HC Deb 06 March 1906 vol 153 cc358-79

Order for Second Reading read.


said that the question which he was now about to bring before the House would not excite the keen interest and warm feeling and he hoped would not take so long a time as that which had just been disposed of. The Bill the Second Reading of which he now moved was entirely of a departmental and non-controversial nature. The Bill was, in substance, the same as that which was introduced last year by his predecessor, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire; and he understood that the hon. Members below the gangway opposite approved its main provisions. The present law in regard to the notification of accidents was somewhat complicated. There were different statutes regulating different industries. Accidents on ship-board were covered by the Merchant Shipping Act, and stood on a different footing from those dealt with by the Bill, and were therefore left untouched by it. Accidents on railways had to be reported to the Board of Trade, and if this Bill passed the Board of Trade would modify their regulations in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The measure dealt almost entirely with mines and quarries on the one hand, and with factories and workshops on the other. The present law in regard to mines and quarries was divided into three categories, all of which were reportable to the mines' inspectors. In the first place, there, were fatal accidents; secondly, there were non-fatal accidents which arose from special causes, such as explosions, which occasioned any personal injury whatever to any person employed in or about the mine; and third, accidents which arose from any other cause and gave rise to serious personal injury. No exact definition was given in the Acts in force to the term "serious personal injury." Every mine manager was at liberty to form his own opinion as to what he regarded as serious personal injury. The result was that there was an infinite variety of opinion as to the class of accidents which had to be reported. As a matter of fact, only a very small percentage of accidents which most persons would consider serious, which took place in mines and quarries, ever came to the notice of the mines inspectors. There were now 6,000 accidents reported every year; but it was calculated that if every accident which incapacitated a miner for a fortnight were reported, instead of 6,000 a year there would be 75,000 reported; and if every accident which incapacitated a miner for a week were reported these would amount to 100,000. The fact that only 6,000 were reported showed that the law was seriously deficient and that there was no proper and adequate system of notification of accidents in mines. The effect of this also was that the returns were quite valueless for statistical purposes since the classes of accidents reported as being serious differed from mine to mine and from district to district. Further, a con- scientious mine manager who honestly tried to report every accident that might be reasonably considered to be serious was thereby prejudiced, for his return seemed to show that his mine was more dangerous or that the safety of the miners was less regarded than in the mines of his neighbour who had not been so conscientious in making his accident report. Changes in the methods of the industry made it necessary to add to the category of special causes of accidents which were' to be reported. Be proposed to leave the reporting of fatal accidents in mines in the same position as it now stood, since no defects existed in that regard. As to special causes the House would remember that the law necessitated the reporting of all accidents arising from them, whether the accidents were serious or not. In this, category it was proposed to add accidents caused by electricity, such as electric shock or burn; because such accidents, however slight they might be, might when investigated show defects in the electrical equipment of a mine, which the inspector should be aware of, because they might result in very grave accidents or mining explosions. In the Bill was a clause under which power was given to the Secretary of State to add other special causes as the changed circumstances of the' industry might require. Then the term "serious injury" was more closely defined in the Bill, and, lastly, with regard to mines a completely new class of reportable accidents was established. All accidents which caused any serious personal injury, according to the definition of the Bill, or caused en injury sufficiently serious to incapacitate the miner for a specified length of time ought to be reported in the annual return to the Mines Department. The incapacity which was suggested in the Bill was a period of fourteen days, but that period was inserted in italics, and was only a provisional figure. The Government were by no means wedded to that figure, and if hon. Members regarded that term as too long, he should be very glad to meet them in a sympathetic spirit. He was sure hon. Members would realise that the proposals made by this Bill with regard to the reporting of accidents in mines would mean a very considerable improvement in the law and enable statistics to fulfil far more completely than hitherto the purpose which the House had in view in requiring their collection. With regard to factories and workshops, the present law required all accidents to be reported which fell within one of three categories. First, there were fatal accidents, which must be reported to the inspector and the certifying surgeon. Second, nonfatal accidents from special causes—machinery in motion, hot liquid, molten metal, explosives, and so forth—which were to be reported to the inspector and surgeon, if there was incapacity for five hours in one of the three days following the accident. Thirdly, there were accidents arising from all other causes and which resulted in disablement for five hours in one of three days following the accident, and these were reported to the inspector only, and not also to the certifying surgeon. The defects which had become apparent in the law, as regarded factories and workshops, with regard to special causes—accidents from machinery in motion, molten metal, and the like—were that frequently accidents occurred which at first sight seemed to be slight and trivial but which after a time developed into very serious accidents indeed. These included poisoning injuries and injuries of other kinds, which might not show their effects within three days of the accident. It frequently happened that the factory inspector had no knowledge whatever and was never informed of serious accidents, because their full seriousness had not been displayed within three days after the accident. Then there was this complicated provision as to five hours within one of the three days, which set up an intricate arithmetical problem, which had resulted in continual misunderstandings. This provision had given rise to an immense amount of correspondence between factory inspectors and owners of factories and workshops. As it had given rise to considerable difficulty it had been thought desirable to amend it. Then again electric shocks and burns were omitted from the category of special causes, although they might well come within that category, and. there was no power in the Secretary of State to add other special causes from time to time. They proposed by this Bill to sweep away the provision about five hours in one of three days and to make the accident notifiable if it incapacitated the workman or workwoman for a period of one clear day at any time subsequent to the accident. Then they proposed to add to accidents caused by special causes those which were the result of electric shock or burns, and they gave power to the Secretary of State to add other causes to that category also. The last proposal of the Bill was intended to relieve the Factory Department from the overwhelming burden of entirely useless clerical work which was now cast upon them by the necessity to report, apart from the accidents which occurred from special causes—machinery in motion and so forth—a third class of accident, those arising from any mischance whatever which caused incapacity for a period of five hours. The result was that the factory inspectors were overwhelmed with reports of tens of thousands of trivial accidents which were quite unpreventable by any regulations. In 1895 there were 10,000 accidents reported, in 1900,68,000, and in 1905 over 90,000.

