§ As from the commencement of this Act the additional weekly sum payable under the Workmen's Compensation (War Addition) Act, 1917 (in this Act referred to as "the War Addition Act"), shall, in the case of a, workman who at the time when any payment falls due under that Act is of the age of twenty-one years or upwards, instead of being a sum equal to one-quarter of the amount of the weekly payment, be a sum equal to three-quarters of the amount of the weekly payment.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, to leave out the words "commencement of this Act," and to insert instead thereof the words "first day of July nineteen hundred and nineteen."
The Bill which we are considering in Committee is one that in the opinion of the working classes is long overdue. The increase in the cost of living for a considerable time past has been ranging around 100 per cent. over the pre-war period. At the present moment my information shows that it is 122 per cent. over the pre-war period. The people who will be affected by the Bill which we are considering have had up to the present an increase of 25 per cent. only upon their pre-war compensation, and consequently they have been in a very serious and unfortunate position as compared with other sections of our people. The British Miners' Federation and the Mining Association of Great Britain had this matter under consideration in May last, and I understand that they came to an agreement., and we expected that we should have had this Bill introduced long before now. We cannot understand the reason why there has been so much delay in introducing this measure, and accordingly we think, with a view of affording some little relief to the unfortunate section of our people who are in receipt of full compensation in consequence of being totally incapacitated through an accident sustained in the course of their employment, 1270 that some little relief should be granted to them in the form of changing the date to the 1st of July, 1919, instead of at the passing of the Act. I hope that the Under-Secretary will see his way to accept this Amendment, which will afford some relief to an unfortunate section of our people who, in our opinion, have been very harshly treated in. consequence of this Bill being delayed so long.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Major Baird)
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) is correct in pointing out-that this Bill is produced with a view to meet the increased cost of living. At the same time the date which the right hon. Gentleman suggests seems hardly appropriate in view of the fact that it was only in August that the Miners' Federation and the Mining Associations came to the Home Office with an agreed scheme, so that the. 1st of July seems rather premature from that point of view. The Committee will realise how very great the difficulties of administration would be if that date were accepted. On the other hand, I think what has been agreed to will go a considerable way to meet the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised. The associations concerned have agreed to pay the increased compensation provided for in this measure to all persons who are at present drawing insurance immediately on the passing of this Act, so that although, it is not possible to go back to the 1st of July, we shall cover a number of cases mentioned, and we shall go a long way to meet the point the right hon. Gentleman raised by the fact that all those who are at present drawing benefit will immediately receive the increase directly this Bill is passed. I am sorry that it is not possible for me to accept the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I do not quite-understand what the hon. and gallant Gentleman means by saying that it was only in August that the Miners' Federation and the mine owners went to the Home Office with an agreed scheme. The miners and the mine-owners agreed as to an increase in the compensation on 28th May last, and the negotiations which took place between them were the result of a suggestion of a previous Home Secretary, Sir George Cave, now Lord Cave, in the, latter part of last year. Sir Thomas Radcliffe-Ellis undertook to consult other employers of labour throughout the coun- 1271 try. I have in my hand a letter which he wrote to Mr. Hodge on 11th July. He said,I am sorry that there was a misunderstanding, but they happen in the best regulated families. We saw Sir Malcolm Delevingne at the Home Office yesterday, 10th July, and told him of the arrangements with reference to the compensation. I also left with him a statement showing what replies we had received from other industries, and he will report to the Home Secretary as to whether they consider that they have sufficient approval or whether they should consult others.Our trouble has been that, although the coal-owners and the miners' executive agreed as far back as 28th May last to an improvement in the compensation, we have been held up by the Home Office, because, I assume, they have been trying to get the other people to agree. I am not complaining; I dare say that they have had some difficulties with other employers. All the miners, however, have known since 28th May that this agreement has been made between their representatives and the coal-owners, and they have been continually pressing us for some explanation why they are not receiving those payments. When we found that delay was inevitable, we suggested that when the Bill was introduced it should be made retrospective. It will be easily appreciated that, if the House is to have the respect of the workers, they must not be led to believe that it stands between them and improvements which have been already agreed as the result of negotiations between employers and workmen's representatives. So far as the employers and workmen are concerned, this thing has been settled for many months, and in proposing that this Bill shall come into operation as from 1st July last we are still proposing a date five or six weeks beyond the time when the agreement was reached. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see his way to agree to the Amendment, and to make these benefits operative as from 1st July last rather than from 1st January next.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, to leave out the wordsin the case of a workman who at the time any payment falls due under that Act is of the age of twenty-one years or upwards.The object of this Amendment is to remedy a very serious matter in the Bill which affects many thousands of the workmen of this country. There are many of our people in all sections of our industrial 1272 system in this country who are earning full wages long before they reach twenty-one years of age, but if the Bill stands as drafted they will be cut out of the benefits which it seeks to confer on those who are over that age. We have no such restriction in the Act of 1917, and I cannot understand why these words should have found their way into the present measure; it is a mystery to us. But it raises a very serious question, and unless we can get the Under-Secretary to accept our Amendment we will be bound to offer to this Bill, anxious as we are to see it on the Statute Book, our most unqualified opposition. I am certain that if the Bill passes through this House in its present form it will be a fruitful source of trouble in every part of the industrial system of the country. Consequently I am strongly appealing to the Under-Secretary to accept the Amendment. We cannot understand why these words found their way into the Bill. I do not know what the explanation may be and whether it is that some of the employers have insisted on it, but if that is the position then we say that neither the Government nor this Committee ought to be consenting parties—any more than the representatives of Labour on these benches—to such words being put into a Pill of this kind. I hope, therefore, the Under-Secretary for the Home Office will accept the Amendment without further discussion.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Major BAIRD
Anything which the right hon. Gentleman says on a matter of this kind is entitled to be received from this Bench with consideration. At the same time, I can explain easily why the limit is twenty-one years of age, and I must say I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman himself should not be aware of it. It arises from the fact that in the proposals which were put before the, Home Office by the Miners' Federation and the Mining Association, those proposals were confined to persons of twenty-one years of age and upwards. [HON. MEMBER: "No!"] That is my information. Here are the proposals:
Those are our reasons for confining this Bill to workmen over twenty-one years of age.
