Mr. TYSON WILSON
I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, a Committee should be appointed to consider and report upon the anomalies that have been created in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act."
In moving this Resolution, I should like to say in connection with the Act we fully recognise that it has been of immense benefit to a very large number of working-men and women, but we know after seven years' experience of the working of the Act that many defects have been exposed. I will endeavour to make out a case for this Motion. I will commence by giving some of the anomalies that have arisen in the administration of the Act. In the first place, I would like to refer to Clause 1, Sub-section (b) of the Act of 1906. There it makes provision for an injured person who may have met with an accident through the neglect of his employer to recover compensation in other ways than by the Compensation Act. Sub-section (c) of the same Clause says that in case of the accident occurring through the neglect of a workman, unless he is permanently injured or killed, no compensation should be paid. I 2052 suggest in connection with these two Subsections that this is not strict equity between the workman and the employer. If the accident is caused through the neglect of the employer, he is not called upon by the Act to pay a higher rate of compensation for the injury inflicted upon the workman. But in the case of a workman, unless he is permanently injured, he receives no compensation whatever, and, in my opinion, the employer whose neglect causes an accident to his workman should be called upon under the provisions of the Act to pay a higher rate of compensation for that accident. As a matter of fact, I am not putting it too strong when I say that if a workman is not entitled to compensation unless he is permanently injured, the employer through whose neglect an accident is caused should be called upon to pay at least full wages to the man injured through that neglect. That is a question which the Government ought to seriously consider.
With regard to the time taken for proceedings under the Act, whilst I recognise that, generally speaking, ample time is allowed for notice to be given, still, through certain circumstances, the injured person may not be able to give notice. Let me give a case in point. An instance was brought to my notice yesterday where a man received a slight injury. He worked for a short time afterwards, and then he was taken to the infirmary and he was treated there for a considerable time, and everybody connected with him forgot to give notice of the accident. He recovered sufficiently to work occasionally, but the disease was progressive, and eventually he was unable to work at all. When this man gave notice to his employer he was told that he was not entitled to compensation, because he had not given notice within the six months. The case has been traced back to the time when the man went into the infirmary. Some seven or eight years after the accident the doctor who attended to the case made a special note of it, in which he said that the man's condition was owing to the accident. I think, under circumstances of this kind, it ought to be sufficient notice—or satisfactory notice, at any rate—to everyone immediately concerned that, the man's condition was due to an accident that he had met with in his employment. I think, under those circumstances, that ought to be accepted as satisfactory evidence, and I hope some attention will be given to this point.
2053 I think the question of proving that proper notice has been given ought to be thrown upon the employer and not upon the workman. That is a grievance with a considerable number of workmen and the associations to which they belong. Another very important point from our standpoint is the question of light employment. The hon. Gentleman who represents the Government, as a lawyer, will know perfectly well that there are many complaints with regard to the question of light employment. It seems to me absolutely foolish on the part of anyone administering the Act to expect an injured workman, who may be badly crippled, to find light employment, although physically he may be well enough to obtain employment. We know perfectly well that a very large number of people in the country are always on the lookout for light employment—I refer to men who are elderly or old, or do not enjoy good health. To say to a coal-miner or a navvy that he is fit to do light employment because the doctor certifies it, and that he shall not be entitled to compensation, seems to me to make the Act to some extent ridiculous. I suggest that when a man is able to resume work at some light employment it ought to be thrown upon the employer to provide that tight employment, and if he does not do so the man should be entitled to full compensation under the Act. I will mention another anomaly in connection with the Act. Take the case of a weaver or a watchmaker, or anyone in a trade of that kind. If they happen to lose an eye they are entitled to a lump sum, or further compensation than half wages. A man who has lost an eye may be able in six months to resume his employment. The point I am making is this: Take the case of a miner as an illustration. If a miner loses an eye and he recovers sufficiently to resume employment, the only compensation he gets is in respect of the number of weeks or months that he is out of employment owing to the accident; but, if he leaves the employer for whom he is working and secures employment with someone else, and then meets with a second accident, the second employer is called upon to pay full compensation for that man's loss of sight. Provision ought to be made whereby the employer in whose service the man was when he lost his eye should either pay a lump sum for the loss of the one eye, or should be called upon to pay some part of the compensation that the second employer is at the present 2054 time called upon to pay. I do not know how the decision was arrived at that a man or woman should not be entitled to compensation for the loss of one eye, because no one can say that a workman is as well qualified to do his work with one eye as he is with two. If he were, every workman would have been born with one eye. The loss of an eye is a great handicap to him in his employment. Take a man on the railway. He may be working in the shunting department. He is seriously handicapped, and he may be the cause of an accident, not only to himself, but also to other people. The Government ought to do something in the direction of remedying this grievance.
We think that labourers who are paid very low wages ought to be entitled to a higher rate of compensation if off work through an accident than is provided for in the Act. Take a labourer whose average weekly wage is 18s. or 20s. per week. Every farthing of that money is spent upon the family needs, and, if that income is reduced to 9s. or 10s. per week, it is absolutely impossible to keep the home going without applying for Poor Law relief. Under the Insurance Act he gets no sick pay for the accident, and I am sorry to say that some of the friendly societies are following the example set by that Act and are deciding not to pay sick benefit to members in receipt of compensation, so that some poor people who meet with an accident are a great deal worse off owing to the passage of the Insurance Act. I suggest that men whose wages are under £1 or 22s. per week ought to receive 75 per cent. of their wage as compensation if laid off through an accident. I want the House to imagine so far as they possibly can the difference in the lot of the labourer who meets with an accident and suddenly finds his income reduced from 20s. to 10s. per week, and the lot of those gentlemen who are complaining of having to pay Super-tax. I think the House will agree with me that there is a great deal more need for allowing higher compensation to that labourer than there is to have consideration for a man wealthy enough to be called upon to pay Super-tax. I am inclined to think, compared even with those ladies and gentlemen who have an income of £700 a year, that we ought to show more practical sympathy for the unfortunate individuals who meet with accidents and are compelled to exist upon the low amount of compensation to which I have referred.
2055 I would like to suggest that if a person is certified by a medical man having to administer the Factory Acts or anyone like that—a certifying surgeon or a responsible medical man—to be suffering from a disease scheduled, it ought to be sufficient to enable him to get compensation without having to take the case into the Law 'Courts. That is not so now. It may be sometimes, but not always. I want as far as I possibly can to simplify and reduce the cost of the administration of the Act, and I do say that if the man is certified to be suffering from a disease scheduled under the Act it ought to be accepted as sufficient evidence that he is entitled to compensation under the Act. When a man meets with an accident he is examined nearly always, I take it, by a doctor representing the employer or the insurance company. The doctor says, "You will be able to resume work in five, six, or seven days." At the end of that number of days the employer says, "You are able to resume employment, and therefore you are not entitled to receive compensation." The result is that the man or the men's society is compelled to take the case into Court, and it has been proved time and time again, that where the employer's doctor has said a man would be fit to resume work in a week, a fortnight, or three weeks, he has not been able to do so for three months, six months, and in some instances twelve months. They have been compelled to take the case into Court. Perhaps they had the award of the County Court judge given in the man's favour, but then the case has been taken to the Appeal Court and perhaps to the House of Lords. Means ought to be devised whereby common cases would be decided finally without having them taken time after time to the House of Lords. Before a man is refused compensation by his employer under the certificate of the employer's own doctor, someone independent of either party ought to be called in or appealed to so that compensation might be awarded to the man without having to go to Court as at the present time. There is another point, an administrative point, rather than a legislative point.
I am informed that coal trimmers attending to their duties in the holds of ships inhale so much coal dust that they are subject to a particular disease not common to other classes of workpeople, and I suggest where such a case arises the 2056 disease ought to be scheduled as one for which compensation is payable. I could give scores of other anomalies, but I will only add one more. Not very long ago a fireman who was stoking boiler fires, in the course of his employment had also to-wheel away in a barrow the ashes from the fires, and, while doing so, was struck upon the head by a wooden case and was disabled for a considerable time. He went into Court, and the learned judge decided that the man at the time of the accident was not following his ordinary occupation and must, therefore, be refused compensation. In a case like that there ought to be some regulation laid down to provide that if it were a man's duty while stoking fires to wheel the ashes away, and he met with an accident while taking them away, he should be entitled to compensation without having to go to Court. That seems to me a common-sense view of the matter, and a point which ought to be made quite clear in connection with the Act. Another grievance I have to refer to has reference to the 50 per cent. compensation payable to an injured workman. We think the 50 per cent. ought to be based on the wage for a full working-week, and there ought not to be such a thing as striking an average for twelve months. If a man can show that his wages are £2 a week he should be entitled to 50 per cent. of the full week's wage, and no account should be taken of time lost owing to a holiday or bad weather, or to the employer working short time, the workman himself having no control over the circumstances. I suggest that, in connection with this and the other points I have named, the only way to get over the difficulty is to appoint a Committee to inquire into the administration of the Act.