MR. H. J. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

Was there a change of the law?


replied in the affirmative and said there was the Act of 1895, which, for the first time, brought these trivial accidents within the scope of the law and which led to the increase. It was not because there was any large increase in the number of accidents that occurred or that the industries were more dangerous, or that the employers were less careful in fencing the machinery; but the figures were swollen by the fact that more ace dents were reported. These were Blue-book accidents. The reporting of them involved a very serious amount of clerical work and prevented the inspectors from concentrating their attention upon serious accidents which were overlaid and concealed. Haphazard he picked up the list of accidents in the South London district on one day, the 16th of November, 1905. The number was eighteen and and among them were the following:— Boy—slipped on iron when walking—cut hand. Labourer—unloading van—cut hand on broken barrel hoop. Labourer—walking—knocked foot—bruised toe. Box maker—scraping off glue—knife slipped—cub thumb. Packer—getting out straw—fell—bruised. Labourer—loading van—slipped and fell—hurt ankle. Assistant—stepping on box—lid save way—shoulder grazed. Labourer—lacing up boot—joint slipped—toe hurt. These were of no use either as statistics or for inducing inspection. What use to the Department was a notification of the fact that a man was kicked harnessing a horse. Yet these figures were reported to the district inspector, then to the superintending inspector, and then went on to the statistical branch, and this occurred in regard to tens of thousands of cases from every place all over the country. No matter if the staff of factory inspectors was doubled, they could do much better work in the factories and workshops than in their offices, examining these trivial reports in regard to injuries that disabled for a period of five hours. It was still proposed to retain the reports even of slight accidents in regard to machinery or from explosives, because a trivial accident in those cases might reveal a grave danger. They, therefore, proposed to say that if there was incapacity for a period of one day from an accident arising from machinery or explosion it should still be reported to the inspector and the certifying surgeon, but that in other cases there should be incapacity for a considerably longer period than the law now required before a report was demanded. The Government suggested a period of fourteen days, but here again if that period was thought too long he should be ready to consider sympathetically a suggestion for its reduction. In the Bill of last year it was proposed to make also an alteration in the status of certifying surgeons, which was one more of form than of substance. It was not intended to reduce the amount of work done by the certifying surgeons, but they thought their position—and their emoluments—would be affected. As there was much opposition, and as no material point was involved, it was thought better to omit that particular provision from the Bill. The Bill, as the House would see, dealt only with comparatively small points of detail, a debate upon which could be most conveniently taken in Committee. He should propose that the Bill should be referred to the Grand Committee on Trade, and he hoped the House would grant him the Second Reading of the Bill which he now begged to move.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Herbert Samuel.)

MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

said he took some interest in this Bill, which, as had been said, embodied many of the provisions of the measure which he had the honour to lay before the House last session. He congratulated the Under-Secretary upon the extreme clearness with which he had stated the case: he had done so with a wealth of illustration, which must have convinced the House that the present system of notifying accidents needed investigation and amendment. All sorts of cases such as the grazing of a shoulder or one incurred in regard to the lacing of boots had been reported as accidents to the Government Department. These cases were present in the mind of his right hon. friend the late Home Secretary when he appointed a Departmental Committee to consider the question, and that Committee issued a Departmental Report which contained the evidence upon which this Bill was framed. The inquiry was very thorough and full and had brought out the purposes which were served by notification. In the first place, it was desirable by means of notification to call attention at the earliest possible moment to accidents caused by machinery and explosions, as it was desirable that at the earliest possible moment the attention of His Majesty's inspectors of factories should be directed to seeing Whether machinery was properly or improperly fenced, in order that they might take all the necessary precautions to preserve the lives of the workers of this country. The information was also desired for statistical purposes, as it was of importance to the country that we should have a general knowledge of the class of accident which took place, and that general knowledge could be obtained only by inquiring into the various causes of accidents, and of the means by which the dangers could be met. Where the statistics had been overladen by a mass of trivial and irrelevant detail it was impossible to sift them so that they could be made useful. Some standard of reportability was required, and he thought a good selection had been made of the information which was required to guide them. The Report of the Committee said that the information should be precise in character, proceed upon some standard, and embrace a wide range of accidents, although it was possible to make the range too wide. He thought the hon. Gentlemen had tried to meet the point. The object of this Bill was twofold—to introduce a more complete system of reporting accidents in mines and quarries, and to simplify and render more effective the present system of reporting accidents in factories and other places under the Factory Act. As the Under-Secretary shad pointed out, the present requirements in respect to mines and quarries were exceedingly defective. It was difficult to define what was a "serious personal injury." The Reports issued in 1904 in respect of reportable accidents in mines and quarries showed that 5,312 people were injured and 1,202 killed. But other statistics had been put forward showing that at least 75,000 accidents had occurred in mines and quarries, many of which ought also to be reportable. The Bill proposed that all accidents which disabled a man for more than fourteen days should be annually reported; the Under-Secretary of State had stated that when in Committee he should propose that that time should be changed, but he ventured to submit that the fourteen days should remain as the standard, because it would be incidentally an advantage to gather accurate statistics for the purposes of the Workman's Compensation Act. He quite admitted, however, that that was a detail that could be threshed out in Committee, there being no great principle involved; therefore, he took no hard and fast line upon that. As regarded the re-portability of accidents in factories, the present law was that if a man was absent for five hours on any of the three following days after the accident, the accident must be reported. That requirement was a difficult one because it was difficult to understand what view to take in cases where the result of the acci- dent did not develop until some days afterwards. Such a requirement necessitated the reporting of a number of trivial accidents, and when the House realised that the inspectors were overwhelmed, that in one year, they were inundated with 90,000 cases of which the greater number were trivial, they would see the value of the statistics gathered by them; and the possibility of their attending to each case was completely put on one side and rendered nugatory by the great number of trivial cases which they were called upon at the same time to consider. In this there was room for improvement, but when the hon. Gentleman suggested that an accident should be reportable which prevented a man or woman from being present at their work on any day, he suggested it would be well to fix some reasonable date after which it should not be taken into consideration. If, for instance, a man met with some trifling accident and six months after suffered from a bad headache which he said was the result of the accident the case should not be considered as one necessarily to be notified. Otherwise the proposal was one that would commend itself to the House. The objects of the Bill as set out in the memorandum were well worthy of the consideration of the House. They were— To substitute the simple and clear standard of one whole day's absence for the present complicated standard in the case of the important classes of accidents such as accidents from machinery, etc. To abolish the limitation to the three days following the accident so as to make an accident reportable whenever the day's absence occurs; Other minor improvements effected by the Bill are the requirement that reports shall be made on the form and contain the particulars prescribed by the Secretary of State; the increase of the maximum penalty for failure to report under the Factory Act from £5 to £10, etc. There was one other point to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, namely, the question of certifying surgeons. There had been some unnecessary alarm created among the certifying surgeons, who thought their sphere of influence was to be curtailed by this Bill, but in his opinion that alarm was unfounded. The Bill proposed was one that was contemplated by the late Government, but the exigencies of political life made it impossible to proceed with it last session, and he was glad it was now introduced. He thought the proposal to send it to a Committee >vas a very wise one.