- 1. In the case of workmen over twenty-one years of age there shall be a minimum compensation of £1 a week.
- 2. For workmen over twenty-one years of age without dependants there shall be an increase of 50 per cent. of the compensation payable under the 1906 Act, with a maximum of 30s.
- 3. For workmen over twenty-one years of age an increase of 50 per cent. of the compensation payable under the 1906 Act. plus 5s. per week for each person wholly dependent upon such workmen, with a maximum of 40s."
§ Major BAIRD
They are the proposals we received at the Home Office from the Mining Association of Great Britain. We understood they embodied the agreement reached with the Miners' Federation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!".] Of course, if that be not the case, it complicates the situation, but I am bound to say that, on the merits of the case alone, the basis of the whole Bill has been what we understood to be the agreement between a great body of workmen and a great body of employers, not covering the whole field of workmen or the whole field of employers. When we went into the question we found that the proposal embodied in the agreement did not commend itself to us, and that it was necessary to find some other proposals which, while not embodying the proposals of the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation, would, on the whole, give satisfaction. I say that in reply to the remarks made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hartshorn) on the previous Amendment. As to the present Amendment, we understood that the arrangement between the mine-owners and the miners was confined to persons over twenty-one years of age. It was on that basis that we framed the Bill and discussed the matter with other employers of labour and other forms of labour. As a rule it must be admitted that the case of people above the age of twenty-one, who may be expected to have others dependent upon them, is necessarily harder and requires greater compensation than the case of those below the age of twenty-one.
§ Major BAIRD
I say that as a rule it must be admitted that the case of a man over twenty-one, who has others dependent upon him, is, primâ facie, a harder case than that of a man below that age, and I think the Committee will agree that that is so. Taking that point of view on the merits and feeling that we were supported by the agreement that we understood was reached by both sides in the mining world, we have 1274 framed the Bill in the way it appears, and it is to the Bill in that form that we have received general assent.
§ Mr. BRACE
I am surprised and much taken aback by the view taken by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. When he rests himself, as he apparently does, upon the communications sent to him from the Mining Association, he must have forgotten that that association was not representative of the workmen, but of the employers. It would not surprise me at all to know that the employers took this view. When it is pointed out to him by the Leader of the Labour party that considerable hardships will result from the acceptance of the principle limiting the application of full compensation to twenty-one years of age, we are entitled to ask him to have a consultation with the Leader of the House with a view to trying to meet me on this point. Not only are men married with families under twenty-one, but they are classified in many industries as being full workmen long before they are twenty-one. In the mining industry there are hundreds, if not thousands, of men below twenty-one who are treated in every sense as if they were men of a much more mature age. How can you expect industrial peace in any industry if you have men doing this work, ordinarily earning full wages, when they receive an injury finding themselves put in a class winch does not permit them to receive compensation upon the basis of their earning capacity? It was my privilege when I held the position the hon. and gallant Gentleman holds now to introduce the Bill which gave an increase of 25 per cent. in the compensation, but we heard no talk then about any limitation of the age period. The real reason why the increase was agreed upon was because it was found necessary in consequence of the increased cost of living to endeavour to meet these people who are so hardly hit in connection with what, after all, is a very human problem. I am bound to ask the Leader of the House to give serious attention to this point of view. It would throw us into conflict with our trade union. If my hon. Friend had accepted the principle I should be disposed to ask that further time should be given for further consideration of the Bill, but I am very reluctant to ask the House to refer the Bill back because men and women are actually starving for want of this increased compensation. We are faced with one of these human problems that make it quite impossible for us to accept 1275 a provision which will place outside the increase of compensation men who by their earning capacity are entitled to be brought within that category. The principle of the original Act is that the compensation is paid not upon age but upon earning capacity. If you are going to give an increase why introduce a new principle? The Home Office have allowed themselves to be misled by the communications from the Mining Associations, quite honestly I am sure. They would not move unless they were convinced that they were acting in accord with what they thought was reasonable on the part of the miners. I hope my hon. Friend will not conclude that we are willing to accept this limitation. We cannot accept it. It would cause us many difficulties. We should have strikes as a result. Our people would not accept it. Although the man under twenty-one may not be receiving compensation to-day, he knows, following a dangerous occupation, that to-morrow he may well be within the category. Therefore, we should arouse for ourselves such a position that I do not think the Labour party could withstand it. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the House to reconsider the position.