With regard to the examination of injured workmen, I have had complaints sent to me that when an injured person is being examined by the medical referee, a medical expert acting for his employer or for the insurance company concerned, is present at the examination. I do not think he ought to be there, but, at any rate, if it is considered necessary, then the workman also should be allowed to have his medical man present. Personally I think it would be far better to leave the medical referee to decide for himself, without allowing the presence of a medical representative, either of the employer or of the workman. I do not know whether any complaints have reached the Home Office, but one or two cases have been 2057 brought to my notice where the medical referee appointed by the Home Office has been interested in the company for which the man was working when he met with his accident, or where he has been a relative of the employer. It should be made quite clear that men in these positions are not really qualified to act as medical referees in compensation cases, and something should be done to prevent their being so employed. I am going to suggest that, instead of having a medical referee appointed as at present, the Government should appoint full time medical referees not dependant on a private practice for their living. If that suggestion were adopted I feel satisfied the cost of the administration of the Act would be considerably reduced, and that many law suits would be avoided. It certainly would be more satisfactory than at present. I suggest, as a remedy for the various grievances I have referred to in connection with medical examinations, the appointment by the Home Office of permanent medical referees.
I appeal to the Government to appoint a Committee of Inquiry which may take evidence in connection with the many anomalies that have arisen in the working of the Act. There is one other point I particularly want to raise. When a case is taken into Court it often occurs that the employer for the insurance company concerned calls two medical men of high repute to give evidence to the effect that the man either is not suffering from the effects of the accident or disease, or not to the extent he suggests. The injured workman is compelled in self-defence to bring two medical men of equally high repute to state that he is suffering from the effects of the accident or disease, and is therefore entitled to compensation. Here we have the anomaly of four highly respectable gentlemen of good repute in the medical world giving evidence directly contrary to each other, and we ought to save their consciences if we possibly can. I ask the Government therefore to appoint a Committee of Inquiry to go fully into all these anomalies, grievances, and complaints that have cropped up from time to time in connection with the administration of the Act. I have purposely refrained from referring to one or two other points in connection with the mining industry, as they are to be touched upon by my colleague who is to second the Motion, but I do appeal to 2058 the Under-Secretary for the Home Department to carefully consider the terms of my Motion, and I feel certain he will agree that I have made out my case for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for the Westhoughton Division of Lancashire (Mr. Tyson Wilson). The Resolution calls the attention of this House to the many anomalies that have arisen in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act, and asks the Government to appoint a Committee of Inquiry with the object of reporting as to the remedial legislation necessary for removing these anomalies and for having the Act administered in the spirit in which it was passed. I think I shall carry with me the assent of hon. Members in all parts of the House when I say that the chief object of the promoters of this legislation was to secure for workmen injured in the course of their employment, compensation for the loss of earnings with a minimum of litigation and with as little delay as possible. However anxious they may have been to embody in their legislation those excellent principles, experience of administration has proved that they have failed to give effect to their intentions. No Act of Parliament of modern times has been so fruitful of litigation and delay as the Workmen's Compensation Act. As a matter of fact, the administration of that Act has provided for the legal profession a golden harvest during the whole of the seventeen years it has been in existence. That such a result should have followed the earnest efforts that were made in 1897 and 1906 to secure for injured workmen fair compensation on easy terms is, I am sure, a matter of deep regret to many Members in this House, and I believe that many hon. Members share with those on these benches the desire for fresh legislation that will remove many of the anomalies and difficulties. Legislation dealing with such a complex subject was, at least in its earlier stages, bound in the very nature of things to be of a tentative character, and subject to review from time to time as experience in administration dictated. That was clearly recognised both by the late Sir Matthew White Ridley and by Lord Gladstone in introducing their legislation. In introducing the Bill of 1807, the late Sir Matthew White Ridley said:—The Government do not pretend that the Bill is complete or final.2059 And Lord Gladstone, in introducing his amending Bill in 1906, said:—The question with which this Bill deals has advanced by stages and will advance.The organised workers of the country are of opinion that sufficient experience has been gained to justify another advance being made in the direction of bringing the Workmen's compensation law into closer conformity with their ideas as to fair play and justice to the workmen, or their dependants, injured, and suffering loss of wages in any part of our industrial system. My hon. Friend has already brought before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman a number of points on which, in his opinion and in the opinion of organised labour as expressed through the Trades Union Congress and other bodies, the law requires amendment. I have no intention of repeating his arguments, or of dealing at any great length with any of the particular points he has already raised. The difficulties which have revealed themselves in connection with this particular Act of Parliament are so numerous that there is no need to elaborate any one of them unduly in trying to make out a case for the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry. One of the points already briefly referred to by my hon. Friend is the difficulty which faces the injured workman when he reaches the stage when he has recovered sufficiently to be certified by the medical man to be fit for light employment. The difficulties that meet him at that particular point are of a twofold character. On the one hand, there is no onus placed by the existing law on the employer to provide the workman with that light job. As a matter of fact, the employer may not have a light job to give him, and it may be impossible for the workman to find any other employment. He will certainly have a great difficulty in finding another employer who will give him that light job. The fact, however, that the man has been certified fit for such work puts the employer in the position of being able to claim, and successfully claim very frequently, a reduction of the injured workman's compensation equal, or at least corresponding, to the wages that he would have received if he had been fortunate enough to find suitable employment. On the other hand, the employer may be able to provide him with a suitable job, but the workman's injuries may be of a permanent character. He may have been in the posi- 2060 tion of being able, as my hon. Friend has already instanced, of earning £2 per week prior to his accident. The job that is found for him by his employer is one that is only valued at £1, which means a difference of £1 between his earning capacity prior to his accident and after he is able to return to this light form of employment.
The Workmen's Compensation Act, as-interpreted in Scotland—I do not know very much about the practice in England or Wales—gives to such a workman 50 per cent. of his loss, which means that he has his earning capacity permanently reduced to the extent of 10s. per week. The obvious amendment there is for the onus to be placed on the employer to provide, the workman with light work, or, if he is not able to do that, at least to continue to pay him full compensation until he is able to obtain suitable employment from somebody else, or, in the case of the employer who is able to provide his workmen with light employment, the onus should be placed on him to pay between partial compensation and wages a sum equal to the wages the workman was earning prior to his accident. We are also of the opinion that the list of scheduled diseases should be extended in a number of the occupations of this country. There are workmen at present who are suffering from diseases peculiar to the industry which they follow for which no compensation is paid them. Take an example from my own occupation—that of mining. Within recent years a considerable number of our men have suffered from heart strain. When a claim for compensation is made on this ground, the employers in a considerable number of instances, have contested the claim on the ground that the man's condition was not due to accident, but was the result of continual overstrain. If the employers' contention is right that mining under modern conditions is of such a strenuous character as to produce this heart condition, it ought to be placed on the list of scheduled diseases for which compensation is paid. That is only an example of many cases which might be given.