MR. MYER (Lambeth, N.)

said he should very much like to see a change in our system of factory inspection. He should like to see working men made factory inspectors, men who understood machinery and the methods of working. Very often they knew the reason why an explosion occurred and why a man injured one day might be very well for perhaps a fortnight and then suddenly develop a poisoned hand or foot in consequence of the injury he had received. They also knew very often why machines were faulty, and whether machines were properly guarded or not. They knew the conditions under which men worked, and he certainly hoped that in the Bill some arrangement would be made for changing the classes of factory inspectors.

MR. GLOVER (St. Helens)

said he wished to thank the Government for bringing in this important measure. Many Members had thought in the past that a large number of accidents in the mines of this country had not been properly reported or that a large number were not reported, and they were therefore very pleased that a measure had been introduced which made it compulsory to report all accidents. Under the Mines Act those responsible for reporting accidents were only required to report such as were of a serious nature, and it was owing to that fact that there had not been more than 6,000 accidents reported to the inspector of mines during the past year. What was required was that all accidents should be reported in order that an accurate return might be made of all the accidents that took place. He understood that the chief reason for reporting these accidents was in order that the inspectors might visit the place where a serious accident had occurred for the purpose, if possible, of trying to prevent accidents of the same kind occurring in the future. He was not going to complain with regard to the staff of inspectors of mines who were at present engaged in this kind of work, but he would like to point out that, owing to the large number of accidents which took place, it was impossible for the inspectors of mines to make any inspection of the mines generally, which ought to be done in order that accidents might be prevented, instead of the inspector merely going to look at the place where an accident had occurred. More inspectors of mines ought to b" appointed. He and his hon. friends would like to see at least one inspector or sub-inspector to every 10,000 employed. They were pleased that the Government had brought in the Bill, because they thought that if the accidents were reported daily it would certainly bring to the public mind the serious conditions under which the miners of the country had to work. It had been said that if all the accidents had been reported there would have been at least 100,000, but he ventured to say that that was a long way below the mark. There had been, he ventured to say, over 150,000 accidents during the last year, and the only way whereby they could get at the statistics and reports was by taking the information from the relief societies. Every accident was reported to these societies, and they could find out from them the number of accidents which took place. When he said that these societies' reports showed that an accident occurred to every five employed in the mines, it would be seen that the number came to something near what he had stated. He was pleased to see that the Bill was a great advance with regard to the nature of the accidents to be reported on the Mines' Regulation Act as it at present stood. There was, for instance, the question of electricity and electric shocks. Not very long ago in the district from which he came they were under the impression that it would be impossible for an accident to occur in connection with the electric supply in mines, but a youth came into contact with the cables in the mines and it caused his death. They therefore thought the Bill was a step in the right direction. The accidents ought to be reported when they occurred. It was stated that the accident should be reported if it prevented the workman returning to his work within fourteen days, but he would suggest that it should be altered to three days. If an accident was of such a character as to prevent a workman from returning to his work after three days, it certainly ought to be reported. He trusted that three days would be substituted for fourteen days. A previous speaker had said that he hoped the fourteen days would be kept in because it would coincide with the Workmen's Compensation Act, but they hoped that it would be made three days and that there would be an amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act so that the workman should receive compensation if he was unable to return to his work three days after the occurrence of the accident. He hoped therefore the Government would see their way clear to insert three days instead of fourteen days. He thanked the Government for bringing in the measure, and he trusted it would pass its Second Reading and become law this session.

