reference to which Dr. Legge made the following declaration— You might have five persons suddenly killed without any knowledge that the gas was present at all. There was one fatal case of poisoning by this cause which I inquired into, which very nearly came to a case under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Although he had been obliged to compress his remarks he maintained that he had done something towards proving his case. He would end by quoting a sentence from the Report of the Physical Deterioration Committee— Complacent optimism and administrative indifference must be attacked and overcome, and a large-hearted sentiment of public interest take the place of timorous counsels and sectional prejudice. He did not wish to impute sectional prejudice to the Government, but he feared that timorous counsels still prevailed in high places. He had brought forward this Amendment in the belief that the House was animated with a large-hearted sentiment of public interest, with a desire to diminish the hardships of those engaged in industry, with a desire to do tardy justice to a large number of the industrial population of this country. He further hoped that the House was conscious of its imperial responsibilities. It was in that hope and that belief that he ventured to move the Amendment standing in his name.

SIR J. STIRLING-MAXWELL (Glasgow, College),

in seconding the Amendment, said that he did not associate himself altogether with the general criticisms of the hon. Member on the Bill, which he hoped to see soon passed into law. He hoped, however, that his hon. friend would accept the addition which he had suggested in his own Amendment to extend the operation of the measure to "dangerous trades."


said he would be willing to do this if the hon. Member would accept the addition of notifiable industrial diseases.


said that being anxious to see this Bill passed he would not make a lengthy speech. He entirely associated himself with what the hon. Member opposite had said as to the impossibility of really drawing a distinction between cases of illness and accident, and he thought such an alteration should be made. As a matter of fact this was one of the legitimate extensions of the Act which was contemplated when the House passed the original Act. He hoped his right hon. friend would give favourable consideration to this matter.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words in the opinion of this House, no Bill to amend the Compensation for Accident (Workmen) Act, 1897, can be considered satisfactory which does not contain provisions for compensation for injury to health in dangerous trades.'"—(Mr. Tennant.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

agreed with the object of the Amendment, and trusted that the Government would agree to accept it, for in his opinion the experiment which had been made under the Workmen's Compensation Act more than justified the bringing of it forward now. Even with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire the Bill would not be so good as some of them would like to see it. Indeed, every argument for amending the Bill was a belated justification for the amendment of the original Bill seven years ago. The Home Secretary had stated that this Bill, after nearly eight years experience, was still a tentative and experimental measure, and that considerable amendment of the original Bill was now required. When the Act was previously under consideration his hon. friends and himself ventured to move that, agricultural labourers and seamen should be included, and that the anomalous and ridiculous restriction of thirty feet to buildings should be done away with, but they were then told that they were simply attempting to damage the Bill. and they had more recently been accused of attempting to wreck this measure. Everything he and other Labour Members said then was now justified. As to the defects still in the Bill, he could not see why seamen should not be included. If there was one class of men who deserved protection it was those who went down to the sea in ships. He did not wish to see sailors excluded from the benefits of this Act for another seven years. He agreed also that there were certain other occupations so dangerous that they ought to be included. The man who was a victim of the disfigurements of anthrax, for example, would still suffer unless the Amendment were accepted, and he would get no compensation. He knew a case where a man lost four ringers in a printing machine, and he was awarded pound;150, whilst a man, who had lost both his eyes from anthrax did not get a single penny, and, consequently, he was dependent first upon his limited savings, and then upon his friends. If this Amendment were rejected, the men who suffered from anthrax would still suffer, and manufacturers would be encouraged in their slothful methods and bad processes, whereas if the Act was extended to such cases, they would be induced by the insurance companies to put their house in order. To those in favour of preferential treatment of the Colonies he wished to suggest one practical way in which they could further their policy. Foreign wool was a very fertile source of contagion in causing anthrax amongst workers amongst wool. By giving compensation to anthrax cases caused by working Persian wool they would be helping the colonial trade by encouraging the use of British wool which was not quite so dangerous to health. That was the only bit of protection he would advocate. The great argument in favour of the Bill was that, despite the Workmen's Compensation Act, and the safeguards imposed by Parliament on industrial occupation accidents in factories avid workshops were seriously increasing. In 1897, 513 workmen were killed and 35,000 injured. In 1904 the number killed had increased to 721 and the number injured to 78,000. These figures indicated a laxity on the part of the Home Office in putting the existing law into force. Whatever the reason for this was it ought to be put a stop to as soon as possible, and the time had arrived when some such drastic Amendment as that now before the House should be adopted. In 1897 there were eighty-eight men killed in docks, whilst in 1904 there were 138 killed. That appeared to him to indicate not a vigorous administration of the present law, but, on the contrary, laxity and inertia. Accidents in docks during the present administration had increased from 2,859 to 5,342. During the past seven or eight years the total number of injuries in factories and workshops had increased from 63,856 in 1897, to 115,564 or nearly double in eight years. That did not indicate vigilant administration. The one bright spot was the diminution in cases of lead poisoning. In 1900 there were 1,058 cases, which fell to 597 cases in 1904. He attributed the falling off to the yearly criticism of the Home Office in the House of Commons in Committee of Supply.

He saw no reason why a man who was injured should wait fourteen days before he got compensation, or indeed, why there should be any limit at all. He believed the artificial limit encouraged malingering. They all welcomed the extension in the Bill to other trades, but they sincerely regretted that seamen were not included, and wished that dangerous trader should be dealt with in this measure. When the Bill reached Committee the Labour Members would endeavour by friendly Amendments to make it a good Bill. He wished to repudiate the suggestion that by putting forward friendly Amendments they were either killing, obstructing, or mutilating this Bill. They were ready to do all they could to assist in passing remedial and ameliorative legislation. They contended that the seven years experience which they had had of the present Act was quite enough to warrant all the Amendments which they had suggested being adopted. The fact that there were 5,000 men, women, and children killed every year in their factories, mines, and workshops, and that 100,000 were more or less seriously injured, warranted them in asking that this legislation should be made as humane and protective as possible. All the suggestions they made were in that direction. They made these suggestions, and the Home Secretary might rely upon it that when this Bill came into Committee they would do their very best, notwithstanding taunts from whatever quarter, to make this a better measure, and the Labour Members would use all their efforts in that direction.

Debate to be resumed on Tuesday, June 20th.