Another one of the difficulties which recent administration of the Compensation Act has brought us face to face with is what is known as accidents not arising out of and in the course of the workman's employment. This is an old difficulty with a new name. In the Act of 1897 we had what was known as the serious and wilful misconduct Clause, under which a 2061 workman who was injured in breach of any regulations which governed the industry in which he was employed was not entitled to be paid compensation. This Clause was found to act so unfairly in many cases that it was amended in 1906, so as not to apply in cases of serious and permanent injury and fatal accidents. The ingenuity of the legal profession has again got the employer safely around the amendment which was then made, and when such a case now arises the claim of the workman is refused on the ground that such accidents do not arise out of and in the course of the workman's employment. I have a whole list of decisions in such cases. Such claims are being successfully made and justify an immediate amendment of that particular Clause of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Within recent years we have heard a great deal of discussion in this House about the difficulties of the working classes in meeting the increased cost of living on their present wages. If the difficulties of the working classes are great in meeting the increased cost of living on their present wages, and I have no doubt such is the case, what must be the position of the injured workman who has to meet the increased cost of living on 50 per cent. of his average earnings? Other countries are showing us an excellent example in this respect. A new law is about to come into operation in the State of New York, which provides for an injured workman getting two-thirds of his earnings. The German Compensation Law also provides for injured persons getting two-thirds of the earnings. This is a phase of the question which ought to be given careful consideration under any amending Bill in the near future. Also there is the question of medical referees. It is one of the most important matters for consideration in connection with the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act. If we had throughout the country properly constituted courts of medical referees, entirely independent of either the workman or the employer, I believe it would go a long way in the direction of reducing the cost of litigation and also shortening the delays that take place under existing conditions. There is also the question of certifying surgeons, and the question of the difficulties which surround the workman in regard to the registering of memorandums of agreement. There are many other matters which one could mention, but I think I have mentioned enough to justify the appointment 2062 of a Committee of Inquiry, which I hope the Government will give us, so that evidence can be taken on all the points that we have brought under their notice.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY Of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Ellis Griffith)
I am sure all who are in the House to-night and have heard the speeches of the Proposer and Seconder, are agreed that we have seldom heard such pointed and concise speeches on any subject. I congratulate both hon. Members on the way in which they have presented their ease. In view of the attitude I propose to take on behalf of the Government on this Resolution, my hon. Friends below the Gangway will agree with me that the less I say about my individual views on these particular anomalies the better, because I do not want in any way to prejudge one way or another the various matters which have been put before the House. Of course, it is common knowledge—I know it not only officially but legally from my practice at the Bar—that there are a great number of anomalies in connection with the Workmen's Compensation Act, and it is very necessary to remove them in order to give more certainty, not only on behalf of the workmen, but also on behalf of the employer, so that they may know where they stand. There are one or two matters upon which, perhaps, I might be allowed to say a word. The first is the question of light employment. The Home Secretary has already been approached upon this matter by the Trade Union Congress, and although he did not agree at the time that full compensation should be paid of necessity if a man was capable of light employment, yet he said that, in his opinion, if a workman had taken all reasonable steps to obtain light employment from his old employer and other employers in the district, and if he could establish that he could not get light employment, prima facie, compensation should be paid in full. Of course, that is a step in the direction which my hon. Friends want to go. With regard to the subject of medical referees, that is an extremely difficult point. I think one of my hon. Friends said that ho anticipated the day when the anomaly of four doctors giving evidence, two on one side and two on the other, according as they are paid, would disappear. He thought there might be in the remote and distant future an Act of Parliament whereby that might be remedied, but he 2063 must be more sanguine than I am if he thinks that the House of Commons will ever remove that anomaly. Another point to which attention has been called is that there ought to be full-time referees. I think we are all agreed in theory as to what ought to be. We are all socialists now, and we are most anxious to get men who would be full-time medical referees, not only because they would get accustomed to the duties, but would be able to give an absolutely impartial opinion as between employers and employed. But, as my hon. Friends know, the difficulty at present is that medical referees are appointed for different county court districts, and the first difficulty would be that the areas would have to be considerably extended, because it would be difficult to get the really best men—and that is what we want—unless you could attract them by higher salaries than you can offer for small districts. In regard to the statement as to medical referees having an interest in the cases which are brought before thorn, I would point out that, as hon. Gentlemen know, we in the circulars which are sent out guard against anything of that kind so far as we possibly can. It is obvious that a medical referee ought to have no personal interest either on the one side or the other. He ought not to be the medical man for the industrial undertaking concerned, or the medical man for a workman's club. He ought to go to the performance, of his duty with an impartial and unbiassed mind
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I am afraid there are many promises unfulfilled. If Mr. Gladstone made that promise I do not recall it. We know that there are other promises which have not been fulfilled. I do not see why in the very large districts it should not be possible to do something in that direction. In view of what I am about to say, that is rather an academic question. My hon. Friend's Motion is that—A Committee should be appointed to consider and report upon the anomalies that have been created in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act.I go a little further than that, and I think I am going to give him more satisfaction 2064 than he asked for in this particular Motion. We think that a Committee ought to be appointed, not only to consider the administration of the Act, but to consider the operation of the Act. Of course, all who are interested in this class of cases know that a new factor has come into existence by the passing of the National Insurance Act, and just as my Friends want a State-paid service of medical referees, so there is a suggestion made on behalf of the employers in regard to compensation rights of all kinds. That is to say, instead of insuring with private companies for one class of cases, and paying contributions under the National Insurance Act for another class of cases, they suggest that there should be some organisation whereby employers could claim once for all to protect themselves against all kinds of claims—disablement, illness, accident, and so forth. I do not think it is necessary, as a matter of form, that this Motion should be amended to-night. I am accepting it on behalf of the Government, but when we come to appoint the Committee, as we shall do, we think that the Committee should not only inquire into the anomalies that have been created under the Workmen's Compensation Act, but that it should also take into account the relationship between these two Acts—the Workmen's Compensation Act and the National Insurance Act—with the view, if possible, of bringing those two matters into more harmonious relationship, one with the other. Without prejudging the matters which my hon. Friends have mentioned, I accept the Motion on behalf of the Government.
§ Mr. RIGBY SWIFT
It must be very-gratifying to everybody in every portion of the House who is interested in the administration of this Act to hear the declaration which the hon. Gentleman has just made. After the very lucid speeches made by the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Motion, one could not imagine the Government taking any other course than that which has been announced. I wish the hon. Gentleman could have told us when the Committee which he has promised is likely to begin its work, because this is really a matter of considerable importance. It is a pressing matter to a very large section of the community. Nobody will deny that the Workmen's Compensation Act has been the greatest boon and blessing to the working classes of this country. But in connection with the administration of the 2065 Act there are anomalies which ought to be removed at the earliest possible moment, in order that those whom the Legislature intended to benefit by the operation of the Act shall have the most simple and speedy method of obtaining what the Legislature intended. My hon. Friend who moved the Motion suggested that compensation for accident, if it is caused by neglect, should be paid for at a higher rate than cases where no neglect exists. I would remind him that where an accident is caused by neglect of the employer, the workman has remedies quite apart from the Workmen's Compensation Act, which enable him to recover from the employer who is in default full compensation, and not only what he has lost in respect of the injury done to him. It must be remembered, in discussing the operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act, that the object of the Act is to make the burden, which falls upon the shoulders of somebody when a workman is injured, be shared between the workman and the employer in equal proportions. I have had some little experience of the working of this Act, and although the hon. Member who seconded the Resolution does not quite seem to approve of the part which lawyers have had in working the Act, at any rate it will be admitted that we have gained some knowledge of it and its working. It does seem to me that there are some anomalies which ought to be removed in order that the intention of the Legislature can be carried out. One or two of these have been mentioned, but there are one or two others which I hope will be brought before the notice of the Committee whenever it meets. There are one or two anomalies which we constantly meet with in practice, and which I am sure everybody in this House who has the interests of the working classes at heart would wish to see removed. One hon. Gentleman referred to notice. It does seem to me—and I suggest it to the consideration of the Committee—that it is an absurdity that where a man has been injured in an accident, and where everybody in the works knows that he has met with an accident, it should still be necessary for him to give a notice in writing specifying the fact that he has had an accident. I hope that, without any injustice being done to employers, provision may be made for dispensing with notice where it is perfectly clear that no injury has been done to the employer by the fact that the notice has not been given in writing.
2066 Then there is another anomaly which everybody has met with, and which has been denounced more than once from the Bench. After all, lawyers have got to administer the law as they find it. They cannot alter the law, and what Parliament and the common law lay down as the law, judges and lawyers have to administer. It has over and over again been pointed out what a hardship can happen to a man who is injured, and who afterwards dies. He may meet with an accident and nobody be there to see what happened. He may go from his work and may make a statement to his wife, or to some other relations, quite sensibly accounting for everything that he is found to be suffering from. He may be suffering from a sprained back, and he may say, "I sprained my back in the pit to-day," or he may be suffering from a cut on the hand, and he may say to his wife when she is binding it up, "I cut my hand with a hammer," or he may say, "I knocked my hand with a hammer." Now, if that man happens to die, and the claim is made for compensation, then, according to our law, the statement which he made to these persons is not evidence, and cannot be admitted. Consequently, you have got no account of how the accident happened, because the only person who could have given an account of what really happened has gone, and the rule of law at present excludes the statement which he has made to some person he saw directly after the accident. What I suggest is this, not that the statement of the man must be accepted, and must be acted upon—I do not go quite as far as that—but I say we ought to allow the person who is going to decide the case, either the" arbitrator or the committee, or the County Court judge, to hear the statement and act upon it if he thinks right, and, if he believes the statement, then let him take it. Then we should have no more of those cases where everybody feels that an accident has happened to a man in the course of his employment, that he ought to have compensation, but you are just missing the one bit of evidence which is necessary in order to give that compensation to him.