MR. H. J. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

said he was in agreement with others who had spoken in the debate about several matters, particularly with regard to the statement made by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire as to the lucidity of the speech of his hon. friend who introduced this Bill. He thought those who had studied this question would admit that the position of the law was at the present time in a very confused and complicated state, and that being so, there was a fair case for the introduction of some amending measure. He did not wish to commit himself to all the details of the Bill, because it might be that he would have to move certain Amendments in the Committee stage, but in the main he thought the Bill travelled on the right lines. As regarded the usefulness of the Bill in the matter of statistics, he was not at all sure that an alteration of the law was in the interest of that branch of the subject. It must also be observed that if the Bill were carried into law, it would have the effect of enormously increasing the number of accidents reported under the Mines Act, and, on the other hand, of diminishing greatly the number of accidents reported under the Factories and Workshops' Act. He agreed with his hon. friend that there were at present too many trivial acci- dents reported, which complicated the work and cost a great deal of time and money, and it would be well if they could hit upon a system by which only those accidents which were of serious moment should be reported to the Factory Department. As regarded the time for which accidents had to be reported, it was announced that the law relating to workmen's compensation was going to be altered, and he only hoped the periods would be made to correspond. He welcomed this Bill primarily because he believed it would leave the inspectors of factories more time to devote to most pressing duties.

MR. STUAET WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said he regarded the Bill as welcome, hut he wished to raise a point on behalf of railway companies, which stood in rather a special position. They had no desire to evade any duty imposed upon them by this House, and they had as much interest as anyone else in the reliability of statistics, because the information given to the Government was just as valuable to the undertakers of great enterprises as it was to the Government itself. Railway companies were not entirely outside the Bill, notwithstanding the impression which had been created that they were, because railway companies had not only working lines but also very large factories, and between these two kinds of installations they had sidings and lines which connected a railway with a factory, and sometimes also with a mine. In some cases the siding might belong to the owner of the factory, and in others to the railway company, and what he wished to enforce was that it was a just claim on the part of railway companies that they should not be bound to submit to the jurisdiction of and to make reports to two different Government departments in respect of one part of their undertaking. Let the factories which belonged to railways be quite separate and the same with regard to railroads. It would be an injustice if they were subjected to embarrassing conditions with regard to inspection as to accidents which arose on some part of their undertaking which it was difficult to allot to any particular department of the State. He felt sure the hon. Gentleman desired to make this point clear, and perhaps he would give the House some assurance on the point before the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. GILL (Bolton)

said he quite agreed with the change proposed by this Bill. Fe knew several cases where the present law had been evaded. He had known instances where a person had been injured in such a way that he could not come under the Act because he was compelled to stop at his work at the time although through the injury he had been compelled to go away afterwards. In such a case no report under the present law was necessary. If this Bill was carried and the person went away there would be a necessity to report it. He thought the increasing of the penalty to £10 was a very useful provision. A number of accidents which took place did not develop during the three days fixed by the Act. He knew an instance where an apparently trivial accident had taken place, and the person had gone on working for a week or two, and then ill effects had set in, and he was compelled to go off his work. He remembered a case where an operative spinner, working, as was the custom, with bare feet, got a little bit of iron in his foot; it afterwards had to be taken out and blood poisoning followed, with the result that he lost his toe and was permanently incapacitated. They wanted to prevent accidents, and if the reporting took place when the injured persons had been off one day, it might result in more fencing of machinery and the adoption of greater safeguards. There had been a great alteration in this respect since the passing of the Compensation Act. He knew one firm which had spent £6,000 in this way. Accidents had been reduced very largely in consequence of these precautions having been taken. The result of the passage of the Workmen's Compensation Act was that a much greater number of accidents had been reported. In the society with which he was connected he had dealt with 1,300 cases under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and there were a very large number of trivial accidents which had not compelled the operative to be off work for fourteen days. He did not altogether agree with the clause which required fourteen days to elapse before a simple accident was reported; in his opinion that period was too long. There were many simple accidents, and the period should not be longer than three days. He did not wish to raise any prejudice on this point in regard to the Workmen's Compensation Bill which was to be introduced. The period in that Act was also too long, and there was much feeling amongst the working classes that the compensation ought to be from the date of accident. The Labour Members intended to try and get that period reduced. He thanked the House for listening to him. He was prepared to support the Second Reading, and would endeavour to get the alterations he had alluded to made in Committee.

MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

said he rose to support the Bill before the House. He desired in the first place to get from the Under-Secretary a guarantee that under this Act the workmen would not be placed in any worse position than they were under the Industrial Accidents Act of 1894. [An HON MEMBER: They will be in a better position.] He did not think so. The Labour Party and the trade union representatives in this House were not so anxious to get statistical tables, for that was only a very trivial side of the question. They had discovered that so far as the application of the Industrial Accidents Act of 1894 was concerned, the compulsory reporting of accidents and the trouble which it caused to employers had tended to lessen the number of accidents, and that was the principal reason why they were supporting the Bill now before the House. There was another clause in the Act of 1894 which ought to apply and be included in this Act, and that was the provision under which, when in the opinion of the Board of Trade an accident was of sufficient importance to justify that course being taken, they had power to hold a statutory inquiry into the causes and circumstances of the accident. He thought a provision of that kind ought to be included in this Bill, because otherwise the correct information as to the cause of the accident was often hidden, and there was no possibility of getting a correct statement of the circumstances under which the accident had occurred. Such inquiries enabled them to take the necessary precautions to avoid similar accidents in the future. He agreed with the hon. Member for Bolton as to the necessity of being careful in a measure dealing with industrial questions that they did not prejudge the case in the future, and the Industrial Accidents Act of 1894 was a peculiarly sinister illustration. Nearly all the trouble under the present Workmen's Compensation Act was due to the fact that the promoters of the Workmen's Compensation Act lifted into it the schedule so far as it applied to engineering works and put it into the Act and made it apply to circumstances entirely different. The well known instance of the buildings exceeding thirty feet in height he might mention, for it had caused endless confusion. Consequently he wished to be certain that in the passing of this measure, and by including the period of fourteen days, they were not committing themselves to that period as applied to the proposed Workmen's Compensation Act which they expected the Government to produce very shortly.

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middles-borough)

said he joined with his colleagues in congratulating the Government upon the production of this Bill, but he had to complain that there was no mention in it of ships or seamen. It was a fact that there was no record kept or any reports sent to any Government Department of accidents on board ship.


reminded the hon. Member that this point could be dealt with upon the proposed amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act.


said he did not agree with the hon. Member. He wished to remind him that a ship was a factory when it was alongside the quay, and he would like to make her a factory all round the world, because the Home Office was a good deal more liberal in their dealings with legislation affecting working men than the Board of Trade. Not that he wanted to set up any competition in this respect between those two departments, but he thought there ought to be some provision made for reporting accidents on board ship. He was aware that accidents were supposed to be recorded in the official log of the vessel, but he would remind the House that very often ships went away on voyages of three years duration, and no report of any accidents were sent to any Government Department until the end of the voyage, and then of course the log book was handed in to the Board of Trade. He thought it would tend to make matters more safe on board ship if immediately the ship arrived in another port a report of any accident had to be sent on either to the Board of Trade or the Home Office. If the Home Office could bring ships within the scope of this Bill he should be very thankful. In cases of fatal accidents a proper report was sent immediately after the occurrence from the first port of arrival, but this was not done in the case of non-fatal accidents.

MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid)

said he desired to say a few words in reference to mines, and make one or two references to the manner in which the Bill had been drafted. He entirely approved of Section 1 which provided that the Home Office should obtain more statistical information with reference to accidents which took place in mines and quarries. With regard to Section 2 the object was a different one. Section 2 extended the obligation with reference to mines and quarries. That was all to the good, and he hoped it would have the effect of causing more care to be taken in dangerous places to secure the safety of the lives and limbs of those engaged there. For years in this House he had called attention to the system of legislation by referring to previous Acts, and he had urged that it should, if possible, be avoided. The hon. Member opposite had referred to the difficulty which had been experienced in the working of the Workmen's Compensation Act in consequence of that form of drafting. The result had been that every Court in the realm had said that the Act was a conundrum. He asked the House to consider what the Home Office had done in this case. The Bill now before the House had only six sections altogether. The first section referred to two sections of previous Acts—one passed in 1887 and the other in 1875—and it provided that these sections— Shall be read as if the matters to be specified in the returns to be given under those sections respectively included a statement containing such particulars as the Secretary of State may prescribe of all accidents which occurred in or about the mine or quarry during the year to which the return relates, and disabled for more than fourteen days any person employed in or about the mine or quarry from working at his ordinary work. Therefore it was impossible to construe Section 1 of this Bill without referring to the two Acts mentioned in it. Section 2 of this Bill said— Section 35 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887, shall be read as if the following sub-section were substituted for Subsection 1 of that section.‡ The same subsection shall be substituted for so much of Section 11 of the Metalliferous Mines Act, 1872, as is repealed by this Act, both as respects the application of that section to metalliferous mines and as respects its application to quarries. Then they had to refer to the Schedule and see what the section of the Act of 1872 said. He challenged anybody who was not fairly skilled in statutory construction to read with any intelligence this kind of legislation. Section 3 said— Where any line or siding, not being part of a railway within the meaning of the Railway Employment (Prevention of Accidents) Act, 1900, is used in connection with a mine or quarry, the provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Acts, 1887 to 1896, and of the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Acts, 1872 and 1875, as respectively amended by this Act with respect to returns and notification of accidents shall have effect as if the line or ailing were part of the mine or quarry. It was perfectly easy to say in an Act of Parliament what the meaning of a section was. Section 5 of this Bill said— Section I of the Notice of Accidents Act, 1894, shall be read as if the words 'cause him to be absent throughout at least one whole day from his ordinary work' were substituted for the words 'prevent him on any one of the three working days next after the occurrence of the accident from being employed for five hours on his ordinary work' in Sub-section I of that section. His object in calling attention to this form of drafting was very simple. It was to impress on the Government that they ought, as far as possible, to put a stop to this system of legislation by reference to previous Acts of Parliament. He spoke as a lawyer, and he could state that the members of his profession had sometimes to cudgel their brains to find the meaning of statutes in consequence of Acts being constructed in this way. It was particularly desirable that this form of drafting should be avoided in labour legislation. The Government ought to make their draftsmen put down in fairly plain and simple language what was meant, so that anybody could understand it. It should not be necessary to refer to half a dozen Acts of Parliament before getting the meaning of a particular statute.

MR. CARLILE (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)

said it was a matter of congratulation that this measure should have been received so sympathetically in every quarter of the House. He rose to call attention to a remark made by the hon. Member for Bolton in regard to which the House was entitled to rather more information. The hon. Member stated that he knew employers who compelled their employees to return to work for three days following an accident in order to avoid liability under the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897.


I did not say in order to prevent liability under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I said in order to prevent the reporting of the accident.


said he did not know that the explanation made any material difference as to the importance of the allegation. He thought he was justified in asking the hon. Member to enter more into detail when he made' an allegation of that kind. That there were employers of labour who were not considerate to their workmen no one could for a moment doubt, but that any considerable number of such persons could come within the knowledge of the hon. Member was, to his mind, extremely doubtful. The reception given to this measure in a House representative as it was of many large employers of labour showed that employers were not likely to compel persons injured by accidents to attend at their work in order to avoid having to report the suffering condition in which they were. He thought employers were entitled to feel indignant at such a suggestion.