§ Major BAIRD
This is not a matter upon which there can possibly be any room for allowing a misunderstanding to exist. It is the last thing we would desire to endeavour to force something about which there is misunderstanding. We honestly believed that an understanding had been reached between the miners and the mine-owners. On that basis we proceeded to endeavour to get agreement between the rest of the labour world and the employers. If we have been misinformed, and if we have proceeded upon incorrect premises, obviously the matter must be reconsidered, but I would invite hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to remember the seriousness of this question. It is quite true that this measure is already overdue, and I am sure they will join with us in an endeavour to avoid the difficulties which may arise from an indefinite postponement. There is not a very long time left to carry this Bill through this House and another place. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen must appreciate that if we adjourn the discussion of this measure to-night with a view to seeing if we can agree to-morrow everybody will do their 1276 best to see that we do get agreement in order that this very important matter may be settled. I am quite prepared, on behalf of the Home Office, to reconsider this point in view of what has been said by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I ask them to believe that, if there has been a misunderstanding, it has been an honest one and nobody regrets it more than we do. I hope we all agree that there must he no delay in getting this very important measure on the Statute Book. I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."
§ The CHAIRMAN
On a motion to report Progress, the hon. Member cannot enter into the merits of the case. The question is whether we carry the mutter over until to-morrow or not.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I understand the hon. Member has suggested that the matter be carried over to-morrow in order that we may get agreement. This is not the only point an which we do not agree that the Bill conforms with what has been arranged. Could we have a meeting before to-morrow night on the points of disagreement?
§ Major BAIRD
I quite agree that the Bill does not represent the exact agreement which was reached between the miners and the mine-owners. As I endeavoured to explain, we hoped that we had drawn the Bill in such a way as to ensure that if we did not give precisely the same form of compensation, yet, taking it all over, the amount of compensation is quite as favourable. I am prepared to meet hon. Members on that point. There are certain points of difference in regard to the form and the amount of compensation, and am prepared to discuss that with hon. Members, but I do not want them to suppose that we can find it possible to adopt in substitution for the plan proposed in the Bill the plan which was originally suggested, and agreed to, so far as we knew, between the miners and the mine-owners.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I hope that this will not be looked on merely as the interpretation of an agreement affecting one section of the community, as it is a matter which affects the whole industrial population.
§ Major BAIRD
May I suggest that we arrange it in the usual manner at a conference on the subject to-morrow?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I think that the point is so serious that we ought to agree to report Progress with a view to having an opportunity of discussing the matter with the Home Office. There need be no dividing line on the assumption that we are discussing this simply as representing the miners. We are discussing it as representing the working people of every industry in the country, but it so happens that the Mining Association have taken a leading part in this matter, and I would suggest that there should be a meeting tomorrow between the executive of the Miners' Federation and—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
It is quite evident that we want to meet hon. Members opposite, and I would suggest that they should leave it to be arranged behind the Speaker's chair as to what form the meeting should take.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I thought that it was a very reasonable appeal which was made from the other side that the exclusion of words, and had hoped that my hon. Friend would have accepted it. Instead of that, he is suggesting that we should have an arrangement behind the Chair between a number of hon. Members who are supposed to be interested in the matter with the exclusion of everybody else, and that the matter should be withdrawn from the consideration of the House as if nobody but hon. Members opposite were interested in it. It is not to be supposed that I am against the proposals made. I am in favour of it, but I am disappointed that my hon. Friend has made this suggestion instead of saying, "Yes, of course we will accept the proposal."
§ Mr. INSKIP
Of course I realise the difficulty of departing from an agreement, but I do respectfully protest against this practice of concluding agreements outside the House when we are all here and competent to settle this small question, which I hope we could discuss and settle. We are not tied by those who sent us here or by the communities or unions. We are here to express our opinion on matters which come up for our consideration, but now this matter is to be reconsidered outside the House, and those of us who are not present will be expected to vote ac- 1278 cording to decisions made for us, whether we agree with them or not. I respectfully protest against the whole proceeding, as I think that the matter should be settled in the ordinary constitutional way.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not think in this particular case that the charge can be made of taking the matter from the decision of the House. In these questions between Capital and Labour it surely is a great advantage for the Government to get the general feeling between the two parties. As Leader of the House, I was informed that there was no controversy about this. If that is not so, it is only right to meet both sides again, to see if we can get agreement. If agreement is not reached the House can take any course it likes.
Question put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.