Another anomaly which I think might very well be removed without any injustice to anybody is somewhat of a similar character. I refer to the case of a man who is working at his employment or on his employer's premises, and an accident happens to him, and there is no evidence to 2067 show how the accident has happened. In that case I think that the object of the Statute would be best carried out by putting the burden upon the employer of showing that the man was not really acting within the sphere of his employment at all when the accident happened. I remember quite well the ease of a ship's cook who was on board the ship in the course of his employment. He suddenly disappears. Nobody knows what has become of him, but there is not a man who ever had anything to do with a case of that kind who would doubt the fact that the man fell overboard accidentally. But it cannot be proved. Now I say that where you have got a man in the course of his employment like that, on his employer's premises, and doing his employer's work, and an accident happens which cannot be accounted for, the onus ought to be upon those who say he is not entitled to the benefits of the Workmen's Compensation Act to show that he is not entitled to it, and it should not be upon the other people to show that he actually does come within the Act. Perhaps I was wrong to have intervened at all after the promise which had been made by the hon. Gentleman who represents the Government, but I thought it right, as this Committee is being formed, to call his attention to these one or two matters.
In regard to the question which the Seconder of the Resolution raised as to accidents arising out of and in course of employment, I can assure the House that there is no legal ingenuity, no ingenuity of lawyers, about it. The Act of Parliament says that in order that a man may have compensation the accident must arise in the course of his employment, and it must arise out of the employment. You will always have disputes on questions of fact, between one side which says, "I have been injured in my employment by an accident which arose out of my employment," and the other side, which says, "You have not been injured at all, but if you were injured it did not arise out of your employment, and it did not arise in the course of your employment." So long as you have got to decide matters of fact, and so long as you have a man saying, "I am injured," and you have another man saying, "You are not injured," you will have differences of opinion which will have to be decided by someone, and, I suppose, for want of someone better, it will have to be decided by 2068 humble people who have been trained all their lives to decide questions of that character. Some day it may be thought wise to remove these cases altogether from the sphere of the Law Courts, but I am quite certain that it would be a matter of great regret to the working classes if that happens, for they will not get more impartial justice anywhere than they have got in the administration of these Acts from every Court in the country, from the lowest to the highest, from the County Court to the House of Lords. They cannot complain that on the whole the Statute has not been favourably interpreted for them. As I have said, you will always have differences of opinion about facts. All we can do is to have fair rules of law upon which facts are to be decided, and I am glad to think that a Committee is to be appointed to inquire, and I hope inquire quickly, as to what can be done, and I hope, that after the Committee has inquired and reported, we shall have some amendment of these Acts to remove these anomalies.
§ Mr. O'SHEE
I should like to refer to that part of the speech of the Under-Secretary for the Home Office in which he referred to the question of the appointment of medical referees. At the present moment in Ireland, as I understand on the recommendation of the Irish Insurance Commissioners, there is about to be set up a system of whole-time medical referees in connection with certification under the Insurance Act. As the House is aware we have no medical benefits at the present time under the Insurance Act in Ireland, and sickness benefit is paid not on the certificate of the panel doctor, because we have no panel doctors, but on the certificate of any doctor who may be called in to the person who is ill. Many of the doctors have refused to give certificates or to assist the operation of the Act at all. There is an agitation in Ireland for a capitation fee for certification, and they have been offered by the Insurance Commissioners a certain capitation fee, which they have declined to accept in twenty-one counties out of thirty-two. There is a panel system of certification in eleven-counties of Ireland, but, in the short experience they have had of it, it has been found to work very unsatisfactorily. I believe in those counties where this panel certification exists the number of cases has been double the number in those districts where there is no panel system of certification. The reason why I call attention 2069 to this point is that, seeing there is to be set up in Ireland a system of whole-time medical referees under the Insurance Act, the opportunity will be a good one to appoint them also as medical referees in connection with workmen's compensation. It would be lamentable if that opportunity were allowed to pass. The appointments under the Insurance Act have not yet been made, and it is very desirable that the attention of the Irish Government should be called to the fact that there is this opportunity of removing a grievance in Ireland from which employés and employers sometimes suffer.
The grievance is caused by the difficulty of getting an impartial medical referee. At present they are not whole-time referees, and those who are appointed seem to have been appointed almost accidentally, and nobody knows why. It would be very desirable indeed to have independent medical referees, and the opportunity now offers itself for obtaining them. As regards the anomalies existing under the Workmen's Compensation Act, we have had the same experience in Ireland as you have had here. One of the difficulties we have in Ireland arises from the fact that decisions have been given one way in some cases and another way in other cases, as to whether an individual is a workman or a contractor. It has been decided, I think for the first time, in the Scottish Courts, that a man who breaks stones at so much per ton for the construction of roads is a workman. It has been decided by the Court of Appeal in Ireland recently, and notwithstanding the Scottish decision, that the man who carts the stones which are broken up for construction of the roads is a contractor, because he carts the stone at so much per ton, using a horse and cart. I do not know on what principle the distinction is made, unless it be that the man who carts the stone at so much per ton has to have the machinery of his horse and cart to carry the stones; it may be for that reason he is held to be a contractor and not a workman. On the other hand, it may be said that a man who breaks the stones has the machinery, which consists of his hammer, but, apparently, the Court ignore that fact in deciding that he is a workman when he breaks stones at so much per ton for the construction of roads. There is also a difficulty with regard to third party liabilities, and in this respect there is very considerable confusion in the operation of the Act. The 2070 hon. Member who preceded me referred to various anomalies, including that with reference to statements made by the person who has received some injury, apparently in the course of his employment, and survives for some time, and after some hours, perhaps, dies. Before his death he may have given some-account of what had happened to him to his wife or other persons, but the Court will not allow that kind of evidence to be admitted, though their is no proper account available of how the accident occurred at all. I have a case in my mind in which a man was carting timber along a country road. Apparently one of the beams fell upon him as his horse was proceeding along the road. There were other carters following, and the one who was next was brought to a stop, and found that the injured man was partly under the wheel of his own cart. It was impossible to say exactly how he got there. He had apparently been struck, but the doctor could find no evidence of injury on the side or the body to show that he had been struck. Apparently either he must have fallen off the cart when asleep, or have been struck by the beam when walking beside his horse. He was found about 9 o'clock on a winter night, and he died the-following morning at 3 o'clock. On his having recovered consciousness he had given an account of how the accident happened. When the case for compensation came before the judge he decided that the evidence could not be given as to what the deceased had said about how the accident had occurred. In another case the Court had before it the question whether the man was a contractor or a workman. The man was carting timber from a country district to a saw-mill in the town, and the Court held that as he was using his own horse and cart and carrying the timber at a certain price per ton he was a contractor and not a workman, and refused to give him compensation on that ground. The chief reason why I rose was to call attention to the opportunity that has arisen for associating the medical referees to be appointed under the Insurance Act with the work which arises in connection with the Workmen's Compensation Act, and I trust that the attention of the Irish Government will be directed to the matter.
§ Mr. CHIOZZA MONEY
I congratulate my hon. Friend, in introducing this important subject to-night, on the happy result he has achieved. My hon. Friend 2071 the Under-Secretary for the Home Office, in his sympathetic speech, has not only accepted the Motion, but, as I understand, he has extended it. He has promised to give us a Committee not only upon the anomalies of the Workmen's Compensation Act law as it now exists, but has promised to extend the terms of reference to the Committee to the very important subject of insurance against injuries received in the course of employment. The only thing I missed from the speech of the hon. Gentleman was the date of the appointment of the Committee, but I do earnestly hope that we shall soon get the date fixed. The speeches which have already been delivered have dealt in some detail with many of the anomalies which necessarily arise in connection with any Compensation Court, whatever its form. I am bound to say, in my opinion, and it is an opinion which is strengthened as time goes on, that many of the existing anomalies arise out of the form of our law. What is the form of the law? We give the worker a claim for compensation if he is injured, and we give his dependents a claim for compensation if he is fatally injured. It is a mere claim, and whether the man gets his compensation or not depends in the first place upon whether his employer is solvent, or in the second place upon whether his employer has insured himself and upon whether the insurance company will treat the workman fairly. In the majority of cases, of course, the employers insure themselves. It therefore comes to this, that when a workman is injured he finds himself pitted against a commercial undertaking which has become expert in the art of resisting claims for compensation. If the workman is happily, as he ought to be, a member of a trade union, he has got that trade union to fight his case; but, as we know unfortunately, out of fifteen or sixteen million of manual workers in this country, there are at the present time at the outside about three million trade unionists.