MR. BELL (Derby)

said that the hon. Member who had just sat down happily believed that there was no employer of labour, or no official of an employer, who desired to conceal accidents which occurred to workpeople. Unfortunately he himself knew of a number of cases where officials—he did not say employers—had asked men who had been injured to come to the works and that they would provide substitutes for them to do their work, so as to prevent a report of the accident being sent in.


pointed out that the emarks of the hon. Member for Bolton had reference to employers.


said he was not going to draw any distinction between overseer and employer. The employer was responsible for the overseer. He wanted to make sure in regard to Section 3 that this Bill would be operative in regard to all accidents. He was not at all satisfied that it would apply to a private line or siding worked by a railway company. That was where by misunderstanding, or perhaps shrewdness, some people evaded reporting accidents, and it was one of the important matters he had had to deal with during the past ten years. There was overlapping of the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade and the Home Office, particularly in reference to accidents on private railways and private sidings connected with collieries and other industries. Railway men in order to collect and distribute traffic had to travel over certain portions of these private railways, and some unfortunately met with accidents. The owner of the private railways did not report the accidents because the men injured were not in his employment, and the railway company did not report the accidents because they did not happen on their railway. He wanted the right hon. Gentleman to provide in the Bill, if it was not already included, that all accidents which occurred on private sidings should be duly reported. He heartily supported the Bill, and he hoped that some day they would have a similar measure in regard to all railways.


said he could assure his hon. friend that it was the intention of the Government that cases like that to which he had referred would be covered either by previous Acts or by this Bill so as to give his hon. friend the security he desired. His hon. friend the Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield had asked that the railway companies should report always accidents to one authority. He could not guarantee now that railway companies should always report accidents to one authoirty. Under some Acts they might have to be reported to the Home Office and under others to the Board of Trade.


said he did not want the railways to have to report to two authorities in respect of the same accident.


said that was a perfectly legitimate request. The grievance to which his hon. and learned friend the Member for Mid Glamorganshire had drawn attention was felt much more by laymen than by lawyers like his hon. friend himself.


said he had not been speaking as a lawyer but as a Member of this House.


said his hon. and learned friend was speaking with all the admirable qualities he possessed. This, however, was a case of wishing to be saved from the hon. and learned Gentleman and his learned friends. It would help them all if Bills were drawn in plain language which laymen as well as lawyers could understand. But it was a difficult matter to introduce a change and there were always temptations in Government departments not so much to approve of as to acquiesce in forms of drafting which were calculated to facilitate the passage of Bills through the House. He rose in particular to give one or two assurances. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough had spoken of the necessity of giving returns with regard to accidents on board ship. Of course, the Government desired that there should be full information with regard to accidents on ships whether they were at sea or in dock. But he was not sure whether it would be possible in this Bill to do what the hon. Member desired. So far as anything could be done to meet his wishes the matter would be considered. With regard to the period of fourteen days he gave an assurance that there should be an assimilation as regarded this Bill and any subsequent amending Bill which might be brought in.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

said that, before the Bill was disposed of, he wished, as a member of the legal profession, to say a word of dissent to what had been said by the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan. It was apparent from the speech of the Home Secretary that it was not the lawyers who were responsible for the outrageous complication of modern Acts of Parliament; and this Bill seemed to pass all bounds in the way of legislation by reference. The reason was a Parliamentary and not a legal one—it was to conceal the true meaning of a Bill so as to diminish opposition.

MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

wished to support the view that all Acts of Parliament referred to should be stated in the Bill itself. It was impossible, not only for laymen, but for lawyers to understand legislation of this kind without referring to a great number of Acts of Parliament. The matter had become a serious one, and in some States in America the difficulty was recognised, and by a clause of the constitution it was enacted that whenever a clause of another Act of Parliament was incorporated it should be fully recited in the Bill. He hoped the present Home Secretary with his great majority behind him would have the courage to deal adequately with this question, and to effect a reform which had been long delayed.

Question put.