Therefore, in a very large number of cases, indeed, the inexperienced man finds himself pitted against the experienced insurance company. When a workman meets with a serious accident it is to him a new experience, and is an isolated case, while to the company, with its experts, its agents, and, I am bound to say, its tame doctors, the company is able to bring against him the knowledge which it has of fighting, perhaps, hundreds, or even 2072 thousands, of similar cases. My hon. Friend spoke of the case of the loss of an eye, which brought to my mind the case of the loss of an eye which was related to me in detail a year or two ago, not by the man himself. You never see letters in the newspapers from workmen complaining of how they are treated under the Workmen's Compensation Law, any more than you see letters from workmen complaining of what happened to them in connection with friendly societies. Working men are not in the habit of writing to newspapers. The details of this case were brought before me by the solicitors who had acted for a period of about two years for this unfortunate workman. He was an iron moulder, or what is technically called, I believe, a fine or particular iron moulder, accustomed to do delicate work. He lost an eye, and what was the result? He was largely unfitted for his employment. Nature has provided us with two eyes for the purpose of judging distances. Therefore, in this man's case it meant a great deal that he should have the normal number of eyes. He got compensation for a period, and what happened? The employer, of course, passed out from the matter, and the insurance company took his place, and the insurance company fought the man month after month and year after year. They beat down his compensation, and in the County Court they produced their tame doctors to show that not only was one eye as good, but that it was rather better than two, and they got the County Court judge to believe them. The result was, that this unfortunate man, after receiving a miserable and inadequate compensation for a period of about eighteen months, was glad to accept from the insurance company a miserable lump sum in compensation, and then he passed out of the work of the United Kingdom and passed out of being a useful workman. I do not know now what has become of him, but the latest I heard from the solicitors was that he was now living in poverty.
That was the end of a man about fifty-five years of age, after spending a useful life in work for the society to which he belonged, in spite of the desires of this House in erecting the workmen's compensation law. I could relate many other distressful cases. They have all forced on my mind this fact, that the whole basis of our law is wrong, and that is why I rejoice at the welcome announcement made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. We have got an example in this matter in the 2073 world that is working so well I am bound to say, if the hon. Member will forgive me, that I do not know why this' Government, or any Government, want any further evidence on the matter, or why a Committee is wanted to decide, that the German insurance law is better than the English workmen's compensation. Why is it better? All the employers in a trade in Germany, under the German law, are compulsorily formed into a mutual insurance association. They have to pay such premiums as are necessary to secure certain statutory compensation, and the workmen in their employment are certain in the ordinary course to receive that compensation. The compensation is rather a higher proportion of wages than it is here. It is two-thirds there, instead of one-half as it is here. I rejoice to notice that in New York State, where they have just adopted a Workmen's Compensation Act, the proportion there is two-thirds instead of one-half, although I should be the last to praise that law on all counts. There is one important point in the German law to which I wish to direct attention, because it covers some of the anomalies referred to to-night, and that point is, that in regard to specific injuries the law names specific compensation. It is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, or, rather, the law says that an eye is worth so much and an arm is worth so much, and a leg is worth so much, and so it is not left to a County Court judge to decide what is the worth of an eye to a man. And we should not have, as at present, thousands of workmen, up and down this country, who have been condemned, as in the case I have mentioned, by some County Court judge to the position, that with one eye they are as well able to face the world as when they had two.
Under the German law, and I speak from memory as I had not intended to take part in this Debate, the compensation for the loss of an eye is 60 per cent., or thereabouts, of the full pension—that is to say, the full compensation being two-thirds of the wage, one eye is compensated by two-thirds of the full pension. So that in the case to which I have referred, the workman, instead of being, as at the present moment, reduced to destitution, would be receiving 60 per cent. of the full compensation under the law. I do hope that the Government will add to the message of hope they have already given 2074 to the House in this important matter, and that they will soon tell us when the Committee is to be appointed. I have already expressed the opinion that no Committee is necessary, because the case is so plain, but still, if we are to have it, let it be as quickly as possible, in order that there-may not arise any larger number than already exists of terribly anomalous cases to which my hon. Friend has referred, and which surely must have brought home to hon. Members and to anybody who has studied the subject, the anomalies of the law on workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. E. JARDINE
I fancy there must be some misunderstanding as to the compensation for the loss of an eye. I have just had a case in my own experience, where a man has not lost an eye, but simply had an eye injured, thereby being-made permanently less efficient as a skilled worker. The compensation paid to him was based on the difference between what he could earn before as a thoroughly efficient skilled worker, and what he can earn at the same occupation with a damaged eye. He expressed himself as quite satisfied with the compensation, he had no difficulty in obtaining compensation, and I am glad to say he has invested the money, and is receiving wages at his work. There is one point I should like to impress upon the-Under-Secretary, who is in a very generous mood to-night in this matter. We are all in sympathy with the proposal; there is not a Member present but would have voted for the Motion. There is, however, a very great danger to the community in making it profitable to have an accident. Whatever may be the compensation, it is insured against by the employer. Whatever may be the premium for the insurance, he pays it; that amount is passed on to the cost of the article; the article goes to the consumer, and the consumer is the worker. If by any legislation in this House—by workmen's compensation, by the Insurance Act, or by any other means—you increase the number of people who are not workers, those people who could work, but are not working, become a tax on the whole community. They do not become a tax upon any particular class. In the interests of the community it would be extremely undesirable that it should be made easier for people to become idlers instead of workers. The Under-Secretary stated that to-day we are all more or less Socialists. We are. When the Socialist party bring forward a measure to penalise 2075 not only the idle rich, but the idle poor. I shall be thoroughly in sympathy with them. I have no feeling of friendship or pity for the man who does not work, no matter what his station in life may be.
One must congratulate the Mover and the Seconder upon the, way in which they introduced this Motion. There was, perhaps, only one jarring note when the Mover of the Motion had a rather cheap sneer at the man who pays Super-tax, and suggested that he did not care about the poor workman receiving compensation. That is an error that I think the Labour party make. I am proud to say that I am one of the unpopular class who pay Supertax.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. E. JARDINE
Unfortunately I am in a business that has been out of fashion for several years. Since 1910 I have been working at a loss, piling up stock, because I have a magnificent set of workers who could not be replaced. I am not saying that I do this out of pity for them. Still, they have been kept going regularly, making stock more or less for four years. I have no hesitation in sayings that my own personal expenditure is no greater than that of the bon. Member who introduced this Motion. The only effect of Super-tax, be it ever so much higher, is that the time when one must close down the works comes the sooner, because the amount of stock that one can make is limited by the amount of cash, and the more of that cash the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes the quicker those works must be closed down, while the man who pays Supertax spends no less on his own personal living than before. I would also warn the Under-Secretary of the danger of compelling the employer to find a man light employment. I make no charge against any class. All classes are alike. They want an easy and soft way of doing things. If it is put upon an employer to find light employment for a man who is injured, what inducement is there for the man to do his best to carry out that light employment when by getting discharged he can obtain full wages? It is not a question of being harsh to workpeople at all. It is a question of what is best for the community, and the greater and the better part of the 2076 community are the workers. It should not be made too easy for any person to live on the work of others. There is an extreme danger in making it possible for a man to live as a parasite upon the rest of the community, instead of doing what useful work he can. There is no harshness in this, because, as I have said, whatever tax is put on industry is passed on to the consumer; if it cannot be passed on to the consumer the works must eventually be closed, and possibly the foreigner takes the business. The point I want to make is that it is not the employer who has to pay these taxes or this compensation. It is the community and the industry that must and does pay them.
I sympathise with the Mover of the Motion with regard to the delicate situation in which a man is sometimes put when he has to go before the medical referee. Perhaps it would be a good thing if the man were able to take with him his own doctor. If such had been the course followed an incident which happened about two months ago in the town where I live would probably not have occurred. A man was claiming compensation, the doctors could not agree, and he was sent to the referee. The referee came into his consulting-room, and, seeing a man and woman sitting near each other, assumed that they were man and wife. He said, "Is your name So-and-so? Have you come about this case?" The man said, "Yes." The referee said, "Go downstairs into my electric room, where my assistant will assist you to strip. I want you to be X-rayed." He said to the woman, "You had better go downstairs too. It is no use your staying here." After the time necessary for the X-rays had elapsed, the referee went downstairs. The woman came to him, and said, "If you please, doctor, may I go?" "Yes," said he, "if you like; but will you not stay with your husband?" "Oh," said she, "I have never seen the man before!" If the man had had his own doctor with him, I presume that an unfortunate circumstance of that kind could not have happened. The hon. Member for East Northants (Mr. Chiozza Money) rather suggested that a workman received very hard treatment when his case came into Court. He had to deal with experts, whilst the case was his first case; therefore, the treatment meted out to him was not just, not fair, not generous. Probably there are cases of that kind with which all of us can sympathise; but I think I can appeal 2077 to the legal Gentlemen who are in the House, and who will say that the sympathy of the Court is always with the injured. If they want to draw an exactly true line, and show cases where there has been too much compensation, and cases where there has been too little compensation, the cases where there has been too much compensation would be very much larger than those where those concerned had been underpaid. The Home Secretary's Under-Secretary has suggested—I hope I misunderstood him—that not only would there be a Committee appointed, but also that the Government would consider whether they could not link up this workmen's compensation with the Insurance Act. The experience of a large employer is that the cost of administering that Act is great as compared with the benefits. Take one of my factories; it costs me 2d. to give 3d. I hope sincerely that the Government will not undertake that further work, but will leave it to the competition of the private companies, who must, and who always can, work cheaper than any Government, whatever may be the party in power.
Another point to which I would call the attention of the Under-Secretary to is the appeal that was made that the compensation should be based, not on the man's average earnings, but upon the the earnings of one week. I do not know how that can possibly be done. A man who is working at piece work, as hon. Members on the benches opposite below the Gangway will know, varies considerably in his wages, and it would be necessary, to get anything like a fair amount, to take an average as the average is taken to-day. It would be quite impossible to take one week, because there would possibly be a dispute as to which week was to be taken. There is little further to be said except that I would again appeal to the Labour Members, in the great influence that they may have with the Government, to—shall I say—moderate their demands in view of the fact that in the end it is the worker who must pay whatever sum has to be paid, and that it is in the interests and to the honour of the Labour party to make any class or kind of malingering difficult, not to say impossible, and to go in for true compensation. I think everyone in the House would only be too glad to pay a man full compensation, and not half or two-thirds compensation, if it were possible to believe that human nature were honest enough 2078 to say, "I would work if I could, in spite of the fact that I am going to get full pay whether I work or not."
§ Mr. GILL
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton is to be congratulated on the important Motion before the House to-night. I think it is necessary that there should be some extensive alteration of this Act, and inasmuch as that can only be done after inquiry, I think we ought to be pleased that the Under-Secretary has promised to appoint a Committee of Inquiry, and I hope that that appointment will be as soon as possible. I should like, before this Debate closes, that we should have some date given to us as to when that will take place. I have been looking to-day into statistics for 1912 in regard to compensation, and I find that there were no less than 3,599 fatal cases, and 424,406 cases of accident which were not fatal. That was in seven large groups of industries. I think we may take it that if all were counted outside this group of industry, that there must be nothing short of half a million of persons injured every year. That is a very important matter, and one which I think the House ought seriously to take into consideration. Everyone in connection with the labour movement who has to deal with these compensation cases would much prefer that the industrial conditions should be made safer than they arc, and so prevent these accidents occurring. No money and no amount of compensation can compensate a person who loses a limb, and so is made unable to work as he otherwise would do. When we find that in the mining industry there is something like 16 per cent. of the persons employed injured every year, and that in the cotton-spinning industry—with which I am myself most acquainted—there is 6 per cent., I think we might argue that everything ought to be done that can be done to make these industrial occupations safer. There are also a very large number of accidents at the docks—nearly as many in proportion as among those persons occupied in mining. There are also the railways and shipbuilding, and many other large industries where a great number of accidents take place.
I think the Act may be looked upon—although there are anomalies in it—as a large measure of social reform, for the simple reason that it gives benefits to the workers just at the time that they most need them. Look at the large measures which have been passed by this House. 2079 There are always some anomalies that creep in. I want to mention just a new of the anomalies that we have come across in the working of this Act. I may say that in connection with my own industry, out of something like 80,000 persons, we have from a thousand to thirteen hundred accidents every year, so that we have some knowledge as to the working of this particular measure. We find that every person injured is required to submit himself to a medical examination. That is as it should be, because the employer is entitled to know whether the person is suffering from an accident or injury that is said to have been caused by an accident. But this medical examination should be conducted in as fair, reasonable, and merciful a way as possible. It ought to be conducted, if possible, at the man's home. It is common enough for the insurance doctor and the doctor who represents the employers to ask the injured workman to go to his surgery. He is there examined by the doctor, without having the presence of any other doctor. The man is not always treated as well as he might be. I think it is absolutely necessary that the workman's own medical man should be in attendance for the purpose of seeing the examination. Then these examinations take place too frequently, and it results in the injured person, who is suffering, and suffering all the time, feeling disgusted at having to be examined so very often. In some instances it causes him to accept a lump sum by way of compensation which otherwise he would not accept. We find, too, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend, that some medical men will give certificates not only as to the condition of the man at the time, but they will say what his condition will be in a month or two, and will declare that at the end of that period he will be ready for work. We have found regularly that where certificates of that kind had been given that the man has not been ready for work at the time, although the compensation has been stopped on the doctor's certificate. Many times it is months afterwards before he is ready to stand work. We find also that there are numbers of employers who take advantage of the workmen by compelling them to bring medical certificates week by week. That is entirely wrong, and no employer is entitled to do it. The Act provides that he can have him examined at his home so that the doctor 2080 should certify, and employers ought to be informed that this practice should not be carried out. With regard to the medical referees, I think it is reasonable to ask that any person appointed as a referee ought to be able to take an unbiased view of the position. If he examines a person he ought to give a fair decision, and he ought not to be a person engaged in private practice, because if he is, he must have some bias one way or the other. I do not think it requires an amending Act to provide that medical referees should give whole-time service. I think it could be done by administration. Lord Gladstone, when at the Home Office, promised that experiments should be made, and that one or two persons should be appointed in one or two districts. I think that would give more satisfaction. I do not think the employers want to do anything unfair, and they ought to be protected to see that they do not pay compensation when they ought not to do so.
In 1906 we took a great interest in the Bill brought in for amending the Compensation Act of 1897, and we certainly expected that the basis of compensation would be worked out differently from what it has been. My hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) sat upon the last Committee that inquired into the working of the Workmen's Compensation Act before the last Act was passed, and I think he will agree with me that it was fully intended that persons injured by an accident should be entitled to 50 per cent. of the wages they earned—50 per cent. of the standard wages—when working full time. I am more confirmed in that view because for the first three or four years after 1908 that was carried out in many industries—half of the full wages were generally given—but during the last three or four years there has been a system of averaging, and the result is, instead of the workman getting half of the full wage, he is now getting less. Whenever trade oppression takes place there is a good deal of time stopped, and men are working shorter hours, and he is not only penalised by having to lose his wages for working short time, but it has an effect upon the compensation as well, because they take the average of the wages, and the average is less, and he loses both ways. That, I think, is certainly wrong, and some steps ought to be taken to get over that difficulty. If it could be made to apply 2081 to half the full week's wages I think it would be far more satisfactory.
Then, with regard to what is done on the question of resuming work where the injured person has received full compensation, and he is found not to be able to do his full work, the employer takes the case to the Court, asking to have the compensation reduced or ended, and the judge generally decides that the man is able to do work and the compensation reduced. The man is not able to work for the simple reason he cannot get employment. He might be able to earn if he could get employment, and I think it is very unfair that his compensation should be reduced when he is not able to earn the money which the judge says he could earn. Some provision ought to be made whereby the full compensation should be kept on until such time as the man had an opportunity or was able to get fresh employment. There is another anomaly which applies to many trades, and especially to the cotton trade, and I refer to persons under twenty-one years of age, and those who are over that age, and I want to show the distinction which is made. The Act provides that a person under twenty-one years of age earning less than £1 per week shall be entitled to 10s. a week compensation. But if a persons is earning less than 10s. per week he receives 100 per cent. of his wages. Under twenty-one years of age they are entitled to 50 per cent. of their earnings. We have plenty of people in the cotton trade of seventeen, eighteen and nineteen years of age earning 17s. and 18s. a week, and there are others who are twenty-two or twenty-three years of age earning the same wages, and who, if they happen to be injured, ought to be entitled to 9s., while the others would be entitled to 10s. This could be dealt with by providing that all those earning less than £1 a week should be entitled to 10s., whatever the age might be.
Then there is the question with regard to the lump sums. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) to the case of a person losing an eye or a limb. There is a provision in the Act which was got in by an Amendment in 1906, which provides that where permanent incapacity results from an accident, instead of the judge having any discretion as to what amount-shall be granted, that the amount shall be a lump sum equal to 75 per cent. of what a Post Office annuity would cost. Permanent incapacity is a very difficult thing 2082 to describe. A man may lose a leg or an arm, and the judge may decide that he is able to do something. I think some alteration ought to be made in the direction mentioned, and some sum should be fixed in regard to the different kinds of injury which partially incapacitates a person. The judge might take the ordinary course of reviewing the amount of compensation and fix what was considered a reasonable weekly payment to a person in that condition, and the lump sum could be worked out on that basis.
The registration of agreements is in a very unsatisfactory condition. The Clause in the second Schedule provides that when the amount of compensation under the Act has been ascertained or decided, either by a committee or an arbitrator, or by agreement, the Memorandum shall be sent in by the party interested. Now we have several parties interested, and the result often is that agreements are not signed and registered because it is nobody's particular duty to do it. I think this duty ought to be fixed upon the employer, and the fact that he is paying weekly compensation ought to be sufficient. I do not think that every agreement ought to be registered. Where a person is out of work for six weeks, it is reasonable to expect that the employer should be required to register that fact. The question of serious and wilful misconduct was referred to by the hon. Member for Fife (Mr. Adamson), and the statement he made was a perfectly correct one. Previous to the Act of 1906 being passed, so far as serious and wilful misconduct was concerned, it was sufficient to debar an injured person from receiving compensation provided it was proved. In the 1906 Act it was so amended that in cases of serious and permanent disablement or fatal accident, even after serious and wilful misconduct had occurred, compensation should still be paid under those circumstances. What is happening? Where small accidents occur, the plea of serious and wilful misconduct is used for the purpose of preventing the injured workman from getting compensation; and where serious accidents occur the question of serious and wilful misconduct docs not come in, but it is generally tried to prove that it does not arise out of, or in the course of, his employment. There was the case of a boy in a cotton mill in my own town, connected with my own society. He was doing a certain piece of work, commonly done in the 2083 mill, but it was said that he was told at some time or other that he must not do it. He lost his arm, "but the plea that it did not arise out of, or in the course of, his employment was raised, with the result that he got no compensation. It was fought very strongly, and we went to all the limits of our resources, but the judge decided that it did not arise out of, or in the course of, his employment. I think that the judge was wrong. If he had done something which he ought not to have done, it was without a doubt serious and wilful misconduct, but it was attempted to shift the plea, and to say that it did not arise out of, or in the course of, his employment, in order to get out of the payment of compensation. I do not think that it was a proper thing to do. The Under-Secretary rather suggested that something was to be done in the case of a number of small employers, who are not able at all times to meet the payments when a workman is injured. They do not insure, and they are not wealthy enough themselves to meet the payments. Something ought to be done to see that these persons are compelled to insure, so that the payments can be made. Everyone knows that something requires to be done. The half million cases to which I have referred as occurring year after year show clearly that the occupations in this country are not as safe as they might be, and what compensation can be given ought to be given, and it ought to be adequate. I trust that the Committee will be set up at as early a date as possible, because it is always one or two years after a Committee is set up before anything is done. They have got to issue their "Report, and it takes the Government a considerable time to consider their Report. I trust that this matter will be speeded up, because it is now overdue, and if the Home Secretary will take that course I think that we shall have reason to be satisfied.
§ Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR
I want to express some of my own personal disappointments with the operation of the Act. First of all, perhaps I may be allowed to say with regard to the speech of the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway on this side that no one can find any fault with it. We know very well that in the operation of labour and capital in this country there are many men like him of generous minds and good hearts, but the workman has not to do with his employer. In almost every 2084 instance he deals, not with the employer, but with an insurance company which comes between the employer and the employed. I learn with satisfaction that the Under-Secretary has accepted the Motion, and that he is prepared to establish a Committee at some time or other. Permit me to say it is high time such a thing should be done. The Employer's Liability Act was passed in 1880. Seventeen years afterwards we had the first Workmen's Compensation Act, and nine years after that the Act of 1906 took the place of the Act of 1897 on the Statute Book. The operation of that Act from that date to this has shown enormous inequalities. Some men in my own experience have succeeded in their cases in Court where, they ought to have failed, and many have failed where they ought to have succeeded. When the Act of 1897 was passed, it was observed by those who had the opportunity, that the Courts of Law failed to understand its spirit, and that even the Court of Appeal failed to understand the spirit of the Legislature which passed the Act. The Court of Appeal gave many decisions in the early days of the Act that had to be reviewed, revised, and upset by the House of Lords. I must say that the House of Lords did understand its own mind when it passed the Act, and great credit is due to Lord Halsbury for having set the Act upon its proper basis, and for having brought the Court of Appeal to its senses in the matter. The Supreme Court of Appeal taught the Courts below a lesson that they did not forget, and the Act from that day forward got a more liberal interpretation from the Court.
But the inequalities have continued; they are growing day by day, and they are making it almost impossible to operate the Act in anything like an equitable manner. That is increasingly so. What I rose to complain of most was this: that the Act has failed to carry out our intentions with regard to the readiness with which a workman may get his case heard. I remember in one of the early decisions under the Act of 1897—I forget for the moment the name of the case—Lord Halsbury laid it down that the object of the Act in this respect was to bring the workman and employer face to face; to bring them as quickly as possible together, so that the workman might get his case settled by arbitration between them. I must say from my experience of the working of the Act it has entirely failed to pro- 2085 duce this result. I handle cases from time to time under this Act, and I am amazed at the period which has elapsed from the date of the accident to the day of the case coming into Court. It is not right to keep a man idle all that time, developing the bad habit of idleness, and, as is the case very often, keeping him away from work and encouraging it may be, malingering to some extent, because it will not do for a man in order to get justice—at least he thinks so—to appear in Court hale and hearty and ask for compensation which might be given to him in a higher degree if he presented himself lame and limp, and apparently suffering from the accident with which he has met.
Any Committee that may be appointed will do well to inquire into the causes of the delays in meting out justice to both parties under the Act, and as to the obstacles which at present exist to the employers and the employed coming to an agreement with regard to compensation, as was profoundly and earnestly expressed by Lord Halsbury in the case to which I have referred. I repeat the Committee would do well to find out what these causes are, and suggest a remedy for the same. I will only make one reference to what has been urged on all sides on the matter of light employment, and that brings me to what I think ought to be the object of that Committee. Light employment is not to be found within the four corners of the Act. Light employment and the doctrine it expresses is judge-made law. In any Act of Parliament that may take the place of the Act of 1906 I would suggest that there ought to be more definitions, that the intentions of the Legislature ought to be well defined and less room left for judge-made law. The inequalities that have been pointed out by trade union officials, and by hon. Members opposite, all arise from the inequalities of judgments by judges, who have made judge-made law. They all arise from the interpretation of the Act. The Act ought to be defined and left as little as possible to the law that fills our Statute Books. I would impress upon the Under-Secretary the necessity of expediting, if possible, this Committee and doing away with the law's delay, which undoubtedly is one of the greatest scandals attending the operation of this Act, one that we all hoped to set aside when we passed the Act through this House, and one which the House of Lords itself, when it took up the Act and carried it through in the spirit in which 2086 it was conceived, endeavoured to make impossible for the future. I thank the Under-Secretary for having consented to the proposal, and I believe that the Bill ought not to be put off, that the Committee ought to be appointed as soon as possible, and that the Act ought to be put into operation as soon as possible.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
There is only one point, a practical point, that I wish to raise. It is not in any sense a party point, but it is a Scottish grievance, and I am fortunate in seeing on the Front Bench opposite the Lord Advocate. The fact, I believe is this: That in connection with the working of the Workmen's Compensation Act the scale of fees for arbitration in England is very much lower than the scale of fees in Scotland. When a case goes for arbitration to an English County Court, I am told that it costs £2 10s., but a similar case costs as much as £10 in Scotland. Where an arbitration is pressed to the end it may cost as much as £100 in Scotland to get £1 of compensation, and as little as £50 or £60 in England. I do not know whether it would be necessary that that point should be settled by the Committee, or whether it would be possible to remove the grievance without consideration of the Committee. I fancy that an act of sederunt by the Lord President might put the matter right, and I ask the Lord Advocate whether he cannot possibly whisper in the ear of the Lord President—and see if the matter cannot be put right. If it is not possible to deal with it in that simple way, then the matter ought to go to the Committee. What the hon. Member (Mr. E. Jardine) said in regard to the fact that these charges—including, of course, the legal charges—fall on the whole industry, and ultimately on the workers in the industry, is the fact, and this, therefore, is not in any sense merely an employers' point, but is equally a point where the trade unions are concerned. I trust the Lord-Advocate will be able to give expression to the wishes I have been asked to put before the House.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Munro)
The point the hon. Member has raised he has quite truly said is not a party point. It relates to the cost of conducting those arbitrations in Scotland, and he has told us that the cost is greater in Scotland than in England. Ho has quite rightly said that that is a question rather for the decision of the Judges of the Court of 2087 Session than for the Committee which it is proposed to appoint for the investigations into the circumstances of the working of the Act, and accordingly it would be quite improper for me to express my view with regard to that matter. There are two sides to that question. I have had the advantage of having had the employers' view presented to me, and I am also to have the advantage of having the view presented to me of those who represent the workmen, and not having heard both sides affords me a sufficient reason for abstaining from expressing my view with regard to it. But I will say that the Lord President of the Court of Session, my distinguished predecessor in office, is very familiar with the circumstances relating to that particular matter. He was approached, to my knowledge, both by those who represent the employers and by those who represent those who are employed, and all I need say at present is that I shall have pleasure in conveying to him the view which my hon. Friend has presented to the House, and in asking him in consultation with his brother judges to consider that view as well as the view which is to be presented on behalf of the representatives of those who are employed.
§ Mr. CURRIE
After an experience covering about half a generation of the working of this Act, it is not surprising that there is a general impression that some amendment or extension of its provisions is called for. With the main contention of those who moved this Motion, I am frankly entirely in sympathy, and I am only disappointed that the undertaking which the Under-Secretary gave was rather vague in its terms. I rather wish that an indication had been given that the work of this Committee would be begun without delay. On both sides of the House the contention has been urged that the Act of 1807, and the other Acts, have been more or less failures. If I agreed with that view I should not wish to have anything more to do with further Acts of the same kind, and it is just because I do not agree with that view that I am in favour of this Committee going on with its work with as little delay as possible. We are told that the whole basis of the law is wrong. After all, what is the basis of the law? It seems to me that it is quite simple, and, what is more, that it is really quite equitable. It is simply that the workman who meets with injury in the course of his work should receive compen- 2088 sation. I cannot see why, if that is so, we should be asked to admit that the whole basis of the law is wrong at all. If we are asked to admit that the application of the law is difficult, or that its scope is too narrow, these are altogether different questions. It is because I believe the basis of the law to be both simple and sound that I am in favour of the extension of the application of the Act. In my experience in my own Constituency I have had my attention drawn to quite a number of cases which must be admitted to be anomalies mainly arising in connection with seafaring injuries. I do not propose to enter into these at length, because sufficient individual instances have been given to-night to make good the main contention. I hope that when the Committee gets to work its proceedings will be free to a great extent from criticisms of the original Act of the kind made to-night, I think, rather too freely.
If I may illustrate my point, I would like to take up one or two of the criticisms that have been made. They appear to me to be somewhat gratuitous, and in no case do I think they are necessary to make good the contention in the Motion before us, nor do I think they help the case in the least degree. We are told that a man in private practice as a doctor must be biased. I ask the House why must a man engaged in private practice of any kind necessarily be biased? Take the case of the Lord Advocate. His eminent position at the Scottish Bar has been built up upon private practice. That is no reason why we should be asked to believe that when he is engaged in arbitration work he is necessarily to be regarded as a biased party. Take my own case. I practise as a chartered accountant. Am I to be asked to believe that because I engage in private practice I cannot take an unbiased position. If any accountant, lawyer, or engineer, can be unbiased when he should be unbiased, what reason can there possibly be for suggesting a man in practice as a physician is in a different position? I confess I cannot see what reasonable reason can be supposed to underlie any such contention. Then, again, from more than one quarter to-night we have had suggestions of the ill-will towards courts of law. I think myself that the workmen who have derived benefits under this Act should really rather be grateful to the courts of law. I wish, indeed, that the 2089 procedure before them were not so expensive. I daresay most people have that wish. I think it must be admitted that if the courts of law have had a leaning on either side, it has not been against the workmen whose cases have been tried before the judges. We hear it said that the ingenuity of lawyers has been strained. I do not think that there is really very much substance in that contention. I do not think it is the case. I do think that workmen interested in these cases have suffered from one class of lawyer, and I am surprised that the point has not been brought forward to-night, because to my mind, although the point is difficult to deal with, it is one the successful dealing with which would' carry the greatest benefit to those who suffer most by the lack of any plan to prevent the evil, and that is the evil of the speculative lawyer. I think anyone who has had any experience of those cases knows that one of the greatest evils which the Workmen's Compensation Act has had to encounter has been the existence of the speculative and unscrupulous solicitor.
§ . Mr. CURRIE
I am glad to have the Lord Advocate concurring with me, because I am sure ho is one of the men to whom we look to try to put down the evil when the opportunity arises. He must know from his great experience of these cases that that is really one of the blots in connection with the practical working of the Act. I am sorry to think that it is an evil which is very difficult to deal with. Complaints are made that the results of certain decisions has been that one man is held to be a workman and another man is held to be a contractor. It appears to be rather unreasonable to try to hold the Courts of Law liable for that distinction. I think the decisions given in the Courts of Law have been essentially reasonable. It is the case that men who have been held not to be entitled to benefits under the Act, because they are contractors, were really contractors and not workmen. I do not see what other decision could have been arrived at in those cases. It may be that the wording of another Act should be wider, so as to include some of these men, but you will never in any Act of Parliament get rid of the determination of questions of fact that arise in these cases, and I do not think that any aspersions should be thrown on the Courts of Law, who are" simply called upon to determine these questions of fact. Ill- 2090 will has been expressed towards one of the parties largely interested in the working of the Act—that is, the insurance companies. In the present case I think that it is only fair to remember, and it is very important to remember, especially if the suggestion is to be pressed that the State should become responsible for these burdens, that the working of the Act has not been found by the insurance companies to be very profitable. Those people who know much about insurance will recognise that this question of insurance has not been profitable for the companies who originally thought that they could make a fair profit, and in some cases a large profit, out of it. It cannot be contended that the insurance companies have made an unduly large profit out of the working classes in respect of the working of the Act. Therefore it is only reasonable when the working of the Act is criticised that no animus should be shown against these insurance companies. My interest in seeing this Committee appointed is not entirely out of sympathy for the working classes. I do sympathise with them. I think that their grievances under the Act are quite genuine. But why in cases of this kind should one always discuss a proposal to amplify the operation of an Act simply from the point of view of one class of the community? It seems to me that in the interests of all classes no large section of men should suffer a hardship of this kind. We are agreed that the basis of the Act is perfectly fair, that a man who meets with an innocent injury should be compensated. I do not think that the giving of compensation to that man should be regarded as a favour or even as an act of justice to him. It is an act of justice to the whole community, and to the employing class just as much as to the employed class. I hope that when the Committee does get to work some of the considerations to which I have drawn attention will not be lost sight of.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I listened with interest to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Gill). I understood him to say that in his opinion there were four different grievances which the class he represents has against the Bill. The first was the constant examination of employés by medical men to see whether or not they were capable of undertaking work. The second was that a medical man because he had private practice would necessarily be a biased man. The next 2091 was that when a man was sufficiently recovered to obtain work, he was certified by the doctor as being capable of obtaining work and consequently he did not receive the compensation to which he would have been entitled if he had not been in a fit condition to obtain work, whether or not he got that work. The fourth condition was, I think, that the amount of compensation under the last Act was insufficient. With regard to the criticism that a man having stated that John Jones, who had unfortunately received an injury in the course of his employment, is now sufficiently recovered to obtain light work, or some sort of work, his compensation should be reduced, but that John Jones could not obtain work. I understand that what the hon. Member desires is that until work has been obtained the compensation shall be continued. That would be all right if human beings were angels, but they are not, not even workmen, who are very nearly as bad as employers, or I might go so far as to say that they are slightly superior to employers. That being so, what is the result under those circumstances? Obviously, no man would ever get employment at all, because he would say, "Oh, well, it is quite true that the doctor said I was capable of doing certain work; I am only too willing if I could get the work, but I cannot get it. I am obliged to state that I know certain people have offered me certain work, but there was some condition in it which I did not like, and, therefore, I shall not take it." The consequence is that John Jones will go on receiving from his employer compensation to which he is not entitled either in equity or in law. The other question was that a man who was in private practice was probably biased. That seems to me to be a most extraordinary statement. My hon. Friend alluded to the fact that a great many eminent lawyers, like the Lord-Advocate or any other eminent lawyer who have made large sums out of private practice, have been appointed as arbitrators; but, he pointed out that no one has ever said that because they made large sums in private practice, therefore, they were biased and not fit to become arbitrators in particular cases. The hon. Member would, I presume, require that there should be a Government official to judge. I do not believe about the lawyers to whom I have 2092 referred being biased, but in regard to public officials they are very often biased, and I am certainly against appointing more Government officials. I should have liked to have referred to the remainder of the four questions, but, it being now eleven o'clock, I have not time to do so.
§ Resolved, "That, in the opinion of this House, a Committee should be appointed to consider and report upon the anomalies that have been created in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act."
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.